Phra Apai-manee


Director: Chalart Sriwanna
Year: 2003
Starring: Ying Juraluk, Surachai SaengArkard, Passakorn Pamornbutr
Time: 88 minutes

I have come across a few Thai films of late that rather perplexed me with their seemingly peculiar plot lines and bizarre happenings. Both The Legend of Kunpan and Krai Thong had this effect one – sort of a “who’s drug induced mind did this misshapen idea pop out of” puzzlement. This film struck me in the same way. What these films have in common it turns out is that they are based on Thai literary mythology and are very well-known stories in Thailand in the same way that Paul Bunyon is in the States. This mishmash feels like a combination of Tall Tale stories and the adventures of Ulysses on his odyssey. The movie itself certainly reminded me of some of those mythic adventure type films from the 1950s/60s such as Jason and the Golden Argonauts or The 7th Adventure of Sinbad. Like those, this seems primarily targeted to teenagers/children, but it actually contains some fairly violent action scenes and some risqué moments involving a sea witch and a mermaid!

This legendary tale written 150 years ago by one of Thailand’s greatest poets, Sunthorn Phu, tells the story of two princes of a kingdom within Thailand some many many years ago. Their father the king tells them to go learn so that someday they can rule after he has died. Unfortunately, the king was not very specific about what they should study and so when they came back and tell him that one had become an expert at stick fighting and the other a master flute player, the king is not pleased. So he boots them out and tells them never to come back – and so begin the adventures of Phra Apai-manee and Srisuwan. Perhaps the king should have listened a bit closer as these two are not your ordinary stick and flute men – Srisuwan can use his stick in mighty ways and has magical powers with it while Phra is able to soothe wild beasts with his flute playing – and use it for more powerful means when needed. The sound of his flute to us ordinary men sounds rather off tune and scratchy but it works wonders with tigers!
Though I suspect the film is a very condensed version of the book (at one point eight years passes faster than a midnight snack), the two brothers still have plenty to deal with. They soon team up with three holy men who have powers as well and defeat a group of killer bandits. Phra is then kidnapped by an incredibly ugly female giant/witch who digs his flute playing and is able to turn into a sexy woman who wants to bed him in the worst way – and he all too quickly agrees! At the same time, Srisuwan goes looking for him with the three holy men and instead save a kingdom and their hottie princess from an invading force. And let’s not forget the very nubile mermaid who makes sea urchin eyes at Phra.
The film isn’t really very good – much of the acting and dialogue are fairly basic to say the least, the special effects are on par with those from the aforementioned 50’s and 60’s films (though kind of nostalgic fun) and the film just tries to cover too much territory in its short running time (88 minutes). The film does improve as it goes along and there is something about mermaids that has always appealed to me from Splash to Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948).
Other little tidbits – this legend was the basis of Thailand’s first animation feature finished in the 1970’s called Sud Sakorn. It was 82 minutes long and took two years to finish.

It was the beautiful island of Koh Samet that inspired this tale from the author.

Two related websites:

For toy figures:
A park in Thailand

The Thai DVD has English subtitles.

My rating for this film: 5.0