Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: Tukkae Rak Pang Mak (Chiang Khan Story)

  • Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak
  • Starring Jirayu La-ongmanee, Chonthida Asavahame
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 28, 2014; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Yuthlert Sippapak pays homage to his roots with the partly autobiographical romantic comedy Tukkae Rak Pang Mak (ตุ๊กแกรักแป้งมาก, a.k.a. Chiang Khan Story.

Spanning 20 years from the 1970s to the '90s in the Mekong River town of Chiang Khan in Yuthlert's home province of Loei, it's the story of childhood friends, the poor little orphan boy with the odd name of Tukkae (after the large chirping house lizard that's believed be a bad omen) and the wealthy girl Pang. They later grow apart, but are forced back together by circumstances that only happen in romantic comedies.

The first half of the movie, featuring a cast of child actors, is energetic, sweet and nostalgic, weaving in memories of 4-baht wooden cap guns with the rubber-band action, the then-newfangled foreign treat of jellybeans and GAF Viewmasters.

Tukkae and Pang take to hanging around the town's wooden shophouse cinema. It's during a magical time when such Thai cinema classics as Sombat Metanee's gritty actioner Chumpae is playing alongside Payut Ngaokrachang's animated triumph The Adventures of Sudsakorn and Sompote Sands' insane Hanuman vs. 7 Ultraman.

The kids are mentored by the theater's poster painter, played by Yuthlert's longtime collaborator "Uncle" Adirek Watleela. His character Pong Poster is a heartfelt tribute to still-living 1970s' director Piak Poster, who started out as a poster artist, as well as Uncle's late Buppa Rahtree co-star, character actor and production designer Bunthin Thuaykaew.

Tukkae, always on the defensive because of his funny nickname and his status as a poor orphan kid, seeks to play with the gang of chubby boys who always bully him. In lively action scenes, they blast away with their cap guns while wearing Red Eagle masks, like Mitr Chaibancha. And Tukkae accepts a dare that drives Pang out of his life, seemingly forever.

Flash forward a few years to Bangkok, Tukkae is a comic-book artist with aspirations of getting in the movie business. He's partnered up with a level-headed and experienced film hand, amiably played by Slice director Kongkiat Khomsiri, one of several film industry hands in the cast. In another scene, Thanit Jitnukul (Bang Rajan) turns up as a producer. He can't believe Tukkae doesn't know what a "treatment" is.

The guys are tasked with making a Mae Nak "liverscape" movie by a hilariously marble-mouthed B-movie producer who sees nothing wrong with moving the famous ghost story from Phra Khanong to Chiang Khan. Tukkae has other ideas, and he writes an "untitled" screenplay that is basically his life story, with a focus on his relationship with Pang.

The implausibilities stack up as Tukkae encounters Pang by chance in a Bangkok disco, and she doesn't remember him at all. In fact, nobody from Tukkae's old school remembers what anybody looks like. But this is, refreshingly, before Facebook and selfies, so I suppose the disbelief can be suspended somewhat. Mistaken identities and misunderstandings add to Tukkae's woes as Pang wakes up in Tukkae's bedroom and doesn't recognize Tukkae or any of his stuff (not even the Viewmaster she gave him).

But the two are thrown together anyway when Pang, now a famous actress, is cast for the role in Tukkae's movie. Awkwardness ensues on the set as Pang is confronted with the guy she only recognizes from that bad night out. She doesn't realize it's her old childhood friend, nor does she seem aware that he actually wrote the screenplay for the movie she's in.

The energy and sweetness of the movie's first half gives way to a wallowing slackness that's struggling to find an ending. It's not helped by the rather wooden performances by Kao Jirayu and Pleng Chontida. Kao, a former child actor with many credits, has better chemistry in later scenes with his character's dementia-addled grandmother who raised him. Pleng, the celebrity offspring of singer Nantida Kaewbuasai and scandal-plagued politician Chonsawat Asavahame, is making her screen debut, but seems to let a curly hairstyle and aviator sunglasses do all the work for her.

The supporting cast, especially the Tukky-type actress who plays Pang's best friend and manager, help to liven things up. She is friends with soldiers at the local army base, and they turn up on command to dish out beatings to anyone getting on her wrong side. Boriboon Chanruang portrays a director who spent so long in New York he's forgotten to speak Thai. He becomes Tukkae's chief rival in romancing Pang.

Yuthlert seems to have suppressed his infamous genre-jumping tendencies in an effort to make what he's called his first romantic comedy, though melodrama, horror and slapstick all creep their way in, just not as much or as often as his past films.

Tukkae Rak Pang Mak also marks a comeback of sorts for Yuthlert, who has done more than a dozen films over around half as many years up until a year or so ago. However, his last effort, the potentially controversial Deep South drama Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ พรมแดนแห่งรัก, Pitupoom) was yanked from release by the film's producer. So Yuthlert retreated to Loei to regroup.

