Thursday, March 30, 2006

Review: Tone

  • Directed by Piak Poster
  • Starring Chaiya Suriyan, Jaruwan Panyopas, Sayan Chantaraviboon, Aranya Namwong
  • From 1970; released on DVD in 2005 by Suwan Film as part of its Thai Memorable Film Project
  • Rating: 4/5

Tone is one of those groovy musical romances that came out of the Thai industry in the 1970s.

Right off, it starts out funky, with a theme song by The Impossibles, an incredibly talented and diverse band that played a wicked combination of garage rock, Stax soul and Beatlesesque pop (some of the members are still around and perform in an occasional Beatles tribute band).

It's a song about summer vacation, and it sets up the story about a slacker college guy going back to his upcountry village for the break. He invites his friend, Odd (Sayan Chantaraviboon), along.

Next, we're introduced to the title character, Tone (Chaiya Suriyan), a humble country guy who's a little pent-up.

It doesn't help that he has a funny-looking, toothless old guy named Song (Sangtong Seesai) hanging around singing songs about him.

It's the time for a monk's ordination in the village, so people are celebrating.

There's more singing, including a song by the most beautiful girl in the village, Kularb (Jaruwan Panyopas). She's the girl whom Tone holds a torch for. And he goes as far to just spell it out for her - he loves her. He tells her right to her face.

But she's young yet. Not sure what she's going to do, or where she's going to go. Maybe to Bangkok. Maybe to Chiang Mai. Anyway, she has no time to get into a relationship with Tone.

Odd is bumming around. One day, he's out walking and steps in front of Kularb as she's riding her bicycle. Remember that for later.

Odd and his slacker friend have run in with Tone. It's an accident, but it gets out of hand, with the food that Tone was taking a monk dumped on the ground and the slacker dude with his clothes ruined. Odd takes pity on Tone, and wants to pay for the spilled food. Tone refuses.

Later, Odd and the slacker dude go to pay respects to the monk. And there's Tone, dishing up lunch for the monk. The monk then tells Tone's whole story - how Tone was an orphan and the monk took him in and raised him - he'd like to do better for Tone, send him to school and stuff, but he knows no one in Bangkok, where all the good universities are.

So Odd, still looking to make up for his friend's ill treatment of Tone, says he has room for Tone at his house in Bangkok, where he and his brother and sister live. They were orphans, too.

But for orphans, they sure have a swinging pad. And it's here where Tone meets Dang (Aranya Namwong), who's go-go dancing to some cool vinyl tracks. Tone walks in and stares at her gap-mouthed, checking out what she's wearing, some kind of tight, striped pantsuit, with her midriff exposed. The top and bottom are connected by big rings. Yeah, baby.

She doesn't take kindly to Tone's staring, and mouths off some attitude at him, and in her parting shot, she nicknames him Corny, a name he's stuck with for the rest of the movie.

Okay. The action gets rolling. Back home, Kularb, still not sure what she's doing or where she's going, is knocked off her bicycle by a local rascal who attempts to rape her.

A gang of good guys from the village, including the funny looking guy Song, beat the rascal up. Song, who goes to work at the "rock bombers" (rock quarry), is picked off with a hunting rifle for his troubles.

Not much is done dramatically with Song's death. A waste.

Back in Bangkok, Dang is running around with fast guys in fast cars. One of them takes her to his pad and tries to have his way with her.

Tone, suspicious of the guy, has followed them. He sneaks in, punches a henchman and rescues Dang.

Now, it gets confusing. There are jumps in time - like a year or two going by with no real warning that time has passed.

Odd later spots Kularb walking on campus. She's in college. In Bangkok, I guess. Not really sure.

He reminds her of the day she ran into him with her bicycle. So they are now a couple.

For the longest time, Odd talks about his new girlfriend, not realizing that she's the girl that Tone loved.

Then Kularb shows up at a swinging birthday party for Odd, and the cat is out of the bag. Odd's slacker friend shows back up. He's refashioned himself a hipster, speaking English and making references to Apollo.

Tone descends back into his depressed brooding, but he finally snaps out of it, after a heart-to-heart talk with Odd.

And as "Scarbourough Fair" (by the Impossibles) plays, Tone and Dang finally figure out that they don't really hate each other after all.

And then the bad guys show up, including that rascal rapist from the village, and they kidnap both Dang and Kularb. So there's a big, action-packed rescue to end it all off.

All in all, Tone's a fun movie, though a bit confusing at times, but one of the better DVD offerings from Thailand in awhile.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Midnight My Love feted in Deauville

Did I mention that Citizen Dog won the Critic's Prize at the Deauville Asian Film Festival? I did.

However, I didn't mention that another Thai film, Midnight My Love, won the best script prize. Seems the jury loved this sombre tale of a loner cabbie (Petchtai Wongkamlao) who develops a relationship with massage parlor girl (Woranut Wongsawan), which takes a crazy turn about 3/4ths of the way through.

It's insane enough that I want to watch it again, but this being a Sahamongkol release, the DVD has no English subtitles. Too bad. Have to catch it on an overseas release, someday, hopefully.

Anyway, it seems Woranut attended the festival and was the toast of this Normandy resort town, Soopsip reports.

"Everywhere we went fans asked for her autograph and wanted to take photographs," producer Siwaporn Pongsuwan was quoted as saying.

Midnight My Love or Cherm was the big-screen debut of the popular TV actress. She's won several prizes for her role, including best actress from the Bangkok Critics Assembly.

Midnight My Love is next headed for South Africa, where it'll screen at the Durban Film Festival from June 14 to 25.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Dorm moves in to Singapore

Singapore loves Thai horror flicks. The last one to hit the island-state was Shutter, which beat out Ong-Bak as the top-grossing Thai film there.

Distributors there were hot to get Dorm in a wide release the same time it opened in Thailand, but they had to wait.

Over the weekend, the boarding-school thriller had a three-day sneak preview, taking in 15 million baht (about US$385,000), according to Soopsip. Pretty good for just three days.

Dorm had a promising start in Thailand but chilled once the political demonstrations started. People don't have much an appetite for movies when their country is in turmoil. So Dorm, or Dek Hor closed with 50 million baht, but probably could have done better.

Directed by Songyos Sukmakanan, one of the hit movie Fan Chan’s six directors, Dorm tells the story of a boy who is sent to a creepy old boarding school after discovering a family secret.

Director-producer Yongyooth Thongkongtoon, head of GTH's international department, says the movie is an overwhelming success.

"Singapore has been following GTH's movies since Fan Chan. They even wanted to release it simultaneously with Thailand's premiere but we refused because of our marketing plan," he told Soopsip.

Look for Dorm on the international circuit. It'll be at the Pusan International Film Festival in October.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Twins needed for Alone

Shutter directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom are hard at work on their next film, Alone (Faed) and they have a casting call for two sets of twin girls, according to the Soopsip column in The Nation.

