Saturday, December 31, 2005

Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins Silpathorn Award

I've ranted a lot about the Thailand Culture Ministry here, but one segment of the ministry that's doing good work -- actually promoting culture -- is the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture. Last year the OCAC started the Silpathorn Awards to recognize prominent living Thai contemporary artists.

The 2005 award for filmmaking goes to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director of Tropical Malady, a jury prize winner at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

I like the criteria for the award. Winners must be a "Thai national [and] be aged between 30-50 years and still alive on the announcement day. Their works must have continually been exposed to the general public until present, as well as have been released in Thailand, creating a great impact to Thai contemporary art and inspiring young artists.

Seeing how an independent film movement has grown up around Apichatpong, and he's been tirelessly promoting experimental films, he definitely qualifies.

More about the award can be found at

The OCAC, by the way, was the office that backed the Tsunami Digital Short Films, on which Apichatpong served as a consultant.

As an aside, the OCAC has commissioned writer Prabda Yoon to write a book about the tsunami. He's the screenwriter who worked with Pen-ek Ratanaruang on Last Life in the Universe and the upcoming Invisible Waves, which is due out in Thailand cinemas on March 2.

(Thanks Thunska! Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Citizen Dog on Time's best of 2005 list

Okay, it was a 2004 film, unless you lived in behind-the-times North America, where Citizen Dog was one of the 10 best films of 2005. This is according to Richard Corliss at Time magazine. Wisit Sasanatieng's second film came in at No 6 on the list.

Here's a rapturous, visually orgasmic Asian romance, the sophomore effort from Sasanatieng (Tears of the Black Tiger), based on a novel written by his wife. This Thai kaleidoscope of comedy, with brisk narration and fevered imagery, suggests the French film Amelie, but after a dozen beers and a couple conks on the head. The movie includes a missing finger found in a sardine can, killer helmets, a grandmother reincarnated as a gecko, a litter of puppies in blue dresses ... And it's a musical! All right, you had to be there. But, guaranteed, once you're there, you won't want to leave.

(Thanks Sebu! Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Apichatpong's Intimacy and Turbulence

Twitch has details of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's forthcoming feature film, Intimacy and Turbulence.

It's one of the films commissioned by Peter Sellars for the New Crowned Hope Festival to be held in Vienna in November and December 2006, as part of the Vienna MozartYear 2006.

A festival press release explains further:

The commissions will be inspired by and explore the deeper issues that Mozart miraculously treated in the three great works from the last year of his life: The Magic Flute, La Clemenza di Tito and the Requiem. The primary themes are those of magic and transformation, forgiveness and reconciliation and recognition of the dead. These issues are those that Peter Sellars passionately feels make Mozart's work so crucially relevant to our moment in history.

Apichatpong's film "is a story set 40 years ago in a small town's hospital. A recollection and a reconstruction of the love and work of a filmmaker's parents before they finally became lovers".

Other directors participating in the project are Paraguay's Paz Encina, Iranian-Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun, Tsai Ming Liang and Indonesia's Garin Nugroho.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, December 26, 2005

The art of scary trailers

Good points made in an article a few days ago in ThaiDay (which finally has an online presence) about the need for film ratings in Thailand, and along with them, trailers that have also been rated and are approved for general audiences, similar to what is done by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The article highlighted the gory trailers for Art of the Devil 2 (found at Twitch), which were shown ahead of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, an animated feature that many kiddies (and squeamish adults like me) went to see.

Thailand's film industry still has no ratings, and is subject to the long-outdated 1930 Censorship Code, which is enforced by the police. In some cases, the cops physically get into the films with scissors and snip stuff out, or blur offending frames with Vaseline. Every film, video, VCD and DVD that is sold in the Kingdom must get the stamp of approval from the Censorship Board.

The enforcement is spotty, with some DVDs simply getting rubber stamped, but others getting censored. An example of some DVDs I bought recently: Locally sold Region 3 versions of Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino (with Thai, Korean, Mandarin and Bahasa subtitles) haven't been touched, but still have the Royal Thai Police stamp. However, a Thai-dubbed version of Silver City has booze bottles and guns pixellated out. I'll be selling that one back, by the way.

A ratings system, proposed by the Culture Ministry, has been presented for Cabinet approval, but things are taking time. Scuttlebutt has it that the cops don't want to give up their cushy job of watching movies. Each viewing is an extra 500 baht in their pockets. Where's that money going to go when the Culture Ministry takes over?

And, understandably, filmmakers are wary of the Culture Ministry, which has acted positively Orwellian in the past, more like a Conservative Values and Morals Ministry than anything to do with culture.

