This Thai film has left audiences across South-East Asia emotionally devastated. But what will Australians think of it? (2024)

Thai director Pat Boonnitipat had a way of knowing when a scene was working while making How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies.

The crew would be in tears.

"The first camera assistant, he was like this very cool guy," Pat told the ABC.

"While he was doing the focus pulling on set, he cried so much that he couldn't keep his hand on the wheel.

"We were laughing a lot but that's when I know that this scene will work so well, because it broke his wall."

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The film β€” called Lahn-Mah in Thai, or Grandma's Grandchild β€” is about a university dropout, M, who quits his job to spend time with his Chinese-Thai grandmother, Amah, after finding out she has terminal cancer.

Realising M is simply trying to secure Amah's inheritance, the rest of the family swoop in to stake their claim.

It's been a record-setting blockbuster not only in Thailand but across South-East Asia, with box office takings of at least $40 million and a total audience of more than 10 million.

The family relationships and characters have resonated so much with audiences it even inspired a TikTok meme with film goers posting clips of themselves before watching it and tear-streaked and sobbing afterwards.

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Script stirred a 'very unusual feeling'

Pat said when he read the first draft of the film β€” by scriptwriter Thodsapon Thiptinnakorn β€” it focused almost solely on the two main characters and was more of a slapstick comedy.

However, the emotional heart of the story was already there.

"By the end of the script that I read, this very unusual feeling stirred up inside me," he said.

"I cried a little bit, but I cannot call it a sadness.

"So I tried to figure out what exactly did I feel, and I tried to convey this feeling, enhance it, and make the movie, the more complete version of it for the audience."

This Thai film has left audiences across South-East Asia emotionally devastated. But what will Australians think of it? (1)

Pat reworked the script over two years, adding more realistic family drama elements and characters.

The first-time film director drew inspiration from his own life β€” including his own 92-year-old grandmother who raised him for about 10 years of his childhood.

He actually moved back in with her while working on the script and they still live together.

"She's a very complex person and that's what I really wanted to depict in the film, the layers and layers of her personality," he said.

"There are so many layers: what she feels, and what she actually does and how she's hoping society would see her.

"And my relationship with her is also very complex, but she's really kind."

This Thai film has left audiences across South-East Asia emotionally devastated. But what will Australians think of it? (2)

In the wake of the film's surprise success, Pat said he gave much of his share of the proceeds to his grandmother.

"I just gave it to her because she actually never owned anything of her own," he said.

"By being a Chinese wife, or something like that, even the house is not under her name."

He said he just wanted to know what she would do with it.

"Not far from my expectations, she divided the money and now she's starting to give it out to all the cousins and the kids and the grandson," he said.

'They were stunned'

Not all the characters in the film are entirely sympathetic. One reviewer went so far as to call them "uniformly loathsome".

Pat said this caused some uncomfortable moments after he showed the film to his family.

"I actually brought all of them to the premiere β€” to the gala," he said.

"There were like 20 of them at the movie β€” my mother, my father, my grandmother, my aunt. "

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When the film ended, everyone in the cinema was in tears β€” except for Pat's family.

"They were stunned," he said.

"I found out that the characters and what happened on the screen was too similar to them and they didn't know how to feel."

In the film, M's uncle is a "good-for-nothing guy" who steals money from Amah.

Pat said his real uncle cried a lot while watching the film but didn't say a word afterwards.

"A week later, he came up to me and congratulated me, but we didn't talk about the movie at all," Pat said.

"None of my family ever talk about … the movie, but they feel good that it happened."

Grandma steals the show

Much of the film's success has been credited to the two leads and the chemistry between them.

The role of M is played by heart-throb Thai actor and singer Putthipong "Billkin" Assaratanakul, but it's first-time film actor Usha Seamkhum who steals the show as Amah.

The 78-year-old was discovered by a modelling agency while taking part in a seniors dance competition.

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"She's like a normal, very sweet, very warm grandmother," said Pat.

"She has three kids and four grandchildren and she just lives her life.

"Every weekend she goes to dance with her friends, and she loves to write poems and take care of plants.

"She took little roles in a few TV commercials, and I met her because my assistant director used to work with her.

"But you can say that she didn't actually have any pre-concept of acting, or any experience in acting, and that's what makes her so good."

This Thai film has left audiences across South-East Asia emotionally devastated. But what will Australians think of it? (3)

Nostalgia for big households

Pat said he felt the reason why the film resonated so much with audiences was because the characters and story were grounded in real people and events.

This was a departure from typical Thai cinema which was dominated by slapstick comedy and horror, he said.

Because the audiences could relate to the characters, the film triggered strong emotions and memories from their own lives β€” in particular nostalgia for big, multi-generational households.

He said the trend in South-East Asia was now towards living in nuclear families.

"When you have the memory of living in a big family house, that kind of upbringing, it really creates something unique in your memories," he said.

"You have to live with so many different people. It's like a big mess. There's hatred. There's cheating. And there's also love and warmth.

"And I think this movie really comes out in a time that is a transitional period.

"Many of the nuclear families still have the memory of this big family, and the movie will be bring them back to that time."

This Thai film has left audiences across South-East Asia emotionally devastated. But what will Australians think of it? (4)

With the film set to come to cinemas in major cities across Australia and New Zealand on July 18, Pat admitted he had "no idea at all" how the film would be received by Western audiences.

But he said that the central relationship of the film β€” between the grandson and "pure warmth" of the grandmother β€” was something that was almost universal.

"The memory of grandmother tends to develop early on, when you're still pretty small, and I think maybe people will resonate with that pure warmth," he said.

This Thai film has left audiences across South-East Asia emotionally devastated. But what will Australians think of it? (2024)

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