Mango is a story about the relationship between a son and his mother, and the poverty that constrains him to work as a prostitute in Thailand.
This is the trailer for a film that I did two years ago in Pattaya, Thailand. I have contacts with organizations that work in the red light districts and they would help us find safe locations to film like we did with Section Six.
One of the narrative techniques we’ll employ is contrast. This shown from the start when we open the the film with our protagonist, Happy, dancing around his village in his underwear, which offsets the overall sad tone of the film.
Additionally, we see this theme reinforced when Happy tells his mom throughout the film that he is doing well and she shouldn’t worry (and vice versa) and yet the reality is that he’s suffering and too afraid to tell her.
The narrative arc that both Happy and his mother Nin face, and overcome, is shame. Happy must work up the courage to tell his mom that he didn’t live up to her dreams of become a cook, and Nin must be honest that their family life back home has completely fallen apart and she’s not the perfect mother he remembers.
(17-20) Happy’s mother nicknamed him for always smiling, even when he was just a newborn baby. As time goes on, he finds it harder to live up to his namesake.
(35-40) Nin is a mother of four. She loves to pick Mangos with her children and always made it a habit to write them letters from an early age to let them know how much she loves them.
Thailand’s Red Light districts are a wash of strong primary colors and deep shadows.
The film opens on a slum in a rural area outside of Bangkok. In the midst of trash and squalor sits a boy listening to a walkman. Slowly we hear more of the song he’s listening to, a hard rocking beat similar to Jet’s “Are you gonna be my girl”. The child, nicknamed “Happy” dances around the trash heaps in the village, eating his favorite fruit (a mango), singing with stray dogs and ducking around carts of people heading to work.
The film then begins in a series of letters between the son and his mother.
These letters, spoken in Thai-accented English (for the sake of the audience), serve as a narrative device that lets us quickly cover Happy’s backstory in a relatively short time.
Like many families in poor rural Thailand, the fathers turn into drunks during the 6 months out of the year that is a dry season. When Happy turns 14, his mother “Nin” sends him along with his other older siblings into the closest major city (Pattaya) to find work. She tells Happy to find a job at a restaurant since he loves to help her cook at home.
He visits restaurants all over the city, but since he can’t read or write, he’s turned away. Broke, alone, and needing to send his family something, lest they starve, he joins a ‘beggar gang’ where a pimp teaches him and other kids how to beg for money, and collects a share of their earnings. He doesn’t make much but it’s enough to send money home to his family.
Happy feels ashamed he can’t find a job at a restaurant like his mom always wanted, and so he lies and writes her letters of how he’s learning to cook. (the letters are dictated to a friend who can write)
She gets his letters and his meager wages that he sends and she lies in return, telling him it’s enough to feed their family and that they’re much better now. In reality, the money is barely enough for them to survive and her husband is increasingly drunk amidst there not being any work in the village.
Two years go by, and Happy finds himself “too old” to beg. He’s been trying to learn to read and write but it’s almost impossible to find tutors on his wages. Happy begins to make some side money singing Karaoke at a brothel but soon his mother sends him another letter saying she’s pregnant and that there will be another mouth to feed. (She doesn’t tell him that the child is a product of another man who slept with her when her husband was in another drunken bender).
Happy realizes to save his family, he must do the one thing he never wanted to do, which is to become a prostitute. He begins services clients (many of them western men) and makes a considerably larger wage. He’s able to send these wages home, which he explains by telling his mom that he’s now been promoted to a cook at his restaurant.
His mom, Nin, sends him back letters saying that the baby is doing well and that his father found work again. She says she misses picking mangos with him. (In reality, her father found out that she slept with another man and throws her and the newborn out of the house)
Years go by as Happy continues to work and send money back to his family. He doesn’t know that it goes to his siblings and his drunken father, instead of his mother. One day the letters stop and his siblings tell him the truth, that their mom left with the baby over a year ago. They say they don’t know where she went.
Happy despairs and turns to drugs to cope with this news. Months later, he writes her one last letter, telling her everything, apologizing for not being a better son and there could have been some way for him to fix this if he had gotten a real job. He says he’s learned to read and write by now but prostitution is the only line of work that can pay enough to support his drug addiction. He doesn’t know how much longer he’ll live.
One day, Happy sits on the street with a score of cocaine. He’s crying, thinking of overdosing. A little girl comes up to him with a small basket of Mangos that she is selling. Happy smiles, buying one, and compliments her on how fresh the mango is. He says it reminds him of ones he to pick back home. The girl says she picks them with her mom far away and they come to the city to sell them. He asks her where her mom is and she points on down the street. He looks, and sees his mom, selling the other half of the mangos from a cart. Their eyes meet and she runs to him, throwing her arms around him and crying, thinking she’d never see him again.
He cries too saying he was too ashamed to tell her that he was working as a prostitute. She tells him she was too ashamed to tell him that she was kicked from the house and couldn’t work up the courage to find him.
He asks if she knows any businesses that are looking for a washed out drug addict. She smiles and says that they’re hiring.
They hug again, and the three of them walk away with the cart of mangos.
Mango is a short film, but is based on true stories from prostitutes in Thailand and has a photojournalistic/documentary undertone to it’s narrative structure similar to ‘Sleep Well, My Baby’
Director: pj accetturo
PJ Accetturo is an award-winning filmmaker who began his career documenting medical transformations on a hospital ship in West Africa. By the age of 18, he was first published in National Geographic and featured on the Discovery Channel for his near-death experiences filming poor working conditions in developing world nations.
His style combines the gritty style of Cinéma Vérité from his years as a photojournalist with bold cinematic images from his years as a narrative director. For over 10 years, he’s been an advocate of social entrepreneurship and has traveled the world, creating compelling stories for both non-profits and fortunate 500 companies alike.
Producer: Bryan Fellows
(Bryan give me your backstory here or something)