Saturday, October 30, 2004

Cannes film chief in Bangkok

Among the jurists for the 2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok was Christian Jeune, head of Cannes Film Festival.

He was responsible for bringing Tears of the Black Tiger to the fest in 2001, and Blissfully Yours and Monrak Transistor in 2002. Last year, it was Tropical Malady.

The Bangkok Post caught up with Jeune, who always has his eye out for new films from faraway lands.

He hoped to hit a jackpot, like he did last year when he fished out an obscure gem, the Thai independent film Tropical Malady, which went on to make history by nabbing a prize from the fest in May. Indeed Christian's been on a lucky streak with Siamese directors: in 2001 he left Bangkok with the oddball Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger) on his list, and in 2002 the amiable Frenchman bagged a double-bill Monrak Transistor and Blissfully Yours to Cannes.

"Frankly Bangkok hadn't been my destination before," says Christian. "But after I saw Tears of the Black Tiger, I knew I had to make the city my necessary stop. Thai cinema might've been living in its own world for quite some time, but now that it's ready to open up, we can see that something exciting is happening here."

"I get asked that a lot -- what are your criteria?" Christian says. "No. We don't have any criteria, except the technical ones like the deadlines of the submission and that the film must never have be shown at other festivals before, etc. But generally, like most people, I watch films and I end up liking it or not liking it, and I can explain why I like or not. It begins from that. Of course there're a basic idea that the film must show strength in certain ways. But we don't have checklists; it'd be easy if we have a formula, but unfortunately we haven't.

"The only suggestion I can give to filmmakers is this: Don't make movies just because you want to go to festivals, Cannes or anywhere else. A director should concentrate on doing his job, that is to present his passion, his obsession, his belief, his story. And he should make a movie that's true to himself _ and not just make something that looks like what the rest of the world is doing."

His fresh example is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, that strange little Thai film that was nominated into the paragon of Cannes this year. Christian says he was immensely excited when he first saw the film that brimmed with such confidence, and he trusted his instincts to include it in the coveted Official Competition despite knowing all the risks involved in promoting this little-known Thai filmmaker and his peculiar, potentially divisive movie. But that's the appeal of Cannes: it's ready to take risks, to gamble on films that would attract as many bricks as flowers. Because when it works, the payoff is always worth it.

"To be a filmmaker in a country that's not structured for the advent of art cinema must be really difficult," he says. "What a director needs is to remain strong and to be firm in his visions. An artist like Apichatpong wouldn't have to worry about how to make his movies if he lived in France, where there is so much support. But to do that in Thailand means he must carry something really strong inside him, and that's what other directors should have, too, [if they wish to go as far]."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Songkran comes early to Chiang Mai

Some moviemaking magic brought the water-soaked Thai new year's celebration several months early to Chiang Mai.

Usually held in April, water guns were deployed last month to create a Songkran scene for Iron Ladies director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's new film, MAID. An acronym for Mission Almost Impossible Done, the comedy is about a four domestic workers who lead secret lives as spies. It's due out in Thailand at Christmas time.

Singapore's New Paper was on location and provided a report about the day's shooting.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Two kings of Cambodia

Cambodia's King Sihanouk is in the news again, having abdicated the throne and turned it over to his son, Sihamoni.

Before his accession, Sihamoni was quite happy as a Unesco ambassador and Paris-based ballet dancer and dance teacher.

The arts is something that runs in the blood of the royal Norodom family. Sihanouk himself was a filmmaker.

A recent article in The Age (registration required), by Neil Jillett recalls the turbulent times of 1968, when he was invited to Cambodia. Among the activities planned for him and other members of the press was a film festival which opened with the premiere of Shadow Over Angkor, the then-Prince Sihanouk's fourth feature, written by Sihanouk, directed by Sihanouk, produced by Sihanouk and starring Sihanouk.

