Friday, 14 June 2013

interview: Monthon Arayangkoon

I was so impressed with top Thai monster flick Garuda that I tracked down the director, Monthon Arayangkoon, and interviewed him by email in January 2005. A version of this interview was subsequently published in Fangoria.

Why have there been so many horror and fantasy films produced in Thailand in the past few years?
"Actually there have not been many recently, but before this kind of film could not find public favour because of poor computer graphics, especially fantasy types. In the past few years, technology and computer graphics have improved effectively, and many directors add these features bit by bit to their films. In the past two years, the Thai film industry has focussed more on fantasy and horror. Horror is so big around Thailand's film industry because of global trends and the increase in horror in Asia and Japan. When people say Thai film-makers are making more fantasy films I believe that is due to the development of technology which has convinced more audiences and investors. It is a new trend and worth the risk to expand the market."

Most Thai fantasy films are about ghosts so why did you decide to make a film about a monster?
"Because there were tons of ghost films in the Thai market, we sought to find a new trend. No-one had ever produced a film about a Thai monster and I personally liked the idea that, with the right marketing, this could be the first Thai monster film with its own character. With the development of new technology, a Thai monster film could reach new audiences. Above all, I really liked the idea of a new market trend. It's weird to talk about a monster film, not a ghost film."

What is the mythological/ religious significance of Garuda in Thailand?
"When people mention Garuda, the first thing that comes to mind would be a symbol of our King. Garuda is Narayana's steed. The legend is that Garuda belongs to Narayana, Garuda is the King's steed so it is widely used as a symbol of governors and on the King's flag."

Why did you cast western actors in two of the main roles?
"In the film, there is a conflict between belief and rationalism, treating the mythological animal as a scientific idea. It may be an extinct creature like a dinosaur. Ancient people would have seen it and absorbed the creature into Thai mythology. In Asian perception, these animals are more mythological than real - so we combined these two beliefs together. In the scientific or 'western' point of view, a serpent is understandable as a dinosaur or a giant snake, but in Thai culture we say no, that is definitely a Serpent (a mythological creature). There are two sides to this: westerners never believe in Garuda as a potent, mythological creature, it must be just a dinosaur or an animal. On the other hand, Thai people believe in mythology. Our actress seems to be western but actually she is a mixed race. We tried to tread a fine line between scientific and Thai belief - which lead us to have two main characters as westerners."

How did shooting on digital video help with the production of the film?
"A few year ago, the production of Garuda would have been limited by technology. We were shooting on film which required a lot of effects and computer graphics. The process of transferring film to digital wasted lot of materials and the quality of film is poor. The more CG content there was in a film, the lower quality we got. So we tried both film and digital. Today advanced equipment and new technology has arrived, so transferring film to digital can be done in high quality to international standards so perhaps there will be more Thai films with special effect. In the past we hardly used digital camera as the outcome was poor; a film camera gave a much softer look."

Did any other films influenced you when were writing and directing Garuda?
Nope, just some advertisements.

How has the special effects industry in Thailand developed over the past few years?
"The growth has been slow over the past few years. Special effects seem to be viewed negatively in the Thai film industry and nobody dared to invest. So there were just a small number of special effects in music videos or advertisements, and also there weren't the experienced skilled artists. Once Garuda had been produced, that showed that the Thai film industry was capable of using special effects - so now you see many new movies with special effects. There has also been more investment in new equipment such as motion capture facilities which is leading to further developments in special effects. When people are familiar with special effects, the work can be done on a larger scale. I believe that Thai people have the skills but without serious investors they don't have the chance."

I noticed that when the Garuda walks, it walks like the monster in films such as Jason and the Argonauts and 20 Million Miles to Earth, which were animated using stop motion models. Was this deliberate?
"Actually for these two films you mention, I like this kind of film and stop motion character movement, but this was unintentional. For Garuda, the character is 100% CG with many little mistakes so some scenes have smoothmovement but others look like stop motion. We did post production for one and a half years so the scenes we did earlier look more like stop motion. We tried during shooting to keep the movement as smooth as we could, we did a lot of home work."

What was the reaction of religious organisations in Thailand to your depiction of the Garuda as a dangerous monster?
When the teaser was released, some people resisted and criticised this idea but not aggressively. The thought we were being impolite to a symbol of the King. We clarified this: there is various kinds of Garuda that we respect, some are good and some are not. Once people had seen the full feature, there was much less criticism."

Apart from Thailand, where else has Garuda been shown? Do you have any distribution deals in the West?
"Italy, Russia and Germany."

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