The best films and greatest actors from Thai cinema
It’s Asia Film Week here on CNNGo and with less than one week to go before Thailand announces the winners of this year’s Thailand National Film Association Awards, also known as the Supannahong Awards, we look back at the top actors, actresses and films in Thai cinema history.
Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat
It would be unforgivable to look back on Thai film history and not mention these two icons from the 1960s. Mitr Chaibancha and his lady of choice, Petchara Chaowarat, were the Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy of the Thai screen.
Mitr Chaibancha was perhaps the first great action superstar in Thailand, appearing in movies such as “Insee Dang”. His characters often encapsulated essences of “Rambo” and Tony Jaa’s “Ong Bak.”
He was known for being the prototypical man both on and off screen and insisted on always doing his own stunts. Sadly it would prove to be his undoing as he died while filming a dangerous stunt for "Insee Thong," falling to his death while hanging from a helicopter.
The clown that gets the last laugh, Lor Tok provided the comic relief in nearly every big 1960s and 1970s Thai production. He was the Jerry Lewis to every major Thai Dean Martin. He didn’t limit his roles to comedy though, going on to win numerous awards later in life in more serious roles, including a Supannahong Award in 1983 for his role as an unscrupulous money lender in "Ngern, Ngern, Ngern" (Money, Money, Money). Lor Tok died in 2002.
Amara Asavanond is the biggest female lead from the live dubbing era of post-war Thai films. These were the days when a film was played along with a live ensemble and voice actors. It was also a time when women were the biggest stars in Thai cinema and thus Amara’s name always came before her male co-stars. One could say she harkens back to a more civilized time.
Chamras Suwakhon and Manee Sumonnat
The oldest acting pair on this list, these were the first true Thai superstars and reserved their place in cinema history on shoddy 15mm reels, starring in films like "Klua Mia" (scared of wife). They appeared in pre-war Thai cinema, pioneering the way for everyone else on this list.
Movies that shaped the Thai film industry:
"Monrak Looktung" (1970)
Genesis. This is the film that launched Thai cinema into the mainstream. Combining all the popular Thai music of the day with two of the most prominent Thai actors, Mitr Chaibuncha and Petchara Chaowarach, “Monrak Looktung” was and still is a classic.
It replaced "The Sound of Music" in Thai cinema as the longest running movie in theatres, playing for well over six months, and is still remembered fondly by those who were young enough to remember its premier. It is our "Star Wars," our "Wizard of Oz," the birth of modern Thai cinema.
"A Man Called Tone" (1970)
Perhaps a bit unfortunate that it was launched in the same year as "Monrak Looktung," “A Man Called Tone” is still one of the most highly regarded pieces in Thai film history, especially among critics. Written by Pieak Poster, a poster writer and psychologist, its intention was to propel Thai films to a degree of critical respectability. Where Monrak pushed for commercial success the darker themes in AMCT appealed to intellects, artists and critics alike.
"Kao Cheu Karn" (1973)
One of the early pieces of Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol -- who would later go on to direct world-renowned “Suriyothai” -- “Kao Cheu Karn” (“Dr. Karn”) was the first Thai movie in history to address corruption and poverty in Thailand.
Not only did this film open doors for other filmmakers to address real issues in society, but anthropologists and historians argue that its biting social commentary led to the introspective dialogue needed to foster the October 14 student revolution that same year, which shaped the future of the country.
"Santi Weena" (1954)
“Santi Weena” was the first Thai movie to be submitted to a foreign film festival -- the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo. With contributions from the biggest names in Thai film history, including Rattana Pestonji, it went on to win the top prize for cinematography and art presentation and the unique Golden Harvest award for best Asian cultural presentation at the festival.
"Tropical Malady" (2004) and "Ong Bak" (2003)
Both films are in here for different reasons but each are as significant as the other. “Ong Bak” was the first Thailand film to be a commercial success overseas with its fast action. "Tropical Malady" is significant because it is the first ever Thai film to win an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, taking home the Jury Prize in 2004.
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