They need a young pair, between 5 and 7 years old and an older pair, between 13 and 15 years old. They also must bear a resemblance to star Marsha Watanapanich who is half Thai and half German. Both sets of twins will play Marsha’s character at a younger age. The movie marks the first feature film in 10 years for the 36-year-old superstar singer, model and actress.

Alone focuses on a surgical intervention to separate a pair of Siamese twins. The story looks at their bonding after the surgery and what happens when a choice has to be made to keep just one of them alive.

I'm getting chills just thinking about it.

If you, or your twin, fit the above descriptions, send four 4x6-cm photos (two individual portraits, one half body shot and one full body shot) and full information to Dedicate Company, 37 Soi Petchburi 15 (Somparasong 3), Petchburi Road, Phayathai, Rajthevee, Bangkok, 10400 or visit, by March 31.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ong-Bak 2 announced

Tony Jaa will now star in Ong-Bak 2, a sequel to his hit 2003 film. It's being reported here and here, and has the report, too, citing Variety as a source.

The Weinstein Company has already picked up worldwide sales rights to the film (except Asia and UK).

Shooting is scheduled for this fall.

In Ong-Bak 2, Jaa will play a young man on a journey that teaches him the skills and inner meaning of martial arts.

So says the stories. And now they are being reported here, which makes them true. Right?

There's more comment about it over at Kaiju Shakedown and Twitch.

Meanwhile, there's an untitled project, simply called Third Film, due to start filming in June, says, as well as the much-bandied-about Sword, which I thought they were already making but is now question-marked.

Also meanwhile, Tom Yum Goong is set to open in the U.K. It has been retitled Warrior King and will be premiered at the Seni '06 Film Festival in Birmingham on May 6.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Thanit Jitnukul and Black Night

Black Night is the latest pan-Asian horror compilation, following in the creepy footsteps of Three ... Extremes and its forerunner, Three, which was initiated Nonzee Nimibutr.

Now it's Thanit Jitnukul's turn. He's directing a story called The Lost Memory, joining Hong Kong's Patrick Leung (Next Door) and Japan's Takahiko Akiyama (Dark Hole).

It's a co-production by Five Star, Movie-Eye and Filmko.
Twitch has more on the films, so I don't have to tell you about them.

I will offer this, though; what Thanit has to say:

I've always asked myself a simple question: What 'is it that my movie is going to say to the audience?' It sounds simple, but I've never found it easy to give myself a satisfactory answer. In The Lost Memory, my intention is to investigate the dark side of a person's mind. I don't believe there's such a thing as an impeccably good person or an irredeemably bad one. We have our virtues and vices, our gods and demons. What's interesting is that when you have to make a crucial decision, are you prepared to deal with the consequences of that one dedsion for the rest of your life? That's the genesis of The Lost Memory. And the only force that would prompt a person to make such crudal decision is that of love. Love is a positive feeling, but when love overwhelms you to the point of suffocation, then it shows its negative side. That's what the characters in the movie have to face when they can't control the force of love."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Historical comedies

A couple of upcoming Thai comedies get into Thai history.

Nong Teng, Nak Leng Phukhao Thong (literally, Nong and Teng, the Golden Mount Gangsters), starring Pongsak Pongsuwan (or Teng Therdtheng) and Choosak Eamsuwan (Nong Cherm-Yim), delves into the very beginnings of Thai cinema, going all the way back to 1923, the year Henry MacRae came to Thailand to make a silent film called Nang Sao Suwan or Miss Suwanna of Siam.

It opens next week and advertisements for it have been everywhere. And now they are here.

Even at the anti- and pro-government rallies. When the TV news camera is on some talking head at a march, there's usually some film company stooge in the background holding up posters for Nong Teng. It's insane.

Nong and Theng were on a TV talkshow earlier in the week, hosted by Mum Jokmok. They had Sombat Metanee and another veteran Thai actor (his name escapes me, but he played the chief bad guy in Killer Tattoo), but instead of talking to these wisemen of Thailand's silver screen, the show degenerated into a lot of clowning around by Nong and Theng and Mum.

It's what the people want.

In the film, Theng is a likay (Thai traditional dance) performer who's facing eviction from his theater because his landlord wants to clear the way for the production of the first feature film to be made in Thailand (which is a mystery in and of itself, as Kong Rithdee recently reported in Real Time). So the boys deploy all kinds of hi-jinks to try and stop the film.

Nong Teng is the first feature film from Work Point, a TV production firm that is responsible for the TV talk show that Mum hosts (he has a cameo in the film and the trailer). But with the success of last year's Holy Man, starring Teng, and the fact that Teng and Nong (and Mum) are popular stars on TV, we could be looking at this year's hit comedy.

Meanwhile, veteran comedian Thep Po-ngam stars in Thai Thief, which I don't know too much about, other than it's due out April 12. It appears to have something or other to do with the Japanese occupation of Thailand, and early reports indicate its another one of those Thai comedies where they just keep throwing new characters and story developments at you every couple of minutes or so to keep you entertained, but it doesn't really go anywhere.

But, the trailers look good. Thep has already been making appearances to promote the film, and after Nong Theng has made its big splash, I anticipate the big push for Thai Thief (made by RS Film, while Nong Theng is being distributed by Sahamongkol).

Update: News story on Nong Theng from The Nation.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

In the name of the censor

It is just as I feared. In the Name of the Tiger, a Phranakorn comedy-fantasy that was recently released on DVD, is censored. So Twitch reports. Read it and weep there. I'll probably still see this movie, but I won't buy it; it'll just be a rental.

I have a problem with this. The government says that violence and drug use in films and on television have a corruptive influence on society. Furthermore, they say that the society is dictating that it censor films that depict the offending images.

What about the concept of letting people choose for themselves what they want to watch? A ratings system - where it says on the box what kinds of things that might be found in the films - would be preferable to some nanny editor sloppily blotting out scenes in which I know good and well what is going on anyway. It's pointless.

Sympathy for the censor? No. Absolutely none. I have more sympathy for artists living in a society that doesn't care if its freedoms are being eroded and its art is being defaced.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Hong Kong Filmart update

I really should check out Apichatpong Weerasethakul's website, Kick the Machine, more often. He has details of his new project, Utopia, which received some funds at the Hong Kong Filmart.

Kaiju Shakedown has an update as well, as does Twitch.

An earlier post about Utopia and more is here.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hell in Philly

If anything, this is just an excuse to run this photo again.

Kaiju Shakedown has the rundown on the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, March 30 to April 11, which has a Danger After Dark program, featuring a bunch of Asian films, including Hell, a Thai horror film.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

An Armful of what?

Seems Five Star Production is a little perturbed that Wisit Sasanatieng's name has been attached to the Singaporean production, Armful.