"I don't underestimate them. But what kind of concept do they have?" an anonymous producer was quoted as saying by ThaiDay. He said he doubted that the Culture Ministry's board would be efficient enough, because most of the appointees are government officials who know nothing of how the film industry works. "Why don’t they just take some of us...and ask for our help with something we know about?"

Adirek "Uncle" Watleela (whose new directorial effort, Ghost Variety, opens on Thursday), was quoted as well. "Those selected to be on the board, have they been to the theater during the past 30 years? How many films have they seen, and how much do they understand them?"

Ladda Tangsupachai, head of the Culture Ministry’s monitoring center, countered that she regularly sees movies and that as an audience member, she doesn’t like to see cut or blurred films either. Once the ratings are in force, she says, everyone will understand their rights: filmmakers will know what to make, parents will know what to buy for their kids and marketers will know how to present their products.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Invisible Waves to premiere at Berlin

It's official - Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's next film, Invisible Waves, will get its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, from February 9 to 19.

It'll be in competition for the Golden Bear, the first since Rattana Pestonji's Black Silk in the 1961.

Among the many out-of-competition films will be Chen Kaige's poorly-reviewed historical fantasy epic romance, The Promise.

A follow-up collaboration by the Last Life in the Universe director with his star Tadanobu Asano and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Asano portrays a Japanese chef from Macao who kills his lover and heads to Thailand to hide out.

In addition to Asano, Invisible Waves features a pan-Asian cast that includes Kang Hye-jeong from Old Boy and Hong Kong funnyman Eric Tsang.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Remembering the Tsunami

We're fast coming up on the one-year anniversary of the December 26, 2004 tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean region.

In Thailand, the disaster has been remembered by filmmakers, who produced the Tsunami Digital Short Films, which premiered back in October at the World Film Festival of Bangkok.

The films will be shown in Phuket - which was hit hard by the tsunami - on December 24 and 25 at SFX Coliseum Cinema at Central Festival Phuket. In addition, 15 short films produced by youths who reside in Trang and Phuket will be shown. These were made in the Short Film Production Youth Camp organised by Office of Contempoary Art and Culture and the Thai Film Foundation. This programme will be screened at 6pm on Christmas Day. Tickets are Bt90. All proceeds go to tsunami relief efforts.

Bangkok has a bigger event going on over the holiday weekend - the Fourth Experimental Film Festival, in which a staggering number of short films and feature films will be shown in Lumpini Park from 5pm to 9pm from December 23 to 25.

The Tsunami Digital Short Films will be shown on Sunday. Friday and Saturday there will be a retrospective of Anna Sanders Films. Other programmes include Bangkok Utopia, Thai Experimental, Thai Indie, Art+Film, MTV+POP Culture & Anima(sta)tion, Experimental Narrative and Travelogue.

There's the usual names in Thai avant garde cinema: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thunska Pansittivorakul and Michael Shaowanasai. Noi Sukosol Clapp from Bangkok Loco offers something called Time Traveller in Saturday's Bangkok Utopia screening.

In addition to the outdoor screenings at Lumpini, there will be a program on "Xtreme Film" from 2pm to 8pm on Saturday, December 24, at the 14 Ocober 1973 Memorial on Rajdamnoen Avenue, near Tanao Road and Khao San.

It'll include a discussion with filmmakers Thunska, Michael, Tuan Andrew Nguyen and film archivist Dome Sukwong, facilitated by the Thai Film Foundation’s Chalida Uabamrunjit.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

In the name of what?

I'm back after a break from the journal while I was in the States. It's taking me awhile to get back in the swing, and so far, the news is pretty disheartening.
  • I tried to see In the Name of the Tiger, directed by Theeratorn Siriphunvaraporn, but I wasn't able to get to the cinema until yesterday and it was too late. One of the last cinemas in town where it was showing with subtitles took it off the schedule that very day. Killed by Kong.
  • Yam Yasothon and the documentary, Crying Tigers, are out on DVD, but neither have English subtitles. Both are Sahamongkol releases, so I never really had my hopes up for the subtitles - Sahamongkol rarely springs for the licensing of the subtitles, they sell the film rights to foreign distributors and let them sort out the subtitling licensing and royalty issues. But I'm still disappointed.
But there's some good news:
  • Three 1970s films - Insee Thong (the film Mitr Chaibuncha died making), Piak Poster's Tone and Choompae have been released on Thai DVD with English subs. I haven't watched any all the way through, but what I've seen is fun. The transfers are clear - you can really see how bad the films' conditions are - and the sound is surprisingly clear as well. Very cool retro vibe. Hope to have some reviews up soon.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)