Saturday, January 31, 2004

Why Miramax, why?

An excellent thread on the Rotten Tomatoes Forums talks about the problems with Miramax buying up the rights to Asian movies and then sitting on them. While the article talks mainly about Hero, it also refers to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Legend of Zu.

But another film that Miramax is sitting on is - Tears of the Black Tiger. Why are they waiting to release this film?

Anyway, for anyone who hasn't seen it, get it on DVD. It's available from various places on the Net.

Bangkok Int'l Film Fest - A look back

As the 2nd annual Bangkok International Film Festival draws to a close, I find myself looking back at the week of eventful film viewing.

Thanks to the new policy of selling tickets through a centralised ticketing agency (Ticketmaster), booking the tickets was a snap - as long as you had the schedule in hand.

As a journalist, I kind of beat myself up a bit that the paper I work for didn't do more to inform people about the movies ahead of time. Part of the reason for this was the deadline on the publication I edit was a lot sooner than any accurate information about what was playing could be verified.

Once I had the information at hand, I did inform anyone I knew in Bangkok who would interested in catching some films.

So I got most of my information on what films to watch from the Bangkok Post. It turned me on to Zatoichi and Carandiru.

Still, The Nation has done a good job with covering the festival as it happened. There's a decent look back at the week in today's paper.

In addition to Zatoichi and Carandiru, I also caught the Thai film Fake, the retrospective Marathon Man, a bad Algerian-Italian film, Letters in the Wind and Woody Harrelson's documentary, Go Further, which I really enjoyed.

Tomorrow, I wrap things up with a viewing of S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine.

These are all films I could easily see in the time that I have open outside of work.

I'm kicking myself for not seeing Osama. That was one I let slip through, even though I could have made time for it. Also, I would have made time to see Bertolucci's The Dreamers.

A few films didn't show up, including Lost in Translation, 21 Grams and Cold Mountain. These are high-profile movies that should be playing on general release though, and I wouldn't have bothered to see them in the festival had they been showing.

A negative aspect of the festival that continues to gall me is the inability of the organisers to monitor whether the complimentary VIP and press tickets are actually used.

At the showing of Zatoichi on Monday night, some friends were waiting to see if they could get in. But, since the computer said the auditorium was sold out, the young women running the show had no authority to let people in. Of course, many press and VIPs didn't show up and as a result there were at least a couple hundred seats not filled. Meanwhile, people that wanted to see the movie were left standing in the lobby.

I had a similar experience with trying to get tickets for Osama. It was sold out of course by the time I got around to getting the ticket. I suspect, there are some press seats, but I've never been one to use my press card. Plus it's a hassle to get the press seats, as the press center is in a hotel across town. Suffice to say it'd be a pain in the ass that I'm not willing to endure. I should have been awake and aware of Osama beforehand.

I just think the comp tickets should be held at the box offices until 30 minutes before showtime. If the holders don't show up, the tickets are sold. Simple. Some responsibility on the part of the press and the VIPs is in order.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Thai Film Market: A look at upcoming films in 2004

As a sidebar to the Bangkok Int'l Film Festival, some booths were set up near one of the theaters from the various local film distributors.

Restraining myself from throttling one of the hapless kids running the booths for not including subtitles on any of their DVD releases, I just wandered about pleasantly smiling and picking up literature.

