Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
English-language release poster by Chris Ware
Directed byApichatpong Weerasethakul
Written byApichatpong Weerasethakul
Based onA Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives
by Phra Sripariyattiweti
Produced bySimon Field
Keith Grifith
Charles de Meaux
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
StarringThanapat Saisaymar
Jenjira Pongpas
Sakda Kaewbuadee
CinematographySayombhu Mukdeeprom
Yukontorn Mingmongkon
Charin Pengpanich
Edited byLee Chatametikool
Kick the Machine
Distributed byKick the Machine
Release dates
  • 21 May 2010 (2010-05-21) (Cannes)
  • 25 June 2010 (2010-06-25) (Thailand)
Running time
114 minutes

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thai: ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ; RTGSLung Bunmi Raluek Chat) is a 2010 Thai drama film written, produced, and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The film, which explores themes of reincarnation, centers on the last days in the life of its title character, who is played by Thanapat Saisaymar. Together with his loved ones—including the spirit of his dead wife, Huay, and his lost son, Boonsong, who has returned in a non-human form—Boonmee explores his past lives as he contemplates the reasons for his illness.[1]

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was inspired by the 1983 book A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Buddhist abbot Phra Sripariyattiweti. The film is the final installment in a multi-platform art project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul called "Primitive". It premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d'Or, becoming the first Thai film to do so.[2]


In a grassy area, a water buffalo breaks free from a rope tethering it to a tree. It wanders into a forest, where it is spotted by a man holding a sickle. The man begins to lead it somewhere, while a silhouetted figure with red eyes watches.

Boonmee lives in a house on a farm with his sister-in-law Jen and his nephew Tong. Boonmee is suffering from a failing kidney; his Laotian assistant Jaai administers dialysis treatments to him. One night, while Boonmee, Jen and Tong are eating dinner together, the ghost of Boonmee's wife Huay appears. Huay, who died over a decade prior, says that she heard Jen and Boonmee's prayers for her, and is aware of Boonmee's poor health. A hairy, red-eyed figure ascends the stairs near the dinner table, and is revealed to be Boonmee's long-lost son Boonsong. Boonsong, who practiced photography, had disappeared some years after Huay died. Boonsong was searching for a creature—whom he calls a "Monkey Ghost"—that he had captured in one of his photos. He says that he mated with a Monkey Ghost, causing his hair to grow longer and his pupils to dilate, and that, after meeting his mate, he forgot "the old world".

During the day, on the farm with Jen, Boonmee asserts that his illness is a result of karma. He claims that it was caused by his killing of communists while serving in the military, and his killing of bugs on the farm.

A princess is carried through a forest in a litter. She walks near a waterfall, and gazes into her reflection in the water, which she perceives to be more youthful and beautiful than her real appearance. She is kissed by one of her servants, but insists that he imagined kissing her reflection. The servant departs, and she sits by the water and weeps. She is complimented by a catfish, prompting her to wade into the water. She makes offerings of her jewelry in return for being made to look like her reflection, and then has intercourse with the catfish.

Boonmee lies in bed near a sitting Huay. He hugs her, and asks about how he might be able to find her in the afterlife. She tells him that the spirits of the deceased are not attached to locations, but to people. Later, Boonmee, Huay, Jen and Tong venture out into the forest. Jen and Tong see shadowy figures running through the brush and leaping between the trees. Huay leads Boonmee, Jen and Tong into a cave. Boonmee believes that he was born in the cave, in a life that he cannot recall. He recounts a dream of a future civilisation in which authorities shine "a light" on "past people", causing them to disappear. Huay disconnects Boonmee's dialysis tube. By the next day, Boonmee is dead.

Following Boonmee's funeral, Jen sits on a bed, organising gifts of baht with her friend Roong. Tong, now a monk, arrives, saying that he has been having difficulty sleeping at the temple. He showers and changes from his robes to a T-shirt and jeans. While preparing to go out to eat with Jen, he is stunned to see himself, Jen and Roong on the bed, watching television. He and Jen leave for a restaurant, while he, Jen and Roong remain on the bed.


  • Thanapat Saisaymar as Uncle Boonmee
  • Natthakarn Aphaiwong as Huay, Boonmee's wife
  • Jeerasak Kulhong as Boonsong, Boonmee's son
  • Jenjira Pongpas as Jen
  • Sakda Kaewbuadee as Tong
  • Kanokporn Thongaram as Roong, Jen's friend
  • Samud Kugasang as Jai, Boonmee's chief worker
  • Wallapa Mongkolprasert as the princess
  • Sumit Suebsee as the soldier
  • Vien Pimdee as the farmer


