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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927)

Elephants disrupt the lives of a family deep in the jungles of Northern Siam, and an entire village.

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »
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Cast

Credited cast:
Natives of the Wild ...
Themselves
Wild Beasts ...
Themselves
The Jungle ...
Itself
Kru ...
Chantui ...
Nah ...
Nah - Son and Heir of the House of Kru
Ladah ...
Their Little Girl
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bimbo the Monkey
Namul
Than ...
A Friend from the Lao Village
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Storyline

Kru is a pioneer, living deeper in the jungle of northern Siam than any of his predecessors. He solves the problems caused by leopards and tigers attacking his stock by setting traps and killing those beasts. A baby chang (the Siamese word for elephant) is caught in his trap, and thinking he would tame it so it will work for him one day, he tethers it to a post under his house, which is on stilts. Its mother comes and destroys his house. Kru and his family flee to the village, where a mammoth herd of elephants suddenly appear and decimates the buildings in the village. But the villagers fight back. Written by Arthur Hausner <genart@volcano.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Release Date:

3 September 1927 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Chang  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Budget:

$60 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(tinted and toned)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

One of the first feature films to be shot entirely on panchromatic stock. See more »

Quotes

Kru - the Lao Tribesman: OUT, SWORDS! OUT, SPEARS! OUT, O BRAVE MEN! HELP US, O LORD BUDDHA!
See more »

Crazy Credits

The CAST: --- Natives of the Wild: who have never seen a motion picture. --- Wild Beasts: who have never had to fear a modern rifle. --- The Jungle. See more »

Connections

Referenced in King Kong (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Guaranteed to make your nearest American Humane Society or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) member go into a coma
6 June 2005 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

Although they weren't born in that decade, "adventure documentaries" were popular in the 1920s. The first big one was Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922), followed by films such as Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper's Grass (1925) and Flaherty's Moana (1926). Nanook of the North covered Inuit culture in the Canadian section of the Arctic Circle, Grass followed the Bakhtiari tribe in Iran, and Moana was shot in Samoa. Chang, also directed by Schoedsack and Cooper, is set in northern Siam, or what is now known as Thailand.

These films were an outgrowth of earlier works such as Martin E. and Osa Johnson's Cannibals of the South Seas (1912) and Paul J. Rainey's African Hunt (1912). "Adventure documentaries" were one of the more exciting things that could be done with film in its early years--television didn't yet exist and we didn't have today's ease of travel, so the cultures displayed were truly exotic for most audiences.

These documentaries were always questionable as journalistic depictions of reality, however (as documentaries still often are--there are many fascinating philosophy of film issues surrounding this). Clearly some aspects of these works were staged. Chang was unique in that its overall content, including "characters", "plot" and so forth, was entirely made up. As Schoedsack said, "It was as carefully constructed as anything made in a studio; only our (raw) material was not manufactured". It turns out that Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness is as much fiction as Andy Tennant's Anna and the King (1999), or at least as fictional as Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980), with which it also shares scenes that should make any self-respecting PETA member go into a coma, or pick up an automatic weapon. I'm not quite a member of PETA, so no need to don your bulletproof vest.

That the raw materials were not "made up" makes Chang unique. It's fiction shot in an authentic location, using "authentic people" who were not actors, and recreating largely authentic kinds of scenarios and settings. The star of the film, Kru, plays a man with the same name in the film. Kru's real life kids, Nah and Ladah, and pet Gibbon monkey, Bimbo, play his kids and monkey in the film. His wife in the film, Chantui, was really the wife of one of Kru's friends. The "plot" has Kru and his family as a bit more primitive than they really were, trying to eke out a meager existence in the dense jungles of Northern Siam. The film opens by showing their daily routines, then shows them, their livestock and eventually their crops (a rice field) being threatened by leopards, bears and eventually elephants. The film is largely about Kru and later his fellow villagers trying to rid themselves of these problems, which often means trapping and killing animals (and there is a lot of other animal handling in the film that would disturb modern western audiences). The plot isn't complex, but the film is enrapturing to watch, not only because it is so well made and still seems exotic, but now because of the glimpse of "reality" it offers 80 years back in time.

In real life, Kru had been a fisherman, a hunter, a trapper, an evangelist, and a carpenter. And when Cooper and Schoedsack arrived, he functioned on their expedition as their interpreter, guide, "philosopher", and he was in charge of finding the lions, tigers, bears and other wild animals that would be used in the film. Kru got the gig because he was a friend to some missionaries in the area.

It took weeks to reach the remote jungle area where most of the film was shot. Prior to shooting, Cooper and Schoedsack spent months studying natives and animals, while they figured out the best way to film them, basically making up their story on the fly (and a lot of it was constructed via later editing and creative intertitling). Given the conditions--which included just the two-man crew in high heat and humidity with relatively primitive cameras, the cinematography in Chang is remarkably crisp. This is one of the first films to be shot on panchromatic rather than orthochromatic stock, and this enabled finer, more realistic gradations of gray in response to various filmed colors. They had no artificial lighting, and had to shoot in thick jungles. The intense heat caused the animals to stay undercover, so they had to shoot most of the film in early morning. Schoedsack would often be precariously perched on primitive platforms or sheltered in hides and pits that offered little protection. They would often trap animals, then photograph them when they'd let them loose. Three men on the crew were bitten by pythons. Schoedsack had recurrent malaria and sunstroke and often worked while having a very high fever. The skillfully edited material tends to be exciting and dramatic on a surface level, but when you think about Schoedsack being narrowly missed by tiger and elephants while filming, it's that much more fascinating.

Since Chang is of a different era, the subtexts are very different than they would be if the film were made now. The jungle in the film is not an Edenic paradise, but a menace to be conquered at best and tolerated at worst. This is amplified more than we might expect by showing the natives to be not very adept at safely building their homes and villages. It's difficult to believe that this wasn't exaggerated to amp up the drama, but as drama, it works, even if it's not very truthful.

It's also worth noting the score on the Image Entertainment DVD, provided by Bruce Gaston's Fong Naam ensemble. They skillfully weave traditional and modern tonalities and instruments of the area to create charming music that often resembles Wendy Carlos' Balinese gamelan-influenced pieces on works such as Beauty in the Beast.

This is an entrancing, historically intriguing film.


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