The festival features eight Thai films:
- Last Life in the Universe.
- Saving Private Tootsie.
- The Bodyguard.
- The Macabre Case of Prompirom.
- The Tessaract.
- Heaven's Seven.
It was a big success in other parts of Asia and now we are bringing it to India since it has breath-taking action,” revealed Dr Sunil Kumar Reddy who joined hands with two other doctors and a friend to establish this banner. "Thailand star Tonija’s fights are on par with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan," revealed another medico Niranjan who described it as an 'unique' martial arts film for every section of the audience. “It will depict the ancient Thailand martial art Miyothai,” disclosed Reddy who intended to release it all over the country in the last week of June. How different will it be, remains to be seen."
Guai spent a month in Bangkok, speeding around in pickup trucks with rescue workers on the overnight shift.
"I don't think I truly had a concept of what death was about," Guai said. "You watch movies, but when you see real blood, it's completely different: the smell, the texture."
Bringing out the dead is stigmatizing and potentially dangerous work. To touch a corpse is to tempt a ghost to enter your own body, many Thais believe. And gangs have been known to fight over victims at accident scenes for the right to ransom the bodies to families.
But money wasn't the motive for Guai's subjects. Most are driven by the Buddhist concept of making merit: A good deed in this life will earn bonus karma in your next incarnation. For one young karaoke-club manager, the work was also a way to overcome her own fears about spirits; for a fearless 13-year-old schoolgirl who dreamed of becoming a nurse, it was a way to have quality time with her parents, who both volunteer.
"Their perception of death is very different from us living in a Westernized world,'' remarked Guai. "We tend to see accidents, violent death, as horrific events. They see it as, it was your time, and your soul moves on another life.''
Which must explain the body snatchers' own aversion to passive-restraint systems.
"Nobody in Thailand wears a seat belt, even these people," said Guai. "And God knows how many accidents they go to a day."
Some say the sight of a sobbing man is the most beautiful thing ever captured in a movie. I see how melting masculinity could trigger such fascination but I'd still root for the total heart-crunching effect of seeing a beautiful woman cry her eyes out.More information:
Perhaps that's the best thing in The Letter, a Thai remake of a Korean weepie that sets out with inexorable determination to unlock the audience's floodgate of tears.
Anne Thongprasom -- showing why she's one of the best actresses around -- plays a Bangkok computer programmer who marries a Chiang Mai botanist (Attaporn Teemakorn) only to find her nuptial bliss snatched away forever by the machinations of cruel fate.
It's an effective melodrama, a movie of well-executed cliches and retro sensibilities. But only Anne's performance -- especially her ability to switch on a fountain of tears -- conceals the insubstantial nature of the film's build-up and its banal, I-love-you-forever kind of dialogue. Don't forget to bring a handkerchief. Or better still, a towel.
Since the early 1990s, the name Wouter Barendrecht has become synonymous with the rise of Asian arthouse flicks. The high-flying Dutchman and his Hong Kong-based company, Fortissimo Film Sales, are internationally recognised as experts in driving small Oriental films onto the global stage. Reportedly fierce at the negotiating table, Fortissimo pursues its business agenda while playing a big part in facilitating the cultural export that Thai films only dreamt about barely a decade ago.
"For one thing, the trend of globalisation means Thailand is not so far away as it used to be," says Wouter. "But more importantly, the new generation of Thai filmmakers -- after the era of Cherd Songsri and M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol -- are much more international in their outlook. Without sacrificing the Thainess, these filmmakers have developed a film language that people outside Thailand can relate to."
In 1990 Wouter was programming the Berlin and Rotterdam Film Festivals when the sudden outbreak of Asian sensations took place. Filmmakers like Zhang Yimou, Wong Kar-wai, and Tsai Ming-liang churned out some of the world's most exciting cinema; the Far East had boiled up a typhoon of New Wave moviemaking, and Wouter's newly-founded Fortissimo rightly gauged the weather when they started handling the world sales of Asian arthouse movies.
The typhoon swept through Thailand in 1997 when young Thai directors began making eye-catching flicks that grabbed attention beyond their homeland. In 1999 Fortissimo was entrusted by a Thai studio to manage the international sales of Nang Nak. Subsequent deals followed, and currently the agent is handling about 15 Thai titles in its catalogue, including the gay comedy Satree Lex (Iron Ladies), neo-noir 6ixtynin9, weird Thai-Western Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger), erotic drama Jan Dara, bittersweet Monrak Transistor and minimalist love ode Last Life in the Universe. And the latest two additions in Fortissimo's repertoire are Thailand's two top hits of the past 12 months, Fan Chan (My Girl) and Home Rong (The Overture).
With such diverse stock, Fortissimo, unknowingly perhaps, could shape the perception of foreign audiences about Thai cinema -- or, even more significantly, about Thailand as a nation.