Jillett was banned from the kingdom for writing a bad review of the film. He said:

It would be excessively charitable to call Shadow Over Angkor a good film. It would hardly be diplomatic to call it a bad one. Letting a little bit of Cambodia's neutrality rub off on me, I would say that, as entertainment of a rather esoteric kind, it takes some beating.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Time for Tony Jaa

Ong-Bak is playing at film festivals around the US and its star, Tony Jaa, has captured the attention of Time magazine, which hails him as "the new Bruce Lee". The article now pegs Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior for a general release in February. By Andrew Perrin, here is "Hitting the Big Time":

When Tony Jaa's film producer met him for the first time, she thought he was "ugly" and "couldn't act." His image consultant now says Jaa is "uncool" and is urging him to get a new haircut. His English teacher despairs that two years of lessons have yielded little more than a rudimentary grasp of the language. Listen to his minders long enough, and you may start doubting the buzz that Jaa is Southeast Asia's long-overdue answer to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

Until you see Jaa in action. In a cavernous room on the third floor of a stunt training center in Bangkok, Jaa bobs on the mat like a gymnast lining up a run to the vaulting horse. At the end of the room, a crew member holds aloft a cushion that stands in for a human head. Jaa hurtles down the runway, launches himself like a missile, flips in midair and brings his right foot crashing down on the cushion. The kick sends the cushion—and the unfortunate guy holding it—flying across the room. Jaa lands on his feet and smiles.

In Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, the stunt man-turned-actor leaps across boiling oil, ballets above an array of tuk tuks and beats up anyone foolish enough to challenge him. The insane inventiveness of the stunts—done without special effects, wirework or apparent concern for Jaa's life and limb—has turned into box-office gold in Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and even France, where the film found a fan and international distributor in action auteur Luc Besson. Besson recut the film and secured a US distribution deal with Magnolia Pictures. Expectations are high that Ong Bak and Jaa will break big in North America when the movie is released in February.

Jaa, whose real name is Phanom Yeeram, grew up in Thailand's rural northeast, a region most notable for its poverty and, in the early 1980s, the occasional mortar round fired across the Cambodian border by the Khmer Rouge. "Some days we'd be sitting down to dinner and the mortars would explode in the village, blowing out our windows and doors," Jaa says. He escaped these grim realities by viewing the films of Chan and Lee on outdoor screens at temple fairs. "It was powerful for me to watch," he says. "What they did was so beautiful, so heroic. I wanted to do it, too." Jaa practiced in his father's rice paddy or, when bathing the family's elephants, by somersaulting off their backs into the river. "I practiced," he says, "until I could do the move exactly as I had seen the masters do it."

At 15, Jaa sought out the Thai stunt coordinator and low-budget action director Panna Ritthikrai, who took him on as a protégé. He went to a gymnastics college and soon found work as a stunt man in local and international films, including 1997's Mortal Kombat 2. Then he and Ritthikrai started devising their own stunts inspired by muay boran, a more elegant and traditional form of Thai boxing that resembles kung fu. Jaa traveled the countryside talking to the few remaining old masters of muay boran, rediscovering more than 100 long-abandoned moves. Ritthikrai and Jaa filmed the actor's best stunts and showed them to Bangkok director Prachya Pinkaew. The filmmaker was dazzled but had problems getting backing for a film with Jaa in the lead role.

"Thai audiences are not used to seeing people from the northeast in the lead," says Sita Vosbein, managing director of Pinkaew's production house, Baa Ram Ewe. "They think people with dark skin are uneducated and ugly. They are always cast as bad guys." When the film was a hit, Jaa felt accepted at last. "I have never been so proud," he says. "I've been fighting discrimination since I was very young. For people to appreciate the beauty of the ancient art of boxing, instead of focusing on what I look like or where I come from, was what I had always dreamed."

Now Jaa is so busy filming his second movie, Tom Yum Goong, in Thailand and Australia, that he has no time to improve his wardrobe, his hairstyle or his English. "Bruce Lee couldn't speak Thai," Jaa says. "And I loved him, anyway."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Review: Ai Tui

  • Directed by Dokdin Kanyamarn.
  • Starring Sombat Metanee, Petchara Chaowarat.
  • Restored print shown at 2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok.

In Ai Tui, a village is celebrating its name change to honor the benefactoress who owns the land and allows the villagers to farm it. But the will that deeded the land to the woman is being challenged, and at one point, the villagers are thrown off their land and their homes are burned.