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is the final installment in a multi-platform art project "Primitive". The project deals with the Isan region in Thailand's northeast, and in particular the village of Nabua in Nakhon Phanom, near the Laos border. Previous installments include a seven-part video installation and the two short films A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms of Nabua, both of which premiered in 2009. The project explores themes of memories, transformation and extinction, and touches on a violent 1965 crackdown on communist sympathisers in Nabua by the Thai army. Regarding the feature film's place within the overarching project, Apichatpong has said that it "echoes other works in the 'Primitive' installation, which is about this land in Isan with a brutal history. But I'm not making a political film - it's more like a personal diary."[3]

According to Weerasethakul, the film is primarily about "objects and people that transform or hybridise". A central theme is the transformation and possible extinction of cinema itself. The film consists of six reels each shot in a different cinematic style. The styles include, by the words of the director, "old cinema with stiff acting and classical staging", "documentary style", "costume drama" and "my kind of film when you see long takes of animals and people driving". Weerasethakul further explained in an interview with Bangkok Post: "When you make a film about recollection and death, you realise that cinema is also facing death. Uncle Boonmee is one of the last pictures shot on film - now everybody shoots digital. It's my own little lamentation".[4]


Apichatpong Weerasethakul says that a man named Boonmee approached Phra Sripariyattiweti, the abbot of a Buddhist temple in his home town, claiming he could clearly remember his own previous lives while meditating. The abbot was so impressed with Boonmee's ability that he published a book called A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives in 1983. By the time Apichatpong read the book, Boonmee had died.[3][1] The original idea was to adapt the book into a biographical film about Boonmee. However, that was soon abandoned to make room for a more personal film, while still using the book's structure and content as inspiration.[4] The stories and production designs were inspired by old television shows and Thai comic books, which often used simple plots and were filled with supernatural elements.[1]

The film was an international co-production between Weerasethakul's company Kick the Machine, Britain's Illuminations Films, France's Anna Sanders Films, Germany's The Match Factory and Geissendörfer Film- und Fernsehproduktion and Spain's Eddie Saeta.[5] It received 3.5 million baht in support from the Royal Thai Ministry of Culture.[6]

Filming took place between October 2009 and February 2010, as the weather conditions allowed, both in Bangkok and the northeast of Thailand, Isan.[5] The movie was shot with 16 mm film instead of digital video both for budgetary reasons and to give the film a look similar to that of classic Thai cinema.[6]

I was old enough to catch the television shows that used to be shot on 16 mm film. They were done in studio with strong, direct lighting. The lines were whispered to the actors, who mechanically repeated them. The monsters were always in the dark to hide the cheaply made costumes. Their eyes were red lights so that the audience could spot them.

— Apichatpong Weerasethakul[1]


Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Viennale 2010)

The film premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival on 21 May 2010.[7] Theatrical distribution in Thailand was at first uncertain. "Every time I release a movie, I lose money because of the advertising and promotion, so I'm not sure if it's worth it, even though I would love to show it at home", Apichatpong said in an interview.[8] On 25 June, however, Kick the Machine released it in a month-long run, limited to one theater in Bangkok, similar with the release of Weerasethakul's previous films. It passed uncut by the Thai censorship board, despite featuring scenes similar to those cut from the director's past two feature films.[9] Distribution rights for the United States were acquired by Strand Releasing and the film received a U.S. release on 2 March 2011.[10][11] Cartoonist Chris Ware created the poster for the U.S. release.[12][13]


Uncle Boonmee has received near universal acclaim from critics.[14] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 89% approval rating based on 97 reviews, with an average rating of 7.92/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Languorous and deeply enigmatic, Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee represents an original take on the ghosts that haunt us."[11] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100 based on 21 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[14]

Sukhdev Sandhu of The Daily Telegraph gave the film a score of five out of five stars in an early festival review. Sandhu wrote: "It's barely a film; more a floating world. To watch it is to feel many things – balmed, seduced, amused, mystified," and continued: "There are many elements of this film that remain elusive and secretive. But that's a large part of its appeal: Weerasethakul, without ever trading in stock images of Oriental inscrutability, successfully conveys the subtle but important other-worldliness of this part of Thailand".[15] In Screen International, Mark Adams called the film "a beautifully assembled affair, with certain scenes staged with painterly composure, and also increasingly moving as the subtle story develops. Plus Apichatpong Weerasethakul is not afraid of adding in moments of surreal humour – often laugh-out-loud moments for that – which helps the pacing of the film."[16] Willis Wong of Intermedias Review called the film "a slow, meditative and often baffling journey visually gorgeous and worth taking."[17]

Cahiers du Cinéma featured Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives on the cover of the June 2010 issue[18] and listed it first on their annual Top Ten of 2010.[19]

The film received a score of 2.4/4 at the Screen International annual Cannes Jury Grid, which polls international film critics from publications such as Sight & Sound, The Australian, Positif, L'Unita and Der Tagesspiegel, among others.[20] It was listed second on Film Comment's Best Films of 2011 list.[21] In the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll, eight critics voted for it as one of their ten greatest films ever made; this ranked it at #202 in the finished list. Five directors also voted, making the film ranked at #132 in the directors' poll.[22] In a 2016 BBC poll, critics voted the film the 37th greatest since 2000.[23]