"There's a thin line between what's 'very Thai' and what's 'universal'," says Wouter. "Something that's very culturally specific can be very universal too. As it happens, the best international filmmakers are those who're extremely specific in their own culture _ like Ozu [master Japanese director] or Zhang Yimou [Chinese] or Pedro Almodovar [Spanish]. Some Thai directors like Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who did Monrak Transistor and Last Life in the Universe, or Nonzee Nimibutr of Nang Nak and OK Baytong seem to have that quality.
"We pick films to represent not because of their nationalities -- not because they're Thai -- but because of their quality. Say, if I'm selling Zhang Yimou, I'm not selling China, but I'm selling the director. But the contradiction is that Zhang Yimou is so good because his movies are so Chinese. The same goes for Thai directors who're doing good stuff without leaving the Thai roots."
For example, look at the kid flick Fan Chan. Wouter believes that the film -- a nostalgic childhood flashback which became the country's top-grossing pic last year _ relies heavily on the audience's complicity in terms of cultural understanding. But at the same time the film projects certain sensibilities that everybody can share. Fortissimo recently sold the film for theatrical release in Mexico, where the buyer expressed rapt appreciation about how the story relates his own country.
"When you Thais see Fan Chan, you know all those old songs, you know the games the characters play, so you easily feel the sweep of nostalgia," Wouter says. "But the movie's theme of transition, of a society going through modernisation -- that's universal. The little details, like when a mom-and-pop grocery is replaced by a 7-Eleven, is something everybody understands, certainly the people in Mexico."
How to get a Mexican distributor to see a little movie made at the other longitude of the equator is exactly the job of sales agents. In that process, the usual meeting points are international film fests where agents, producers, and buyers from all over congregate to look at new stuff and probably strike new deals. The significance when a Thai film is invited to screen at foreign cinefests -- especially the major ones at Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto -- is both in terms of artistic showcase and business opportunities.
And since different film festivals attract different industry crowds, a shrewd sales agent needs to be prescient in choosing which title to push at which festival. "I believe that each film has its own natural festival," says Wouter. "For example, a Chinese film we handle called Shower, was invited to the Venice festival a few years back. Now, Venice is a prestigious event, but I convinced the director not to send his film to that festival, since Venice is only frequented by critics, and Shower is a feel-good film with a commercial front that wouldn't score an impression with serious critics.
"I saved the film and launched it a few months later at the Toronto festival, where both critics and general audience had to watch movies in the same theatre. And when the public liked it -- because it's a feel-good film -- the critics found it impossible to be harsh about it, and the overall reaction was good. If Shower had been in Venice, I think we wouldn't have made the sale."
Such strategy, Wouter added, is what he plans for Home Rong. "It's a beautiful film that will impress the viewers," he says. "Everybody usually thinks about Cannes, but one setback about Cannes is that there are way too many movies competing for the attention of buyers to the point they feel overloaded. Perhaps for Home Rong, it's better to use Cannes as a place to make people slowly aware of the film, to build up the curiosity."
In all it boils down, Wouter explains, to the directors' reputation and the films' quality itself. "Though the industry here is small, it's quite rich in variety," he says. "You might say that most Thai movies are not of recommendable quality, but what's important is to have the actual production going on all the time and to have enough volume. That's the basis of future development."
While popular Thai films have yet to attain the universal stamp of approval from foreign audiences, a crossover has proven possible -- and lucrative. With selling points more glaring than those of obscure cultural arthouse flicks, an agent pushing commercial Siamese movies believes in the irresistible pull of bloody actioners and scare-high horrors. It needn't be a masterpiece, for this agent knows the golden rule of marketing: no need to give the viewers the best, just give them what they want.
"I was introduced to Thai film in 2001 with Bang Rajan," says Carrie Wong, general manager of Hong Kong-based Golden Network Asia. "That historical action movie was very exciting, very formulaic, and very Hollywood, which meant it had a brilliant opportunity abroad, and it actually did."
Carrie started Golden Network 10 years ago as a sales consultancy firm for Hong Kong's giant producers Golden Harvest, and later for Shaw Brothers. When Hong Kong cinema slipped into the doldrums in the '90s, she began looking for fresh inspiration in other Asian offerings. Her first foray in selling Bang Rajan led to her carving out a speciality in mass-market Thai flicks unrepresented by other sales agents. Currently Carrie handles the foreign sales of roughly a dozen Thai pictures, from the gaudy comedy-action Jed Prachanbarn [also titled variously as Seven Heaven or Seven Streetfighters], triptych ghost stories Pee Sam Baht (Bangkok Haunted), monster saga Garuda, to the crummy folklore Khun Pan.
"I see that Thailand has recently produced many new directors who make movies with ideas and energy, which is what happened in Hong Kong 10 or 20 years ago," Carrie says.
