Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Asean Film Fest, 367 Won, Love H20, Love Love You

Thais get a peek over the backyard fence in the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, put together by the Culture Ministry and the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand.

Running until Sunday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld in Bangkok, the selection has a bit of something for all tastes.

For broad comedies, there’s the romantic farce What’s So Special About Rina? from Brunei and, if you like Thai TV comedies, then you’ll probably like Huk Ey Ly 2 (Really Love 2) from Laos, which is put together by musician and TV star Jear Pacific.

The Last Reel from Cambodia reflects on that country’s cinematic golden age of the 1960s and early ’70s, and features one of that era’s big stars, actress Dy Saveth. Other much-acclaimed dramas are Bwaya from the Philippines, Siti from Indonesia, 1021 from Singapore and Golden Kingdom from Myanmar. Edgy offerings come from Vietnam, with the gay drama Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories, while I'm hoping to check out the Malaysian entry, Flower in Pocket director Liew Sieng Tat's darkly comic satire Men Who Save the World.

And Thailand looks to the South with the drama Latitude 6, with various stories of religious and cultural conflict against the backdrop of restiveness in the three southernmost provinces.

Many screenings will have question-and-answer sessions with the directors, so stick around.

After Bangkok, the fest moves to SFX Maya Chiang Mai from next Friday to September 6, SF Cinema City Khon Kaen from September 10 to 13 and SF Cinema City Surat Thani from September 17 to 20.

Free tickets are handed out 30 minutes before the shows. Further details about the films are at Bangkok Cinema Scene. For the schedule, check

There are also two mainstream romantic comedies in general release. One is Khon Oak Hak (คน.อก.หัก, a.k.a. Love H2O), in which a young woman named Naam (Natpapas Thanathanamaharat) is the editor of a romance magazine. Her own love life turns rocky after her long-time boyfriend ditches her for someone else.

She wants to find the perfect guy to take to her ex’s wedding and has a choice between old friend Doc (Tony Rakkaen), diplomat Joe (Navin Yavapollkul) or property tycoon Ohm (Ananda Everingham). Sutthasit Detinthonnarak (Club Friday: The Series) directs.

And in 367 Won: Him and Her (367 วัน Him and Her), Tine (Chonluedee Amornlak) and Hade (Khanut Rojanai) have been a couple since high school.

Now graduated from college, Tine is set to head overseas, and she breaks up with Hade rather than have him wait for her to return. Thirawat Phadungkan directs.

Oh hey, here's a holdover from last week, Love Love You อยากบอกให้รู้...ว่ารัก (Love Love You Yak Bok Hai Roo Wa Rak). This is the type of indie gay Thai film that has inspired the release of other Thai gay films this year, such as P'Chai My Hero, Red Wine and the Dark Night and The Blue Hour.

Here, Blue Hour leading man Atthaphan Poonsawawas stars as a young man named Gump who feels the Earth shake when meets Sun (Thanasarn Miangbua). Gump’s boyfriend Night (Narrapat Sakulsong) has meanwhile fallen for for a dude named Ball. Their friends step in to sort things out. Napat Jaitientum directs.

After one week of release, it's still playing at some Major Cineplex branches, so check the Major Cineplex website.

It's encouraging to see an indie film like Love Love You still hanging around. Other Thai films, such as the recently released big-studio effort Joe Hua Tangmo, haven't been so lucky, and get bounced out of cinemas so fast no one has a chance to see them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thai Short 19: Winners, R.D. Pestonji and Payut Ngaokrachang reviews

Deeply personal relationships were a common thread running through many of the prize-winning entries in the 19th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, which wrapped up on Sunday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

The festival’s top prize for general filmmakers, the R.D. Pestonji Award, went to After Image by Patana Chirawong. Full of warmth and humour, After Image was about an elderly gay man contacting his university crush, a straight guy who years ago had promised to take him on a date if he reached the age of 70. They meet in the forest, at an archaeology dig for dinosaur fossils. The promise of youth has faded away, and these old fellows are in touch with a past that is older than either can remember. A shadowy figure of a brontosaurus ambles by. Pretty nifty.

Runner-up winners were Neither Here Nor There by Skan Aryurapong, which was a succinct portrait of a wheelchair-bound man and his caretaker/lover, while the meta-heavy Motherland dealt with a young pregnant woman seeking advice from a co-worker at a factory.

And a special mention went to Hta Kwa’s Our Footprints, another prize-winning entry from the Chiang Mai NGO Friends Without Borders, which looks at the continuing struggles of Thailand’s indigenous people to continue their traditional ways of life in the forest. The disappearance of Karen activist Pholachi Billy Rakchongcharoen looms in the backdrop.

A scene from After Image, winner of the R.D. Pestonji Award.

Another major award winner was Dreamscape by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai. An entry in the Duke Award documentary competition, it won the Popular Vote from audience polling as well as the BACC Award.

Other notable finalists in the Pestonji competition included Our, a tender portrait of a young just-married couple taking their honeymoon by the beach. It's directed by Sivaroj Kongsakul of Eternity/Tee Rak fame, who has developed ninja skills in tugging heartstrings with his highly emotional shorts.

I also liked Spaghetti by Sittisak Kum-ai, which had a guy struggling to keep up a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend, who he hopes will return to him before the expiration date on a package of pasta he's tucked away in a cabinet.