Here's a rundown of the films being promoted:
  • The Overture - Promising flick about a Thai classical xylophonist. First, have any movies ever been made about xylophonists? This is definitely a first about Thai classical musicians, because the director Itthisoontorn Vichaitak says so. Big names are behind this, including Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol (Suriyothai) and Nonzee Nimibutr (Nang Nak, Jan Dara).
  • Evil (Pisaj) - A teen horror story. I'll quote the English text from the promotional flyer: "Madeaw [Chukiat Sakweerakul] the 21-year-old maker of 7 films (!), will bring you the bunch...hallucinated teenagers, an 11 years old boy who believes that gost can eat human alive, a middle-aged woman who is about to be taken over by something including the most pervert, thrilling and dreadful experience that can ever happen to single men's life." There you go. Due out on February 20.
  • The Eye 2 - The joint HK-Thai-Singapore production The Eye was so damn successful of an international hit that a sequel just had to be made. This one looks pretty good, just from the casting of HK starlet Shu Qi as the star. From what I can gather, she's a suicidal type who is overcome with horrific visions after one attempt too many. March 19 is the release date.
  • 102 Bangkok Robbery - Tanit Jitnukul (Bangrajan) turns from directing historical battle epics to a big-budget actioner in which a huge heist takes place over 102 minutes in Bangkok. Release will be April 30.
  • Born to Fight - Another big action movie, introducing Deaw Shupongse Changprung, a Thai martial artist and stuntman who is seeking to following in the footsteps of Tony Jaa (Ong Bak).
  • Heaven's 7 II - A sequel to the big dumb action flick from a couple years ago that was a riff on the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven concept.
  • Bannok TV - This looks promising. It's based on the story of a local access television station run by the Akka hilltribe of northern Thailand. The shows are produced by the children of the hilltribe. The director is Sukanya Vongsthapat, who has been the producer behind such films as Sayew, Fake, Ong-Bak and Heaven's 7.
  • Tom Yum Goong - Thai kickboxer and stuntman turned leading action hero Tony Jaa returns for the followup to Ong-Bak. The English text on the promotional flyer reveals no insight into any actual plot, which leads me to believe there isn't one. But who cares, when there will be moves by Tony? It promises "budget of over 100 million baht with the bigger action scene, the more intense story line, rehearsing-designing-inventing the ingredient of the hot and spicy mixture that is twice harder of "Mae Mai Muai Thai" that you have never seen before." That is a direct quote.
  • Sars Wars - I love this one. They need to move faster on exploiting Asian health crises though. They need a Killer Ninja Chicken Flu movie and quick. There is no English text on this one, though there is a refence to "Sars zombies". That's all I needed to know.
  • The Remixer - Don't know about this either, other than Oxide Pang is the director. It appears to be a teen thriller of some kind.
  • Dark Water - A scary movie.
  • Unhuman - A scarier movie.
  • Siamese Outlaws - From the iconic Five-Star Productions studio comes a new Thai "western" featuring a bunch of tough looking outlaws with guns in a vaguely "western" looking setting. Again, the emphasis is on tough guys and guns.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Review: Fake

  • Directed by Thanakorn Pongsuwan
  • Starring Leo Putt, Ray MacDonald, Tah Barby and Patcharapa Chaichua
  • Released in Thailand cinemas in 2003; reviewed at the 2004 Bangkok International Film Festival

Okay, I'm confused. Fake is an okay Thai film. It was out in 2003, but I missed it. Finally, I caught it this morning at the Bangkok Int'l Film Festival.

On the surface, it's about three guys who - unbeknownst to each other - are chasing after the same girl.

What's puzzling is that the three guys all act the same, while the girl acts quite a bit different depending on whatever guy she's interacting with. The differences are so subtle, it's hard to explain.

The guys are all scruffy, skinny 20something, slacker dudes with jeans that ride down on their hips, exposing the waistbands of their boxer shorts.

One, Bao (Tah Barby), is so tortured by the breakup with the chick that he's delusional, mentally beating himself up. Another, Po (Leo Putt), takes pictures all the time. Women come easy for him, but his heart is not in it. The third, Soong (Ray MacDonald), keeps busy by working odd jobs like taxi driver, finder of missing persons and debt collector.

But are the three guys really the same person? And is the one girl three different people? Then there's a weird twist right at the end.

The movie is real. It took two hours of my time. Yet it seems unreal. The whole situation never existed. It's no coincidence that Wong Kar Wai's enigmatic Chungking Express is referenced in this movie by way of a poster on the wall of Po's darkroom.

Aside from all that moody weird stuff, there's some really cool scenes from around Bangkok - sticking pretty close to the skytrain and nightclubs, like the short-lived and now defunct Ministry of Sound, Bed Supperclub, About Cafe and Khao San Road.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

The Bodyguard and The Spicy Beauty Queens of Bangkok

Aside from the film festival going on now here in Bangkok, the regular Thai movie industry is releasing films.

This week, the action comedy, The Bodyguard, came out. It stars Mum Jokmok, the comedian who is known among the martial-arts movie cult as the funny sidekick in Ong-Bak.

He talked to The Nation a bit about writing and starring in the picture, in which he plays a top bodyguard who is disgraced. It's the kind of broad comedy you'd expect from the star of TV sketch shows that rely mainly on site gags and boooiiiiiiinnnng sound effects for laughs. Basically, in The Bodyguard, he resorts to running around naked while shooting a handgun. He also gets to try some wire-fu, like Crouching Tiger or Matrix. The reviews I've read haven't been kind.

Tony Jaa, the star of Ong-Bak, has a small role in The Bodyguard. Meanwhile, Tony will be back to star in Tom Yum Goong, a Thai kickboxing movie that will be the followup to Ong-Bak. It's due out later this year.

Another film due for release soon is Plon Na Ya or Spicy Beauty Queens of Bangkok. Posters for the movie have been up all over Bangkok this week and they feature some pretty scary looking men heavily made up in some garish sequined drag costumes.

The film was set for release this week, but has been pushed back to February 6 because of a flap involving the use of the Louis Vuitton logo. An article about it is here.

The film stars Winai Kraibutr, the heartthrob who starred in Nang Nak, as well as other hero roles. Well, he's really changed his image for this film. That's him in the gold lame mouse ears pointing the gun. The cast is rounded out by a bunch of Thai TV comedians, so expect more of the same as in Bodyguard. Winai is part of a quartet of gay transvestites who decide to hold up a bank.