So says Wednesday's Soopsip column in The Nation, which states: "The director is not in a position to conclude any deals as he has to finish the epic Nam Prix for which he will receive a Bt100 million budget from French producers Europa Corp, the company of French director Luc Besson who was behind the success of Ong Bak in Europe."

Wisit denies that he has agreed to direct Armful and wonders why the news has been released, Soopsip says.

And Five Star says Wisit is "interested in the project and he started talking with the Singaporean company but has yet to sign a contract."

So, good news on one hand that Wisit's historical epic Nam Prix is on track, but bad news for martial-arts-film cultists (like me), who were hoping to see Wisit try his hand at some One Armed Swordsman/Master of the Flying Guillotine stylisation in the revenge tale of a failed paper merchant who loses one arm.

Kevin W Lee of One Ton Cinema, Armful's producer, was quoted in Soopsip from a story in Flicks magazine that "Wisit is the perfect choice for the movie."

"He is right for a project like this, which depicts a surrealistic story in a humorous way. That style is quite obvious in his first two movies," says Lee.

Eventually, I think market forces will dictate what's next.

Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Thai movie poster mashups

Forget about Brokeback Mountain and all the various mash-ups that posters for that film have spawned.

Here in Thailand, the current political crisis has generated several mashups of Thai movie posters, in which the heads of caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his wife, Pojamarn, and oppostion leader Sondhi Limthongkul are placed on posters for various recent Thai films.

Clockwise from the top left, we have Dorm, Krasue Valentine (my favorite, love the hair!), Midnight My Love, Yam Yasothon and Ahimsa (another fave).

A zip-file full of them can be downloaded from the excellent current events (and transportation) website,

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Life as a Citizen Dog

To some people, he's Peter. But his real name is Andre. But actually, he's Chuck Stephens, film critic at the Village Voice and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. And now he's written a piece in the Guardian, about how he came to be cast in Wisit Sasanatieng's Citizen Dog.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Spicy sweet and sour shrimp soup

Tom Yum Goong is being released on DVD with English subtitles in Korea, Twitch reports. Just follow that link to read more and click their links to purchase the movie.

Twitch also reports (via that an early Tony Jaa-Panna Rittikrai effort, Spirited Killer, is being released on DVD in North America and Europe by BCI Eclipse. (Updated entry here).

From the vast library of gritty, action-focused B-movies that Panna has toiled at making for decades, Spirited Killer, or Puen Hode features a young Tony Jaa in a featured stunt role.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Review: Vengeance

  • Directed by Preaw Sirisuwan
  • Production Company: Mono Film
  • Starring Watchara Tangkaprasert, Jirapat Wongpaisarnluk, Chalat Na Songkla, Sorachai Sang-arkad, Nuttanund Chantarawetch, Nuttaree Wiboonlert
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 9, 2006

Vengeance is a cool monster movie, but the problem is, it doesn't know what kind of monster movie it wants to be.

Featuring low-rent CGI that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, and a B-movie plot, Vengeance starts out mysteriously, at the edge of a forest, with two men and a boy, trying to get away. The older of the two, the father, pleads with the other man to take his son out of the jungle.

The other man does so, at the strident protests of the boy. They then go back into the forest to find the old man dead, but they are able to retrieve a strange medallion and a mystical knife before fleeing again from the woods.

Cut to present day - police storm an urban shophouse and have a shootout. They are then put on the trail of the bad guys - drug smugglers, murders, thieves, ne'er do wells, who are headed for the Burmese border and "that place" - the jungle where the movie opened up.

The old man of the police team appears to be handing over command to a young captain named Wut (Watchara Tangkaprasert). Both men, naturally, have some kind of connection to the strange jungle.

They arrive at a nearby village and have a confab with an elderly monk.

Turns out the monk was the man who pulled the boy, Nasoo, out of the jungle. Nasoo (Chalat na Songkla) grew up to be the leader of the bandits the cops are chasing. The monk was a former bandit whom the older cop once arrested, and Capt Wut grew up in the village under the monk's tutelage.

I don't understand it either, but there it is.

Finally, with the help of some Karen guides, the cops enter the jungle on the trail of the bad guys, and then the good stuff starts happening.

Tiger bees! They fly through a human body like a knife through butter.

Fruit tree maidens. They sing a mysterious song and bathe in the stream at night - naked! They beckon men to have sex with them, and then draw their very life from their victims through their members.

Ravenous geckoes. Thousands of them. These are some bad little CGI critters, but they are mean and take out a number of men.

A giant snake! I'm pretty sure it's the same design of snake that was used in Sars Wars, but it's a lot meaner.

With all the monstrous animals in the forest, the bad guys are finally taken under control by Wut and his men. And then a mysterious pair of hooded women - Sea-On (Jirapat Wongpaisarnluk) and her younger sister, Kamphaeng (Nuttaree Wiboonlert) - show up. They have little, pencil-stick firing crossbows and aren't afraid to use them. Everyone must drop their machine guns and automatic pistols.

The hilltribe guides, particularly the plucky young hilltribe girl, Kratae (Nuttanund Chantarawetch) does not trust these mysterious women. Where did they come from? What are they doing in this enchanted jungle? Why are they wearing hoods? How come they are showing off their midriff? How are they advancing the plot?

Of course, Sea-On is a love interest for the hero, Wut, and, after he rescues her from the giant CGI snake, they share a touching moment amidst many CGI fireflies, that actually aren't too bad. Some decent animation.

Then the group gets to Sea-On's village and the really weird stuff happens as the movie shifts into a different kind of monster movie altogether. And it's even better, even if it doesn't make any sense.

More information:
(Cross-published on Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Review: Nam Prig Lhong Rua (Navy Boys)

  • Directed by Worapoj Pothineth
  • Starring Amarin Nitiphon, Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Note Chern-yim, Somphong Kunapratom, Somlek Sakdikul, Kirk Schiller
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 9, 2006

I was trying to see another movie and in a mix up at the box office, I ended up watching this. I had a chance to bail, and I blew that chance, figuring, "well, how bad can this be?"

It's pretty bad.

Note Chern-yim plays a Navy colonel (the Navy has colonels?) who must form a special ops team to take out some arms smugglers (comic bad guy Somchai Sakdikul and and perennial heavy Black Pomthong).

The team he puts together are a bunch of ex-Navy reprobates - a cheating gambler (Amarin Nitiphon, who's cast in the hero role), an alcoholic and a limping explosives expert.

When the rest of team arrives and sees they must be paired up with a fourth member of the team - a transvestite - they balk, and start spewing a lot of anti-gay venom.

Then they find out they are to trained by a hot chick lieutenant (Supaksorn Chaimongkol from Dangerous Flowers and destined to be Thai film's "it" girl this year). So the guys are in.

For the better part of an hour, the homosexual hate jokes are let fly with abandon. And when they aren't making fun of the transvestite, they are trying to scheme their way into getting into their sexy lieutenant's pants.

