Friday Future Lister: Lights, Camera, Nawapol—Nawapol's Unique Filmmaking Style

A Thai writer, screenwriter, and film director; explore Nawapol’s most notable works below

Film directors, AKA visionary architects, are the masterminds of the cinematic world bringing stories to life on the silver screen with their creative minds. Future List 2023 nominee, Nawapol “Ter” Thamrongrattanarit, has achieved influence and acclaim within Thai Cinema and Koktail celebrates his success with a review of his most notable work.

A prominent figure in both independent and mainstream film in Thailand, Nawapol is the founder of Very Sad Pictures and Happy Ending Film companies while also holding a position at GMM Grammy's film studio subsidiary, GDH559. Before creating full-length feature and documentary films, the self-taught director honed his skills by working as a screenwriter, script consultant, and film critic. His journey in the film industry began with the creation of several short films, and his passion for storytelling eventually led him to participate in the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2017.

Back in 2012, his debut feature film, 36, earned him the prestigious New Currents award at the Busan International Film Festival. The following year, his second feature film, Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy, premiered at the Venice International Film Festival.

Here are some of the talented director’s most successful films:

Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy, 2013

Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy is a coming-of-age film centred around a teenage girl named Mary growing up in Thailand. Based on tweets from an anonymous girl named @marylony, the story unfolds as an existential narrative, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Mary confronts unexpected changes in her life, particularly in her friendships and relationships, leading to a complex and confusing two-hour film.

The movie features witty banter between Mary and her best friend Suri, which provides comedic relief, while Mary's interactions with her crush M are captured with unexpected awkwardness. The film intentionally has a long and somewhat challenging plot, reflecting the unpredictability of life. Mary's lack of control over her life is also emphasised as she verbalises her thoughts and feelings, offering an unconventional portrayal of teenage girlhood. The film's structure includes quick editing and tweets displayed on-screen with mouse-clicking sound effects. When Mary is alone on screen, the camera becomes shaky and shots linger, immersing the audience in her thoughts and worries.

Despite its fantasy theme, the film does present a realistic portrayal of Mary's school life in a slow and rural environment, challenging Western perceptions of Thailand. Throughout the story, Mary's suppressed voice and mental health issues are highlighted, as she faces restrictions on her freedom of speech within the school environment.

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September 2013 and the Asian premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in October 2013. It was also screened at several film festivals including Valdivia International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, and Tokyo International Film Festival. In 2014, the film won the Young Talent Award at Hamburg Film Festival.

Heart Attack (Freelance), 2015

It is near impossible to find someone in Bangkok who has not seen the offbeat rom-com Heart Attack (Freelance). A quiet and contemplative honest film, the story couldn’t be simpler. The film revolves around Yoon, a dedicated and overworked 30-year-old freelancer who unexpectedly falls for his doctor. Amidst his feelings of love, Yoon faces a sudden heart attack, making it difficult for him to express his profound affection to the woman who has captured his heart. The film has scored a total of nine wins and eight nominations at the Thailand Film Association Awards. There is no denying that Nawapol is a true game changer in his field, and the evidence in this film speaks for itself.

Fast and Feel Love, 2022

The recurring saying in Fast & Feel Love, “If you love something, it will take you somewhere,” holds true for the film's protagonist, Kao, a 30-year-old man-child who has a passion for sport stacking, his greatest joy during his younger days. But as he transitioned into adulthood he discovers the harsh reality that fixating on one thing for a lifetime might not be a good idea. The film explores the challenges of adulthood and incorporates the director’s distinctive style with deadpan humour.

Selected as the opening film of the 21st New York Asian Film Festival in July 2022, the film was screened at Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center on July 15 for its international premiere. It was also invited to the 26th Fantasia International Film Festival and was screened for its Canadian premiere in July 2022.