Friday, January 23, 2004

No Iron Pussy

Kong Rithdee, the film writer for the Bangkok Post, today took the Bangkok International Film Festival to task for dropping from its lineup a film called The Adventure of Iron Pussy, saying the snub deprives "local viewers of one of the most interesting movies of the year".

The reason given was that the movie was shot digitally and was planned for release straight to video. So technically, it isn't a film. But, as Kong points out, other, more prestigious festivals have shown digital movies, so the precedent cited by the Bangkok film festival holds no water.

Kong's story should be up for the next week or so on the Bangkok Post's RealTime page. Check it out if you can.

For those of you who don't make it to the article before the link expires, I'll quote a bit of it:

This lovably lunatic movie (with a gratifyingly kinky title) was set to become the bona fide scene-stealer of the BKK IFF before that short-sighted removal. Check this out. Adventure of Iron Pussy is the story of Iron Pussy, a homosexual superhero, a super-spy in oily makeup and glamorous toupee hired by the Thai government to spoil a megalomaniac's evil scheme. His campy espionage takes place in a melange of Technicoloured musicals and 1950s Thai melodramas, complete with greatest-hit cliches culled from the nostalgic cinema of Lavo Pappayont as well as Renoir's Rules of the Game and Burton's Batman. Don't imagine. You only have to see it.

And this is no schoolboy's show-off, no cheap shot at hip film-making by wannabes. Iron Pussy is directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the indie ace who won a top prize at Cannes Film Festival in 2002 with his enigmatic Blissfully Yours. A conspirator in the project - actually he's the seed of the crazy inspirations for the whole she-bang - is Michael Shaowanasai, an artist extraordinaire who plays Iron Pussy with unforgettable flourishes. As he chirpily puts it: 'Hey, how many days in a life does a 40-year-old gay man get to land a leading role in a musical in 2003!'.

Bai Ling in Bangkok

Chinese-born Hollywood star Bai Ling was among the many celebrities visiting the Bangkok International Film Festival on opening ceremonies last night.

In Thailand, she's famous for her role as the love interest for King Mongkut in Anna and the King - even though that film (as well as The King and I) are officially banned because they are considered disrespectful of the King and the Royal Family.

Nonetheless, fans waiting alongside the red carpet shouted out "Tub Tim!" at the actress from such films as Red Corner, Wild Wild West and The Crow. No, that was not an insult. Tub Tim was the name of her character in the Jodie Foster-Chow Yun Fat adaptation of Anna Leowens' stilted and suspect view of Thai history. The video has been widely available from pirate vendors since it was released in 1999.

Bai Ling was appearing on behalf of her 2002 film, Face, which I understand is a comedy of some sort? Maybe I'll try to check it out.

She's also appearing the upcoming Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which I think will be pretty good, as well as Star Wars III, which I will dutifully go see but won't have my hopes up.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Oliver Stone to be honored

The Bangkok International Film Festival scored a PR coup today, waiting until its opening day to announce its most celebrity-laden bit of news: that director Oliver Stone would receive a lifetime achievement award.

It'll be in the form of a Golden Kinaree. Now, what the heck is a kinaree? Just read the AP story and it explains everything.

Stone is in Thailand right now, shooting parts for his epic Alexander. No word on whether bad boy Colin Farrell has been around or not.

A bit more about Oliver's "closed set" can be found here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Fan Chan - DVD without subtitles

My enthusiasm for promoting and writing about Thai film took big dive today with the release of Fan Chan (My Girl) on DVD. One of the best films of 2003 and one that's sure to be a hit with audiences at film festivals, was released on DVD today with much fanfare and elaborate packaging but without English subtitles.

At a price of more than twice what other Thai films cost, the DVD includes special "making of" features, plus it comes in a handy little carrying case - a small replica of the patent-leather book bag that all Thai students carry.

But no English subtitles. Why? The filmmakers went to the expense of having the subtitles made for the theatrical release. Why not include them on this expensive DVD? This just plain sucks. I was looking forward to having the film in my home and sharing it with friends, and praising it on this blog. But no. Now I will trash it and forget about.

It's a really sweet movie about growing up in a small town 1980s Thailand, featuring a boy who is best friends with a girl. But the boy wants to ride his bike across the street and play with the other boys. It has humor and a story that have universal appeal. Unfortunately, unless you speak fluent Thai, you won't be able to understand the dialogue.

I'm really pissed off right now at the cheap, short-sighted bastards at the film company who think they can save money by not including the subtitles on the DVD.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Film fest tix in hand!

I made it to the Ticketmaster counter just before she closed up tonight to book my seats for the films I want to see at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Among my choices are Fake and Rithy Panh's S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine.

