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June 04, 2009

Chumpae

Choompae.jpg

Jaran Phromransee - 1976
Saha Puntamit Sound and Film All Region DVD


Who's the guy in the blue leisure suit with the brown Panama hat who can kick your ass if provoked? Pherg, that's who.

Chumpae, also known as Choom Pae, was at one time the biggest hit in Thai movie history. The star, Sombat Metanee, was the top star of his day, and even looks a little bit like a baby faced Burt Reynolds. I got the DVD as a way of getting a little more understand into older Thai cinema. Chumpae is not the kind of film that lends itself to serious film criticism, it is more accurately an old film rather than a classic. What is greater than the film is that it provokes a host of questions regarding film preservation as well as film studies.

Film preservation as it understood in Europe and the North America is still in its infancy in Thailand. Just as in the U.S., Thai studios were not prepared for the fact that DVD consumers would be interested in movies that played more than ten years previously. While I have read about a number of older films, the substantial number of old Thai titles available on DVD with English subtitles are those films by Chatrichalerm Yukol. For the non-Thai speaking film scholar, there is the dual problem of seeing the film on DVD, or in many cases VCD, as well as having the film come with reasonably correct English subtitles. Chumpae provides a case in point because the film element used for the DVD was pretty well worn, if not quite as bad as Insee Tong, which I wrote about last year. Also, there is the question of subtitles with English being the common language used even for international film scholars. Nothing gets in the way of taking a film seriously when according to the subtitled dialogue, a bad guy tells a potential victim, "You're going to die like a frog."

chum pae 1.jpg

Chumpae earned 30 million baht at the Thai box office, impressive for Thailand, but small change by U.S. standards, converting to around one million dollars. There is a lot of shooting and some very basic kick boxing. As far as Asian action films go, this doesn't have the polish of something by Cirio Santiago, the prolific Filipino director who worked with equally small budgets. Another question raised is how a foreign film critic or historian is to write about a film that was intended primarily for a domestic audience, and perhaps also for import within a specific geographic area. Some of the questions come to mind because I am currently reading Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context. For a variety of reasons, Thai cinema is more "foreign" than Japanese film, a situation caused in part because of the more limited number of Thai films shown theatrically as well as available on DVD, especially older films made before the Thai "New Wave" of 1997, as well as the extremely scant writing available on Thai cinema.

As for the film in question, Sombat plays a crook named Pherg who shows up at the town of Chumpae primarily to avenge the death of his father. The town itself is in the middle of Thailand. A gangster named Tom has the police in his pocket, and has also promised his young daughter to be married to the police chief. It is later revealed that Tom makes a habit of offering his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who can be of significant help in his schemes. Pherg decides to fight Tom and his gang, becoming a sort of Robin Hood in the process. Complicating things is another gangster who runs amuck with his mob, causing havoc, claiming that he is Pherg. Pherg's idea of flirting with a female cop involves the two aiming guns at each other. There is much shooting, tossing of hand grenades, a preposterous happy ending, and subtitles indicating a shaky knowledge of the English language and idioms.

There was no information to be found on director Jaran Phromransee. Based on what I have read about Sombat also being a singer, I am hoping someone will tell me if that is his operatic voice on the song heard during the opening credits. If nothing else, having Chumpae on DVD provides one example of the work of one country's movie star at the height of his career. But in another sense, Chumpae also illustrates how limited film scholarship is both in terms of the availability of films and information regarding many films, as well as the kind of obstacles faced by those whose interest in film history goes beyond the well worn paths.

Chum Pae is available from HK Flix, along with more recent Thai classics, like Tears of the Black Tiger featuring Sombat in a supporting role.

chum pae 2.jpg

Posted by peter at June 4, 2009 12:06 AM