Monday, March 31, 2008

Summer vacation splendor: Nak, Dream Team, Art of the Devil 3

With summer vacation in full swing in Thailand, and the weather being hot hot hot, the mainstream film studios are all vying to attract school-age filmgoers to come cool off in the frigid confines of the multiplexes.

Two of the three Thai films opening locally this Thursday are youth oriented -- the animated ghost story Nak from Sahamongkol, and the children's film, Dream Team, featuring a cast of kindergarten boys who are in a bid to win a national tug-of-war contest.

Art of the Devil 3 is decidedly a film for audiences who are at least teenagers, though with no ratings system yet in place, neither moviegoers nor the cinema operators have a guideline to prevent small children from being traumatized and desensitized by images of black magic, torture and bloodletting.

Nak is the one I'm most anticipating out of this batch, though I am keeping my expectations low. I don't think Nak is going to be Thailand's answer to Miyazaki or Satoshi Kon, but hey, at least somebody is trying. Colorful and cute, Nak is yet another iteration of the famous Mae Nak Phra Khanong ghost myth -- most memorably adapted in Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak in 1999. This kid-friendly animated ghost isn't the vengeful wife of the legend. Here, she's a wide-eyed, pink-hued defender of the human race against some bad ghosts.

Says producer Boyd Kosiyabongse, in a recent story from the Daily Xpress:

We didn’t want to repeat the same old story, and besides, it’s too scary for animation. We show modern ghosts as the villains. Times have changed. Today’s ghosts are violent – they hurt people for no reason. It’s very different from the Thai ghost films I saw as a kid. They were spooky, but entertaining.”

Initially I thought this was a 3D-animated featured, but it's traditional two-dimensional. It's also the first Thai animated feature with show anime influences. Previous animated features -- 1979's Sudsakorn Adventures, 2006's 3D-animated Khan Kluay and last year's Life of Buddha all had a look that was more akin to Disney. Though anime's influence is seen in cartoons on Thai TV (and manga in Thai comics), there simply aren't that many Thai animated features because they are so labor intensive -- it's cheaper to make a live-action film.

Producer Boyd is a singer-songwriter better known for his syrupy servings of acoustic Thai pop. His latest partnership with Moderndog's Pod is a nauseating example. But he's been doing animation for awhile, heading up his own BBoyd CG studio, which did a Dracula Tok cartoon for TV. Boyd wanted to make a feature version of Dracula Tok, based on a character portrayed by famous comic actor Lor Tok, so he went to Sahamongkol Film International. There, studio boss Somsak Techaratanaprasert asked Boyd to take on the Mae Nak story instead, and Boyd was then paired up with producer Prachya Pinkaew. Comedian Mum Jokmok was brought in to voice the character of Phee Hua Kad, the headless ghost, after another actor, Thongchai Prasongsanti, had already been cast. Narawan Techratanaprasert voices one of the kids. Nak is voiced by singer-actress Sasikarn Apichartworrasilp. The director of the film is Natthapong Rattanachoksirikul.

According to the Daily Xpress article, the budget was initially set at 25 million baht, but the film ended up costing 40 million, which is still vastly less than other recent animated features, Khan Kluay and The Life of Buddha, which ended up costing hundreds of millions.

From RS Film, Dream Team is about a group of pint-sized boys who enter a national tug-of-war contest (based on the actual kindergarten games that take place in Thailand). It is directed by Kittikorn Liawsirikul (Ahimsa: Stop to Run, Bus Lane) and stars Kiat Kitjaroen and singer Sakolrat “Four” Woraurai and a bunch of 5-year-old boys. If done right, it could be a family friendly answer to the likes of Dodgeball, Balls of Fury and Talladega Nights.

Art of the Devil 3 has been covered extensively already. This is a prequel to Art of the Devil 2, which had nothing to do storywise with the first Art of the Devil film. Napakpapha "Mamee" Nakprasitte stars as a black-magic torture mistress, with Supakorn Kitsuwan figuring in here somewhere, too.