It'll be interesting to see how this deal works. This is the first year the film festival has tried a centralised ticketing system. In previous years, you had to go around to the half dozen or so different theaters and buy the tickets - if they were on sale. Very often, the schedule was delayed until the last possible second, making it impossible to book advance seats.

Even worse, the festivals always allotted blocks of seating to corporate sponsors - who never showed up to claim them. The computer system in the theater lobby would show a full auditorium when in reality the house was half empty because the corporate types were out playing golf or singing karaoke - not watching some foreign arthouse flick. Meanwhile, the filmgoers were left to fume because they could not get a ticket. There are ways around this problem. Hopefully, they have been found this year.

My choices in films were made on the basis of when I have free time, as well as my desire to see the film, weighed against the future likelihood of the film showing up in local theaters on wide release or on cheap DVDs.

In three years of living in Bangkok, this will be the fourth "Bangkok Film Festival" I've attended. This does not count smaller film series like the Big Little Film Project, which screens independent films; the British Film Festival, the EU Film Festival and the Japanese Film Festival, which are sponsored by the various embassies. In all, it means I'll have a pretty good chance of seeing some films I would never dream of being able to see otherwise.

It's definitely not the most important festival in the world. A good overview of that is provided by the Bangkok Post's film writer Kong Rithee. He also has a lot of background on the running of the festival by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. For as long as the link lasts until it expires due to The Post's new subscriber-only archive system, you can find it here.

Bangkok isn't even in the first tier of cities for most wide release films. So movies that showed and have disappeared from theaters in the US have yet to show up here. This is, after all, a relatively small, "third world" country.

Back to that four festivals in just three years. When I moved here in 2001, what was then just called the Bangkok Film Festival was held in the fall and was sponsored by the newspaper I work for, The Nation. It was pretty low key and had possibly only one or two "big ticket" films that were up for major awards.

Then in 2002, the person who had run the festivals in the years before wanted to come back in. He had been sidelined by a bicycling accident in 2001, which left The Nation free to run the event. Anyway, he took his operation over to the competing paper, the Bangkok Post. His Bangkok Film Festival was a flop, though, as it was plagued by the usual organisational hassles and films that were held up in customs.

So in early 20032, The Nation put together The Bangkok International Film Festival. The chief sponsor was the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which levered the operation of the festival away so it could use it to promote tourism and film culture. With all the government types involved, the officiousness and ceremoniality of the affair grew as well, with red-carpet events, foreign celebrities and exclusive premiere screenings for VIPs only.

This really turned off The Nation bosses, so they started up their own festival, the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which was held late last year. It billed itself as a "festival for film lovers" and aimed for a younger, hipper, slicker and cooler crowd by having fashion shows and short-film contests sponsored by the phone company, Hutch. The result wasn't too bad, if you ignored the stupid fashion shows and the five-minute videos people shot with their Hutch phone cameras. Most notable was a huge retrospective of Werner Herzog's films.

This brings us to the present "2nd annual" International festival, which again is being run by the TAT with the intention of ramming packaged tourism and film culture, red-carpet affairs, foreign celebrities and exclusive VIP screenings down our throats.

But enough of that for now. I have my tickets and I'm looking forward to sitting back in the theater and enjoying what should be some really, really great films!

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Thai Panorama at film fest

Details are firming up for the Bangkok International Film Festival, which has a pretty good summary of the titles its showing on the website.

The big news is that ticketing this year will be handled by Ticketmaster, which seems like a good idea. With the festival spread out over six theaters, getting tickets in past years was a bitch. If this new system works, it'll be possible to book the tickets online with one phone call or visit to a Ticketmaster booth.

Some huge titles are due to be shown, including Lost in Translation, 21 Grams, Dogville, Bertolucci's The Dreamers and Takeshi Kitano's Zaitoichi.

There's some major-studio crap as well, including Radio, Runaway Jury and The Missing. What are these films are doing in a festival?

But, that's not to take away from the many, many great films that will be shown. One that is scheduled that I will go out of my way to see is Rithy Panh's S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine.

And, since this is festival in Thailand, a lot of Thai films will be shown. Competing for a prize in the Asean Panorama category are Last Life in the Universe (just added), the Macabre Case of Prompirom, OK Baytong, The Overture and Fan Chan.

There will also be a non-competition Thailand Panorama category, featuring Fake, Anguilimala, Sema: Warrior of Ayutthaya, Beautiful Boxer, Bupparatree, Iron Ladies 2: The Early Years and The Omen.

The Omen, directed by one of the Pang Brothers, does not involve the son of Satan. Rather it stars the Thai boy band D2B. In the film, a fortune teller says one of whom might die. In a weird parallel, one of the band members Big was left comatose after a bad car wreck over the summer. Miraculously, he recovered though.

