Monday, February 25, 2008
Frequently asked questions about Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal
What is your blog about?
Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal is a regularly updated weblog on news and reviews of the cinema of Thailand and Southeast Asia, as well as Thai art, entertainment and culture.
Why Thai film?
It's a matter of time and place. I'm most interested in where I am, and I'm interested in film. I live in Thailand, so being interested in Thai film seems natural.
How did you get into Thai films?
In 1999 I moved from the U.S. to Southeast Asia to start a new job. Before then, I really hadn't been exposed very much to Asian cinema, although I had always been interested in films of any kind from anywhere. While living in Cambodia, I developed friendships with co-workers who were very keenly interested in Asian films and cultures. Those connections pointed me in the direction I've been heading since then.
On a visit to Bangkok in 2000, I had a chance to see two films that really cemented things for me: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tears of the Black Tiger. I saw them back-to-back in the same cinema on the same day. I thought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was really beautiful and was a revolutionary way of presenting martial arts, which of course I found out later wasn't really that revolutionary at all. But it nonetheless inspired me to seek out more Chinese and Hong Kong martial arts films, particularly the old Shaw Brothers films. However, it was the Thai film, Tears of the Black Tiger, that really put the hook in me. Why would someone in Thailand make a western? Why was it so colorful? What the heck was going on? I wanted to find out more, and most of all, see more Thai films.
When did you start writing about Thai film?
After I moved to Bangkok in 2001, I found I was in the midst of the Thai New Wave, so it was really a perfect time to find out more about Thai films. There wasn't that much information, though. Being a journalist helped, and I was able to devour anything having to do with Thai film that would come out in the local newspapers. At the same time, I had gained access to the Internet and became better acquainted with it. There still wasn't enough information in English. So around the end of 2003, I started writing a journal about Thai films on Rotten Tomatoes, as a means of compiling and keeping track of what little was available. Gradually, other people around the world started to take interest in Thai films, too. Once Ong-Bak became a huge hit, and films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul won prizes at Cannes, and other directors like Tears of the Black Tiger's Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Monrak Transistor, Last Life in the Universe) became known worldwide, everything just kind of snowballed.
Do you speak Thai?
Not really, no. Definitely not enough to follow dialogue in films without any subtitles. Not being able to understand the Thai language is a big drawback if you love Thai films. I suppose if I took time off from writing about Thai film, as well as my regular "day job" and spent that time taking Thai lessons, I could probably learn.
How do you find out about Thai films?
I have a few sources, but mainly I just read the newspapers and scan the Internet and pay attention to what films others are writing about. A lot more English-language sources have become available since I started. Worldwide, even the mainstream media are covering the cinema of Thailand more frequently.
Mainly, though, I just go see the films when they are playing in the cinemas, and try to write down my thoughts about them. Once I've seen a film, I can reference back to it, and I try to follow its reception if it goes to film festivals.
Do Thai films have distinguishing characteristics apart from films from other Asian countries?
Thai films are just like films from anywhere in the world: They tell a story. But Thai films are imbued with aspects of Thai culture, the language, as well as Buddhism and belief in ghosts, which makes them different from films from other Asian countries.
Some of the most entertaining Thai films take things to extremes: bone-jarring violence, scream-out-loud scares, gut-wrenching heartbreaks, debilitating sadness and just plain craziness. It's hard to define, but there's a certain loopy quality about Thai films that I love.
What if I don't live in Thailand? How can I see Thai films?
Watch for film festivals near where you live, and pay attention to special screenings at local arthouse cinemas, cinema clubs, community centers, club meetings, colleges or universities. There are also DVDs, but that raises a whole other set of frequently asked questions.
Are you affiliated with Rotten Tomatoes?
No. When I started out my Thai film blog on Rotten Tomatoes at the end of 2003, it seemed like a good place to be. I was already keeping an online film journal there, and I was enjoying the then-new experience of social networking with others who kept journals there. Originally, the Thai Film Journal started out as a fan page on Rotten Tomatoes for Tears of the Black Tiger, but I soon expanded my journal entries to include other Thai films. The journal was on a part of Rotten Tomatoes called The Vine. Rotten Tomatoes was just a host for my journal. I was not affiliated with them in anyway.
Why did you start another blog on Blogger?
Well, there was a lot of confusion with my having a blog on Rotten Tomatoes. People thought I was professionally affiliated with Rotten Tomatoes or was representing Rotten Tomatoes. I wasn't. Other bloggers and websites would take my stuff and just say it came from Rotten Tomatoes without acknowledging me as the writer or source. So the move to a unique URL on Blogger was a bid to alleviate that confusion and raise my profile. I finally made the move at the end of 2007.
Now, with the setup on Blogger, it's possible to have a URL that can be memorized, repeated and more easily written down -- thaifilmjournal.blogspot.com. I have access to RSS feeds and other tools so it's easier for readers to subscribe and share the blog. I have much more flexibility in terms of site design, a better handle on visitors, and it's easier for people to make comments.
I am also slowly working on mirroring my old entries from Rotten Tomatoes on the new site. It will make them easier to search for and reference back to.
What's the deal with the ads?
I have set up an Amazon store, and I have an associations with Yesasia. Theoretically, if you click on the ads from this site, and follow all the way through and actually buy something, I'm supposed to get a little bit of money. I haven't actually received a check from anywhere yet. When possible, I have tried to customize the ads in order to create direct links to the coolest, most unique and most popular DVDs of Thai films that are available. I view the ads as a service. So take advantage of them.
Why is your name Wise Kwai?
I thought it would be cool to have a pseudonym. Kwai in Thai language means water buffalo. Since moving to Southeast Asia, I'd always admired the water buffalo for its strength, serenity and steadfastness. But I was shocked to learn that "kwai" is an insult in Thai slang, meaning "stupid". I thought I was being pretty cheeky when I chose my pen name. With Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, based on the book Wiseguy in mind, I sought to turn the slang meaning on its head and have fun with word play. But after a few more years of living in Thailand, I came to realize I probably wouldn't choose that name if I had to do it all over again. But now I'm stuck with it.
Can you write something for my blog/website/newspaper/magazine/academic paper?
No. I have a demanding full-time day job already. This blog is a hobby and I barely have time to keep it up and see movies. In the past I have had guest posts on other websites, but I am increasingly reluctant to accept assignments or fulfill requests for articles.
Can I interview you for a documentary or news article?
I am also reluctant to do that. I have granted interviews and been quoted in the past, but I am uncomfortable with that type of attention. I don't consider myself an expert or an authority. I am just a fan who watches a lot of movies and keeps a blog. I might, however, be able to refer you to to a real "expert".
Do you know where I can download a film?