Friday, September 29, 2006

Pen-Ek's Ploy

Pen-ek Ratanaruang is submitting a project to the Pusan Promotion Plan, which is run in conjunction with Pusan International Film Festival.

The working title is Ploy, and from the looks of the synopsis from the website, it looks to be a madcap black comedy that will be similar in tone to his 6ixtynin9.

The death of a relative brings Wit and Dang back to Bangkok from America for the first time in seven years. When they arrive at the hotel in the early morning hours, Wit goes down to the lobby to buy some cigarettes. When unpacking their luggage, Dang, his wife, accidentally discovers a small paper with a mobile number of a woman named Oye. Though Wit has never been unfaithful during their seven years of marriage, she feels strange. Meanwhile down in the lobby Wit meets Ploy, a girl waiting for her mother to arrive from Stockholm later that day. He invites her to rest in their room. Up in the room Wit explains to his wife and on the surface Dang does her best to appear hospitable. But Wit soon realizes that he’s made a big mistake…This is how the little tale of love and jealousy begins. It starts with subtle suspicions and builds up to hilarious jealousy, as the appearance of the young woman triggers the couple to suddenly realize how they had grown apart in their seven-year marriage, before reaching a devastating climax. In the final act, the couple is faced with the choice of going separate ways or turns around and embraces each other for a new beginning.

It doesn't say who is writing the screenplay - whether it's Pen-ek - but his producing partner is ML Mingmakol Sonakul.

The PPP has been kind to Thai filmmakers in the past. Just last year Thunska Pansittivorakul and Sompot Chidgasornpongse split a $20,000 award with some Korean filmmakers for their project, Heartbreak Pavilion. Nonzee Nimibutr received some dough for something called Jon Salad Andaman, which became Queens of Pattani which has become Queens of Langkasuka, the historical pirate fantasy epic he is filming now.

And Apichatpong Weerasethakul was awarded some funds at one time for a project that is still in development. Not sure which one that is, though.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Fall film festival roundup

The fall film festival season is upon us, with several fests coming up with Thai films in their lineups.

First up there's the Chicago International Film Festival, October 5-19. It has Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves, the quirky Midnight My Love, starring Petchtai Wongkamlao as a sad-sack cabbie and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, which looks set to hit every major film festival in the world and will likely never be screened in Thailand - at least not for a long while.

Syndromes is also at the biggie, the Pusan International Film Festival, October 12-20. It's one of two Thai films in the program, the other being the boarding-school thriller, Dorm. The Pusan website is a bitch to navigate. The best way I found of getting around on it was to select "Screening schedule section", which gives a list that can be easily scrolled through.

And both Syndromes and Waves are at the London Film Festival, October 18-November 2. London also has A Bite of Love, which should be a comedy vampire thriller, but it's not. Instead, it's a weeper about a little girl (Grace Techaratanaprasert) who adopts a fluffy little puppy. I have the sinking feeling that Bite is going to come back around during awards season early next year in Thailand.

Bite is also at the Tokyo International Film Festival, October 21-29, which is going for decidely lighter fair from Thailand. It also has the hilarious Noo-Hin: The Movie.

Note that this roundup doesn't include the 4th World Film Festival of Bangkok, October 11-23, which has some Thai films (some obscure choices), but I'm still trying to track down information about them.

Kaiju Shakedown has a look at more Asian offerings at Pusan and Chicago and elsewhere.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bangkok not so dangerous

As far as coups go, I guess this one in Thailand has been very peaceful and relaxed. There's no curfew imposed and people are generally able to go about their daily lives - unless, of course, their daily lives had something to do with the old government and being close to the deposed prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Stores are open, movies are still playing, HBO and Cinemax are still on the air, and the Internet is running at full speed.

Still, according to news reports, the producers of what's being called Big Hit in Bangkok thought it might not be such a good idea to make a movie about folks who are running around pointing guns, what with soldiers hanging around with M-16s at the ready (even though those M-16s don't have ammo clips). So they are taking a break from filming, which might it delay its planned wrap-up in October.