There were chuckles for some other entries, such as Jakkrapan Srivichai's Horror Radio, in which a security guard who listens to spooky radio serials calls into the station one night with his own story. Symmetry by Ukrit Malai had an older fellow reflecting on a different, parallel life of a brother (or was it his son?), which sees living-room recliners and a Playstation (also a ping-pong table) transported magically from a house to an open field. And there was good fun to be had in Director and Actor, directed by and starring Weera Rukbankeru, which had him struggling to direct himself in various scenes.

And the festival wouldn't be complete without at least one mysterious jungle thriller. Perennial festival entrant Pramote Sangsorn headed into the woods for Sudd Song Nor, which had a reporter camping out with a big-game hunter in search of the last rhino. Homoerotic tendencies surface in a discussion about taking the rhino's horn, but leaving the unseen beast alive. Later on, both men cover themselves from head to toe with mud.

Prince Johnny, winner of the Payut Ngaokrachang Award.

I really connected with the block of animated entries in the Payut Ngaokrachang Award competition, which is named for Thailand's pioneering maker of animated shorts and features. The audience was sparse for the Sunday morning show, but included a cool farang dad who brought his two small children. Still, I heard gasping from the kids when the cartoons took dark turns, which were frequent.

The top prize Winner Prince Johnny by Patradol Kitcharoen was wonderfully morbid with its story of a fairy-tale prince trying to revive the corpse of a long-dead princess locked in a tower. Bleaker still was a runner-up winner Sound of the Silence by Akapop Khansorn, which deals with an imprisoned woman.

There was conflict aplenty in Stained White by Thanchanok Phruetkittiwong, Vichuda Surattichaikul and Supisara Songpirote, in which Red City kids and Green City kids just want to play together but instead have to fight. There was also the special mention winner Black-White by Jaturon Jetwiriyanon, which had Germanic-looking chess pieces in an endless war – no worries about Nazi imagery here, it's used to show the horror of war and isn't glorified as it has been in cases that crop up from time to time in news about Thailand.

Simply entertaining entries included the special mention winners Breaking Zoo by Prakasit Nuansri (about an escaped overheated gorilla); Lamp by Narueporn Winiyakul (about a fishing cat making friends with cute anglerfish) and the fun football-themed Kickoff by Twatpong Tangsajjapoj.

Luukmaai, a finalist entry in the Payut Ngaokrachang competition.

I'm surprised Luukmaai by Rachaneekorn Uthaithammarat didn't win a prize. The story of a forest-dwelling man who befriends a tree spirit, the character design really reminded me of Payut's work in The Adventure of Sudsakorn, which to me is remarkable, because not many Thai animators actually seem to be influenced by Payut, who had his own style, but could be compared to Tex Avery or maybe Disney.

These days, most Thai animation takes Japanese anime as its cue, not that there's anything wrong with that. The anime style was especially evident in the crazily sick Gokicha Love Story by Chidchanok Saengkawin, which had a cockroach who thinks she's a princess trying to woo a guy, but the guy is horrified because he only sees her as an insect. Festival Rush by Chawanat Rattanaprakarn also looked like anime, but told a distinctively Thai story, with a boy at a temple fair chasing down masked criminals who stole the doll he won for his sweetheart.

And 3D computer graphic animation continues to progress. Aside from the award-winners like Black-White and Breaking Zoo, memorable entries included the heist comedy The Sneaker by Chattida Ajjimakul, and the nature-themed To the Light by Jane Horsakul.

Worth noting is this year's festival title, a "bumper" that is created new each year by various notable filmmakers. This year, it was the turn of Chulayarnon Siriphol, a perennial award-winner in past years, whose entries are thought-provoking, satiric and, most importantly to me, entertaining. Chualyarnon actually did two titles. One had images of soldier statues and people offering prayers to a shrine, and an auditorium with an empty movie screen. I won't comment further on what I think it means. Chulayarnon also did a stop-motion thing involving birthday candles with nails stuck in them so they resembled insects, crawling over someone's skin. Of course, both festival titles had images of eggs, which is part of the iconography of the Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

New to the festival this year is an additional cash prize, free equipment rental and use of a production crew to the top-prize winner of the R.D. Pestonji Award from VS Service, a company that has long been involved with providing services to foreign movie productions. Established in 1985 with a single generator to hire out, among VS Service’s early clients was Santa Film, a production services firm run by a son of Pestonji, who is regarded as Thailand’s first auteur filmmaker. The award is especially symbolic for the head of VS Service, cinematographer Pithai "Pete" Smithsuth, who has now taken over the company his father started.
Symmetry, a finalist entry in the R.D. Pestonji competition.

