Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Review: Country Hotel

  • Directed by Ratana Pestonji
  • Starring Chana Sri-Ubon, Surasit Sattayawong, Sarinthip Siriwan, Prajuab Reukyamdee
  • 1957, available on DVD with English subtitles from the Thai Film Foundation
  • Rating: 5/5

I've finally seen the spring from which Wisit Sasanatieng drank that inspired his Tears of the Black Tiger, and the water is very good indeed.

Not that Ratana Pestonji's Country Hotel is a great film, but it is a fun movie that offers rewards for repeat viewings, just to catch the nuances that I didn't think were possible. Overall, there's an elegant, understated style to this film that I find enjoyable.

Essentially, Country Hotel is a stage play, shot with one camera on a soundstage with one set - the inside of a ramshackle bar and guesthouse in suburban Bangkok.

The first hour is hilarious, pure comedy, with lots of music.

It opens with the camera panning around at various people in the bar. A musical soundtrack accompanies the scene - a solo trombone playing some bum notes. The then camera pans over to a corner of the bar, and there's actually a guy studiously playing solo trombone, badly. Meanwhile, there's a pair working on some music at the piano. The singer goes over to the trombonist and asks him to stop playing so he can practice. The guy then breaks out with some horrible, hoarse-sounding European opera, which drives the bar's one customer crazy.

The cavalcade of music hardly lets up. Just as the opera singer departs, a small marching band comes in blowing a Sousa march. A small brass band comes in with a pair of boxers and a boxing match (where the opponents let each other hit them with one punch in turn until one passes out) is held. In the morning, there's shrill Chinese opera. And a guitar-strumming Filipina stops by to sing a beautiful ballad.

The bartender, Noi, is an arm-wrestling champion, and he must frequently defend his title as challengers come into the bar.

Into the mix comes a mysterious woman who gives her name only as Riam, who claims she is 60 years old, has 12 grandchildren and trades opium.

She asks to stay at the hotel, but oddly, the place has only one room and it is taken. After some hysterics and throwing and dragging of suitcases, Riam and the solo lodger, the musically embattled man, who is named Chana, come to an agreement that has the wonderfully sassy Riam sleeping out on the sofa.

"What is this place, the hotel from hell?" asks the man.

No, actually, it's the Paradise Hotel (though "Hell Hotel" is the literal meaning of the film's Thai title, Rongraem Nark).

For the second hour, the story settles into a film noir, as the mystery of Riam and Chana are revealed, when a Thai mafia boss comes to the hotel looking for a quantity of cash and holds Riam and Chana hostage until the money is turned over.

I'm grateful to the Thai Film Foundation for making this available on DVD.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Review: Powder Road

  • Directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol
  • Starring Chatchai Plengpanich, Masatochi Nagase, Sinjai Hongthai
  • Available on DVD from Mangpong in Thailand. Language is Thai with some broken English and Japanese, however only the Thai dialogue is English-subtitled.

Made with the Japanese market in mind, this film is historic in that it's the first Thai film that shows bare breasts. Never mind that they are the fake tits of a transgendered male who has heroin packed into his plastic jugs. But that's how Tan Mui got around it.

Though there's actually some female breasts earlier in the film, at a Patpong go-go bar.

"You see they're in Patpong and the woman will put in a dart [into her vagina], and shoot a dart at a balloon. What you can do is integrate it into the fabric of the film, into the structure of the film, and it is impossible to take it out," Chatrichalerm explained to Thomas Richardson for Richardson's now-defunct Thai Film Index website at Cornell. "You have to see the nipple. And when you see the nipple, next year you have to fight to get the pubic hair. If you see the nipple you can see the whole tit, front on. So now you have to fight to get the pubic hair. Now, what is the definition of pubic hair? I have one of my actors who has hair from his chest down to his knees. You have to tell the censors, 'Okay, you draw the line, where is the pubic hair? Okay, I will obey it'."

Powder Road deals with the drug trade, and starts out with a Japanese man, Tokio (Nagase) trekking into Burma for some reason or another. Throughout the whole film I can't figure out what exactly his role is. Is he a cop? A secret agent? A rival yakuza enforcer? A hired assassin?

Anyway, he's a wirey little fella (not at all the imposing presence of a, say, Toshiro Mifune, a Wakayama Tomasaburo or a Sonny Chiba), and dodges bullets and grenades well as he crosses back into Thailand through the jungle and runs into some para-military bandits who try to kill him.

Tokio is tracking a shipment of heroin, which frozen into big ice blocks and is moved from the Golden Triangle region on boats down the Mekong.

He hits Bangkok, and eventually Pattaya, where he hides out, waiting, I guess, for instructions from his mysterious female handler.

