BANGKOK, Oct 21, (AP): A new documentary is set to stir fresh debate over one of Asia’s most enduring mysteries: What happened to Jim Thompson, Thailand’s legendary silk king.
The former American intelligence officer turned textile tycoon went for a walk in the Malaysian jungle 50 years ago and never returned. Despite a massive search, no trace of Thompson was ever found. One of the most prominent Westerners in Asia had simply vanished.
Theories abound: He was killed by a tiger; he got lost and perished in deep forest; he disappeared himself as part of a political intrigue. Those behind the documentary say they have new evidence that Thompson was killed.
Their film, “Who Killed Jim Thompson,” premiered Oct 20 at the Eugene International Film Festival in the US state of Oregon.
“There’s been all sorts of theories and mostly silly theories, but I’m hoping that this will put some closure to, you know, the whole story,” said Barry Broman, the film’s producer.
The filmmakers, from Adventure Film Productions, said they got their break out of the blue: An old contact approached them with a tale of a death-bed confession. They eventually found a second source whose information dove-tailed with the first.
Their conclusion: Thompson was slain by rebels from the Communist Party of Malaya who grew suspicious after he arrived in the jungle and began requesting a meeting with the party’s secretary-general, at the time Malaysia’s most-wanted man. Rather than vacationing, the filmmakers said, Thompson was on what turned out to be a final, fatal mission.
Broman, who has decades of Asia experience as a photographer, US marine and diplomat, said the conclusion is unequivocal: “Jim was never going to be found. He was murdered.”
The filmmakers acknowledged the murder theory’s not new, but they believe their version is more substantial.
While some of the film’s conclusions are plausible based on what is known about Thompson’s life, there is nothing definitive given that it relies on second-hand information from relatives of those allegedly involved and leaves many questions unanswered.
During World War II, Thompson was a highly decorated operative with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. After the war, he was stationed in Thailand with the OSS and chose to make his home there after turning businessman and founding his silk firm in 1948.
Thompson helped revive the Thai silk industry and his company has since grown into one of Thailand’s flag-ship luxury brands. His former Bangkok home, once the site of legendary parties, is now a museum filled with his fabulous collection of Asian art and antiques. Both have become must-see attractions for the millions of tourists who visit Thailand each year.
The company declined to comment on the new claims about the fate of its founder.
Thompson had a $1.5 million a year business by 1967, when the Vietnam War was in full swing with Thailand playing an essential role, hosting bases from which the US Air Force bombed communist-controlled areas of Indochina.
Thompson decamped in March of that year to Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, a hill station dotted with tea plantations that was once popular with British colonists, for some rest and relaxation with Singaporean friends at their Tudor-style Moonlight Cottage vacation home.
In the stand-alone films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor always seemed to get the short end of the stick. The Thor films were never as popular as Iron Man, and didn’t gain steam like Captain America. They were perhaps a little too serious and a little too dull — none of which was the fault of star Chris Hemsworth, whose performances in the role have been so seamless and charming that he almost doesn’t get enough credit.
But “Thor: Ragnarok” has been touted as a different take on the God of Thunder. Marvel Studios and The Walt Disney Co. signed up a voice-y director in New Zealand’s Taika Waititi, whose riotous vampire mockumentary “What We Do In The Shadows” displayed a unique comedic sensibility. They took away Thor’s hammer, gave him a haircut, added some Led Zeppelin and told the set designer the more neon rainbows the better.
The results are pretty decent, though perhaps not the total departure that had been hyped.
The bones of the story are preposterous as ever. It turns out Thor has a long lost older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, who appears to have shot for about two hours) locked away because she was so dangerous. An event happens that releases Hela to the world. She’s really strong, like stronger than Thor strong, and really angry and basically punches Thor into another dimension and she heads off to Asgard to take the throne.
The movie literally splits in two at this point. Poor Blanchett, who has gone full vamp as Hela, is good as always but how lame it must be to be in the “fun” Thor movie and have to play one of the most blandly written villains ever. While she’s off waging her deathly serious takeover, Thor gets to join an irreverent comedy sideshow on the planet Sakaar — a sort of wasteland at the end of the universe run by a Grade-A weirdo who calls himself Grandmaster, played, fittingly, by Jeff Goldblum.
It’s this section that is pretty amusing and where Waititi’s irreverence really gets to shine with pratfalls and witty writing. It’s no surprise that this is right up Goldblum’s alley, but the real delight is Hemsworth who knows just how to subvert the Thor character without turning him into a total mockery. He’s a real comedic talent, which audiences got a taste of in “Ghostbusters.” And Tessa Thompson is fantastic as Valkyrie, a hard drinkin’ fighter with a secret past she’d rather forget.
I imagine “Thor: Ragnarok” is one that might improve on subsequent viewings, when you have a chance to relax with the jokes divorced from the pressure of juggling the silly/serious plot. But it’s a fairly flawed movie on the whole with egregious tonal shifts. Some of the gags go on too long with the Hulk with too little payoff and sometimes it seems as though there’s a mandate that every 25 minutes there will be a big fight no matter what. One particular army of the dead sequence seemed like it could have been lifted from a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie — which is not the most flattering comparison.
While Waititi’s energy and wit is apparent in the film, it still feels as though he had to operate from the same Marvel “base flavor” and was allowed on occasion to sprinkle a few of his own original toppings on.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is the most fun of the Thor movies by a long shot, but it is still very much a Thor movie for better or worse.
“Thor,” a Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.” Running time: 130 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.