Cue the bikini scene.

And then the warm fuzzy moments.

Each member has a dream of what their going to do when they are successful. The hero wants to open a computer school, the drunk wants his own boat and the limping guy wants to repair his daughter's eyesight, which she lost in an explosives mishap.

Finally, they get to the target - an island party where the gun smugglers turn out to all be transvestites - including Somlek Sakdikul, who is tastefully dressed and tressed. He's truly a sight to behold, even with the moustache.

Backing up Somchai are a pair of yellow-track-suited women with cotton-candy-colored hair. The "Kill Bill" girls and Somlek are the best things the movie has going for it, and it's truly sad when they are all disposed of.

And when it's over, of course, the transvestite agent proved her (his?) bravery and won the respect of her teammates, who all give up their own dreams, no matter how altruistic, to pay tribute to her by opening up a transvestite cabaret where they are all performers.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

More on Dorm

This year's hit Thai thriller, Dorm, is set to move into Singapore, which has the island-state's Electric New Paper writing more about the movie, going back to a visit on the film's set and an interview with director Songyos Sugmakanan, who was one of the six directors of another hit Thai film, Fan Chan.

The article predicts great things for Dorm, which has done about 56 million baht ($1.4 million) worth of business in Thailand (or about $794,300, according to Box Office Mojo's last count).

The 2004 Thai thriller, Shutter, was a huge hit in Thailand (more than 110 million baht) and broke box office records for a Thai import in Singapore, earning $1.2 million Singapore dollars (about US$724,000), beating out the previous record holder, Ong-Bak.

"The popularity of Thai horror (films) is a good thing. The studio gave me a lot of support because this project is of the horror genre. It can make money," Songyos told the New Paper.

The movie was made at Assumption School in Chonburi, about an hour's drive southeast out of Bangkok.

"Dorm is certainly more difficult than My Girl [Fan Chan]. I have to manage and control everything alone, such as acting, computer graphics, location and the set. I discovered my weak point is acting direction, but I have tried to improve," Songyos says.

He had personal reasons for doing the film. "I was inspired by my schoolboy experiences. As a child, I stayed in a dormitory," said Songyos, who is a fan of horror movies. "There, many stories were told to me by my classmates and seniors. I remembered them and I incorporated some in the movie."

For the role of Ton, a 12-year-old boy forced to move to a boarding school after he finds out a secret of his father, Sonyos chose Charlie Trairat, the star of Fan Chan.

"We have a good relationship because we are familiar with each other. This is the second film we are working on together. He is generous and teaches me a lot," Charlie told the paper about the director. "But he also complains about me sometimes when I am too stubborn."

Here's something else about Dorm. I was flat-out impressed by the female lead, the dorm matron portrayed by an actress named Jintara Sukphat. I asked around, wondering where this veteran leading lady had come from, what films had she been in. All I got was bemused smiles. People around here still don't understand why a foreigner like me would be interested in Thai films and the people who make them. So I got no real answers, until I looked her up on IMDb. Well, she is indeed a veteran actress with several films to her credit, including a Hollywood picture from 1987 called Good Morning, Vietnam. In that film, the Thai actress portrayed the willowy love interest for Robin Williams' Adrien Cronauer.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tsunami shorts, Promise Me Not at Singapore fest

Left unsatisfied by the Bangkok International Film Festival? Then head down to the Singapore International Film Festival, April 13 to 29, where there's an impressive lineup of films from across Asia and around the world.

Not too many Thai films at this year's fest. There's the Tsunami Digital Short Films, which Apitchatpong Weerasethakul had a hand in.

And then there's Promise Me Not (Kor Koei Sanya) (review at, synopsis at MovieSeer), a film I barely remember and didn't go see. Probably it's another case where the trailers and posters weren't advertising the film properly. It looked like just another dumb comedy to me.

It is a romantic comedy, but the story is about a star-crossed couple that commits suicide and swears to love each other in the next life, but are thwarted at every turn. Promise Me Not tanked at the box office last year and was such a colossal failure, the studio, Matching Motion Pictures, had to shut down for a time, according to an article in The Nation.

In line with the Thai trend of having multiple directors, Promise Me Not was helmed by the trio of Sakchai Deenan, Duloisit Niyomkul and Theeraton Siriphu.

Other films at the Singapore fest include:
  • The Burnt Theatre - I can't say enough about Rithy Panh's gut-wrenching picture of contemporary Cambodian society and arts. Go to hear the soundtrack, supplied by a pile-driver rig at a casino they were building next to the theater in Phnom Penh. Stay for the meal of fried bats.
  • Tori - Somehow, Tadanobu Asano found the time to make a movie, even if it is a short film (50 minutes). From the festival website: "It is a visualisation of dreams through live action and animation in five seamless episodes. With Bird as a starting point, it spreads its wings and flies on and on, beyond time and space. In Sword Of Mind, a samurai’s sword keeps cutting people down against his will. ATO is a visual poem depicting graffiti art and skateboarders. In Eternal Duo, a comic duo is captivated by a beautiful living thing. In the last episode, or, a bird puts on the costume of a beast, and dances in the air."
  • The Last Communist - Loosely based on the autobiography of Chin Peng, the legendary Malayan communist guerrilla leader.
  • The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai - Wacky satirical slapstick by award-winning pink film director, Mitsuru Meike. They quote Twitch: "Featuring enough raunch, humour and weirdness to please all."
  • Tribute to M Amin - "This tribute acknowledges a maverick talent and the three films - Cucu Datok Merah (1963), Dua Kali Lima (1966) and Aku Mahu Hidup (1970) reflect different stages of his career and his handling of different genres. In fact, Cucu Datok Merah is one of the finest anti-hero films ever seen in Malay cinema."
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, March 13, 2006

2006: A break-out year for Thai animation?

The Nation on Sunday had a front-page article about the state of animation in Thailand, honing in on two upcoming 3-D features, Khan Kluay, about King Naresuan’s valiant war elephant and something tentatively called Dracula Tork, about a ghost based on the late Thai comedian Lor Tork, who starred in the classic Thai film, Ngern Ngern Ngern (Money, Money, Money).

Producted by Auchara Kijkanjanas and Boyd Kosiyabong, Khan Kluay has been in production for five years, and has had problems along the way.

"Trouble? We've had to face it in every area, every step of production from developing the script to researching it until final editing on the computer screen now," Auchara was quoted as saying.

"Yes, there are problems all along the way. It’s new to us, and we're working under constraints in every area from budget to human resources," Boyd said.

Under production by Thailand's biggest animation studio, Kantana Animation, and backed by Sahamongkol Film, Khan Kluay initially had a budget of 100 million baht (about $2.5 million), but five years of learning and the work of 100 production-crew members have cost almost 150 million baht so far.