Anyway, here are the winners in the 19th Thai Short Film and Video Festival:

Popular Vote

  • Dreamscape by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai

International Competition

  • Best Short Film: Rene R Letters by Lisa Reboulleau (France)
  • Special Mention: Fallen Leaves by Masha Kondakova (Ukraine) and Moving in Circles by Maxim Dashkin (Russia)

R.D. Pestonji Award

  • Winner: After Image by Patana Chirawong
  • Runner-up: Motherland by Varinda Naronggrittikun; Neither Here Nor There by Skan Aryurapong
  • Special Mention: Our Footprints by Hta Kwa

White Elephant Award (undergraduate students)

  • Winner: Rose Moon and the Missing Sun by Tulyawat Sajjatheerakul
  • Runner-up: The Country Boys by Krailas Phondongnok; Temperature of Roomtone by Pamornporn Tandiew
  • Special Mention: Glowstick by Pahphawee Jinnasith; Once Upon a Time by Jantraya Suriyong and Siripassorn Umnuaysombat; Oun Kwa Nhee Kor Phee Leaw by Yanisa Pornawalai

Special White Elephant (youth films)

  • Winner: Last Summer by Dapho Moradokpana
  • Runner-up: What a Wonderful World by Jirapat Thaweechuen, Thanawat Noomcharoen and Pu-ton Thongtan
  • Special mention: Untitled by Rachapol Sangsri and Tanyawat Sajjateerakul

Payut Ngaokrachang Award (animation)

  • Winner: Prince Johnny by Patradol Kitcharoen
  • Runner-Up: Fragile by Pennapa Chanwerawong; Stained White by Thanchanok Phruetkittiwong, Vichuda Surattichaikul and Supisara Songpirote; Sound of the Silence by Akapop Khansorn
  • Special Mention: Breaking Zoo by Prakasit Nuansri; Lamp by Narueporn Winiyakul; Black-White by Jaturon Jetwiriyanon and Kickoff by Twatpong Tangsajjapoj

Duke Award (documentary)

  • Winner: Sinmalin by Chaweng Chaiyawan
  • Runner-up: Michael’s by Kunnawut Boonreak; The Spirit of the Age by Wichanon Somumjarn
  • Special Mention: Chumchon Khon Khaya by Thitipat Rotchanakorn and Pawee Melanon; Pak Bara by Apichon Rattanapayon and Watcharee Rattanakree

Cinetoys Best Cinematography Award

  • Last Scene by Rajchapruek Tiyajamorn

Vichitmatra Award

  • My Grandfather’s Photobook by Nutthapon Rakkhatham and Phatthana Paiboon
  • Fon by Aekaphong Saranset
  • If You’re a Bird, I’ll Be Your Sky by Visuta Matanom
  • Yhahok by Nathan Homsup

BACC Award

  • Once Upon a Time by Jantraya Suriyong and Siripassorn Umnuaysombat
  • Dreamscape by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai

Pirabkhao Award

  • Sinmalin by Chaweng Chaiyawan

Best Actor

  • Arachaporn Pokinpakorn from Glowstick

(Adapted from an article in The Nation)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: The Blue Hour

  • Directed by Anucha Boonyawatana
  • Starring Atthaphan Poonsawas, Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 6, 2015; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

In his song “This Land is Your Land”, American folksinger Woody Guthrie had a verse that only he usually ever performed, about a “no trespassing” sign: “But on the other side it didn’t say nothin’. That side was made for you and me.”

The verse came to mind while watching The Blue Hour (Onthakan, อนธการ), in which a young man sneaks through a fence to the other side of a sign that says “do not enter”. Inside the cordoned-off property is a filthy swimming pool. Everything about the place must have audiences thinking “don’t go in there!” but the kid goes in anyway. And there’s no turning back.

Blue Hour, the feature debut for respected short-film maker and indie-industry figure Anucha Boonyawatana, takes its title from that magic time twice a day, in the morning and evening, when it’s neither dark nor completely light. But the tone of the film is pitch-black.

Atthaphan Poonsawas stars as the meek schoolboy Tam, a slim bundle of vulnerabilities. Bullied at school and unloved and isolated at home because he’s gay, Tam is coming into his own. He’s arranged to meet another boy at the abandoned pool, a masculine youngster named Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang). It’s an ugly place for romance, and their first coupling is rough, more resembling the vice lock of a mixed-martial-arts match than intimacy.

The boys also strip down to their briefs for a dip in the dirty pool, and they talk of people who have been taken by spirits and only reappear after they’re dead. The atmosphere is eerie, with mildew stains on the walls of the pool resembling human shadows.

Things get more surreal when the lads visit a garbage dump that Phum says his family used to own but was taken away from them in a land grab. I swear I could smell the putrid stink of the place as the mounds of trash wriggled to life.

A handgun enters the picture, and it’s the trigger for confusion, as writer-director Anucha and co-writer Waasuthep Ketpetch (and film editors Chonlasit Upanigkit and Anuphap Autta) aim to keep the audience as mixed up as possible while the suspense builds and the chronology of the story is shattered.

The overall foreboding mood is also thanks to the blue-tinged cinematography of Chaiyapreuk Chalermpornpanit and Kamolpan Ngiwtong, and the ghostly mildew shadows dreamed up by production designer Phairot Siriwat.

The Blue Hour has a similar vibe to the movies of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose influence looms large over all Thai indie films. Additionally, Blue Hour is part of a trio of strong gay-themed Thai indie films being released this year. It debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival, alongside another Thai queer entry, director Josh Kim’s How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), also known as P’Chai My Hero. The pair of films, which both had local premieres at the inaugural Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, have been joined by a third gay romance, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s widely released Red Wine in the Dark Night, which explores similar themes of gays as outsiders thrown on the trash heap of society, but with a slightly lighter, fantasy-based tone.

Tam’s transformation is complete, and he’s crossed over to the other side. But what’s on that other side, and who is it for?

