Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Khan Kluay effect

Just like 101 Dalmations, which caused a run on cute, little dalmation puppies, or Finding Nemo's increasing the sales of clown fish, it seems the Thai animated film Khan Kluay has caused a glut of elephants begging for handouts, according to the Bangkok Post.

The number of young elephants, aged three or four, wandering in the business districts of Chiang Rai municipality has increased since the release of the film last month, the report says.

Aek, a 25-year-old mahout said Khan Kluay film fever drove him and fellow mahouts to bring baby elephants to the city. He said the cuter baby elephants help him earn more money than grown ones, especially with the current Khan Kluay craze.

The mahouts could earn 300 to 400 baht (about $7 to $10) a day.

Although the mahouts risk a crackdown by the police (elephants are technically barred from the cities), or their elephants being hit by cars, they say they have no choice.

"My fellow mahouts and I always worry about what will happen to us and our elephants after the Khan Kluay film craze is over," Aek said.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Ananda Everingham in February 29

ThaiCinema.org has the scoop on Shutter star Ananda Everingham's latest film. Seems the Thai press didn't pick up on it because it's a Singaporean romantic comedy.

Called February 29, it's directed by Jean Yeo and co-stars Li Lin.

The story is adapted from Catherine Lim's novel Leap of Love, about a woman who goes searching for true love on February 29.

Everingham also was in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's short film, 12'20 (or Twelve Twenty), which was done for the Jeonju International Film Festival.

No word on when that might show up in Bangkok, except I understand the Alliance Francaise Bangkok was trying to get it for their short film fest but was unsuccessful.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Jiggery-pokery box-office figures

What? A film studio cooking the books on its box office figures? That's what Soopsip in The Nation on Wednesday was talking about.

The Thai film industry likes to market itself as robust by inflating its box-office figures, and it's able to do so because the system it uses to calculate those figures is complicated, and has become even more complicated with the increase in multiplex screens and the move in the past couple of years to start the "weekend" box office count on Thursdays, rather than Fridays.

Soopsip goes on to explain how revenue from the Bangkok screenings is split between the cinemas and the studios, while in the past the studios sold the film to provincial exhibitors for a set price. That's changed, apparently.

Somehow, it boils down to the studios just out and out making up figures when they talk about revenue to the press.

For example, Tom Yum Goong made 183.5 million baht (about US$4.78 million) in the Bangkok metro area, according to Flicks, a magazine that is considered the most reliable source for box office takings (which appears to be the source Box Office Mojo uses).

Yet Sahamongkol Films claim says Tom Yum Goong earned 300 million baht from nationwide screenings - Bangkok combined with the screenings at far-flung provincial cinemas.

As Soopsip says: "The sums simply don't add up".

The animated flick Khan Kluay celebrated reaching the magic 100-million-baht mark two weeks yet figures for June 8-11 show earnings of only 87.1 million baht.

Noo Hin: The Movie earned around 40 million baht, according to Flicks, but the company - again Sahamongkol - says the film has made twice that.

Hmm. They must be packing them in at the Apex in Chacheongsao and The Mall Korat.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Colic: The Posters

Posters for what appears to be a gory new Thai horror film, Colic: The Movie are hanging in local cinemas. They're pretty sick, especially the one with the one handed baby looking askance at the bloody blender.

Twitch, of course, has been all over this one with posts about the synopsis and website and the flash trailer.

But for me, I'm wondering: Why do I have to see this stuff in the lobby of my local shopping mall multiplex?

Now, far be it from me to impose the kind of American moralist-conservative values on Thailand that are practiced in the US by the Motion Picture Association of America. That is what I love about living in Thailand, is that I don't have to put up with that, so much. But I still wonder: Aren't the posters a bit much?

I had them open here in the office and a couple of the guys passing by had to stop and look again. They were horrified and sickened. And these are hardened professional newspapermen who've seen war photos and the results of bloody demonstrations on their 20-inch monitors or composing-room tables day in and day out for the past three decades.

So there's something.

Then, last night, I was listening to the weekly podcast of The Business from KCRW, and one of the guests was an exec from Roadside Attractions, a distributor that handles all kinds of controversial films, like Super Size Me, Ladies in Lavender (well, not so controversial) and Michael Winterbottom's Road to Guantanamo (ah, there we go). The guest spoke about the struggle in getting poster art approved by the MPAA, which must be done before a film can be rated. The marketing materials are a "yes or no" kind of decision by the MPAA, meaning the materials can either be used or they can't. They are for general audiences only. So for Road to Guantanamo, they couldn't use any depictions of torture (What? there's torture going on at Gitmo?).

Which, if you're still with me here, brings me to the issue of establishing a new Film Code and possibly a ratings board in Thailand.