The director of Khan Kluay is Kompin Kemgumnird, whose experience makes him a 3-D animation veteran in the local industry. He used to work for Disney on such films as Tarzan and Atlantis, as well as Blue Sky Studio's Ice Age.

Kompin said human resources was one major difficulty he encountered as he had had to develop both the work method and technical skills for each member of his crew.

"We had a film school in our company to train personnel. Fortunately, it has now grown into an official programme at Mahidol University, co-developed by Kantana," Kompin was quoted as saying.

Chaiwat Thawewongsangthong, the new president of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, said his organization would soon be ready coordinate between animation film-makers and government authorities, especially the Culture Ministry, to promote Thai animated films. He admitted that the federation had done nothing special to promote Thai animated films, as its policy was to treat all local films equally, but with the breakthrough of these two, promotion in the world market would be reviewed.

Here's an interesting quote from Boyd:
Apart from lowering taxes on the film industry, if the authorities want to support Thai animations, one thing they can do is set a quota for Thai films screened in domestic cinemas. That is one way domestic film-makers can survive."

Due out later this year, Khan Kluay will be the first Thai animated feature to be released since 1979's Sud Sakorn, a cel-animated effort that I wish would be issued on DVD and as heavily marketed in Thailand as any Disney 'toon. It's part of Thailand's cultural heritage that is in grave danger of being lost if something is not done to promote it. Director Payut Ngaokrachang faced many of the same struggles to practice his art (yes, it IS art!) - the learning curve and the incredulous studios (why spend so much money animating it, we can do live action for cheaper!).

And, before this latest push involving Khan Kluay, there was a 3-D feature by Angulimala director Sutape Tunnirut called King Vikram & Betaan Vampire. It was completed more than a year ago but has been blocked from release or exhibition for some reason or another. Those who have seen it have commented that it's not bad, though hardly Pixar standard.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Twitch reviews Garuda

Over at Twitch, the love for Thai film continues with a positive review of Garuda, which is thought to be Thailand's first foray into the kaiju genre. Todd writes:

It is a more than respectable first effort. While the effects may not compare to a big budget American production they certainly clock in somewhere above your typical Sci Fi Channel effort."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Citizen Dog a prize-winner at Deauville

Following up an earlier posting, Citizen Dog won the Critics Prize at the Deauville Asian Film Festival, according to Channel NewsAsia.

Both Citizen Dog and Midnight My Love were in competition at the festival.

Update: Cherm won the script award at the Deauville fest.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Firecracker 16 on the Bangkok fest

Firecracker 16 is up. Here's a look at what I'm looking at:

  • Robert Williamson offers his Top 5 from the Bangkok International Film Festival, covering Sombat Metanee's the Holy Hoodlum (sorry I missed it!), Zhang Yuan's boarding school tale Little Red Flowers (where it was lost in the muddle), the sweet and interesting Joni's Promise, from Indonesia (this was one I had my eye out for before the festival, but missed it anyway), David Brisbin's look at Cambodia, Nice Hat! Five Enigmas in the Life in Cambodia and Gie, Rira Riza's biopic of Indonesia activist, Soe Hok Gie.
  • Nick North reviews Danny Pang's Ab-normal Beauty.
  • Gojira!

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, March 10, 2006

On DVD in Thailand: In the Name of the Tiger, Tom Yum Goong

In the Name of the Tiger, a crazy-looking hill-tribe fantasy put out late last year by Phranakorn Film is out on DVD, with English subtitles.

I tried to see Name of the Tiger, but it was in and out of cinemas so fast, I didn't have a chance. It has a good cast, including Choosak Eamsuk, or Nong Cha Cha Cha from Sai Lor Fah, comedian Note Chern-Yim, frequent comic character actor Somlek Sakdikul, and the Bunluerit twins, Bin and Ekapun.

But, given my recent bad luck with The Tiger Blade DVD being censored with pixellation fuzz, I'm wary of buying another Thai DVD. But, given the fun, Disneyfied look of In the Name of the Tiger, what can there be to censor? There's no guns being pointed, though with hill-tribes involved, there's probably some smoking of something or other going on. Though my first impulse is to buy it, I might try a rental first.

The Culture Ministry is fully into the process of censoring VCDs and movies now. And from the looks of the The Tiger Blade, it seems they are being pretty heavy handed. I read a recent report that censors have outright banned around 40 movies from being distributed in Thailand. I don't have a list of titles (anyone?), and I suspect that most are the kinds of movies I wouldn't want to watch anyway. Still, I'm not too keen on a government telling me what I can and can't see. I'd rather decide for myself. But then, it's not my government, is it? Guess I'd better just shut the hell up.

Oh, and there's a little action film that came out last year called Tom Yum Goong. It's out on DVD now in Thailand. There are no English subtitles, but since a lot of English is spoken in the film, that won't make too much difference, unless it's been Thai dubbed, which is a strong possibility, so caution is urged. The thing about the Thai DVD, though, is that it's a massive two-disc set with tons of extras featuring Tony Jaa performing at all kinds of special appearances to promote his films, so it still might be worth getting if you can't get enough Tony Jaa.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Federation has new president, but it really wants Sia Jiang back

Chaiwat Theaweewongsangthong is the new president of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand. (Maybe his first job would be to update the Federation's website?)

He was elected to the post reluctantly. Seems the membership was desperate to have Sahamongkol boss Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert back at the helm, according to the The Nation's Soopzip column on Wednesday.

Sia Jiang resigned as head of the Federation after calling for a boycott of members of the Bankgok International Film Festival, a move that prompted three major studios - Five Star Production, GTH and RS Film - to quit the Federation.

The whole story can be found here, here, here and here.

Several nominees were proposed, Soopsip said, including veteran entertainment journalist Nakorn Veeraprawat and director Thanit Jitnukul. They politely declined to stand. Former Federation president Khom Akkradej said he was too busy.

Even Chaiwat, a committee member on the Federation, withdrew, in hopes that Sia Jiang would come back.

Then he changed his mind.

"Sia Jiang asked me to accept the post if everyone else refused to take on the duties. So I decided to say yes," Chaiwat was quoted as saying.

For his part, Sia Jiang wants to put the fireworks of the past behind him.

"My decisions as president caused the three companies to leave the federation, so I shouldn’t take the position again," he was quoted as saying

Does he have a message for the three companies?

"Please come back, we have a new president."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, March 9, 2006

More on the Digital Short Films

Following up on an earlier posting, I stumbled on the website for the Jeonju International Film Festival, April 27 to May 5, and started poking around, and found more information about this year's Digital Short Films by Three Filmmakers.

Something that the Jeonju festival has been doing since it started, each filmmaker gets $50,000 to make an entire digital short film, from concept, to shooting to post-production. This year's filmmakers are Eric Khoo from Singapore, Darezhan Omirbayev from Khazakhstan and Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang. Each page explains about the films they are all working on.