There will also be a chance to see several documentaries from the 1970s in the Thai Reality category, plus several programs of short films.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Siam Renaissance to open Bangkok film fest

An update to an earlier posting: The title is Siam Renaissance and it will be the opening film at the 2004 Bangkok International Film Festival.

The director is Surapong Pinijkhar. The story is a period romance about a 20th century woman who is somehow transported back to 19th century Siam. He talked a bit about it in an interview with Nation Weekend.

The actress is a French-Thai creation named Florence Vanida Faivre, who sounds like a perfect fit as her character is a worker in the Thai embassy in Paris. According to the director, she speaks English and French fluently, but her Thai was terrible.

Surapong was the director of a five-hour miniseries produced a few years ago by The Nation Channel called The Silk Knot. It was the story of the mysterious disappearance of the Thai silk exporter Jim Thompson. Stretched to five hours, it made for horribly tedious viewing. Even if it were boiled down to two hours, I can't see it being that great. It was pretty disastrous and The Nation Channel has steered clear of backing any other dramas, concentrating on reporting 24-hour news since then.

Anyway, Siam Renaissance will be part of the international competition. Others include Lost in Translation, In America, Peter Webber’s Girl with the Pearl Earring; Italian director Frezan Ozpetek’s Facing Windows; The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand; Carandiru by Hector Babenco; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring by South Korea’s Kim Ki-duk and Zaitoichi by Takeshi Kitano.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Thai films around the world

While the Bangkok International Film Festival brings in films from other countries, film festivals in other countries are clamoring to get Thai films. So there's a chance one will be playing somewhere near you!

According to today's Unedited Cuts column by Ken Ywin in The Nation, Mekhong Full Moon Party has played at over 20 film festivals. One Night Husband has been shown at 12 film festivals.

Beautiful Boxer and The Adventure of Iron Pussy (not released in Thailand as yet) have been invited to screen at the Berlin International Film Festival from February 5 to 15. Fan Chan will also be at Berlin.

Festivals also are lining up for The Judgement, directed by Pantham Thongsang. I'm not familiar with the film, but Ken says it "harks back to the days of classic Thai cinema when it dealt with complicated themes against the backdrop of simple Thai settings." Whatever that means.

Ken's weekly column, by the way, is a surprising bit of inside baseball on the Thai movie industry. He also includes bits about major Hollywood players coming to Thailand to make movies. So expect his latest gossip on such characters as Steven Seagal, Oliver Stone and others.

Cinematographer's Day at film fest

Actually, it's two days - January 29 and 30 - in which Christopher Doyle, Anthony Dod Mantle, Walter Carvalho and Shoji Ueda will be on hand in Bangkok to discuss their films.

The schedule includes screenings of In the Mood for Love and Hero, with discussions with the photographer, Chris Doyle.

There also will be a screening of Dogville, with Anthony Mantle being available.

As for Shoji Ueda, his work on Kurosawa's Dreams made me cry it was so damn beautiful. I also enjoyed Mantle's work on 28 Days Later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Asean Competition films listed

The Bangkok International Film Festival website has recently posted its opening and closing films and the titles entered in the Asean Competition category.

The opener on January 22 is called The Siam Renaissance.

The closer right now is listed as Danny the Dog, starring Jet Li and produced by Luc Besson. This does not seem such an odd choice, seeing how last year the Thai martial arts flick, Ong-Bak, was the closer. However, other reports say Spartan, starring Val Kilmer will be the closer, as Val will be in Bangkok to promote the film. More on this later.

But whatever film is showing, regular moviegoers like me won't be able to get near the cinema, as the showings are for rich and famous VIPs only. This is one aspect of the Bangkok International Film Festival that has tended to alienate some film buffs, and was responsible for the creation of a rival film festival, the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which is held in the fall.

More exciting and accessible is the Asean Competition, which is weighted heavily by films from Thailand and Malaysia. It's still a chance to see some of the best films produced in the past year or so by Southeast Asian filmmakers.

The films in competition are:
  • 15 - A teen-oriented flick from Singapore.
  • The Big Durian - A docudrama about a gunman's rampage in Kuala Lumpur in 1987 that led to citywide unrest.
  • Eliana, Eliana - From Indonesia, a story about one turbulent day in the life of a young adult daughter and her controlling mother.
  • King of the Garbage Dump - Romance amidst the trash heap in Hanoi.
  • The Last Virgin - A priest who comes to town and performs wonderous deeds. Or is he really a priest? From where else but the Philippines?
  • The Macabre Case of Prompiram - This winner of the recent Thailand National Film Association best picture award is a docudrama about the rape and murder of a mentally ill girl.
  • Magnifico - A poor Filipino boy refuses to give up.
  • My Girl - Sweet, nostalgic story about a little boy and girl growing up in a small town in 1980s Thailand.
  • OK Baytong - The latest by director Nonzee Nimibutr places a Buddhist monk in turbulent Muslim south Thailand, where the monk must contend with leaving the monkhood and be confronted by these things called feelings.
  • The Overture - Also from Thailand, the historical epic covers the life of a Royal court musician, starting in the late 1800s when he is a young man and stretching into World War II.
  • Paloh - Picking up in time where The Overture leaves off, this deals with the confrontation between the Japanese occupation army and the Malaysian communists.
  • Room to Let - A tale from the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Monday, January 12, 2004