The Blue Hour might not be a movie for everyone, but fans of gay cinema and Thai art-house films will find something there.

Review: Red Wine in the Dark Night

  • Written and directed by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit
  • Starring Pongsatorn Sripinta, Steven Isarapong Fuller, Krittachapon Thananara, Nontapat Intarasuan, Sutthinat Uengtrakul, Sakdinan Choosuwan, Pachara Kuerkanchanaporn
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 23, 2015; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Tossed on the trash heap of society, gays have carved out their own weird little world in Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Khuen Nan Red Wine in the Dark Night (คืนนั้น red Wine in the dark Night).

The story involves an innocent young soul named Wine, a petite guy who is introduced stripping down to his tighty-whities for a hot make-out session with his current boyfriend, a jock named Tee. There's trouble between the two, because Tee won't come out as gay, and he says the time has come to knuckle down, find a girlfriend, get married, etc. All that boring stuff.

But he agrees to one last meeting with Wine, in an abandoned skyscraper under construction. It's really just a dramatic set up that leaves Wine with a bleeding wound on his knee. Then, Wine hears a faint voice calling for help, leading him to find a mysterious stranger who is too weak to move. Wine tries to revive the guy with a convenience store pastry and bottled water, but the poor fellow can stomach neither. However, Wine's wounded knee is of interest, and the weakened stranger slithers over, grabs a mouthful of kneecap and starts sucking blood.

Along with red-tinged eyes (the contact lens is clearly visible), it further turns out that the mysterious Mister Bloodsucker is also an amnesiac, and remembers neither his name nor his past. He's a blank slate. Wine christens him Night, and Night takes a liking to the kid.

Soon, the stranger is installed in an apartment that Wine's sugar-daddy other boyfriend Boy keeps for the two to meet in.

However, there remains the problem of Night's weird dietary requirements. Various kinds of animal blood is presented in juice bottles for Night to try, but none are palatable.

So Wine sees no choice but to find a blood donor, and he kidnaps his old boyfriend Tee. When Night asks Wine where he got the blood, Wine explains it's from a "buffalo", which generated chuckles with a Saturday afternoon audience of middle-aged women at a Bang Kapi multiplex.

So here's where Wine is heading down a morally dubious path. And it's here where Red Wine in the Dark Night has parallels to another queer Thai feature film released this year, the mystery thriller The Blue Hour (Onthakan, อนธการ). But while The Blue Hour is heavy and solidly dramatic, with arthouse pretensions, Red Wine is lighter, reflecting its commercial aims as a widely released mainstream film.

Sex-wise, things are kept clean, with naughty bits covered up by strategically bunched-up bedsheets. The hottest it gets are the male-on-male liplocks and scenes of the boys in their skivvies, of which there are many.

This is a Tanwarin film, so there's a lot of humor, with more chuckles coming as Wine tries to suss out what Night's deal is. He's not vampire, Night reasons, because he doesn't have fangs. So he knows that much about life. But then he's also sensitive to light.

And it's a strange universe that Tanwarin has concocted out of a little corner of Bangkok, with a canalside path and tiny city park with a swing being one main location, aside from condo rooms. Lighting cues add to a spooky atmosphere, especially in the abandoned, under-construction skyscraper.

Certain things trigger Night's faulty memory, such as the discovery of a guitar in a garbage pile. But as those memories come back, the pressure is piling on Wine.

Tee's friends, a hilarious bunch of jocks, all with the same slicked-back '50s hairstyle, running shorts and NBA practice jerseys, keep coming around to hassle Wine about the whereabouts of their pal. They don't necessarily care that their best buddy is gay – that's not the issue – they just want him returned.

And Wine's slightly older businessman friend Boy (Krittachapon Thananara) keeps calling, wanting to meet up at the apartment, and he's growing increasingly tired of the same old lame excuses Wine has about having to go "help my mother" or somesuch. I like how Boy's ready to throw down at a moment's notice, with a pair of handcuffs at the ready.

In the gay community, there has been much fuss over Fluke, a cult figure who is described by one fan as "sex on legs". I don't quite get the appeal, but then he's not my type. But I recognize that Fluke is a fine, expressive actor, who fits the sought-after archetype of the vulnerable wisp of a leading man being cast in movies like this. Perhaps in another era, he would be Juliet to a more-masculine Romeo.

As Night, Stephen Isarapong Fuller (or Fuehrer, depending on how the R's and L's roll off your tongue) is playing to a type – the mysterious lonesome stranger who arrives to shake things up. He played a similar role in Tanwarin's cute ghost romance Threesome.

Related posts:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

In Thai cinemas: The Blue Hour, Joe Hua Tangmo

It's been a strong year for Thai queer films, and one of the major pillars has been The Blue Hour
(Onthakan, อนธการ), a coming-of-age romance and suspense thriller.

The story involves a teenager named Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas) who is bullied at school and unloved at home. He arranges to meet a stranger named Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang) at a spooky, abandoned swimming pool. There, amid the moldering surroundings, the two young men have rough sex and then talk about ghosts. A friendship forms, and it leads to extremely dark places.

Directed by Anucha Boonyawatana, The Blue Hour had its world premiere at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, alongside another queer-themed Thai entry, director Josh Kim's How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), a.k.a. P'Chai My Hero, which was released in cinemas here last month. Then there's a third gay romance, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Red Wine in the Dark Night, which was released a couple weeks ago.

