The information below is provided by Maxim McDonald from Network Releasing:
A FILM BY THOMAS CLAY
OPENS JUNE 12 AT THE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS IN LONDON
In Bangkok, a corpulent European man and a young, pregnant
Thai woman live together in near silence. His large body
stands out in marked contrast to her tiny frame. He gives her
presents – she has a growing collection of stuffed animals
– and takes viagra pills. She is looking for security and
he is the best way to stay out of Soi Cowboy, the red-light
district where they met. She likes him but sleeping with him
is a duty. Meanwhile, in the countryside, a teenage mafia
enforcer is employed to deliver his older brother’s head.
ABOUT THOMAS CLAY
Born in Brighton, England, 1979, Thomas Clay studied 16mm
film production as a teenager at the CFU, London. At the age of
19, he made his first medium-length film, Motion, together with
producer and co-writer Joseph Lang. This was followed by his
feature debut, The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, which made a deep
impression at Critics’ Week in the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
2008 Soi Cowboy
2005 The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael
2001 Motion (CM)
INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS CLAY
–After The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, how did you get the
idea, the subject of Soi Cowboy?
The remnants of my fee on another screenplay went towards
Soi Cowboy, along with some private equity and receipts from
Robert Carmichael. The script for Soi Cowboy I wrote in two days,
but I’d been living in Thailand for close to a year and these thoughts
and images had been growing inside me for some time.
–How did you cast and choose the actors and actresses? The main actor
is a professional. Are the Thai ones professional or amateur?
First of all, you have to understand the difference between the
Bangkok Thais, the urban elite who are benefiting from the
economic prosperity, and the people of Isaan who are the largest
ethnic group in Thailand and the protagonists of my film. These
people are an underclass in the Dickensian sense of the word,
subsistence farmers, street sellers, sex workers. They have
different features, darker skin and they also speak a dialect that is
closer to Lao than Thai. The only time you will hear Isaan in a
Thai cinema is on the dub track for Mr. Bean.
Our only option, therefore, was to do open casting calls, to scout
and street cast. Mo (Pimwalee) won the lead role due to her
enthusiasm, her intelligence and her ability to take direction. Of
course, it was a tougher shoot for Mo than for Nicolas, being her
first time in front of a camera, but she gave everything she had and
I think it’s an excellent performance.
In the finale, we are then transported into a different kind of arena,
one that requires a certain exaggeration and largess, so this is
where I decided to use some Thai personalities. There is Thai
boxing gold medallist Somluk Kuamsing, accompanied by his real life
business associates: Pornthip Papanai, co-star of last year’s
Ploy, singer and soap opera star Art Suppawat and also Amporn
Parnkratoke, the Oliver Reed of Thailand.
–How did you prepare the shooting on location? How many days have
you shot there? How were the working conditions?
I had most of the locations in mind whilst writing the script. Only in the
finale did we have to go through a pretty radical design to create the
correct atmosphere and colour scheme. I also had my shot list and
compositions worked out in advance and spent a fair amount of time
rehearsing with Nicolas and Mo. The shoot lasted for three weeks,
completely out of sequence, with three and a half days of dolly work
and the rest either on a tripod, or with a handheld rig in the case of
the second narrative. We used high speed S16mm stock to be able
to adapt and compliment the available light, both indoors and out.
P’Song’s total lighting kit for the film comprised of a bag of domestic
bulbs and fluorescents, two redheads and one kinoflow. We had no
safety net, no contingency and no insurance against negative damage
or scheduling disruptions. We did pay Thai commercial rates to the
crew and received a very high level of dedication, so that helped to
keep things moving. Perhaps, technically, we weren’t able to be quite
as perfectionist as on my last film, where we had four times the budget
and twice as much time, but I feel I was lucky to achieve most of what I
wanted and bring everything in on schedule.
–Have you some special films or artistic, cultural references for Soi Cowboy?
Antonioni remains an enduring inspiration, both as a filmmaker and
a world citizen. No-one else captured the 20th century with the same
degree of precision, insight, texture and depth of feeling and his
passing was a sad moment for cinema. There are a couple of scenes
in Soi Cowboy that may be accused of homage, although I’ve tried to
exclude anything that is not internally justified by the material.
