Jan Dara

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr
Year: 2001
Starring: Santisuk Promsiri, Christy Chung, Eakarat Sarasukh
Time: 122 minutes

Nonzee Nimibutr followed up his Nang-Nak success with this fairly scandalous film that is based on Utsana Pleungtham's 'The Story of Jan Dara', published in 1966. It felt more like it was based on some trashy Southern gothic novel of heaving breasts, tyrannical fathers, rape and incestual relationships. There is barely a moment of joy in this film – it is all wretchedly sordid, ugly and hopeless. I disliked it intensely and felt in the need to shed my skin afterwards. Not that it is a badly made film – beautifully filmed, a wonderful period recreation, solid acting, good narrative flow, erotic scenes – but I simply found the depiction of this extremely dysfunctional family to be odious and without a ray of humor or humanity to be found.

Jan Dara is born and his mother dies – his father (Khun Luang) takes an immediate hatred to the boy and names him Jan (a curse word in Thai). His Aunt Waad brings him up in his father’s household and gives him the only slice of love in his childhood – even letting him suck on her breasts at one point. The father brings in numerous servant girls to have sex with while starring at the photo of his dead wife and Jan occasionally witnesses these trysts. Khun Luang is also sleeping with Aunt Waad and a baby sister (Kaew) is born, but she is brought up by the father to despise him and is basically a horrid unrepentant human being. At one point Jan falls for a young girl, Hyacinith, and this appears as perhaps his one hope from his dismal life, but that flickers out like a mirage.
The father brings another wife to live with them – the luscious Christy Chung. The film received a huge amount of publicity when it was announced that this well-known Hong Kong actress was appearing bare breasted for the first time in the film. Not only does she appear bare breasted on a number of occasions as well as having some torrid sex scenes, but Christy also learned Thai for her part. Though her role is actually minor compared to the publicity she received – she is actually perhaps the best thing in it. The characters continue their descent into moral degeneration and by the end everyone seems to have slept with everyone else – but little pleasure is derived from it – and in the end few lessons are learned. In the prologue the film says it is not suitable for children or those with strong religious beliefs – I would add anyone who has no desire to sit through two hours of repulsive behavior from characters that have no spark of life within them.

The DVD and VCD have English subs.

My rating for this film: 4.0 (though you can add a few points if all you really want to see are Christy’s breasts)

Reviewed by Simon Booth

Hey, at least I can honestly say that I didn't buy this DVD because of breasts! Whilst the prospect of Christy Chung getting kitless wasn't exactly horrible to me, it was rather the fact that JAN DARA was directed by the consistently excellent Nonzee Nimibutr that landed it in my shopping cart.

Poor Jan Dara has a bad start in life - his mother dies in childbirth, and his father hates him thereafter as a result (or maybe just because he's a complete bastard, which does seem to be mostly true). Not a great household to be growing up in in the 1920/30/40-ish years in which Jan is a young boy. But as he reaches young man age, the affluent household seemingly full to the brim of luscious females does have some benefits.
The movie is about Jan's early life, and particularly about his early sexual experiences - and the sexual experiences of those around him. This is one of those movies that makes me feel that everybody in the world is having more sex than me (admittedly, every movie from Mary Poppins up has that effect - it's just the movies, right?). The characters here hop into and out of each others beds with such frequency and complexity that it's like they're the pieces in a game of sex-chess or something. Christy Chung is just one of a bevy of pretty ladies who end up on their backs for half the movie.
But JAN DARA is far from a bedroom farce - Nonzee Nimibutr is a film maker with much more skill, class and brains than that. Actually it's taken from a Thai novel, and it does feel very novelistic - quite high brow (though down-beat). The characters are very well developed and explored, and the period setting is loving realised with great cinematography. Totally excellent soundtrack too.
Ultimately JAN DARA is not a happy movie - there's a viciousness in his family environment that leads to basically unhappy people all round most of the time. In fact, one can hardly blame them for trying to shag themselves into a coma in search of a little respite from the gloom. Though not happy, it is very enjoyable however - because it's a well written, well directed, well acted and generally very well made piece of film. And hey, Christy Chung shows us her tits for chris' sake