In addition to Berlinale, The Blue Hour has been featured at other festivals, including Hong Kong, Seattle, Taipei, Toronto's Inside Out and Montreal's Fantasia fest. Critical reception has been very positive, and I've got my own review coming soon. Promise. In the meantime, here's a few words from the Fantasia Fest:

A stunning ghost story from Thai filmmaker Anucha Boonyawatana, The Blue Hour recalls the work of masters such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, while spinning its own fresh take on repressed queer sexuality, abuse and intolerance. Using the concept of haunting to tackle these issues, as well as the complex interplay between national identities and buried sexual desires, Boonywatana’s feature-length debut is nothing short of a masterpiece of tension, a revelation from this year’s Berlinale. Acutely observant, The Blue Hour’s ethereal and painterly cinematography is matched only by its terrifying set design and the stunning Thai countryside, which comes alive as the perfect mirror to the protagonists’ fragile psyches – and the traumatic and supernatural forces bubbling underneath their doomed romance.

It's only at some SF cinemas: SF World, SFX Central Rama 9, SFC The Mall Bang Kapi, SFC The Mall Ngamwongwan and SFX Maya Chiang Mai.

The Thai trailer is embedded below. For more details, check the film's Facebook page.

Industry veteran "Leo" Kittikorn Liasirikun returns to the scene with Joe Hua Tangmo (โจ หัวแตงโม นักสืบออนไลน์), an ambitious effort to blend live action with animation and address the freakish domination of social media in Thai society.

It's released by M-Thirtynine, the Major Cineplex -backed production shingle that Leo helped co-found in 2009 after RS Film's Avant studio was disbanded.

Popular young actor Jirayu La-ongmanee stars as Joe, a slouch-hatted computer hacker who creates an avatar that enables him to enter the online world to find out the real names of the people behind display names on social networks. Arikanta “Gypso” Mahaprukphong and Tanan Boonyatanapiwat also star, along with, notably, Nopachai Peter Jayanama, from the Naresuan franchise and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot and Nymph.

There's more about the film on a special website, and the subtitled trailer is embedded below.

Friday, July 31, 2015

In Thai cinemas: There's Something About Tott

There's only one new Thai movie in cinemas this week, a romantic comedy called Love Hiao Fiao Tott (เลิฟเฮี้ยวเฟี้ยวต๊อด, a.k.a. There’s Something About Tott).

It's about a hapless hipster who the ladies think for some reason is super handsome. They fall all over themselves trying to be close, making it difficult for him to carry on in life and hold down a job. Played by Khunathip Pinpradab, he needs to raise money to get his grandmother out of the nursing home.

The director is the prolific Poj Anon, who this time around is being credited with his real name, Anon Mingkhwanta, perhaps in a move to rebrand and distance himself from his many critically assailed movies of the past.

Aside from young Nick Khunathip, who appeared in Poj's recent films, such as the Mor 6/5 (Make Me Shudder!) schoolboy horror comedies, his Iron Ladies remake and one of the Die a Violent Death horror antholgies, There's Something About Tott features veteran stage and screen actress Duangta Tungkamanee as Tott's mother and celebrity make-up artist, media personality and actress Ornapha Krisadee.

Friday, July 24, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Red Wine in the Dark Night, Latitude 6, Mon Love Sib Muen

(Here is another recurring feature I will attempt, supported by my other blog, Bangkok Cinema Scene, in which I will repost entries about the new Thai movies opening each week in Thai cinemas.)

Along with How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), released here last week, and next month's release of The Blue Hour, fans of Thai queer arthouse cinema have been anticipating Red Wine in the Dark Night, the latest from writer-director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, who previously surveyed transgender culture in the award-winning It Gets Better (ไม่ได้ขอให้มารั, Mai Dai Kor Hai Ma Rak).

Following the successful string of indie gay romances that have been getting limited releases in Bangkok cinemas, Khuen Nan Red Wine in the Dark Night (คืนนั้น Red Wine in the Dark Night), is getting a wide release from Thanadbuntueng Production, Artfo Production and Tanwarin's own Am Fine Production.

There's an intriguing vampire vibe with the plot about an innocent soul named Wine (Pongsatorn "Fluke" Sripinta from My Bromance) who encounters a blood-sucking amnesiac he names Night. He's played by Steven Isarapong Fuller, who previously appeared in Tanwarin's mainstream ghost romance Threesome.

Other stars include Krittachapon Thananara, (It Gets Better, Hug Na Sarakham, Teacher and Student), Nontapat Intarasuan (Feel Good) and Sutthinat Uengtrakul (Love’s Coming).

"I would like to make this film simply to remind all of us that love can really make us blind. Love is definitely a beautiful thing, on the other side, love creates obsession and makes us do whatever it takes to make a person love us and be with us as long as possible. I believe love requires lots of thoughts to make it really work," says Tanwarin in a director's statement issued ahead the movie's release.

Restive southern Thailand is the backdrop for Latitude 6 (ละติจูดที่ 6), a propaganda film produced by the Internal Security Operations Command and UCI Media, the provider of Motorola two-way radios and other products in Thailand.

