Monday, October 15, 2007

Review: Short Films for the King's 80th Birthday

The Short Films Project in Commemoration of the Celebration on the Auspicious Occasion of His Majesty the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary is organized by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, the Minitry of Culture, and features across-the-board participation of all Thailand's film studios, as well as independent filmmakers.

The films are being shown for free in limited screenings in Bangkok, and they come at a time when the King is very much on people's minds in Thailand, as he has been hospitalized.

Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng

This is a Wisit Sasanatieng film in full flower, with the director making his most colorful, visually stylized film to date. And that's really saying something, if you're familiar with his previous films, like Tears of the Black Tiger or Citizen Dog.

Though it looks like 3D animation, it is not. It is all live action, but is heavily altered and colorized in post-production, as is customary for Wisit. It is a blend of khon (Thai masked dance) and swordfighting, and is something that I think Wisit has been wanting to do for a long, long time.

Adapted from Thai mythology, the story is about a egotistical god who is finally put in his place.

My First Report
Directed by Bhandit Rittakol

Veteran filmmaker Bhandit Rittakol riffs on themes from his 1983 film Duay Klao (The Seed), which received a limited re-release last year to celebrate the King's 60th anniversary of accession.

My First Report is about a young female journalist, taking a ride in an army water truck to a drought-stricken rural village. The reporter hopes to see first-hand the devasatation of the drought, and then quickly return and talk to the governor. But the water truck runs off the road to avoid hitting a cow. Stuck in a hole, the truck must be unloaded by hand with buckets, rather than just dump the water. Though the villagers are working furiously, the journalist becomes increasingly impatient, making it even harder for her to see that the real story - the people - are right there in front of her.

As in Duay Klao, the King's cloud-seeding project figures into the storyline, and takes viewers into the clouds and aboard the airplanes to see the project in action.

The Tale
Directed by Pornsak Sukongkarattanakul

Alternative titles for this were The Mule or The King's Mule, and indeed, this film is about a mule in a rural Akka hilltribe village in Northern Thailand, where years ago the King visited and was borne into the village on the back of a mule.

A young man wants to buy a pickup truck, and he can get one by trading away his family's prized mules, a difficult decision because they are the King's mules.

Directed by Sivaroj Kongsakul

A bushy-headed, bearded and bespectacled sound man takes a trip to the southern sea coast in a vain effort to record silence, but much like the late genius producer Martin Hannett is depicted in 24 Hour Party People, the sound man finds his efforts are futile.

Eventually, he must remove his headphones and put down his bayonet mic and really listen to what is going on around him.

The Most Beautiful Man in the World
Directed by Phuttipong Aroonpheng

This gorgeously shot film looks at the sky and nature, and takes long, loving looks at a boy and his young father. Living in a rural village, they are shown working in the fields, where they must stake off part of their land to make way for a Royal Project irrigation dam.

Comic actor Jaran "See Thao" Petcharoen (he played the grandfatherly character in The Tin Mine) co-stars as a flute-playing old man.

9th Gift
Directed by Araya Booncherd

This hilarious hand-puppet play involves an evil two-headed dragon from hell, which is sucking water from the earth, and generally making life difficult for everyone.

A king knights a young man and his dog to do battle with the dragon. Eventually, the king must become involved himself to rid society of the dragon, and in so doing imparts advice to society about building a sustainable economy, which involves everyone living within their means, buying only what is truly needed and can be afforded and living a simple life - a philosophy that the HM the King has himself espoused with his sufficiency economy theory.

The Sanctuary of Sea
Directed by Pramtanee Wongprommed and Supharut Boonmayam

A deaf high school student is struggling with her studies, but finds inspiration from the book Phra Mahachanok, a mythological tale penned by His Majesty the King, about a young prince who struggled to swim in stormy seas, but is guided and uplifted by a goddess in the sky.

The film is partially animated, with live-action segments.

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

This slice of life from the rural Khon Kaen home of Apichatpong doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the project's films, which is a way of saying that it does indeed fit, because everything has its place.

Like all of Apichatpong's films, I wasn't sure what was going on, or what any of it meant, yet here I am still thinking about it, and wondering if I could see it again.

Luminous Sound
Directed by Pen-Ek Ratanarueng

On a darkened soundstage, with stark lighting effects, the off-camera voice of Pen-Ek asks questions of blind pianist Sila Namthao, who talks about his life and inspirations. For interludes, he plays a few selections of his classical and ragtime-inspired solo piano pieces.

Interestingly, Pen-Ek talks about film with Sila, who says he has actually been to films, and prefers Chinese and Hong Kong martial arts films over American films. Though American films are superior in quality, Sila says, the Chinese films translate better for him because the characters in Chinese films always say what they are thinking, while he can never hear what characters in American films are thinking. Besides, Chinese films have better dialogue, with such rich lines as "Return a favor, tax a revenge."

Sila regularly performs at the Marco Polo on Khao San Road in Bangkok.

More information:

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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