“Do what you know, know what you do,” advises director Josh Kim, whom students from Littérature et Société and Terminale met last December. The young filmmaker is currently shooting his first full-lengh feature film: How to win at Checkers (every time). It is adapted from two of Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s short stories, “Draft Day” and “Café Lovely”.
Students from both classes had read the novellas prior to encountering Josh Kim, as well as other stories from the collection, Sightseeing. As always when novels are adapted into films, the readers were curious to see the result… Had Josh Kim stayed faithful to the spirit of the Sightseeing? Or was it twisted beyond recognition?
Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about…Or at least, not much. Josh Kim, Korean-American director, who knew nothing about Thailand before hearing an interview of Mr. Lapcharoensap on the radio, took it upon himself to learn about Thailand before attempting any sort of adaption.
“I sent an email to the author,’ says Josh Kim. ‘And asked him if he would be okay replying to a few of my questions. He said yes… but I think I sent him too many. He never replied after the second email.”
Not to be deterred, the courageous director hopped on the first plane to Bangkok, and decided to produce a documentary on the draft day – a military draft lottery unique to Thailand. The eponym documentary follows two young Kathoey women as they wait for hours on end to draw their tickets, and meet their fate.
This is an aspect of Josh Kim’s “artistic approach”, this mysterious sixth sense that all non-believers describe with a suspicious scoff. The director stays faithful to reality, and is serious about the way he represents things.
“Sometimes when you create, you feel you have this poetic license, you want to diverge from reality, but I never felt I had the liberty to do this.”
Mr Kim was notably curious about the fate of transgender women, curiosity sparked by a Kathoey character in the short story “Draft Day”. When he approached the subject with his friends, none gave him the same reply, leaving him confused, and further prompting him to make his documentary. Draft Day (Josh Kim’s Draft Day) provided him with a great amount of necessary information for his movie, he explains, such as how the cards look like, how bribery of the officials happens… After that, he felt ready.
“Now I know what the truth is, what the reality is, I feel ready to write anything.”
This is why movies created from books are usually considered adaptations, and not literal transcriptions. How to win at Checkers (every time) merges two of Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s short stories. Wichu is now Anek’s little brother. “Draft Day”’s main character, and his previously named best-friend Wichu, have become boyfriends.
“I’m gay,’ announces Josh Kim. ‘And it felt more truthful to write a gay relationship.”
The director goes on to explain that this was his most personal touch to the story. It also responded to another set of movie requirements – such as adding drama, or romance, which is generally welcomed. Two short movies by the author, The Police Box and The Postcard, also featured gay romance: it seems to be a signature of the director. That is also a part of the “artistic approach”: what is most private to the artist. It seems that creating, in Josh Kim’s case, was a blend of reality and individuality, his personal voice working around real experience, what actually takes place.
“You’ve got to really know what you do,’ opines Josh Kim, explaining his motivation for the realization of Draft Day. ‘Nobody asks help from someone who only knows a bit about everything, they always seek a true specialist.”
Know what you do, do what you know. This is the Josh Kim method, movie making in his terms: his “artistic approach”. And, if we are to base ourselves on the short extract of How to win at Checkers (every time), it seems to work.
“Don’t feel forced to create stories you don’t like, just because the public likes them better,’ advises the young director. ‘What will matter in the end is your own, personal voice.”
Alice JETIN-DUCEUX, Seconde