If the ratings system is to make any sense, then it means children and squeamish adults like myself might be able to go to their local shopping mall or multiplex without having to see a nightmarish image like a baby with his hand in the blender. Or someone having an eye sewn onto their forehead, like in posters for Art of the Devil 2 (a scene that apparently wasn't depicted in the film, so not only is it gross, it's false advertising).

But then, what sells and what's acceptable in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia is different than the West, so perhaps it's okay for regular folks to have images like this on general view on seven-foot-high posters and lobby displays.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mercury Man - The trailer

Trailers for Mercury Man are playing in Thai cinemas as I write this. The preview is also online at YouTube. It was uploaded by a user named Xtreamstunts, a big German dude who is working as a stuntman in Thailand.

Because of the involvement of martial arts choreographer Panna Rittikrai and the Ong-Bak stunt team, the excitement over this CGI-heavy Thai superhero flick is palpable, with Twitch doing a number of postings here, here, here, here and here. Kung Fu Cult Cinema also has posted about it.

The director of Mercury Man is Bhandit Thongdee, who last did The Unborn. He also did Mongpleng Lookthung FM, also known as Hoedown Showdown.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Banned in Thailand

Being a banned film in Thailand doesn't quite have the same cachet as being banned in China, but when a film is finally released publicly in Thailand after 30 years, it's still something to write about.

And ThaiCinema.org has done just that, talking about the release on VCD of Tongpan.

The VCD has English subtitles, together with a compilation book on related articles and interviews, in both Thai and English.

The movie is about poor Northeasterners being invited by student demonstrators to discuss issues that affect them.

Since it dealt with the democracy uprisings of 1973-74, it caused enough of a stir in mid-1970s Thailand - wary of a communist incursion on its soil - that it was banned. Most of the filmmakers or performers were forced into exile, either abroad or "gone to the jungle for justice", as ThaiCinema.org puts it.

According to OutNow, which terms it "the first serious movie from Thailand", the film was completed outside Thailand.

It was directed by Euthana Mukdasanit, who later did the 1985 film dealing with South Thailand, Butterflies and Flowers, and Surachai Jantimatorn.

The film somehow managed to play at the London Film Festival and was honored as the "Outstanding Film of Southeast Asia", says ThaiCinema.

The movie is available for 100 baht (about US$2.50) at Thai bookstores in Bangkok, though ThaiCinema notes probably the best place to look is at CU Book Center, which has a branch in Siam Square.

Next time I'm in that neighborhood, I'll be there.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Small audience for Thai film in New York

Kaiju Shakedown is in the midst of the New York Asian Film Festival, which reports disappointment in the number of people who showed up for the screening over the weekend of Art of the Devil 2.

Only about 50 or 60 people showed up but the movie went over so well that we were all dying for it to screen in a sold-out house. The screams and groans and gasps of disbelief in the final 40 minutes were fun, but more people = more fun. This is the kind of movie that gives maximum pleasure in a theater, but will make you feel dirty if you watch it alone at home.

There was another screening last night.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Khan Kluay: The merchandise

One area that the new Thai animated feature Khan Kluay seems to have skimped on is merchandising, at least at first glance. And there's some mention of it over at Kaiju Shakedown (in the comments).

Now, I have seen a Khan Kluay plush toy, being hugged ever so tightly by a little boy on the elevator at Central City Bang Na.

But the fast-food restaurants are selling little toys of Western cultural icons, like Snoopy and the X-Men. Doraemon and Pokemon have made appearances as well. Why don't they ever sell Thai characters? Khan Kluay seems like it would be tailor made to have a local fast-food chain tie in, but there's nothing that I've seen.

But I did notice something today, along with the Maserati dealership in Siam Paragon, there's an Apple store, and one of the items it displayed was the Khan Kluay iPod. The 30-gig unit comes with the cute little elephant etched into the stainless-steel back, along with a pre-loaded video clip.

It's not near as kid friendly, or as inexpensive as a little Happy Meal trinket, but it is still pretty cool, I think.

There's more about it at TravelHappy, as well as here and here.

And, along those lines, in honor of His Majesty the King of Thailand's 60th Anniversary of Accession to the Throne, there are specially themed iPods as well.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Quacking up

I would like to wean myself from re-posting every single darned Thai film item that Twitch comes up with, but I have a hard time passing this one up, because it's just so bizarre, and to be fair, I've let a self-imposed, mandatory seven-day waiting period elapse. So ...

Being huge big fans of the candy-colored musical martial arts freak-out Bangkok Loco, the folks over at Twitch have taken to actively encouraging the director of that film, Pornchai Hongrattanaporn (or Mr. Pink as he prefers to be called), in his next project, Mr. Duck Fight.

I really don't feel I need to go any further than to say: go over to Twitch and check out the rest yourself. They have posted some huge, high-resolution concept images and production sketches.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Noo Hin: The critical response

Bits and pieces and little threads of information to somehow tie in here.

