Friday, February 18, 2005

Overture over Miami

Audiences at the recent Miami Film Festival had a hard time deciding what they liked most, so The Overture took a three-way tie with audience pick for best dramatic feature prize shared with The Edukators (Germany) and Red Dust (South Africa), according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bangkok Critics pick Overture

The Bangkok Critics Assembly played it safe and awarded The Overture five awards, adding to the accolades already heaped upon it by the Thailand National Film Awards.

Directed by Itthisunthorn Wichailak, the prizes included Best Picture and Best Director. "I was fortunate to have such perfect cast members. Without them, the film would not have won these awards," Itthisunthorn was quoted as saying in The Nation.

Other nominees, according to the Bangkok Post, were the horror box-office topper, Shutter, the historical drama Siam Renaissance, the surreal romantic comedy Citizen Dog and the sharp-edged social critique Ai-Fak (The Judgement).

The Overture marked a successful return to the Thai film industry for Itthisunthorn, who last directed a film in 1993, Look Bah Thiao Laa Sud (The Latest Momentum of Madness), which won four awards from the Bangkok Critics Assembly including Best Film and Best Director.

The Overture also won for Best Supporting Actor, Best Score and Best Editing, almost half of the 11 awards presented by the assembly, which was established in 1990.

"I wish to dedicate this award to Khun Duangkamol Limcharoen [the respected late film producer] who should be credited for making this project possible," Nonzee Nimibutr, a veteran filmmaker who produced The Overture, was quoted as saying in The Nation.

The Best Supporting Actor award went to Pongpat Wachirabunchong, who portrayed an overbearing military officer in The Overture.

Best Actor and Best Actress awards repeated the National Film Awards - Pitisak Yaowananon won for Ai-Fak and Ann Thongprasom won for The Letter.

The Best Supporting Actress award went to Jarunee Boonlek for her portrayal of a Karen maid in the slapstick spy spoof, Jaew (M.A.I.D).

The best screenplay award went to Ai-Fak screenwriter Somkiat Wituranich, whose script is an adaptation of the Seawrite Award-winning novel Kam Pipaksaka by Chart Kobjitti.

Three other nominees wrote original screenplays: Yuthlert Sippapak for Sai Lor Fah, Wisit Sasanatieng for Citizen Dog, and Itthisunthorn Wichailuck for The Overture. Kongdej Jaturanrasamee's script for The Letter was an an adaptation of a Korean film.

According to the Post, an issue has been raised among observers about whether it's time to break down the screenplay division into original and adapted screenplay awards, to recognise the demands of the two approaches

Two technical awards, best art direction and best cinematography, went to the expensive Siam Renaissance, a revisionist historical tale about Western colonisation during the reign of King Rama V.

The Assembly also honored veteran comedian Prachuab Ruekngamdee, presenting him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. According to the Post, Prachuab is a perennial supporting actor who has appeared in nearly 100 films since the 1960s.

To the surprise of many, the Post's Kong Rithdee points out, Apichatpong Tropical Malady, an arthouse favourite that has won recognition from film festivals abroad, was not nominated in any of the categories.

The popcorn favorite, Shutter, helmed by two young directors Pakpoom Wongpoom and Banjong Pisanthanakul, missed out in all six categories in which it was nominated, but received a special mention by HBO as the biggest Thai box-office earner of 2004.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Pen Ek's Invisible Waves

No Thai films at this year's Berlin Film Festival. However, there was some activity at a sidebar film market, reports IndieWire. Palm Pictures will release Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves, which is due out sometime later this year.

Produced by Fortissimo Films, along with CineAsia and Five Star, this is the followup to Last Life in the Universe. It's another collaboration with writer Prabda Yoon, will again feature the lenswork of Christopher Doyle and will have Japan's Tadanobu Asano (Last Life, Zatochi, Ichi the Killer) in the cast, with Korea's Gang Hye Jung (Old Boy) starring opposite, according to Twitch.

Not much else on what the film is about, though Pen-Ek goes on at length about the state of the Thai film industry and why he's going for a more pan-Asian flavor in this interview by Aditya Assarat:.

