Thursday, June 30, 2005

Holy Man on DVD with English subs

The top box-office-earning Thai film, The Holy Man, is now out on DVD, and it has English subs. So now everybody can see what all the excitement about this comedy is about.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Batman's Thai connection

Look close at Batman Begins, and you probably still won't pick up on the fact that the stuntmen are Thai. But they are.

They're part of a team led by Kavi "Seng" Sirikanaerat, who learned his stunt chops under the tutelage of veteran Thai director and stunt coordinator Panna Ritthakai, who's made his mark directing the action for Ong-Bak and with his own Born to Fight.

Other films he's worked on include Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2, in which he was a bad guy crushed to death by a giant pillar in an aquatic city. "The earth splits and the roof crumbles," he told the Bangkok Post recently. "It's quite a death, isn't it?"

In addition to Tomb Raider, he and his team have worked with Hollywood productions in Thailand like Alexander, The Beach and Tomorrow Never Dies. Sometimes they are contracted to fly to London soundstages to work in action scenes, like in Batman Begins.

"They're in the early scene when Christian Bale [playing Bruce Wayne/Batman] fist-fights a horde of inmates in the Chinese prison," Kavi told the Post's Kong Rithdee. "I didn't accompany them because I was working on something else at that time," he said, referring to the TV commercials for Visa card, that spot with a tuk-tuk and Pierce Brosnan.

At 37, the Khon Kaen native now prefers to choreograph the moves and supervise the team. He continues to assist Panna in Thai productions, but also works on his own, getting kicked and crushed and bashed in everything from Hong Kong gangster yarns to Bollywood actioners and countless American, Australian and Korean movies and teleplays.

"Once Hong Kong was the centre of fine stunt work, but I believe our Thai stunts have made quite a reputation to international producers lately," Kawee told the Post. "The strength of Thai stunts are our versatility. Each of us can perform everything from muay thai to kung fu, from sling shots to falling-from-a-cliff shots _ we offer it all in the package.

"Besides, foreign producers like us not just because of our skills, but because we work hard and do not complain. We're ready to try new things and to co-operate with them in any way they want. At the same time, perhaps the Hong Kong-style action is fading out. All these are factors why even Hollywood comes to us."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Woo Who?

John Woo's been taking a few hits, specifically at Kaiju Shakedown and Twitch, for the number of projects he's announced but never seems to get started on.

Seems Woo's producer, Terence Chang, is tired of waiting for Woo to get something started, too. Kaiju Shakedown reports that Chang, who produced the Woo-like (but not Woo-directed) Bulletproof Monk, is signed on to produce a Thai film called Detour. What's Thai about it, I have yet to determine, as the director is Chinese-American photographer and short-film director Alexi Tan. It'll be Tan's first feature.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thai horror in Montreal

Twitch is delighted to report on Montreal's Fantasia Festival, which will feature three Thai horror films among its impressive roster of Asian movies.

At the Montreal Fest are Paul Spurrier's P; the photographic thriller Shutter; and the based-on-a-true story serial killer drama, Zee-Oui.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

King of the White Elephant, Boat House up for restoration

Good news from the Bangkok Post and The Nation: Two old Thai films, King of the White Elephant from 1941 and 1962's The Boat House, are the first two films chosen for a restoration project launched by Ministry of Culture, which is cooperating with Technicolor (Thailand), a division of Thomson Group.

King of the White Elephant, or Phra Chao Chang Pheuak, is the only pre-World War II Thai film to survive in its complete form. Produced by Pridi Banomyong, minister of finance and ambassador to France, the story was set against the backdrop of hostilities between Siam's realm of Ayutthaya and Burma. An English-language film, it carried a message of peace to demonstrate Thailand's neutral stance during the war.

The Japanese invaded Thailand later in 1941, and the government, led by Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, signed a treaty with Japan and turned the Thai film industry toward making propaganda movies that whipped up nationalist fervor.

