Monday, July 21, 2014

In memoriam: Panna Rittikrai, 1961-2014

Panna Rittikrai (พันนา ฤทธิไกร), the martial-arts choreographer who put Thai action movies on the world cinema map, has died.

According to The Nation, Panna died from liver disease on Sunday afternoon in a Bangkok hospital. He was 53, and had been battling illness since last November. Other reports can be found at Bangkok Post, Film Business Asia, Twitch and Film Combat Syndicate.

Tributes poured in on Twitter, most notably from Panna's former protégé Tony Jaa, who worked with Panna on B-movie action flicks for a decade before they made Ong-Bak in 2003, and kicked the Thai movie industry into high gear:

Another fitting tribute came from director Gareth Evans, who made the Indonesian martial-arts franchise The Raid:

Evans also posted a link to the Dragon Dynasty trailer for 2004's Born to Fight. One of Panna's best movies, it's a sizzle reel of everything that is amazing about his innovations, which often took actors and stunt performers to the edge of danger – the truck wheel misses his head by just that much.

Converging movements, such as groups of fighters lunging toward each other from each side of the frame, explosions, flaming objects and crazy car and bike stunts are other Panna Rittikrai trademarks. It's stuff Michael Bay dreams of, but only does digitally. With Panna, the stunts were real and human, and the stake were high.

Born in 1961 in Khon Kaen, Panna headed to Bangkok in 1979 to work in the movie business, starting out training actors how to do action. After a few years of that, he put together his own stunt team and headed back to his hometown. Taking inspiration from the films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and the Bond movies, he ground out a series of gritty B-grade action flicks that played second run houses in Bangkok but were vastly more popular in Panna's native Northeast. It was during this period that he met Tony Jaa and started working with him. Titles from this era include Spirited Killer and Hard Gun, and after Ong-Bak was a hit, such DVD labels as BCI Eclipse started mining Panna's back-catalog.

When the boom years of the "Thai New Wave" hit in the late 1990s and early aughts, Panna and Jaa figured they had enough footage to impress a big Thai studio. Producer-director Prachya Pinkaew got ahold of some, took it to Sahamongkol Film International, and Ong-Bak was born, becoming a worldwide phenomenon and jump-starting the Thai action-film industry.

Jaa's lost-elephant adventure Tom-Yum-Goong (a.k.a. The Protector or Warrior King) followed.

Panna and his team were also kept busy on all sorts of other Sahamongkol projects, such as stringing comedian Mum Jokmok up on wires for the rollicking action-comedy The Bodyguard or teaching Ananda Everingham to swordfight in the Rashomon remake The Outrage.

Among the best of this period was the aforementioned Born to Fight (Gerd Ma Lui, เกิดมาลุย), a remake in name only of one of his 1980s films. The 2004 version introduced another of Panna's protégés, "Diew" Chupong Changprang, playing a Muay Thai champ who goes to a village with a bunch of Thai national athletes, including a female taekwondo champion ("Nui" Kessarin Ektawatkul), a sepak tawkraw kicker, a rugby tough and a gymnast (take that Gymkata!). There's even a little girl Muay Thai fighter – "Katt" Sasisa Jindamanee. She would later turn up in a couple more of Panna's projects, Somtum with wrestler and Tom-Yum-Goong fighter Nathan Jones, and Power Kids.

Other notable efforts by Panna and his team included Chocolate, which introduced martial-arts pixie Jeeja Yanin to the world.

One of my favorites is Dynamite Warrior, which marked Panna's return to acting after a couple of decades. He played an evil sorcerer who needs the menstrual blood of a virgin in order to cast a spell.. Diew Chupong tangles with him, along with water buffalo rustlers, a giant cannibalistic criminal and a hi-so steam-tractor dealer with a lisp.

Meanwhile, Jaa was endeavoring to strike out on his own as star, director and action choreographer on Ong-Bak 2, a historical-epic origin tale of the first Ong-Bak. Delays and budget overruns put pressure on Jaa, and he had his infamous meltdown. Panna was called in by Sahamongkol Film honcho Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techarattanaprasert to play peacemaker and get the project back on track as a co-director.

From that point, Jaa's relationship with Sia Jiang become strained, though he did a few more films for the studio with Panna's steady hand. Ong-Bak 3 followed, and then a hiatus while Jaa got married and started a family.

