Thailand is surrounded by Burma, Laos and Cambodia,
where the horror tales circulate along the border. Even though I grew
up in a small town where the land is flat, there were strange
animal sounds in a quiet night not unlike those up on the hills.
The tales and the landscapes were imprinted in my mind. I always imagine
a parallel world with these elements, one where I did not physically
live. It situates in a remote jungle with hidden spirits. When I had
a chance to make films, which in itself is to create another world,
I always resort to this jungle. The love and fear of mysterious darkness
and jungle became my addiction, along with filmmaking.
In Tropical Malady, like in my previous film Blissfully
Yours, I set the jungle as one of the main
characters. But this time the jungle is active, reacting more to the
character’s mind. This character is a man in love. He is attached
to another man who may or may not be real. The film is about the
internal conflict of a man in nature. The landscape acts as a mirror,
always reflecting double images, two worlds: human and animal, darkness
and light, past and present.
My works in film and video are personal, and have very few links with
what’s going on. The current filmmaking atmosphere tends to get
very complicated for me. I like to do simple sketches. I shot how I
felt each day, some as short clips, some long, building the emotional
structure along the way. On Blissfully Yours I was more focused.
Tropical Malady, to me, was more temperamental. Since I made
Tropical Malady during my “dark” period—I
was at pain with some losses—the film is like my sorrow box. Some
of the scenes, including the style and the
structure, contain personal
references. It may appear
scattered to some, but it was the way I saw my
memories at that particular time. The experience of making this film
is very naïve and direct. When we shot in the
jungle, I was more aware of how the movie was going. Somehow I felt
like I was back in the past making a silent film where there was no
man on earth.
During editing, I tried to understand the pacing, the way this soldier
moves through different landscapes. The jungle was a powerful character
that was hard to edit. We cut out many action scenes because it looked
disrespectful to this character. In this way, the landscape was more
complex and mysterious, equal to the mind of the character, which is
an extension of myself. So I see this film from a very different point
of view from other audiences. (Note: For this reason, it is surprising
to me that the film got U.S. distribution…but I am very grateful!)
I was asked many times about the darkness in this film. Technically,
it was hard to capture darkness when there is a moon as the only light
source in my mind. We tried some ways, but they all looked fake to me.
So we ended up using little light, which scared the producer very much.
My original idea was to have many parts of the second half in total
possible commercially. So the
producer was OK at least to see something. So we went on to light the
night to be very heavy. I am not sure how to explain—to have the
weight of the black on the actor. Some scenes were actually too dark
to use. The result was
like the theater was in the middle of the
jungle. The audience shares the weight. During the daytime,
I was more comfortable shooting in the jungle than in the city.
There are many shades of green
to choose. The concentration
was high. The only hardship was
for everyone to carry heavy
equipment long distances into
It is interesting that the film looks different in each theater, depending
on the projector and
the sound system. The darkness
on the film is very sensitive—in some theaters it was like magic.
As for the sound, we mixed it
differently from other films in terms of distributing sound via each
speaker. If you listen
carefully, the sound is very
playful, especially during the last forty minutes. Try sitting at
different positions and you will
see what I mean. So it is better to see the film more than once….