Thailand's b.o. 'King'

Prince's trilogy looks to make history

Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, a cousin of the king of Thailand, has directed more than 20 feature films since 1971, with many forays into television as well. This year, he has already released two movies, "King Naresuan" Part I and II, with Part III coming out in December, and this trilogy just may prove to be the crown jewels in his royal repertoire.

The first film, which opened Jan. 17, enjoyed Thailand's biggest opening weekend ever, earning 120 million baht ($3.5 million) over four days, and it will likely become the best-selling movie in Thai history. (The film has grossed just over $10 million to date). Thailand's still-reigning boxoffice king is 2001's "Suriyothai," also directed by Yukol, which took in $11.8 million.

The second installment of "Naresuan" was released Feb. 15 and has made about $7 million, with the final film in the trilogy due out Dec. 5, the birthday of Thailand's king, Bhumipol Adulyadej. The total budget for the trio of films is $20 million — the largest for a Thai movie project.

"Naresuan" takes place around the turn of the 17th century, and "Suriyothai," a few decades before that. Both are epic historical dramas that depict Siam's wars with Burma and also offer a window into the honor and betrayals within the royal politics of the era, when Siam was made up of different kingdoms.

Yukol says he wanted to make the "Naresuan" films in the mold of the "Lord of the Rings" or "Star Wars" trilogies, and the production has taken him three years and counting. He maintains it would be impossible to tell the account of Naresuan, who is a legend in Thai history, in just one film.

"Everybody in Thailand knows the story of (his life)," the prince says. "But we tried to do it in a way no one could have imagined."

The movies also have secured big corporate sponsors like 7-Eleven, which now has Naresuan paraphernalia display sections in their thousands of locations throughout Thailand. Another sponsor, True Corp., Thailand's leading Internet provider and a leading telecommunications company, now offers Naresuan phone cards, ringtones and online auctions selling props from the movies.

It may seem as if there was a strategy to draw a captivated audience back to the boxoffice for the second film less than a month after the first film was released. But Gilbert Lim, executive vp for Sahamongkol Film, the films' distributor, says that was not the case.

"There was no 'Kill Bill' strategy," Lim says. "This (release pattern) can work negatively, so it was a big risk on our part. No one knew how successful it would be."
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