AA: What do you think of the present Thai film industry?

PR: Well, a lot of films are going to go bust. It's the same in every industry, film or real estate or what not.

AA: So we're in a film bubble economy?

PR: Yes. It's like real estate. The craze is pushing everything out of proportion. People are calling this the golden age of Thai film and its bullshit. A few years ago people would call me up to give me money to make films and I would ask them, "well what do you do?" and they would be like the owner of a sausage factory. And why would they want to make films? They see the big films that make money but they don't hear of the other hundred that lose money. So first I tell them well you're calling the wrong guy. Go do some research first. But I never take their money because they don't have any idea what they're getting in to. That's not business - it's just gambling. They're throwing money at one racehorse and wait to see if it hits. And I think that's very destructive for the industry as a whole.

AA: Most of our films lose money. How do we fix the system? How do we improve our industry?

PR: Easy. But like everything else in Thailand, nobody will be able to do it. If you look at our industry, every position, from directors to actors all the way down to grips and coffee boys and everybody, we only have the personnel to make 10 films a year [in 2003 Thailand produced approximately 50 feature films]. If we take these people and make just 10 films a year, they'll be of a certain quality, and maybe three or four will be outstanding. But the standard will improve, commercially and artistically. Maybe if we're really greedy, we can squeeze 20 films out of these people. And I'm not only talking about the production people - I'm talking about the marketing, sales, all those people who must understand the business of movies. I think if we can stick to 10 quality films a year that should be our goal. But like anything, the success of the film industry doesn't rely only on the producers but also the audience. We first have to build up faith in our work. We have to build faith in the audience, that they can pay money for our products and not come out of the theater disappointed. The other problem is that we don't yet know who we are. Thai films cannot figure out their own identity yet.

AA: So what path should we take?

PR: I'm not sure either. But I always say films like Mekhong Full Moon Party or Fan Chan or Monrak, these films should not be labeled as outstanding films. If we really had a healthy industry, these three films would be considered standard films. Good films but not these wonderful achievements that people make them out to be. But currently these films are singled out for praise. Why? Not because the filmmakers are any better but because they put more care and thought and discipline to the job at hand. These are the kinds of commercial films that should be our base. The Thai industry doesn't need people like me or Joe, it needs people to make quality commercial films.

AA: Yes, I think that there will always be Thai art-house films. I don't think Pen-ek or Apichatpong will disappear because they represent a distinct voice. The danger lies in our commercial side because those films are competing directly with Hollywood movies.

PR: I have a secret hope that Thai films will go back to a time when we made 10 quality films a year. Hub-Ho-Hin is a company that's making quality commercial films. Yuthlert [Sippapak (February, Buppha Rahtree)] is making quality commercial films. It's my hope that the Thai industry will have a few more of these people who know what they're doing, care about what they're doing. In the old days, in the 70s, we had a good period where people like Than Mui [Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol], Cherd Songsri, Piak Poster, Manop Udomdej, were all making interesting auteur films - similar to the 70s in America. And then it disappeared. I hope that we can get back to that kind of environment again with movies like Mekhong, Fan Chan, Monrak as our standard films.

AA: And lastly, getting back to your new film, Invisible Waves, I'm wondering how you're going to continue to explore delicate emotions within the confines of the film noir genre.

PR: Yeah, I'm wondering that too.

Invisible Waves has been tapped for "presentation" along with 27 other working titles at the upcoming Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum to be held March 22-24 at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, according to Kung Fu Cult Cinema.

Other films vying for funding at HAF include The Coffin, by Beautiful Boxer's Ekachai Uekrongtham (produced by Pantham Thongsang) and The Tin Mine (Meung Rae), by Jira Maligool (Mekhong Full Moon Party). There's been some discussion about Jira's film on the Spotlight on Thai Cinema.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Asian films at Rotterdam

The Village Voice's Dennis Lim follows up on the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which featured a slough of Southeast Asian films this year.