There was Tom-Yum-Goong 2, and the "eastern western" A Man Will Rise with Jaa and Dolph Lundgren. Panna handled the action, and it was produced by Sahamongkol.

But now that Jaa has split from Sahamongkol in order to work in Hollywood and Hong Kong, it seems unlikely A Man Will Rise will get a release anytime soon.

And, there's another Panna Rittikrai action film already in the can, completed last year before he became ill – Rew Talu Rew (เร็วทะลุเร็ว , a.k.a. Vengeance of an Assassin). According to Film Business Asia, it stars Panna's Born to Fight leads, Diew Chupong and Nui Kessarin; he's a hitman who goes on the run after he is ordered to kill a woman under his protection.

There's plenty of other tributes around the Web. Hit the various links at the top of the article. And though I won't link to them, there's hospital photos of Panna. They are sad, but Tony Jaa did go visit him.

I'll leave you with a behind-the-scenes featurette from Bangkok Knockout, showing the master at work.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Apichatpong-a-rama: Cemetery of Kings backed by WCF, male farang cast sought

Courtesy of Kick the Machine.

Cemetery of Kings, the upcoming new feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, has received backing from the Berlin International Film Festival's World Cinema Fund.

Receiving 30,000 euro for production from WCF, Cemetery of Kings deals with a strange sleeping sickness that befalls soldiers. A local woman – Apichatpong's long-time leading actress Jenjira Widner – pitches in to help.

The project was previously touted at last year's Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum. It has also been supported by the Rotterdam fest's Hubert Bals Fund.

Film Business Asia has more details of other WCF recipients.

Under production in Apichatpong's hometown of Khon Kaen, Cemetery of Kings is also seeking male farang cast members, ages 30 to 55, who can speak a bit of Thai. No acting experience is necessary.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Relaunched Silpathorn Awards honor Kongdej

Award-winning writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee (คงเดช จาตุรันต์รัศมี) will add another piece of hardware to his trophy shelf – the Silpathorn Award – announced yesterday during a press conference at the Culture Ministry's new Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Centre in Bangkok.

The Silpathorn, honoring mid-career Thai contemporary artists, was inaugurated 10 years ago by the ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC). It was presented annually until 2010, and has been on hiatus for the past four years.

For Kongdej, the Silpathorn adds to his haul this year for his latest film, Tang Wong (ตั้งวง), an indie drama that critiqued contemporary Thai culture with a story about four teenage boys who have to learn a traditional dance in order to fulfill a vow to a spirit-house shrine. Made with the support of the OCAC, Tang Wong premiered in last year's Berlin fest, and went on to win several awards at home, including four Golden Swans at the Subhanahongsa Awards, as well as gongs from the Bangkok Critics Assembly and the Thai Director Association.

Tang Wong was Kongdej's second feature as an independent director, following his quirk-filled 2012 psychological drama P-047, which was also a big award winner. His 2003 debut feature, the coming-of-age sex comedy Sayew, was released by Sahamongkol Film International, as was his sophomore effort, the comedy-drama Cherm (Midnight My Love), in which comedian Petchtai Wongkamlao made a dramatic breakthrough as a lonely taxi driver who strikes up a relationship with a massage-parlor girl. Kongdej then jumped over to GTH for 2008's Kod (Handle Me with Care), about a three-armed man on a road trip with a large-breasted woman.

Kongdej has also penned numerous mainstream-industry screenplays, including 2004's weepy romance The Letter, Tony Jaa's lost-elephant adventure Tom-Yum-Goong, the amnesiac Ananda Everingham drama Me ... Myself, Nonzee Nimibutr's high-seas swashbuckler Queens of Langkasuka, Kantana Animation's Echo Planet (for which he also provided voice talent and an original song) and last year's teen horror Last Summer.

His latest efforts, Tang Wong and P-047, were independent, with Soros Sukhum as producer. Their next project is So Be It, which has been picked up by the new Thai indie outfit Mosquito Films Distribution.

Previous Silpathorn film honorees are Pen-ek Ratanruang (2004), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2005), Wisit Sasanatieng (2006), Thunska Pansittivorakul (2007), Nonzee Nimibutr (2008), Pimpaka Towira (2009) and Aditya Assarat (2010).

The Silpathorn Award's 10th anniversary was commemorated earlier this year with a performance series that included a screening of a shortened version of Thunska's The Terrorists.

