Is it the beautiful cover of this well-produced trade book?
Is it the intriguing title chosen?
I can see no other reason why A film a lifetime in the making (Pharphayon Thee Thaitham Talort Cheewit) by Jakraphan Kang-wan, an alleged feature writer, is a finalist for the SEA Write Award this year, never mind the wishy-washy statement of the preselection committee trying to justify their choice: ‘All stories are there to “converse” with the reader on serious social topics. Even though each story doesn’t ask questions openly, those questions are hidden in those tales and make the reader suddenly recall them and [feel] bewildered about what is happening in society that many view as commonplace but in truth is anything but.’
The eight stories in this collection run the whole gamut of infantile to immature to corny to implausible and they run it at length, forty, fifty pages at a time of mainly dreary repetitive dialogue full of onomatopoeias – kak, pang!, phleng!, phangggg, phang! here, owk!, oi!, erk! there. Most stories read like Wor Winitchaikun or Tomayanti on speed.
Descriptions of people and places are similarly arty and evocative.
Don’t take my word for it: here is a sample, taken almost at random.
The lean-bodied man sits up. The hair on his head is tangled up, not groomed. He is wearing dark-coloured trousers and a light-blue short-sleeved shirt over thin crumbling material almost torn at some points. He looks around himself with eyes depressed and irritated. Within the cramped ramshackle room where the neon on the ceiling is still lit, there are people lying pressed against one another on the floor of grey rubber tiles. A small television with a 14-inch screen set on a low table against the wall of the room on the left side is still on, even though on the screen there is only glaring light and dancing fibrous black lines together with a loud hiss from the loudspeaker. A hoary granny, stark white hair all over her head, deep wrinkles resting layer upon layer all over her face, is wearing a round-neck sleeveless shirt and a flowery tube skirt. Her small lean body sits cross-legged with a stoop, her eyes wide open staring still at the television screen as if under a spell. Another couple lies on the bed against the wall where the door of the room is: the man wearing shorts but not wearing a shirt; the woman, dark-skinned, fat and big, wearing a tube skirt hitched up to her thighs. She lies snoring deafeningly. A girl and a boy of about the same age of seven or eight lie in a row next to the man and woman … As for the bald-headed, potbellied old man lying in the middle of the room, he is snoring as loudly as the fat-bodied woman. A little girl of about three and a pre-teenage boy lie close to the old man.
The lean-bodied man sits on the inside of the wooden bed [เตียงไม้]. At the foot of the bed is placed a small baby cradle. He stands up, turns to look at the lying bed [เตียงนอน]. A woman of about his age but with a wasted body and looking sickly lies with a boy of about five whose mouth is chewing noisily, but the young woman isn’t sleeping yet. The weary eyes in deeply sunken orbits turn to stare at him…
How much of this can you stand?
To make matters worse, nothing and no one in this scene is relevant to the story being told in the next forty-five pages, no one but the ‘lean-bodied man’ (ชายร่างผอมเกร็ง) who is next found driving a taxi and being … taken for a ride by a would-be-writer who… oh, well, enough of that nonsense, which doesn’t deserve as much space as I’ve devoted it here, irate fool that I am to care so much about good prose.