Conflicting rumors had star Nicolas Cage fearfully jetting out of the country, but as far as I can tell, he's still hanging out, enjoying the good life in Bangkok, though a private plane is at the ready, should those ammo clips start being clapped into place.

Having Cage and the Pang Brothers around to film this remake of 1999's Bangkok Dangerous has proved handy for local film distributors. United International Pictures got Cage to sit for a press junket last week to talk about World Trade Center, which opened here this week, so of course most of the interviews had to be devoted to his work on the Oliver Stone film.

The Nation Weekend did manage to ask about what it's like working in Thailand and working with an Asian crew. Cage reminded folks that he's worked with an Asian director before (John Woo on Face/Off) and said that since he married a former sushi waitress, Alice Kim (the Korean-American mother of his 11-month-old boy, Kal-L), he considers himself "half Asian."

Meanwhile, Re-cycle has opened in Bangkok, and Angelica Lee and her boyfriend, Oxide Pang, were on hand for a Mongkol Cinema's press screening last week at Siam Paragon. It was all in Thai and Mandarin, though, so I didn't get much out of what was said.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes; photos via my Flickr set and May in April)

Review: Re-Cycle

  • Directed by the Pang Brothers
  • Starring Angelica Lee
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on September 21, 2006.
  • Rating: 3/5
Conceptually and visually, the Pang Brothers' latest horror film, Re-cycle, is the most daring thing they've done. But a weak story that tends towards melodrama softens the impact, and as if implied by the title, the scares are things that have been seen before in other Asian horror films.

A Thai-Hong Kong co-production that was shot in Thailand with a Thai crew and cast of extras, Re-cycle also reunited the Pangs with Angelica Lee, the whimpering star from The Eye (though Lee and Oxide Pang have been in a relationship for some time).

The concept is that there’s a dimension, or alternate universe, where everything that's ever been thrown away goes to spend eternity. Controversially, these discarded items include unwanted children and fetuses, and the Pangs have been called out by various interest groups, saying the film has an anti-abortion stance.

But, it's just a movie, the Pangs have said. And the scene involving a chamber of fetuses, in various stages of development, from one you can hold in the palm of your hand to a near-term baby, is probably the scariest. And even if the visuals aren't all that scary, they are a wonder to behold and make this film worth seeing. It's no wonder it was chosen for as the closer for this year’s Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard program, which highlights visually daring works.

Lee portrays Ting-yin, a writer who wrote a best-selling trilogy of romance novels eight years before. Her agent has already announced that her next book is a supernatural thriller, but she hasn't written a page. There's a bit of herself in her stories' protagonist, she tells the press, but since she broke up with her lover ("Jay" Jetrin Wattanasin), there's not going to be any more romance novels.

So she starts on her book, and weird things start happening. A strange lock of hair turns up on the kitchen counter. The crumpled-up balls of paper from early drafts of her story start rustling around in the dustbin of their own accord. There's a scary shower scene. Some screams are left on her telephone answering machine. She rides a creepy elevator with a little girl and a granny and gets off on what is decidedly the wrong floor – her recycled dimension of lost toys, second-hand books and discarded lives.

Eventually, she's on the run from grey-skinned zombies – wondrous creatures really, they should be in more films – and is led to safety by the little girl from the elevator, who rides astride a giant hobby horse, as if she's a knight in shining armour. It helps that the girl is cute, not creepy, like most horror-movie kids are. More about their relationship is revealed, as is Ting-yin’s relationship with Jay's character. Just who was discarded?

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coup d' etat in Thailand

The Thai military took over the government last night while the prime minister was in New York. They have declared today a holiday while they consolidate their hold on power. Everything is in a state of flux right now, but things are as normal as they can be given the circumstances.

The paper I work for is still publishing, and I'm about to duck my head out the door to see what's going on - whether shops are still open and such.

My first indication that something was afoot came late last night when all the channels on Thai TV were broadcasting montages of His Majesty the King along with some soft pop songs. The PM did manage to get his message of "state of emergency" broadcast, but later the TV was back to playing images of the King. Then, much later, a woman (later revealed to be beauty queen Thawinan Khongkran) came on all channels and said that there had been a coup but that the military would only be in power temporarily.

