Thais mourn stars who touched us through the decades
THE past year’s celebrity list of the dearly departed has been especially hard on millions of movie fans.
For Thais who had grown up with their films, music and dialogue, their passing has had a huge impact.
The Kingdom, known for its conduciveness to modern art forms, has embraced cinema since the early days of silent films.
So it was with a heavy heart that fans here received news that two distinguished filmmakers who made their mark filming in Thailand, had died.
One was American, the other British. Notably Michael Cimino and Guy Hamilton who were giants in their days. Their Thai locations would forever immortalized beautiful landscapes of the Kingdom.
Cimino, who shot “Deer Hunter” in Bangkok in 1977, passed away in July. He was 77 years old.
Cimino who was born in New York City, graduated from Yale University in 1963. He started working in commercials before moving to Los Angeles to take up screenwriting.
After co-writing scripts for “Magnum Force” and “Silent Running,” he wrote the preliminary script for “Thunderbolt” and “Lightfoot.” Clint Eastwood liked it so much he sent it to his production company and allowed Cimino to direct it.
With its success, Cimino co-wrote, directed, and produced “Deer Hunter,” with Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken in 1977. The film was released the following year winning Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Walken.
His cinematigrapher Vilmos Zsigmond also won the Best Cinematography award. Several journalists from the Bangkok Post newspaper were recruited to play extras in the film.
Cimino’s next film, “Heaven’s Gate” (1980), proved to be a financial failure. To regain his popularity, he returned to Thailand to shoot “Year of the Dragon” with John Lone in 1985.
“Thailand always brings me luck,” Cimino said at a press conference to announce his filming at the Oriental Hotel. He was proven correct. The film was another box office hit.
British blockbuster director Guy Hamilton who shot “Man with the Golden Gun” in Bangkok and in Phuket passed away in April. He was 93.
“Golden Gun” was probably one of the most beautifully shot films in Thailand with magnificent vistas of Phi Phi Island and the Andaman Sea that served as the backdrop to a secret hideout of the film villain Francisco Scaramanga, played by Christopher Lee.
Ponsri Luphaiboon, a former PR director at the Oriental Hotel, recalled Hamilton and his jet set crew set up base at the riverside location.
“They were all so dashing, Roger Moore and Christopher Lee were so tall and handsome.” Of course the Bond girls, Britt Ekland and Maud Adams, were equally stunning as well.
In all Hamilton shot four Bond films. “Golden Gun” would be his final after his fine work on “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever” and “Live and Let Die,” which ushered in Moore as the new Bond replacing Sean Connery.
Hamilton is also known for many other epics such as “The Battle of Britain” and “Force 10 from Navarone.”
For Asian movie fans, another huge loss in 2016, was the death of Burt Kwouk, the actor who played Cato in “The Pink Panther” series with Peter Sellers as his bumbling boss Inspector Clouseau.
Clearly Kwouk’s character was a spoof on Bruce Lee’s Kato in “The Green Hornet.” He would bring audiences close to tears with his surprise attacks on Clouseau under his boss’ instruction.
These madcap fights often end up with their falling off balconies as well as cause a great deal of damage. Even after Sellers passed away, Kwouk continued his role as Cato in three other “Pink Panther” movies.
Kwouk also came to film “Air America” in Thailand in 1990.
The film which starred Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Junior was shot largely in Mae Hong Son.
Based on the book by the same name, it told of the secret war in Laos where a colorful band of pilots are recruited to transport goods in the Indochina conflict.
Kwouk was born in England and passed away at the age of 85.
Some celebrity deaths also present a huge dilemma for not only “Star Wars” fans in Thailand but for the studios who own the franchise.
Clearly the death of Carrie Fisher, who plays Princess Leia in four “Star Wars” films, is a huge blow for Walt Disney, which bought the rights to the franchise from creator George Lucas about three years ago.
In October 2012, Disney chief Bob Iger announced Disney was buying Lucasfilm, which owns rights to “Star Wars,” for US$44 billion.
“The Force Awakens,” the first of the final 3 “Star Wars” episodes released last year has earned about $1 billion in the US.
Will Fisher’s passing hurt the box-office prospects of the next two sequels?
If anything, Fisher’s death could delay the production and delivery date for the next episode.
As for fans, it will be sad to let go.
It’s not been easy. In the last four months of 2016 alone, more than 89 big stars passed away.
Starting the year on a sad note was the passing of actor Alan Rickman who is best known for his “Harry Potter” films.
Indeed, Britain probably lost the most talents in 2016.
On the music scene, it lost David Bowie, who many Thais remember for his “Moonlight” concert tour in the mid-1980s.
More shockingly was the news of George Michael’s passing on Christmas Day.
The US music industry also lost trio names such as Prince, Earth Wind and Fire’s Maurice White and The Eagles guitarist and songwriter Glenn Frey.
In literature, the world lost Harper Lee who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lee died aged 89 in her sleep at an assisted living facility.
Her novel became one of the most beloved and most taught works of fiction ever written by an American.
In the world of comedy, Hollywood lost Gene Wilder who is best known for several Mel Brooks’ comedies such as “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein.”
Andrew Sachs who plays Manuel in “Fawlty Towers” passed away.
He received praise from co-star John Cleese for his humility and natural knack for making people laugh.
Other stars who passed on include Za Zsa Gabor, George Kennedy, Robert Vaugh, Anton Yelchin and Kenny Baker who is best known for his role as R2D2 in “Star Wars.”
To add to the tragedy of Fisher’s death, her mother Debbie Reynolds died a day later.
Reynolds is best known for “Singin’ In the Rain,” “Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “Tammy & the Bachelor” where she sang the hit song “Tammy.”
But the heavyweight casualty of 2016 has to be Muhammad Ali, the boxer who defied all odds to reclaim his title in a career that inspired several movies.
They include “Ali” with Wil Smith, “The Greatest” and “When We Were Kings”.
Top: Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in “Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens.”
First inset: Director Michael Cimino with Robert DeNiro in “Deer Hunter,” shot in Thailand.
Second inset: Alan Rickman plays Professor Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” series.
Below Director Guy Hamilton rehearses a fight scene with Roger Moore in “Man with the Golden Gun.”
By Cimi Suchontan