2005 was a largely unsatisfying year for Thai film. But there were still some good films. Here's my top five.
1. Yam Yasothon
Show me some bright colors, and write in some low-brow gags and I'm all yours. Yam Yasothon did it for me, from its psychedelic production design, to the soundtrack and the overall 1960s retro feel of it all. It was also innovative, I thought, putting the comic relief characters (Mom Jokmok and Janet Khiew) in the forefront of the story, and the handsome lovers as a secondary plot. And when Janet's ugly character (with wart and all) came back from the city with her complexion whitened, her teeth bleached and wearing sexy clothes, Mum's character didn't really want to have anything to do with her (though he eventually came around). This is one I hope gets enough international attention to warrant a DVD release with English subtitles.
2. Midnight My Love
Yeah, okay. I like Mum Jokmok. And I loved his performance in Midnight My Love (Cherm), as a loner taxi driver who falls for a body-massage parlor girl (Woranut Wongsawan). He has a dark past that catches up with him though, and the story goes wildly off the rails. But with some faux vintage film scenes, and some nostalgic Thai country-pop from the past, Midnight My Love did a lot to quench my thirst for classic Thai films of the '60s and '70s. This sleeper of a film was directed by Khongdej Jaturanrassamee, who did the funny and frank Sayew a few years back, which is another Thai film that is often overlooked.
3. Dear Dakanda
A sweet, cute romantic comedy. Not really my cup of tea, but I liked this because, as a reader commented in a recent e-mail, there's more to Dear Dakanda (Puen Sanit) than just being a sweet, cute romantic comedy. Though it is sweet. And cute. And romantic. And a pretty good comedy. But it's also heartbreakingly bittersweet. Watch it and see.
4. The Tiger Blade
In a year when Tony Jaa made a film, featuring jaw-dropping stunt choreography, you'd think that one would be a cinch for one of the best Thai films of the year. Well, the honor has to go the The Tiger Blade, the first feature from start-up Mono Film. It not only also had some awe-inspiring stunts, it had temerity to actually not take itself so damn seriously. Yeah, it's just a pulp action movie. Thing is, the movie itself is in on the joke, so there's a sense of fun, making The Tiger Blade a joy to watch.
5. The Tin Mine
I'd feel bad if I left this off the Top 5 for 2005. I think everyone felt bad for The Tin Mine and director Jira Maligool. It was one of the more anticipated films of the year, had a good-sized budget (for a Thai film), was lovingly crafted, featured stunning locations and costuming. But it was a box-office bomb. Nobody wanted to see this story of Archin Panjabhan, a popular Thai author who wrote short stories about his coming-of-age while working at a tin mine in the southern Thailand jungle in the 1950s. The story meanders, and the film felt overly long, yet it was a thing of beauty. And for that, it was sent to the Academy Awards as a possible nominee, and it received National Film Awards for best picture and best director.
Also worth mentioning
Crying Tigers, Santi Taepanich's documentary about Isaan natives working in Bangkok was flawed because it tried to go in too many directions. It could have maybe focused on just one its three or four subjects. Action fans should check it out for the segments involving stuntman Nate Iron Eagle.
Best film I didn't see
I missed Wai Ounlawon: 30 Years Later, which was stupid since I'd actually caught the screening of Piak Poster's 1976 original. No excuses. I hope it screens again and/or gets a DVD release with English subtitles.
Best DVD releases
First, the Thai Film Foundation gets some high marks for its DVDs of Ratana Pestonji's Country Hotel and the 1941 film, King of the White Elephant. Contact the Thai Film Foundation to order these.
Also three films from the 1970s: Choompae, starring Sombat Methanee; Insee Thong, Mitr Chaibancha's fateful final film; and the romance drama Tone were released on DVD with English subtitles and some generous extras. I don't know the name of the company doing this, but they get high marks, even if they aren't fully restoring the ragged prints. Insee Thong is in especially bad shape. They are available at Boomerang and various other DVD retailers in Bangkok, as well as online from various sources (including HK Flix. While they don't make up for all the films released on DVD in 2005 that omitted the English subtitles, it's a good start.
Following up the best DVD releases, the biggest letdown of the year was all the DVD releases - everything mentioned here except Dear Dakanda, which isn't out yet - that don't have English subtitles. The reason they do this -- from what I've been led to believe -- is so they won't have to pay royalties to the subtitlists, leaving that licensing issue for overseas companies to sort out. It's a bummer, and it seems to be the way things are going to go from now on. Guess I'd better knuckle down and take some Thai lessons.
This is a hard one for me, because I luckily steered clear of the horror films, such as Scared and Necromancer that are mentioned by other Thai film buffs as being among the worst. Tom Yum Goong is getting mentioned, though I don't think it was that bad. Not among the best, and not among the worst. I did see one, a comedy called Dumber Heroes, that I didn't find funny at all. I would have thought it would be better, starring Thep Po-Ngam, but it wasn't. I didn't even bother writing a review. And, there was The King Maker, which was awful.