Khoo's short is called No Day Off, or Foreign Domestic Worker or FDW, and focuses on the controversial subject of maids in Singapore. In addition, Khoo talks more about his film in this article, originally from the Electric New Paper.

Omirbayev's film is About Love, about a lonely math teacher who meets a former student by chance and then falls in love with the alumnus' wife.

Pen-ek's is called Twelve Twenty, about a man in an airport lobby who suddenly falls in love with a woman at the check-in counter on the other side.

Last year's edition of the Digital Short Films, which featured the works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Shinya Tsukamoto from Japan and Song Il-gon from South Korea, played at a short-film workshop in Bangkok, so I got to see them. I'm hoping this year's films will get a bigger distribution.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Citizen Dog, Midnight My Love at Deauville; Wisit's next project

Citizen Dog and Midnight My Love are among the films in the excellent lineup at the Deauville Asian Film Festival, March 8 to 12. Kung Fu Cult Cinema has more on it.

And, in other Wisit Sasanatieng related news, Wisit's followup to Citizen Dog might be a Singaporean-backed film called Armful. This comes via comments from Sebu, via Variety.

A "stylized tragicomedy" being developed by One Ton Cinema, Armful is "a revenge tale about a failed paper merchant who loses his arm."

One Ton is a new studio started up by some commercial film makers - folks I think Wisit could relate to. The script is in Mandarin and was developed by Kevin WY Lee.

"We approached Wisit to direct 'Armful' precisely because of the surreal and absurdist approach to storytelling he showed in his first two films," Lee told Variety.

One Ton is pitching the new project as Southeast Asian rather than Singaporean and will attach regional co-production partners and an international sales company at the Hong Kong Filmart this month. Aim is to raise a healthier budget for special effects than on the ultra-low-budget Citizen Dog, Variety says.

Update: Twitch has news on this, too.

(Cross-poublished at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Review: Invisible Waves

  • Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang
  • Screenplay by Prabda Yoon
  • Cinematography by Christopher Doyle
  • Starring Tadanobu Asano, Gang Hye Jung, Eric Tsang, Maria Cordero, Toon Hiranyasup, Mitsuishi Ken, Tomono Kuga
  • World premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, Thailand premiere at Bangkok International Film Festival, opened in limited release in Thailand on March 2, 2006; also showing at Hong Kong International Film Festival.
  • Language is a mix of Japanese, Cantonese, English and a little Thai.
A few weeks ago I hopped in the front seat of a taxi and asked the driver to take me a few blocks down Sukhumvit to Siam Square.

"Siam Paragon?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "The Lido cinema."

The head-scratching and fidgeting began - sure signs that the driver wished he had not accepted the fare.

A couple blocks down, he turned to me and said, in perfect English, "Look, I've had a long day and I want to go home. If I take you to Siam Paragon, they have a U-turn and I can turn around and get headed back the way I need to go."

"Well, since you explained it, that's okay then," I said, after I picked my jaw up off the floorboard of the cab. In five years of taking taxis in Bangkok I've never come across such a plain-spoken and practical driver. I mean, that's just how he said it, the way I've quoted it right here.

And after all, Siam Paragon is just across the street from Siam Square and the Lido. I was happy to oblige the guy, especially since he so frankly explained why he wanted to take me to Siam Paragon and not my intended destination. In a society where subtlety and head-nodding agreement is the norm, it was a refreshing change of pace.

His mood brightened, and he started making conversation the way Bangkok taxi drivers often do, asking me where I'm from, how long I've been in Thailand, etc.

"Can you speak Thai?" he asked.

"Poot Thai dai nid noi," I said, my standard reply to that question - yes, I can speak Thai, just a little bit.

He then made a joke. I can't remember how it goes, but it boiled down to "Nid" and "Noi" are popular Thai names - meaning few and small respectively - and that I only spoke Thai to people named Nid or Noi. Somehow, I got the joke, and we had a good laugh. Thai humor - especially sly wordplay - is an acquired taste, and little by little I'm starting to understand.

Pretty soon, I was dropped off at his coveted U-turn at Siam Paragon and was on his way home. I ambled up to the Skytrain station to cross over the street, feeling pretty good about making a small connection with another human being, and being accomodating enough to make a little bit of a difference in one guy's day.

I relate this story as a way of saying that having just seen Invisible Waves, I'm at great pains to know what to write about it. The story comes to mind because there are characters named Nid and Noi in the film - just as there were in Pen-ek and Company's previous work, Last Life in Universe, which is titled Ruang rak noi nid mahasan, meaning "Love Story, a Little, a Lot".

Again, how this relates to Invisible Waves, I don't really know. But that's the kind of film Invisible Waves is, I guess. Upon reflection, it makes me think of other things, like where I'm going, where I've been and how I fit in. And somehow, the taxi story just seems to fit right in there, especially when I think about the mishmash of languages in this film - with a pan-Asian cast - and Japanese, Thai and Korean all speaking English to each other, except in a few cases.

Which brings me to another story. When I went to get the ticket for this movie at the Siam Paragon, I was told it was "sah-peak Thai, English subtitles", which was contrary to what I'd been told by Five Star Production. They said it was original soundtrack, with Thai and English subs. I was pretty steamed, and I walked around for a few hours in a dour mood, cursing my luck for missing the film at the film festival and hating everyone and everything in the world. Depression set in. Of course, all was well when I actually went to the movie, and found that it was the original mixed-language soundtrack with Thai and English subs. What a relief! It was all part of the journey this film would take me on.

So what about the film? Well, it's the fourth Thai film (though it isn't really a "Thai" film) I've seen this year, and it's third in a row that I feel I can't really go into specifics about or I'll ruin it.

But I will give out what's already been dished up: Tadanobu Asano portrays Kyoji, a Japanese gangster/chef, living in Macau and working in Hong Kong for a Thai restauranteur named Wiwat (Toon Hiranyasup). Seems Kyoji has been having an affair with his boss' wife, Seiko (Tomono Kuga) and is ordered to get rid of her. He does so by poisoning her.

He is then ordered to leave Hong Kong, and is given passage aboard a spooky cruise ship, bound for Phuket, Thailand. Before leaving, he checks in with a mysterious monk, whose head is wrapped in bandages for an unknown reason. This is Eric Tsang. He speaks Cantonese, yet Kyoji understands what he's saying and answers him in English. The monk gives Kyoji some money and tells him to contact the Lizard in Phuket.

As Kyoji boards the ship, a mysterious man in a straw hat notes his departure.

On the ship, Kyoji's berth is in the stinking bowels of the ship, next to a noisy engine room that vents smoke into his room. The toilet has plumbing that's all out of wack. The shower knob flushes the toilet and the shower nozzle sprays water him if he looks at funny. This gets a lot of laughs. Also, his fold-down bed refuses to stay folded down, so Kyoji has to keep his foot on it if he wants it down while he's in the room.