Keenly anticipated among trend-chasers, the Southeast Asian focus was more than a little spotty, though there's no denying the uptick in independent-minded activity in the area, on the fringes of film industries that not long ago were dormant to nonexistent. Quintessentially Rotterdamian specimens included Thai youth-culture chronicler Thunska Pansittivorakul (Happy Berry) and Filipino mondo terrorizer Khavn, whose "brown comedy" The Family That Eats Soil seemed to be a fast-forward favorite at the festival's video library. Much slicker, Filipino American two-man crew Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon's brilliantly resourceful Cavite (made for little more than the cost of two plane tickets to Manila) uses a wireless, real-time ransom countdown to orchestrate a stricken tour through the slums just outside Manila.

With Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul having graduated to art-house stars (and a next wave yet to fill the void), the regional buzz has migrated somewhat to Malaysia, home to a small, close-knit group of emerging filmmakers. James Lee (The Beautiful Washing Machine) and Ho Yu-hang (Sanctuary) practice a wry, oblique minimalism derived from Malaysian-born Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang. Their cohort Amir Muhammad is a wholly distinctive voice in Southeast Asian movies. Essayist, activist, and sociologist all in one, he deploys whimsical humor and sharp analysis to hack away at the contradictions and willed amnesia endemic to Malaysian culture and politics (as in his '04 Sundance entry The Big Durian). At Rotterdam, he premiered two records of trips abroad: the experimental tone poem Tokyo Magic Hour and The Year of Living Vicariously, a digressive meditation on rebellion and nationalism in the guise of a making-of doc, shot on the Jakarta set of a period biopic, against the backdrop of Indonesia's first direct presidential elections.

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee recently returned and found plenty to learn from (temporary link). He points out that the focus on Southeast Asian films paints a picture that isn't exactly clear.

Rotterdam's selections, adventurous and open-minded, juxtaposed the various sensibilities of this multi-ethnic region and suggested one vibrant, happening cinema scene. For us Thais, it reminds us how little we know or care about the cinematic traditions of our neighbouring cultures _ and one can't help wondering if Bangkok, looked up to by other [Southeast Asian] nations as a leading force in the region's cinematic revival, shouldn't take up a more central role in gathering Asean filmmakers and save us all the trouble of flying to Europe to see Filipino indie flicks or Indonesian shorts.

"Our 'SEA Eyes' section was motivated by two different things, one positive and one negative,'' said Gertjan Zuilhof, a festival programmer who toured this corner of Asia last year looking for movies.

"The positive impulse came from several films by directors who're still not well-known enough [though they deserve to be], and the negative motivation is related to [the fact that] even though Rotterdam has a name to defend in the field of screening important Asian cinema, it happens that part of Asia, the tropical part, has always remained underrepresented.''

Perhaps not Thailand though. At least one Thai movie has travelled to this Dutch cinefest every year since 1999; and in the recent episode a record eight Siamese titles joined the panoply.

Leading the pack were two hot-iron pictures from last year: the brooding man-tiger meditation Tropical Malady by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and the patriotic xylophone flick The Overture, by Itthisunthorn Wichailuck (Apichatpong's The Adventure of Iron Pussy was also picked). Meanwhile Ekachai Uekrongtham's gender-shifting Beautiful Boxer once again proved itself an irresistible crowd-pleaser, ranked 12th in the audience poll that rated 190 feature films.

But Rotterdam's reputation comes largely from its ardent support of independent movies, and two Thai indie fares of 2004 that hardly any Thais have seen secured their slots in the fest's busy schedules: Birth of the Seanema, by Sasithorn Ariyawicha, and the funky Happy Berry by Thunska Pornsittivorakul, both emblematic of made-on-the-fringe Thai movies done with petty money and progressive thinking. And beside feature films, eight short movies by young Thai directors were also selected into the festival's sidebar section.

