Dang Bireley & The Young
Reviewed by Simon Booth
Director: Nonzee Nimibutr (debut film)
Starring: Jessadaporn Pholdee (Dang), Noppachai
Muttaweewong (Lam Sing), Attaporn Teemakorn (Piak), Chartchai Ngamsan (Dum),
Suppakorn Kitsuwan (Pu), Champagne X (Wallapa)
Running Time: 1 hr 45 minutes
Dang Bireley's mother is a prostitute, and
he kills his first man at the age of 13 (a customer that got violent with
his mum). One might say that fate had him down for the gangster lifestyle
from the start. In 1950's Thailand, under a corrupt military government,
it seems that the only options for the youth are to become a gangster or
one of their bitter rivals, the engineering students, so maybe it didn't
take that much of fate at all. At the age of 16 he starts his first business,
a protection racket, and from there goes on to become one of Thailand's
most famous gangsters of the era.
DANG BIRELEY has a lot in common with the Korean
movie FRIEND - in fact, if Thai cinema has penetrated Korean shores at
all then I have no doubt it strongly influenced the latter movie. Despite
FRIEND'S record box office, I found it to be a rather dull affair - perhaps
due to over-high expectations. Perhaps my expectations for DANG BIRELEY
were not quite so high, or perhaps it's just that it's a better movie because
I definitely enjoyed it more.
Friendship is the theme, as the movie follows
the lives of Dang Bireley and his close friends, not all of whom will remain
close friends as inevitable conflicts come between them. DANG BIRELEY pays
quite a bit attention to recreating the 1950s mood, and it is pretty evocative,
if not quite down to the finest detail that FRIEND manages. This is balanced
with a very modern filming style though - a very kinetic camera and edgy
framing/editing, not over done but there are some very cool and interesting
The movie comes from writer Wisit Sartsanatieng
and director Nonzee Nimimbutr - the director and producer of the transcendent
TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER, with which it also shares some key cast members.
A testament to the great talents of these film makers is how completely
different the two movies are though (with Nonzee's NANG NAK being utterly
different again). The movie is pretty serious in tone, though not as dry
as FRIEND and definitely not suffering from the vaguely sickly nostalgia
that permeates the Korean movie. It is presented as the occasionally narrated
memories of one of Dang's gang - and though he obviously remembers Dang
very fondly, his memories of the times are not particularly cheerful. There's
a lot of violence, corruption and hardship around.
The story of Dang Bireley's life is a touching
one. The bonds between the friends are very strong, and the characters
mostly well painted and believable. I think the performances are top notch,
though my unfamiliarity with the Thai language makes it difficult to judge
this completely accurately. Script is great, direction great, cinematography
great... generally a quality movie, though it is let down a little by an
ending that feels a little awkward (though presumably this is due to the
inconvenience of the real world having ended that way). Whilst not flawless,
the movie still comes with my recommendation.
Note: When it
was released in 1997 it broke the box office record for Thailand at the
time. It also won the Thai award for Best film that year as well as being
the Grand Prix Winner at the 1998 Brussels International Film Festival.
The film is based on true events and was sourced from a book (The Mafia
Route) written by one of the gang members many years later.