Good Morning Luang Prabang and Laos’ Budding Film Industry
Unlike neighbouring countries Vietnam and Thailand, Laos’ film industry remains in an embryonic state, mainly due to the strict constraints place on it by successive governments. However in 2008 the first privately funded Laotian film was released, entitled Good Morning, Luang Prabang.
In 1949 Laos gained its independence from France but was mired in civil conflict for the next few decades, meaning the nascent film industry never got a chance to develop. Films that did get a release in Laos were mainly propaganda which promoted the interests of Laos’ royalist and communist groups. After the communist government seized power in 1975, the only films made were about their triumph against foreign enemies. There was a lack of independent film making due to the paucity of funding, equipment and the repressive policies of the communist government.
However after decades of largely ignoring the film industry the government is showing more interest in the industry. Good Morning, Luang Prabang (2008) is the first privately funded film to be made in Laos for more than 30 years. Thai director, Sakchai Deenan, and Laotian, Anousone Sirisackda, carefully considered the story, as they were aware that they needed to submit the script to the Ministry of Culture to gain the government's approval.
‘We wanted a soft storyline so it would not be too hard to get approval from the Lao government,’ said Sakchai Deenan. In order to shoot the film a member of the government was constantly on set in order to ensure that Laotian culture was portrayed appropriately. A number of scenes were cut as they were considered to be controversial.
Deenan was inspired by his own visit to Laos in which he became infatuated with a Laotian woman and imagined her as a tour guide. In the film, Sorn, a Bangkok-based Laotian-Australian journalist, is assigned to photograph Laos. He is reluctant to stay but hires a tour guide, Noi, to show him around. It’s Noi’s first time as a tour guide and so she repeatedly takes him in the wrong direction.
Sorn starts to want to know more about his Laotian father’s family and ends up returning to his childhood home. The family that remained in Laos welcomes Sorn warmly even though he has not seen them for over ten years. Sorn falls for Noi and starts to feel a part of Laos.
The film is also an attempt to reinforce bonds between Laos and Thailand, which have been strained due to Thailand’s ties with the West. The Thai comedy Mak Teh (Lucky Losers) made fun of the Lao national football team, leading Laotian diplomats to complain; consequently the film’s release was cancelled. The Laotian authorities also complained about an episode of The Thai soap opera Mekong Love Song, in which a Thai actor drops Lao’s national flower, the frangipani, into the river whilst yearning for his lover. This episode was not aired as a result.
According to the Laotian director, Anousone Sirisackda, the film Good Morning, Luang Prabang aims to present ‘Laotian culture, our beautiful scenery and cities.’ The film was shot on a shoestring budget and took over 12 days to film. One of the producers mortgaged his house in order to fund it.
The lead actor, Ananda Everingham, worked for almost nothing,
despite being one of the most highly paid and successful actors in the region, in
order to take the part of Sorn and be one of the film’s producers. Everingham
explained that he wanted to play the lead character because of his own Lao
ancestry. ‘It gave me a special energy to be in a production like this,’ says
Ananda, who, like his character, is half Laotian half Australian and who
visited Laos for the first time 10 years ago.
‘It's a small movie,’ he continues, ‘We didn't have much money, so we hit the road and shot our scenes along the way. Sometimes we just knocked on a stranger's door and asked if we could shoot a scene in their house, and wherever we shot it became an event for the whole town.’
‘As a half-Laotian, I feel a connection to the country and I
want to know more about it. This film is very personal to me. In my mind, I
want Sabaidee Luang Prabang to become more than just a movie: I want it to
become something that can represent Laos, something that the country can be
proud of. As a matter of fact, a lot of Thai people still look down on Laos,
and it stings me sometimes to think about that.’
The film premiered in one of Laos' two theatres in the capitalVientiane on May 24th, 2008. It was released in Thailand on June 5th. According to the director and president of Lao Art Media, Anousone Sirisackda, promoting the film abroad is necessary. ‘Right now there are only a handful of movie theatres here. The audience is too small because people don't have enough money to spend on movie tickets. So we can't recoup our investment with local audiences alone.’
Ananda Everingham wants the film to be shown internationally at festivals. ‘The project is very art-house and was shot on a very tight budget over 13 days,’ he says. ‘But I feel very patriotic about it because it's the first independent movie in so long. It's really a landmark for Laos.’
By Anya Kordecki