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To sir, with love

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To sir, with love

Remake of the 1979 film is a stale copy of the original

  • Published: 15/01/2010 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Realtime

- Kru Bannok

Class act: Pichet Kongkarn plays a country teacher in a barren Northeastern village.

Starring Pichet Kongkarn, Petchthai Wongkhamlao, Fonfa Phatham. Directed by Surasee Phatham. Isan soundtrack with Thai and English subtitles.

Faithfulness to an original story isn't always a cherished quality; it can show that you've ignored the changing times. Surasee Phatham, a film director who looks like a modest uncle, has remade his 1979 film Kru Bannok ("Country Teacher") with a kind of stodgy faithfulness to his original film - shot selections, characters, conflicts - that makes his new one look like a two-day-old relic. The new Kru Bannok isn't bad in a sense of bad intention; but it could've only be qualified as an OK film only if it had been released 31 years ago.

In his interview with Real.Time, published last week, Surasee said that one of the reasons he remade the film was because the hardship and injustices faced by Northeasterners remain the same today, if not worse, than they were in 1979, when he was inspired to direct the original Kru Bannok. Surasee is right; in fact the story about the tussle between poor Isan villagers and influential merchants who lust after forest riches is pretty timely. But to tell the story of villagers' struggle and a young teacher's lofty ideology in 2010, when the system of greed and exploitation has become more complex, when the audience have seen far worse revelations in nightly news, Surasee also needs a more updated style and storytelling to be able to connect with contemporary viewers.

As the new film stands, it only shows - it doesn't communicate, and certainly it doesn't inspire. The teacher's failed ideology is so devoid of context and dramatisation that it doesn't so much as ruffle our conscience. With most characters reciting their lines instead of delivering them - some are long-winded monologues about the role of teachers - at the politest we can only call the film 'old school'. It's also a case of good intention being misplaced.

The most constructive angle to approach Kru Bannok is to see it as an example of regional cinema: the film is steeped in the spatial and temporal Isan existence. The dialogue is in Isan dialect, and virtually everyone in the cast is an Isan native. Surasee himself is a son of the Northeast, and the representations of his homeland has an instinctive truthfulness and, again, old-school realism. In short, this is a film with a strong, proud Isan voice, despite all the visible shortcomings.

The leading man is supposed to be Teacher Pichet (Pichet Kongkarn), a starry-eyed graduate who's asked to be assigned to a remote village where he can work with underprivileged children. But Pichet (the actor and the character) has no presence, and he's buried under the flimsy script that's more interested in showing village life than building strong characters. Not surprisingly, comedian Petchthai Wongkhamlao, playing Headmaster Chalee, smuggles an irreverent, clownish spirit into the film. I'm torn in this matter; Petchthai has the ability to trivialise everything, and his bawdy humour is out of place here, but then again, he's the only natural actor in the entire movie, and the film only comes to life when he's in the frame.

The new Kru Bannok is set, like the original, in 1979, and one only wonders if it wouldn't have been more socially relevant, more politically immediate, to update the story into the context of contemporary society and problems. As Surasee observes, many things remain the same in terms of the Isan plight. But the details have definitely changed: mobile phones, village funds, Otop, computers (or the inequal distribution of them), etc. All of these have significantly altered the social fibre of every village and how the villagers handle the difficulties that have faced them, yes, for decades.

Kru Bannok has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, the brand new film feels old from day one.

Relate Search: Starring Pichet Kongkarn, Petchthai Wongkhamlao, Fonfa Phatham, Surasee Phatham, Country Teacher, Kru Bannok

About the author

Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Reporter

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  • Brian

    Discussion 1 : 19/01/2010 at 09:56 AM1

    Apart from being as stiff as a board, two-dimensional and boring, the film is everything this review says it is and less.
    To make a relevant film about the state of Isaan today, not only should involve showing all those mod-cons (mobile phones, computers and UBC dishes) sorely missing in the film, but should also show the heavy influence of the Farang influx into the region where it seems every village now has at least one "Baan Farang" inhabited by some former bargirl and her culturally ignorant foreign husband. Add to this, the explosion of foreign-style housing estates in places like Udon Thani and Khon Kaen and the influx of Bangkok Thai-Chinese looking to exploit the regions resources, and you have a very different picture than the antiquated view in Khru Bannok.


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