Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Asian horror for sale

Horror website Fangoria features offerings at the American Film Market here, here and here.

Thailand had quite a few offerings, including The Commitment, which I've had the misfortune of seeing. Fangoria gave it a one-skull rating.

"One more movie about kids messing with the supernatural and the vengeful female spirit they inadvertently unleash. Ho-hum. Mark The Commitment as just another example that the Asians can make genre films just as derivative as us Americans."

Next up from the Land of Smiles was Lizard Woman, which is playing in theaters right now. Much as I love lizards and other creepy crawlies, I'm not a big fan of the horror genre and Lizard Woman is one I've not taken the opportunity to see. I needn't bother, according to Fangoria, which give it one skull.

"Watch out for an army of gecko spirits in Lizard Woman, a confused Thai fright flick about scientists investigating the jungle bogeywoman of the title. The film’s marred by cheesy CGI FX and a plot that would embarrass Charles Band."

A better rating went to the Pang Brothers' The Eye 2, which "has nothing to do with the previous film, except the fact that the lead character (a suicidal pregnant woman) also sees dead people," says Fangoria. Here's more:

"The sequel has much lesser ambitions than the large-scale spectacle of the previous Eye, preferring to pare back the story and FX with probably a fraction of the first film’s budget. That said, The Eye 2 introduces a few new concepts to the ghost-pic formula, in regards to birth, death and reincarnation. Plus the acting’s good and the scares earned."

Lions Gate (not Miramax, thank goodness) picked up the rights to this. It earned a three-skull rating from the reviewer.

In the pan-Asian category for this entry, there was Three...Extremes, which I intended to see when it was playing here, but the run was too limited and I missed it. Three...Extremes earned a three-skull rating.

"Three...Extremes represents an audacious and ambitious approach to a horror anthology. Three directors from three different countries contribute segments that more than live up to the title. Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan, South Korea’s Park Chan-Wook and Japan’s Takashi Miike spoon out uncomfortable images of abortions, mutilation and child murder, with Miike somehow emerging as the least excessive of the trio. The episodes are beautifully photographed (especially the first, Dumplings, shot by Christopher Doyle and also expanded by Chan into a feature-length version (which is playing here in Bangkok now, so I'd better get over to House), and there is not one conventional EC-style ending in the crowd. Lions Gate nabbed the North American release rights."

One Thai company alone, CM Pictures, offered a full slate at the American Film Market. Fangoria offers the following rundown:The Brutal River (killer crocodile); Women Last Night (tragic ghosts); Big Bird (just that!); The Ranger (killer snakes); The Trek (young, pretty researchers combat snakes, scorpions and centipedes); Ghost Delivery (spirits on the Internet); Curse of the Sun (death, retribution and a zombie lover) and Soul (an anthology).

The Sisters, in which the ghost of a decapitated prostitute haunts an air-conditioning vent, may be the strangest of the bunch. Media Blasters picked up this Thai terror flick, perhaps enticed by the tagline that alleges: "Based on a true story that shocked the entire country."

What most of these Thai movies have in common are lush locations, low-rent CGI and directors with last names only their mothers can pronounce.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thai films gain Momentum

A bunch of Thai films are set to go to DVD in the UK, thanks to a new company called Momentum Asia. Articles about the new company can be found at Hollywood Reporter and DVD Times.