A co-worker of mine, when reading this synposis, said that the movie didn't sound much like a comedy. And comedy is supposed to be the theme of the 2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok, where this film was showing.

However, Thai movies of that era, from the late '60s to the early 1970s, had a bit of everything - melodrama, romance, action and comedy - giving audiences the most bang for their hard-earned baht.

This is most definitely the case with Ai Tui, or Mr Tui, a 1971 film by Dokdin Kanyamarn.

It starts out with the village celebration of Songkran, the Thai New Year. The holiday turns extra special when the villagers hear that Khun Mae Priew is coming upriver in a boat to visit.

They break into rousing song, performing in a traditional Thai folk style.

Then they gather on the dock to greet their benefactoress. Trouble is, none of them have seen her. They suppose she is an old woman. And when a matronly woman steps off the boat, they think its her and give her a big ceremonial "wai" -- the Thai clasped hands greeting -- in unison. Turns out she is only the maid. Then a young woman steps off. She is greeted. But she's just a village girl. When the actual Khun Mae Priew (Petchara Chaowarat) steps off, the villagers aren't sure what to do. She's young and pretty. Can that be her? With her identity finally established, the villagers all do their wai and then the dock promptly collapses, dumping everyone into the water.

The festivities continue, with the village headman's handsome son, the titular Ai Tui (Sombat Metanee) performing a song. It's something he's been working on for years and is incomplete. Priew writes some new lyrics on the spot and gives them to Tui to sing. A bond is formed.

That night, gunmen storm the village, trying to kidnap Khiew. She bids a retreat to Bangkok. At her villa in the capital, she finds a thug has moved in and fired her staff and hired a new maid who doesn't recognize her. Then her late husband's sister shows up -- an evil, snooty woman with a duplicitous daughter in tow. She is contesting the will that gave Khun Priew the estate.

From the village, two women have accompanied Priew, Bon and Bua. They break into another song about how the women need to be stronger, an occasion they gives them a chance to go jogging along in short-shorts. Bon and Bua prove to be an engaging comedy team, especially when paired the actors who are playing their boyfriends - Dokdin and another guy. The actress who portrayed the spunky, short-haired Bon, Alisa Prompathan, was a real joy to watch. Not only was she a great singer, she had a comedic sensibility; kind of reminded me of Carol Burnett.

The short-short outfits were just part of the outrageous costuming of the era. Another eyebrow-raising getup for Petchara (who had costume changes for every scene) was a short yellow dress with a ruffled front. And on the boat, Petchara had a little sailor outfit, complete with yellow sailor hat atop a luxurious beehive of black hair. And the boat featured an all female crew, all wearing little striped T-shirts and red sailor hats. It was this style that Michael Shaowanasai sought to emulate when he created his character, Iron Pussy. Petchara was the model.

I could also see the influence of this era's films on Tears of the Black Tiger (which Sombat co-starred in) and Monrak Transistor. In Tears, there was a matronly maid who doted on the leading lady. I'll bet this character was a standard of many films of the era. Monrak sought to capture the overall feel of the films from this age, featuring music, comedy, drama and action -- something for everyone in one film.

Back to Ai Tui. Tui and his friends (including comic-relief expert Dokdin) have secretly followed Khun Priew to Bangkok. Tui, in a hilarious yet poor disguise as a hipster university graduate (circa 1970) with Nehru jacket and large round tortoiseshell shades, tries to charm Priew. He says he studied agriculture in "Taxi ... I mean Texas". This whole scene doesn't really make sense. Priew is out at a nightclub, where she meets the disguised Tui. On her way home, another vehicle tries to run her down but is instead slammed into by a military vehicle. It's a surreal scene of the accident with moaning bodies hanging out of an overturned vehicle. Oh, and the negative was flipped in this scene. Don't know why.

Later, Priew decides that Tui is needed to help protect her. So she sends for him. In another clumsily handled bit, it is revealed that Tui was posing as the hipster. Dokdin saves the scene by ending up with a paint bucket on his head -- an always guaranteed laugh getter.

There's a trip to the beach, giving the filmmaker a chance to show many ladies in bikinis and the young Sombat a chance to show off his chiseled torso. It's also time for the melodrama, as the evil daughter-in-law's daughter gets Tui off alone and sets him up to be caught by Priew.