The film won the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.[24] It became the first Asian film to win the award since 1997.[24] Apichatpong Weerasethakul became the first Thai director to receive the award.[25] The film was selected as the Thai entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards[26] but it did not make the final shortlist.[27]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Asian Film Awards 21 March 2011 Best Film Apichatpong Weerasethakul Won [28]
Cannes Film Festival 12–23 May 2010 Palme d'Or Won [24]
Chicago Film Critics Association 19 December 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Nominated [29]
Chicago International Film Festival 6–20 October 2011 International Film Poster Silver Plaque Chris Ware Won [30]
Dubai International Film Festival 12–19 December 2010 Best Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and Yukontorn Mingmongkon Won [31]
Independent Spirit Awards 26 February 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Apichatpong Weerasethakul Nominated [32]
London Film Critics' Circle 11 February 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Nominated [33]
Best Director Nominated
Online Film Critics Society 2 January 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Nominated [34]
Toronto Film Critics Association 14 December 2010 Best Picture Runner-up [35]
Best Foreign Language Film Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "English press kit Lung Boonmee raluek chat" (PDF). Illuminations Films. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  2. ^ Miller, Lisa (27 August 2010). "Remembrances of Lives Past". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b Kwai, Wise (20 April 2010). "The late, great Apichatpong". The Nation. Archived from the original on 7 October 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  4. ^ a b Rithdee, Kong (28 May 2010). "Of monkey ghosts and men". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 3 June 2010.[dead link]
  5. ^ a b Mayorga, Emilio (20 January 2010). "Eddie Saeta joins 'Uncle Boonmee'". Variety. Retrieved 19 April 2010.
  6. ^ a b Rithdee, Kong (7 May 2010). "Multiple avatars". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 7 May 2010.[dead link]
  7. ^ "The screenings guide" (PDF). festival-cannes.com. Cannes Film Festival. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  8. ^ Landreth, Jonathan (18 May 2010). "Q&A: Apichatpong Weerasethakul". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  9. ^ Frater, Patrick (23 June 2010). "Uncle Boonmee set for uncut release". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 28 June 2010. Retrieved 6 July 2010.
  10. ^ Mitchell, Wendy (6 July 2010). "Strand strikes US deal for Uncle Boonmee with Match Factory". Screen. Retrieved 6 July 2010.
  11. ^ a b "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 27 April 2017.
  12. ^ Glaser, Sheila (23 May 2011). "Ghost Stories". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
  13. ^ Buchanan, Kyle (8 February 2011). "Vulture Premieres the Poster for Cannes Hit Uncle Boonmee, Designed by Chris Ware". Vulture. New York. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives". Metacritic. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  15. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (21 May 2010). "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  16. ^ Adams, Mark (21 May 2010). "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives". Screen. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  17. ^ Wong, Willis (2 October 2010). "Ghost Country". Intermedias Review. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  18. ^ "Apichatpong, une Palme de rêve". Cahiers du Cinéma. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  19. ^ "Top Ten 2010". Cahiers du Cinéma. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  20. ^ Cannes Jury Grid 2010. Screen International
  21. ^ Best Movies of 2011|Film Comment
  22. ^ "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives". British Film Institute. 17 November 2013. Archived from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  23. ^ "The 21st century's 100 greatest films". BBC. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  24. ^ a b c O'Neil, Tom (23 May 2010). "Quelle surprise! 'Uncle Boonmee' nabs Palme d'Or at Cannes". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  25. ^ Chang, Justin (23 May 2010). "'Uncle Boonmee' wins Palme d'Or". Variety. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  26. ^ Pond, Steve (28 September 2010). "And the Hopefuls for Best Foreign Oscar Are ..." TheWrap. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  27. ^ "9 Foreign Language Films Continue to Oscar Race". Oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
  28. ^ Cremin, Stephen (21 March 2011). "Boonmee claims AFA crown". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  29. ^ Knegt, Peter (19 December 2011). "'The Tree of Life' Leads Chicago Critics Awards". IndieWire. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  30. ^ "Chicago Top Awards Go to the Best of What the World is Watching". Chicago International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  31. ^ "Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chaat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)". Dubai International Film Festival. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  32. ^ Kilday, Gregg (30 November 2010). "'Winter's Bone' Dominates Independent Spirit Awards Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  33. ^ Knegt, Peter (11 February 2011). "'Social Network,' 'King's Speech' Lead London Critics Circle Winners". IndieWire. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  34. ^ Knegt, Peter (3 January 2012). "'The Tree of Life' Leads Online Film Critics Society Awards". IndieWire. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  35. ^ Howell, Peter (14 December 2010). "The Social Network wins critical friends". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 23 June 2017.

External links[edit]