The films are:
  • Buppha Rahtree - This is the release I'm most excited about. Finally, it look like there will be a DVD with English subtitles on the market. Momentum will call it Scent of the Night Flower. DVD Times says: "One of the top grossing Thai films of 2003, Scent of the Night Flower is an insane horror comedy that combines the hilarity of Scary Movie with the shock factor of the likes of The Exorcist and Audition. Having already suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather, a young student, Buppha Rahtree, is driven to suicide when she is left alone, pregnant and miserable by a rich playboy who only seduced her to win a bet. Returning from the dead as a horribly disfigured ghost, Buppha sets out to exact terrible revenge on all those who mistreated her in life. Featuring hard-hitting social commentary, transvestite hairdressers, crazy psychics and graphic gore, Scent of the Night Flower is quite unlike anything you may have seen before.
  • Born To Fight - I missed this when it was in Thai theaters in August, because I was back in the US, and when I returned it was gone. Nor was there any evidence that it had actually played. It's a mystery. I'd still like to see it. DVD Times has more: "The latest film from Panna Rittikrai, the co-writer and fight choreographer of the acclaimed Ong Bak, Born To Fight is a breathtaking remake of the director's own 1982 B movie Kerd Ma Loy. The story concerns a group of Thai athletes on an aid mission to a remote village who get caught up in a violent tribal feud between the locals and an evil tyrant intent on terrorising the villagers. A highly anticipated film, thanks to its connections to Ong Bak, Born to Fight is already becoming one of the most talked about Asian action features of the year, not least for the inclusion of a show stopping, no wires, CGI-free sequence involving a truck that has to be seen to be believed."
  • The Bodyguard - Another Ong-Bak spin-off, this was directed by and starred the comic sidekick from Ong-Bak, Petchtai Wongkamlau or Mom Jok Mok. The previews, with lots of wire-fu and Mom running around naked, were enough for me. Here's more from the DVD Times: "The Bodyguard is a fast paced action comedy packed from start to finish with bone-crunching fight sequences and stylised gunplay reminiscent of the best of John Woo's early work. Wongkamlau himself stars as the eponymous bodyguard who is fired from his post when his boss is assassinated. But when his former boss' son also becomes a target for the killers, he finds himself back in a job and on the trail of the mysterious assassins. A must see for fans of the work of Jackie Chan and John Woo, The Bodyguard features an unmissable cameo by Wongkamlau's Ong Bak co-star, Phanom Yeerum (aka Tony Jaa)."
  • The Tesseract - "Directed by Oxide Pang Chun, the acclaimed director of the horror sensation The Eye, The Tesseract is based on the bestselling novel by Alex Garland (The Beach; 28 Days Later). Starring Johnathan Rhys-Myers and Saskia Reeves, this is a stylish, edgy thriller about four individuals whose destinies collide with violent and tragic consequences."
In addition to these and several other "New Wave" Asian titles, Momentum Asia is picking up the UK release and distribution of 30 titles from the Shaw Brothers Collection. These will include Death Duel, The Heroic Ones and Heroes Two. Many of these beautifully restored, widescreen presentations of Shaw Bros films, by the way, are already on Region 3 DVD from Celestial. These in turn have been picked up for the Thai market by United, and I've been buying as many of those as I could afford and have the time to watch.

(Thanks Sebu! Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Pangs take on twins mystique

Based in Thailand, but actually from Hong Kong, Danny and Oxide Pang are twin brothers who have made a string of artful action films, such as Bangkok Dangerous and Bangkok for Sale, and popular horror (The Eye, The Eye 2).

But it's about time they tackled the subject of twin brothers. Their latest film, Leave Me Alone, has opened in Hong Kong. It stars Ekin Cheng in a dual role as twin brothers who switch roles and find they can't switch back again. Part of it was filmed in Thailand, other parts in HK.

BC Magazine has more.

It was about time the Pang brothers made a movie about twins. Leave Me Alone takes the pretext of homovisual quid pro quo with a dash of gangster action plus a pinch of homosexual parody.

Director Danny says, "It's not a true story, but the concept comes from real life experience. When we were young, Oxide and I always used to swap identities - just for fun, especially for chasing girls - but we never got into any big trouble. Then one day I wondered what would happen if an accident happened after we swapped, and we couldn't switch back again. It's still quite possible today. Everything in the film is perfectly logical."

The gimmick is there from the start, but Ekin Cheng does a pretty convincing job of switching between the twin brothers Kit (straight, confident, efficient, Thailand-based) and Man (gay, sensitive, artistic, Hong Kong-based). So far so stereotyped, but the film doesn't take itself seriously enough to dwell on the details of the politically correct.

"It's a black comedy, without the overacting," confirms Danny. "I didn't just want to rely on dialogue to make the audience laugh. Everything occurs in strange situations - some are serious, some are dangerous, but when seen from another point of view, they're quite funny. I always wanted the actors themselves to be serious. I directed Ekin from my personal experience of a twin brothers relationship - how they talk to each other, how they are around each other, what they talk about, how close they are. But obviously we're not gay, it's just a movie!"

Avoiding the path of slapstick sitcom, the film diverges into parallel relationships with the other brother's significant other: Man's boyfriend Chung (Jan Lamb) nurses Kit back to health with sentimentally devoted affection in the hospital, while Kit's girlfriend Chun (Charlene Choi) drags Man into her troubles as she learns to fend for herself in dangerous Bangkok.

Faced with a playful montage of attractive images, dramatic angles and touchy situations, it's best to sit back and enjoy the glamourising slow-mo shoot 'em up action, especially with charming Charlene calling the shots in the land of smiles, like a true Hong Kong movie made in Thailand.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Shutter in Hong Kong

Thailand's slickest horror film this year, Shutter, is playing Hong Kong, where BC Magazine reviewed it.

Personally, I hate the horror genre, because I believe it's a waste of my adrenaline to be startled by sudden loud noises and dead girls with long black hair emerging from every nook and cranny. I prefer my psychological horror without the avenging ghosts and kinky gore, thank you. But every once in a while, I retest my prejudices on a movie I think I can stand. And this first flick by two young Thai directors emerged as a scary surprise. If a good film is a scary film, Shutter is certainly one good shudder. It begins with a car accident, late one night on a dark road, Tun and his girlfriend Jane driving home after a noisy dinner with old friends. They hit a girl and, spooked by the shock, leave her for dead. Back home, Tun is a professional photographer, and ghostly lights and shadows start appearing on both his negatives and prints. Tun doesn't believe in the supernatural, but Jane does. The real terror begins with a frantically rattling doorknob, and all the horrors we imagine to be on the other side of the darkroom door. The movie continues much like a thriller, while Tun and Jane's fragile relationship is portrayed with respectful subtlety. The horror doesn't exclude the occasional clichés of the genre, but it also plays with clever shutterbug gags, without losing focus on the mystery, and always within the frame of dignified aesthetics. Aside from a comically relieving katoey scene, there's no true release of tension throughout the film, even up until the very end. Shutter won't make you scream, but it may make you insomniac, paranoid and afraid to watch another praying mantis documentary ever again.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Cambodia's cinematic revival

Santepheap has a posting about the Cambodian cinema revival. It links to an Agence France Presse article.

Since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and the Vietnamese-backed regime of the 1980s, it's become okay for Cambodians to watch TV again, with most of the programming consisting of pirated TV soap operas and television transmissions, dubbed in Khmer. Then, last year, a Thai actress' comments outraged Cambodians. She later denied making any harmful statements, but by then it was too late. The damage was done. The Cambodians' anger was stoked into full-fledged rioting that saw the sacking of the Thai Embassy and several Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh. Thai TV programming was banned. To fill the hole, aspiring Cambodian filmmakers have grabbed some digital cameras and set about making movies.

Most of their efforts are pretty amateurish, as Santepheap and the article point out.

Prominent producer Yvon Hem, famed for his 1960s and 70s films, said one reason for the boom is cheap digitised production, but he lamented today's dreadful standards.

A near complete lack of training across the industry results in some storylines stumbling to a halt without resolution or even main characters suddenly disappearing from the script.

"Most people seem just seem to come to a movie because they want a quiet place to meet their girlfriend or boyfriend," Yvon Hem sighed.

The article does give a bit of history on the Cambodian film industry, which had its heyday in the 1960s and was led by King Norodom Sihanouk, who wrote, produced, directed, starred in and scored several films.

However, the article is remiss in mentioning the 2001 film, the Snake King's Child, which was really the beginning of the current revival. A Thai-backed co-production, it was Cambodia's first full-length feature in a long time. And, it was pretty good. I caught it in theaters just after I moved to Thailand in 2001. The cool special effects actually involved a wig of real, live snakes being worn by the lead actress. It was dubbed in Thai, but featured mostly Cambodian actors and was directed by a Cambodian. The leading man was Thailand's Winai Kraibutr, from Nang Nak, Bang Rajan and other films.

The article mentions Tomb Raider, which was filmed at Angkor Wat, yet doesn't mention Matt Dillon's City of Ghosts, which is much better at evoking the character of the country than the bombastic video-game adaptation is.

The article also fails to mention Rithy Panh, a French-trained Cambodian director who has a distinguished career, having made such films as S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, Land of the Wandering Souls and Rice People.

More information:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Spicy soup in Australia

News from Sydney, where the Ong Bak followup, Tom Yum Goong is being shot.

While its story's centrepiece is a poached elephant now residing in Sydney, the film's real star is Tony Jaa, reports showbiz editor Michael Bodey.

Jaa's phenomenal martial arts skills and boyish good looks already have producers salivating that they've found the next Bruce Lee.

Given the standard of the Thai film industry, Jaa admits starring in a film shot in Australia is unthinkable.

"It's way beyond my dreams," he said.

Also part of the cast of the film is hulky Australian actor Nathan Jones, who played the gigantic Boagrius in Troy alongside Brad Pitt.

The film's substantial budget dwarfs that for most Australian films and it was raised almost entirely on the strength of Jaa's outrageous skills and bright future, as first displayed in his previous hit film Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, which opens in Australia in March.

Director Prachya Pinkaew said there was one major reason to film in Sydney beyond the obvious success of international films shot here such as The Matrix and Mission Impossible 2.

"Australia is a place that is a symbol of wildlife and animal preservation from my point of view," he said.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, November 19, 2004

What's next for Ekachai?

Beautiful Boxer director Ekachai Uekrongtham might be Thai, but he's based in Singapore, where he runs a theater company.

He's planning to do more films, though, according to Singapore's New Paper.

He said he has received scripts from Hollywood for his directing consideration, but he is still waiting for the right one.

Ekachai will be starting work on his next film - a martial arts adventure based in Thailand and Tokyo - next year.

The lead actor will again be Asanee Suwan [star of Beautiful Boxer], and Ekachai is also contemplating writing a small role which will involve sword-fighting, for aspiring actress Nong Toom.

And after the success of his debut feature film, is there pressure to do even better with his next film?

He replied: 'There will always be pressure. The pressure is not to win awards, but to make a movie that will mean something to the audience.'

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Bang Rajan reviews

Bang Rajan continues its arthouse onslaught in US theatres. Among the cities its playing in are Minneapolis and Seattle. The Star-Tribune picked up Ann Hornaday's review from the Washington Post:

One of Thailand's most cherished stories is brought to life with pomp and pageantry in this wartime epic (*** out of four stars). Bang Rajan was a Siamese village attacked by the Burmese army in 1765. For five months, these men and women -- mostly farmers -- held out with ingenuity and breathtaking courage. Even without knowledge of Thai history, fans of war pictures will be impressed by Thai filmmaker Thanit Jitnukul's achievement in creating a detailed and graphic, if overheated, account of this ultimate underdog story. As the two mismatched armies meet in a massive final battle, the spectacle recalls Mel Gibson's Braveheart. But in his fetishistic obsession with the aesthetics of suffering and sacrifice, Jitnukul might be closer to the sensibility of a more recent Gibson film. The Passion of the Thai, anyone?

While Seattle Weekly's Neal Schindler offers his own review:

Several bravura fight sequences, captured thrillingly by cinematographer Vichien Ruangvichayakul, are reason enough to see Thai director Thanit Jitnukul's stirring account of Siamese villagers fighting their Burmese oppressors in the 18th century. What begins as a straightforward history lesson—how the Kingdom of Siam became modern-day Thailand—quickly evolves into a vibrant, often visceral story of love during wartime and perseverance in the face of mind-blowing brutality. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, Bang Rajan assembles a sizable cast, then leaves no man (or woman) standing; the emotional focus is on conflicted warrior Nai In (Winai Kraibutr) and his pregnant wife, E Sa (Bongkod Kongmalai), but roughly a dozen secondary characters, including an aging military leader and an ageless monk, emerge with crystal clarity. It's easy to see why Oliver Stone lent his name to the American distribution of Bang Rajan: Like Platoon, it takes a raw, unflinching view of combat, employing a low-traveling camera for a literally down-to-earth perspective on each skirmish. And though the film incorporates considerable gore (decapitations, lost limbs, and worse), the violence is artfully rendered and never gratuitous, and there's no smug moral awaiting viewers at the end. Bang Rajan simply expresses with unusual power the adage that war makes beasts of men, and no one truly emerges the victor.

Bang Rajan
also is in San Francisco, where the SF Bay Guardian did a nice big interview with prolific producer "Uncle" Adirek Watleela. I used part of it in an earlier posting about Citizen Dog and I wanted to just go ahead and use the whole thing. So here it is:

Etched in, blood, and righteous sacrifice, the period epic Bang Rajan is the latest stateside salvo in the Thai film renaissance. It's the tale of 18th-century villagers who – without the help of the fat cats in Thailand's then-capital, Ayatthuya – repelled an invading 100,000-strong Burmese army eight times before finally falling. Bang Rajan delves deep into a galvanizing national moment, thanks to camerawork that eagerly jumps into the fray of battle. Graphically, the nigh-faceless white-shirted Burmese soldiers are no match for the magnificently sinewy Thai villagers.

Both Watleela and director Thanit Jitnukul cut their teeth painting the lusty, violent images found on Thai movie posters. It shows in every frame: the incredible strongman mustache sported by Bang Rajan's leading warrior, the dozens of fighters leaping out of mud-puddle camouflage, a water buffalo with horns seemingly 10 feet wide. The film's final battle trumps the Weinstein (if not the Scorsese) cut of Gangs of New York as a mosaic of suffering and crazy carnage. On the occasion of Bang Rajan's San Francisco arrival, the man named Uncle spoke to us.

Bay Guardian: What's the story behind your nickname?

Uncle Watleela: Back when I was painting movie posters, I wore these baggy trousers that everyone called Charlie Chaplin trousers. In Thai, they're more often called "uncle trousers." Pued called me Uncle, and it stuck. Pued is Jitnukul's nickname – it means "jet black," referring to his very dark skin. He comes from the south of Thailand.

BG: How did Bang Rajan originate?

UW: The story is something every Thai child knows – it was always a dream of mine to film such courage and love of the land. Five years ago, when I set up my production company, Film Bangkok, I had the project in mind.

BG: Why was the movie so immensely popular in Thailand?

UW: There are three reasons. First, Thailand was lacking a hero or leader at the time, and the movie stirred up an intensely patriotic feeling. Second, modern Burmese insurgents holding up the [Thai] embassy and having shoot-outs. The final reason had to do with the [film's] water buffalo – Thais just loved that buffalo, which sadly died just a couple of weeks after the movie hit theaters. The buffalo, which was very old, was out doing publicity. It finally just became tired of all the grind.

BG: Really? The buffalo was on TV?

UW: Yes. When the Bang Rajan stars appeared on talk shows, the buffalo was brought onto sets along with them. The animal really drove the movie's popularity home.

BG: Was it hard to sell Bang Rajan, since it's a period piece and there's little chance to, say, tuck in a Red Bull ad?

UW: Even product placement is rarely enough to help pay for a movie. Twenty years ago, no foreign viewers at all were interested in Thai film. These days, the interest shown in some sectors expands our choices of subjects, but the Thai audiences still won't accept art movies. With the exception of Bang Rajan, the recent films that have crossed over to other markets [Blissfully Yours, Last Life in the Universe, Tears of the Black Tiger] have largely been commercial failures in Thailand.

BG: So many epics in America have pretensions to world music excellence, with some kind of wailing woman soloing over tabla drums and the like. Bang Rajan's music is a bit more focused.

UW: The first soundtrack was too international, so it was eventually sent back and given an Asian "smell." That's the focus you're hearing, I think.

BG: Do you have a favorite moment from the movie?

UW: There's a scene in which [two characters] sit in the rain and talk about the endless fighting. I in fact wrote that scene as a metaphor to describe my and Pued's attempts to make quality movies in the face of business concerns – having to fight and ultimately die! [laughs] I hope Film Bangkok doesn't meet the same fate as the villagers of Bang Rajan. Otherwise I'm going to end up making movies like Anaconda or Spider-Man.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Mysterious Object in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis-St. Paul residents have a chance to get a unique look at Thailand without having to board a Northwest flight bound for Bangkok.

Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is in the Twin Cities showcasing virtually all of his films, according to various press reports, including the Pioneer Press (registration required), the Star Tribune (sorry, no link) and the City Pages.

He's screening Blissfully Yours and his mockumentary Mysterious Object at Noon as well as his Cannes-winning Tropical Malady and Haunted Houses, "a freakishly moving prank of a film in which Thai villagers enact melodramatic scenes from a popular TV soap opera".
Apichatpong, or Joe, as he is sometimes called, has also been in San Francisco screening his films. The Chronicle did a big-ass interview with him that serves as a pretty good overview of the Thai cinema scene.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Citizen Dog barks

I caught my first glimpse of stills for Wisit Sasanatieng's upcoming Citizen Dog awhile back and now I'm finally sharing a bit.

Starring Mahasamuth Boonyarak and Sangthong Keathuthong, the film is scheduled for a December 9 release. The long-awaited followup to his Tears of the Black Tiger, Wisit switches from the Wild West to a hip, urban scene. But it promises to be just as colorful as Black Tiger.

Here's a synopsis, courtesy of the Thai Film Directors website:

When we are too busy searching for something; often it eludes us. But the moment we stop; it reveals itself to us. This is a surreal and comical love story about Bangkok’s little people: their struggle in search of happiness amidst a rapidly changing world. A world over-flowing with dreams, but void of love and understanding. Pod is a migrant worker from up-country. Before his grandma died she told him that he would grow a tail the next morning if he ever went to work in Bangkok. He has a job in a Tuna-canning factory in Bangkok where, one day, he has an accident and severs his forefinger which falls into a can. Day by day he scours supermarkets looking for the can that contains his forefinger until he finds it. In fear of losing his finger again he quits his job and finds work as a company security guard. There he meets Jin, an office maid. Pod likes Jin. He noticed that she is passionate about cleaning floors and she likes to carry a little white foreign book but she cannot read it. She dreams of being able to read it one day, and she thinks that when that day arrives her life will have been changed. Pod tries to woo her. He quits his job to drive a taxi, so that he could pick her up everyday. One day he confesses his love to her but she turns him down. He wants to kill himself but his grandma (who has now been re-incarnated as a newt), stops him just in time. Meanwhile, Jin meets Peter, a foreign environmentalist; she believes that he is the key to her new life because he also carries a similar little white book. Curious about the book she sets out to find Peter. She quits her job to become an environmentalist. She marches and protests everyday; each day she returns home with discarded plastic. Soon she has a “ mountain” full of them in her backyard. Pod still loves Jin; he waits for her at the “ mountain”, but she never comes back to him. Finally Jin finds Peter again. Her dreams are shattered when she realizes that he isn’t really an environmentalist; he is just a gay westerner who distributes pornographic leaflets. And that little white book is just an obscene Italian book. Her disappointment transforms her. She decides to stay away from Pod for a little longer before seeing him again. Sadly Pod has returned, broken-hearted, to his up-country home. However, Pod cannot forget Jin; he returns to Bangkok again just to be near her, accepting the fact that she may never love him. The two meet again and Jin realizes then that Pod’s true love is what she has been searching for all this time. It has been there all along from the moment they met; but she was too preoccupied to notice it.

In searching for more material about Citizen Dog, I ran across a somewhat dated interview in the San Francisco Bay Guardian with producer Uncle Adirak Watleela, whose has thrown his weight behind Citizen Dog. The interview regarded the US release of Bang Rajan, so it has some cool stuff about that film as well. Here's some Citizen Dog and some Tears of the Black Tiger scuttlebutt:

BG: You also produced the lavish and fantastic cowboy melodrama Tears of the Black Tiger, which is still being held in limbo by its American distributor. Do you know how lard-assed Miramax is in terms of bulk-buying and then never – or barely or badly – releasing foreign films?

UW: You need to ask Miramax about that. The Japanese movie Shall We Dance was substantially recut, and the director felt really shitty because of it, and it's the same with Tears of the Black Tiger. In both cases, the international version actually was re-edited to [have] a happy ending.

BG: What's [Tears of the Black Tiger director] Wisit Sasanatieng doing now?

UW: I'm producing his new movie, Citizen Dog. It's also somewhat postmodern and promises to be even more colorful than Tears of the Black Tiger.

BG: That sounds impossible.

It also sounds impossible that Miramax would so horribly butcher a film as to totally alter the story and the intent of the director. I guess I'm pretty naive to believe they weren't that bad. So maybe it's best that Miramax never release the film. Even better, I'd hold out better hope for the film to be purchased from an independent outfit. In the meantime, get Tears of the Black Tiger on DVD.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Ong-Bak, Buppha Ratree in AFI fest

The American Film Institute's Los Angeles International Film Festival provides a high-profile venue for a couple of Thai films - Buppha Rahtree (Flower of the Night) and Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior.

The fest is previewed in the San Bernardino Sun and LA City Beat.

In addition, there's Zhang Yimou's beautiful follow-up to Hero, House of the Flying Daggers, which is set for a wider US release by Sony Pictures Classics. It stars Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Daggers also has been released on DVD in Asia, and I snapped it right up. Daggers contains such a tight web of betrayal, I thought it could be a prequel to the Infernal Affairs trilogy, which is also screening at AFI.

Back to the Thai films. LA City Beat provided a couple of capsule reviews. It wasn't very kind to Buppha Rahtree.

The festival includes two entries from the burgeoning Thai film industry. There’s not much to say about Rahtree: Flower of the Night. Yuthlert Sippapak’s ghost film careens wildly between horror and very broad comedy; by the end, the plot makes absolutely no sense. The entire thing would have been more effective at two-thirds the length.

The other Thai film, Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, has been a sensation all over the festival circuit, and there’s no reason L.A. should prove an exception. Director Prachya Pinkaew was clearly inspired by Jackie Chan: the plot is your basic “country boy comes to the big city and teams up with urban hustler to reclaim the religious relic that has been stolen from his village.” The filmmaking technique is generally slick, but what powers the movie are numerous brilliantly choreographed chase and fight sequences, and the sheer charisma and acrobatic skill of star Tony Jaa. If you have any taste for HK action, you don’t want to miss this. (It’s scheduled for general US release next year.)

IndieWire reports that Ong Bak was among many films that played to sold-out auditoriums at the fest. Overall, there was a 20 percent jump in attendance this year, based on preliminary box-office numbers.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, November 15, 2004

Shutter clicks in Singapore

Shutter, this year's smash-hit bit of Thai horror, is opening in Singapore, the first of what I think will be many international forays for this film.

New Paper interviewed star Ananda Everingham, the 22-year-old Australian-Laotian actor, describing him as "a bit Tony Leung meets Keanu Reeves".

The down-to-earth Eurasian lad - the sort you can imagine having a few drinks with on a Friday night - spent his early childhood in Australia and moved to Thailand when he was nine.

At 14, he confessed, he was a 'naughty boy' who was kicked out of school. He worked in the family restaurant, mixing drinks behind the bar.

By his own admission, he was a handful, and his father decided to send him to a boarding school in Darjeeling, India, he said.

Thank goodness for talent scouts.

Everingham recalled: 'I was spotted by a guy at the bar.

'He asked me if I wanted to go into acting. I signed the contract just to get out of my dad's plans to send me to boarding school... I've been acting since.'

The occasional model is also a regular in Thai TV dramas and has done Thai films such as last year's Kon Sung Phee (Ghost Delivery).

But Shutter is his first big movie.

The film, which will open here next Thursday, is Thailand's No 1 local box office hit this year, grossing 110 million baht ($4.5m).

Everingham said: 'This started out as an indie film. It was not anything like this. The directors said 'do it for art'.'

In fact, the accidental actor so impressed the directors that they stopped auditions - which had been going on for two months - immediately after his turn, said one of Shutter's two directors, Banjong Pisonthanakun.

'I thought he was a model and couldn't act. And he wasn't impressive in his two previous films. But we cried when he auditioned and acted out the scene where Jane dumps him, ' said Banjong.

Hearing him tell a bit of the story of his father, Mr John Everingham, only adds to his romantic aura.

The older Everingham was based in Laos for 10 years as a journalist and photographer for Newsweek and other western publications before being expelled by the Communist Pathet Lao regime. He made international headlines in 1978 with his daring deed of returning to Laos from Thailand to save his Laotian love, Ms Keo Sirisomphone, by swimming across the Mekong River.

Their dramatic love story was immortalised in a 1983 film Love Is Forever staring Michael Landon, Priscilla Presley and Moira Chen, the younger Everingham told this reporter - a touch disappointed that I hadn't heard of the film.

And there's a ghost story about making the movie:

Lead actress Natthaveeranuch Thongmee, 25, claims she saw 'someone out there' in the scene where the female ghost - with typical bloodied facial features - climbs onto the hood of the car as photographer Than is driving.

She started to deliver her lines because she thought that's her cue, said Natthaveeranuch.

But lead actor Ananda Everingham didn't see what she saw and mistimed his lines. Spooky.

The 'ghost' in the movie, Achita Wuthinundsurasith, 22, has her very own ghost story.

She had a fall while filming one day. And as she lay on the corridor floor, she claimed she 'felt many people walk on me'. Then, she heard an old man ask her 'have you asked for permission to film here?'.

She later found out that the crew hadn't gone through the usual ritual of asking the spirit guarding the place for approval.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Tom Yum Goong trailers in Thai theaters

Teasers for Tom Yum Goong, the followup to Ong-Bak, have started showing the Thai theaters. I was so blown away, I had trouble paying attention to what was actually going on. All it was a blur of elephants and Muay Thai kicks.

The scene opens with a bunch of working forest elephants being washed in a river by their keepers. Then there's a blur of Tony Jaa kicking. There's some Chinese bad guys. And then there's more Tony Jaa.

I'd like to find a source for downloads of this, but haven't had much luck so far. I just hope to see it again, soon.

Tom Yum Goong is due out in early 2005. The story involves Tony as a country boy who has to track down a prized elephant that is stolen by some mobsters.

It has been filmed in Australia and Thailand and is reportedly going to be mostly in English. It will be making a big push for the international market and I would guess it will be released Asiawide on its debut, rather than being only limited to Thailand.

"Tak" Bongkot, the lovely faced young actress from Ai-Fak, Bang Rajan and Kun Pan also has reportedly joined the cast.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Pangs eye Hollywood

Oxide Pang was in Singapore to promote his and his twin brother Danny's new thriller, Ab-Normal Beauty and Channel News interviewed him.

The Pangs are involved in developing The Eye for the Hollywood remake, with hopes of recreating the success of The Ring and The Grudge.

"You can see (Hollywood) is very good at marketing the remakes. Their box office performance has been very good," Oxide said.

They will also helm a new Hollywood project called The Scarecrow for release in 2006. Under development with Ghost House Pictures, a joint venture with Sam Raimi aboard, it should begin shooting next February.

But the Pangs aren't happy with the script yet.

"This is our first step in Hollywood. It's quite important - we don't want to miss this chance. But we won't do it until the script is good enough." he said.

Work on the script for the new version of The Eye, slated for next year, is also still going on.

Meanwhile, both brothers have just completed individual projects.

Ab-Normal Beauty
is a morbid thriller about photographing death. It stars Singapore's sisterly singing double-act Race and Rosanne Wong. It opened on November 4.