His new film is the first release from a new studio, Transformation Films, which is a joint venture of M Pictures, Bangkok Film Studio (formerly Film Bangkok), True I-Content and Matching Studio.

Box-office performance for Tukkae has been middling, with 12.7 million baht in earnings at last count, but hopefully the company will soldier on and perhaps give one of Thai cinema's most distinctive voices yet another chance to tell his stories.

See also:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Thai Short 18: Endless, Nameless takes top prize

Cabezón (Big Head), winner of the International Competition.

Endless, Nameless, a highly experimental film that was actually shot on film, won the top-prize R.D. Pestonji Award for general Thai filmmakers at the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival on Sunday.

Directed by Pathompon Tesprateep and shot on Super 8 footage that was then processed by hand, the flickering images depicted soldiers gathered in a high-ranking officer's backyard. They are pitted against various objects, inanimate and otherwise, including a hissing cobra, which sways back and forth.

The pick of Endless, Nameless came as the Thai Short Film and Video Festival paid tribute to the Thai Film Archive's 30th anniversary, with Archive EX, a special program of Thai experimental films from pre-digital age.

But the triumph of the 8mm experimental film also comes as one of the festival's long-running awards, the Kodak Filmschool Award, for student films made with Kodak stock, is no more. Aside from Endless, Nameless, no other competition entries were made on film – all were digital productions. Meanwhile, two production service companies, VS Service and Cinetoys, stepped in this year with two new special awards, both honoring movies about movie-making.

The Cinetoys' prize went to Rest in Peace by Nonthakorn Patphol (The Thai title ภาพยนตร์เรื่องสุดท้ายพระเอกตายตอนจบ refers to the action-movie hero dying in the end) while VS Services' gong went to Endslate, capturing a day on the set of an indie movie.

Other entries in the R.D. Pestonji competition, named for Thailand's pioneering auteur of the 1950s, included the runner-up Endlessly by Sivaroj Kongsakul, about a grandmother and her grandchild spending a day together. It was also among winners of the Vichamatra Award for distinctive achievements in filmmaking.

Another Pestonji entry, Isan Mars, about a project to send workers from Thailand's rural Northeast to Mars, was among the winners of the BACC Award, instituted last year by the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, which hosts the festival.

Also from the Pestonji line-up was The Way of Life, Tah Kwa's look at the forced ouster of indigenous people from their traditional homes in the upland forests to the lowlands. It won a special mention in the Pestonji category and the Pirabkhao (White Dove) Award from the 14 October 73 Memorial Foundation for films highlighting social concerns.

In the International Competition, the top prize went to Cabezón (Big Head), a Chilean comedy in which a painter is tasked with painting a portrait of a client's pet dog – an old stubborn and lazy mastiff. The painter eventually bonds with his subject, plying the epically drooling canine with sliced ham.

The White Elephant Award top prize went to the coming-of-age friendship drama Menstrual Synchrony by Jirassaya Wongsuthin, which also shared the Popular Vote award with The Second Friendship Book by Pakchayos Charanchol, which competed in the Special White Elephant category for filmmakers under 18.

In animation, the Payut Ngaokrachang Award went to Neither Lit Nor Dark by Chanon Treenate. The prize is named after Thailand's pioneering animator. Among the runners-up was I Can Fly by perennial award-winner Twatpong Tangsajapoj, which also won a Vichamatra Award. A special mention went to The Bird and the Fish by Kanitrin Thailamthong, in which a lifelike cartoon pigeon witnesses a fish falling from the sky. It also won a BACC Award.

BACC Award

  • The Bird and the Fish by Kanitrin Thailamthong
  • Isan Mars by P. Sangsorn

Special Award from Cinetoys and Services Co., Ltd.

  • Rest in Peace by Nonthakorn Patphol

Special Award from VS Service Company Limited

  • Endslate by Chinnavorn Nongyoa

Pirabkhao award

  • The Way of Life by Tah Kwa

Duke Award (documentaries)

  • Special Mention – Khon Tie Tor by Kittipat Kanoknak and Dad by Tipwan Narintorn
  • Runner-up – Once in a Year by Teerapan Ngaojeeranan and Lice in the Wonderland by Boonyarit Wiengnon
  • Grand-Prix – Rao Choana Yoo Kub Kwai (เราชาวนาอยู่กับควาย ) by Wachara Kunha

R.D. Pestonji Award International Competition
  • Special Mention – Mama by Lidia Sheinin, Russia
  • Best International Short Film – Cabezón (Big Head) by Jairo Boisier, Chile 