With the drama out of the way, there's time for action, with the villagers being thrown off their land and uprising against the thugs. Plenty of fake blood is spattered as machetes and bamboo spears come into play.

There's a chase scene with the long-tailed boats that recalls From Russia With Love, where Bond threw some gas cans on the water and then ignited them with a pistol shot. Tui and the lead gangster then go at each other, jousting with the long-tail boat propellers. Tui's shoulder is cut, though the blow was edited out - either because of bad film or a bad edit. But the gangster gets a propeller in the face, and this blow is seen.

This film's rare screening was at the 2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok, to an auditorium that was about half full. Before the screening Dokdin and Sombat were on hand to talk about the good ol' days. Dokdin received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the festival. It was noted that Sombat, looking fit as ever, once held, or still holds, a world record for most-filmed actor. He's appeared in around 600 films, according to the pre-screening banter. Petchara no longer makes public appearances because she is blind, which people attribute to eyedrops she used to make her eyes sparkle.

Cheers erupted for the final scene, a reprise of the main song, which featured Khun Priew in a flowing red dress. There was also a water buffalo. I wasn't sure whether the audience was cheering the beautiful Petchara or the water buffalo. At one point, the buffalo's cud chewing was used to make it appear he was singing in Sombat's voice. Then Sombat appeared from behind a tree. And the movie ended with a big, happy song.

Tui, by the way, is a more polite word for buffalo, or kwai.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes; photo: Sombat Methanee and Dokdin Kanyamarn chat during festivities leading up to the screening of Ai Tui at the 2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok.)

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Thai films everywhere you look

There's a film festival going on here in Bangkok. And it's not the only one. From Kansas City to Korea, there's a Thai film showing somewhere.

At Film Fest Kansas City, it's Last Life in the Universe. Opposites attract when a mysterious, obsessive-compulsive Japanese man in Bangkok is thrown together with a Thai woman who is everything he is not.

Eugene, Oregon put two Asian communities in the spotlight on a recent weekend. Thirty-five Cambodian-American youths from Portland demonstrated traditional dances as part of Celebrate Cambodia! at Spencer Butte Middle School. The event included dinner and a slide show on Angkor Wat.

A Thai Cultural Festival was held at the University of Oregon's Erb Memorial Union. They showed Mekhong Full Moon Party as part of the festivities. That film, by way, is available on DVD, with English subtitles, from various online dealers.

In Boston, at the Fantastic Film Fest, it's the "hellbent" Thai boxing tale, Ong-Bak.

The Muay Thai flick is also at tthe Deep Ellum Film Festival in Dallas. Prachya Pinkaew's film is described as being "about an unlikely boy who is compelled by a town to retrieve its beloved Buddha."

The San Diego Asian Film Festival has Ong-Bak as well.

More hard-hitting action can be found in Pittsburgh at the Three Rivers Film Festival, Nov 5-18. It's screening the historical battle epic, Bang Rajan.
Celebrates 5 Years

Arthouse sensibilities will be served at Montreal's 33th Festival du Nouveau Cinema, October 14-24, which has Tropical Malady.

Malady is also at the London Film Festival. The Telegraph has this to say about it:

The most original, audacious film in the festival comes from Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It starts as a charming, quirky romance, but then mutates into a shamanic ghost story that is unlike anything you have ever seen before.

And in Korea, at the 9th Pusan International Film Festival, October 7-18 there's Baytong, The Overture, Tropical Malady, The Letter and Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram, screening in "A Window on Asian Cinema".

The jury was composed of 10 eminent directors, including Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Fruit Chan, from Hong Kong, according to this.

Meanwhile, back in Bangkok, a late addition to the World Film Festival schedule is a documentary from the Nation Channel, making it the only Thai documentary showing. Called Peace in the Flames of War, it chronicles the aftermath of April 28, 2004, when Muslim militants attacked government security installations in three provinces in south Thailand. The day culminated when the militants holed up inside a mosque, refusing to budge. Government forces attacked. The result was more than 100 dead militants. The documentary talks to residents of predominantly Muslim southern Thailand and asks them what they think about extremism. Many said the extremists weren't really practicing the religion, because Islam preaches peace.

