Sunday, January 16, 2005

BKKIFF 2005 review: Malady Diary

  • Directed by Teekhadet Vucharadhanin
  • Starring Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Reviewed at the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival
  • Rating: 5/5

A documentary that should be a companion piece on the DVD reveals the how hard it is to be a working, independent filmmaker.

Self produced by Apichatpong Weerasethakul's aptly named Kick the Machine production marque, Malady Diary follows the talented Thai new wave director as he tries to make Tropical Malady, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 and has received accolades from critics worldwide for its revolution in storytelling. However, the film has been all but shunned in Thailand, where it received only limited screenings and is all the more conspicuous in its absence from the line-up of the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival, given that two other films that received prizes at Cannes - Palm d'Or winner Old Boy and Clean (best actress for Maggie Cheung) are in the main competition at BKKIFF.

Apichatpong, or Joei as his crew calls him, started out trying to make the film with money from Thai mainstream studio, Sahamongkol Film. But typical flakiness when it comes to business dealings in Thailand forced Joei to look for money elsewhere, in fact from a consortium of various European sources, which was a very difficult process as well. Once shooting Malady had started, it had to stop for a week because money didn't come from France.

But the project, planned as a sequel to Blissfully Yours (indeed, Malady was partly inspired by Joei's meeting a forest ranger during the making of the earlier film), almost didn't get off the ground at all. The documentary chronicles the crew brainstorming sessions. Joei had a vision, but without the funding, it would have to be scaled back -- no tiger, no dead cow.

Time was critical, because a crew was amassed, actors' schedules were tight and the foilage in the jungle was changing. Eventually, the project was abandoned and Apitchatpong went to work for Ray Productions to make The Adventure of Iron Pussy, a campy, low-budget farce which was co-directed with Michael Shaowanasai, who starred as a drag-queen secret agent.

However, Joei was considering making a zombie movie, Zombie Truck, possibly for Sahamongkol. Hey, I'd like to see that happen at some point.

The Iron Pussy out of his system, and the funds lined up to wrap the film, they started shooting. The documentary covers the first day of shooting (the tiger) and the last day of shooting (the dead or dying cow, which was a model with two guys underneath making it appear to breath).

Other elements to the admittedly serendipituous doc are wardrobe planning, with the cast members trying on outfits and a long interview with the two main actors.

Iron Pussy herself, in character as Michael Shaowanasai was on hand with the director of the documentary for a Q&A session. This revealed even more trouble. The doc wasn't included as a DVD extra because those rights went to European producers, which put their own extras on the disc (a puff-piece, glamorous look at Joei in Cannes, though there's also a Thai commentary track by Joei). The Europeans also did not permit their visits to be filmed for the documentary. So some pieces are missing. I detected some bitterness from Michael about the Europeans' involvement. And the big question: why was Tropical Malady itself not in the Bangkok film fest? That went unanswered.

I didn't come up with a question of my own until later. I wonder if a firm like the Criterion Collection could possible sort out all the rights issues and put together a comprehensive edition of Tropical Malady, with Malady Diary, as well as an English commentary track from Joei? I'd be one of the proud owners of that DVD if it existed.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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