Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jackie and Jet reign at Thailand box office

That a movie starring Jackie Chan, or Chéng Lóng as he is more widely known in Thailand, would be the No. 1 film in Thailand is hardly surprising. His films regularly top the box offices here. Add in Jet Li, for his first filmed appearance with Jackie Chan, and you've got box-office gold.

In Thailand, according to Box Office Mojo, The Forbidden Kingdom earned US$776,004 in its opening weekend, clobbering Superhero Movie, which opened in Thailand at $223,365. The Forbidden Kingdom is the No. 1 film in the U.S., too. More analysis on the box-office performance of The Forbidden Kingdom can be found at Kaiju Shakedown and at MovieXclusive.

Even more impressive is that Forbidden Kingdom for some strange reason opened on Friday, instead of Thursday as is customary in Thailand cinemas, so it had to catch up a day to pulverize Superhero. I wonder what kind of bank it would have made if it had opened a day earlier?

The No. 3 film in Thailand was Orahun Summer, which was the top film when it opened the previous week as part of a trio of Thai comedies. No other Thai films were released this week, so Orahun and another kid comedy, the three-week-old Dream Team, battled against the two new Hollywood releases. The kids got some help from the gory black-magic thriller Art of the Devil 3, which was clinging by its bloody fingernails at No. 5 after taking the top slot on its opening three weeks ago.

Orahun, a tale of bratty boys being shipped off to the Buddhist temple as novice monks for the summer, has earned $635,575, according to Box Office Mojo -- a good start for the film from A.G. Entertainment, a fairly new company whose other releases are last year's critically well-received comedy Seven Days to Leave My Wife and the upcoming thriller, The Memory, starring busy leading man Ananda Everingham and singer-actress Mae Charoenpura from Suriyothai.

A quibble about Orahun Summer: I tried to go see it, but couldn't find a subtitled version anywhere in Bangkok, which is rare for Thai films these days. Most Thai films released in Bangkok cinemas will be subtitled. I hope A.G. Entertainment springs for subtitles for The Memory.

I checked out The Forbidden Kingdom on Sunday, seeing it in a fairly packed cinema at Grand EGV Seacon. I was thrilled by the first-time cinematic meeting of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and the fluid fight choreography of Yuen Woo-ping. I marveled at how much fun Jet Li appeared to be having -- I don't think he's had this much fun making a movie since the 1980s -- perhaps not since his very first film, Shaolin Temple. Both Jet Li and Jackie get to play dual roles -- Jackie as an elderly pawn shop owner and as the Immortal Drunkard (harking back to his Drunken Master films) and Jet Li as the mischievous Monkey King (a storied role he was clearly revelling in) and as the Silent Monk.

My excitement was tempered by the simplistic story, which dumbed down Chinese myth for American audiences by adding the character of a geeky Boston teenager who appears to be a refugee extra from Staying Alive or some other crappy Hollywood flick from the '80s. It's an English language movie, though the characters switch into Chinese for dramatic or comedic effect.

I was also perturbed by the young couple who sat next to me, and chatted idly during the whole film. They seemed so bored. Why is it that movie audiences in Thailand do not pay any attention to films when they are watching them in the cinema? There are exceptions of course -- Thai horror and comedy films will generally have very animated crowds, but though they may scream their lungs out or bust a gut laughing, they still don't seem to be enraptured. Most often, films in Thailand cinemas fail to elicit any type of emotional response from the audience. It's chilling. And the full-blast air conditioners don't help matters.

Here's something else: If you are checking the showtimes at one of the big Major or EGV multiplexes that offer Gold Class or Emperor Class seating, be prepared for sticker shock when you reach the box-office window. I've encountered this before, but I was just reminded about it this past weekend. At places like Central Bangna and Grand EGV Seacon, the most ideal showtimes of the evening, generally around 7pm, for the most-popular films, will be in these overpriced screening rooms, usually marked Cinema 1 on the schedule board. Sure, the luxury reclining seats are comfortable -- sleep-inducing even -- but for 300 baht a pop, it costs twice as much or more than the regular knee-crunchers. It's a bait-and-switch tactic, pure and simple. The Gold/Emperor class is not worth it to me to watch standard fare like The Forbidden Kingdom. As it was, I had missed the start of the 6.30 show by 30 minutes, and wanted to catch the 7.30, but it was in the overpriced Gold Class. I was left cooling my heels and hanging around the noisy shopping center for 90 minutes, waiting for the 8.30 show. Well, I did have some shopping to do, so instead of giving up a couple of hundred baht to EGV, my money went to one of the other shops in the mall -- I spent the money anyway.

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

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