According to The Nation, other Silpathorn Award honorees this year are conceptual artist Surasi Kusolwong, actress-playwright Jarunan Phantachat of B-Floor Theatre, architect Suriya Umpansiritatana, writer Rewat Panpipat, conductor Vanich Potavanich, typographer Pairoj Teeraprapar and product designer Chaiyut Plypetch.

Each winner receives 100,000 baht and a commemorative lapel pin.  The awards presentation ceremony will be held on July 17 along with an exhibition that will run through July 27.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Last Executioner hits mark for best actor in Shanghai

Opening next week Thai cinemas, The Last Executioner received a big boost from the Shanghai International Film Festival, which awarded its best actor prize to star Vithaya Pansringarm.

The awards were handed out on Sunday by a jury headed by Gong Li. Others on the panel were directors Im Sang-soo, Iwai Shunji, Liu Jie, Payman Maadi, Lone Scherfig and Sally Potter.

The big winner was Little England, a star-crossed period romance. It took Best Film, director and actress. Film Business Asia has a full report. Also in competition in Shanghai was another Thai film, Lee Chatametikool's Concrete Clouds. It was a nominee for the Asian New Talent Award.

The Last Executioner  (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat) , directed by Tom Waller, was among 15 films nominated for Shanghai's top-prize Golden Goblet. The film is a biopic about Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand’s last executioner to use a machine gun. A wild rock 'n' roller in his youth, Chavoret served at Bangkwang Prison, the "Bangkok Hilton", for 33 years, 19 as the executioner. Taking aim with a machine gun, he executed 55 prisoners – a job that had him struggling to reconcile the good and bad karma.

Recognizing the role's depth and intensity, the Shanghai win is a landmark honor for Vithaya, a relative newcomer as an actor, who got his start with supporting roles in such made-in-Thailand foreign features as The Prince and Me: The Elephant Adventure and The Hangover Part II. He made his breakthrough as a leading man as a policeman-turned-monk investigating a mystery in Waller's Mindfulness and Murder, which earned him a best actor prize at the ThrillSpy fest and a nomination at the Thailand National Film Awards. He followed that up with a major role in cult director Nicolas Winding Refn's Bangkok crime tale Only God Forgives, earning widespread praise for his portrayal of a cool-but-brutal vigilante ex-cop with seemingly supernatural powers.

The Last Executioner, covered in a recent New York Times article, opens in Thai cinemas on July 3.

Vithaya is flanked by his director Tom Waller, right, and Jim Sturgess from the film Eliza Graves.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Thai Aurora at the Horizon

Auroras, mystical lights in the sky at the extreme northern and southern reaches of our globe, aren't generally seen in Thailand, but they are a powerful symbol for Thai Aurora at the Horizon, an independent compilation of political short films that takes the celestial phenomenon as a symbol that seems hopeful for an end to conflict, even though reconciliation seems unattainable.

In the works since November, months before the military stepped into the fray and made political talk a risky endeavor, Thai Aurora at the Horizon compiles 14 short films by young directors, ranging in age from 19 to 28. They offer different perspectives on politically charged issues.

"From power relationships and education to the media, each film takes on a different topic to create awareness and encourage political participation," the organizers say. "We do not expect to change the country, directly or immediately. But this project might be one way to approach the current crisis."

The collection kicks off with Shut Sound: Lao Duang Duen by Joaquin Niamtubtim. The dulcet tones of Thai classical music accompany footage of this year's anti-government protests around Siam Square. The peaceful music imbues the scenes of hawkers stalls selling whistles with a feeling of tranquility, reminiscent of traditional Thai ways of life along a canal or rural village. But the scene soon shifts to violence, with news footage from the military's takedown of the 2010 protests, when another government was under fire.

Next, is a journey into the countryside, with Lice in the Wonderland by Boonyarit Wiangnon. Here, rural folk offer differing opinions about the Democrat Party governments as well as the governments of the Thaksin faithful. Seems both of them did some good.

Coming closest to offering a solution is The Taxi Meter by Natpakhan Khemkhao. A young man, wearing the tri-colour kit of this year's anti-Thaksin protesters, gets into a taxi. It's not until he's well down the road that he realizes the driver is a staunch red-shirt supporter. Yet their exchange is surprisingly civil and forward thinking. It's perhaps an example to follow. If there can't be unity, despite the military's efforts to force their brand of "happiness" on everyone, perhaps the two sides can agree to disagree?