The biggest fish Golden Network has caught is the exuberant Muay-Thai martial arts film Ong-Bak. Carrie has sold theatrical rights of the sensational kick-ass actioner to a dozen countries, from Japan to France to the US, and as the word spread out how fun the flick is, the momentum has kept rolling. In May Ong-Bak opened in Paris with a huge marketing blitz and went on to collect some seven million euros in ticket sales, a whopping number considering that it's a small movie from Asia.
Even though out-and-out commercial movies rarely need critics' approval, Carrie insists on the importance of film festivals as springboards to promote Thai movies. At last year's Toronto Film Festival, a key event in North American territories, Ong-Bak whipped up a buzz when it received a standing ovation, which gave the agent a level of confidence to push its campaign ahead.
Last month at the Cannes Film Festival, the company put up giant billboards announcing the pre-production of Ong-Bak's sequel (rather unimaginatively called Tom Yam Kung). "Many Thai films have a kind of ready-made appeal that foreign audiences can appreciate, especially the action movies," Carrie says. "Even ones that weren't really a big hit in Thailand, like the recent 102 Pid Krungthep Plon [Bangkok Robbery], attract interest from buyers from many countries.
"You may think that Korean movies are doing well on the global stage, but my feeling is that sometimes their stories are so specific that it's difficult to sell theatrical rights, and it seems to be easier to sell a remake right for them.
"The success of Ong-Bak may be exceptional, but it shows that with the right timing and ingredients it is possible."
In the meantime Carrie thinks new action panache Kerd Ma Lui, or Born to Fight, boasts a similarly successful formula. Now in production, the film has generated plenty of interest and pre-sale contracts since the company showed 15-minutes of footage at Cannes. The film, directed by Panna Rittikrai, former B-pic maestro and stunt choreographer of Ong-Bak, sets out to be a showcase of athletic, awe-inspiring fight sequences performed by many real-life athletes. As the movie nears its finish date, and even though it has no fixed date for local release, the agent has already drawn up a marketing blitz for its international sale.
"First of all we can tie in the success of Ong-Bak with Born to Fight," says Carrie. "But our bigger plan is to hype up the movie with the upcoming Olympic Games, because it's a movie that shows wonderful athletic tricks. This strategy worked when Shaolin Soccer was tied in to the World Cup and it became a big hit. Then later in September we'll try to get the film into the Venice Film Festival, in the 'Midnight Madness' programme, which will be sure to give it the exposure it deserves.
"Each film needs a different treatment," Carrie says, confirming the motto of all sales agents. "So each time we handle a new title, we have the job of coming up with a fresh new idea."
The Thai film Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram (2003) isn't a genre skin-crawler, but a clumsy true-crime look at a 1977 murder that unfolds, chillingly, into a portrait of backwater inhumanity.
Baytong was a last-minute choice. Brian Naas, one of the guys who works with us, saw it and called me about midnight, and said we had to show it. He's putting up his own money to bring it over.
Prom Pi Ram is a really intense film based on the true story of a murdered woman who was found in this tiny village, and nobody knows who she is. It's just mind-blowing in terms of horrifying.
The strange thing is the [male] director is a devout, devout, devout Catholic and a radical feminist. His basic feeling is that men are animals and all they do is victimize women.
“We need to do this as a way of establishing our concerns about pornography and make those concerns a public agenda,” said Vice Minister for Culture Weerasak Khowsurat at a seminar.
Dr Phanphimol Lortrakul, of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, threw her support behind the ministry’s proposal on the grounds that attention should be paid to the so-called “grey” area of pornographic classification “Sometimes, the material is not sexually explicit and there are no nude pictures. However, it can have the power to stimulate sexual arousal,” she said. “When we have a rating system, parents will be able to give proper advice to their children. We are not going to bar children from these materials, but we want to make sure we determine what is appropriate to what age. Children should understand what pornography means when they grow up,” said Phanphimol.
Weerasak said he planned to ask the government to clearly issue a standpoint on his ministry’s ongoing crusade against pornography. The Culture Ministry will request financial support and legal aide for that campaign, he added.
“We would like to recommend harsh punishments against offenders in this area,” Weerasak said.
At the same seminar, Chulalongkorn University researcher Amornwich Nakornthap released a study that found about 40 per cent of senior primary students watched or read pornographic material.
“Boys watch pornographic VCDs while girls read erotic cartoons,” he said.
Amornwich added that nearly 50 per cent of senior secondary or vocational students have already had sexual experiences.
“I think this leads to abortions,” he said.
The researcher blamed a negative environment, where nighttime entertainment venues and brothels are rife, along with the availability of pornography.
“Media members need to exercise ethics when they decide what they should publish,” he said.
Weerasak said sex potions, pictures of rapes or sexual activities and other pornographic materials should be wiped out.
“This should be a national agenda that receives support from various government agencies,” he said.
We see the Culture Ministry has adopted rule No 3 from the charter of the Philosophy Department at the University of Woolloomooloo:
Well, no poofters on TV, anyway.
The Culture Ministry will send a letter to television stations asking them to cut down on images portraying homosexual behaviour, a senior ministry official said.
