Exclusive Interview with “180 Degree The Series” Director Punnasak Sukee

It is a profoundly rare thing to stumble on a series that manages to bring two worlds together, the stage and television. But the new Thai drama 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us does just that. For those watching, the drama has become a beautiful week-by-week journey exploring the grief and complicated relationship between three characters, the theatrical Sasiwimol (Mam Kathaleeya), her idealistic son Wang (Pond Ponlawit), and her old college friend Inthawut (Nike Nitidon). It is a journey full of symbolism, nuances, and philosophical undertones that has us all questioning life, ourselves, and love. And it does it with a drama made as much for the stage as it is for television.

As a writer, I started my career over fifteen years ago in journalism and poetry before transitioning to fiction. This beginning gave me a genuine appreciation for books, television, and films that can mix real-world problems in a poetic manner. When I first tuned into 180 Degree Longitude, I wasn’t expecting the drama I stumbled on. The time I’ve spent in the U.S. film industry, both on set and off, before turning to international projects has prepared me for how most series and films open with an active hook to draw viewers in before mellowing into the narrative and then driving forward again with action. Therefore, the stage-like narrative quality and dialogue-driven screenplay 180 Degree Longitude immediately offered felt uniquely captivating.

And it stole my heart.

As a child who spent a portion of my youth living inside a car with my family, I lived for books at the local library, from the classics to philosophy to modern contemporary, and 180 Degree Longitude feels like coming home to that. It feels like sitting in the library’s aisles absorbing a very human story that touches the soul.

This is why getting the chance to interview writer and director Punnasak Sukee is a special opportunity for me. For those watching the series, I hope this interview gives you the insight into the series that it gave me. For those not watching, I hope it inspires you to tune into this unique love story. The passion those involved have for this series is evident, and it shines on screen. I highly recommend it.

1. Sometimes things can be lost in translation, no matter how well they are translated, especially in a drama this emotionally complex. Is there anything you’d like to point out or say to international fans that you’re afraid may be missed?

I am totally aware that things can be lost in translation. Apart from the multi-layered meaning behind the dialogue that needs to be read between the lines, the pronouns are very problematic. In Thai, pronouns express status, relationship, and hierarchical attitude. “You” and “I” in English cannot carry all the subtle meaning in the pronouns used in this series. The pronouns between Sasiwimol and Wang are not of mother and son, but friends or lovers, while the pronoun Wang calls Inthawut is “Uncle In.” That’s the issue Wang and Inthawut discussed in Episode 1. In the Thai version, we, from time to time, can notice that Inthawut changes pronouns intentionally and unintentionally, depending on his state of mind. The pronoun he uses to call himself varies from “Phom” (formal pronoun used by a male) to ‘Rao” (mostly used when talking to friends, but Wang feels some “distance” in it, for it can be used with people you do not feel very close to), and “Uncle” which Wang asked him to call himself.

On the other hand, I do trust the power of acting and the ability of my cast to use ‘The Art of Acting,’ a non-verbal side, as a universal language to communicate the delicacy and emotional complexity of the characters to the audience, and I think they succeed at it.

2. I find the title of the drama interesting. Since the international date line (180 Degree Longitude) separates two calendar dates, does the title of the series represent the line drawn between In and Mol’s generation (the past) and Wang’s (the present)?

We all draw the lines. I want the audience to interpret it using their own experiences and social context. Personally, I’ve never seen Thai Society as divided by these invisible lines as nowadays. I have to admit that I strongly intend to use this series to provoke political awareness in Thai audiences. It’s the artist’s responsibility.

3. Much thought and attention has gone into this particular drama, including the artwork, such as the abstract Trey Hurst piece “memory,” Wang’s glass globe, and the Symposium. Can you tell us more about how these pieces were chosen and why? Or is there a particular piece already shown you hope audiences pay closer attention to?

Thanks to my Art Director, Nat Prakobsantisuk. His choices and his attention to every detail make all artistic elements come together in unity and perfectly support the characterization, the acting, and the theme. His work speaks for itself. I think the audience will see these details in the upcoming episodes. Without Nat’s dedication, I don’t think we can go this far.

If there is one thing I’d love to suggest as an example of his meticulous art direction, please notice the seam of the bed sheet separating Wang and Inthawut in Episode 5.

4. 180 Degree Longitude is a very multi-layered drama that becomes more intriguing with each new layer. How much of how this drama was written was inspired by your own experiences with life, theater, and philosophy? Also, I love that 180 Degree Longitude is, above all else, very human, focusing primarily on three characters and their relationship with each other. It’s much harder to move a story forward emotionally through dialogue and narration on film than with action. Can you tell us your reasoning behind this choice and if the actors had any input in the scenes?