Maybe not, as demonstrated in When I Was in Grade 12 by Prempapat Plittapolkranpim, which captures a man's hair-raising harangue in a high-school classroom. It's hard to get a sense of what he's so upset about, but he keeps yelling and won't shut up.

Mosquito in the Ant Land by festival organizer Supakit Seksuwan follows the progress of an ant carrying a mosquito on a hazard-filled journey across a floor. Apply your own interpretation of the metaphor.

More news footage from the violent aftermath of the 2010 protests comes up in Tear of a Child by Weerachai Jitsoonthorntip, in which a youngster is watching a static-covered TV screen, but the sounds of struggle are heard. The end is reminiscent of a certain American anti-pollution commercial from the 1970s that featured a Native American man's emotional reaction to littering.

Introducing Post Thailand by Nuttawat Attasawat offers a view of a possible future in which everyone is happy to sit at the same kitchen table. A giant tri-color flag decorates the wall. Education Suicide by Karnchanit Posawat examines one possible way to practice civil disobediance, with schoolboys showing up for class when school is not in session.

But then there's a feeling of hopelessness, such in The Youth by Ukrit Sa-nguanhai and Chayajee Krittayapongsakorn, in which an underwater camera films children cavorting in a swimming pool, and yelling unintelligible phrases the camera. Or there's a feeling of drowning, such as in My Hand is Still Looking by Harin Paesongthai. The hand is the only thing poking above the surface of the water.

Others are Brother Ping-Ping Waiting in Line to Eat Fried Chicken by Thai Pradithkesorn, the post-apocalyptic, dystopian After Babylon by Napat Treepalawisetkun and Sleepwalker by Manasak Khlongchainan.

Near the end, the nationalistic songs played at the whistleblowing protests are heard in Here Comes the Democrat Party by Chulayarnnon Siriphol. Thailand keeps marching along, but where, exactly, is it headed?

After playing to a packed room at TK Park last Sunday, Thai Aurora at the Horizon moves to The Reading Room on Silom Soi 19, for a screening at 2pm on Sunday. Running 102 minutes in total, all films have English subtitles. There will be a directors' talk afterward. Entry is free. The trailer is embedded below.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Six projects in Puchon's Thai spotlight

Thai films are in the spotlight this year at NAFF, the Network of Asian Fantastic Films that's the project market of PiFan, the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival.

After drumming up response a few months ago, NAFF announced its selections today:

Directors include Kulp Kaljareuk, a rookie helmer and scion of the clan that runs Kantana, the long-established Thai studio that's best known for soap operas and post-production film work. He's making his feature debut this week with the house-of-wax thriller Hong Hoon, starring Ananda Everingham.

There's also Nuttorn Kungwanklai, who took part in the comic-book-like omnibus horror 9-9-81, art director Solarsin Ngoenwichit, short-film director Lertsiri Boonmee, producer Pakinee Chaisana, and, perhaps most notably, director Paul Spurrier and producer Piyawat Dangdej, who are looking to make a feature to follow their cult 2004 thriller P.

Kulp's project is Fallen Thailand, and it'll be produced by Nattaporn Kaljareuk.

Nuttorn's Jam-Nien: The 300 Years Ghost is being produced by veteran indie director Soros Sukhum, along with Donsarn Kovitvanitcha and Cattleya Paosrijaron.

Pakinee, a line producer and unit production manager on such made-in-Thailand Hollywood projects as Only God Forgives, Scorpion King 3 and Stealth, is shopping Love Me Love Me Not with producer Thidarat Pakchanakorn.

Solarsin, whose art department and set decorator credits include The Mark: Redemption and Journey from the Fall, is producing his project, Panang - The Monster Within.

Lertsiri is teaming up with producers Vutichai Wongnophadol and Veerapat Keeratiwuttikul for project called SLR.

And Spurrier and Piywat, whose P screened at the 9th PiFan, are looking to make The Penthouse, "examining social issues haunting Thailand".

Other NAFF projects were previously announced by Film Business Asia. And the full line-up for PiFan, running from July 17 to 27, is yet to come.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thai Film Archive treasures unearthed on YouTube

Every day, for the past year or so, the Thai Film Archive has been uploading clips to its official channel on YouTube, sharing a wealth of public-domain footage, this-day-in-history newsreels, documentaries and other historical film artifacts.

