Movie poster for Mae Nak (2012). Image Source: myegy.
For today, see the tragic romantic Thai 'New Wave' ghost film, Nang Nak (นางนาก, meaning 'Miss Nak'; 1999). Set in the rural canals west of Bangkok in the early 1830s, it depicts a soldier who returns home to his family after fighting in the Siamese-Vietnamese War. His wife and child seem fine to him; but it turns out they've died in the meantime. The film is poignant and unsettling, and is the type of story which uses ghosts as purgatorial metaphors for familial grief. It is very similar in tone to a western film from the same period, The Others (2001).
Nang Nak drew from the legend Mae Nak Phra Khanong (Thai: แม่นากพระโขนง, meaning 'Lady Nak of Phra Khanong'). Local folklore claims that this famous ghost was based on a true story that occurred in the 1850s or 1860s during the reign of King Mongkut, King of Siam. The legend says that a sweet, loving (and deceased) wife, Nak, became vengeful after being separated from her living husband. She had to be exorcised twice from the houses and canals of the Phra Khanong district.
In the second of these rituals, she was captured by the great monk Somdet Phra Phutthachan (To Phrommarangsi) and imprisoned inside her forehead bone, which he wore in his belt. The belt is said to be now in the possession of the Chakri royal family. There is a shrine dedicated to Mae Nak in Bangkok (Wiki provides you with directions). The ghost and her story are very popular in Thailand and Mae Nak has been the subject of many films and an opera. Another recent film was Ghost of Mae Nak (2005); you can watch yet another version from 2012 here, but the English subtitles are wrong.
Outer perimeter of the shrine to Mae Nak in Bangkok. Image Source: Wiki.
According to an unsourced section of Wiki, a historian traced the real story to an 1899 newspaper article:
Anek Nawikamul, a Thai historian, researched the story and found a newspaper article from Siam Praphet newspaper written by K.S.R. Kularb, dated March 10, 1899. It claimed the story of Mae Nak was based on the life of Amdaeng Nak (อำแดงนาก, "Miss Nak"), daughter of a Tambon Phra Khanong leader named Khun Si. Nak died when she was pregnant. Her older children, worried that their father would remarry and their inheritance would be shared with a step-mother, invented the ghost story and threw rocks at passing boats to make people believe Nak's ghost had done it.
Nang Nak (1999), starring Intira Jaroenpura and Winai Kraibutr. Copyright remains with copyright owners. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.
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