Some valued audience texted me that they love the show because it reminds them of their love for theatre and philosophy. Some say the show gives the vibe of Chekhov, Miller, and Williams. Some even mentioned Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. I am delighted to hear that because those names are also my all-time favourites. I have been a theatre person all my life, and I put my whole effort into introducing Theatre Arts to Thai people.

When I wrote Sasiwimol, I wanted her to be a larger-than-life character who graduated from Drama School. She naturally absorbed the characteristics of the major characters in the play she used to direct. That’s why we see the shadow of Strindberg’s Miss Julie or William’s Amanda Wingfield in her.

As a playwright, I believe in the power of dramatic dialogue, for “Dialogue Is Action.” I know it is a big challenge to adopt the highly theatrical style and use it in a series or film when most filmmakers or even academicians think theatre and film should “always” have different grammar. Therefore, I have a strong aspiration to experiment with using theatrical style and dramatic monologue/dialogue in this series. I pray each week before the new episode is released, for I don’t know what the reception will be. But it has exceeded my expectations. The show reminds theatre lovers of the theatre atmosphere, while for those who have never been exposed to theatre, this series is a new thing.

5. All three lead actors, Pond Ponlawit, Nike Nitidon, and Mam Kathaleeya, are absolutely brilliant in their roles. What kind of preparation was done for the parts, and is there anything, in particular, you’d like viewers to know about the casting process?

We arranged a series of workshops and rehearsals. The three leads must agree on this process, which is not normally practiced in the Thai entertainment industry. Again, I have to thank them for their dedication. Kathleeya is a veteran, while Nitidon has his own charisma. They submitted themselves to the roles and allowed me to search into their innermost materials. It’s our wonderful journey. For Ponlawit, he is the newest in the industry among the three. What I admire about Ponlawit most is how he cherishes this opportunity wholeheartedly and devotedly. He wrote down all possible choices of subtext, interpretation, and approach in his script, making it look like a REAL working script for the actor. He is off-book (in film lingo, off-book means no longer needing the script to rehearse) prior to the shooting date, always ready for the long take.

6. According to your bio, you have a history in theater. I’ve done minor work in both film and stage in the U.S., and I find there are unique differences. Is 180 Degree Longitude your first film project, and what is the biggest difference you find between working on stage projects and film?

Yes, 180 Degree Longitude IS my first film project in which I have authorship. Although young and eager to know, I once stepped into the TV industry as a director for a 2-episode drama series 30 years ago. As an invited director, I didn’t get involved in the process of project and script development, especially the process of working with actors. Thai TV/Film directors mostly use an acting coach to do the very intensive workshops and also help communicate with the actors on location. That is not my way of working, so I promised myself not to direct any TV/Film unless I have full authorship from the very beginning.

This is my incredible opportunity to have an investor, producer, cast, and crew who are willing to take the journey with me. They support me and make all the idealistic visions become real. For the theatrical style I use in the series, especially the blocking, I know it is a big challenging task for my two directors of photography, but they put in every effort to meet my requirements. I also learned a lot from them about the limitations, the techniques, and the art of cinematography, for which I must give all credit to them.

7. As a writer, I’m always interested in how fellow writers work. Can you give a little insight into the writing process for 180 Degree Longitude?

I always come up with the “seeds” that profoundly touch me philosophically and emotionally; the quest for the meaning of something. I must see the incidents and the characters and hear them clearly before I start to write. Some say that my works have philosophical and poetic elements, which I think is true. I am very much concerned and always calculate the dramatic rhythm, which aims to have an emotional impact on the audience. As a director, I must see not only how that role will pull the whole inner materials out from the actor who portrays it, but also how to “direct the audience” with my dramatic rhythm.

8. Can you share with us what you hope viewers take away from this drama during and after watching?

I never expected the series to have such a warm and positive reception worldwide. I am overwhelmed with joy. Reading all the tweets makes our team very proud of our sincerity in art and our faith in the audience. I don’t think I hope for more.

9. I am impressed by the stage play feel, the symbolism, and the small details inside 180 Degree Longitude, and it’s made me very interested in any upcoming projects you may have. Do you have anything in the works for the future that you can talk about?

I have my theatre projects year round at my BU Theatre Company. Our theatre was deserted during Covid-19, which is one of the reasons I brought the theatre to the screen. Now the theatre scene in Thailand has come back to life again. I have to supervise 22 shows for my theatre students. I will also direct the classic “Death of a Salesman” for theatre very soon and another musical after that.

For a TV/Film project, it is difficult to find anyone who dares to take a risk and put big money into a project that is not considered mainstream and guaranteed profit. But if our new project gets approved, you might see my new film.

The BL Xpress would like to express their gratitude to Mr. Punnasak Sukee for this Exclusive!

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3 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview with “180 Degree The Series” Director Punnasak Sukee”

  1. I love this interview! The questions were insightful and can lead to a better understanding of the director’s vision and mindset. And of course, dir. Sukee gave great answers!

    Like

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