Short films indeed constituted the majority of the SEA Eyes programme, and that reflects the common situation in all Asean countries where there's no solid structure to encourage the making of 90-minute artistic films. The mainstream film industry of, say, Malaysia or the Philippines is made up largely of sticky melodramas and homespun comedies with low standards of production. And the burgeoning, more "sophisticated" film culture of the region is brewed up henceforth by a slate of upcoming New Wave directors who scrape money up from wherever they can get their hands on it. Sure enough, they make movies that are less popular yet much more ambitious.

Following the lead of the Thai talents, the Malaysian indie filmmakers have squeezed themselves into the possible Next-Big-Thing checklist of global critics.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Sun sets on Tony Jaa

Tony Jaa is continuing his tour of the US to promote Ong-Bak and was recently in the Washington-Baltimore area. He spoke to the Baltimore Sun.

One film into his career, and Thai actor Tony Jaa is being compared to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. That's heady company for an actor looking to specialize in martial-arts films, but Jaa isn't quite ready to embrace the hype.

"In terms of replacing Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Jet Li, I would never consider that," Jaa says through an interpreter. "They are my mentors, and my masters."

But if Jaa isn't ready to proclaim himself the new martial arts superstar, plenty of other people are. Fan Web sites have been abuzz about his film, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, since it was released in Asia and Europe two years ago; at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival, audience members were so adrenalized by the movie, according to The New York Times, that they didn't want to leave the theater.

Last week, Time magazine jumped on the bandwagon, with film critic Richard Corliss proclaiming that the martial-arts genre "needs another hero, and Jaa is the fellow to fill the void."

In person, Jaa appears not menacing, but rather thoughtful and consistently self-effacing. ("To be humble and to have humility is part of being a Thai person," he says.) Dressed casually in a well-worn black leather jacket, white shirt and blue jeans, he steers the conversation away from himself and toward the discipline he loves.

Jaa sees himself not as a movie star (though he's wanted to be one since he was a kid), or even as an acknowledged expert in the martial art of Muay Thai, a combination of kung-fu and street brawling. Rather, he sees himself as an emissary for both the Thai film industry and his chosen discipline.

If Ong-Bak - in which his mission is to bring back a stolen Buddha the inhabitants of his remote village believe protects them - helps him spread the word, then he will have chosen his profession well.

"I wanted to make movies first, mainly to show people the beauty of martial arts," says Jaa, 28. "I wanted to be able to show Muay Thai as an art, not just a sport. ... To have it be successful in Thailand was my goal. To have it be successful in Asia and Europe, and now here, makes me very proud."

Born in the rural province of Surin in northeastern Thailand, Jaa (given name Phanom Yeerum) is the third of four children. His parents were subsistence farmers, raising enough food for themselves and their family. The movies offered him a chance for escape.

"I've loved the martial arts since I was a kid," he says, "and I would love to go watch martial arts movies. ... I would travel 10 kilometers just to watch a film."

At age 10, he began learning the basics of Muay Thai from his father. Over the years, he learned from various masters and attended schools around the country, perfecting his skills and heightening his resolve to spread the word.

Ong-Bak proves the worth of all those labors; Jaa's character, Ting, is a martial-arts master unlike any the screen has seen before. Though, in true martial arts tradition, he is reluctant to use his fighting skills on others, when attacked, he turns into a dervish of pent-up fury that comes pouring out in every blow, whether they come courtesy of his feet, arms, hands, legs, even elbows. One of Ting's favorite moves involves flying at one of his attackers, using his elbows and forearms to land a haymaker that would do Hulk Hogan proud.

His preparation for Ong-Bak, Jaa says matter-of-factly, took nearly eight years, during which he studied, practiced, competed and put on exhibitions.

"It was something that I had dreamt of," he says, "to get Thai people to come back to their roots and learn about Muay Thai more, to learn about it as a sport. I think I succeeded."

And yet, Jaa clearly enjoys being a movie star. He's obviously studied those who came before him; he does dead-on impersonations of their facial expressions and hand gestures when talking about his influences.

"From Bruce Lee, I get his steeliness," Jaa says. "From Jackie Chan, I get his moves, his agility. From Jet Li, I get his swiftness and grace. I combine these things with my Muay Thai skills and put them to work."

