Weerasethakul Becomes King of the Road with 'Uncle Boonmee'

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Thai director's Palme d'Or winner sends him on a round-the-world accolades tour.

HONG KONG -- Since winning last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes with his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, much of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s time has been spent on airplanes and in hotel lobbies hopping from one film festival to another and receiving more awards.

On Monday, Weerasethakul arrived in Hong Kong after a phone call from the festival organizer alerting that he has to be here, gently hinting that his film was the winner for best picture at the 5th Asian Film Awards.

“It’s amazing and disorienting at the same time to be on the road all the time,” he said on Tuesday, describing his life after Cannes. “But I say it’s amazing because I get to meet wonderful people which makes me confident.”

The film, a mysterious fable on reincarnation through a dying man, reflects the myths of his childhood upbringing in the northeast of Thailand. Uncle Boonmee’s mystical notion of reincarnation was overbearing for some critics at the time of Cannes, but for many European audiences, the film’s sense of time and space evoked more responses.

“Even for me the film is very exotic,” he said. “But I was intrigued by the idea of memory, and that was the ultimate start of the film.”

Contrary to his past endorsement of the Chinese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien and Weerasethakul’s naturally experimental leaning, the Thai director also admits to being a fond audience of Hollywood films because “it’s all about technology and future.”

Aside from recently watching Inception, he is also a fan of older Hong Kong films such as John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow.

His next film, Mekong Hotel, centers on a catastrophic flooding on Mekong River and its ties to China, Thailand and Laos. The film stars Tilda Swinton, the British actress who also appeared in the director’s 2004 film Tropical Malady and whom the Thai director fondly refers to as “one of the two wonderful women in my life.”

But for a director whose film travels so widely, it’s curious how he copes with the dizzying array of responses from each region.

“When I make a film I don’t think about Thai or Western audiences,” he said. “I just try to convey my personal feelings and I think that’s the best way to approach it when you are making low-budget films. You just try to be true to your audiences.”