First, I guess I'll start with the news from Wednesday's Soopsip column in The Nation, which reports that Noo-Hin: The Movie remained the top Thai film at the local box office last week, taking in more than 22 million baht (about US$574,000).

This is despite the opening last week of cute rom-com, The Memory, starring an actor-pop star named Rattapoom 'Film' Tokongsab and an actress-model-VJ named Paula Taylor, who are apparently superstars. The story involves Film portraying a superstar who is involved in a car accident in Northern Thailand and gets amnesia. He is rescued by some comically rustic Northern hilltribe folk. Paula portrays a photographer out to find out why Film is hanging around with hilltribe folk and is acting so strange. And they fall in love. Or something like that. Anyway, it made 17 million.

The animated elephant feature Khan Kluay has earned a total gross of 68 million after three weeks in cinemas. More discussion about Khan Kluay can be found over at Kaiju Shakedown, which is making a special effort to be nice, and there's a review at ThaiCinema.org.

Back to Noo-Hin.

Seems some Thai fans of the comic book are upset that Khun Milk's (Kotchakorn Supakarnkijkul) 38D boobs weren't big enough. I guess in the comic they are probably more like 48FFF - cartoonishly unreal - yet that's what folks apparently want to see in a live action film.

Turns out that Kotchakorn actually worn some silicone falsies for the role. And, if you've seen the film, you'll note the irony in that. And, Kotchakorn is actually a very young woman - she's still in high school, I've heard from an acquaintance, whose daughter attends the same same school.

Well, enough about boobs.

Kong Rithdee, back from Cannes, weighed in yesterday with a review in the Bangkok Post's Real Time section.

I think he actually liked it, and was able to detect some of the social commentary about the vanity of society, though he still had some criticisms:

To be frank, I'm not sure how much of the satirical note the filmmakers intended to put in Noo-Hin the Movie, which is being marketed as an all-out entertainment fare ... Perhaps I'm reading into things too much in the vain attempt to say something meaningful after having had no opportunity to do so with most Thai films released this year. Most of us will also lament the film's below-par production quality - the whole package looks like a rush job, and I wonder where the heck the art director was during the shoot. Moreover, the film plays along with the stereotype of Isaan humour; among the requisites are the presence of buffaloes, roast lizards, fermented fish, as well as the tongue-twisting Northeastern dialect, which gives the simplest word a droll touch.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Elephants to see Khan Kluay

In a screening that will probably be its most critical audience, the recent Thai animated feature, Khan Kluay, about a baby elephant who grows up to be King Naresuan the Great's battle elephant, will be be shown to elephants and their mahouts.

The Bangkok Post yesterday reported the special screening at Ayutthaya, home to a herd of tuskers who haul tourists, will be on June 8.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Review: Noo Hin: The Movie

  • Directed by Komgrit Treewimol
  • Written by Kondej Jaturanrasamee
  • Produced by Nonzee Nimibutr
  • Starring Rungrawan Tonahongsa, Kotchakorn Supakarnkijkul, Panisa Buajarern
  • Wide theatrical release in Thailand on June 1, 2006
  • Rating 3/5

With most comic-book movies, I'm not an avid fan, but it doesn't stop me from understanding the story and most of the time actually enjoying what I'm seeing on the screen.

And with Noo-Hin: The Movie, there's the added disadvantage that I'm not at all familiar with the character. At least with most of the Hollywood comic-book heroes, I have at least heard of them and know a bit about their story.

But Noo Hin, based on the popular Thai manga Noo Hin Inter by Padung Kraisri, is pretty easy to pick up on, and the movie introduces her in the best possible way: with animation.

Noo Hin (an irrepressible Rungrawan Tonahongsa) is a young woman from Ubon Ratchathani in Northeast Thailand, or Isaan, that rural district of Thailand that has been rhapsodized in such recent films as Yam Yasothon and Citizen Dog, and is historically depicted in such films as Look Isaan and Monrak Lukthung.

Diminuative she may be, she is a loud sort and always manages to cause trouble wherever she goes. It is her superpower.

At the opening of Noo Hin: The Movie, she is out looking for something to eat, and she spots a lizard - represented by a tiny, cel-animated character. I always enjoy the fanciful blending of live-action and animation, and though the lizard is small and doesn't have anywhere near the impact of say, a Roger Rabbit, it's still fun to watch.

Noo Hin chases the lizard over hill and dale. She eventually gets aboard a water buffalo and starts a stampede of the serene bovines into a village fair, knocking a guy off a ladder and upsetting food carts. The lizard gets away and Noo Hin is about get punished.

Something must be done. As is usually the case in Isaan, the rice fields are dry and things are tough. Noo Hin, says her father, is grown up now, but useless. She must be sent away.

