Susanna Salonen, best known for her camera work in Run Lola Run (1998), brings a German wave of fresh air to the Austin Film Festival with her new feature Patong Girl. Comedic and playful on the surface, this movie does not fail to carry very meaningful issues underhand. Felix (Max Mauff), a young man traveling to Thailand with his family, meets a young Thai girl, Fai (Aisawanya Amp), that sweeps his feet away. However, reality soon falls on their relationship as he finds out about Fai’s past, putting the ultimate test to his affection for her. The cultural difference between the two lovers is a beautiful reflection of society’s general trouble in accepting unfamiliar ideas or behaviors. Here are few words from writer and director Salonen on both the fun and serious aspects of the making of this film.
Why do you believe it was important to tell this story?
I used to teach Scuba diving in Thailand for a little while. The culture clash at the big holiday destination called Patong that I was working in was very interesting. People come from all over the world. They spend a significant amount of their disposable income on their holiday. Usually, they expect a lot from it. And then, their expectations meet the real world. And that real world often is quite different from what they expected.
My ideal was to create a story in which every character has a valid point of view on the issue at hand (which is love). They all are…right. Yes, you have to follow your heart. And yes, you have to make sensible choices in life. It’s a conundrum we’re all familiar with.
But of course, the story also is about being a woman. How do you define “woman”?
What is one of the most memorable experiences you had in Thailand while shooting Patong Girl?
Hard to say. This was my first feature film and I was pretty busy trying to direct it.
You make a wonderful juxtaposition between Fai’s
“old-fashioned” family and Felix’s “liberal” family. Then you have that brief instance of the American woman commenting on Fai and Felix’s relationship in the bus. There’s a playful conversation that moves between the stereotypes we have with different cultures and what they truly are like. Could you talk a little more about your intentions in including social commentary in this film?
I did not want the Thai family in the film to be poor and illiterate. Although there is also poverty in Thailand, a considerable middle-class has emerged. They drive a nicer car than I do, their iPhone is newer than mine. They are not at all the poor rice-farmer families that we imagine to be all toiling away on the rice paddies. We have these preconceptions about how people live in some faraway country. And then we go there, and oh… they are people, just the same as we are. Same desires, dreams, etc. Surprise.
Languages play an important role in international holiday areas. The local workforce and the holidaymakers communicate with sometimes very limited vocabulary. Understanding each other sometimes needs only very few words. Other times, big misunderstandings occur because of the language gap.
For me personally, filming the scenes in Thai were a challenge, because my Thai language knowledge is limited to pretty much 150 words. I learnt the Thai dialogues by heart, so that I could direct the scenes.
Is there anything you think is important that you would like to mention about your film?
I hope everyone enjoys the film!
Lorís Simón Salum is the Creative Director for Literal Magazine. Some of her projects include Literally Short Film Awards, Literal’s short film festival, Literally Everything, Literal’s podcast, and Ensoulment: A Diverse Analysis of the Feminine in Western Culture, Literal’s first feature documentary. You can follow her on Twitter at @lorissimonsalum.
Posted: October 24, 2014 at 9:00 am