Although its makers promise no camera tricks or special effects were used to make it, some of the moves Ong-Bak preserves on film are hard to believe, as when Jaa's character runs through an alley and escapes some would-be captors by running atop their heads and shoulders. Or when, pants literally ablaze, he attacks another would-be captor.

"I was worried," he admits of the fire scene, "but it went well. I was more concentrated and focused on aiming at the target where I was supposed to hit my knee. What happened was, we were waiting for the camera to speed up, and my eyelashes got burnt. It kind of smelled."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Overture sweeps Subhannahongsa Awards

It might not win an Oscar, but The Overture is most definitely the most-loved film within Thailand.

At the local industry's Subhannahongsa Film Awards, the historical musical drama won seven trophies.

Directed by Ithisoonthorn Vichailuck, The Overture won for best picture, best director, best screenplay, best sound effects, best script and best cinematography. According to the Bangkok Post, it was nominated in all 14 categories.

Covering a period from the early 1900s to the 1940s, the film presented a view of Thai culture that the government seized upon as it was struggling to present a Thai identity to the world in the same year that a Thai film with gay theme, Tropical Malady, won a jury prize at Cannes. The Overture was also a hit with audiences, ranking third at the box office among the locally produced films. It also sparked a revival of traditional Thai classical music.

Other awards:

  • Best actor - Pidisak Yaovanaan, in Ai Fak (The Judgement). It was his debut film role and what one hell of job he did.
  • Best actress - Ann Thongprasom in The Letter, a tear-jerking remake of a Korean weeper.
  • Best supporting actor - Adul Dulyarat, a veteran of Thai stage and screen, for his role as the older Sorn in The Overture.
  • Best supporting actress - Singer Apaporn Nakhon Sawan in The Bodyguard. The No 2 Thai box office draw last year, the crime comedy was a star vehicle for Petchtai Wongkumla (aka Mum Jokmok), the comic relief in Ong-Bak.
  • Best visual effects - Rightly went to Wisit Sasanatieng's Citizen Dog (Mah Nakorn), easily the most visually stunning film of the year. Period. Credit though went to The Post Bangkok, a post-production house.

Adul Dulyarat said he was glad to win best supporting actor as it was the first acting award he had received in his long career, the Bangkok Post reported in a February 12 Society column recap of the awards. The 73-year-old actor previously won two best director awards for two TV dramas.

The Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand handed out the Lifetime Achievement Award to veteran director Cherd Songsri for his 40-year contribution to the industry. Among his films, considered classics in Thailand are Phlae Kao, Kwan Rak, Tawiphop and Kang Lan Phap. Chalie Intravichit, a veteran composer, read the citation for Cherd. The composer described a scene from the novel that inspired him to write the song Phlae Kao, which became a big hit, and added, "but someone was more capable than me -- he transformed a great novel into an impressive movie."

Cherd thanked colleagues for making his films possible.

Diagnosed with cancer, Cherd has written Kui Kab Kwam Tai, in which he reflects on his battle with the disease. The book has quickly become a best-seller.

Newcomer Pitisak Yaowananon beamed when he won best actor for his role of tragic hero in Ai-Fak.

"I was very surprised and excited to be nominated. It was something beyond my expectations -- like a dream," said the young actor. He added that he would put the golden bird statue under his pillow to make sure he wasn't simply dreaming.

Anne Thongprasom, who starred in the year's best love story, The Letter, picked up best actress award.

"At first I felt like the movie screen was not my place -- I normally appeared on the television screen. But since I have received such positive feedback from movie-goers and the media, the award makes me feel more confident and gives me encouragement to be in cinema."

The actress urged Thai people to support Thai movies. "I want all Thai people to support Thai movies. The Thai movie industry is getting better and there are many good movies out there to watch instead of international films."

