Monday, May 24, 2004

Thai press follows up on Cannes

With the Cannes awards coming after presstime on Saturday night, it wasn't until Monday morning that the Thailand press was able to publish word about Apichatpong Weerasethakul's jury-prize win for his film Tropical Malady.

Under a headline, "Gay Isaan movie wins hearts, prize at Cannes", The Nation carried a few quotes from the director.

"I was so thrilled when I was standing on stage, saying 'thank you' to everyone," director Apichatpong told the English-language daily.

Tropical Malady
stood out from the other 19 films in competition because of its personal, less-commercial style, critics said.

Apichatpong said that at the gala awards dinner, French actress Emmanuelle Beart, a member of the jury, told him she had never seen anything like the movie before.

"It is the same sort of feedback I received from the audience in Cannes, which showed the movie had more power than I had ever expected it to have," Apichatpong told The Nation.

He said he hoped his success at Cannes will encourage other young Thai filmmakers not to sacrifice their personal style.

"This prize will certainly inspire young filmmakers to go ahead and make personal films on a small budget," Apichatpong said.

He also hoped the jury-prize success will make it easier for him to fund his next project. "The award might not change my life that much since my bank balance is still down to zero, but it makes it easier to get money for the next project," he said.

In addition to Apichatpong, Asians took award in half of the categories under the Golden Palm-winning American political documentary, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Maggie Chung won the Best Actress award for her role as a junkie in Clean and Yagira Yuuya, 14, took the Best Actor award for his role in the Japanese film Nobody Knows. The Grand Prize went to the violent Korean revenge flick, Old Boy.

"It's double the excitement when Asians can win four of the eight awards from the main competition," producer Pantham Thongsang of the Thai Independent Filmmaker Alliance, told The Nation. His group funded a quarter of the 40-million baht (about US$1 million) budget of Tropical Malady.

Pantham wants all four of the prize-winning Asian films to be shown in Thailand soon.

Both of Thailand's English-language newspapers had reporters in attendance at Cannes, Parinyaporn Pajee for The Nation and Kong Rithdee from the Bangkok Post.

"I'm super grateful to the festival because I didn't expect to win a prize at all. There are so many big names in the festival, while I am just a nobody from a small country," Apitchatpong told the Post. "I am not sure how the film relates to an international audience. For me, just to be here is a miracle."

Critics were divided after viewing Tropical Malady, the Post reported. Those who liked it, including French critics, championed it as the best film in the festival, but those disapproving of the film said its structure was unconventional and the story too complicated to follow.

"I think the reactions by Thai audiences will be black and white, like it was here," the director was quoted as saying.

Tropical Malady is a drama, telling the story of a gay man's search for his lover, who is transformed by supernatural forces into a tiger while walking in the forest. The Nation's headline referred to Isaan, the local name for the region of northeast Thailand where the film takes place.

"My first inspiration for the film is the landscape because I like the feeling of being in the jungle," Apichatpong told the Post.

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