Handful of Rice, A {En Handfull Ris} / The Man and the Woman {Man Och Kvinna} / Jungle of Chang (1940-1952) – dir. Paul Fejos and Gunnar Skogland

67 mins in the US English language version, b&w (some sepia), sound: indigenous language subtitled into English.

Production : Svensk Filmindustri and RKO Pictures. Swedish, Danish, German and UK versions were also produced.

Sources : The Danish and Swedish Film Institutes have both prints and negatives of the original version, variously entitled En Handfull Ris and Man och Kvinna. A digital copy is also available at Grängesberg, part of the Swedish National Library. The Library of Congress in Washington holds a viewable 35mm print of the English-language version, Jungle of Chang.

Content: More of a docudrama in an ethnic setting than an ethnofiction, this film tells the story of a young couple, Pó-Chai ,’The Man’, and Mé-ying, ‘The Woman’, described as being of the ‘Li’ ethnic minority and living in the interior of what was then ‘Siam’ and is now Thailand.

Initially, the film follows the couple as they attempt to make a living as rice-farmers in the face of drought and a large tiger.  When the water dries up completely, Pó-Chai leaves to work as an elephant driver, extracting lumber in the forest. But Pó-Chai himself disappears from the story at this point and the film morphs into a documentary about lumber extraction using elephants.

With the return of the rains, Pó Chai also returns to the story, takes his leave from the lumber camp supervisor and returns home to Mé-Ying, purchasing a sarong for her and a buffalo on the way. But although she is very pleased to see him, the drought has taken its toll and all she has to show as a harvest is a handful of rice.

Improbably, the film then ends with a scene of Pó-Chai ploughing with the buffalo, suggesting that he and Mé-Ying will now be living happily ever after.

Background: The film was dogged by problems during production. Svenskindustri were so worried about the costs that Fejos was running up that they sent out Gunnar Skoglund – an eminent Swedish media figure who had worked before with Fejos – and insisted that he share the directorial credit.

Post-production was also tortuous. The original Scandinavian version of the film began with a scene in which a Swedish couple, about to move house, throw a handful of rice into the rubbish. This scene,  clearly intended to add pathos to the film, was cut from the English-language version for the US market.

The film was also re-named Jungle of Chang (‘chang’ being the word for ‘elephant’ in Thai) in an attempt, presumably, to make a connection with the  commercially highly successful Marian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack film, Chang – A Drama of the Wilderness, released in 1927.

Text : Schneider 2004.