GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – The Siam of Domingos de Seixas (3)

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

To make the film, director Chatrichalerm Yukol, better known as Than Mui, spent five years doing documentary research. Surveys that took him to Burma, Laos, Portugal – “testimonials of Domingos de Seixas of the kingdom of Ayuthaya are very well documented in the archives of Torre do Tombo” – and to Macau. No detail was overlooked. “I had to carefully read chronicles of the time, search archives, old paintings, archaeological remains.” Even a shipwreck off the coast of the Philippines proved to be a good database. A ship from Ayuthaya that had been shipwrecked 50 years after the death of the queen. “Everything that was found in it – dishes, chopsticks, candlesticks. etc, – represent the utensils of the time,” said the filmmaker, who is himself a diver.

The well known researcher Fr Manuel Teixeira was one of the people Than Mui spoke to when he came to Macau. In fact, the filmmaker came to Macau to talk to him. Supposedly, it was an episode reported in Teixeira’s book The Portuguese in Thailand that led Than Mui to move forward with the project. It is the episode in which the queen Suriyothai is willing to die crushed by elephants to avoid a battle that was announced between the eternal rival armies: the Burmese and the Siamese. This episode – not known to the director and to most of the Thais people – is differently portrayed in The Legend of Suriyothai. In it, the Queen dies, in combat  against the Burmese opponents, while riding an elephant.

In directing The Legend of Suriyothai, Chatrichalerm Yukol intended to show the world the history of Thailand in a global perspective. “It is important to know how the relations of Siam with other countries were,” he said. In this context, the director made a point of involving several foreigners in the project, at realization level or at the technical aspects regarding lighting and soundtrack. Unfortunately, he lacked an historian or consultant specialized in the history of the Portuguese in the East….

The premiere of The Legend of Suriyothai took place shortly after the premiere of Hollywood’s long-awaited production Anna and the King, shot entirely in Malaysia after the Thai Film Association rejected the proposal for filming in the country. The resemblance of the plot in both movies led to the inevitable comparisons. Chatrichalerm Yukol, however, assures that there are differences of base, since “Ana and the King” was filmed entirely by foreigners, being, therefore, a film that carries a Western look on the East. The Legend of Suriyothai, on the other hand, “is based on an interpretation of Thai history made by Thais, but with very close collaboration of foreigners.”

Despite the “competition,” the film’s producers were optimistic, as they expected the film to be nominated for this year’s Oscars in the category of “Best Foreign Film,” which did not happen.

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