He runs into a bargirl (Sinjai) who professes her hatred for the Japanese. One night, he saves her from some guys trying to rape her, taking a quite a beating in the process.

So there's one Japanese (or, sorry, Jap) that's okay in her book. They hook up, and she takes him to her home village, where she shows Tokio why she hate the Japanese -- because they built a big chemical plant that is poisoning the neighborhood, killed off the fish stocks and made her sister a brain-dead cripple. So besides the dangers of the drug trade, there's another message in this Chatrichalerm film -- of wealthier nations preying on smaller ones so they can operate dangerous industries.

Chatchai is a Thai cop looking to get to the bottom of the yakuza's involvement in the drug trade. His path crosses with the mayor of Pattaya, who also runs a transvestite cabaret.

There's some decent action in this, especially toward the end when there's a gunfight at a seedy hospital where the "girls" are having their breasts done. Here's where there's a cool reveal involving the yakuza's chief henchman, a blade-wielding sort who's got a secret identity.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Too scared to see Scared

Scared is out in local cinemas this week, but I'm too squeamish to go see it. The latest Thai horror film is about a group of college freshmen who go on a class trip, and end up isolated in redneck land, where they start getting killed off, one by one.

Directed Pakpoom Wongjinda, I read in a local magazine, BK I think, that the cast - largely young first-time film actors - were kept in the dark about the script right up until shooting, so their reactions would be genuine.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tony Jaa gets a hired gun

Contrary to an earlier report (and here), it seems Sword might still be a going concern for Tony Jaa, but then when you're dealing with the nebulous world of film pre-production, who knows what's going on?

Anyway, The Nation's print-only Soopsip column reports today that while Tony is busy on tour promoting Tom Yum Goong, director Prachya Pinkaew is putting together the team for the next film, "temporarily titled" Daab Atamas. Daab is sword in Thai, okay?

Prachya has roped in writer Praphas Chonsalanon, a co-founder of Work Point Entertainment Company, who will write the script.

Script? What's that?

"He met Jaa when I was working at Grammy," Prachya was quoted as saying. "He's been interested in working with us since then, but it’s not until this project that the timing’s been right."

Soopsip further opined: "Bringing in the popular writer will perhaps overcome problems with substance and ensure the new movie has a stronger story line than Tom Yum Goong."

Tom Yum Goong is now out on VCD in Thailand and all the video shops are playing it. It's my preferred way to catch the film now, doing some shopping and catching glimpses of Tony Jaa doing some bad-ass stunts out of the corner of my eye.

Meanwhile, plans by Tom Yum Goong executive producer Somsak Techarattanaprasert to offer shares of his Sahamongkol Film have been shelved.

Somsak, also known as Sia Jiang, says he changed his mind after watching the debacle earlier this year when Grammy boss Paiboon Damrongchaitham attempted a takeover of the Matichon publishing firm and the Bangkok Post.

Somsak says he probably wouldn't work so well with shareholders watching his every move.

"I'm totally unhappy if I don’t have total freedom to do what I want," Somsak was quoted as saying.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Banzai! Born to Fight!

The love for Panna Rittikrai's Born to Fight continues unabated at Twitch (despite a bit of hatin' in the comments section), where they've posted links to the super cool Japanese trailer. I played it in my office and it ran smooth, stopping all activity. I had to play it again to get everyone to go back to work. But at home, it was balky, probably due to my tentative DSL connection. If I could get a download of the trailer, I'd probably be able to do without the movie - just about all the cool stunts are there.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

AFM update: GTH sells films to France

The horror! GTH has sold the suspense films, Alone and Dorm to Wild Side Films in France, Kaiju Shakedown reports. It's news that is slowly leaking from the American Film Market, where GTH has set up shop to try and sell five of its films.

Alone is the followup to last year's box-office smash Shutter, directed by Parkpoom Wongpoom and Banjong Pisanthanakun, and it goes into production in March 2006 with a Korean lead actress, Kaiju says.

Dorm is the first solo project from another one of the six Fan Chan directors, Songyos Sugmakanan, and it stars Charlie Trairat, the young male lead from Fan Chan. Folks out there in the Asian film blogosphere are more cautious about this one, with Twitch comparing it to Devil's Backbone and Kaiju Shakedown saying it "sounds like a Thai version of the Korean girls school ghost flicks."

Also coming in 2006 from GTH is Body by Prajitpol Tangsritrakul. "Can you make one body disappear?" begs the teaser on the poster. What's better is this bit from the synopsis: "But what will happen if one person believes that he can destroy every molecule of a human’s body within 2 hours just by using a 10 cm long scalpel just for the sake of proving that he can." Ick.