The effort is a fantastic public service, and makes the archive's holdings available to everyone, or at least those who have an Internet connection.

However, it's not very English-friendly – the Thai Film Archive, after all, exists to serve the Thai people first. So for those who don't understand Thai, keeping track of the significance of the uploads can be a daunting task.

Thankfully, The Nation has an article that points to a few of the highlights.

Among them is the first Thai feature film, 1927's Chok Song Chun (โชคสองชั้น, Double Luck). A 2012 entry in the Films as National Heritage Registry, just 55 seconds is what remains of the movie, mostly consisting of a fight scene and a car chase. It was made by the Wasuwat Brothers' Sri Krung Studio, which was Thailand's first major movie studio. Today, the studio's bright yellow building has been replicated on the grounds of the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, and it houses the Thai Film Museum and serves as one of the archive's icons.

Most significant is another 2012 entry in the film registry, the first Thai animated film, Payut Ngaokrachang's Hed Mahassajan (เหตุมหัศจรรย์ , The Miraculous Incident) from 1955. In the seven-minute short, Payut cheekily inserts himself into the action as he witnesses the events leading up to a traffic pileup in Bangkok. Payut has been called "the Walt Disney of Thailand", but the film reminds me more of Tex Avery.

Do not adjust your settings – there is no audio with the clip. It was made during the heyday of live dubbing, in which a troupes of voiceover artists would accompany films and provide all the dialogue and sound effects during the screenings. And now that Hed Mahassajan is on YouTube, it's ripe for remix treatments. Perhaps budding filmmakers, animators, composers and sound-effects artists might try their hand at adding soundtracks of their own.

And one more gem to feast your eyes on, and listen to, The Diamond Finger – an eye-poppingly gorgeous staging of a classical Thai dance episode from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana. From 1958, the 27-minute film is directed by pioneering auteur Ratana Pestonji and is staged by the Fine Arts Department, with narration by Thai statesman MR Kukrit Pramoj.

Out of respect to the Archive and the care it has taken, I won't embed the videos here, so head on over to the YouTube channel and start watching.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Executioner, Clouds set for Shanghai fest

Two Thai films are in competition in the 17th Shanghai International Film Festival, The Last Executioner, which makes its world premiere in the main Golden Goblet competition, and Concrete Clouds, which is in the Asian New Talent lineup.

Directed by Tom Waller, The Last Executioner (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat) makes its bow in Shanghai ahead of its July 3 release in Thai cinemas. Here's more about it from a press release issued just seconds ago:

The Last Executioner a.k.a. Petchakat is inspired by real events and follows the story of Chavoret Jaruboon, a former rock 'n' roll musician who entertained American GIs during the Vietnam war before becoming a death row executioner at the notorious "Bangkok Hilton".

Starring Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) in the lead role of Chavoret, the Thai-language film also features Penpak Sirkul and Thai National Film Best Actor winner David Asavanond (Countdown) as well as veteran Thai actors Nirut Sirichanya (The Hangover Part II), Pisarn Akkaraseranee and Jaran "See Tao" Petcharoen.

Selected from 1,099 entries as one of 11 films chosen in the Golden Goblet competition, award-winning director Tom Waller’s second Thai-language film will be judged by a jury headed by famous Chinese actress Gong Li.

Born in Bangkok to a Thai Buddhist mother and Irish Catholic father, director Tom had a unique dual perspective on the story: “Is it a sin for one man to kill another, even if it is his duty? Does being an executioner make him a murderer or not.”

"Pu" Vithaya, who had worked with Tom before playing Father Ananda in Mindfulness and Murder a.k.a. Sop-Mai-Ngiab, was honored to play Chavoret, who passed away in 2012. “It was a challenge for me to play this ordinary family man who led such an extraordinary life. With his job killing people, as a Buddhist he had to come to terms with his karma.”

After its World Premiere at Shanghai, the film will have its Thai Premiere on June 19, before going on general release in Thai cinemas on July 3 through Handmade Distribution.

Waller and Vithaya were also recently interviewed by The Nation, and Film Business Asia has details on the rest of the Shanghai Golden Goblet contenders.