Because of other responsibilities, I can't get down to the coup area myself, and what I can report firsthand about it is what I've just done here.

See also:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, September 8, 2006

Review: Seasons Change

  • Directed by Nithiwat Tharatorn
  • Starring Witawat Singhalampong, Yuwanart Arayanimitsakul, Chutima Teepanart, Jumpon Thongtan, Yano Kazuki, Panisara Pimpru
  • Released in theaters in Thailand on August 31, 2006

Like the real seasons in Thailand, it’s hard to tell sometimes when it might rain and when it might be sticky hot. But overall, it all just seems the same, no matter what time of the year it is.

In Seasons Change, the latest romantic comedy from GMM Tai Hub – yet another first solo directorial effort by one of the Fan Chan gang of six, Nithiwat Tharatorn – it’s sickly sweet all the time.

This coming-of-age story is about Pom (Witawat Singhalampong), a little drummer boy with a crush on Dao (Yuwanart Arayanimitsakul), a pretty girl in his school who doesn’t even realise he exists.

But when he finds out she is heading off to Mahidol College of Music, Pom decides to enrol, against the wishes of his grocer father (Jumpon Thongtan), who wants the boy to study medicine and become a doctor, just like his father’s best friend.

For help in covering up his music studies, Pom enlists the help of Aom (Chutima Teepanart), the daughter of that doctor. And thus begins the love triangle. Pom only has eyes for the beautiful, talented Dao, who’s practicing so hard at becoming a violin prodigy and a scholarship to Hungary, that she doesn’t have time for boys. While Aom, who isn’t as pretty or musically gifted but has spunk to spare, has fallen for Pom. She indulges Pom in the only way a good Thai girl can – she doesn’t make him eat his vegetables.

Pom, meanwhile, must also choose between rock music and classical. Should he go for a sound that’s fun to play and easy to listen to, or opt for elegance and sophistication, but also a lot of hard work? He’s picked by a couple of guys and pressed into their power trio, playing some punky, guitar-driven rock ballads.

However, since Dao is the concertmaster for the orchestra, Pom joins that as well and lands a spot playing timpani. He’s frustrated by Dao’s failure to notice him and bored by the lack of notes in the Vivaldi piece they’re playing – a little number called The Four Seasons.

But, with the help of a wizened Yoda of a Japanese percussion instructor (the enjoyable mime-actor Yano Kazuki, who gets more play here than he did in Metrosexual), Pom begins to understand the spaces between the notes and take interest in the bigger picture. Plus, he’s helping Aom, a multi-instrumentalist whose only real talent seems to be the cymbals, with her studies. Maybe the girl has possibilities, both as a girlfriend and as a talented musician, after all.

Eventually Pom makes his final decision – he goes classical – much to the disappointment of the guys in his band. They play one last number on the campus quad, which catches the attention of Dao. Suddenly, she and Pom are an item and a crestfallen Aom fades to the background.

But even with those hard feelings, there’s plenty of time for comical misunderstandings, slapstick and musical interludes.

The film is really just an enjoyable romp, nothing more, though it does have some good performances that will likely be noticed again during awards season next year. The GTH stock company, including Jumpon (he played the shopkeeper in The Tin Mine) and Kazuki, is doing excellent work. Chaleumpol Tikumpornteerawong, the bully Jack from Fan Chan, has a bit part as a saxophonist who jazzes it up while Pom is trying to talk on the phone.

The best is comic actress Panisara Pimpru (who stole the show in Dear Dakanda as the outrageous nurse Tan and was the fortune-teller in Metrosexual) as the orchestra conductor, Professor Rosie – a bespectacled, curly-haired lady who spends time offering advice to musicians about how to play notes that aren’t on the page. She shows up on stage for the final concert in a black dress that’s capped with a big, white bow. Just the right thing to tie up this tight, little package of a teen romance, with happy endings for all.

See also:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Exhibition on Cherd Songsri

The Bangkok Post today has a small item on a multimedia exhibition dedicated to the late Cherd Songsri, who died in May.

Anyone who wants to see the show will have to travel a ways: It's at the National Museum in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Cherd's hometown. The Ministry of Culture's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture put together the show, Cherd Songsri: The Son of Nakorn Srithammarat, which runs from tomorrow until January 31, 2007.