Kyoji is often lost - which is a metaphor for how this whole film feels - lost, disjointed, and never really finding its way. He gets lost in the maze-like halls of the ship, as well as the dingy hotel he stays in later in Phuket.

On the ship, he meets a woman named Noi (Gang Hye Jung), who comes across pretty ditzy, and downright irresponsible. She has a baby, and leaves it sitting on deck while she's in the pool. After Kyoji chides her for leaving the baby alone, she makes Kyoji watch the kid, whose name by the way, is Nid.

In Phuket, the man with the straw hat is there to see Kyoji arrive. This man, it turns out is the Lizard (Mitsuishi Ken), but Kyoji never gets a chance to contact him because he's robbed and he loses his money and his contact information, and gets that black eye that's seen in stills from the film.

But the Lizard finds him, and invites him to the landmark Pearl Hotel, where the Lizard performs karaoke for the guests at poolside - all transgendered women in bikinis. It's pretty surreal.

Much more than that, and I'm going too far, if I haven't already.

What really makes this movie is the performances. Asano is rock solid all the way through. From the very beginning, I can't help but think, "what a bad-ass." He's truly one the greatest actors working in film today.

Mitsuishi Ken is the Lizard, a character that is pretty enigmatic, and bumbling in a smooth sort of way.

And I really liked Toon Hiranyasup, one of the top Thai action stars from the 1980s. He has to be the nicest, most unthreatening mob boss ever committed to film. I'd like to see him in more English-language roles. He's such a smoothie.

Gang, as other reviews have pointed out, is pretty awkward, but somehow I think this fits her character. In an early scene while she's swimming in the pool ... uh, well, I just lost my train of thought there.

Maria Cordero portrays Kyoji's neighbor in Macau, and she adds a comforting motherly presence.

Overall, the photography has a grey, overcast sheen to it. I'm not sure if this was the projection of the film at Paragon Cineplex (one of the few places that's running the original soundtrack for the Thai commercial run, which is relatively limited anyway) or the way Christopher Doyle intended it.

So yeah, Invisible Waves is dark. It has its moments of humor, and flashes of action, but overall, it's a meditative work, and a film that will likely gain acceptance as more film buffs see it.

I just want to end right now, without offering any comparisons between it and Pen-ek's other works. This one's a different film, and there's no way of knowing what sort of direction this will lead the director's career.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, March 3, 2006

News roundup about Pen-ek, Wisit

As I head out today to finally watch Invisible Waves, I offer a bunch of cool links to stories about Thai film from Twitch and Kaiju Shakedown:
  • Pen-ek will direct a segment of this year's Digital Short Films From Three Filmmakers series at the Jeonju Film Festival along with Kazakhstan's Darezhan Omirbayev and Singapore's Erik Khoo. If you remember, another Thai director, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, participated in last year's Digital Short Films, making a short called Worldly Desires. Shinya Tsukamoto from Japan offered the deeply disturbing scarring Haze and Il-gon Song from Korea had Magician(s).
  • The Film Factory is a commercial production company in Bangkok where Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng made television commercials as they prepped for their first feature films and continued to work between features. Now, thanks to Twitch, you can visit the site and download the commercials by Wisit (his nickname is "Sid"), Pen-ek (or "Tom") and two other award-winning directors at Film Factory, Pongpaiboon Siddhigu and Michael Warr. The clips include Wisit's Wrangler commercial, which I recently saw at the Bangkok International Film Festival screening of Tears of the Black Tiger, as well as my favorite commercial for my favorite suki chain, MK, another by Wisit. Another plus: the clips are subtitled in English.
  • Wisit's Citizen Dog played at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, Twitch reports, and a review is here.
  • Looks like a good year for this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, Kaiju Shakedown reports. It'll be showing Invisible waves, as well as a killer tribute to action choreographers that inclues Dirty Ho (Lau Kar Leung), The Blade, A Touch of Zen (Sammo Hung), The Magic Blade, The Young Master, Martial Club, Fong Sai Yuk (The Legend) (Corey and Tak Yuen) and Once Upon a Time in China II (Xin Xin Xiong and Yuen Wo Ping). Johnnie To's Election 2 opens the festival (Election is showing as well), and there will also be a parody of the industry called Film Surprise, outdoor screenings of Masked Rider the First and I Not Stupid Too, a followup to Jack Neo's Singapore schoolboys hit, I Not Stupid.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Final words on the Bangkok International Film Festival

A couple more articles have rolled in, dissecting the recently completed Bangkok International Film Festival, with IndieWire weighing in, but the guy who really takes the festival to task is the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee. In a 1-2 punch in today's Real Time section, Kong offers his look at the Berlin International Film Festival on the front page, commenting on what is done right there. And then, on an inside page, he slams the Bangkok International Film Festival, offering up much of the same criticism that has dogged the Bangkok fest since its inception.

I'll adopt some of his points, and add a few of my own. Here we go:

Lack of subtitles - How culturally insensitive can you get? It's a slap in the face to its own people that a Thailand government agency funds this festival with taxpayer money and yet does not provide Thai subtitling. What little pure Thai content there was, wasn't very well promoted. At least make an effort to put subtitles on the English-language films. The best scenario would see all films have Thai subtitles, and non-English films would have a second set of English subs. This would include just about everyone in the Kingdom - both Thais and film-loving expat residents.

Too many press passes and VIPs - This is my big complaint. Wandering around at the festival during the week, I was probably the only person in some screenings without a badge or comped ticket. The preponderance of press passes and VIP tickets leads to another problem - auditoriums being marked as fully booked, yet three quarters of the seats are empty by the time the film unspools. I'm not the only one to notice this - Kaiju Shakedown sees this, too - so watch out. Lay down the law - hold press and VIP vouchers up to 30 minutes before showtime. If the vouchers aren't picked up, release the seats to people who are paying for them. Also, I understand that an effort was made to limit the number of freebies this year, but after the announcement was made, there was an outcry by the freeloaders who feel they are entitled for some reason to free festival tickets. So the organizers backed down. Hold your ground. Be firm. The only loss of face there is is your own and the entire festival. Next year, limit the number of press passes to accredited working press and acknowledged staff members

Not enough focus on film - The red-carpet hoopla and the flying in of big stars seriously disgusts me. I guess that directors, producers and stars could get a per diem and have their minimum travel expenses paid - Bangkok's far away from everything, after all. Thing is, they're coming to promote their films - so for the bigger studios, why don't they pick up the tab? But paying huge fees commanded by divas are over and above what is called for. It's robbery, pure and simple. Let the films themselves be the stars. All the celebrities flitting around takes the focus away from the films. It waters down coverage of the festival - with all the celebrities and controversy, it's possible for journalists to turn in an entire story about the film festival without hardly mentioning any films.

