« Coffee Break | Main | My Mexican Shivah »

September 15, 2009

Tone

tone 1.jpg

Piak Poster - 1970
Phanthamitr Region 0 DVD

If one depended on IBDb for the history of world cinema, one would be unaware that Piak Poster was considered one of the top Thai filmmakers of the 1970s. Seen almost forty years after it was produced, Tone is might be of greater interest in its attempt to bridge some of the traditional elements of Thai movies with those of the Hollywood films of the same same time. Even if some of the uses of technique might have been considered cliche by western viewers, Tone is a display of how relatively quickly western popular culture became globalized.

The narrative is virtual Thai formula. Honest and simple youngish man, Tone, leaves his rural village and goes to Bangkok to study, I'm not making this up, Interior Decorating. Staying at the house of his new best friend, Aod, he soon locks horns with Aod's voluptuous and spoiled sister, Dang. Of course the two finally admit that they love each other. Dang realizes her feelings for Tone after he rescues her from the gangster who is cahoots with a lout from Tone's home village. There are a couple of attempted rapes, fist fights, and shootings, in short, the stuff that the local audience wanted, or at least what Thai producers assumed was expected by the audience.

tone 2.jpg

The best part of Tone is the title sequence, of psychedelic, polarized colors, and the singing of Thailand's top rock band, The Impossibles. If they weren't singing in Thai, one could easily mistake them for a Bubblegum rock band, maybe not as good as The Monkees, but more credible than the 1910 Fruitgum Company. The song performed during the title sequence is about getting ready for summer vacation, while the second is about riding a train. If either song had been performed in English, it would have found a cozy home on Woodstock era AM radio. There is another band that performs in the film during a party sequence, doing reasonable high school band cover versions of The Beatles' "Birthday", Crazy Elephant's "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'", and surprisingly well, Booker T and the MGs' "Time is Tight". Tone may not have been any more an accurate depiction of its era than anything released from American-International Pictures, but it shows Thai youth doing the hippy hippy shake shake in Nehru shirts, love beads and miniskirts.

More traditional Thai popular music comes in the form of the shy country girl, Kularb, a childhood friend of Tone. There is also a "love song" performed by the film's comic character, Song, a skinny, older guy missing his front teeth. Song has the good looks of Gabby Hayes combined with the machismo of Franklin Pangborn. In an effort to be timely, some of the characters refer to the Apollo moon landing that took place in August 1969, which took place a year prior to the release of Tone in Thailand. Piak also acknowledges the still new freedom accorded filmmakers after the U.S. initiated their rating system with a, ahem, brief shot of Aod's cheeks while getting caught putting on his tighty whities by sister Dang. It is a cleverly composed shot with Dang seen entering the room on the right side of the frame, while a mirrored image of Aod is on the left side. Whatever one might think of, comparing Tone with films released in the U.S. or Europe, the film was innovative enough to be a major hit during a time when Thai productions were not in favor with the home audience.

While it was never intentional, there is also what might be considered an inside joke in Tone. Conspicuous in its size is a poster in Dang's bedroom of Petula Clark in Francis Ford Coppola's Finian's Rainbow. Piak Poster served as the Second Unit Director for Chatrichalerm Yukol's epic, Suriyothai. When released in the U.S., Prince Chatri's film was presented by old UCLA pal, Francis Ford Coppola. Karma? Maybe. Coincidence? Maybe not.

tone 3.jpg

The print quality is uneven, and the subtitles indicate a tenuous understanding of English, but for those interested, Tone is available from HK Flix.

Posted by peter at September 15, 2009 12:08 AM

Comments

I'm glad you got to see this. The Impossibles' soundtrack for this is pretty awesome.

The stunning Aranya Namwong plays Dang. She married the lead singer of The Impossibles, Setha Sirichaya and they are still together.

Song was played by Sangthong Seesai, who was a popular singer and character actor of the era. More about him is here:

http://thaifilmjournal.blogspot.com/2008/07/sangtong-seesai-sighting-at-national.html

Tone is played by Chaiya Suriyan, another one of Thailand's popular leading men, and Jaruwan Panyopas (mother of Pen-ek's 6ixtynin9 and Ploy actress Lalita) is Kularb.

Posted by: wisekwai at September 16, 2009 12:23 PM