I don't get this particular brand of horror, but in the vein of Saw and Hostel, it is wildly popular and should prove lucrative for Five Star Production. Peter Nellhaus of Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee sums up the appeal of the film series in a recent review of the first two films:

The devil is a woman in both of these films, practicing witchcraft to seek revenge. The films are for those either with less discriminating tastes in horror films, or an abiding love for Thai films made for Thai audiences.

The first two Art of the Devil films are available as a box set with English subtitles and English-dubbed soundtrack.

More information:

BEFF5: A look back

The theme of this year's Bangkok Experimental Film Festival was "The more things change ..." I took the ellipses to mean I could fill in a blank with "... the more things stay the same." Or, maybe not. Maybe things are different.

BEFF has been held intermittently since 1997. The last one was held at the end of 2005 in Lumpini Park. Before that, I'm not sure where it was held. Though I was around for BEFF in 2005, I didn't attend, for no particular reason that I can think of. But probably, I wasn't ready. And, I'm not so sure I was ready for this year's edition.

This year was an experiment for BEFF, holding it in the flashily commercial confines of the Esplanade Cineplex. The aim was to bring experimental film to the multiplex crowd. But, with such other films as the hit GMM Tai Hub teen romance Hormones or Sahamongkol's latest cookie-cutter horror comedy Baan Phee Perb, as well as high-octane Hollywood offerings like Doomsday, Fool's Gold and The Water Horse, that crowds would make the choice to see a package of obscure short films seems impossible in retrospect.

At a panel discussion on Sunday, Cornell University Asian studies professor Benedict Anderson said the venue was too alienating and too cool (meaning cold and he didn't just mean the full-blast air cons). Audience members went into the cinema, sat in the dark in isolation and then left the cinema without interacting with anyone. It made the whole affair seem very lonely, Anderson said.

Anderson said that even some of the films seemed "cool" or cold, with museum-like qualities, mentioning Thunska Pansittivorakol's Middle-Earth as an example: Naked, still, wax-like men sleeping in a white, sterile room. (To me, I thought it was a landscape study -- watch out for that underbrush.)

May Adadol Ingawanij and Apichatpong Weersethakul also sat on the panel. With a focus on the films in the Core Program (Learned Behavior, Track Changes and Daily Rounds), they talked about what makes an experimental filmmaker different from a "regular" filmmaker and took a question about censorship from the audience. Their talk was in Thai, and since I was the only person in the room who wasn't bilingual or spoke Thai, I didn't get all of it. Not complaining mind you -- it's my fault for not finding the time yet to learn the language. One day, if I am able to find the time and place near where I live and work, I will. Somebody always misses out in discussions like this.

I had attended last year's World Film Festival of Bangkok at the same venue, and though I'd heard similar complaints then, I couldn't put my finger on them until now. Esplanade Cineplex and others like it -- Paragon, SF World, any of the Major Cineplex or EGV branches, any multiplex really -- are just too loud and impersonal. It's hard to hang out in the lobby and chat when there's an usher hollering away on a microphone, saying Awake is going to start, or a making-of promotion for Nak is blaring away on an endless video loop on a TV nearby. Even in the common areas in the mall away from the cineplex, there's some noise -- on the giant video screen in the ground floor lobby, down in the food court or in a restaurant. There's always some music playing, or somebody on a microphone hawking some whitening cream. All the aural and visual space is filled. There's no room for thought or thoughtful conversation.

While being careful to thank Major Cineplex for letting the festival be held at the Esplanade, curator David Teh acknowledged the criticism of the choice of venue, saying that to him it was "poison". "When I am finished, all I want to do is get away," he told me when I cornered him as he was waiting for a sandwich. He repeated those sentiments during the panel talk.

A Southeast Asian film aficionado told me she preferred the Lumpini festival, saying that as the films were playing, people in the park felt invited to come into the screening area and sit down, or simply wander through. It was bringing art and cinema to a crowd that normally didn't see either, because they hang out in the park.

This year's BEFF did have a mobile screening -- artist Pratchaya Phinthon's bicycle contraption -- but he didn't want his screenings publicized. One of these guerilla screenings was done on Saturday night in Bangkok's Chinatown, projecting some jumpy images on some shop doors.

That does seem more experimental than screening films in a mall multiplex, even if it is pretty haphazard.

The launch party was held across the river from Bangkok in an outdoor bar near Gallery VER. A screen was set up and films were shown on it as partygoers lapped up free beer (always a hit) and grazed at a buffet table. A luxurious converted rice barge was loaned to the event and took 30 passengers at a time on 30-minute video cruises. The videos played on a flat screen in a front compartment of the boat that probably only around half the 30 people on the cruise could actually see. Not that everyone was paying attention. The Chao Phya River at night is alive with all sorts of activity and sights. And there was free wine, red and white. Oh, the package of shorts all had something to do with water, which was kind of cute.

I don't know about all that. Free beer and wine draws in the dreadlocked, hand-rolling hipsters and some other mighty strange characters -- not just filmmakers -- giving the festival's launch party the feel of the bar in Star Wars. Not many people are paying much attention to the film because they are all talking to each other and getting smashed.

But as Anderson noted, screening the films in a museum or art gallery setting is too sterile, as people are conditioned to be quiet and respectful in such places, speak in hushed tones and be contemplative. That also doesn't leave much opportunity for interaction or experimentation, does it?

Somewhere between Mos Eisley and Museum of Modern Art is where BEFF needs to be. But where is that place?

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

BEFF5: My viewings

I didn't get to as many of the screenings at the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival as I would have liked, which is always the case with festivals -- knowing which films to see, and which sessions are okay to skip or there's something better playing somewhere else, or should I tag along with a group of people for dinner. I never know what to do. Many times, I think I make the wrong choices.

Anyway, here's a look at what I watched.

Track Changes

Playing for the opening reception at the Esplanade, this featured Bopitr Visenoi's 19.09.2549 (the date of the 2006 coup); Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Bangkok Tanks; Wathit Wattanasakonpan's In the Night of Revolution; Michael Shaowanasai's brand new Observation of the Monument; Prap Boonpan's Letters from the Silence; Prateep Suthathongthai's Explanation of the word ‘Thai’; Nok Paksnavin's Burmese Man Dancing; Ricardo Nascimento's AUTRMX; Tintin Cooper's Promethean Invention and Jakrawal Niltumrong's Man With a Video Camera.

I almost missed this. Things were running late with the opening reception, and I didn't sense a mass movement to the cinema doors. Thankfully I was pointed in the right direction at just the right time by a helpful aficionado of Southeast Asian cinema.

Seeing Bangkok Tanks was a treat. I first saw it last year in the Spoken Silence program at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival. It consists of a fuzzed-out TV screen, tuned in to CNN with Thaksin Shinawatra's picture on it and the legend "Bangkok Tanks" emblazoned below his white-noised mug. A string of text messages captured from MSN are played, with rumors of killings and curfews. In reality, it was a bloodless coup and kids only got off one day of school.

I also enjoyed Michael's Observation of the Monument, which features Michael in resplendant drag, looking ever the part of the demure, well-coifed hi-so matron. She is perched, like a statue, on a pedestal in a city park, with a golden chair and a table of fruit. Lotus flowers are piled up around her in tribute. The camera pans across her. A rooster crows. She sits down, ever so carefully, smoothing the folds in her dress. The camera tracks back. The scene is repeated twice more.

A couple of the shorts dealt with the disenfranchised migrant workers and laborers: Man With a Video Camera and Burmese Man Dancing.

Daily Rounds

I didn't make it back to BEFF until Saturday afternoon, when I caught this collection of new Thai works devoted to cycles of daily life. The films were Chalermrat Gaweewattana's A Century of Love, Tanatchai Bandasak's Endless Rhyme; Anocha Suwichakornpong's Black Mirror Watchathanapoom Laisuwannachai's Golden Mountain and Chai Chaiyachit's National Anthem.

A Century of Love is a simple portrait of the filmmaker's grandparents, setting up a camera and watching them go through their daily routine of taking meals, sitting, napping and puttering around the house and garden.

Black Mirror is puzzling, with a hypnotic soundtrack of guitar and moaning voice, with shots of a road at night and an esophageal tube. At 2 minutes, it's almost too short. But maybe 3 minutes would have been too long.

I liked Golden Mountain, which ends awash in the sound of brass bells. I can't tell much more about it than that, except for some chicken being cut up with a cleaver.

From 2007, National Anthem is provocative -- it's silent shots of people in parks doing aerobics, with the sound kicking in as the 6 o'clock hour rolls around -- time to play the Royal Anthem, which which point, the aerobics leader calls a "time out" by forming a "T" with her hands. The rest of the 27-minute short is devoted to a couple of guys and their political rant, talking about how Samak will be elected (he was) and Thaksin will return (he has).

International Harvest II - Paranoid Dance

This is a collection of films that offer "unsettling flirtations with genre, paranoia and strange choreography ... explor[ing] the psychological programming of modern life." The film's are A Very Slow Breakfast by Edwin from Indonesia; Plot Point by Nicolas Provost from Belgium; Kempinski by Neil Beloufa from France; Haak Sei Wuih Tuhng Mau Jai by Adrian Wong from Hong Kong; May I Go to Toilet Please? by Veerapha Engmahatsakul, Ravitsara Phunphrae and Nitsaphat Meksakul from Thailand and Faceless by Manu Luksch of Austria.

Found video was a prevalent theme in this section. Plot Point was shot in New York City and is footage of street scenes around Times Square, specifically the cops. Dialogue is laid in over the footage to create a loosely surreal crime drama that ends with an endless parade of NYPD police cars racing off to somewhere.

Faceless is shot in London and is comprised of footage from the city's plentiful surveillance cameras. As stipulated by a law that allows the public release of this surveillance footage, the people's heads are blotted out by colored ovals. Some other footage, I believe, was staged, to tell a post-apocalyptic story of a woman being reunited with her man and child. Tilda Swinton narrates the story, adding much gravity and giving the film some high-wattage celebrity shine. It was probably the most thought-provoking work I'd seen at the festival, which is saying a lot, because all the works were thought provoking.

I was entertained by A Very Slow Breakfast, about an Indonesian family crowded into an attic kitchenette to have breakfast. Dad reads the paper, son is scratching his dandruff into his coffee and daughter is doing aerobics -- all under a sloped ceiling that makes everyone have to slouch over.

Thai Indie Experimental Music Videos

The videos were: Thunska Pansittivorakul's Blind Spot and Zart Tanchareon's Answer by Soundlanding; D.I.E.'s The Time We Had by Goose; Thawatpong Tangsujjapoj's Message by T-Bone; Pichanan Lauhapornsawan's Body and Pathompol Tesprateep's Reverse by Assajan Jukrawan; Chanatip Kunasayeamporn's We do it all the Time by Mae Shi; Chatchai Ngamsirimongkolchai's Circle; Sathit Sattarasart's Escape by Klear; Haukom&ISE's Tassanajorn by Talkless and Because (two versions) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

I don't know about anywhere else, but music videos (annoyingly acronymed in Thailand as MVs) are still a vital part of the music business because most of the mainstream artists also release karaoke versions of their albums. I'm not sure if any of these videos or songs will be featured on karaoke machines though, except for perhaps T-Bone. Their gentle song, produced by Hualumpong Riddim (whom fans of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's films know), is an infectious mix of Thai pop and ska-reggae. The video was animation -- big fluffy triangular figures rolling out more of their kind.

I enjoyed the first two songs by Soundlanding -- lots of jangly guitar. Is this Thai emo?

A nice surprise for me was Apichatpong's videos, only because I hadn't noticed them on the program earlier. The last version of Because looks to be shot on the set of Tropical Malady and features his actor Sakda Kaewbuadee and one of his stock-company actresses in repeated frames that scroll across horizontally.

Thai Indie Showcase

The program was Chulayarnnon Siriphol's 1013; Panata Dissuwankul's RGB; Unnop Saguanchat's Hear the Wind Sings; Nontawat Numbenchapol's Volatilize; Sathit Sattarasart's Breeze; Olan Netrungsi's Self Portrait, Kati, Nujj; Pathompol Tesprateep's 4 Feb 2006 live @ Bangkok Code; Zart Tanchareon's Before Raining; Suchada Sirithanawuddhi's Floating Thoughts; and Patchara Eaimtrakul's Close Friend.

This program was well attended, but I'm sad to report I can't recollect much of it. It's all a blur of over-saturation in my head.

What stands out is Pathompol's video of some industrial punk played live at Bangkok Code, while I'm assuming right next door, in the dark, some construction workers are climbing on the skeleton of a high rise being put up. Squalling electric guitar that would make Neil Young proud is a serenade to the laborers of the night.

Learned Behavior

Back at the BEFF on Sunday with a fresh, open mind, I was anticipating seeing Observation of the Monk directed by Pramote Saengsorn in collaboration with performance artist Wannasak "Kuck" Sirilar, who portrays a Buddhist monk.

Learned Behavior "explor[es] the poetics of reproduction, and the unconscious forces that shape the patterns of social and political life."

Other films are Middle-Earth by Thunska Pansittivorakul; Uruphong Raksasad's Roy Tai Phrae; Sports News by Manatsak Dorkmai; The Love Captive by Sanchai Chotirosserranee; 3 – 0 by Anocha Suwichakornpong; Drive by Olan Netrangsri; The Duck Empire Strikes Back by Nutthorn Kangwanklai; Escape from Popraya 2526 by Paisit Punpruksachat; Krasob by Nitipong Thinthupthai and Legacy by Inge 'Campbell' Blackman.

Observation fit this theme with its monk walking under a dusty bridge, encountering a pile of old CRT monitors (the wreckage of civilisation) and then seeing a disturbing(?) image of himself.

Several of the films I had seen before in the Spoken Silence program at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival: the provocative human landscape study of Middle-Earth; 3-0, about three people on the move but getting nowhere, just like Thai society; and the hilarious Duck Empire about a rubber duckie falling into a water barrel and can't get out, and is replaced on his perch by a dinosaur.

Roy Thai Phrae was surprising. It starts out like Uruphong's other odes to idyllic rural life, with footage of farmers sowing rice by hand. Then another face comes into the picture: Samak Sundaravej, the new prime minister, as if to say: These are the people who elected him. Do you have a problem with that? What is he offering them that you aren't?

I'm not sure why Sports News was named as such. It's about a guy being questioned about what Thailand means. The guy says: Nation, Religion, King and Constitution. No! There is no constitution. He is tortured. The guy is asked again: Nation, Religion and King. Just the holy trinity. And, no, it is NOT okay to make films showing a monk playing guitar.

Stuff I missed

I can't be in two places at once. Most of the time I was at work, because I have this thing called a job. But full-time attendees of BEFF were also faced with a dilemma -- watch the films at Esplanade or be across town at the Alliance Francaise. There were two distinct programs and venues.