R.D. Pestonji Award (for general Thai filmmakers)
  • Special Mention – The Way of Life by Tah Kwa, Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport by Soroyos Prapapan and Narayana’s Arrow Spaceship: Between the Orbits of Mars and Jupiter by Paranoid Team
  • Runner-up – Endlessly by Sivroj Kongsakul, Somewhere Only We Know by Wichanon Somumjarn and Myth of Modernity by Chulayarnnon Siriphol
  • Grand Prix – Endless, Nameless by Pathompon Tesprateep

Payut Ngaokrachang Award (animation)
  • Special Mention – The Bird and the Fish by Kanitrin Thailamthong, Congratulations by Pathompong Thititan and Aelio by Pongpreecha Kittiporniwat
  • Runner-Up – I Can Fly by Twatpong Tangsajapoj and The Blanket by Pasraporn Tampanon
  • Grand Prix – Neither Lit Nor Dark by Chanon Treenate
Special White Elephant (students under 18)
  • Special Mention – Past Perfect by Wethaka Jarampornsakul and Sirya Lertsmithwong and The Second Friendship Book by Pakchayos Charanchol
  • Grand Prix – The Misplaced Flower by Zo Chamuleur
White Elephant (student films)
  • Special Mention – Duct Move Past by Nichapa Trongsiri  , Hula Hoop by Reawadee Ngamloon, Khmer Talisman by Pissamai Duangnoi and /'Spel,baund by Nat Eiamkhunthongsuk
  • Runner-Up – 329 by Tinnawat Chankloi and Gandharva by Theerapat Ngathong
  • Grand Prix – Menstrual Synchrony by Jirassaya Wongsuthin

JENESYS 2.0 Award (Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youth)
  • A-ANT by Natpong Prasri
  • Inspiration by Punya Choo
  • Red Shoes by Wannisa Pinjai
  • Dream and Bad Day by Pakawadee Pongisrapan
  • Home by Apinya Mahatham
  • Brush by Nat Watanakul
  • Do you? by Patraporn Rachatakittisuntorn
  • Illusive Dream by Patrin Chaopanich
  • Window Job by Parunyu Chaisri
Best Actor
  • Ornanong Thaisriwong from Anna

Vichitmatra Award
  • Scent of the Morning Sun by Monkham Khukhuntin and Harin Paesongthai
  • Goodbye by Nakorn Chaisri
  • I Can Fly by Twatpong Tangsajapoj
  • Endlessly by Sivaroj Kongsakul

Popular Vote
  • Menstrual Synchrony by Jirassaya Wongsuthin
  • The Second Friendship Book by Pakchayos Charanchol

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Vientiane in Love premiere set for 2014 line-up of Luang Prabang Film Festival

Vientiane in Love is one of four Lao films in the fest.
The world premiere of Vientiane in Love, an omnibus romance by four Lao directors, will open the fifth edition of the Luang Prabang Film Festival, set for December 6 to 10 in the Unesco World Heritage former royal capital of Laos.

Screening on the main screen in the festival's 800-seat outdoor main venue, Vientiane in Love is by four directors from Lao New Wave Cinema, Vannaphone Sitthirath, Xaisongkham Induangchanthy, Phanumad Disattha and Anysay Keola, who made his debut in 2012 with the thriller At the Horizon.

Three other features from Laos' newly emergent film industry will also screen – Really Love by Jear Sirivongsa, which had a successful theatrical run in Laos, Tuk-Tuk by the Lao-French director Simon Luang Kiyé, and the Lao-Thai co-production by My Teacher, by Thai director Niyom Wongpongkham.

Celebrating the best in Southeast Asian cinema, the festival will feature works by such well-known auteurs as Cambodia's Rithy Panh, and his Oscar-nominated autobiographical documentary The Missing Picture, and Indonesia's Riri Riza, whose latest is The Jungle School. Also from Cambodia is Chhay Bora's new film, the drama 3.50, in which a documentary filmmaker tries to rescue a girl sold into prostitution.

Other festival highlights are the crowd-pleasing Thai hits Pee Mak Phra Khanong and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy and Singapore's Cannes Golden Camera winner Ilo Ilo.

Documentaries include the coffee-infused Aroma of Heaven from Indonesia, the Thai environmental disaster of By the River, The Boatbuilders of Mermaid Island from Malaysia, and The Songs of Rice, an explosive music-and-dance-laden look at the festivals that accompany rice cultivation in Thailand.

Vietnamese offerings include the award-winning musical The Talent by first-time director Nguyen Quang Huy, which won six Golden Kites, including best feature, the country's top film award.

Among the Filipino films is the crime drama The Patriarch, romance with Shift, coming-of-age drama in Catnip and young-punk adventures in Iskawalags.

Myanmar is represented by Midi Z and his partly autobiographical coming-home drama Return to Burma.

Other Thai features include Lee Chatametikool's Concrete Clouds, starring Lao-Australian leading man and festival favorite Ananda Everingham, and the hit GTH romance The Teacher's Diary.