There's also a selection of Thai short films. And, of course, the showing of the 1974 film, Ai Tui.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, October 15, 2004

Review: Sai Lor Fah (Pattaya Maniac)

  • Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak.
  • Starring Nong Chachacha, Somchai Khemklad
  • Released in Thailand cinemas in October 2004
  • Rating: 5/5

At times grimly violent, other times sweetly spiritual and yet other times rauciously funny, Sai Lor Fah, the latest film by Yuthlert Sippapak is hard to sum up in a nutshell. But I'll try anyway.

Tun, a big, soft-hearted lug and Tao, a gambler, are friends. They enjoy hanging out at karaoke bars, but they frequently have to change venues because of Tao's habit of belting out the heavy metal song "Sai Lor Fah" ("Lightning Rod") whenever it comes on the box. And he's not a very good singer.

Oh, I don't know why the English title is Pattaya Maniac, except for the fact that the film is set in the beachside resort town. I think Lightning Rod would be a better title. Pattaya Maniac sounds over-the-top.

Well, Tao finally wins in gambling. He pays Tun back the 100,000 baht (about $2,500) he owed him and treats him to a night of karaoke at one of the swankier places in Pattaya. There, Tun meets the girl of his dreams and shares a duet with her. Then the chick disappears. It turns out she is the paid girlfriend of a mafia chieftan and Tao paid her for a one-time deal with his friend.

Tun wants desperately to find her again. He gives the 100,000 baht to the ladyboy pimp who used to be the girl's boss.

And from there the fun just keeps rolling, with the action involving a kidnapping, a 3 million baht (about $60,000) ransom and a shadowy assasin. The characters include some mafia chieftans who are mostly interested in collecting rare Buddha amulets. Tun's job backs up this angle: He's an amulet expert, a legacy handed down by his late father.

As with Yuthlert's debut action comedy Killer Tattoo and the comedy horror Buppha Ratree, the film is filled with all kinds of crazy characters.

Tun himself is played by a guy named Nong Cha Cha Cha, though he's got a real name, Choosak Iamsuk. He's a fixture on one of those annoyingly loud Thai comedy-variety-game shows. He proves to be a pretty good dramatic actor, here, and a good singer as well.

The supporting cast included Somlek Sakdikul ("Daddy" from Monrok Transistor) and Black Goldenhair (the boss on the cane-cutting farm, also in Monrak), plus funnyman Mom Jok Mok (Ong Bak), and many others. Leila Boonyasak (from Buppha Rahtree and Last Life in the Universe) makes a brief appearance in schoolgirl garb.

A funny reference was made to Buppha Rahtree when Tao, whose day job was selling porn VCDs on the street, tried to sell a funny looking security guard a film called Flower of the Night. "Orgasm guaranteed," he told the guy. Another reference was made to The Grudge by Mom Jok Mok's character, chiding a girl for letting her hair cover her face. "Didn't you see The Grudge? That was scary."

Another scene involved Tao talking to an old friend, a man who was hiding out because of his gambling debts. He was an elderly, stuttering man, and I'm sure a famous Thai comedian. They are sitting at a carousel bar. The man's stutter gives him away. Not sure what that scene was all about, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.

I was most taken by the karaoke angle of the film and it helped increase my appreciation of contemporary Thai rock and pop music.

The song, "Sai Lor Fah", is a top hit by a duo, Asanee-Wasan. There were many other songs as well, by the likes of Big Ass, Blackhead and, I think, Bird-Sek.

The lyrics were all translated in the subtitles, which was very helpful. They are gut-wrenchingly painful. American country music has nothing on the heartfelt sadness of these songs. One was like: "She crushed me like a cigarette, she sucked out all my sweetness. I feel like my head has been hit with a mallet. I am so naive and stupid."

Oh yeah. I feel your pain, buddy.

More information:

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok

It's film festival time again in Bangkok, a city that boasts at least three festivals that are vying to be THE major festival for Thailand. The 2nd World Film Festival, sponsored by The Nation newspaper, has put together a pretty decent lineup of Contemporary Asian, Latin American, Israeli, Documentaries, a Jacques Tati retrospective and World Cinema.