Kong Rithdee notes that there are no plans to move the show to Bangkok when its run down South is completed. Looks like a train or plane journey will be in order if I want to check it out.

The exhibition has artifacts from Cherd's office, including his writing desk and bookshelves. There will be DVD presentations and soundbites as well as film criticism, scripts, song lyrics, short stories, novels and memoirs. The exhibition will allow visitors to touch the displayed objects, or to sit at Cherd's desk, and even to write down their ideas on pages from his manuscripts, the Post says.

Some of Cherd's movies will be screened, possibly even an alternate ending for Cherd's best-regarded work, Plae Kao (The Scar), from 1977 and voted one of the world's all-time classics by the Museum of Moving Image and Sight and Sound.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Rak and roll

There is more controversy over Ramakien: A Rak Opera, which was performed last month at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in New York.

The rock-opera adaptation of Thailand's national epic first became controversial after two stars, Krisada "Noi" Sukosol and Sek Loso got into a fight during the performance, but now it's in hot water with Ministry of Culture watchdogs who say the production was disrespectful of Thai traditional arts and dance.

Organizers of the production held a news conference yesterday in Bangkok to explain themselves, with coverage by both the Bangkok Post and The Nation.

The furore is over the act of a dancer stepping over another performer who was wearing a khon mask, which is considered a sacrilegious act because the mask is a depiction of a god. The masks are used in traditional Thai dance, or khon, productions.

Choreographer Pichet Klunchuen said the production was a contemporary dance performance, not a khon performance, and that the two distinct styles shouldn't be confused.

"We did not perform a khon dance," Pichet was quoted as saying the Post's story. "We used the story of Ramakien to create a new form of stage performance. The mask was not a traditional khon mask. It was my own creation specifically for the show."

Pichet, one of this year's Silpathorn Award honorees - an award given to living contemporary artists by the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture, should know: He's also extensively studied khon dance.

"Introducing contemporary art by Thai artists at the Lincoln Center, one of the world's prominent art institutes, for us was an interesting metaphor," artistic director Rirkrit Tiravanija was quoted as saying by The Nation. He added that Ramakien: A Rak Opera might be performed again in Los Angeles. "The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre in Los Angeles are interested in this production," he said.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, September 4, 2006

An Armful of help

Armful, Wisit Sasanatieng's much talked-about martial arts project for Singaporean production house One Ton Cinema has just found a backer: Andy Lau's Focus Films. So reports Twitch, and Kaiju Shakedown.

And shooting has wrapped on Wisit's next film, The Unseeable, a horror film for Five Star Production that is due for release in October. And that is one horror film that I'm looking forward to seeing.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Critics cold on Syndromes in Venice

Syndromes and a Century, the latest feature by Apichatpong Weerasethkul had its premiere on August 30 at the Venice Film Festival. has been kind enough to post reviews from Screen Daily and Variety, as well as a snazzy red-carpet photo of the director with his cast and backers.

I'm only glancing at the reviews because I don't want too read too much, but it looks like the critics are mystified and the reception at a press-screening is described as "cold".

But since this is an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film, these are all good signs. It could be his best work yet. Check it out, if you dare.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Thai films in France

Sebu passes along word about a super selection of Thai films -- many of them very rare screenings -- for La Cinémathèque Française's Introduction to Thai Cinema series from September 20 to October 1.

Alongside more recent films like Art of the Devil 2, Beautiful Boxer and the Legend of Suriyothai are Ratana Pestonji's Black Silk, Pridi Banomyong's King of the White Elephant and Vichit Kounavudhi's Mountain People.

There's also Fun Bar Karaoke, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's debut feature, as well as Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak.

Bhandi Rittakol has two films -- 2001's The Moonhunter and 1987's The Seed (Duay Klao), which has been remastered for a special release in Thailand next week to celebrate His Majesty the King's 60th anniversary of accession.

There will even be clips of the earliest Thai films, including King Chulalongkorn's visit to Bern, Switzerland -- the earliest recorded "Thai" film.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)