A Student Odyssey Through 'One Night in Bangkok'

The Connection, March 5, 2024

By: Jed Donnel

If you grew up in the 1980s, then I don’t need to tell you that “one night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster” (whatever that means). What you may not know, however, is that, for my elective this winter, a group of amazing SMS students is nearly done with a shot-by-shot remake of the iconic (?) “One Night in Bangkok” music video. Having a mere one and one-quarter hours per week to pull it off, the group has demonstrated considerable wherewithal in realizing precise angles, cinematography, the difficulty in effective choreography, and creative problem-solving. Everyone has had several turns behind the camera, and the ensemble cast have proven themselves adept at taking and offering stage directions.

The video has everything, too: quick cuts, dance routines, strange 1980s-era politics (possibly), a watering can, random masks, and a unicorn hat. We landed on the classic one-hit wonder by Murray Head on day one, after sampling an array of other 80s videos. “Safety Dance” came in second, and I think “Come on Eileen” may have been a distant third (we really didn’t have enough denim for it, anyway), although the clear favorite among the group was “One Night in Bangkok.”

None of us knows the exact plot (we’re among broad company), but the general catchiness and oddity of the chess motif caught everyone’s interest. Written by ABBA legends Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus as part of the soundtrack for the musical “Chess” in 1984, the single became a surprise international sensation. According to Musical Theater International, “Chess tells a story of love and political intrigue, set against the background of the Cold War in the late 1970s/early 1980s, in which superpowers attempt to manipulate an international chess championship for political ends.” Some of that same plot is possibly discernible within the music video, and supposedly Murray Head’s character “The American” is loosely based on Bobby Fischer, though it’s neither the political intrigue nor line-by-line happenings that have kept the students rapt in the project. Several have bluntly asked, “what is this song about, anyway?” to which I’ve shrugged, “I don’t know. Chess, probably. I assume there’s some romance, too.”

The entire cast has more or less all of the song memorized by now, though no one is closer to understanding it. Much more importantly, they’ve taken on the undeniable vibrancy inherent to the music video and delivered a compilation performance that (dare I say?) transcends the original. (Well, maybe not; we’re not quite done yet.) What we have, I’m confident, would make Murray Head smile in approval.

Plus, since the elective block this year carries over into the third term, and students were given the option to switch choices, we actually gained a few actors in net at the end of the second term. Hence, the finished work will feature at least fourteen student performers, plus a couple of surprise cameos by faculty (even Pearson is in it, although she’ll never admit as much). We seem to be on schedule for a release in late March, and afterward, we’ll await whatever happens on the international circuit.