Released in 1927 by the producer/director team who gave us the classic 1933 KING KONG, Merian C. Cooper's and Ernest B. Schoedsack's CHANG is a remarkable film that has not lost any of its ability to fascinate. This was Cooper's and Schoedsack's second expeditionary film after they made the equally impressive GRASS, which covered the migration of the Bakhtiari tribe of Persia (now Iran).
Filmed entirely in the then still mysterious jungles of Siam (now Thailand), CHANG tells the story of one family's constant struggle for survival against the various wild animals that surround them including the "changs", which when translated means elephants. The story had to be flexible enough to allow for the integration of actual situations that might occur during filming.
It's been well documented that Cooper and Schoedsack, both of whom had a high regard for wildlife, were careful not to kill any animals except when human life was clearly endangered. The producers were especially helpful in capturing a notorious, man-eating tiger that was threatening the region. The government later reported that the work of Cooper and Schoedsack reduced by two thirds the number of deaths caused by tigers in the province of Nan.
The truly amazing thing about CHANG are the animals themselves, who figure as prominently as do the people. The dangers of the jungle are skilfully contrasted with funny moments involving children frolicking with monkeys, bear cubs and other little critters. As a documentary film, it didn't employ special effects nor were tame animals used at any time.
The genuine fearlesness of the filmmakers is evident in the breathtaking animal shots which were taken without the aid of a telephoto lens. All the photography was done at close range from camoflauged shelters and pits so that when a tiger lunges forward with its nose practically nudging the camera, it REALLY got that close.
The tour de force in CHANG is the great elephant stampede. Still considered to be one of the most exciting scenes of its type in cinema history, it was used as stock footage for many jungle films that followed. Its staging and editing style was copied in several Tarzan films as well.
One also sees in CHANG the genesis from which KING KONG spawned, since it served as a model of construction for the later adventure/fantasy epic.
The excellent audio commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer includes excerpts from Behlmer's 1965 interview with Cooper and adds greatly to our appreciation of the film.
If movies of this nature interest you, it just doesn't get any better than this. Educational as well as wholly entertaining, CHANG delivers them both in the best cinematic fashion.