More winners:
  • Best Original Score - Pongprom Sanitwong na Ayudhya for the historical serial killer thriller, Zee-Oui.
  • Best Original Song - "Mai Mee Chai Mai" by Chatchai Pongprapapan (The Letter).
  • Best Art Direction - Saksiri Chantharangi, The Siam Renaissance.
  • Best Costume Design - Theerapan Changcharoen, Toskorn Trakulpadejkrai, The Siam Renaissance.
  • Best Make Up - Adij Yiamchawee, SARS Wars.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Review: Bangkok Loco

  • Directed by Phornchai Hongrathanaphorn
  • Starring Krissida Terrance, Nountaka Warawanitchanoun, Niphon Chaisirikul
  • Released in Thailand cinemas in 2004, DVD release in February 2005 (English subtitles, Region 3)
  • Rating: 3/5

Hoping to be for Thai rock drumming what Crossroads was for bubblegum blues guitar or Purple Rain was for bubblegum funk, Bangkok Loco involves a face-off between the God Drumming School and the Demon Drumming School.

But first, the chief contestant for the God drummers (Krissida Terrance) must elude the police because he's wanted for murder.

The comedy starts off promising, showing a shift back to the early 1980s from the present day with a montage of television sets and the content on the screen.

When it reaches the '80s, the first character on the screen is Narongrit Tosa-nga, better known as Khun In from The Overture, practicing his ranad-ek. But he can't concentrate, because his next-door neighbor in the incredibly funky apartment building is rock drummer Bae, who's flailing about, drumming on his set with jazzy abandon. Suddenly, blood and gore are everywhere and he's drumming with knifes, not drumsticks.

He comes out of his musical reverie and sees the horror - the horror - of what he's done, and takes off running around the incredibly fab and funky neighborhood while the opening credits are shown in various forms - on license plates, on signs, on the name tags of Siamese twin pad Thai vendors, etc. Loads of great visuals and energy. Oh, and there's an opening text role, a la Star Wars, spouting off some philosophical nonsense.

Bae is running to tell his lifelong friend, a cute girl named Don (Nountaka Warawanitchanoun), the story of how he found himself chopping a body into hamburger. Don, also a drummer, is in a rock band, and her bandmates don't believe Bae and want to call the police.

Bae takes off running again. And then the police show up, about a dozen boys in brown led by the Inspector Black Ears (surely a nod to Prince Chatrichalerm's Gunman, which had a police inspector nicknamed the Black Hand). All the cops somehow appear out of a little mini car. Black Ears (Niphon Chaisirikul), who has black ears, also has a sycophantic guy resting on his shoulder. Also, there's a small dog named Dumbass, who is told to track the criminals. The dog salutes and is off, running through the fab, funky neighborhood only to end up right next door to the crime scene. Hah. Later, for no apparent reason, they show the dog having intercourse with a Pekinese, with the penetration pixelated out.

Meanwhile, Bae and Don explain to the bandmates, Meow and Ohh (Nophadal Tavitumnusin and Pakapat Bunsomtom) that they studied at God Drumming School together as children. Flashback to a temple scene with an old drumming monk teaching the children on a set cobbled together from traditional drums. It's in black and white except for the children's yellow-black striped Bruce Lee Game of Death jumpsuits, which also reference Kill Bill.

The first God-Demon drumming duel is shown, with the Demon school represented by a guy who claims to be Ringo Starr. This is where the film started to lose me. Ringo as the Demon drummer? Not ready, steady Ringo. How about John Bonham or Keith Moon? Oh well, those guys I guess aren't as iconic as Ringo in his Beatles haircut and threads.

Somewhere in here, there's the first and best of three songs, a cool funk, drum-laden track, performed in a drained swimming pool.

Star Krissida Terrance, also known as Noi, is also the leader of an indie band called Pru. But this is the first time I've heard his singing voice. He was in Iron Pussy, but his real voice was not used. I must say, I don't like his singing. I find it too nasally and airy. The other two songs, one of which has lyrics that consist of La la la la la la la la la la, you get the idea, are pure saccarine. Stomach churning but cute.

The movie gets worse and worse, though it retains a really wonderful, vivid style throughout. Produced by RS Film, an arm of record company RS Promotions, it's best to look at this as one long music video. Or, best not look at all.