The King of Cambodia

Cambodia's King Sihanouk is now a blogger, according to an article today on BBC News. Having lived in Cambodia for a time, I was interested in checking it out. The site is

I did have a look and can't quite find where the King is doing a blog function as referred to in the BBC article. I'll keep looking, because for all the guy's eccentricies, I'm sure his blog would be an interesting read.

For years, he's put out a palace newsletter, with articles penned by him, as well as "letters to the editor" he likely wrote himself and Q&A-style interviews he conducted with himself.

The reason I write about the King in this forum is that he's also a filmmaker, producing, directing, writing and starring in his own pictures. I've never actually seen any of his works, but they are generally not well regarded by critics.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

The worst of 2003

How appropriate that a man named Kaos directed Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, an action film about as confusing and clunky as its title. -- Fred Hong Joo Jung, Korea Times

Actually, this wasn't from 2003. It played in 2002, but was so bad it counts as the worst film for two years in a row. Also, this is just an excuse to trash one of the most-trashed movies in recent years. It's one of the few films, I believe, to get a resounding 00% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

What's sad is that it's a "Thai" film because of its director, Wych Kaosayananda, who also goes by the absurd nickname, Kaos. An article from The Nation questions whether Thailand has lost out by having Kaos in Hollywood. I think not. And if he wants to return, he should be denied entry.

An embarrassment to Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu, Ballistic was just violence, with no style and no point, plus a story that was meaningless and made no real sense.

Wych's only other feature to date is a film called Fah, which I have not seen. Others have, though, and give it a pretty bad rating at Imdb.

Best picture upset

The Macabre Case of Prompiram, based on a real-life story about a rape victim, won the top Subhanahongsa Award - Thailand's version of the Oscars, awarded by the Thailand National Film Association.

According to a January 10 report in The Nation, the docudrama won best movie, best screenplay and leading actress, beating out top box-office earner Fan Chan and the art-house geared Last Life in the Universe.

Pimpan Chalayonkup was the female lead. The editor was Patamanadda Yukol and Richard Harvey provided the score. Executive producers were Kamala Yukol na Ayutthaya and Somsak Techaratanaprasert with Kunakorn Sethi credited as a producer.

When Macabre Case was released in July 2003, it created quite a controversy in the town of Prompiram, which did not welcome renewed attention to the decades-old crime.

The nostalgic childhood comedy Fan Chan (My Girl) won the award for best director. Actually, the film had six directors (!) - Nithiwat Tharathorn, Vitcha Gojiew, Songyos Sugmakanan, Komkrit Triwimol, Witthaya Thongyooyong and Anusorn Trisirikasem.

Also, Chaloempol Tikamporntheerawong picked up the supporting actor award for playing Fan Chan's scene-stealing big bully Jack. This was well-deserved, though the entire cast of children were excellent.

Assanee Suwan, a former kickboxer who made his film debut playing gay pugilist Nong Toom in Beautiful Boxer, was named best actor. He beat out heavy competition from Japanese leading man Tadanobu Asano of Last Life and Panom "Tony Ja" Yee-ram, the talented star of the martial-arts actioner Ong-Bak. "I thought I received the award because the judges saw that I'm straight and yet I could understand the feelings of a transvestite," Assanee was quoted as saying by The Nation.

Beautiful Boxer also took the make-up award.

Last Life collected the best cinematography (for Christopher Doyle) and art direction awards.

Alisa Kachornchaikul was awarded best supporting actress for the Buddhist historical epic, Angulimala.

Friday, January 9, 2004

Local theater chain wants to raise prices

One of the advantages of being a moviegoer in Thailand is the relatively cheap ticket prices. For around US$2.50, you can get an assigned seat in a clean, new air-conditioned cinema for the latest movie. Another buck or two gets you popcorn and a Coke. So a night out with your girlfriend at the movie need not break your piggy bank.

But, I was horrified to learn today from an article in The Nation that one of the local chains is thinking about doubling its prices. Take a date, and you're looking at lightening your wallet by close to 20 bucks, if you go for the Cokes, corn and candy. That's too much to bear in Thailand, where foreigners make decent enough living wages, but not so much that a movie every weekend will be on the agenda with prices like that.

