Interview with Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Award-wining director talks life, death, and everything in-between.
Sereechai Puttes/Time Out Bangkok
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Last year, we sat down with movie director Nawapol “Ter” Thamrongrattanarit, following the roaring success of his first studio film, Heart Attack, to talk about his plans for his next movie project. Die Tomorrow, the movie, opens in theaters on 23 November so we think it's time to catch up with the indie director and learn all we can about his fifth feature film—how death became the main inspiration for it—and how his life goals have changed over the past year. 

What is Die Tomorrow all about?  
It’s quite difficult to say because the movie combines many elements—graphics, documentary, audio recordings and [unrelatable] footages. Let’s say it’s like a compilation album of 12 to 13 songs, [all of which] speak of life and death. Or, to explain it in another way, it’s like an exhibition that’s divided into different rooms, yet shows the same theme.

The movie is composed of six short stories.Why did you choose to make it this way?   
I didn’t think of it as a fiction. There isn’t a single inspiration that I wanted to develop into a 100- to 120-minute movie. I had, however, a collection of plenty small ideas about death that I wanted to convey, each of which couldn’t be made into a feature film. [So he combined them into one.]

What is it about death that intrigues you?  
It’s probably because I’ve reached a certain age when I go to funerals as often as I attend weddings. People around me seem to live an extreme life. They work so hard not realizing that they’re putting themselves at risk. I’ve seen many of them pass away, which got me thinking that death is actually closer than we think.

 

It sounds like a midlife crisis.  
I don’t know if it is. When I was younger, I didn’t really get [the idea of a midlife crisis]. Now, I think I partially do. It’s kind of like you achieve a goal and start to wonder what’s next. If you had a child, your goal would be to raise them. But if you didn’t, what would be your next step? How can we rise higher? What else can we do? I never thought of these stuff before.

So what’s your life goal now?
I don’t know, really. If you had asked me the same question when I was, like, 28, I would have had an answer. But now, my life goals have become much simpler, like not having a headache or getting to sleep well. That’s all.

I’ve changed the way I live my life a little. I do more of what I want to do, not what I mean to. A movie project, for example, is something I have to spend a long time—like a year. If I happened to die while working on [something] I don’t like, I would have been suffering all the way to my death.

 

Your films are known for always pushing boundaries and their experimental concepts. Die Tomorrow, however, stars a squad of well-known actors. Isn’t this a contradiction?      
Casting a group of well-known actors [Sunny Suwanmethanon, Jarinporn Joonkiat, Violette Wautier, Patcha Poonpiriya, Chonnikan Netjui, for instance] to star in my movie was, in fact, an experiment. [These mainstream actors] don’t usually get to be in this kind of [independent] movies. Another reason—the main one— however, is that I consider this movie sort of like a [funeral] memorial. If it happened to be my final movie, I would want to have these actors, whom I used to work with, to star in it. A bit of a reunion.

What’s next after this? You’re going for a second run with a major film studio, right?  
Yes. I’ve done the script, but I can’t tell you the details right now as it hasn’t been approved by GDH 599 [studio].

 

What is bringing you back to making mainstream movies? Is it the passion or the pay?  
It’s simply because I have a story to tell. And some stories can be communicated to a wider audience than the usual indie-movie fans. So I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t work with a major film studio. Die Tomorrow, on the other hand, was small and more personal so I think it’s better that I made it happen on my own.

Are there any movie genres you won’t touch?    
There are movies that I’ve always wanted to make, but couldn’t. A comedy, for example. I’m not a funny person. I feel jealous everytime I see people bursting into laughter while watching a comedy. If I were those directors, I would be so happy. You should be happy that you’re able to make people laugh. My movies, on the other hand, leave people looking inexpressive or perplexed, so I don’t know if they had just woken up from a nap, were sad or were so into it.

What is it about filmmaking that makes you want to do it for the rest of your life?
It’s the process of making a movie that is fun and magical. For example, it’s kind of special that you have access to places you aren’t usually permitted to enter. I’m also addicted to what’s so-called “a happy accident,” a one-off moment that accidentally happens on set and makes everything surprisingly even better.

 Die Tomorrow opens in theaters on 23 Nov.

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