Shifting gears, GTH also is trying sell the funny and sweet rom-com, Dear Dakanda as well as the family comedy, Oops ... There's Dad, which ran earlier this year as Wai Ounlawon: 30 Years Later.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Tom Yum Goong: L'Honneur du Dragon

Not content to leave film titles alone, the overseas marketing machine has given Tom Yum Goong a subtitle to get in that requisite "dragon" that all martial arts films must have.

So now it's Tom Yum Goong: Honor of the Dragon.

The film is due for release in France on February 8. The French poster is here, thanks to Sebu, who also reports that the TF1-mandated edit will clock in at 94 minutes. That's quite a trim from original 110-minute version that played in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia this summer.

Presumably, it'll cut right to the action.

The full film can be caught on VCD. YesAsia has Edko's Hong Kong release with Chinese subtitles only, while eThaiCD has a version with no subtitles at all. Just press that fast-forward button to get to the action and you'll likely the the effect of the edited version.

Meanwhile, has news on the Tom Yum Goong star's next movies. It says that Sword has been put on hold while Tony makes an as-yet-untitled film that has him going on an odyssey to learn martial arts skills from other countries: Shaolin kung fu from China, ninja skills from Japan and taekwando from the US.

Looking ahead to 2009, Tony is being slated for a fantasy that tells the story of Hanuman, the monkey god. And there's also Mum Jokmok's Bodyguard 2, probably coming out next year, which he'll have a cameo in along with Born to Fight star Dan Chupong.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thai studios to boost output in 2006

Thai movie studios are already crowing about how much money they've made this year, giving them enough optimism to increase their output next year. So says an article in today's Nation (temporary link).

The leading studio, Sahamongkol Film, will invest more than 1 billion baht (about US$25 million) to produce at least 18 movies in 2006, up from 11 this year. GMM Tai Hub, or GTH, will launch eight films next year with the expectation to boost its revenue to 700 million baht, from 200 million baht this year.

Sahamongkol honcho Somsak Techarattanaprasert said the firm’s production and marketing budget for 2006 would be 30 per cent higher than this year’s.

"Generally, the production and marketing budget will increase 10-20 per cent per movie in 2006, as producers are inspired by this year’s huge success," Somsak was quoted as saying.

He also said the potential for marketing Thai films in Thailand is huge, since foreign films have relatively small promotional budgets. Hollywood films already dominate, so why would they need to spend more?

GTH chairman Visute Poolvoralak said that since the beginning of the year, Thai movies were expected to have generated more than 1 billion baht or 30 per cent of movie industry revenue, estimated at 3.5 billion baht.

In 2004, local movies grossed Bt800 million or 20 per cent of the market value of 3.2 billion baht. "This represents huge growth and should form a strong business base for Thai movies next year," Visute said.

Somsak said "the total market size should expand to nearly 4 billion baht.

"Watching movies remains cheap and affordable entertainment, despite many polls that predicted a decline in the movie industry following economic problems," he said.

So far this year, a few films have raked in gross revenue of that exceeds the magic number of 100 million baht, including Tom Yum Goong, The Holy Man (Luangphee Theng) and Yam Yasothon. Tom Yum Goong earned 300 million in ticket sales from its domestic release alone. Tom Yum Goong and Yam Yasothon are from Sahamongkol. The Holy Man comes from Phranakorn Film.

GTH, which produced the underperforming Tin Mine (though I can't place my hands on any figures right now), did have a hit with Dear Dakanda, which has become the most successful Thai romantic comedy in history, earning 80 million at the box office, according to The Nation's Soop Sip column.

Other recent films haven't fared so well, with Ahimsa: Stop to Run, The Tiger Blade and the colossal bomb The King Maker earning less than 10 million baht in their opening weeks, Soopsip says.

Ahimsa was made by RS Film, while Tiger Blade is from the start-up Mono Film. The King maker was backed by Sahamongkol.

Somchai "Lek" Kittiparaporn, director of The Kingmaker, remains upbeat about the poor performance of his 250 million baht historical epic. He explains that the local market was never a priority for the English-language Thai film, set in 16th century Siam.

"We are negotiating with Hollywood studios to distribute the film. The movie was always intended for the international market, which is why it has an English soundtrack."

Trouble is, I wonder who outside Thailand would actually want to see The King Maker, when there are so many better choices?

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Hit Man File on Region 1 DVD

The 2004 gangster drama, Hit Man File, is now available on Region 1 DVD with English subtitles from Kino. "From the studio that brought you Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior," says the box.

Digitally Obsessed gives it a favorable review, saying that although "the gangster film has been done to death ... every now and then a nice, fresh entry comes along ... Hit Man File is one of those nice surprises."