The main theme this year is Kings of Comedy, under which they are showing Brazil, Chaplin's Modern Times and The Great Dictator and a Thai film, which has been unearthed from the national film archives.

The film is called Ai Tui, or Mr. Tui. It's from 1971 and was directed by Dokdin Kanyamarn.

The cast list includes the great Sombat Methanee (Fa from Tears of the Black Tiger), ubiquitous leading lady Petchara Chaowarat, plus Dokdin, Prajaub Rruekyamdee, Ponglada Pimolpan, Chadaporn Wacharapranee, Chumporn Tappitak, Malarin Boonnak, Chinnakorn Kaira and Jimmy Lin Chong.

The festival website offers this synopsis:

A girl named Priew is surprised to receive the inheritance of her mother’s former lover. Part of her new found wealth is land in a farming village, which she kindly allows the inhabitants of to farm for free without charging them rent. However, during a welcoming party to pay thanks to her, a gangster attempts to kidnap Priew. The villagers rush to her defense, and Tui, the son of the district chief, takes action to ensure her security during her three days in the village. When Priew returns to Bangkok, she finds even more serious problems – the sister of her mother’s ex-lover has just been released from prison, and wants her share of her late brother’s wealth.

According to one of the organizers, Ai Tui isn't one of Dokdin's best. But from the archives, it's one that was in the best condition. That's a shame!

Something interesting about Thai films of this era is that they were sent to Hong Kong for processing. The processor usually made a copy and sent another copy back to Thailand. But apparently nobody bothered to pick up the copies from HK. Piecing these films back together could be a bit of fun detective work.

I really wish some serious value would be placed on these films of the late '60s and early '70s -- and earlier if possible!

The films should be restored, screened and marketed on DVD for posterity. It wouldn't make any money, which is probably why it isn't being done. But in terms of cultural value, they are priceless. Now there's a job for the Culture Ministry!

Ai Tui will be shown with English subtitles at 7pm on Tuesday, October 19 at EGV Metropolis.

I went ahead and booked tickets at the theater over the weekend. The entire back half of the auditorium is blocked out in anticipation of a big VIP crowd. I'm hoping I'll be able to trade the tickets in for better seating closer to showtime once the organizers determine the bigwigs aren't going to show up.

There will be a Q&A session with Dokdin before the screening.

Here's more about Dokdin, from the festival website (Source: National Archives of Thailand):

Born on October 25, 1924 in Bangkok, Dokdin Kanyaman’s first experience with performing publicly was singing traditional songs at funerals when he was nine years old. Through his teens he acted in many folktale plays in several provinces. At age 19 he stopped acting due to the declining popularity of traditional shows, and moved to work in Yala province for several years. Later on he was asked by some actress friends to join their touring company theatre, for which he mostly acted in comic roles. At the beginning of World War II, he acted in many musical plays at His Royal Highness Amornsamarnrak Kitiyakorn’s Pattanakarn Theatre and toured both in Bangkok and other provinces. Occasionally, he wrote screenplays for the theatre.
Dokdin has been involved with hundreds of movies and plays. As an young actor in Prince Banupan Yukol’s Asawin Play Theatre company, Dokdin met his wife, actress Banchong Chomklin.

Dokdin started his directing career by making 16-mm black-and-white films with friends. While the films were not successful commercially, they inspired Dokdin’s creative talents. The first colour film he produced and directed was Dao Klee and the second was Pan Noi. In 1964, his reputation as a major filmmaker was cemented by his fourth movie, Nok Noi, which was inspired by West Side Story (1961). Moreover, His Majesty the King allowed his song "Chatacheewit" (Fate) to be the film’s soundtrack. Nok Noi won three Academy Awards.

Dokdin and Banchong Kayamarn produced more than 30 great films. Their last film together was Sao Dad Diew in 1982. In 2001, the Film Critics Assembly gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Dokdin Kanyamarn. Nowadays, Dokdin still enjoys travelling abroad to support Thai films, even though he has stopped directing and producing films.