Dr Kla Somtrakul, deputy permanent secretary for Culture, said some television programmes clearly showed homosexual behaviour and, if unchecked, some could cross the line to obscenity.
With the greatest respect to Dr Kla – he’s lost the plot.
Last time we looked, portrayals of homosexuality on Thai TV consisted mainly of male comedians dressed as women pretending to be men dressed as women who elicit howls of laughter from the studio audience every time they adjust their fake breasts.
It is not even homosexual stereotyping. It’s farce. Anyone with two brain cells left to rub together knows that.
Ironically, those most grateful for the clampdown will be the gay community, relieved that these stupid characters perceived by Dr Kla and his Culture Ministry to be typical homosexuals will vanish – at least to a degree – from TV screens.
Where’s my brain gone?
Ah ha! We have located the missing half of Dr Kla’s brain. Dr Taveesilpa Wisanuyothin, spokesman for the Mental Health Department, is using it.
“Watching homosexual behaviour on television could help arouse people with homosexual tendencies to act on their urges,” the doctor said.
Oh no . . . I have suddenly have the urge to tie two half-coconut shells on my chest, wrap a sarong around them, smudge makeup on my face and shove a creamy piece of cake in somebody’s face.
I must be gay.
Sounds like Dr Taveesilpa should be a patient at he Mental Health Department, not a spokesman.
One of the most pleasing traits of Thai culture is tolerance. So why is a ministry charged with maintaining the positive aspects of Thai culture doing its best to strangle this gracious social prerogative, burn its corpse and bury it where nobody can find it?
A pox on you Culture Ministry!
The Culture Ministry’s controversial idea of playing down the depiction of homosexuality on TV reflects the government’s backward thinking and broad misconception of the issue of gender. What’s worrying to the authorities seems to be the massive popularity of soap operas, game shows and comedic acts on TV in which homosexuals, mostly katoeys, play stand-out rolls, to the extent that some culture gurus fear these portrayals will have unpleasant effects on audiences, especially our more sensitive youth, who make easy prey for the influence of the mass media.
The fact is that gay men, katoeys and lesbians are a statistically measurable segment of our society, though a segment that is not often reflected accurately or realistically in our entertainment. Whatever their role on TV, homosexual characters tend to be indispensable as the objects of ridicule and humiliation. This is obviously not a realistic depiction of the gay community and most definitely not the kind of image this community wants to project to the rest of the world. These stereotypes are quite misleading. There is a large difference between gay men and kathoeys, though TV viewers associate the two in their minds. Katoeys, or at least an exaggerated version of them, are a daily part of most people’s entertainment. Soap operas featuring brash, outspoken transvestite characters tend to have higher ratings, much to the detriment of the country’s gay community.
The story of gay men and lesbians is a much different one. Gay men and lesbians generally do not have as much media exposure. It’s no exaggeration to say that homosexuals are relatively invisible in the Thai mass media. Some newspapers even prefer to run photos of Western homosexuals on their front pages when the news is about gay men or lesbians in Thailand. Indeed it seems hard for some Thais to understand the difference between sex, gender and sexuality.
Thais often associate homosexuality with sex, making it difficult to come to terms with the possibility of a gay identity. As a result, gay men and lesbians are not part of our entertainment. Being gay, like having sex, is seen as a private affair, and thus not fit for public consideration.
Whether the popular perception of homosexuality fostered by the media has anything to do with Thai youngsters wanting to eventually become homosexual is another issue: homosexuality is a fact, not a choice. It is a question of nature, not nurture. The authorities need to understand that their half-baked scheme cannot stop homosexuality. Being gay is a gender issue. Like race, gender is beyond a person’s control. Even Buddhism acknowledges that homosexuality exists and is not a form of sexual misconduct. Ill-informed officials would do well to learn from Theravada Buddhism, which states that all relationships are personal matters and develop by mutual consent. As long as a relationship extols the virtues of happiness and well-being without destroying and harming living beings, then it is a positive ethical action. Rape, sexual harassment and child molestation are unacceptable.
It’s ironic that the Culture Ministry’s desire to rein in homosexual activity is taking place at the same time the Tourism Authority advertises transvestite shows in its brochures. Perhaps it’s time for the authorities to be more open-minded and treat gender the way it should be treated, as something natural.
"Homosexuals and transgendered persons are not new to traditional Thai culture," said Peter Jackson, gay activist and researcher of Thai history from the Australian National University, during a recent seminar on trans-genderism at the Princess Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre.
These individuals, he said, have coexisted, and have been assimilated and mentioned, in Thai society for centuries. Thailand's linguistic, mural painting and literary heritages have not shied away from their existence.
According to Jackson, the word katoey, a Thai term for transgendered persons, has its roots in the Khmer word that means "those who are different". There is also a term in the northern dialect that refers to trans-gendered individuals as those who have elements of both male and female.