–Why have you chosen to shoot the first part of the film this way (black and
white, in a contemplative manner and well-composed, precise frames) and
switch after that to saturated color and a handheld camera?
The phase of script development that I went through following
Robert Carmichael certainly had an impact, having to think at the
same time about many different kinds of film, each constrained
by a particular style or genre. With Soi Cowboy, I quickly decided
to approach the material from two different angles, two distinct
narratives with differing cinematic approaches. This was also a
response to Thailand itself – the stark divide between rich and
poor, urban and rural, that is such a defining feature of the social,
political and visual landscape.
The first part of Soi Cowboy is thus a depiction of surface reality,
the minutiae of the day-to-day. Danger lurks beneath the surface
yet never shows its face. I was aiming for stylistic consistency
and, unlike my debut feature, there is an intended closeness
to the protagonists. Ebbing away amidst the intangible ruins of
Ayutthaya, the house lights could rise after 85 minutes and the job
would seemingly be done. Yet, to rest here would leave the picture
incomplete. Tobias’ western perspective still lacks context. The
omnipotent power-structures that shape and govern this society,
this relationship, remain elusive, undefined. A different approach is
needed to get to grips with the underlying, hidden nature of things.
The second part thus begins with a quasi-docu naturalism, but the
picture is then transformed through a sieve of genre familiarity,
narrative into fable, character into archetype, all moving inexorably
towards a point where stasis is achieved, when the camera returns
to the dolly and these have ceased to be characters at all, just as
the narrative has drifted away in a puff of gun-smoke and we are
left with only essence.
–How would you describe the relation between Tobias and Koi?
For me, what is interesting about the relationship is that it is
founded on a commercial exchange, with the inevitable problems
this entails and yet, at the same time, they are trying to overcome
those problems and make the relationship work, for the good of
their offspring, for the future. This resembles the struggle that I
believe we all have to go through if we are to retain our humanity in
a world so driven by competition and avarice. As Michel Piccoli says
in Le Mepris, everything has been commodified, our bodies, our
minds, our happiness. But I’m a father now myself and I think we
have to try to overcome this situation somehow, if we are not to be
thrown to the winds as a civilisation and as a species.
INTERVIEW WITH NICOLAS BRO
–How were you cast in Soi Cowboy?
I met Joseph Lang (producer of Soi Cowboy) at a film festival
in Spain some years ago when I saw there The Great Ecstasy
of Robert Carmichael. I was totally blown away by the film and
very passionately discussed it with Joseph. At the same
festival, Joseph Lang saw me in Dagur Kari’s Dark Horse and I
think he liked my acting. We enjoyed each other’s company for
the rest of the festival. Then I made a film called Offscreen by
Christoffer Boe. It was at the London Film Festival and Joseph
Lang saw it there. At that time, he and Thomas Clay were
casting for Soi Cowboy. Thomas saw the movie and decided
to cast me as Tobias in Soi Cowboy. I really loved the script.
–How did you work the part?
I think Thomas Clay wanted me to be his alter ego, so for
me it was about making a mix between me and Thomas.
–How would you describe the relationships between your character Toby and Koi?
I think he is deeply in love with her, and she needs him. They have
two very different views on love through their own culture. It’s
a clash between Thai and Western ideas of love and security.
–What did you think of the script?
I really loved the script. And I think the movie
is everything the script was.
ABOUT NICOLAS BRO
Nicolas Bro was born in 1972 in Copenhagen. He has become
one of the most famous actors in Denmark, with Mads
Mikkelsen and Ulrich Thomsen. He studied at the prestigious
Danish National Theatre and Contempory Dance School,
and has since played in many Danish films inclunding: Kira’s
reason – A Love Story (2003), Old, New, Borrowed and Blue
(2003), The Green Butchers (2003), Reconstruction (2003),
Stealing Rembrandt (2003), King’s Game (2004), Adam’s Apple
(2005), We Are The Champions (2005), Murk (2005) Sky Master
(2006). He recently appeared in Dark Horse by Dagur Kari. He
is acting in numerous plays at the Danish Royal Theatre.
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