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I animate, therefore I am a teacher. I teach, therefore I illustrate. I illustrate, therefore I draw on my environment. In drawing on my environment, I am animated!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Kompin Kemgumnird Interview 25/2/14 (part 5) 'Ideas behind Echo planet (2012)'

contd from: Kantana and the Blue Elephant - interview with Kompin Kemguimnird February 2014

The Art Director, P’ Day from Khan Klauy 1 became the Director for Khan Klauy 2. Meanwhile Kompin was exploring several different ideas and plots which he presented to Kantana. The one that caught their interest was Echo Planet. The original idea was Kompin’s, but through the adaptation and development of the movie the idea changed. Essentially the idea is an environmental concept. This was a theme that had grown in Kompin’s head since University. Originally the idea formed from his reading of the book ‘One Straw Revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), who was a Japanese farmer and philosopher from Shikoku Island (http://www.onestrawrevolution.net/One_Straw_Revolution/Massanobu_Fukuoka.html). The book suggested that the way we are farming nowadays is all wrong and causes further problems in the world, which we then try to solve with chemicals etc which instead add another problem until the problems are really complex. The philosopher suggested that we need not try to resolve the problems, but instead let nature take it’s course; that nature balances and can resolve the problems by itself. That we need to understand nature, and help it to work the balance.
Also he had long been interested in ancient cultures, like Native American people, Tibetan people and Thailand’s hill tribe people. The hill tribe people are Thai, but for many Thai people their culture and language make them appear foreign. They wear different clothes and appear very different which would look great as an animation character. Through documentaries and education programmes he became interested in the possibility of representing hill tribe cultures as protagonists in his film, especially with their understanding of nature and natural resources and animist belief systems. With this in mind he started to develop a character of a young boy who can speak/ communicate directly with nature. The drama of when they come in to contact with the ‘civilised’ cultures. Another influence for the story idea came from Steve Irwin’s nature programmes. Kompin imagined what it would be like if someone like Steve Irwin with his larger than life character met up with the hill tribe people the possibilities would be really cool for storytelling. So initially he created a Steve Irwin like character who owned a TV show called ‘Echo Planet’. And we see him in front of the camera he appears to really love animals, but behind the scenes when the camera stops rolling, he’s all coarse and shouts, ‘Get off me!’ at the animals. So when he comes to Thailand he meets the boy who talks to nature, to the frogs, to the chicken etc. the Steve Irwin character thinks that’s nonsense. But on screen he sets up where the boy is talking to the trees; but all of a sudden he has a heart attack and falls into the water and looses consciousness. But because he is in the water his consciousness/spirit transfers to a fish, angler fish that spits water. So he realises that he is a fish and needs to be able to communicate… with the boy! So he has to get his attention by spitting. Meanwhile his body has been sent back to the US. So they boy has to get his sister who looks after him and is really good at fighting. They then have to find a way to fly to the US to return this man’s spirit to his body. When they get to the US they have to call up Echo’s girlfriend, a Jennifer Aniston type character. They call her, and her assistant, John answers. He is a double crosser and says he will come and pick then up, but he doesn't show up but istead calls immigration. And so the story develops that is has to find a way to get back to his body… and learn to be a better person and understand nature and animals.

So on the first pitch to the bosses at Kantana, they liked the characters a lot but wanted something else for the story. They wanted something that said something more about global warming. The feeling was that this would be a bigger appeal to a wider audience. Something that maybe has the small hilltribe kid influencing the president on Global issues. So Kompin had a lot of work to do to rework the ideas.
In the development Norwa, the girl character becomes a really strong female character out to save the planet. She’s super strong, she fights, she climbs mountains, she stands up for her Grandma, her culture, she has a strong family bond and a sense of right and wrong. She makes Disney’s Frozen just look like another set of romantic princess mush. Norwa is out to save the planet. And no push over US President’s son is going to stop her, nor the United Nations assembly. This is another element of thai-ness that shows up in the film. There is a tradition in novels of tough Thai female characters that are like tom boys.  One was called Dawreuang (ดาวเรือง), which is the name of a flower that is similar to a sunflower but smaller, and she’s a tough girl who lives in a remote part of Thailand, she’s tougher than most guys. The bad guy in it is the son of a wealthy people in the village. He falls in love with her and tries to get her, but she beats him every time, she’s really smart and gets him in trouble all the time. She however is in love with the Governor from the city who normally falls for girly girls. But he really falls for her. http://thaifiction.com/
These tough strong female characters appeal to Kompin and Norwa was always going to be that way. A key moment of this in the final story we see Norwa admonishing Sam, the President of the US’s son, for his disrespectful  attitude and actions toward her appearance (neck rings) and her Grandmother’s spiritual ways.http://www.echo-planet.com/index.php/characters.html

In the end the film did not do well at the box office in Thailand on it’s release in August 2012. The 170 million Baht film (£3 million/ $5.3 million) was shot in 3D stereoscopic and aimed to recoup the money invested, however after just a few weeks it was pulled from the cinemas. The film has had limited success at International Animation film festivals, suffering from the huge competition from the US giant studios, much as many small foreign studios do.
 This is such a shame, the film is very watchable, and entertaining. The underlying theme is a simple green message to switch off the unnecessary electricity. The characters are amusing and offer a different ideology in a refreshing way.  Perhaps it’s my British ideology that loves to support the underdog that makes the film so appealing. Perhaps it’s because the strong female lead offered afresh perspective , a hero that was despite the  Karen long neck, someone like me wanting to believe that I have a right to a say in this world. Either way look out for it. It’s definitely worth a look and  could help ad to the list of films now that have an underlying theme to save our planet.