All screenings and activities of the festival are free and open to the public. Selected by LPFF's Motion Picture Ambassadors (film experts in each of the participating countries), the feature films in the 2014 festival will be:

  • 3.50, directed by Chhay Bora, Cambodia
  • Aroma of Heaven, directed by Budi Kurniawan, Indonesia
  • The Boatbuilders of Mermaid Island, directed by Azharr Rudin and Imri Nasution, Malaysia
  • By the River, directed by Nontawat Numbenchapol, Thailand
  • Catnip, directed by Kevin Dayrit, Philippines
  • Concrete Clouds, directed by Lee Chatametikool, Thailand
  • Ilo Ilo, directed by Anthony Chen, Singapore
  • Iskalawags, directed by Keith Deligero, Philippines
  • The Jungle School, directed by Riri Riza, Indonesia
  • Madam Phung’s Last Journey, directed by Tham Nguyen Thi, Vietnam
  • The Mangoes, directed by Tonny Trimarsanto, Indonesia
  • Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, directed by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Thailand
  • The Missing Picture, directed by Rithy Panh, Cambodia
  • My Teacher, Niyom Wongpongkham, Laos
  • The Patriarch, directed by Borgy Torre, Philippines
  • Pee Mak Phrakanong, directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, Thailand
  • Really Love, directed by Jear Sirivongsa, Laos
  • Return to Burma, directed by Midi Z, Myanmar
  • Sayang Disayang, directed by Sanif Olek, Singapore
  • Shift, directed by Siege Ledesma, Philippines
  • The Songs of Rice, directed by Uruphong Raksasad, Thailand
  • Streetside, directed by Daniel Ziv, Indonesia
  • The Teacher’s Diary, directed by Nithiwat Tharathorn, Thailand
  • The Talent, directed by Nguyen Quang Huy, Vietnam
  • Tuk-Tuk, directed by Simon Luang Kiyé, Laos
  • Vientiane in Love, directed by Vannaphone Sitthirath, Xaisongkham Induangchanthy, Phanumad Disattha and Anysay Keola, Laos
  • We Are Moluccan, directed by Angga Dwimas Sasongko, Indonesia

In addition to these feature film screenings, LPFF will have short films, including all 18 entries from DocNet Southeast Asia's second ChopShots fest. Short-film competition entries from Laos' other film festival, the Vientianale, will also be shown.

As always, LPFF will create a space for regional film professionals and fans to network, dialogue and encourage local film production. There will be panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions, music, dance and puppetry performances.

Festival-goers can expect an update on the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project (the director of which will be speaking later this month at TEDx in Chiang Mai), as well as other film-related exhibitions.

In an exciting new partnership, representatives of leading Thai theater chain Major Cineplex will be in attendance and one of the festival’s films may be selected for theatrical distribution.

Coca-Cola is one of the festival’s biggest sponsors once again this year, having also made a very generous donation to LPFF’s Lao Filmmakers Fund, a publicly-generated fund that allows filmmakers in Laos to apply for grants to help realize their film projects. This year, filmmakers are able to request up to US$10,000 in support.

For further information, visit or stay up to date at

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thai Short 18 review: R.D. Pestonji 2-3

Thai short films entered the Twilight Zone in the R.D. Pestonji competition of the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. Indie filmmakers blasted into the realms of space and fantasy, as well as the spiritual and, of course, political, in the range of entries, which featured such established names as Kongdej Jaturanrasmee and Wichanon Somumjarn.

Even without an elaborate spaceship, Paranoid Team's sci-fi thriller Narayana’s Arrow Spaceship: Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter (ยานศรนารายณ์: ระหว่างวงโคจรดาวอังคารและดาวพฤหัสฯ ) demonstrated how surprisingly effective a simple set can be in relating the slow-burn madness of long-distance interplanetary travel. The crew is two, plus their fantastic dial-up-Internet-powered android assistant – a computer, ship's chaplain and, presumably, sex toy, wrapped up into one. There are two crewmen, from the top and bottom of the social strata in Thailand, and only one can live if the ship is to make it back to Earth.

A Forest is Always Full of Surprise (ในป่าเต็มไปด้วยเรื่องอัศจรรย์ ) has last year's big award winner Eakalek Maleetipawan revisiting the mysterious Endless Realm (as well as a 2011 winner A Moment in the Rainforest). The ante is upped this time around with a wolf-costume-man shadowing a bow-hunter in the sun-dappled woods, down by the babbling creek.

Myth of Modernity by Chulayarnon Siriphol blasted back up into the heavens, starting out as a documentary on how Buddhist cosmology influences Thai architecture. The scripture's Mount Meru is represented in everything from the spike on a guard's helmet to the pyramid-shaped structures atop Bangkok's skyscrapers. Eventually, these pyramids, constructed out of fluorescent light tubes, become vehicles to the next plain of enlightenment, and they go up and up and up, endlessly. But where, really? Coincidentally, the documentary's talking-head "independent scholar" and break-out star was none other than filmmaker and festival technician Nuttorn Kungwanklai, who happened to be projecting the film he was in.

