Thursday, April 10, 2008

'Thai people want to see comedy'

Ironic doesn't seem to capture the spirit of this week's new-film releases in Thai cinemas.

Alongside the limited release of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's censored Syndromes and a Century: Thailand's Edition there are three comedies, as if to prove the point of the Culture Ministry official who famously said: "Nobody goes to see films by Apichatpong. Thai people want to see comedy. We like a laugh."

First, here's a look at the comedies.

Khoo Kuan Puan Mesa

Uptight hotel manager Mitr (Santi Veeraboonchai) is forced to hire annoying driver Bang-ern (Kotee Aramboy) and his very old van to travel from Chiang Mai to Krabi during Songkran to stop his girlfriend from marrying another man.

There will be some bonding between this pair of opposites as they suffer through many misadventures, and because this is a Phranakorn Film, there will be lots of fart jokes, slapstick and toilet humor.

I think that last year, when the National Legislative Assembly law factory was rubber stamping, they passed a law that required Kotee Aramboy to appear in every Thai comedy film in 2008. The cherubic funnyman is certainly prolific. I've lost track of how many films he's been in this year. For this film, he's wearing an Afro wig and an obviously fake goatee.

He's due to star in another upcoming film with Pongsak Pongsuwan, I think playing a guardian angel, which is perfect for him.

Phuean Kan Chaphor Wan Pha

Also ICU: Ghost of Fine Arts University, this involves a young lecturer (Thana Suthikamol) who discovers he has a talent for seeing dead people.

At first he is bullied by the ghosts Foong (Khachapha Tanjaroen) and Piak (Chawalit Sreemankhongtham), but later they team up to assist the beautiful heartbroken female ghost Ladda (Ungsuma Saparakpanya) who is haunting the college as she searches for her boyfriend.

This is from Mono Film and is directed by Theeratorn Siriphunvaraporn.

Orahun Summer

Two young men on different paths in their lives meet by chance in the airport and recall their summer together as children in 1983, when they were sent to Buddhist summer camp as novice monks under the supervision of the strict new monk, Luang Phee Bai Boon (Thatchaphol Chumduang).

The boys get into mischief and have to be disciplined by the monk, who is also struggling with letting go of his feelings because his ex-girlfriend is hanging around, making it difficult for him to devote himself spiritually.

Syndromes and a Century: Thailand's Edition

Booked for a two-week run at the ritzy Paragon Cineplex, the censored Syndromes premieres today. Starting at 6, there will be a panel discussion led by Apichatpong, with the movie starting at 8pm. For now, Paragon has the film booked for several screenings a day, and will add more or decrease, depending on audience demand.

The Thai Film Foundation has organized an exhibition in the cinema hall, "History of Thai Censorship". Ticket purchasers will receive a pack of postcards that contain stills from the six scenes that were cut by censors. Part of the box-office proceeds will benefit the Free Thai Cinema Movement under support of the Thai Film Foundation.

The six censored scenes are:
  • A Buddhist monk playing a guitar.
  • A pair of monks playing with a radio-controlled flying saucer.
  • A group of doctors meeting in a hospital basement storage room and drinking whiskey.
  • A male doctor kissing his girlfriend in his office, and he has to make an "adjustment" to his trousers.
  • A statue of the Princess Mother, mother of His Majesty the King.
  • A state of the Prince of Songkhla, the "father of Thai medicine" and father of His Majesty the King.
The banned scenes have been replaced by a scratched, black film leader and silence, with the durations lasting from seven seconds to seven minutes.

It will be interesting to see what kind of response there is to this film, especially this version of it. For prospective audience members, The Nation's Veena Thoopkrajae offered this:

As you walk into the theatre, just remind yourself that you deserve this version of the film because someone up there on the [Board of Censors] believes they have better judgement than you do. They think for you and decide what you should and should not see in the theatre. They are your moral authority.

The absence of picture and sound may be the best part of Sang Sattawat and when you really watch the silent black screen, ask yourself: "Do I deserve this version?"

Whatever your answer, the cultural authorities believe you do.

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