If the EGV theater chain does boost its prices and the other chains follow, I'll have to return to my stateside practice of being more selective about what films I'll go see. There was a time when I was living in the States when I didn't go to any films for like years, instead contenting myself to stay at home and catch whatever was on cable or video. It was only when a truly special film that must be seen in the theater to be appreciated was playing that I'd be drawn back to the cinemas.

I'm not so sure EGV will follow through. And even if they do, the other chains will likely hold their prices down in order to be competitive. Keep in mind, this is a country where Bt100 a day (about the cost of a movie ticket), is the average wage. So going out to the movies represents a big expenditure on the part of Thais, even though it seems like peanuts to relatively well-paid foreigners.

EGV is in a world of hurt, and the article only alluded to it. The chain has way overbuilt in the last couple of years, building vast new multiplexes and renovating old ones. Trouble is, they were operating below capacity most of the time anyway. Even so, even at off-peak times, they are understaffed at the ticket counters, creating big bottlenecks in the lobbies as people queue up.

They are also the chain that embarked on the idiotic "drive-in" restaurant concept at one theater (Seacon Square), having patrons sit in fake cars for dinner and movie. Okay, the idea ain't that bad - like Jack Rabbit Slim's in Pulp Fiction - but the prices are a bit high and the food ain't that great.

That said, I want to be fair to ol' EGV. Their hotline reservation system works great. Take last night for instance. I wanted to see Master and Commander. I saw from the Movieseer listings that they had a 9 o'clock show down the road from where I work at the Major Cineplex.

Then I got there, only to find the flick was only showing in the Emperor Class theater, where you get a big easy chair to sit in, but the cost is 500 baht (close to $12). This has happened to me before and I have some words for it: bait and switch. That's all I'm going to say about that. I voted with my feet and my fingers, dailing the EGV hotline as I turned around and walked out of Major.

A very nice woman answered the phone and spoke perfect English. "Yes, we have Master and Commander at 9 o'clock at Seacon. How many seats would you like?" She knows what I like. Toward the back, in the center. Just remember the four-digit reservation code she gives you and be there 30 minutes beforehand. But, even if you aren't, through that hotline, you've had the showtime and admission price confirmed and a seat virtually reserved.

Major and other theaters have hotlines, but have cumbersome answering systems with menus in Thai. If you're a barbarian English speaker like me, you hang up in frustration before you can find out any solid information.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Thinking about Rithy Panh

How often do you get the chance to stare directly into the face of evil? S21 gives you that chance, and what do you know - evil's face looks just like everybody else's. - Joshua Tanzer,

A recent thread on the Rotten Tomatoes Forum made me think about "visually stunning" Asian films, and of course I responded to the poster by offering up more than a half dozen Thai films, with Tears of the Black Tiger being my first recommendation.

I guess that's what it was that made me fall in love with Tears of the Black Tiger, was its visually stunning look. I caught the movie back in 2001 on a visit to Bangkok when I was living in Phnom Penh. I saw it in back-to-back showings at The Emporium with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you want visually stunning, there are probably not two finer examples than those films. And I saw them for the first time in one day at the theatre.

What does this have to do with Rithy Panh? Well, when I thought more about visually stunning, I thought about two of his films that I'd seen - The Rice People and Land of Wandering Souls. He's not Thai; he's Cambodian and was trained in France. But his films definitely fit within this group, as they represent a style - for lack of better terminology, the "visually stunning Asian style".

Turns out Rithy made a film last year called S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. Anyhow, I hope someday to see this movie, as well as see Rice People and Wandering Souls again.

A feature and links to Rithy's film can be found at

Sunday, January 4, 2004

2003 film roundup - Odds and Sods

To continue the look back at the year in Thai films, here's a few of the films that were misses rather than hits on the Bangkok big screens:
  • Beautiful Boxer - Released to a flurry of marketing (with the campaign being very public from the moment the film was conceived and before anyone had been cast), Beautiful Boxer flopped big time. Not many people, including myself, made time to see it. But friends who did gave it a solid 3/5 rating. The filmmakers have said they made it with the festival circuit in mind, so that's likely where it will make a name for itself, just as a similarly themed Thai sports film, Iron Ladies, did. Beautiful Boxer is a compelling enough true story, about a poor boy with yearnings to let out his inner female who becomes a devastatingly great Thai kickboxer and eventually earns enough winnings for a sex change operation. The director was newcomer Ekachai Uekrongtham, who made his name directing a hit musical in Singapore based on the life of the original Siamese twins, Eng and Chang.
  • Angulimala - The historical action-adventure epic is based on the tale of a man who must kill 1,000 people and collect their right thumbs and wear them in a garland around his neck. For some unfathomable reason, the premise failed to move Thai filmgoers - who are normally pretty keen to see violence and gore.
  • Blissfully Yours - A hit with the crowd at Cannes, the meditative arthouse film failed to move local audiences - including myself - when it returned home after a run on the festival circuit. When I heard that for five minutes it just showed a couple laying in the sun, I figured I didn't need to punish myself.
  • I-San Special - Another experimental arthouse flick, this one also premiered overseas. It had a brief run in Bangkok at the Lido before returning to the shelf. This is one I managed to see and thought it was worthwhile. Rating: 3/5.
  • Kun Suek (The Legend of the Warlord) - Another historical epic from director Thanit Jitnukul was another failure to duplicate on the success of Bangrajan. It's out on DVD now, though, where it might prove a bigger success. It's even been released with English subtitles - so there's nothing stopping even me from giving it a try.
  • Sayew - A delightfully funny, frank look at sex obsessions and pornography, the film is set in politically turbulent 1992 Thailand and focuses on a sexually confused female college student (Phimpaporn Linutpong). By day, she tries to finish her master's thesis on romance literature. By night, she pecks out steamy stories for her uncle's soft-core porn mag. She's not really good at either. Local audiences didn't go for it, though it does have plenty of appeal. Rating: 4/5
  • Fake - This teen drama received some good reviews, though few people - including myself - managed to see it. I'd be more inclined to give it a chance if the DVD release included English subtitles, but it doesn't - a stupid omission on the part of the film distributors, who could make some money overseas if they would put a little more effort into their product.
  • One Night Husband - The slow-paced drama has some great performances and is stunningly photographed, but the ends don't justify the means. Maybe I missed something in the two times that I watched it, but some things seemed way too implausible. It's worth a look, but be forwarned. Rating: 3/5

2003 Thai film roundup

The Nation put together a decent roundup of the Thai box-office scene in 2003. It's here. I'll go down the list of the top 10 releases and try to make sense of them:
  1. Fan Chan (Bt137 million) - Deserves the top spot. It's a great little film, looking back nostagically on growing up in a small Thai town in the 1980s. Great characters, great job by the kid actors. There's a Chinese fantasy sequence involving the boys that made Fan Chan one I want to watch again. Rating: 4/5
  2. Ong-Bak (Bt115 million) - An action comedy with hard-hitting stunts by Thai kickboxer Tony Jaa. Very entertaining. Rating: 5/5
  3. Satree Lek 2 (Iron Ladies 2) (Bt70 million) - I haven't seen the first one, so I gave this one a pass as well, but from what I gather, it's nowhere near as good as the original.
  4. Hian (The Mother) (Bt60 million) - I'm not familiar with this one. Sounds pretty ominous, though.
  5. Buppha Rahtree (Bt45 million) - I caught the previews for this Thai horror film and it looks pretty good. Fans of the Asian horror genre might want to try and see this one. I'm not a big fan of scary movies, but the posters around town had a nice comic book quality to them. I wanted to get ahold of one.
  6. Pan Rock Na Yon (Bt43.1 million) - Or, Rock Not Die, a comedy about some heavy metal guys from the 70s getting their act back together. The cast are a bunch of veteran comedians from Thai television. Probably the closest the local industry will come to making its own version of Spinal Tap, but it still has a long way to go.
  7. Kumphapan (February) (Bt31.45 million) - Not sure about this one.
  8. Wai Buem Cheer Krahuem Loke (Bt30 million) - Nor this one.
  9. The Park (Bt30 million) - A horror film that I think had some help from Hong Kong production houses.
  10. Sex Phone...The Lonely Wave (Bt26.85 million) - A teen comedy. Not a big fan of those, either, so I didn't see it.

Friday, January 2, 2004

Ong-Bak duo in The Bodyguard

Tony Jaa is featured in The Bodyguard, due out this month in Bangkok cinemas. But the action film is mainly a vehicle for Tony's Ong-Bak sidekick, Thai funnyman Mum Jokmok.

New DVD titles

A handful of new Thai films have been released on DVD and are worth noting because they have English subtitles, which is sadly not yet the norm for Thai releases. Among the new titles are:
  • Last Life in the Universe: The newest film by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Monrak Transistor) stars Japan's Tadanobu Asano as a obessive compulsive yakuza hiding out in Bangkok. It's really a remarkable film and the DVD is most impressive, with a great-looking widescreen format and transfer. Plus, it has the original soundtrack (a mix of Japanese, English and Thai and subtitles).
  • One Night Husband: This smouldering drama is the feature film debut by indie director Pimpaka Towira and features some great performances by Monrak Transistor's Siriyakorn Pukkavesh and singer-model-actress Nicole Theriault, plus some great photography that has been transferred nicely to widescreen format.
  • Province 77: A dramatization of life in LA's Thai Town. The soundtrack, which is a mix of Thai and gangsta English, is intact, along with subtitles and quite a few extra features, including a music video.
There are quite a few mail-order outfits that handle these DVD's, but I've had good luck from ThaiNetCity.