Concrete Clouds, the feature directorial debut of prominent longtime film editor Lee Chatametikool, is a drama set during the 1997 financial crisis in Bangkok. It premiered at last year's Busan fest and has been steadily making the rounds on the festival circuit, including appearances in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. In Shanghai, it's part of the nine-entry field in competition for the Asian New Talent Award. It's also in the New Talent Competition at the Taipei Film Festival, which immediately follows Shanghai.

The 17th Shanghai International Film Festival runs from June 14 to 22.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cannes 2014: Somebody's got to pay for those buckets of blood

A representative of Laos' emergent film industry, director Mattie Do, is on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival, schmoozing her way around town as she hunts for cash to make a movie.

Taking part in La Fabrique Les Cinemas du Monde, a market event and masterclass for first- and second-time feature directors, she landed a deal with crowdfunding website in partnership with the gorehounds who run Her campaign video is on Vimeo, but I can't get the embed link to work.

Mattie needs cash to buy buckets of blood from her local fresh market in Vientiane, as well as other supplies, to make her sophomore feature, Dearest Sister (Nong Hak). It's about a poor country girl who comes to the city to help her rich cousin, a blind girl who gets lottery numbers from the dead.

Produced by Douangmany Soliphanh and Lao Art Media, Dearest Sister is also supported by Lao Brewing Company, which explains why Mattie has been flogging Beerlao Gold up and down the Croisette in Cannes.

Her film is the follow-up to Chanthaly, a slow-burn ghost thriller that made history for being the first Lao horror movie and the first Lao feature directed by a woman. After premiering at 2012's Luang Prabang Film Festival, it went on to screen at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, becoming the first Lao film to screen anywhere outside of Southeast Asia.

For fans who support the IndieGoGo campaign, Mattie has an array of amusing premiums to offer. For example, for $10, she'll personally buy you a Lao lottery ticket. If you win, she'll send you a stack of kip – Lao currency that is absolutely worthless outside of Laos. And if you lose, you can join the production's Instagram and follow the progress there. For $100, you get a confiscated bootleg DVD of Chanthaly - Mattie will personally lick the stamps to mail it you. If you give $1,000, you can work as a production assistant, and wrangle those buckets of blood. Contributors of $5,000 can act in the film - "be a skeevy sex tourist" - you'll have to pay your own way to Bangkok, however.

Keep track of the production by "liking" the film's Facebook page.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Last Executioner is aiming at you

Blood and bullets rule in the latest trailer for The Last Executioner (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat), the biographical drama of Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand's last machine-gun prison executioner.

Directed by Tom Waller, it stars Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) as Chavoret. The film tracks his life, from his younger days as an unruly rock 'n' roller, performing for American soldiers during the Vietnam War, to finding love, and then taking a job in a prison as a way to support his family.

Penpak Sirikul (It Gets Better) portrays his wife, and David Asavanond (Countdown) is a shadowy spirit figure who haunts Chavoret. Thira Chutikul (Rang: The Parallel) plays the younger Chavoret.

The film depicts Chavoret's inner struggle, whether his killing in the name of justice is good or bad.

Film Journal has more:

Chavoret was deeply emotionally torn over his position, because it clashed with his Buddhist beliefs. “He always wanted to be a musician and in fact played clubs with his guitar. But this didn’t earn him enough money to raise his three children, so when the previous executioner suddenly retired, he very reluctantly accepted to replace him. After all, he would be paid 2,000 baht per execution, which was a considerable amount of money at the time,” Waller elaborated.

It is this inner conflict—leading a double life as a devoted family man on one side and carrying out state killings on the other—which the film depicts in stark, often harrowing visuals. “He can coolly pull the trigger on the same day he plays with his granddaughter, whom he absolutely adores. Yet it becomes clear to the audience that deep inside Chavoret is a troubled man, whose music often is his saving grace and who tries through his Buddhist faith to reconcile his torn conscience by making merit whenever he can,” explained Waller.

Although the scenes in the execution chamber—which was painstakingly recreated in a studio with the help of photographs taken on location at Bang Kwan Central Prison, the infamous “Bangkok Hilton” — are generally unsettling, the film’s defining moment is perhaps the scene where a female convict inexplicably survives the initial burst from the machine gun. “When she later comes to in a neighboring room, she has to be dragged back to be executed a second time, crying, screaming and kicking all the way. This surreal incident really happened and haunted Chavoret for the rest of his life,” said Waller."

The Thai release, being handled by the new outfit Handmade Distribution, is now set for July 3.

The new trailer is embedded below.