"Clearly from these linguistic examples, we can infer that pre-modern Thais saw these individuals merely as 'different'. They did not have a stark distinction or description of straight, homosexuality or transgender like we do today," Jackson said.
He added that for ancient Thais, homosexuality was seen as a behaviour, not an identity. But people today see homosexuality as a fixed identity.
Erotic scenes depicting same-sex relationships can be found on mural paintings. "Ancient Thais talked openly about sex. There are erotic pictures of people engaging in sexual activities, representing a part of daily life in their time. Some of these include erotic scenes of same-sex relationships," said Jackson.
Literature, too, recorded stories that suggest homoeroticism and same-sex relationships. Cross-dressing was apparent.
"There are many heroes in Thai literature who felt attracted to women in the guise of men," said Teodsak Romjampa, a history graduate student.
If homosexuality and transgenderism have been part of Thai life for centuries, why is there a sense of discomfort today? According to Jackson, the changed perspective is a reaction toward Western colonialism and the concept of modernity. European imperialists viewed pre-modern Thais as semi-barbarians because of three main aspects in their culture: that Thai men had many wives, that Thai people were barely clothed, and that Thai men and women looked similar, sharing similar costumes and hair-dos.
"In order to escape colonialism, the Thai state recreated a Thai culture and civilisation based on the Western concept of what civilisation was," Jackson said.
From the time of King Rama V to Gen Field-Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, the Thai state went through a series of nationalistic policies, which modified, fortified and recreated "civilised" Thai citizens. Thais started to cover up their bodies. Monogamy was exalted. State propaganda demanded that husbands kiss their wives before leaving home for work.
Remarkably, Dr Jackson pointed out, it was at this point that Thai men and women started to see clear divisions between themselves. In order to accentuate their sexualities, men and women sported completely different costumes, hairstyles and dialects. Jackson also noted that after the time of King Rama IV (when Siam opened itself to Western powers), mural paintings never again depicted erotic scenes.
As a result, modern Thai society has maintained two sexualities, men and women, while marginalising "the others". Male and female homosexuals, and transgendered persons, are thus ignored, denied and discriminated against _ a subtle form of violence in society, he said.
Along this line of thought, sex, the "third" sex and eroticism have all become taboo.
"To me, the Thai state is a vigorous guardian of Victorian values. Modern Thai society allows people to do whatever they want, but it has to be done in the private space. Homosexuality exists, but must be kept behind closed doors. They shouldn't be in the mass media or express themselves in public," said Jackson.
He observed that an increasing number of people are resisting the state's monolithic structure that tries to uphold the dual sexual division.
"Members of the new generation now accept that there are varieties of sexual identities," said Teodsak.
Even in the government itself, there seems to be a new breed of thought.
"It's dangerous to set cultural policies without having adequate knowledge about it," observed a participant who came from the Ministry of Culture. "It creates mistrust among the public against the state."
Evil: After the death of her parents, Aui (Pumwaree Yodkamol) comes to Bangkok to live with her aunt, Bua (Ammara Assawanon) – a sorceress since she lost her husband and son. Bua has no one besides her weird nephew, Arm (Alexander Simon Rendell). Mai works in the house’s printing office and takes an instant disliking to Aui – and she reciprocates. The situation deteriorates until the days, hours, minutes and seconds drag unbearably and Aui is taking tranquilizers to reduce her stress. But she’s then faced with an evil so terrifying it will take more than medication to help her.
Khon Len Khong or Art of the Devil: Prathan (Tin Settachok) maintained an amorous relationship with Boom (Supaksorn Chaimongkol) even though he's married. But when he learned that Boom had fallen pregnant, he dumped her. But Boom cast a black magic curse, killing Prathan while Boom reaped the profits of his wealth, as she carried his son. But when her son died during an accident, Boom's fortune went to another minor wife of Prathan, Kamala, and her children. So Boom 's back to reclaim what she believes is rightfully hers - and she's ready to use black magic again to achieve her goal.
The Letter: After reading a letter detailing her grandmother's death, Dew (Anne Thongprasom) went to Chiang Mai where, by chance, she met Ton (Uttaporn Teemakorn), a kind officer at an agricultural research center. Dew started to feel true love for her new acquaintance. They eventually married and began a peaceful life together. Everything was fine until Ton died after a savage illness. Now Dew is alone again, but then something strange happens: she receives a letter -- a love letter -- inscribed in familiar handwriting. It's from Ton.
Pan X: Bank (Preeti Barameeanant), a hot-blooded young guy, was grieving the loss of his recently drowned younger brother. Deciding to join a teenage group led by Num (Yuthapong Sangsuwan) for extreme sports, the games provide Bank with friends and distraction, but when proceedings spiral out of control into danger, Bank decided to quit. Though Bank's gone, the extreme games continue. Now, Bank must do everything within his power to save his friends from the madness.
