By Leni De Castro
True love goes beyond what is physical. It transcends limitations and destroys death. Such is Mae Nak’s love for her husband Mak: an undying love, which separates the story from most Thai legends where the love of a couple ends in death. For Mae Nak, even as a ghost, her love cannot be overpowered.
For this reason, the legend has become the subject of many cinematic adaptations since 1959. The fascination for ghostly tales and undying love has kept the subject of Mae Nak fresh for different screen adaptations.
The events took place during the reign of King Rama IV. Nak was a beautiful maiden living by the banks of the Phra Kanong canal. She married a young man named Mak who was drafted into military service. Mak’s injury in battle prevented him from going home, which made him miss the birth of their first born. Nak died in childbirth, and when Mak returned home, he was greeted by his wife and child, not knowing that those who greeted him were the ghost of the deceased. Mak was warned repeatedly by friends and neighbors that he was living with a ghost but each of these people subsequently met with an unfortunate unfortunate demise. Eventually Mak believed them when he witnessed his wife’s ghostly qualities and so he escaped and took refuge at the Wat Mahabut temple. Nak, upon realizing that her husband was gone, terrorized their neighborhood, accusing them of being responsible for Mak’s fright and escape.
Nak’s ghost was put to rest eventually by the revered monk Somdej Toh, who bound the spirit of Nak to a piece of bone from Nak’s forehead and gave her the proper Buddhist burial.
Modern Screen Adaptations
Nak’s is a poignant tale of undying love and devotion, capturing the heart of both old and modern Thailand. Her story has been embedded in Thai culture for over a century and is now being featured in films, TV shows and operas. The endearing tale has been adapted for today’s Thai pop culture. In recent cinematic adaptations of Mae Nak, the ghost has represented feminist views, will power and, of course, love and devotion. Nang Nak, a 1999 adaptation of the tale emphasizes the Thai’s views of modesty and femininity. The plot and story are close to the legend but the dialogue and certain scenes in particular denote feminine desires and pleasures. Pee Mak, a 2013 adaptation, lends a comedic touch to the legend with the inclusion of Mak’s friends from the military who lighten an otherwise too serious love story. And then there is the twist in the end, which sees the love between a man and a ghost given a chance to flourish in a supernatural setting.
In 2005’s Ghost of Mae Nak, the legend becomes deeply immersed in modern Thai society as it depicts a newlywed couple battling the spirit of Nak. The emphasis on modern transportation, such as the train station in the Phra Kanong district, signifies the contrast of modern times with the traditional, which, in the story, was represented by the traditional boat ride on the canal. Families and friends are included in the story for support and comedic relief. In this adaptation, true love prevails over the relentless pursuit of the ghost of Nak for her beloved Mak. The will of the young Nak to overcome the ghost and to save her husband’s soul adds a new twist to the original Mae Nak story.
The emphasis on family and friends in these modern adaptations represents a prevailing theme in Thai pop culture. The community, represented by friends and family, figures strongly in modern society. In these contemporary adaptations, the traditions of Buddhist practices and superstitions are still followed – to some extent to appease the parents and, in some ways, to save the main characters from harm.
The tale of Mae Nak lives on as devotees flock to her shrine, as well as movie theatres, to refresh their memories of the legend of true love that continues beyond the physical world.
Watch Ghost of Mae Nak on FilmDoo.com.
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