The story becomes incomprehensible as Bae and Don continue to elude the authorities and move closer and closer to their date with the Demon Drummer. The jokes get worse and worse. Inspector Black Ears is an annoyance, repeatedly trying to kick down doors that open to the outside. There is a very silly sex and drumming scene with Bae and Don. Also, while on the run, Bae meets up with a Thaksin Shinawatra lookalike and in a very Forrest Gump kind of way influences Thaksin to start the Thai Rak Thai party and become a mobile phone mogul.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Indiewire in Bangkok, Rotterdam

Indiewire is covering the film festivals. Wendy Mitchell was in Bangkok:

The best local production I saw was The Shutter, a scary thriller that spooked me senseless and had quite a few audience members shrieking out loud. It followed typical genre conventions but had enough smart twists to make it seem fresh. The story follows a young photographer who starts seeing strange images in his photos after he and his girlfriend are in an accident. The film's real-life inspirations from mysterious spirits showing up in amateur photos made it even scarier. No wonder it was the top-grossing film in Thailand last year. I was shocked to learn that such an accomplished debut was the work of two guys in their early 20s, Pakpoom Wongpoom and Bunjong Pisunthanagoon. Expect more great things from these two as they now pursue solo projects. And I'd also think a Western remake of this one is inevitable (rights still seem to be up for grabs).

Another Thai film I enjoyed immensely was Citizen Dog, from Tears of the Black Tiger director Wisit Sasanatieng. It was a quirky and fantastical light comedy about a country boy, Pod, who moves to Bangkok and falls in love with the maid in his office. It didn't have much depth, but its playful spirit made for a very entertaining ride.

In the Asean competition of films from Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. James Lee's The Beautiful Washing Machine from Malaysia, took top honors. I also heard good things about Minh Nguyen-Vo's Buffalo Boy and Thai drama The Letter by Phaoon Chandrasiri. I was less impressed with moralistic Thai film The Judgment and Homecoming, Gil Portes' melodramatic Philippine drama about a young woman whose village is threatened when she develops Sars.

There were a number of SARS films here -- the most fun was zombie flick Sars War. In the Thai Panorama section, I can't believe I sat through all of Art of the Devil, a cheesy thriller that wouldn't be out of place on Showtime at 3 a.m. One doc I saw, Yesterday Today Tomorrow, a Thai-Japanese coproduction, was a refreshingly lighthanded doc about people living with Aids in rural Thailand. It captured their everyday lives -- not the big moments we usually see on camera -- as they dealt with the disease.

Meanwhile, Stephen Garrett reports from Rotterdam.

A sidebar on South East Asian cinema was especially frustrating, with a slew of Malaysian movies that felt like warmed-over dramatic themes and formal montage strategies of social alienation from Tsai Ming-Liang and Hou Hsiao Hsien. Most promising of the lot was James Lee's The Beautiful Washing Machine, a marriage of wry humor with austere direction in its tale of a young man with a clothes washer that strangely takes human form in the shape of an attractive, silent woman fixated on cleaning.

The more interesting South East Asian films were genre-oriented, such as the omnibus Visits: Hungry Ghost Anthology. Lee is represented in this film as well, along with fellow directors Low Ngai Yen, Ng Tian Hann and Ho Yu-Hang, who each contribute to a quartet of horror stories that are admirably philosophical in their approach, minimizing schlock-shock moments and easy scares in favor of deeper ideas about social unease and haunting themes about human relationships.

Another genre-bending selection was The Adventure of Iron Pussy, a tongue-in-cheek satire of Thai melodramas and musicals starring an ass-kicking transvestite and co-directed by Michael Shaowanasai and Apichatong Weerasethakul (whose Tropical Malady couldn't be more different in style and substance).