Two weeks after the euphoric triumph of a Siamese movie at Cannes, a couple of Thai films opened last Friday to testify to the reality of our local cinema. Jao Sao Pad Thai (Pad Thai Bride) and Choo (The Sin) are a duo of uninspired attempts to stage a coup on the audience's gullibility. Out and out commercial flicks, the former uses a series of unbecoming street ads to make sure the people know it is a silly comedy, while the latter opts for a pseudo-arthouse motif, with a swirl of montages and a curious, obviously unauthorised logo of Cannes Film Festival.
They say critics are harsh on "commercial movies". But like I've already said in this space a dozen times, there are good commercial movies and bad commercial movies. Likewise, silly entertainment could either be more entertaining than silly, or vice versa.
Pad Thai, the second work from critic-turned-director Mongkolchai Chaiwisut, suffers greatly from its poor script and the clumsy attempt to coax big jokes out of a preposterous situation; even Thep Po-ngam, the great artist of Thai farce who normally cracks the defence of every high-minded viewer, cannot rescue this collection of scattered, underwhelming gags. Sexy starlet Napakprapa "Mamee" Nakprasit isn't cut out to carry a comedy, and her role as a chef who promises to marry a man who can eat her pad thai consecutively for 100 days is simply infantile.
Mongkolchai's first movie, Girls' Friends, showed that he has a nice touch when the subject is close to his heart. But with Pad Thai, the director mounts a half-baked idea, and the whole thing seems artificial, as if he's not making a movie that he himself wants to see, but that he thinks the audiences want to see. Comedy is what all Thais crave, but with the television swamped with crude, though at times witty, comedy shows, are Thai filmmakers running out of ideas to score a big laugh on the big screen?
A soft-core bore that pretends to have elements of drama, The Sin is a mediocre remake of Piak Poster's classic of the 1970s. Instead of focusing on the tension between the three main protagonists -- the husband, his wife, and her lover -- from the outset, the movie is wired to explode into an erotic fantasy piece that takes place, supposedly, in a fishing village in [south Thailand] -- although the setting we actually see on screen looks more like a generic Polynesian doll's house.
Helen Nima plays the suffocatingly sexy wife of a fishing-boat skipper (Sorapong Chatree) who is seduced by her virile stepson (played, with maddening stiffness by Watchara Tangkapreasert). To its credit, the film has an old-fashioned, high-trash seductiveness that makes it easier to sit through its 105 minutes. It would've been much better, though, if the director had simply gone ahead and served up some soft-core porn without making any pretence at seriousness; instead, we get sex that's far from steamy and drama that's even more off the boil.
This is an erotic fantasy in the guise of an Oedipal drama. The film prides itself on its arty pretense, and in a move that baffles many, its marketing people decides to use the palm-frond brackets normally stamped on movies that are invited to screen at major international film festivals. In the poster of Choo, however, the text inside the palm brackets ambiguously reads: "a film that was brought to screen at Cannes Film Festival". Ho ho, the film wasn't invited to Cannes: It was "brought" there by its studio (a few hundred studios bring a few thousand movies to screen at Cannes' marketplace every year). Movies that can incorporate the palm brackets on its promo materials are those who're selected -- or honoured -- by the festival's committee, which number around 50 each year.
What Choo does on its poster is either an honest misunderstanding or an act aimed at misleading. That same ambiguity stuck to me like a stinker after savouring the movie. [It] is a mad jumble of bygone style and new-age cheesiness; I don't really know if the film wants to borrow nostalgic sensibilities of old Thai movies, or if it tries to position their characters (no pun intended) in an unreal futuristic waterworld, or if the filmmaker has any intention to pursue any of those ideas.
The wife is dressed up in the most provocative belly-baring, cleavage-clinging fashion, as if she has a personal stylist from Sports Illustrated working on her wardrobe. Any wife who clads herself up like this would cause a war far more epochal than the Trojan. That said, the film flaunts an ethnic ambivalence: from the look of their culture and costume, are these characters Thai, Sea Gypsies, Muslim or some obscure Polynesian tribe?
Then there's the disparity in the modes of performance. While veteran Sorapong Chatree anchors the story with his intensity of a realism actor, the two lovers, Helen and Watchara, are maddeningly insipid, Watchara especially regressing into a cold, lifeless acting of old-time movie stars. The lines he's forced to read seem lifted from the pages of forgotten melodramas of the 1960s. And the sex scenes themselves, which are supposed to be the reason this film was made, are a poorly-edited series of awkward fondling and unrhythmic fornication (the uncut version is reportedly steamier, though we won't get a chance to verify it).
To be fair, Choo has a kind of old-fashioned seductiveness; this is a movie whose idea of eroticism includes a lovemaking on the beach with the man sifting sand on the woman's naked body. But that's a small consolation in a film that has neither the tension of a real drama nor the inhibition of a porn fantasy. Well it just ends up stiff -- no pun intended.