The Boat House, or Reun Pae, is a Thai-Hong Kong co-production and starred Chaiya Suriyan and Sor Assanachinda. Its theme song, "Reun Pae" by Charin Nanthanakorn, was a hit in its day and remains well known. Can't find anything about what it's about, but probably, as with a lot of Thai films from that era, it contained everything anyone would want -- action, romance, comedy, drama and music.

''These films were chosen as their original negatives have been lost,'' Dome Sukwong, archivist for the National Film Archive, told the Post. ''A few years ago, the archive was able to obtain a good print of The Boat House -- good enough to allow Technicolor (Thailand) to make a duplicate negative as preservation material to replace the copy we have.''

For The King of the White Elephant, whose original negative was destroyed during World War II, the archive was able to get a 35mm duplicate from a 16mm copy borrowed from the Library of Congress in the US. ''The 35mm copy has some sound and other problems which Technicolor (Thailand) will correct,'' Dome said.

After it is restored, King of the White Elephant will be screened publicly for the first time in more than 60 years on August 16 to celebrate Thai Peace Day, the 60th anniversary of the Free Thai Movement headed by Pridi.

Dome and his National Film Archive receive Bt3 million a year for restoration work, but there are several hundred damaged films to be restored and only three staff working on restoration and preservation with outdated equipment.

"The Film Archive is like a hospital that receives a lot of patients but has no one to foot the bill, because everybody assumes it should be the government's responsibility. I hope this pioneer project will inspire other private film companies to work with us," Dome told The Nation.

Paul Stambaugh, managing director of Technicolor (Thailand), told the Post that preserving film heritage should be a combined effort of the government and private sectors. ''Film-makers should contribute to their own industry, and the government should also add some support.''

"I have a natural love of film preservation and have worked in this field for the company for 10 years. It was one of my goals to get involved with the national archive. As a motion-picture company, I think we have an obligation to help," Stambaugh told The Nation.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mid-year woes for Thai cinema

Mid-year finds the local press looking at the state of the Thai film industry and lamenting on the poor box-office showing of The Tin Mine, which was much anticipated by critics and fans of Thai cinema, and the overwhelmingly dominant showing of the low-budget comedy, The Holy Man.

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee must be livid, as he writes:

It's interesting to compare notes between The Tin Mine and another movie "with a message", The Overture. That movie, about a traditional Thai musician released last year, initially suffered a trifling box office receipt but orchestrated a stunning turnaround when the theme of nationalism, finding its metaphor in the dying art of traditional music, was pushed to the fore. The Ministry of Culture even came out to endorse it. Thus cinema may generally be a liberal art, but it seems that in Thailand it's often a tool of conservatism -- and nationalism, often blind and shallow, is now a trump card when a Thai movie labours to find a valid "message". In their last bid, the backers of The Tin Mine tried to rally support in the similar vein of The Overture, but without the goosebump-inducing sensation of "Thai culture" the audience didn't buy it.

The Tin Mine's poor reception will affect the course of Thai movies of the next 12 months in a significant way. Hard as it already is for directors to pitch their content-based projects, the situation will get even more sticky for them. We'll definitely see more ghost movies and comedies, surefire formulas for quick cash -- and though that's not a bad thing in itself it means the industry will have to forfeit the merit of variety. Much effort will be spent on creating the "image" of movies rather than on the movies themselves. And even if studio bigshots maintain an inkling of faith that a well-meaning film, perhaps with a subject matter that's not entire appealing to the masses, is still worth making, The Tin Mine's flop has heavily eroded that belief.

Playing into that hand is the fact that the top-grossing movie of the year so far is the B-grade slapstick Luang Pee Teng [The Holy Man]. An OK movie in its own fashion, the film's now beaming in the top-5 list of the country's all-time highest earners, and that confirms the truth that in Thailand the function of art is still purely to entertain. For artists who believe otherwise, they'll have to bite their lips and go back to toil hard labour in their own creative tin mine. Perhaps idealism has stopped working both on and off the silver screen.

The Nation's Parinyaporn Pajee writes further, about about The Tin Mine vs The Holy Man, interviewing producer Visute Poolvoralak (Fan Chan, Shutter), who says the failure of The Tin Mine has made him realize that Thai audiences are not all that hungry for well-made productions with a social or moral message. They prefer simply, easy-to-digest entertainment.

"It's a good movie and appeals to a small group of people, but that's too small to cover the expenses. We can't change the opinion of the majority. It's more logical to go for mainstream movies with improved quality than for art movies without an audience."

The romantic comedy-drama, Cherm (Midnight, My Love) surprised naysayers by generating Bt35.6 million, more than anyone thought it would make. Traditionally, Thai romances fare poorly at the local box office.

"The superstars [comedian "Mum Jokmok" Phetchthai Wongkumlao and TV soap actress Worranuch Wongsawan] attracted a much larger audience to this slow-paced movie," Visute told the Nation.

Meanwhile, directors Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng, are seeking greener pastures by obtaining foreign backing for their films and aiming them for the international market.

Pen-ek is working on Invisible Waves, in which he reteams with his Last Life in the Universe team of star Tadanobu Asano and cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Korean actress Kang Hye-Yang and Hong Kong funnyman Eric Tsang co-star.

Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog's Wisit is due to announce a new project that will be backed by Thailand's Five Star Productions and Luc Besson's Europa studio.

Top 10 Thai Films at the Box Office - Mid-year 2005
  1. Luang Phee Theng (The Holy Man) Bt141 million
  2. Buppha Rahtree Phase 2 (Rahtree Returns) Bt72 million
  3. Jom Khamungwej (Necromancer) Bt40 million
  4. Prajanban 2 (Seven Street Fighters) Bt36.5 million
  5. Cherm (Midnight My Love) Bt35.6 million
  6. Er Rer (Beautiful, Wonderful, Perfect) Bt31 million
  7. Jee (Andaman Girl) Bt27 million
  8. Muang Rae (The Tin Mine) Bt25 million
  9. The Mia (The Bullet Wives) Bt11.2 million
  10. Sum Mue Peun (Hitman File) Bt9.5 million
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thai martial arts onslaught

With the worldwide success of Ong-Bak and the anticipation of Tom Yum Goong, the Thai film industry is rubbing its hands together and is making more martial arts films -- a change of pace from the nationalistic epics, comic transvestites and scary horror, reports

Tony Jaa already has a followup in the works, Phraya Phichai Dab Hak (aka Sword) and there's also Nai Thongdee Fun Khao. Based on actual heroes in Thai history, both films will incorporate traditional two-handed Thai swordfighting in the style of Zhang Yimou�s Hero.

Tony's contemporary, "Dan" Chupong Changprung, who made his name in Panna Rittakai's Born to Fight, will team up with director Chalerm Wongphim (Seven Street Fighters) for a remake of Tabanfai Talaiphlerng. Its new version will highlight the old style of Thai action in a modern way.

Dan was also reported to star in The Queens of Pattani, the upcoming historical epic by Nonzee Nimibutr.

Beautiful Boxer star Assanee Suwan and Ai-Fak leading man Pitisak Yaowananond are undergoing training to star in Sword & Spirit, slated for release in 2006. Beautiful Boxer director, Ekachai Uekrongtham, will direct.

Already in and out of local cinemas was Bullet Wives, by Goal Club director Kittikorn Leosakul. In that one, top Thai models and actresses faced each other off in an orgy of gun-fu violence.

Director Poj Arnon (Spicy Beauty Queens) is planning a comedy in the style of Charlie's Angels entitled Chailai, or Iron Petals, with folk singer Jintara Poonlab and model-actress Bongkot Kongmalai in the cast.

Worawit Phong-in, the son of a famous comedian-director Note Chernyim (Holy Man) will co-direct a female gangster flick Bangkok Jone (Bangkok Thieves) with his friends Worawut Chuanyoo, Sophon Nim-anong, and Patipan Khotchasan.

And veteran director Manop Udomdej (The Macabre Case of Prom Pirom) is trying his new project on a woman action fantasy Vanquisher, in which half angel, half slayer Mayulin Ulai is summoned to free Bangkok from the grip of the Ice Man. This looks cool.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thai actor gets his Visa

From bit parts on Thai TV, Vichai Jongprasitporn has gone to hobnobbing with international film stars and flying first class – though it’s taken a while for people to believe his adventures are real.

So goes the recent profile in The Nation on Vichai, the spiky-haired actor from the Asian Visa card commercials.

In the first one, he portrayed a tuk-tuk driver who picked up Pierce Brosnan and ferried him across traffic-choked Bangkok in an adventurous fashion to make sure the 007 actor made his date on time with Zhang Ziyi. At the end of the spot, Vichai's ride collapsed in a heap, only to have Brosnan flip him his Visa card. Vichai then turned up with a vastly improved, tricked-out tuk-tuk.

The clever tuk-tuk commercial appeared throughout the Asia-Pacific and was voted among the top 10 most popular television commercials for the year in Thailand and won an award in Hong Kong.

But most of Vichai's friends did not believe Vichai actually acted with Brosnan, nor that Brosnan and Zhang were actually in Bangkok, figuring it was all a bit of movie-making magic.

Now he's in a new commercial that stars Catherine Zeta-Jones. Vichai is driving a jeep, taking the Welsh beauty on a safari through a Malaysian jungle.

Both actors are upstaged by an orangutan, who creates a diversion to stop the jeep while the primate's friends steal Zeta-Jones's luggage. She responds by arranging for a truckload of bananas to be delivered (with the help of her Visa card, of course) to get her luggage returned.

In making the commercial, Visa treated Vichai like a king.

"I was much more excited about it than I was the first time," he told The Nation. "They flew me first class on Thai Airways and put me up in a five-star hotel. I had a personal translator. And I received a six-digit payment that was twice what they paid me last time."

Also, his friends -- and more importantly, TV and film casting directors -- now believe him.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

3rd World Film Festival

Hard on the heels of the Pusan film festival is the World Film Festival of Bangkok, from October 15-24. This pretty much ensures I won't be able to attend the Korean event. I probably couldn't afford it anyway.

As part of the 3rd World Film Festival, organizers have invited 14 filmmakers to produce short films to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Filmmakers who have been invited are Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lek Manont, Navarat Tharavanij, Pimpaka Towira, Pipope Panitchpakdi, Pramote Sangsorn, Santi Taepanich, Somkid Thamniamdi, Sompot Chidgasornpongs, Suchada Siritanawat, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Christelle Lheureux, Folke Rydn, Margaret Bong and Chew Jen.

They have been asked to create a piece of imaginative art inspired by the tragic incident. Each filmmaker can visit any province in the South of Thailand that was affected by the tsunami, but only five days are allowed for shooting. The work must be produced in a form of digital video of 7-15 minutes in length and the filmmakers must send their work to Office of Contemporary Art and Culture by August 30, 2005.

The films will be premiered at the festival.

Other highlights include a retrospective on Roman Polanski, who has been invited to attend, with no expenses spared to make sure the controversial director will be comfortable and happy during his stay in Bangkok.

In conjunction with the festival, there will be a competition for independent filmmakers from selected Asian countries to win a trip to Nantes, France to attend a workshop on how to raise funds from Europe for filmmaking. Invitations to join have been extended to filmmakers from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes )

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Ratana Pestonji films at Pusan

Not long ago, I was wondering if I would ever get to see some films by the late, great Ratana Pestonji, cited by Tears of the Black Tiger's Wisit Sasanatieng as a major influence.

Now, it appears, I will need to book a flight to Korea, where four of his films will be shown at the Pusan International Film Festival, October 6 to 14, according to The Nation.

His 1958 film Sawan Mued (Dark Heaven) will screen in the Asian Pantheon with 30 classics from 17 countries. The Asian Auteur category will showcase three others: Rongraem Narok, or Country Hotel, from 1957, Phrae Dum (Black Silk) from 1961 and Numtaan Mai Waan (Sugar is not Sweet) from 1965.

His works will be shown alongside films by Iran’s Sohrab Shahid Saless and Teguh Karya from Indonesia. There will also be "little-known gems" from Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Syria and Mongolia.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Ong-Bak DVD, Tom Yum Goong updates

Bunch of news from a recent look at Twitch:
  • The Tum Yum Goong website has been updated and has all kinds of good stuff, including a gallery of stills from the upcoming film.
  • Ong-Bak is due out on Region 1 DVD with English subtitles on August 30. It'll be the first time a licensed DVD with English subs will be available. Extras include Tony Jaa appearances in France and at a NBA game and a video promo by the RZA. Now if only the RZA had done the music instead of the French techno that Luc Besson added to the film when he bought the rights and distributed it in the West. It's his edit they are putting on the DVD. One company, according to Twitch, offers a workaround solution -- a two-disc set with the Besson cut AND the Thai original.
  • Tom Yum Goong trading cards are being made available from a Thai company called Best Boy. The trading-card news, by the way comes courtesy of Goro's Asian Movies and Stuff.
  • More merchandising: Goro says there will be a Tom Yum Goong video game, attributed to
  • And, Hong Kong is ticked off at the Thais for stealing their thunder in the martial arts film world. The new Donnie Yen movie, Sha Po Lang, will be a back-to-basics actioner that "will make people forget Ong-Bak, Gojo reports, attributing
  • Back at Twitch, Mono Films has some trailers for three of its films: the supernatural crime thriller Tiger Blade; a jungle horror flick, Vengeance; and the sword and sorcery epic, The Legend of Sudsakorn, starring Fan Chan's Charlie Trairat. The trailer links are a good service, because the Mono Film website itself is an annoying, music-filled, flash-laden nowhereville. I gave up on it before I could find the trailers there myself.
  • Tom Yum Goong posters, which Twitch noticed at KungFuCult Cinema. They are hanging around Bangkok now, too. Really looking forward to August 10!
( Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes )

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Mining the Tin Mine

There's a new English-language daily newspaper in Thailand. It's called ThaiDay (no website, yet) and is inserted in the Thailand editions of the International Herald Tribune. While scanning their pages recently I came across this item:

After watching the recently released Muang Rae (The Tin Mine) twice, Tuenjai Deetes, a senator from Chiang Rai, spoke to director Jira Maligool about way to better promote [his] film. Despite critical acclaim, The Tin Mine has been a commercial failure. Tuenjai suggested the director ask Prime Minister Thaksin to create a fund to support Thai films. The senator said quality films need government support and encouraged young people to see the adaptation of novelist Ajin Panjapan's real-life story.

I have mixed feelings about this. First, I'm encouraged that a senator is speaking up about the film, and that he's actually seen the movie not just once, but twice.

Really, it's a beautiful film, but probably there's not enough slapstick (even though there's some) or horror (even though there's a little bit) or action (there's a tiny bit) for local audiences.

From its beautiful look, which was emphasised in the previews, I think local audiences got the sense that it was an art film and decided to steer clear.

You see, films in Thailand are still viewed as merely entertainment -- nothing to be taken seriously, and certainly not art to be appreciated or even discussed. Watch it, forget it, throw it away, on to the next trendy thing.

This is why classic Thai films from the 1950s are practically non existent, and films from the 1970s, even the 80s and early 90s, are in danger of disappearing forever.

Yes, by all means, create a fund to support Thai films -- and concentrate first on saving the ones we have already and bring them back into the world public's consciousness.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)