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Realtime >> Friday March 21, 2008
Growing pains

Film director Songyos Sukmaganan says he wants to continue making films about childhood and adolescence while he can still remember what it feels like to be young


Songyos Sukmaganan says that Hormones is perhaps his least serious movie.
Years ago, when he graduated from the film department of Chulalongkorn University, Songyos Sukmaganan made a short film that remains one of Thailand's best. It's called Dor Dek Cho Chang (or My Elephant), and it delivers a sharp jab at the petty cynicism that suffocates Thai classrooms - cynicism that maybe resembles something more wicked, like dictatorship.

In the movie, a teacher sets her class of preteens the task of drawing a picture of an elephant to be handed in at the end of the hour. One boy comes up with a drawing of exceptional quality, but the teacher staunchly refuses to believe that he drew it himself. The teacher then turns bully as she instructs the whole class to look at the drawing and asks the students whether they believe the boy. Her accusing tone and the god-like status of Thai teachers, we are led to believe, encourage the students to join in the accusation that the boy didn't draw the elephant himself. The movie ends darkly, with the whole class, now heaving like a mob, swarming around the boy to watch him draw another elephant.

"I'm interested in the differences when children and adults look at the world," says Songyos, 34. "Sometimes these differences brings pain. We only understand how adults think when we become one."

Now a professional filmmaker, Songyos's ouevre of feature movies still pays attention to adolescent growing pains. In 2003, he co-directed Fan Chan (My Girl), a sweet nostalgia of preteen bliss, and in 2006 he wrote and directed Dek Hor (Dorm), a boarding school thriller with stark undercurrents of teen anxiety. This weekend Songyos, through studio GTH, is releasing his new picture, Pidtermyai Huajai Wawoon, or Hormones, a summery teen romance geared towards young audiences looking for a cinematic slice-of-life on the big screen.

"I like children, but I never deliberately set out to make films about them," he says. "I just want to make movies about the subject that I think I know best. I've been through childhood and adolescence, I've been through those years and looking back, I think experience has taught me to understand them more. I want to make films about young people now because when I grow older, I'm afraid I will no longer remember what it feels like to be a teenager."

In Hormones (see review on R5), four love stories of diverse nuances are intercut, with the aim of creating a larger tableau of young romance. There's a girl who's head over heels with a Taiwanese idol she's only seen in movies; two boys whose friendly rivalry spins out of control when they hit on the same girl; a college student who secretly has a major crush on his friend; and another college boy who faces a test of loyalty when he meets his fantasy girl when his steady girlfriend is away.

"The confusion and the limited experience are what interest me," says Songyos. "Those aren't always bad; your inexperience may compel you to do something crazy as a teenager, but that's who you are, that's what you do when you just follow your instincts, you just go for broke. I remember having that feeling, and sometimes I still admire it.

"I think because when we're young, our frame is still large, limitless even. When we grow up, the frame becomes smaller because we know the world better. When the film ends, I think my characters will learn to perceive the world and people around them a little differently. It's a teen romance, but this is also a coming-of-age story."

Hormones will rely largely on the sunny appeal of its young cast - Charlie Trairat and Focus Jirakul from Fan Chan, Sirachat "Michael" Jearthavorn from Dorm and Chutima Teepanart from Seasons Change - and the movie will hope to connect with the under-19 demographic now enjoying the summer school break.

The cult-like following of last year's The Love of Siam, which also features strong teen elements, may also put a little spring in the step of this movie, which has been campaigning hard among young audiences.

Still, the director admits that Hormones is perhaps his "least serious movie", even though Dor Dek Cho Chang and Dorm clearly show that Songyos is a commercial filmmaker with an ambition to go deeper than the surface.

"That's why I wanted to do this movie," he laughs. "I wanted to know whether I could pull off something I wasn't quite sure I was able to. But above all, I've just been wanting to do a love story. It's important for me that I do it now."

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