Thai film producers have long complained that theatre operators tend to favour Hollywood blockbusters and limit the opportunity for local movies to make headway. The term "four days of danger" hovers like a dreaded skull-and-crossbones over Thai film-makers: If a movie doesn't show strong prospects during its first four days of showing (Thursday to Sunday), theatres will bump it to give way to lucrative American imports.
Local producers say they understand the nature of cinema business, but then the situation got complicated when Sahamongkol Film International, a giant producer and film distributor that held the biggest market share last year, announced last week that it would not screen their movies at Major Cineplex theatres, beginning June 24.
"Right now Hollywood movies dominate the theatres. Say, if Spider-Man opens this week, theatres won't show anything else at all," said Somsak Techaratanaprasert, president of SFI and also chairman of the Federation of Thai Film Producers.
"Last week two Thai movies opened [a soft-core romance, The Sin and the romantic comedy Pad Thai]. One of them is not doing well, the other has an okay potential, but there's no guarantee that the theatres will continue to screen either of them regularly with all the Hollywood summer flicks opening.
"I decided to pull out of Major Cineplex not because of any personal resentment, but because I believe that a movie can survive not only because it's shown in a lot of screens, but when it's shown over a long period of time, like it used to be 20 years ago."
One industry insider, however, pointed out that SFI, which also distributes foreign movies in Thailand, gobbled up the majority of screens when it released Lord of the Rings.
"That was the same scenario as when they say other Hollywood flicks shut out Thai films."
Rumour has it that what is deepening -- or actually, causing -- the conflict is the report that Major Cineplex plans to buy rights to screen foreign movies itself, thus heightening the competition among existing film importers/distributors. A widespread concern is that if a theatre chain starts to import its own movies, it's possible that other distributors' movies won't be treated fairly -- having fewer show times each day, for example.
"Moreover, if we have too many importers of foreign movies, it means we have to offer higher prices to the owners of the film rights, since they know there's intense competition here," said an expert who refused to be named.
"But don't rush to judgement, that the merger of Major and EGV is an unpleasant surprise," he continued. "The people still have choices, and it's good that they've become more selective. Theatres won't gain anything if they try to abuse their power."
To some people in the artistic side of the industry, the recent merger has not only business implications but cultural ones as well: When a theatre chain grows so largely dominant, it's possible that it will become an entity that makes decisions as to what audiences will see -- a monopoly of taste. So far Major has made no comment on whether its expansion of screens will translate into a variety in film titles. If not, the Thai film industry, standing on its shaky legs, will suffer a great blow.
Given the uncertainty, film-maker Pimpaka Towira (One Night Husband)believes it's time for a powerful third party to intervene: the government.
"I see nothing wrong with the merger, and I see nothing wrong if a theatre shows Harry Potter 100 times a day, because that's what they do to make money," Pimpaka said.
"But what's wrong is the lack of attention from the government to take movies seriously as culture. They cannot leave the business sector to shape the face of culture alone, which is what's happening now.
"For instance, in Korea, it's obligatory for theatres to show at least 30 percent local movies per year. China has more or less the same rule. I'm not suggesting we should copy their models, but it's obvious that we can do something about it.
"Movies are commerce, yes, but it's a cultural commerce that should not fall under the universal rule of free trade," Pimpaka said. "Sometimes culture should be planned, moulded and revised. And no, culture is not just about traditional Thai dancing. It should be the job of the government to start thinking hard about it."
"Now that the duo has become the biggest in the film industry here, they can set prices and movie choices that promise to generate the most money. Movie-goers have already lost and the game hasn't even started," said Mana Sookananchai, an avid movie fan.
He cited the example of The Lord of the Rings: Ticket prices at both theatre chains soared from 120 to 140 baht, and have not gone down. Without legal protection, pricing is set by movie operators themselves.
Mana said it was a painful cycle: making a trip to a movie theatre just to wind up having to watch a Hollywood movie like Harry Potter that dominates most of the screens, leaving little space for other movies.
Showtimes were also unfairly arranged, he said: Most box-office movies get priority times, such as after-work hours and weekend time slots. Daytime and late night shows are usually set aside for non-box office films, or those on short runs, some for only a week.
"It's not fair. How many times do they expect us to watch box office films? There are other movies that I want to see, too," Mana said, adding that he's afraid the merger will exacerbate the scene, making it more difficult for film lovers.
"Don't expect me to stick with brand loyalty, not if prices continue to soar. I'll just buy quality pirated VCDs and DVDs instead _ the same price as a movie ticket, and I can watch them over and over with friends, conveniently at home," Mana said.
He hopes that competition will stimulate rivalry in the business, that other chains like SFX Cinema and Apex will improve their services and compete with the new merger with lower ticket prices and a great selection of movies to watch.
"I might like watching movies, but that doesn't mean I'm blind, that I will go for expensive entertainment unless it's worth it," he said.
