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Southern yarns weave a rich tapestry


Bangkok Post : Realtime

Friday September 19, 2008

'Legends and history are difficult to tell apart," says Win Lyovarin, "especially in the matter of the South."

When the respected writer - winner of the SEA-Write award for Prachathipatai Bon Sen Kanan (Democracy, Shaken & Stirred) and Sing Mee Cheewit Tee Riak Wa Khon - was contacted by Nonzee Nimibutr to put together scraps of ideas about pirates, Pattani and sea gypsy sorcery, Win set out researching the history that's as vibrant as it is elusive.

He ploughed through the menagerie of characters like the 16th century Sultan Bahadur Shah and his princesses - Hijau, Biru, Ungu, and Kuning - and delved into their kingdom's relationship with Dutch traders, Japanese samurais, Siamese politicians and Javanese robbers, as well as the pirates roaming the gulf.

Win also took favourite folk legends, chiefly by looking into the story of Lim Ko Niew, the Chinese woman who arrived in Pattani to look for her brother, Lim Kium, and ended up committing tragic suicide. This local yarn is, in turn, entwined with the legend of the unfinish-able Krue Se Mosque, the perpetually half-built masjid, symbolic of the scarred South, that stands next to the Lim Ko Niew Shrine in Pattani.

"All the characters in Queens of Langkasuka are based on real people," Win said. "But I devised their adventures that didn't strictly adhere to history. It's all over-the-top. It follows very much the narrative of martial arts movies."

In Win's script, Queen Hijau of Langkasuka (Jarunee Suksawad) finds her kingdom being threatened by a rogue prince who gangs up with a band of callous pirates, led by Black Raven (Vinai Kraibutr), who's trying to salvage the Dutch-built Great Cannons from the depths of the ocean. The Queen - whose sisters are Biru and Ungu - searches her land for a Chinese cannon master named Lim Kium, who studied the art of weaponry from a Dutch master.

Lim Kium, meanwhile, lives in a sea gypsy village and bonds with Pari (Ananda Everingham), a gifted sorcerer who's training in Du-lum, the ancient discipline of the sea folk, which will allow him to communicate with fish. The story will then criss-cross with Master White Ray (Sorapong Chatree), the Yoda of Du-lum wizardry who battles with Black Ray, another Du-lum master who has gone over to the dark side.

"Du-lum is a real practice, too," the writer says. "The sea people have known it for centuries. And even though in the script, I stretch its power to the level of fantasy, Du-lum is an art, like kam lang pai nai in Chinese movies, that's based on reality.

"The difficult part, however, was when I tried to piece together the history of the South during that period," Win adds. "There are not many Thai books on the subject, and hardly any historical records at all. I had to rely on books written in English and I consulted with Thai experts about the South. It's nothing new, though, that we do not have proper resources for one to study our own history."

As his fans know, Win is a serious writer who sometimes juggles modernist edges with honest sentiments. His best books have both the philosophical vision and the delicate drama of human follies. In his first scriptwriting foray, however, Win realises that his job is simply one of the tools in the mighty machine of moviemaking, that it's impossible for him to control much once his words have been transformed into visuals. It's the trust he has in the director, and vice versa, that made the collaboration possible despite all the necessary limits.

Yet Win believes that his three years of research could blossom into something more than a two-hour fantasy movie. Next month Win will release a historical novel, an extension from the story in Queens of Langkasuka, called Bu-nga Pari.

All the details that didn't make it into the script, and all the sidebar characters that made the history of the South so vibrant, will be featured in the more liberal form of the book, with Pari, the sea gypsy in the movie, as the main protagonist.

"You could say that it's a historical lesson written as a novel," he says. "I didn't want to waste all the stories I got from the research. There are so many things worth telling, from the palace intrigues to the international conflicts between Pattani and other kingdoms. The mood will certainly be more historical than the film."

But still, a book can hardly be more popular than a movie. Bu-nga Pari looks to be a richer experience than Queens of Langkasuka, but it won't enjoy the same hype. "Indeed, people do not read more, even though the figures show that there are more and more books being published," says Win matter-of-factly. "It's not easy being a writer here, not years ago when I first became a full-time writer, and not even now."