Back on Earth, Wichanon Somumjarn dealt with a young woman's struggles in Somewhere Only We Know (จุฬญาณนนท์ ศิริผล), a project he put together through a crowdfunding campaign. The young lady struggles to make ends meet in an accounting office, plus she needs to support her mother. In the midst of all this, her ex-boyfriend stops by to get his "stuff". Why do they always leave "stuff" behind?

There were gales of laughter for Pairach Khumwan's Too Good To Be True (คนดี (ที่เธอไม่รัก) ), a playful satire involving a university student's clumsy attempt to woo a pretty girl on campus, but his best friend gets in the way.

Romance and travelogue mixed in the R.D. Pestonji 3 lead-off entry A Bat Has Flown (รางวัลรัตน์ เปสตันยี 3), following the life of a Thai restaurant worker in Sydney. No lost elephants here. We see the city through his eyes as he particpates on the fringes of a marathon run, and hangs out by the bridge. Later, he spends an evening with a fellow Thai, and, yeah, well, there are bats, giant fruit bats.

The Way of Lives (วิถีชีวิต ) by Hta Kwa and produced by Chiang Mai's Friend Without Borders, is a look at Karen families driven from their homes in mountain forests to a settlement in the lowlands, where they must abandon their traditions and learn new ways of farming and living, even if it doesn't mean living on the farm.

Kongdej Jaturanrasmee gives viewers an up-close and personal look at his talented twin daughters in Udon (อุด้ง ). Between footage of the girls, studying, practicing their music – one on piano and the other on a finicky violin – there are text-message intertitles. None were subtitled, but the film was well-received. Kongdej said later he made the film on a low budget and didn't account for subs. In fact, that was all explained in the text and that's why so many folks were cracking up, for that, and other things.

Crazy as it seems, there are still folks making films on film, and in the case of Endless, Nameless, Pathompon Tesprateep and producer Pathompong Manakitsomboon rounded up the troops to make a film on Super 8 stock, and then hand-process the reels. Others taking part in the cinematography were music-festival videographer Danaya Chulphuthiphong and video artist Taiki Sakpisit. The result is flickering footage of a hissing, spitting cobra, its head swaying back and forth, and back and forth, which is what my head was doing. It became a dream, and then, like Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, I woke up.

And so it was up to the appropriately titled Endslate by Chinavorn Nongyao to ease me back into the world. The 15-minute short was divided into two, starting with a comedy bit about a director trying to shoot a scene at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok. Prominent indie-film cinematographer, wearing sunglasses, naturally, shakes his head at the ridiculousness of the proceedings. Things calm down during the shooting of a restaurant scene – a poignant end for a film-festival program that honors one of Thai cinema's pioneering auteurs.

Unfortunately, because of work conflicts, I was unable to see R.D. Pestonji 1, which included a new work by Sivaroj Kongsakul, Endlessly (ศิวโรจณ์ คงสกุล ). There was also another Auntie Maam adventure, featuring the maid of Six to Six and Hi-So in Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้ ), directed by Sorayos Prapapan and a follow-up to last year's Boonrerm.

World premieres set for So Be It, W at Busan

A new feature by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee and the debut of Chonlasit Upanigkit will have world premieres at the Busan International Film Festival, alongside international debuts for two other Thai films and more.

Kongdej's boyhood drama So Be It, which was backed the festival's Asian Cinema Fund for post-production, is about a pair of boys, one a seven-year-old Thai-American who wants to be a monk and an  11-year-old hill-tribe kid who was forced to spend his entire life at a provincial temple. "From radically different backgrounds, the two look to find themselves through Buddhism."

Chonlasit, a film editor on past-year Busan entries Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy and 36, makes his feature debut behind the lens with W. "University pals Neung, Ploy and Ton face their uncertain futures in this collegiate epic winding through their intertwining lives," says the synopsis. "Director Chonlasit’s graduation project taps into the anxieties of contemporary twenty something and best friends struggling with choices they didn’t always want to make."

Both So Be It and W are in the Window on Asian Cinema, alongside two other Thai entries, indie director Parm Rangsri's Fah Gam Toh (ฟ้าแก้มโต), which opens in Thai cinemas today, and Nithiwat Tharatorn's hit GTH romance The Teacher's Diary (คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya). Parm, following up his drama Daddy's Menu, reteams with comedian Ping Lumpraplerng for a fatherhood drama about a faded veteran singer who is struggling to recapture his stardom.

More Thai films are in the Wide Angle line-up, with the coming-of-age drama That Day of the Month by Jirassaya Wongsutin making its debut in the Asian Short Film Competition.

