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February 10, 2011

From the Thai Film Foundation: Dark Heaven

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Sawan Mued
Rattana Pestonji - 1958

Dark Heaven was Rattana Pestonji's first film in color. Sadly, given the state of film preservation in Thailand, while the film has been saved, the color is often faded. In an ideal situation, one would wish a digital picture and sound restoration.

Unofficially, this is also a Thai version of Seventh Heaven. The basic setup would be familiar to those who have seen either the Frank Borzage silent classic, or Henry King's sound remake. A hungry young girl, Nien, grabs some food from a small, street side vendor, food intended by the buyer, an obviously well-to-do older man, for a dog. Escaping from the man and the neighborhood policeman, Nien hides in the garbage wagon of Choo. Choo takes Nien under his wing, and the couple live together platonically in Choo's shack. Choo is called up for military service. Choo is blinded in battle.

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Veering from the original story, Nien, disguised as a boy, takes Choo's job collecting garbage. Returning a dropped bracelet to a wealthy woman, Nien's disguise is undone, and the wealthy woman takes in Nien to live as her daughter. Pursued by a young, western educated doctor, Nien has her heart set on Choo. The doctor's proposed wedding is off when it is discovered that his father is the man who set the law on Nien for stealing food. Choo returns home, feeling that he has no future as a blind man. Nien reunites with Choo at his shack, her feelings of love unwavering. Contemporary audiences might find unintended humor when Choo attempts to commit suicide once it is revealed that the poison in the bottle is actually the only moderately less unhealthy MSG.

Pestonji's film is also a musical of sorts, with singing, but no dancing except for some very limited movement by Choo and Nien. There's even the old gag with Choo singing through a radio to indirectly express his feeling toward Nien. While taking a break from battle, Chool sings about Nien, with the other soldiers providing a chorus. There is very little written about Dark Heaven, but I would guess that while there isn't the kind of innovation with sound as was used in Country Hotel, Pestonji's aim was to again demonstrate there was a place for Thai films that employed the same technical know-how has in films from Hollywood.

At the same time, while Pestonji made films that differentiated himself from other Thai filmmakers, his films were made for a general Thai audience. The sympathies are with the garbage man, the street girl and even the cop on the beat. A more skeptical eye is cast towards the young doctor who makes a point of showing off his use of English in every conversation, and the doctor's father, who judges others by their apparent wealth. Pestonji may have also been looking for popular appeal with the casting of two popular singers, Sutape Wongkamheng as Choo, and Pensri Poomchoosri as Nien's benefactor. Nien was played by Seubneung Kanpai in her only movie role. Seubneung might not make anyone forget Janet Gaynor in one of her most famous roles, but she is sufficiently appealing to make this a lightly enjoyable film.

Dark Heaven can be viewed online at Asia Pacific Films.

Posted by peter at February 10, 2011 08:32 AM