Some of us may be surprised to discover that it’s actually Eng and Chang Bunker, the Siamese-American conjoined twins, who brought about the expression “Siamese twins”, the term used to describe conjoined twins around the world, regardless of their nationality. These two were born in 19th-century Thailand, back when the country was still called Siam. Brought to America as the main highlight of a traveling exhibition, their exceptional existence ignited the shock and curiosity of the global medical field, and awed audiences across America and Europe.
Their considerable reputation as the world’s first conjoined twins (in recorded history) plus their story of settling down in North Carolina in their later years have inspired a few documentaries and mostly fictional portrayals in films, books and even a musical. But never has there been a filmed narrative that explores their lives and their loves at length—at least, until now.
Thanks to director Kulp “Tent” Kaljareuk, more about what went on behind the curtain of Eng and Chang’s life has been unveiled. A third-generation scion of the family that runs famed Thai production studio Kantana, Tent is known for directing horror gems Hong Hun (2014) and The Lost Case (2017), as well as producing TV dramas and reality shows like The Face Thailand.
Though he’s assumed the head honcho position for Kantana Motion Pictures, Tent still takes some time to nourish his passion for producing films and TV series—and this biographical account of the Bunker brothers is his latest venture.
We sat down and talked to the director about how the Eng and Chang project came about.
What inspired you to create a whole series about the world’s most famous Siamese twins?
It all comes down to 30 years ago, when Kantana released a documentary about Eng and Chang. It got me very interested about their lives as the first Thai conjoined twins to be recognized by people around the world. And it’s really fascinating how they lived one shared life together while being connected at all times.
Eng and Chang’s life is truly fascinating, but why did you choose to focus on their later years in North Carolina and portray these with elements of drama?
To be honest, I’m kind of a sucker for the drama genre, and the twins’ years in North Carolina were all about their struggles to live as normal people, which I find very intriguing. They lived together, physically conjoined, for over 60 years. That’s difficult. Imagine how they had to go through tons of adversities and overcome them side by side.
Tell us about the research process for the series.
We spent around two years gathering information about their life in North Carolina. Since it all happened in the US, we had to go through archives, as well as my grandfather’s documentary, to get every detail that we thought would be perfect for the series.
And what were these “perfect” details?
It’s anything that manifests their human condition. We want this series to be a portrayal of Eng and Chang as real people, not two beings of wonder or freaks, like how people thought of them back then.
It was a long process. It wasn’t just about how they tried to make it as conjoined twins, but there were also other elements involving race, language and the culture in that period. We didn’t fly to North Carolina ourselves, so we had to sort out what we could and couldn’t use in the series.
Talking about language, is there a reason why you created the series mostly in English?
Our ultimate challenge was the language. We first wrote the script entirely in Thai, so we had to translate it into English and the language needed to be precisely like how people communicated back then. We also consulted some natives on how to perfect the dialogue.
In the end, we created the series in almost 100-percent English because it’s about their life in the US where people speak English. It’d be funny if they spoke Thai but the other characters were not Thai.
Did you also do this to attract the non-Thai audience?
Oh yes! Our aim is to push our content to a global audience, and we do believe that the iconic story of the Bunker brothers is globally known and will successfully appeal to a wider viewership.
Throughout 13 episodes, you will discover each chapter of the Bunkers’ life: getting married to the Yates sisters, building a family, and facing a fallout during their last years. The twins struggled with both internal and external conflicts, something that we all can relate to, more or less. They were humans like all of us, but in uncommon bodies.
What about the shooting process? Did you and the crew have to fly to North Carolina?
Actually, we shot some of the scenes in Georgia [the country and not the US state]. We initially planned to go to America, but we discovered Georgia and it had everything we needed to create beautiful natural landscapes like those in North Carolina. We also built a massive mock-up town in our local studio.
Looking back, what would you say was the biggest challenge in making this series?
The fact that we didn’t live through that 19th-century period, I’d say. We made sure that what’s presented in the series was right and accurate.
And what did you learn from making this series?
There’s a lot that I got from this experience. First and foremost is how people have to compromise to live a life like Eng and Chang. The twins proved that talking is the best way to solve any conflict.
Eng and Chang show us that running away from problems doesn’t do any good. Their wonderful stories and their lives can serve as inspiration on what truly matters in every human relationship.
The series has already released several episodes on Disney+ Hotstar. Have you checked out the online feedback?
I have, and there are both positive and negative [feedback]. Some gave comments about the flawed make-up, while some pointed out that the language and dubbing seem off. We are aware of all the comments, and we will take these into account to improve on our future endeavors.
Do you have anything else to tell the audience?
I believe that the Eng and Chang series is a breath of fresh air in Thai drama. There’s so much to explore in the series, and the whole story will keep you invested.
Extraordinary Siamese Story: Eng and Chang is available for streaming now on Disney+ Hotstar. A new episode is available every Friday.