Another world premiere will be The Singers, a new work by Nonzee Nimibutr, in the Short Film Showcase. It's about an elderly singer who decides to teach her money-grubbing grandkids a lesson. She takes off and ends up hanging out with a another singer, much-poorer, who has just been arrested for peddling old CDs without a permit.

And in the Documentary Showcase, it's Y/our Music, a U.K.-Thai production by Waraluck Every and David Reeve that surveys nine non-mainstream musicians, from "rice field to leftfield".

The 19th Busan International Film Festival runs from October 2 to 11.

(Thanks Soros!)

Five projects picked for Bangkok Produire au Sud Workshop 2014

Film projects from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have been chosen for the 2014 editon of the Bangkok Produire au Sud Workshop.

Initiated by the Produire au Sud workshop of the Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes, France and the World Film Festival of Bangkok, the Bangkok event runs around every other year.

Here's this year's selection;

  • Arnold is a Model Student, directed by Sorayos Parapapan and produced by Donsaron Kovitvanitcha (Thailand)
  • Nervious Translation, directed by Shireen Seno and produced by John Torres (Philippines)
  • Orn. directed by Thammaruja Dharmasaroja and produced by Thammasiree Dharmasaroja (Thailand)
  • The Science of Fictions, directed by Edwin Nazir and produced by Yosep Anggi Noen (Indonesia)
  • Where Does the Mango Come From?, directed by Quy Truong and produced by Ha Vu (Vietnam)

Past Produire aud Sud projects have included Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours, O Nothapan's A Moment in June and Wichanon Somumjarn's upcoming Beer Girl.

The workshop runs from October 23 to 25 as part of the 12th World Film Festival of Bangkok, October 17 to 26.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bangkok, here's your chance to see Norte, the End of History

Filipino auteur Lav Diaz, a filmmaker known for a freeform approach that has his features lasting up to 11 hours or more, has developed a following among cinephiles in Thailand, thanks to programs curated over the years by the Thai Short Film and Video Festival and Filmvirus.

In fact, it was at the 2007 Digital Forum started that year by the Thai Short Film and Video Festival, where I saw my first Diaz film, Heremias, which blew my mind and hooked me instantly.

Now, thanks to that freedom-embracing "video" portion of the Thai Short Film and Video Fest, one of Diaz' latest efforts will come to Bangkok, the four-hour Norte, the End of History (Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan), screening just one time only, at 6pm on Monday, September 1, at the Lido in Siam Square.

Now, as a viewer who's seen Lav Diaz films in all kinds of situations, usually while crashed out on the floor of a sweltering shophouse, I have to say that the idea of watching one of his films in a proper cinema like the Lido is pretty special.

Screening in the main competition at Cannes last year, Norte also won the best director award at Cinemanila. It even received a limited U.S. run and made many year-end critics' lists.

Here's the plot:

The lives of three people take a turn when one of them commits a crime.

Joaquin (Archie Alemania) is failing miserably at providing for his family when his money lender gets murdered. The crime is pinned on him. Misery and solitude would
transform him in prison.

Left to fend for the family, his wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani) pours all of her strength to battling with despair and eking out a living for their children.

The real perpetrator, Fabian (Sid Lucero), roams free. His disillusionment with his country—its history of revolutions marred by betrayal and crimes unpunished—drives him to the edge of sanity, of humanity.

Norte producer Moira Lang will be among the festival guests, and she comes to Bangkok just after Diaz won the Golden Leopard in Locarno for another film, From What is Before (Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon), which I hope makes it to Bangkok eventually.

The 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival opens on Thursday, August 28 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center with Cambodia 2099, a new short by young French-Cambodian director Davy Chou (Golden Slumbers). It is part of a new program this year called "French Connection", which gathers many excellent French live-action and animated shorts.

There will also be a chance to see Letters from the South, the omnibus on Chinese communities in Southeast Asia by Thailand's Aditya Assarat, Singapore's Royston Tan and Sun Koh, Myanmar's Midi Zhao and Malaysia's Tan Chui Mui and Tsai Ming-liang.

More views from across the region can be seen in the S-Express program curated by film experts from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

And, in celebration of the Film Archive's 30th anniversary, there will be a special program from the Archive's collection as well as the annual Queer shorts collection of Thai and foreign films.

As always, the centerpiece of the Thai Short Film and Video Festival is the competition among Thai indie filmmakers for the top-prize RD Pestonji Award, named in honor of the country's pioneering auteur, along with documentaries, animated shorts and student films vying for other awards.

I've embedded the trailer for Norte below. Color, hmm? That's a different look for Lav.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nawapol's Master joins projects by Pen-ek, Nonzee at APM 2014

Bangkok's legendary pirate-movie vendor Mr. Van is the subject of The Master, a documentary in the works by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit.