And also surprisingly satisfying is the seedy thriller Cavite from American-Filipino directors Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon. The film, which follows in almost real-time the story of a young man blackmailed by an anonymous cell-phone caller into committing an act of terrorism, initially plays like a bad Joel Schumacher film set in Manila. But its insights into the Philippines' rampant poverty and desperation, as well as the twist of having a moderate Muslim forced by an Extremist Muslim into violent behavior, makes the movie and its climax a powerful commentary on the complexities of modern-day religious fundamentalism and socioeconomic despair.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Fipresci recaps Bangkok film fest

Fipresci, the International Federation of Film Critics, has posted its recap of the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival, spotlighting new directors, Citizen Dog, The Beautiful Washing Machine and The Letter. Most surprising is their take on The Letter, which is acknowledged for being the weepy melodrama that it is, but it is defended as being a very well made weepy melodrama.

( Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Cambodia film festival

Quick, book a ticket to Phnom Penh. Pookai Books reports that the 2nd Annual Cinema Cambodia Festival is going on this weekend at Pannasastra University in Phnom Penh.

Focusing on documentaries, among the highlights will be a screening of Fragile Hopes. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, the piece looks at survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime and their relationships with their children. It features the music of rapper Prach Ly.

The opening film is called Bookwars, by Jason Rosette, which takes a look at the lives of a group of used book sellers in New York City. Rosette will be on hand for a discussion.

There also will be a package of short films by Cambodian filmmakers.

Other films focus on Cambodia's culture:
  • Memm by Chuon Sarin explores the origins of the memm, an ancient Khmer musical instrument depicted on the walls of the Bayon Temple.
  • Cambodia's Dump Children by Katy Bullen is the story of the children living at Phnom Penh’s Municipal Waste Dump and one Cambodian man’s inspiring effort to help them.
  • The Moaning of Madam Kesany by Sann Thy focuses on a traditional Khmer singing style called “smote”. This type of singing is often sung at Cambodian religious festivals, including funerals.
  • Beauty of Cambodian Arts by Chuon Sarin examines the renaissance in Cambodian art forms and efforts at preservation.
  • Women and Education in Cambodian Society by Chhim Sundaly looks at the difficulties faced by young Cambodian women in trying to obtain an education.
  • The Khmer Rouge Rice Fields: The Story of Rape Survivor Tang Kim by Rachana Phat explores the story of Tang Kim and her decades-long struggle to come to terms with what happened to her during the Khmer Rouge regime.
There will also by a play called Like You, featuring the Life of Hope Improvisational Drama Group, about the difficulties and discrimination faced by disabled people in Cambodia.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Bang Rajan on DVD in UK

Kung Fu Cinema reports that the ultra-violent historical battle epic Bang Rajan is getting the royal treatment in a UK DVD release.

Directed by Thanit Jitnukul, the 2000 film is based on the true story of a small band of villagers who stood up to the armed might of the invading Burmese forces in 1765.

The two-disc Special Collector's Edition will be released by Premier Asia on February 28. Special features include dual language format (English dubbed and Thai language with re-mastered English subtitles); commentary by Asia film experts Bey Logan and Mike Leeder; "Walking Through History" featurette with Thanit Jitnukul; "Warrior Elite" – an interview with leading-man Winai Kraibutr: "The Power of One" – an interview with leading-man Jaran Ngamdee; "Daughter of Courage" – an exclusive interview with leading-lady, Bongkot Khongmalai; "Legend Re-born" – the making of Bang Rajan; "Impossible Dream" – a project retrospective with producer, Adirek "Uncle" Wattaleela and "Echoes of Battle" – a retrospective documentary, produced by Film Bangkok for the film's release.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Ong-Bak onslaught

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior opens across the US on Friday. Eclipse Magazine has a contest of some sort, giving away free passes in the Washington, DC, area. Also, more reviews are rolling in from various sources, including Counting Down and Film Jerk.

Meanwhile, Tony Jaa was seen at closing ceremonies for the recent Bangkok International Film Festival. He's okay. But the opening of the Ong-Bak followup, Tom Yum Goong, has still been put off, possibly until August.

And, according to the Ong-Bak official website, Tony and his team will be making appearances around the US in February and March to promote the film.

The website also has a testimony from the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA.

Additionally, trailers can be downloaded from Ultimate DVD.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)