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Cinema

Ekachai Uekrongtham

Beautiful Boxer

Immagine articolo Fucine MuteXenia Docio Altuna (XD): This is your first film, Beautiful Boxer. Before you had worked in theatre, with the Action Theatre. Can you explain us a little bit about your work in theatre and about how did this work influence your cinema?

Ekachai Uekrongtham (EU): Well, I’ve been working in theatre for a long time. I entered in professional theatre in 1997. I did a lot of work in English language plays, in musicals. I think that for me theatre is a way of expressing some of the comments I have on the social world. In the plays I have directed in the past, including “Viva Viagra”- which is about what happened when the Viagra was first introduced into the scene- I have directed plays about how human beings function in a concrete world, which is very much of my personal experience. It’s a way of making comments about how could the world possibly live in perfect harmony. And I made my first film because my studio in Thailand saw my musical, they approached to me and told me to direct a film for them. 
I’ve always been very interested in Nong Toom story because I thought that it’s a story of a character that’s full of contradictions: how who fights like a man can become a woman? And sets out the most masculine sport, which is thai kickboxing, in order to achieve total feminility. It’s very rich the story possibility, so that’s why I decided to make a film.

Q: So, all your theatre experience, could you use it for the film or did you have to learn a lot or change a lot for filming? How was the experience with the film, which is new for you?

EU: I would not have been able to make this film without my theatre background. I think theatre has taught me how to work with actors, how to get performances out of actors. Theatre has taught me how to create a vision for the story you want to tell. But between theatre and a film the big difference is that when I work in theatre I rely a lot on text, on dialogues. This film is very much about visual language, so I had to really think very differently. Instead of thinking of people talking, I thought of how to tell the story in visual tones. I tried to create images that would mean something without having to say too many words. So that’s the big difference, the big challenge. I wrote the script myself with my friend: at first we wrote too many dialogues. So we cut and I realized that a film is a lot more powerful if you’re able to communicate things with visuals. It’s like a painting.

Q: Do you think you could have done this in theatre as well, in the same way?

EU: Well, before I went into making films, a lot of critics said that my works, my stage works, were very filmic. So I don’t know, because I always wanted to make films, I’m crazy about films. My father, when I was young, would bring me to watch a movie every week. We were quite poor, so we were three of us, me and my two brothers, and we always had to share one seat! So when I grew up and I had my own seat it was very special, a privilege!
I wanted to make films since I was young. Theatre was something that I did because in Singapur there wasn’t a film in the street, so it wasn’t really an alternative. But I think theatre has become a kind of first wife, so I will always love her!

XD: Which are your influences in cinema?

EU: I like works from ancient directors like Ang Lee or Zhang Yimou, these are my two favourite directors. I think that Zhang Yimou’s works are very rich in cinematography, in visuals, because he was a cinematographer before. His works are really really rich. And I like Ang Lee’s works because of the way he’s able to work with actors to get very natural performances, and because of the ideas about the family, all the work that has to do with ancient family, as well. I like works of Pedro (Almodovar) as well, very emotional, very dramatic.

Q: I think it’s quite interesting the character of the boxer: he’s a kickboxer, a professional boxer, and he learns to perform. So how was the experience of choosing a professional?

EU: I think that Nong Toom was a very very good kickboxer, and I was afraid that if I cast an actor instead of a kickboxer, I would not have been able to help the actor become a good boxer. But if I cast a kickboxer I could help him to be a good actor because that’s my job. So I decided to cast a professional kickboxer, who did not have any acting experience. I worked with him for over six months to prepare him for the work. He’s worked very hard: he had to learn how to act, he had to go to ballet classes, he had to have his hair shaped, he had to learn how to walk like a woman, but he’s a very dedicated guy.

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XD: What’s the importance of music in your film?

EU: It’s very important. Maybe because of my musical theatre background I think that music can condense a lot of emotion. I worked with a composer that was actually an Italian working in Thailand, to create a big theme, a very long song. I told him that the story is about a search within oneself, so I wanted the music, the song, to be a researching. Sometimes you think you’ve found it and you’re happy, but then you realize that’s not what you want and you want it again. So he wrote this beautiful symphony and then he put it in different parts in order to use them in different parts of the film. He also explored the use of different musical instruments, western as well as traditional. And we used them very carefully, because sometimes the western instruments represent the masculine movements and the traditional ones represent the feminine, and sometimes I swapped them. So I enjoyed working in the composition very much.

Q: I think it was a bit more western than a western film, not only than an ancient one. Do you agree with that?

EU: Yes, maybe by influences, because I worked a lot in Singapore, which is very western. I used to work for the company that produced “Miss Saigon”, so maybe I’m a little bit influenced.

Q: I was interested in the topic of transsexuality, in how did your country deal with all this: was it a scandal?

EU: I think that in Thailand people are more tolerant towards transsexuals in comparison to other Asian countries, because Thailand is a country of Buddhists, there are a lot of Buddhists. In Buddhism we believe that transsexuals are born this way because it’s a destiny, because in the past life they did something bad. They have some bad karma so they repay in this life by becoming transsexuals. Even Nong Toom believes that if she accumulates a lot good karma in this life, in next life she’ll be born either a man or a woman, she doesn’t mind, as long as the head and the body are the same. I think that because of the Buddhist belief thai people have more compassion.

Q: Yes, I’ve noticed. Maybe more than in our culture.

EU: Yes, so much more. I think the worst attitude towards gays is to say it’s a choice, that it’s not destiny, so it’s a different attitude.

XD: Ok, thank you very much.

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