And with much rejoicing -- the village band turns out at the railway station to celebrate Noo Hin's departure -- Noo Hin is off to Bangkok to work in a factory.

Quickly, there is a wonderful song-and-dance fantasy sequence, in which Noo Hin imagines life working in a glamorous factory, making trendy bags, T-shirts or shoes.

The music is top notch, with songs by Kongdej, and the singing, while not by Noo Hin's favorite artist Jintara Poonlarp, is by perhaps the next best -- Janet Khiew, the co-star of last year's Yam Yasothon and a brilliant impressionist who can imitate many singers from Thailand and the West.

So it starts off with a lot of promise. And even going in, I expected a lot from Noo Hin, because it combines a lot of great talents. The director is Komgrit Treewimol from Fan Chan and last year's Dear Dakanda. He's a hired gun, brought in by Nonzee Nimibutr, one of Thailand's "new wave" producer-directors. And the script is by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, who directed last year's award-winning Midnight My Love. And it's based on a wildly popular comic book.

Eventually Noo Hin makes it to Bangkok and hits the employment agency right there in Hualumphong Terminal. She's hoping for a factory job, but all that's available is something in a rat-trap factory -- a horrifying prospect as Noo Hin fantasizes. Then a male fantasy walks through the door -- a leggy, large-breasted young Thai woman. She's at the agency looking for a maid. And much to all the men's dismay, the maid must be a woman. Noo Hin gets the job.

The sexy young woman's name, it turns out, is Milk, which Noo Hin has the audacity to point out why she thinks that's pretty funny. I'm not going to spell it out here.

After a bit of hassle with the seatbelt in the BMW car (Noo Hin points out she already has a protective belt -- a silver belt holding up her chic, ethnic wraparound skirt), Noo Hin and her new employer arrive at a mansion, where Milk introduces her mother and father and her older sister, Som-O (Orange), a weight-obsessed young woman who's just then on an exercise machine.

Noo Hin settles right in, blasting her morlam music at top volume. But her first time using fragrant insect spray quiets her down.

Then a musical sequence shows Noo Hin getting into her job as "house manager" (don't call her "maid", it's demeaning), wearing dust-mops on her feet, a head-dress of feather dusters, twirling a broom.

She bonds with the family and the girls, who take Noo Hin shopping at Siam Square, where Noo Hin is mystified by the behavior of city girls, who fight over underwear at the sales bins and use whitening cream to make their underarms sparkle.

With the housework in order and the family happy, Noo Hin sets her sights on her next project - making her beloved boss Milk and her sister Som-O famous. So she secretly enters both the girls in a "super model" contest, an idea that the girls are angry about at first, but their plump, blond-highlighted hi-so mother soon warms up to it.

At the contest, the girls catch the eye of a French designer's assistant, much to the dismay of jealous supermodel Sonia (played by an actress who is not Sonia Cooling), but the event is marred when Noo Hin catches a guy snapping cellphone camera pictures of Milk in her dressing room. Noo Hin accuses the guy, but he turns out to be a hi-so's son, and the case is swept under the rug and Noo Hin forced to apologize.

From there, the events spin out of control, as Noo Hin, Milk and Som-O are kidnapped. Noo Hin is whisked away to a sweatshop factory where Isaan girls slave away sewing teddy bears while handsome guys in black slacks and shirts bark out orders and have a DJ playing techno.

And the plucky Noo Hin uses her charm and all her resources to mount a rescue and save the day.

Things move so fast in the last third of the movie that they don't make sense. As with a lot of comedies (especially Thai comedies), it's mainly a lot of running and screaming. Gone are the musical numbers and any hope of further character development, though I did enjoy a Kung Fu Hustle/Coyote & Roadrunner moment when Noo Hin catches up to the bad guys' van, her legs a blur of spinning, cartoonish energy.

When it was all over, I felt like some of the characters had been given the short shrift, particularly Som-O, who was basically used for sight gags as she wore vibrating weight-loss belts; the handsome neighbor guy was just a handy plot device and Milk and Som-O's parents barely registered at all.

But then maybe a sequel will take care of those characters, which if Noo Hin: The Movie is a big enough hit, is in the realm of possibility. And it might be, if the fully packed auditorium for the 7.50pm show on opening night at Central City Bangna was any indication.

Internationally, though, I don't see Noo Hin creating much interest, despite the big names of Nonzee, Komgrit and Kondej attached. It's only a comedy, not horror or martial arts, which is what the West expects from Asia.

There is some underlying commentary about image - that city folk are too image conscious and country folk aren't proud enough of their rural roots - but I fear it gets lost in the jokes about Milk's big boobs and the flood of drool that emerges from the side of Noo Hin's mouth when she sees a handsome guy.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)