A romantic drama, its aim is to "promote better understanding", as the military spokesmen are always saying. There are various stories of cultural and religious conflict, mainly having to do with actor-musician Peter Corp Dyrendal, who portrays a Bangkok banker assigned to Pattani. There, he is charmed by the laid-back southern lifestyle. He falls for a young Muslim woman and hopes to prove he is worthy to the girl's strict father.

Though the Army means well (and doesn't it always?) the film's release is poorly timed, with the motorcycle-enthusiast actor embroiled in social-media-fueled controversies over his private affairs and failures to turn up to work on TV shows.

However, The Nation today has a bit more on the actual film, including details on making it from Thanadol Nualsuth, who wrote and directed Latitude 6. A former assistant under Poj Arnon, he previously co-directed the snakes-in-an-apartment thriller Kheaw Aa-Kaard (เขี้ยว อาฆาต), had a hand in the first Die a Violent Death anthology and the 2011 flood romance, Rak Ao Yoo (รักเอาอยู่, a.k.a. Love at First Flood), which was actually filmed during the floods.

Just like Hollywood, the mainstream Thai movie industry isn't terribly inventive, and when one studio has a big box-office hit, the others follow it with something that looks similar, in hopes it will also catch on.

The latest attempt is Mon Love Sib Muen (มนต์เลิฟสิบหมื่น), a reworking of the 1970 classic Monrak Luk Thung, which starred the legendary screen duo of Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat, and was a massive hit in its day, remaining in theaters for something like six months. There were (and still are) tons of other rural Thai musical romantic comedy-dramas, but none caught on like Monrak Luk Thung.

Pariphan “Toh Phantamitr” Vachiranon, a member of the Phantamitr film-dubbing team, directs this new version, which is tarted up with CGI fighting roosters and hipster comedians. Chaiyapol Julien Poupart (Threesome, Jan Dara, The Scar) stars as a country boy who is hopelessly in love with a local lass, but can't marry her until he raises a lavish dowry.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: P'Chai My Hero (How to Win at Checkers (Every Time))

  • Directed by Josh Kim
  • Starring Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, Thira Chutikul, Arthur Navarat, Natarat Lakha
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 16, 2015; reviewed at Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

A much-needed fresh perspective in Thai cinema emerges in the indie drama P’Chai My Hero (พี่ชาย My Hero), a.k.a. How to Win at Checkers (Every Time).

It’s the unique view of outsiders – Chicago-born, Thai-raised writer Rattawut Lapcharoensap and Josh Kim, a Korean-American filmmaker from Texas. To tell the heart-warming, bittersweet tale of orphaned brothers growing up, writer-director Kim added flourishes of his own to two stories from Rattawut’s Sightseeing anthology, “Draft Day” and “At the Cafe Lovely”.

Checkers, which premiered to much acclaim at the Berlin film fest and is re-titled for Thailand as P’Chai My Hero, centers on the tender bond between insecure 11-year-old Oat and his openly gay older brother Ek. Orphaned at an early age, the working-class boys live with their aunt and her pest of a young daughter. They also have a tight-knit group of friends, including Ek’s higher-class boyfriend Jai and transgender pal Kitty.

The gay characters are naturally drawn, avoiding the tendency to turn such figures into shrieking, flailing comic relief. Ek is positively masculine as he tinkers with the motorbike his father left him. And it’s this ordinary treatment of queer folk that makes P’Chai My Hero so refreshing.

They are also quirky characters that seem plucked from the New Thai Cinema Movement of the late ’90s and early aughts, when the now-snoozeworthy Thai film industry was awakened by such figures as writer-directors Wisit Sasanatieng, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Kongdej Jaturanrasamee and writer Prabda Yoon.

The aunt (Vatanya Thamdee) is superstitious to a fault, and spends her hard-earned dough buying eels to release in daily merit-making rituals. Her urchin of a daughter always seems to come out of nowhere, catching the boys at inopportune moments, and her forthcoming appearance is forever mystically presaged by a clucking red hen.

The boys hang out at a swimming pool with their ladyboy friend Kitty (Natarat Lakha), who is the embodiment of confidence as she struts past admirers in her red one-piece bathing suit, which shows off her prominent bulging groin. No one seems to care that she is a he, and Kitty points out that plenty of the guys at the pool are actually “into that”, albeit secretly.

So being gay is not really the issue. The real conflict of P’Chai My Hero is one that has always dogged Thai society – class differences. And those differences are highlighted by the approaching annual military draft lottery, which is unique to Thailand and thus compelling for the rest of the world. Ek pessimistically believes he is fated to pick a red card, be drafted into the army and sent to the restive South. It’s a subject Kim previously covered in his 2013 short documentary Draft Day, which covered transgenders taking part in the drawing.

Jai (Arthur Navarat) believes he can buy his way to picking a black card, and thus dodging military service. Yes, it’s our old friend corruption. This gives Oat an idea, but following through on his plan will have dire, life-shaping consequences for all.

Oat, portrayed remarkably by Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, begins to come out of his shell. Along with scheming for ways to keep his brother from being drafted, he also wants desperately to beat Ek at checkers. It’s a deal the brothers have, and if Oat wins, he’ll get anything he wants. Looking for a winning strategy, Oat scrapes together a few coins to buy one of those self-help books from a newsstand. The title is "How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)", but he’s too young to realise that that’s merely metaphorical and the only person being helped is the book’s shyster author. But, with his new win-at-any-cost ethos, Oat is finally granted his wish – to go with Ek for a night out in Bangkok.