It's been selected for this year's Asian Project Market at the Busan International Film Festival, along with works by two other Thai directors, Pen-ek Ratanaruang with Samui Song and Nonzee Nimibutr, who has The Two Kings.

"Before Bittorrent, we have him," reads the tagline to The Master, which again has the Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy director looking back on outmoded media, much as he did with his experimental romance 36, which evoked memories of 36-exposure rolls of camera film.

Here's more about The Master:

The Master is a documentary aiming to look into the movie piracy problem in Thailand and worldwide. It tells the story of a man who opened a bootleg video store that introduced art and rare films from around the world to Thai customers. He only sold films that have no distributor in Thailand. He didn't get rich from this shop, but he created this shop because of his love of cinema. 

A coin has two sides. Movie piracy is illegal. It devastates filmmakers and movie industry. Still, it is difficult to judge what he did is morally right or wrong. The project means to show the movie piracy cycle and the effects of movie piracy in both ways, bad and good.


In 2014, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit produces and distributes the DVD of his own film Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy in Thailand. A few days after the release date, bootleg DVDs of the film could be found everywhere. On the day that his film is copied, Nawapol recalls that 10 years before, he used to be a customer of a bootleg video shop in Thailand called 'Van Vdo', which sold bootleg videos of art films that have no distributor in Thailand. It was the only place in Thailand that allowed him to discover the works of directors such as Wong Kar-wai or Takeshi Kitano.

Nawapol remembers 'Mr. Van' the owner of the shop, which closed down many years ago. What Mr. Van did is illegal, but videos from his shop has influence on Thai filmmakers. Young directors grew up with videos from his shop. Some film critics ordered 10 videos from the shop every week. Some film directors worked for the shop, while some were angry when they knew their films were on the shelves of this shop.

In the late '90s when cinemas in Thailand has no space for art films, was it the right thing to sell bootleg copies of those films so Thai people could watch it?

Is Mr. Van like Robin Hood? Is it right to violate copyrights for the sake of 'education'? Is 'Violate copyright for the sake of education' just another excuse of careless customers who never care for the cost of making a film? Nawapol goes back to Mr. Van again to explore his life, and to look for the answers of those questions.

Producers on The Master are Soros Sukhum, Donsaron Kovitvanitcha, Cattleya Paosrijareon and Attaphon Nabangxang.

Pen-ek's Samui Song, meanwhile, was launched earlier this year with an announcement at the Hong Kong fest. The drama, which has shades of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, is about a young woman (Chermarn Boonyasak) with husband who falls under the influence of a cult leader (Vithaya Pansringarm). It's produced by Pen-ek's Headshot partner Raymond Phathanavirangoon along with Arunee Srisuk, Rasarin Tanalerttararom.

And there's Nonzee, who made a comeback earlier this year with the weepy teen drama Timeline. His APM pitch will be The Two Kings, produced by Henry Ko and Sandra Gaviria.

Other projects include Diamond Island by Cambodia's Davy Chou, Fowl by the Philippines' Brillante Mendoza, and Full-Moon Party by Vietnam's Dang Di Phan.

The Asian Project Market runs from October 6 to 8 as part of the Busan International Film Festival, October 2 to 11.

Pause for a moment with the Concrete Clouds teaser

THIS MOVIE TEASER SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD! But maybe not at work. Or, if you're in my office, turn it up.

Finally, Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Pavang rak, literally "subconscious love"), the directorial-debut feature of famed film editor Lee Chatametikool, is making its bow in Thai cinemas. Following a tour of the festival circuit, the film is opening on September 18 for an exclusive run at SF Cinemas.

He's cut a nifty one-minute teaser to get local audiences revved up for the 1997-set Bangkok family drama. It features the song ""Mai Mi Laeo" ("ไม่มี แล้ว ", "No More") by the '90s earworm crafters Pause. It is a rocking blast from the Bakery label. The band was fronted by the inimitable singer Joe Amarin, who died in 2002 at age 30.

The movie, oh yeah. There's a movie. It stars Ananda Everingham as a guy named Mutt, a U.S. trader who turns up back in Thailand for his suicidal dad's funeral in 1997, just as the economic bubble burst. Apinya Sakuljaroensuk also stars, in all her mirror-smashing glory, along with Janesuda Parnto.

Thank you, by the way, to Wichanon Somumjarn for help in Pause's incredible backstory. Do click the song link above for the video of the band.

As a bonus, here's another video that was released by Dazed Digital. It features the music of Pookie (ปุ๊กกี้), "Kho-Kae-Me-Ther" ("ขอแค่มีเธอ").