Directed by Sananjit Bangsapan, it stars Chatchai Plengpanich as an ex-communist guerrilla who is trying to fit in to capitalist society as a paid assassin. He takes his orders from pretty nightclub manager Chaba (Bongkot Kongmalai), and his latest assignment puts him in the middle of a gang war.

This is one of those I gave a miss last year, and still haven't seen, thanks to the Thai DVD release with no English subs. But now it's possible, if only I could bring myself to spend the dough.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Firecracker 12 online

The 12th issue of Firecracker magazine is up. There's a review of the Born to Fight DVD now out in the UK, a recap of the Pusan International Film Festival (including a mention of Mum Jok Mok's dramatic turn in Midnight, My Love), an article Journey from the Fall, a Vietnam war movie by a Vietnamese director, Graham Streeter's Singaporean film, Cages, and lots more.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Beautiful Boxer wins Third Eye award

Beautiful Boxer was screened at Third Eye, the Asian Film Festival in Mumbai and it won the Rajkamal Academy for Cinematic Excellence Trophy for Best Film, voted by the audience.

Meanwhile, DVDs of Beautiful Boxer are available.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, November 4, 2005

More freaking Thai horror movies

Make it stop. Last night I caught back-to-back trailers for two upcoming Thai horror films, Scared and Art of the Devil 2. Both were so damn similar - featuring much ripping of flesh, gore and young pretties being terrified and screaming - that I thought it was all one trailer.

Scared, about a group of university freshmen who get caught up in some extreme hazing, comes out next week, on November 10. Art of the Devil 2 will be in Thai cinemas on December 1.

Quite a stew they are cooking up with Art of the Devil 2. It features seven directors, collectively called the Ronin Team, all who have worked on such films as the occult historical epic Kun Pan, Bang Rajan and Art of the Devil - all films directed by Thanit Jitnukul. It stars the lovely Mamee Nakprasitte from Mae Bia and Butterfly Man as some kind of tattooed sorceress. She likes to use a blow torch on a guy's leg. Yikes!

Too much. I need some comedy with my horror, so there's Ghost Variety, starring Mum Jok Mok. It marks the return to the director's chair of Adirek "Uncle" Wattleela, the producer behind Thanit's Bang Rajan and other movies, including Oxide Pang's Bangkok Dangerous and Som and Bank: Bangkok for Sale.

Ghost Variety, or Phee Chalui tells the story of a group of losers who find themselves behind the cameras of a reality TV series that searches for spirits in haunted places. Mum portrays an indie short-film director looking for his big break.

Last in this roundup of Thai horror, Dorm, or Dek Hor, a boarding school scarer that stars Charlie Trairat. Twitch has more on that, including a trailer.

Both Ghost Variety and Dorm are due out on December 29.

Young Charlie is getting in lots of work. He had a small role in The King Maker and stars in the title role in the upcoming The Legend of Sudsakorn.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Oops ... There's Dad at American Film Market

There are more Thai films at the American Film Market, which is running November 2 to 9 in Santa Monica.

In addition to the previously noted crop of Thai horror films, Hell, Scared and P, there's Art of the Devil 2 as well as two new projects The Routine and The Unseeable. This is according to

There is also Wai Ounlawon 4: 30 Years Later, which is now being marketed as Oops ... There's Dad, which makes it sound like a Disney family comedy - not a bad idea when trying to sell a feel-good family comedy to the West.

A sequel to Wai Ounlawon, a popular 1970s film, I for no good reason missed 30 Years Later when it was in cinemas earlier this year. I'm kicking myself now, because I'm sure it was actually one of the better Thai films this year. I'm sure I'll be hearing more about it from other Thai film fans, and when the Thai film awards crop up early next year.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Yamagata festival recap

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has a report today from the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, which was held October 7-13.

Two Thai films were in the festival.

Manatsak Dokmai showed Don't Forget Me, "an idiosyncratic remembrance of the student massacre of October 6, 1976 that aroused a fair amount of attention from international viewers curious about that murky episode of Thai politics."

Pimpaka Towira, who served as a juror in the New Asian Currents program, premiered the rough cut of her new work, Unseen Thailand, about an activist sued by a mega-corporation.

"Both movies are a sign that political filmmaking is still alive in this country, albeit barely as it is," says Kong. "And both Thai docs added to Yamagata's strong selection. Small as it is, [the Yamagata festival] proves that size doesn't matter as long as [it] keeps developing the quality of its program and stays committed to the well-being of cinema art. This is something most festivals, including Bangkok's, should take to their hearts."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

New Southeast Asian film website

There's a new website devoted specifically to Southeast Asian cinema, Criticine.

For their first edition, they have a sprawling, exhaustive interview with Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang.

There are also many reviews, including one for Gie, Indonesia's entry for the best foreign film Oscar.

Good stuff. Will have to keep check back for updates.

(Via Twitch. Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)