And here’s where the extremely dark “At the Cafe Lovely” story kicks in. It takes the boys to the gay bar where Ek works for explosive events in a night that will haunt Oat forever. It’s this segment where the actor portraying Ek, Thira Chutikul, is particularly potent.

Having previously portrayed the young Chavoret Jaruboon in The Last Executioner, he’s one to keep an eye on.

Oh, and Michael Shaowanasai, a pioneering New Thai Cinema filmmaker known for his crossing-dressing Iron Pussy character, turns up as a bar patron who takes a creepy interest in Oat.

The tumultuous tale is bookended by segments that show Oat all grown up and portrayed by brooding singer-actor Tony Rakkaen. He’s haunted by nightmares and bad memories, but somehow has escaped the cycle of poverty and death that claims so many young Thai men. That might be another tale for Kim to tell.

Not only is this Thai film cobbled together from the English literature of a Thai-American writer by a Korean-American director, the producers hail from all over – Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand and the US. They are Edward Gunawan, Chris Lee, Andrew Thomas Tiernan and Anocha Suwichakornpong. This spirit of multinational collaboration could well signal a direction to follow in the Asean Economic Community as Southeast Asia’s filmmakers look for ways to tell stories that resonate with home audiences as well as those abroad.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Y/our Music, F. Hilaire, The Scar International Version

Urban and city beats blend in the tuneful documentary Y/our Music, which finally comes to Bangkok cinemas this week after a spin on the festival circuit.

I've seen it twice, and it kept my toes tapping both times. Directed by David Reeve and Waraluck “Art” Hiransrettawat Every, Y/our Music is a bifurcated look at Thailand's social divide through the benignly harmonious prism of music.

In Bangkok, there's an esoteric blend of city folk, playing Western-influenced folk, jazz and rock, while in the countryside, there are National Artists, performing the traditional Isaan country-folk music of mor lam, on traditional instruments, such as the electric pin (Isaan banjo) and the khaen (Isaan reed pipe).

It's those Isaan sounds that mostly come through, thanks to ever-present transistor radios in market stalls, taxi-cab stereos, masked street performers and, eventually, the Northeastern legends themselves.

Here are the performers:

  • Wiboon Tangyernyong – A Khao San-area optician who developed a worldwide following as a maker of bamboo saxophones.
  • Sweet Nuj – Young musician and indie record label entrepreneur Bun Suwannochin formed a duo with his singer mother-in-law Worranuj Kanakakorn, and they sell their discs online.
  • Happy Band – Following the tradition of The Who, Velvet Underground and Talking Heads, some Bangkok artists thought it'd be a swell idea to create a rock band as an art project. Eventually, they learned to be musicians.
  • Captain Prasert Keawpukdee – A gentleman who sells used violins and Buddha amulets at Chatuchak market, he hosts old-timey fiddle jam sessions on weekends.
  • Nattapol Seangsukon – Otherwise known as DJ Maftsai, he is a DJ who collects old mor lam, luk thung, string and Thai funk, and is the glue that holds this all together.
  • Chaweewan Phanthu – National Artist singer and academic.
  • Chalardnoi Songserm – National Artist singer.
  • Thongsai Thabthanon – Phin master. "Borrowed" telephone wire from American GIs to string up his Isaan banjo and play with rock bands.
  • Sombat Simlhar – A blind virtuoso of the khaen, the Isaan bamboo reed pipe. He lost his sight in early childhood and turned to music, becoming a major recording artist and performer who is still much sought-after.

Critical reception is pretty great. Y/our Music screens at 6.45 nightly until July 22 at the Lido in Siam Square. Rated G

F. Hilaire (ฟ.ฮีแลร์) – The writer of the widely used "Darun Suksa" Thai-language textbook was not Thai at all: he was a French Roman Catholic missionary and schoolteacher. Brother Hilaire was one of the key educators behind Thailand's Assumption College and taught many of the statesmen who would lead the Kingdom into the modern era. His story is recalled with help from a present-day scholar (Pharunyoo "Tac" Rojanawuttitham) who is looking for a new angle as he tries to write a thesis. Jason Young portrays the bearded clergyman teacher. Rated 13+

The Scar International Version – Dramatist ML Bhandevanop "Mom Noi" Devakula's adaptation of the classic tragic romance Plae Kao (แผลเก่า) is back in Bangkok cinemas for one week as The Scar International Version. Adding 40 minutes of further exposition, the longer director's cut premiered at last month's Thai Film Festival in London. Adapted from a novel by Mai Muengderm, The Scar is set in the Bang Kapi countryside of the 1930s, where poor farm boy Kwan is hopelessly in love with Riam, the daughter of a wealthier farming family. The star-crossed romance has been adapted for film and TV many, many times before, including a beloved 1977 film version by Cherd Songsri. This new version stars Chaiyapol Julian Pupart from Mom Noi's Jan Dara remake as Kwan and Davika Hoorne from Pee Mak Phra Khanong as Riam. It's playing at House on RCA.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: Y/our Music

  • Directed by David Reeve and Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every
  • Starring Wiboon Tangyernyong, Bun Suwannochin, Worranuj Kanakakorn, Nadda Srithongdee, Thaweesak Srithongdee, Boonchai Apintanaphong, Jarinee Liwarewitaya, Captain Prasert Keawpukdee, Nattapol Seangsukon, Chaweewan Phanthu, Chalardnoi Songserm, Thongsai Thabthanon, Sombat Simlhar
  • Reviewed at Salaya Doc 2015; release at Lido cinemas, Bangkok, July 9-22, 2015; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

It's happened both times I’ve seen Y/our Music – there’s a magical moment when what’s happening on the screen is so overwhelmingly powerful and joyously incredible that the audience breaks out into applause, as if it were a live concert.

