Dir: Jira Maligool. Thai. 2005. 110mins.

A picture that presents life working underground asan uplifting, character-building experience is nothing if not an oddity. Andwhile this attitude should bestow on TheTin Mine - Thailand's best foreign language Oscar submission - adistinctiveness all of its own, it is hard to guess how much weight such anaccolade will carry with members of voting bodies.

Based on a series ofautobiographical stories by Archin Panjapan, who makes a brief appearance during the endtitles, this is essentially a series of vignettes about life in a desolate rainforestmining site, as seen through the eyes of a twentysomethingfrom Bangkok, sent there after failing his university exams.

Set between 1949 and1953, it is endowed with all the good-humoured, wistful nostalgia of anold-fashioned tale about a past that may have been tough at the time but whichfrom the present not only looks exotic but also essential as the preparationfor a young man's life.

Devoid of anymeaningful social, racial or sexual context, Jira Maligool's second picture plays as pleasant matinee fare,though one suspects few Western audiences - especially among the young - couldbe more than amused by such an innocent approach.

Employing a committedcast, Maligool - who participated in the productionof the likes of Iron Ladies and My Girl, not to mention his directorialdebut, the multi-award winning MekongFull Moon Party - delivers a hearty, engaging picture that should do wellin territories familiar with Panjapan's stories and arenostalgic for a past that seems simpler and more peaceful than it really was.The film enjoys an international premiere at Pusanafter opening at home in the spring.

A brief, pre-creditssequence effectively deals with Archin (Pijaya Vachajitpan) and his Bangkok background, introducing the shy, ratherlanguid engineering student who didn't make the grade and is despatched to themountains to earn the money he needs to study.

With suitcase in hishand, a photo of the girlfriend he left behind in his wallet and a piece ofpaper confirming that he has basic engineering experience, he reaches a tiny,remote tin mine in the heart of the rainforest, and stays there for the nextfour years.

Maligool's script divides the period, just like college, intofour years, 'Freshman', 'Sophomore', 'Junior' and'Senior' (the first three rate separate titles, the fourth is onlymentioned in dialogue), following Archin's progressfrom clumsy, hesitant city nerd, shocked by the company he has to keep and therudimentary conditions he has to bear. But by the end he is one of the boys whois as distressed as the last hired hand when the minecloses.

In between he findsout that every bush in the forest is a legitimate toilet, every dry place wherehe can sleep is home and that the makeshift canteen which swindles him andeveryone else of their earnings is the finest saloon.

While his new palsinitially seem threatening, blunt and uncultured roughnecks, they harbour thatnaïve but honest charm and warmth that civilisation so often deprives humansof.

The guiding spiritis that of a men's world, as encountered in certain John Ford westerns (one ofthose is even screened for the benefit of the miners). But Maligoolstops short of developing any character beyond a brief sketch or pursuing anyissue beyond a basic incident.

The Australian boss(Anthony Howard Gould) is tough but fair, a kind and forgiving tutor who leads Archin through his initial steps in an alien and ostensiblyinimical world. There is also Mister John (Niran Sattar), another foreigner and boozing foreman always readywith his fists though sympathetic and supportive underneath.

The exploitation ofworkers beyond endurance never generates a ripple of protest, working for themine being far more relevant than the pay they get in exchange.

As for sex, the onlywoman around, Laiad (DonlayaMudcha), a local girl introduced late on, is asprettily innocent as any virgin has ever been in Disney heaven - and that's howshe stays to the very end, with no one dreaming of changing her status. Anyother kind of sex is of course unmentionable in this context.

The work processitself is also lightly touched on: there are no underground shafts on displayand the toil simply consists of dredging the earth above ground.

Cinematographypresents the tropical location as rich mass of vegetation with monsoons heapingtorrential rains without break. Brisk cutting by ParnBusabun allows no episode to overstay its welcome,though a less episodic approach overall would have helped pacing.

Production companies
Gmm Tai Hub (GTH)

Thai distribution

Executive producers
Paiboon Damrongchaitham
Boosaba Daorueng
Visute Poolvoralaks
Jina Osothsilp
Mingmongkol Sonakul

Jira Maligool
Yongyoot Thongkongtoon Prasert

Jira Maligool

Chankit Chamnivikipong

Parn Busabun

Production design
Ek Lemchuen

Wild At Heart

Main cast
Pijaya Vachajitpan
Donlaya Mudcha
Sonthaya Chitmanee
Anthony Howard Gould
Jaran See Tao Petcharoen
Niran Sattar
Jumpol Thongtan