(Thanks Soros!)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: The Swimmers (Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther)

  • Directed by Sophon Sakdapisit
  • Starring Juthawut Pattarakamphon, Thonphop Lirattanakhachon, Supatsara Thanachart
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 7, 2014; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

The title characters in The Swimmers (ฝากไว้..ในกายเธอ, Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther) aren't the schoolboys with chiseled six-pack abs. Nope, the real stars of this movie are sperm, tiny swimmers who deposit themselves in a teenage girl and cause much grief for everyone involved.

Sophon Sakdapisit, largely repeating the success he had with 2011's Laddaland, about a dunder-headed dad who moves his family to a supposedly haunted housing development, The Swimmers pulls Speedos over the eyes of young Thai moviegoers. Plugged by studio GTH's slick social-networking machine, the kids think they are going to see a ghost movie. But it's not – it's a taut psychological drama, with the added horror of being a message movie about teen sex. That's similar to what GTH is doing with its TV series Hormones, now in its second season. It has Thai society jabbering about the pros and cons of the show's depictions of schoolkid promiscuity and partying, no doubt contributing to sales of the special GMM Grammy set-top boxes needed to watch the zeitgeisty show.

Anyway, the story of The Swimmers centers on a love triangle that springs from a big-haired boy named Perth (Juthawut Pattarakamphon), one of the top-ranked members of his high school's swim team. He has eyes for Ice (Supatsara Thanachart), the pretty girlfriend of Tan (Thonphop Lirattanakhachon), a taller, rangier and short-haired rival on the team who is also the closest thing Perth has to a best friend.

After a few tender moments, Ice is splattered at the bottom of the school's drained diving pool, setting up the much-touted premise of a guy haunted by the ghost of a suicidal pregnant girl. A nifty sequence has workmen replacing the smashed pool tiles in fast motion, leaving a slightly darker light blue spot where there was once the corpse of a girl.

With guilt over the death weighing on him, Perth slowly comes apart. He starts encountering the girl's ghost. His buddy Tan, grieving and angry, is determined to find out who got his girlfriend pregnant, and he enlists Perth's help.

Sophon keeps viewers off balance with a plot structure that toggles back and forth from the present to the weeks before Ice's deadly drop.

More distractions and character-building for Perth are added when he gets sexually active (and again forgets a condom) with another girl, the promiscuous Mint (The Voice Thailand season two contestant Violette Wautier). With the time jumps, it's sometimes confusing because Ice and Mint are so scarily similar, they are kind of hard to tell apart.

There's also Perth's somewhat dysfunctional home life, with his single mother always working late and then by chance getting involved with the swim team's coach. He advises Perth to eat one raw egg a day, for the protein. The eggs then become another handy metaphor for pregnancy, and make for cool scenes, such as when Perth goes overboard and eats a couple dozen raw eggs in one sitting.

Perth believes he's pregnant, carrying Ice's baby. "Hey Perth, your six-pack is now a one-pack," a teammate shouts at him in the locker room. And, indeed, Perth's belly appears to be swelling in sympathy to his dead pregnant sweetheart.

The soundtrack by prolific film-score composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan throws in plenty of fake jump scares to ratchet up the tension and keep viewers in knots. The scary soundtrack cues worked on the young Thais who packed a suburban Bangkok cinema for a late weeknight show, but had me rolling my eyes and wondering if the movie would still be as scary without such nonsense. Try it sometime. I think it might be scarier.

But there's more that's good than annoying with The Swimmers, such as a fun jump cut from one home pregnancy test to another. It's another way of keeping the audience off kilter.

Also enjoyable is watching Perth's "frenemy" Tan grow increasingly suspicious. Tan turns detective, trying to recover the data on Ice's shattered phone, setting up a race that has Perth trying to stay ahead and erase damaging evidence from the dead girl's Facebook page. It's another example of how the Internet and text messages are being seamlessly integrated into films, and I guess Sophon does it pretty effectively. At another point, Perth fingers another guy as Ice's lover, and in a spooky abandoned half-built hotel, Tan forces Perth into putting the hurt on the boy.

There are a few other distractions. The story is set in Chon Buri, a seaside setting that is lovely yet otherworldly when compared to the Bangkok or Chiang Mai locales that GTH productions tend to favor. It's a weird place, where the kids are still using BlackBerrys, or are moving straight to Windows phones. And they drive Chevys. Strange.

Also, whose corpse is that hanging in the doorway? And, well, there's other confusing developments.

What's clear though is that Perth is a dark, flawed character, a well-worn element of Western films and TV series but something that GTH has tended to shy away from until recently, with such films as Laddaland, last year's hit thriller Countdown and now The Swimmers. No squeaky-clean teens here.

Goosed along by the prospect of boys who wear less clothes than the girls, The Swimmers has been a big draw in Thai cinemas, earning more than 30 million baht (about $1 million) on its opening weekend and appearing to be well on its way to hitting the studio's celebratory benchmark of 100 million baht.

Going dark is a good thing, GTH. Keep it up.

See also: