Saturday, March 21, 2009

Taxi small talk unearths gems


HEY, I have one g (gram) of ice. Last night I slept with a rich man and he gave me ice. I will sell it to you for 2,500 baht (RM250),” an 18-year-old attractive female student said in Thai over her mobile phone.

The driver’s ears pricked up on overhearing the telephone conversation. She was a passenger he picked up at Hotel Novotel Bangkok.

After the student alighted at Bangkok’s Central Rama 3 shopping mall, Robert Poo informed a policeman about her drug deal.

That night, at home, he jotted down the conversation in his notebook, hoping one day it would be immortalised in a Thai movie.

Poo is not your typical Thai taxi driver. He is a 60-year-old faded actor and director who drives a taxi to make a decent living (about 20,000 baht or RM2,000 a month) and to mine his passengers for “authentic dialogue”.

The last time Poo, whose real name is Chaikorn Chitcha-uw, acted or directed was about 10 years ago. In his prime, he was cast mostly as a bad guy (because of his fierce beard).

He had appeared in about 30 movies as well as directed a movie and a TV series called Mr Joke (Thailand’s Mr Bean).

Asked why he quit acting and directing, Poo, whose stage name is Robert, after his favourite actor Robert De Niro, said: “I’m an old man.”

His friends in the movie industry has asked him make a comeback. But Poo told them he couldn’t hack it.

“I can’t do fighting scenes,” said Poo, as he jabbed, crossed, jabbed and crossed the air as if re-enacting a scene from a forgotten movie.

“If the scene requires me to fall on the ground, I can’t do it as it will be painful.”

But how about directing?

“I’m too old,” he said. “In Thailand, except for a handful of directors, when you pass 55 your career as a director ends.”

Now Poo, who has been driving a taxi on and off for the last 10 years, dabbles in script writing.

“As a taxi driver I meet passengers of diverse backgrounds – rich, poor, politician or prostitute – and I listen to them talk,” explained Poo, who displays a montage of his acting and directing days on his taxi’s right passenger window with the caption – “Yes, I’m a director”.

“When I go home I write down interesting experiences and dialogues in my notebook.”

So far he has sold a script for 50,000 baht (RM5,000). His storyline (a smart dog which assists the police to nab drug pushers) was turned into a TV comedy series called Mak Ma Ma (Come here, dog).

Last year, Poo wrote a movie script and sent it to a good friend who is a director. It was rejected. The director told him the plot was not original and “not in trend”.

That story was about a broke university student and drug pusher. “The morale of the story is drug pushers end up in jail,” said Poo, who took along a scrapbook of his movie career to the interview.

This year he got an idea for an “in trend” movie script when on a visit to another friend’s dog training school.

“The dogs could do many tricks -swim, open doors, run and stop suddenly. And I thought why not write a story centred around a dog,” he related.

Excitedly, he added: “Recently one of the most successful Thai movies was Ma-Mha 4 Ka Krub (a 2007 Thai comedy-drama film about a pack of ‘talking’ stray dogs in Bangkok).”

Ma-Mha 4 Ka Krub (Mid-Road Gang), according to Wise Kwai (, a blog on Thai films), “is the first Thai live-action feature to star an all-animal cast of principal players”.

Currently Poo is writing the script of his new movie idea: a broke university student who is a drug dealer but finds redemption after befriending a smart dog.

I pointed out: “Isn’t that the same storyline as your rejected movie script?”

“Yes, but this time the star is a dog,” he said, grinning like a puppy.

“Will you be able to sell it?” I asked.

“When the movie opens in cinemas, please come and see it with me,” Poo confidently replied.

(Published in The Star on March 21, 2009)