Also showing: Banjong and Pakpoom

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 September, 2008, 12:00am

Banjong Pisanthanakun and Pakpoom Wongpoom were both 24-year-old assistant directors at a production house in Bangkok when they responded to their employer's call for feature film proposals.

They had honed their skills as short-film directors, their work having been shown in festivals in Clermont-Ferrand, Pusan, Singapore and other places. The pair submitted a story about a photographer facing up to some of the dark deeds he committed as a university student when a ghostly entity begins appearing in the pictures he takes.

Their idea was eventually selected, with Banjong and Pakpoom calling on the services of their colleagues. The fact that Thailand's biggest entertainment conglomerate, GMM Grammy, came on board as a major backer lifted the pair's credentials. Even so, they never imagined then the success the resulting 2004 film, Shutter, went on to enjoy. It became the top-grossing local production in Thailand that year and a box-office hit across Southeast Asia.

The film received rave reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York the following year. Hollywood took notice: a 20th Century Fox-distributed remake, bearing the faintest resemblance to the original and not involving the Thai directors, was released last year.

Shutter's memory might have waned, but the sway of Banjong and Pakpoom remained. They gained fame as Thailand's premier horror masters. Their 2007 joint effort, Alone, is a supernatural thriller about a pair of twins, Pim and Ploy (both played by pop icon Marsha Wattanapanich). Separation and death ensues as the twins fall out over the same man. The film's denouement failed to match the shocking heights of Shutter. But it was a success nevertheless, helping make Banjong and Pakpoom, still in their late 20s, two of Thailand's most bankable directors.

Like some better known Thai directors of the previous generation, such as Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Wisit Sasanatieng and Nonzee Nimibutr, they started out making television commercials. They stood out however, in that they did film studies rather than visual communication and design, as Pen-ek, Wisit and Nonzee had done. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the most avant-garde of the so-called Thai new wave, studied architecture.

Their academic background is representative of the new generation of Thai filmmakers. Aditya Assarat, whose independent feature, Wonderful Town, received good reviews in the film-festival circuit last year, also studied film at the University of Southern California.

It remains to be seen whether Banjong and Pakpoom go beyond the horror genre. In an interview with the Thai Film Foundation in 2005, both said they planned to do something ghost-free. Banjong said he wanted to make a comedy drama out of the real-life story of a HIV-positive girl who wrote a diary on the internet. Pakpoom, meanwhile, talked about making an 'historical political drama' about So Sethabutr, the monarchist academic who, when imprisoned in the 1930s, used the time to compile an English-Thai dictionary that students still use today.

Those individual plans have to wait for now. Their third attempt at feature filmmaking has been as directors of two of the chapters in the horror omnibus 4BIA. Banjong's In The Middle is about a camping group's haunted trip in a jungle; Pakpoom's Last Fright sees a flight attendant coming face to face with the ghost of a princess who died because of the recklessness of the attendant and her colleagues.

4BIA topped box-office charts when it opened in Thailand, seeing off challenges from even Hollywood blockbusters. The pair may yet find it tempting to fly over scary movie territory again.

4BIA opens today