Thai films steadily spread soft power across the region
“Friend Zone”, a romantic comedy about a handsome guy who has been in love with his best friend for over a decade, produced by a promising Thai director, Chayanop Boonprakop. It is currently showing on cinema screens in Hong Kong and Macao. After its premiere in Thailand on February 14th, the movie has been screening in 13 counties throughout the region and has become the highest grossing film in Cambodia and Vietnam. So, what is the secret to this film’s success?
“We have been doing this for a while. I mean our movies have been screening in countries around ASEAN more than ten years, so we got to know what the audiences like through lots of feedback especially, via social media. We were starting to think about engaging with foreign audiences for the first time” said Chayanop Boonprakop, director and co-screenwriter of ‘Friend Zone’, by GDH 559.
This is the reason why cameos in the film include famous female pop singers from the Laos PDR, The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar. They also sang the main theme song in their native languages. Chayanop explained that they wanted the movie to be understandable and have people around ASEAN, and maybe further afield, fall in love with it.
The story about an old school friend who longs to break free of the friendzone and become a lover is easily understood by people who have found themselves stuck in the same situation. When asked how he feels about his film being watched by an audience of millions around the region, Chayanop admitted “This is beyond my expectations. At the very beginning, I was writing about my experience, my friends, it was small love story. Then this expanded, and now it is a lot bigger than I thought it could be.” He believes that this movie is a big hit due to a good storyline, a perfect cast of characters and also their impeccable acting.
In 2017, ‘Bad Genius’, a drama/thriller by GDH, was hugely successful in China, making more than 1.3 billion baht at the box office. It will be remade in English by two Hollywood producers, Erik Feig (‘La La Land’, ‘Now You See Me’, ‘The Hunger Games’) and Patrick Wachsberger (‘A Monster Calls’, ‘Step Up’, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’).
Previously, Thai cinema was famous for its scary movies, such as’ Shutter’, ‘Ladda Land’ and ‘Nang Nak’. Then action movies, ‘Ong Bak 1 & 2’ and ‘Tom Yum Goong’ by Tony Jaa were smash hits worldwide.
Now it’s time for Thai romantic comedy, as ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, ‘Hello Stranger’ and ‘Pee Mak Phra Khanong’, to name but a few, have become well-known internationally, especially the latter which was screened in most Asian countries, Australia and the United States. The film earned more than one billion baht worldwide. It is safe to say that Thai movies have steadily gained massive audiences internationally.
When asked how he is planning to make the most of the so called ‘soft power’ of his new film, Chayanop says “It’s challenging, because the preferences of Thais and foreign audiences are quite different, and normally when I start to work on my project, I focus mainly on what Thai people like. Though, I’ve heard that the main obstacle for us is the language, as we are the only country that speaks Thai, but I do not agree.”
However, with his new film he says he is not focusing primarily on Thai audiences and is thinking outside the box to create some big ideas, adding “We need to think bigger than we used to, there is the bigger market, bigger audiences and bigger inspiration out there. I really think that we have the skills, Thai creators can create great content, but we need to do it step by step.”
Reporting by Jeerapa Suvanvitit