GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – The Siam of Domingos de Seixas (2)

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The company that produced the film The Legend of Suriyothai (Prommitr Productions), established deals with distributors in several countries in Asia, Europe (Germany and France) and with three of the most powerful Hollywood distributors. Hollywood’s response could not have been better. The Zoentrope of Francis Ford Coppola immediately joined the project, and Coppola himself travelled to Thailand where he edited the film, cutting many of the scenes, not only to make it less long but also “to make it more appealing to the western public.” It remains to be seen how significant was the action of the accomplished American director in the adulteration of the initial purposes of the film…

In an interview with the Bangkok Post in 2001, Chatrichalerm Yukol had said he hoped the film would cause controversy and even outrage among the Thai public. “Everything that has to do with history is subject to criticism and to different interpretations,” he said. “My film deals with facts that occurred almost 500 years ago. There is no concrete evidence to tell us that things have happened exactly as I have portrayed them.”

For the 57-year-old Thai director, the important thing was to “arouse the curiosity” of viewers about the history of his country. And he was content with little. “There is so much to learn,” he said, “if my film leads one or two people to look back at Thailand’s past, I think my goal has been achieved.”

Another controversial aspect of The Legend of Suriyothai was the fact that the award-winning director, author of films such as “The Elephant Keeper,” “Shooter,” and “Dust Road” decided to tell the story of Queen of Ayuthaya through the gaze of the Portuguese mercenary Domingos de Seixas.

“I chose Domingos de Seixas to tell us the story, because Thai people already know the official version of the heroism and dedication shown by Queen Suriyothai, the main character of the film. When rewriting her life under a foreigner point of view, I hope to demystify her image a little. I hope that this will help to awake the critical spirit among the Thai people, so that they may eventually call into question what they learned at school,” he said.

However, something led him to change his mind: Seixas not only does not narrate the story, but his name is not even mentioned. The narrator of The Legend of Suriyothai is an anonymous Thai and the only references to the Portuguese throughout the film are the frequent appearance of gunmen, gunners and personal guards of the sovereign wearing western military dresses, both in the Siamese and Burmese camps; the explicit reference to a group of “Portuguese mercenaries in the service of King Ramayanda”; the offer of Portuguese wine by the princess to a guest; the presence of a priest (a Jesuit?) who performs the functions of a physician; and, finally, the arrival of a Portuguese ship in 1533 that beyond the usual “loading of provisions and deer skins brought with it the smallpox” that would spread throughout the kingdom causing numerous deaths.

The Legend of Suriyothai is also an account of the power struggle between the different lineages of royalty, undermined by intrigue, passion, betrayal and murder. This movie, in addition to the profile of the queen, also brings us to Thao Sisudachan, a powerful courtesan who, unlike Suriyothai, was the symbol of cruelty, perfidy and immorality. “There is a reason for Thao Sisudachan’s excessive ambition and behavior,” said the director. “Originating from a very powerful lineage, disgraced over a century ago, Thao was determined to do everything to restore the ancient glory of her family.”

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