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A star from the Moon


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Can art imitate the turbulent life of the great Pumpuang Duangjan?

 

 

Pumpuang Duangjan's real name was Ramphueng Jitharn. She couldn't read or write, though she sang like an angel - a mud-soaked angel from the sugarcane plantations of Suphan Buri.

 

When she died, in 1992 at the age of 31, she had recorded more than 600 songs on 60 albums and had the whole country singing along to some of the catchiest, sauciest tunes in the genre once firmly associated with buffaloes, peasants and rice fields.

 

One of the greatest performers Thailand has ever seen, the "Queen of Country Music" also led a life so turbulent, so tragic, and so mired with controversy that is almost too much to be put into a film.

 

When the film Pumpuang (or The Moon, after the meaning of her Thai surname) opens tomorrow, most discussions will concern the discovery of the young starlet Paowalee Pornpimol, whose appearance and vocal timbre will convince us that she is Pumpuang reincarnated.

 

But another discussion that no biographers should ever ignore is the elusive fact-or-fiction nature of biopics: The Moon's narrative deviates quite considerably from the reality of the singer's life - that troubled, dramatic life that still made headlines years after the singer had departed this Earth.

 

It's a perennial dilemma if a biopic should be faithful to the life of its subject. And if it isn't, does it matter, as in this case, when the film sets out to celebrate one of the country's most famous artists? Then again, the biggest question is who could lay claim to the truth of a person's life? The Moon will re-ignite these issues, along with the debate on the discrepancy between public versus private history that often confronts Thai film-makers.

 

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