I imagine that same scene will be repeated many more times as the documentary by co-directors David Reeve and Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every comes to Bangkok cinemas next week.

A picture of contrasting music tableaux – from precious indie musicians in the city to veteran National Artists in the rural Northeast – Y/our Music toggles back and forth between the traffic-clogged streets of the capital and the sleepy villages of Isaan. Almost imperceptibly, the hum of the urban machine is replaced by the buzzing of insects in the rice fields.

Yet there’s a divide between the two scenes, which is acknowledged by that curious oblique slash in the movie’s title. But, rather than wringing worried hands over our nation’s political divisions, Y/our Music seems to embrace and accept the differences, and be content with just letting the city folk and their country counterparts do their own thing.

Made by a small crew using often-borrowed equipment, Y/our Music has an easy-going style, keeping out of the way so the musicians can tell their own stories. And, despite its low-budget roots, the film has polished production values, with the highlight being a top-notch sound design that’s best appreciated in a proper cinema.

Bangkok is represented by an oddball array of performers, while the Isaan artists are more obviously talented.

Among the Bangkok bunch is Wiboon Tangyernyong, an optician who fell in love with the sound of the saxophone and decided to make one himself out of bamboo. Very much an amateur, it took Wiboon much trial and error and many years to perfect his construction process. But, adapting his lens-grinding expertise to fashioning bamboo sax parts, he’s now made more than 800 of the warm-sounding woodwinds, which he sells along Khao San Road and to clients around the world.

There’s more do-it-yourself spirit with Bun Suwannochin and his mother-in-law Worranuj Kanakakorn, who form the cute indie-pop duo Sweet Nuj. With Bun strumming a ukulele and his mum-in-law singing, they release their music through their own Baichasong record label, and have attracted a niche following.

Even quirkier is Happy Band, a rock group put together as a pop-art project. Despite having only one member who could actually play an instrument – famed graphic designer Nadda “Lolay” Srithongdee on guitar – the band became sought after. The other members, Thaweesak Srithongdee on bass, Boonchai Apintanaphong on guitar and Jarinee Liwarewitaya on drums, improved over time, and Happy Band went from being merely art objects to a real band. They even performed at Bangkok’s Fat Festival back when it was still a thing.

The spirit of Suntharaporn Big Band leader Eua Sunthornsanan and his violin is recalled in segments devoted to Captain Prasert Keawpukdee, a gentleman who should be well known to shoppers at Chatuchak Market. It’s there where Prasert, 75, sells used violins, other instruments and Buddhist amulets. Weekends usually bring together fiddlers and other amateur musicians who go through the classic old tunes. At one point in the film, a farang customer grabs her male companion and the two start waltzing around the crowded market.

Merging the city and country scenes is Nattapol Seangsukon. Better known as DJ Maft Sai, his Paradise Bangkok nightclub parties sparked a hipster revival in mor lam and other music from Isaan. With a cigarette perpetually dangling from his lips, he’s shown sorting through vinyl LPs and 45s at Zudrangma, his vintage record store, and creating dance mixes of mor lam and retro Thai funk.

The talents from the countryside are more formidable and awe-inspiring. Among them are two National Artists, singers Chaweewan Phanthu (nee Damnern) and Chalardnoi Songserm, along with pin master Thongsai Thabthanon and the blind khaen virtuoso Sombat Simlhar.

Among the segments is a concert featuring Chaweewan and Chalardnoi backed by a handful of younger musicians, which offers reassurance that traditional Isaan folk music remains vital. What’s troubling, though, is that the only attendees at the concert are middle-aged and elderly women and a few children – all the men are away working in Bangkok.

A die-hard professional, Chaweewan is an especially domineering performer, neatly composed with her grey hair in a tight bun, despite the humid conditions and a quickly approaching monsoon storm that signals the end of the gig.

Thongsai, a master of the two-string pin or Isaan banjo, recalls developing his style during his military service in the 1960s, when he was among the first to add wiring to the ornately filagreed instrument. He plugged in and played alongside Western-style rock bands. He makes it look easy as he shows youngsters how to rock out Isaan style. Later, while holding court at his Ubon Rachathani home, he adds a dozen or so drummers for a scene that’s particularly memorable.

Finally there’s Isaan reed-pipe player Sombat, who became blind as a child and took up the khaen to earn a living. He’s recorded with most of the well-known mor lam and luk thung singers and often turns up on TV variety shows. Still based in the Northeast, where he’s shown sitting by a rice field as he teaches a young woman how to play the finicky instrument. He remains much in demand as a performer, and, after awhile, a crucial phone call from Bangkok brings Y/our Music full circle.

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(Cross-published in The Nation)