1 June 2013; AT5 = 1032 hours; total time = 1970 hours; TV = 149.4 hours
Earlier in the week I finished off the remaining ten episodes of Raeng Ngao (แรงเงา) in just three days, and I’ve since gotten four episodes into a new lakorn called Ruen Hor Ror Hean (เรือนหอรอเฮี้ยน) which, unlike the other two lakorns I’ve watched, is a comedy – a romantic comedy with vampires. I think I’ve followed the overall plots of these shows fairly well, but there’s still a lot that I miss.
For instance, Raeng Ngao had a lot of scenes with two characters exchanging dialogue that I could barely understand, if at all. Many of these scenes were adversarial or confrontational, and I could understand that the two characters were exchanging threats or insults, as well as what was at stake, but the details of what was being said remained really sketchy.
One of the big advantages of watching lakorn is that a character’s intentions, motivations, and overall character are usually pretty clear, as are their relationships, at least on an emotional level, to the other characters. So even if the details of what’s going on drop out here and there – or even totally blur out – due to my shortcomings in Thai, I can still follow the story fairly well, and remain engaged and interested even during scenes where I can barely understand anything of what’s being said.
After finishing Raeng Ngao but before starting Ruen Hor Ror Hean I decided to watch a movie for maybe the first time since I really got into lakorn back in March. I picked a dubbed-into-Thai version of Hard Boiled, a Hong Kong action flick. I usually prefer Thai movies, both because I’m interested in Thai culture, society, etc, and because language-wise I find films dubbed into Thai offputting: the dubbed Thai voices often have an oddly stagey quality to them that sounds more theatrical than cinematic. But I’ve seen a few Hong Kong crime movies over the years that I’ve really liked – Infernal Affairs with English subtitles back when I was in America, and more recently, Thai language dubs (no subtitles) of Death Rim and God of Gamblers – so I decided to give Hard Boiled a shot.
Unfortunately I found it so boring that after 90 minutes (about three quarters of the way through) I stopped watching. I felt like I wasn’t really understanding a lot of what the characters were saying – there seemed to be something “fuzzy” or indistinct about the language – but nonetheless was adequately following the story, which seemed fairly straightforward; I’m guessing that even if I had watched an English language version, it wouldn’t have made any significant difference in terms of either my understanding or my enjoyment of the film. I just didn’t find the story that compelling, nor the characters, nor the lengthy and elaborate shootout scenes (which, because they were fairly wordless, probably didn’t do anything for me in terms of learning Thai). This isn’t to disparage Hard Boiled – I know that it’s a highly rated film, and I think my tastes can be kind of idiosyncratic. Rather, I’d like to point out that the relationship between 1. understanding the language being used, 2. being able to follow the story, and 3. being engaged and interested by the film, is not a simple one.
For instance, there were a couple of Thai romantic comedies that I watched (Loaded Love [รักเกิน 100 โล] and Jenny [เจนนี่]) where not only was I able to follow the story, but I was able to understand a fairly significant amount of the spoken language. While watching these films, I realized that I was understanding things about the plot and characters that was obtainable only from what was being said. But although the films were interesting enough to watch all the way through, I doubt I’d have done so if I were watching them with English subtitles or dubbing. In other words, I understood them well, and they were watchable, but they weren’t really that interesting.
Then there’s a film like Midnight, My Love (เฉิ่ม), which tells the story of the relationship between a stoic, middle aged Bangkok cabbie, and a young prostitute. At first I followed what was going on pretty well, then towards the end I got totally lost. But it didn’t really matter: I was totally engaged by the story, the characters, the depiction of the grittier side of Bangkok, and the way the cabbie’s inner life is envisioned as scenes from old movies. Or there was Opapatika (โอปปาติก เกิดอมตะ), a lushly atmospheric action thriller which alternated long monologues which I couldn’t understand at all with elaborate fight sequences between superpowered, supernatural characters. I had no idea what was going on and didn’t understand what the conflict was about, but somehow I found the movie compelling anyway and my inability to understand made it even more intriguing. These two are films that I’d definitely like to rewatch in the future, and hopefully by that point my Thai will have improved enough that I’ll understand them better.
A Thai movie that I found baffling and boring was – well, I’m not sure what the name is, the Thai title looks to be something like chatee sameeng nang pana, but that’s just a guess since I can’t really read and none of those are words that I recognize. If it had been an American movie I would have guessed it to be from the 60’s or 70’s just based on the way it looked (also based on the appearance of the cover art which accompanied the disk, and which I’m assuming is from the original movie poster) – but given that it’s a Thai movie, I don’t feel very confident making such a guess. The film concerns a group of armed people living in a forest village and fighting the (Thai?) army. Right away I’m lost. Are these people insurgents waging guerilla warfare? Or just common criminals? Is the film supposed to have a historical basis? – are the guerillas supposed to be Thai communist revolutionaries of the 1970s?
Much of the film seems to be about relationships and conflicts within the guerilla (?) group, and there’s a lot of conversation – which I didn’t understand at all. Most of the film seemed naturalistic, but takes turns a sudden supernatural turn toward the end, with one of the women turning into a costumed superpowered ninja-type figure; a mysterious woman asleep (or entranced?) in a cave; and a magic weapon used to incinerate people. These sudden supernatural twists seemed jarring and unexpected, but maybe that was because I understood so little of what was being said in the earlier parts of the film. What was interesting was that the reason the movie was so hard to understand was undoubtedly at least in part due to my not having any familiarity with a context or background in which to place its characters and events: who are these people, why are they waging guerilla warfare, and what are all the supernatural elements about? The other problem was that it was a very talky movie and I didn’t understand what the characters were saying. Although I’m intrigued in that I’d like to know what this movie was really about, I felt bored when I was watching it and I’m not sure I’d want to sit through it again, even if my ability to understand Thai were radically improved.
Or to take a non-Thai movie, the aforementioned Death Rim, a Hong Kong movie (I watched it with a Thai soundtrack) that I felt did a good job with a really old plot: the professional criminal who wants to get out of the game and go straight, but finds that it’s not so easy to leave his former life behind – with disastrous consequences for himself and his family. I had no problem understanding what was going on and getting the gist of what was being said, even though I felt like I understood hardly anything at all on a word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase level.
For the record, some other Thai movies that I found really engaging and intriguing, even though my ability to understand is way far from perfect, included Bangkok Loco (ทวารยังหวานอยู่), Ghost Station (โกยเถอะเกย์), Who are you? (ใคร… ในห้อง), and Khon Hew Hua (คนหิ้วหัว).
What it comes down to is I’d rather watch something that I find interesting even if I can’t understand it very well, than a movie that I understand really well but am bored by. Of course, there are movies that I’ve found boring or dissatisfying probably largely because I understood so little of the spoken language, and the spoken language seemed to be really key in communicating the story (2499: Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters – 2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง – comes to mind). In fact, most of the movies that I’ve watched in Thai so far would for me fall within the “moderate” category: moderately interesting, moderately understandable.