"Promotion schemes would become more tricky," said Thiti Ongsathirakul, who joined the recent, controversial contest sponsored by EGV. He watched 100 movies at all 100 EGV theatres in the hope of winning the one million baht prize earlier this year. There were about 120 qualified winners, though, each of whom paid about 16,000 baht just to split the prize among themselves, winding up with about 8,000 baht each. Meanwhile, EGV earned about two million baht from all the contestants.
"The promotional campaigns, such as discount cards and collecting points, already benefit theatre operators who set the rules and run the show. Thousands join the games, but only a few can win. So who makes the most money out of it?" Thiti asked.
Born in 1952 in Sydney, Doyle fled his suburban youth for a life of adventure: working as a well digger in India, a Norwegian merchant marine, a cow herder on an Israeli kibbutz, and a doctor of Chinese medicine in Thailand. In the late 70s, Doyle started working in theater, and then in film and television. Doyle's first film breakthrough occurred in 1981, when he was the cinematographer on Edward Yang's feature debut That Day on the Beach. Working primarily in Asia, Doyle gained international recognition in the 90s for his poetic camera work for director Wong Kar-wai, on such films as Chungking Express (1995), Happy Together (1997) and In the Mood for Love (2000), for which he won a Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Branching out to shoot features around the world for such directors as Gus Vant Sant (Psycho, 1998) and Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence, 2002; The Quiet American, 2002), Doyle also directed his first feature, Away with Words in 1999. His latest collaborations with Zhang Yimou (Hero, 2002), Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe) and Wong Kar-Wai (2046, 2004) cement his reputation as one of the world's most visionary cinematographers.
No shortage of permutations in The Adventure of Iron Pussy, a free-for-all from Thailand with a Bay Area pedigree. In this ultra-campy, lowbrow musical spy comedy, Michael Shaowanasai (who went to the SF Art Institute in the '90s) stars as a former go-go boy moonlighting as a 7-Eleven clerk, ready to change in a flash into crime-fighting superheroine Iron Pussy. The 2003 production, directed by another trained-in-US filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is that rare example of domestic Asian fare we rarely see at American film festivals -- sappy string music score, weepy-alternating-with-slapstick acting, corny long-lost-sister plot -- sending she-male Iron Pussy undercover as a housemaid in a mansion, along with his tuktuk-driving sidekick Pew, to catch a gang of crooks manufacturing a drug that turns people into zombies.
She’s gorgeous, she’s dangerous – and she sings! Male convenience store clerk by day, fabulous drag queen/ secret agent by night, Iron Pussy must yet again come to the rescue! In this feature-length reprise, award-winning Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Michael Shaowanasai (who also plays Iron Pussy) have created a spy-thriller-kung-fu-musical-western-forbidden-love story that, like our heroine, defies convention.
Iron Pussy is called into action to investigate a secret cache of foreign money that has turned up in Thailand’s banking system. Drug money? Funding for terrorism? Our fearless (and always impeccably dressed) heroine must go undercover and infiltrate socialite Madam Pomidoy’s mansion, posing as Lamduan, a maid. But Iron Pussy is no mere maid, she’s also a fabulous singer, as well as the epitome of the ideal Thai woman! When Pomidoy’s crooked son, Tang, falls for her (and she falls for him), Iron Pussy is torn to discover the truth about Tang…and about herself! In a shocking and glorious ending, Iron Pussy’s sidekick Pew comes to the rescue, and Madame Pomidoy, Tang, and Iron Pussy herself will never be the same!
The Adventure of Iron Pussy is a non-stop, karate-chopping, glamorous romp, with smart editing and a sharp sense of humor. (Especially clever are the dubbed vocal sounds [by veteran Thai voice actors] that are way over the top.) Iron Pussy sings, dances…and loves…her way to a safer world, the prequel to the smash hit Iron Ladies about a champion men's volleyball team
This raucous sequel to the 2000 smash hit Iron Ladies is based on a real-life Thai volleyball team consisting primarily of katoey (drag queens and trannies). This episode finds trouble brewing with the superstar athletes, as infighting and fame-whoring threaten to tear the team apart.
It appears that Nong has been lured to the rival Tip-Top team with the promise of money and limelight. She gauchely boasts about her betrayal on TV, inspiring a vengeful Jung to reunite the team. Jung even travels to China to drag the cabaret star Pia out of volleyball retirement.
To offset the catty conflict (the rivals relish calling each other “buffalo”), we flash back to simpler times when the gals met at university, came out together, and learned to kick ass at volleyball. Nong’s transformation from butch bully to nelly androgyne is a highlight. Flash forward as the girls reconcile and reunite for a pivotal match against Tip-Top (with Nong playing once again for the Ladies). The regional championships are at stake, and some of the film’s most dynamic moments capture the kinesthetic energy and agile grace of playing the game (with occasional campy superhero flourishes on the court). This unlikely band of katoey prove that you can be glamorous, tough as nails, and play some mean volleyball.