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Tiger directors: Lee Chatametikool, Concrete Clouds

Thai filmmaker explores two brothers impacted by the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

Thai filmmaker Lee Chatametikool’s Concrete Clouds is set against the backdrop of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 that brought Bangkok’s rampant urban growth to a standstill.

“I was studying in the US during the crisis but returned to work on my thesis film,” recalls Chatametikool. “Everything had ground to a standstill. There was no traffic, construction had stopped and there were skeletons of incomplete buildings against the skyline.”

“It was this kind of atmosphere I wanted to capture,” continues the filmmaker. “I also started to think about the skeletons we have in our own lives… past loves, past relationships, these scars we carry from when we were younger and had a more romantic notion of love.”

The feature revolves around two brothers, thrown together after their father commits suicide due to financial troubles. Mutt, a 30-year-old currency trader in New York, returns to Bangkok where he tries to rekindle his relationship with 18-year-old Nic.

The younger brother has fallen for Poupee, a girl living with her prostitute sister in low-rent flats behind the family’s bourgeois townhouse. Mutt meanwhile seeks out his old girlfriend, Sai, whom he left behind when he headed to New York.

The characters of Nic and Poupee re-enact imagined scenes from Mutt’s break-up with Sai to the music of 1990s Thai pop.

Bangkok has of course developed beyond recognition since the 1990s. Chatametikool used archive footage of abandoned buildings and queues of unemployed people to capture the mood of the era.

“Luckily also my original idea for the film was to use specific interior spaces for each character. Sai, for example, lives in a luxury condo which is pretty much empty because it’s about to be re-possessed by the banks,” says the director.

Chatametikool, who runs his own post-production studios, is best known at home and abroad as a film editor, working with the likes of Apichatpong Weerasetakul and many other independent Thai filmmakers.

“I was editing for over ten years prior to the film so it was a big change for me. The biggest change was dealing with the daily management of 30 to 40 people on set so that took quite a lot of re-adjustment but once I got into I enjoyed it,” says Chatametikool.

“I tried to keep it dynamic. I didn’t storyboard. I didn’t want to trap myself in a certain sort of film before it had even been shot… I shot a lot of extra stuff and wouldn’t call cut straight away, preferring to let the actors carry on acting. I ended up using a lot that additional material,” explains the director, who edited the film with the support of a co-editor.

The filmmaker is now developing a “retro sci-fi feature” dealing with Thai politics in the 1970s, during which the government raised the spectre of the communist threat of the Khmer Rouge on the country’s borders to quell a local populist movement.

“The working title translates into English as ‘vivid dreams of black blood’, but in English the title is simply VD, standing both simply for ‘vivid dreams’ but also venereal disease. The film deals with terrorism and this kind of infection of ideas and ideologies in society and this battle that was going on in Thailand in the 1970s.”

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