Danny's action drama, Leave Me Alone, with Ekin Cheng and Charlene Choi, is expected to arrive in cinemas on November 18.

The brothers Pang will soon reunite with Eye star Angelica Lee for Recycle, a big-budget, special effects-laden horror fantasy about a scriptwriter whose macabre ideas come to life.

Shooting will start November 23 for the film slated for Christmas 2005.

Oxide said he would push Lee, a Golden Horse and Hong Kong film award winner for her performance in The Eye, to work even harder.

"The first time, it was okay. But now, she needs to improve and find something new for the performance."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Beautiful Boxer, Iron Pussy at Chicago gay fest

Already fixtures of the film festival circuit (both gay and straight), Beautiful Boxer and The Adventure of Iron Pussy are coming to Chicago for Reeling 2004, the 23rd Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival.

The Sun Times interviewed Boxer director Ekachai Uekrongtham.

"There's not so much acceptance but tolerance of transsexuals," Ekachai said. "Thailand is basically a Buddhist country, and people feel that transsexuals are more or less fated to be this way as a result of their bad karma. They have a lot of compassion toward these people. The same cannot be said for gays and lesbians, because they are seen as having made a particular lifestyle choice, as opposed to the result of fate."

The story of a transsexual actress and model Nong Toom, Beautiful Boxer is the story of how she grew up as a boy and became a top Thai boxer. "No one would believe if it weren't true," Ekachai says.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who co-directed Iron Pussy, also was interviewed.

Starring Michael Shaowanasai, it's about a transvestite Thai secret agent, and is a musical sendup of the Bond films as well as an homage to Thai films of the 1960s and 70s.

"I view this film as a concept, to make it like movies that I grew up with," Apichatpong told the Sun-Times. "I didn't look much at references. I did it instinctively to keep the energy. I think in the past, many of the productions were done very fast. The directors could be doing many films per year. So he or she didn't have time to analyze or rationalize deeply like today's directors. You have this free-floating sense when watching old films. So I tried to simulate that working condition."

The result is a strange and often hilarious film whose comedy has a sneaky kind of dramatic weight.

"I think of Iron Pussy as a woman all the time, a beautiful one whom men all fall for," Weerasethakul wrote.

For a complete schedule, visit www.reelingfilmfestival.org.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Pair of Thai thrillers in theaters

The serial killer thriller Zee-Oui and a sci-fi adventure Ukkabat have opened in Thai theaters this week.

Zee-oui is based on real-life case of a Chinese immigrant in the 1940s in Thailand who murdered children and ate their internal organs.

The title character is played by Chinese actor Duan Long, a bit of casting that the Bangkok Post found inspired.

To have a Chinese man playing a Chinese man has a significant implication in the movie's probe into Zee-oui's tormented psychology: Zee-oui probably started killing because he was a lowly foreigner in an unfamiliar land, bullied and unloved by people and by society. Asthmatic, belittled, and marginalised, Zee-oui lives under huge pressure -- the kind that perhaps no Thai actors could imagine.

"Having Duan Long in the film is a great push," says Buranee Racjaibun who directed the film with Nida Sudasna. "The actor is a Chinese man who came [to shoot this film] in a foreign environment, just like Zee-oui did in his days. More or less they had to endure the same difficulties, and that kind of adds emotional authenticity to the story."

Adapting the Zee-oui case into a film also entails an automatic commercial thrust. Though Zee-oui's terror has faded into a nostalgic legend, many Thai adults now grew up listening to the tale of his horror as their parents warned them not to wander around after dark or the Chinese would come for them. The film's spooky nature, too, is a factor that the producers bank on as they aim to cash in on the wave of ghost movies, always a popular genre for Thai crowds.

While Zee-oui is the first film from a new studio, Matching Motion Pictures, the other offering, Ukkabat, or Still Meteor, is the latest work by veteran director Bhandit Rittakol (The Moonhunter, Tigress at King River).

A sci-fi adventure, it is a tale of telepathic battle between two men born on the day a mysterious meteor fell on their village.

The film relies heavily on CGI. Bhandit has more:

I just want to try doing something different, something I've never done before," he said. "I have an interest in computer effects, and I use them in this film because I want to be familiar with the process. It's like my own education, but at the same time it's for the entertainment of the viewers.

"In Ukkabat, I'm confident of the quality of the CG images because we started working with the specialists since we started shooting the film, and we've spent seven, eight months perfecting the final result. Of course it won't be on the same level of American movies -- we don't have that much money -- but it's realistic enough to make an interesting picture."

The Nation also covered the release of Zee-oui and Ukkabat, predicting both films would have a hard time competing with Sky Captain, which opened the same weekend.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)