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Resurrecting a classic

Along with his early directorial efforts during the late 1990s and early 2000s like Fun Bar Karaoke and Last Life In The Universe, 6ixtynin9 (1999) was remembered as the film that helped Pen-ek Ratanaruang become recognised as a trailblazer in Thai New Wave cinema and for bringing stories of crime and dark humour to a new generation. Due to its unique and unconventional story, 6ixtynin9 was not a commercial success in Thailand at the time, but it went on to become a cult classic and is highly regarded abroad. It won the Don Quixote Award, a Special Mention at the Berlin International Film Festival and Best Feature at the Brooklyn International Film Festival in 2000.

6ixtynin9 The Series. Netflix Thailand

Over two decades later, Pen-ek has decided to resurrect this classic for streaming with 6ixtynin9 The Series. The Netflix show is set to premiere worldwide on Wednesday.

“Well, it wasn’t my idea,” said the veteran filmmaker during a Zoom interview with Life.

“During the Covid lockdowns, I got a phone call from Five Star Production asking whether I might be interested in making 6ixtynin9 into a TV series. I wasn’t sure why they chose that movie in particular, but I guess that they saw it had the potential to be a series over other films because it has an entertaining element in it.”

The six-part series stars actress Davika “Mai” Hoorne in the leading role of Tum, a character that was first portrayed by Lalita “Mew” Panyopas in the 1999 film. Similar to the premise of the original film, 6ixtynin9 The Series tells the events of the Thai economic downturn through the story of Tum, an employee at a financial company who is laid off because of economic problems. Tum returns to her apartment in despair. She does her usual routine when arriving — adjusting the loose room number sign which flips the number from 6 to 9. As she closes the door behind her, the number flips back to 6 again by itself, but Tum does not realise that a series of ill-fated events including mass murder will take place all because of that broken room number sign.

“I wouldn’t call it a remake because that wasn’t what I intended to do. But I find the idea interesting because back when I wrote the script for 6ixtynin9there were a few characters I created that ended up being taken out due to the limited length of the film version,” Pen-ek explained.

“Now I have an opportunity to bring back those characters and explore more of each backstory during these six episodes instead of focusing only on Tum’s character. So I think this is a new version of the story and not a remake. There are more storylines, new characters and locations. Everything should feel like a new story even to those who have seen the original film. The only thing that stays the same is probably the quirky storytelling style and the dark humour, which are the core of 6ixtynin9.”

When asked about why he chose Davika to portray the lead role, the 61-year-old filmmaker replied that he’s out of touch with the new generation of actors and celebrities but Davika happens to be an actress he knows.

“Five Star offered me a list of three or four actresses to choose from and I hardly knew of any of them [laughs] because I don’t normally watch TV dramas. However, out of all the names, Davika is the only one I know and have seen her work. Plus, she has the look and physique that matches the character of Tum in my head. So it wasn’t difficult to choose Davika,” he pointed out.

“There wasn’t even an audition for the casting because each actor on the list is famous and they already had enough acting experience, so I wasn’t really worried about whether they’ll be able to fulfil the role they’re given. I did not doubt them. Like when you see a national football team, why would you waste time wondering if these players will be able to bounce the ball or not? When I chose Mew [Lalita] to play the role of Tum in the movie years ago, Mew was famous in the industry. She was like an angel who rarely took on the role of holding a knife or a gun in a murder story before. I think that is where the fun and interest come from.”

Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. Photos © Jukrin Kongdon / Netflix

6ixtynin9 The Series marks the first time that Pen-ek has worked on a TV show. Although he has many decades of experience directing movies in the industry, Pen-ek admits that this work was not easily accomplished.

“I did not have trouble writing long scripts or expanding this story into something fresh, but I did not know the art of how to make an interesting intro for each episode or how to end each in a cliffhanger,” he said. “My life was all about films and I haven’t watched many TV dramas. The only series that I have watched and liked was the American historical drama Chernobyl [2019]. It takes a lot of experimentation and effort to make a decent series, but I learned a lot more as I went along.”

Pen-ek is a big fan of cinema — he’s chosen to watch other works only in theatres — but when it comes to his own creation he doesn’t mind if it is seen in cinemas, streaming platforms or even through mobile phones.

“My job is to make movies. I just want to tell stories and make them into pictures. So I don’t care what format the audience has in mind, whether you watch my movies in theatres, streaming platforms or even on the world’s smallest mobile phone screen. My way of filming is still the same. Nothing has changed, he said.”

“I’m a filmmaker and storyteller. I always get excited when someone calls me and says they want to invest in my movies, and that’s really all I care about. It’s like if I get asked, ‘Would I consider redoing my old work Last Life In The Universe into a series if 6ixtynin9 The Series succeeds?’. I may not do it because I would rather focus on making feature films. But I would definitely feel happy because it’s my opportunity to do something that I love.”

Davika ‘Mai’ Hoorne as Tum in 6ixtynin9 The Series. Jukrin Kongdon (Mr. Jukrin Kongdon)/ Netflix

Jukrin Kongdon (Mr. Jukrin Kongdon)/ Netflix

Actress Davika ‘Mai’ Hoorne with Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. Jukrin Kongdon (Mr. Jukrin Kongdon)/ Netflix

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