No Thai festival organizer - Not to take anything away from Film Festival Management Inc - I'm sure they're doing the best they can, given the circumstances they have to work with. But there should be an experienced Thai film scholar, filmmaker or unbiased industry person as curator of the festival, with enough juice to get the job done. Also, responsibility for organizing the festival should be taken from the Tourism Authority, possibly, and I hesitate to say it - the Culture Ministry, or its Office of Contemporary Art and Culture. With the TAT in charge, the overriding mission of the festival is to promote tourism - particularly to high-end Western tourists. It's too ambitious. It isn't getting the job done. There aren't enough of those kinds of tourists who want to come to Thailand to watch movies. Don't make it a tourist thing - make it a Thai thing - there's an audience here already, without having to spend millions of baht to fly them in. Make it a cultural thing. Film is art. Film is culture. Treat it as such.

High prices: Films should be for everyone, not an exclusive class. The high-end tourists that the festival hopes to attract aren't being attracted in large enough numbers. So the prices are too high. It's not like the festival is making money anyway, so subsidize the prices and make the films available to a bigger audience. 80 or 90 baht is a good price. 140 baht is too high. And 200 baht is outrageous. The prices should be uniform, no matter where the films are being shown, whether it's in a reclining-seat screening room or a big auditorium.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Critics pick most important Thai film directors has posted the results of its survey of Thai film critics, in an effort to name the most important Thai film director.

I participated in the poll, though I was thrown off a bit by the "most important" tag, so I picked Rattana Pestonji, whom I regard as the father of contemporary Thai film.

But there were other criteria, one of which was that the directors should be actively working, which means they must be alive. Doh! But to be fair, the contributions of Rattana, as well as many other living and retired directors, are recognized in the survey. A weighting system employed by was employed to rank the directors, and those who have been more active recently were weighted higher.

Also, ThaiCinema was seeking comments about why the critics thought the directors were so important, another element I neglected to participate in. No biggie. Dozens of critics were polled, and a lot of thoughtful comments were offered. Anyway, here's the top four (with some selected comments from the website):

Apichatpong Weerasethakul - "Not only the most important Thai director or one of the most important in Southeast Asia, but in the world at large as well. Challenging (and triumphing over!) common notions of narrative cinema, while exploring simple topics with such raw, primal emotional force and honesty. Truly exciting to watch, as he continues to experiment with the medium, and to grow as an artist."

Pen-ek Ratanaruang - "A remarkable story-teller whose films are interesting and engaging. Last Life in the Universe marked an experimental and pensive shift in directorial mood after 6ixtynin9 and Monrak Transistor, both of which could be categorised more as conventional crowd-pleasers (but compelling ones nevertheless). Most of his films are underscored by black humour and are comparable to the plots of the Coen Brothers, which I believe is one reason why they continue to attract interest. It remains to be seen if Invisible Waves will sustain his 'arthouse' interests as demonstrated in Last Life."

Wisit Sasanatieng - "Wisit's sense of visual style is developing a noticeable pattern. From the international success of Tears of the Black Tiger to Citizen Dog, it's one that relies more on technology and camera tricks than traditional framing and compositional strategies. However, his flair for imagery outshines his narrative and directorial control. Citizen Dog is a fine piece of cinema, but had his command of visuals not been as strong, I think the film would have failed because it was the narrative aspect of his directing that let him down. Lesser known is his screenwriting work for Dang Bireley and Nang Nak, two films correspondingly unheard of outside Asia"

Nonzee Nimibutr - "Not only directing film but also producing so many & good quality Thai film and can send to international market. He is a good spokeperson of Thai film, especially in Japan. He was invited to symposium about Thai movies twice to explain about Thai film industry."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Somluck's luck in Fearless

Anywhere else in the world, the big news about Fearless would be that it’s Jet Li's last kung fu movie. But in Thailand, it's trickier than that.

Olympic featherweight boxer Somluck Kamsing was cast in Fearless as (what else?) a Thai boxer who's among an international cast of combatants for Jet's character. You can see him on the posters and other media advertising the film, which opened in Thailand on March 2.

He’s the one in a boxer pose, with his forearms and fists taped up, sort of like Tony Jaa in Ong Bak. Fearless also features Nathan Jones, the Australian strongman and wrestler who loomed large in Tom Yum Goong.

However, with a big cast of characters and an ambitious, epic story to tell, Fearless, directed by Ronny Yu and choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, was running too long. So Somluck, who’s previously co-starred in Panna Rittikrai's Born to Fight, saw his scenes snipped in an effort to get the 140-minute film down to just over 100 minutes.

But he shouldn’t feel bad. An even bigger star, Michelle Yeoh, also saw her scenes end up on the cutting-room floor. And Somluck can still count himself lucky – he's actually worked with a kung-fu legend.

However, there's another however. According to Fearless distributor, Buena Vista International, although Somluck's scenes were cut from the international version of Fearless, audiences in Thailand will still get to see him in a special Thailand-only, Thai-dubbed release.

Apparently, there were a lot of tongues wagging in the local media that Somluck had never even acted in the film.

"First of all we'd like to thank all media who were interested in the film and caught the news on Somluck," Dujdao Prommbol, Buena Vista's senior marketing officer, says in a press release. "Because of the problem of screening longer-length films abroad, Somluck's and Michelle's scenes were cut. But in Thailand, we will release a longer version so fans here will surely see Somluck fighting with Jet Li."

The Thai release has Somluck's scene, but no scenes with Michelle Yeoh.

In Fearless, Li portrays the great martial arts master, Huo Yuanjia (1868 to 1910), who’s revered as a folk hero in China. Bits and pieces of Huo’s legend have turned up on film before. In Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee portrays a student of Huo, who turns up in foreigner-dominated Shanghai just as his master has been killed by a rival martial-arts school. Lee's character, Chen Zen, goes nuts, most famously doing a high kick to splinter a sign on a public park that says "No dogs and Chinese allowed." Jet Li starred in Fist of Legend, a 1994 remake of Fist of Fury.

In those films, Huo is nothing but a corpse for Lee and Li to be dramatically bereaved over. In Fearless, he’s a very much a living and fighting being, growing from a bullied boy who trains himself how to fight. He becomes an arrogant, hot-headed young man, but comes to realise that violence only begets more violence. But, he also finds that martial arts still have a place in society, and he makes it his life's mission to promote a style of fighting that emphasises skill and sportsmanship over brutality.

The scene comes as Huo has gone off to walk the Earth like Cain, and ends up in a hilltribe village somewhere in Asia. Somluck is a fighter in a neighboring village who challenges Huo to a fight. For the Thai audiences, I think these scenes were enjoyed most of all - especially the sight of Jet Li trying to learn how to plant rice.

According to the legend, it was a fight with a Thai boxer that turned Huo on to developing a style of kung fu that’s more of a sport, rather than a means for killing, so the scene with Somluck actually turns out to be a crucial one in the story.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)