Filmography: Sam Gloa That Nang (1952), Sam Gloa Jer Jan Pee (1953), Jhao Sao Chao Rai (1954), Sia Raeng Rak (1955), Dao Klee (1959), Pan Noi (1963), Fon Rek (1963), Nok Noi (1964), Lom Huan (1966), Nok Eiak (1966), Saeng Tien (1966), Pinrak (1967), Mod Daeng (1967), Pu Ja (1967), Chulatrikun (1968), Kob Ten (1968), Dok Or (1968), Nam Oy (1968), Thai Noi (1969), Lom Neun (1969), Rua Manut (1970), Thai Yai (1970), Mah Mued (1970), Mr. Tui (1971), Kai Na (1972), Chieng Tung (1972), Sai Fon (1973), Khon Kin Mia (1974), Mam Ja (1975), Kung Nang (1975), Mue Peun Por Look Orn (1976), Singh Sam Oy (1977), Ai Ped Niew (1978), Kamoy Teerak (1978), Mae Dok Kancha (1979), Yor Yodyung (1980), Nok Noi (Reproduction; 1981), Heng 200 Pee (1982), Sao Dad Diew (1983)

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Malady in Chicago fest

Tropical Malady is screening in the Chicago International Film Festival, according to the Chicago Tribune.

There's also a 14-minute short, Motorcycle by Aditya Assarat, about a grandfather traveling a somber journey.

Pan-Asian selections include one near and dear to my bovine-loving heart - Buffalo Boy from Vietnam.

Also of interest was Schizo Shiza from Kazakstan.

Another one that's likely to get some attention is Nobody Knows, which I just saw in Bangkok in a screening last week.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Review: The Adventure of Iron Pussy

  • Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Michael Shaowanasai.
  • Starring Michael Shaowanasai, Krissida Terrence.
  • Released on DVD (region 3 with English subtitles)
  • Rating: 5/5

The Adventure of Iron Pussy is many things. It's a spoof of James Bond films. It's a transgendered comedy. It's a musical. It's also an homage to Thai films of the 1960s and '70s.

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, on a break from his more cerebral Tropical Malady, and co-directed by the star, Michael Shaowanasai, Iron Pussy is the story of a transvestite Thai secret agent.

While not on duty, Iron Pussy is a man, a shopclerk working in a 7 Eleven. His missions are relayed to him by shadowy characters who come in the shop to pay their phone bills. When the billing info is keyed into the system, details of Iron Pussy's next mission come up.

In the film, the mission involves some shady goings-on at a socialite's garishly lavish, castle-like mansion. Tasked personally by Prime Minister Thaksin and the cabinet (supplied by a comedy group of impersonators), Iron Pussy is sent off to crack the case, after some hilarious song and dance antics with the PM and his cabinet.

To get into the mansion, Pussy must pose as a maid. There, she catches the eye of the scion of the rich socialite's son (Krissada Terrance), cheesy in a fake pencil mustache and clothes off the rack of a vintage shop or Goodwill store.

Through a campy sequence of costume changes, stunts and musical numbers, Pussy finds out that some kind of mind-altering wonder drug is being produced, so she must stop it.

Of course, there are a few other weird, implausible twists and turns here and there, making the movie a satire of Thai melodramas and action films of years past.

What makes the film effective is that all the voices are dubbed by top voice actors, people who do radio dramas and record Thai soundtracks for Western films. When Iron Pussy is a man, the voice is a deep, smooth baritone. But when she's a woman, it's a lyrically high-pitched voice that really shines on the musical numbers.

The settings and stunts are all very obviously staged and played strictly for camp effect. I had a big smile on my face from the opening scene, which introduces Iron Pussy as a super-hero protector of women and the elderly. She shows up at an outdoor food stall, run by an old man and his pretty young daughter, where some gangsters are being uncouth. Some well-place kicks by Iron Pussy takes care of them.

The "film" was shot digitally and in the presentation at the theater, the relatively low-res projection made the film seem grainy, giving it an even more low-budget feel. It's as if the film was being viewed in an outdoor setting, on sheet in the village market - a common form of entertainment in rural villages. For the uninitiated or close-minded it might seem unprofessional, but I think this is the effect that Apichatpong was going for.