Here's what I wish I would have seen:
  • Local Loop: Emerging histories from the Philippines -- Two documentaries examine the history of the Philippines, from the Spanish-American War to the decline of the Marcos years. The films were Angel Shaw's The Momentary Enemy and Sally Jo Bellosillo's Laban: The Meaning of the EDSA Revolution. Bellosillo was also on hand for a Q&A. This played on Thursday night at the Alliance.
  • Variety Theatre -- Playing on a hectic Friday night, this program featured Singapore Gaga, Tan Pin Pin's history of the arts in her country.
  • Thunska + Sompot -- Playing too early on Wednesday night for me to finish work and negotiate murderous Bangkok traffic, this featured films by Thunska Pansittivorakul and Sompot Chidgasornpong, including Thunska's new works "Action!" and Soak. It's very likely this will be shown again at some point, somewhere in the near future.
(Photo from Faceless, courtesy of BEFF; cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thai film review roundup: Fun Bar Karaoke, Top Secret and more

While I've been out gallivanting around, riding boats with wine-swilling hipster freeloaders and chatting up underground filmmakers -- with not much yet to show for my efforts -- real bloggers are doing the real work of writing real reviews about real Thai films.

Over at Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee, Peter Nellhaus has been dishing up all Thai, all the time, with recent reviews of Fun Bar Karaoke, The Unseeable and the first two Art of the Devil films.

Fun Bar Karaoke is Pen-ek Ratanaruang's first film, which is only available on VCD (from a VHS transfer). I recently acquired the VCD myself, but have been so busy with work and trying to attend the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, that I put my own copy of Fun Bar Karaoke on the shelf to save for a day when I could give it my full attention. Until that day, I will let Peter say a few words about Fun Bar Karaoke:

Pen-Ek's background in advertising is very much at play with a scene of a photo shoot for a face cream, part of the action taking place in a 7-Eleven, and some unusual product placement for Coca-Cola. There are a couple of scenes of people dancing, not dance numbers per se, but still it suggests that it would most likely be Pen-Ek who might create the great Thai musical.

Many of the elements of Pen-Ek's future films are already in place. Characters are connected to each other in ways they don't expect while the family unit is often fractured. One of the characters, a young man named Noi, is a small time gangster whose dream is to walk away from that life. The film is in part about the clash between traditional Thai beliefs and like in modern, crowded and international Bangkok.

The Unseeable, is, of course, Wisit Sasanatieng's quickie, low-budget ghost movie from 2006. Though it lacks the colorful panache of Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog, it still oozes old-timey Siamese style. It played at the recent San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. It's one I also have on DVD, and I enjoy watching it very much.

Peter notes while it gives into the conventions of horror films, The Unseeable still has Wisit's style:

Too often, the soundtrack blares to instruct the audience to be startled. As the film was made primarily for a Thai audience, the concessions genre conventions emerge strongly during the last half hour. And yet what Wisit achieves a more genuine sense of poignancy that a less capable director could only wish for. Unlike too many Thai filmmakers who think nothing of playing down to their perceived audience, Wisit aims a bit higher. Wisit's artistic aspirations may have hurt The Unseeable at the box office, but it made for a much better film.

As for Art of the Devil, I want to save Peter's comments about that film series for another day, so I can move on to another blogger, Todd Stadtman, who writes Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill!, which is a supplement to a film review website called The Lucha Diaries, which covers 1960s international action cinema.

On Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! Thai action hero Mitr Chaibancha has his own label, and three of his films are covered: Top Secret and Operation Bangkok (both directed by Vichet Kounavudhi) and Mitr's final film, Insee Tong.

For Top Secret and Operation Bangkok, Todd is reviewing VCDs he's ordered from eThaiCD. These are not subtitled, and because they are from the 16mm era, the sound is post-dubbed, poorly. But Todd is very much into the look and atmosphere of the film, and Thai action films of the 1960s had those to spare. Here's a bit of what he has to say about Top Secret:

I'm not going to pretend that I even bothered to try to follow that plot, but from what I could see, it looked like it could be a fun film if watched in a context that didn't threaten permanent eye damage. There's a squadron of female karate commandos, a cool mod villain's lair with all kinds of hidden doors and booby traps, and plenty of shootouts between our very similar looking heroes and the villain's uniformed, tommygun toting hench-army. The production values are quite good, with an impressive display of military hardware on hand. (I've concluded that either the Thai government was very supportive of the film industry, or their military was just movie mad.) Finally, it's also something of a musical, with characters taking time out from the action to burst into song, and as such has it's own, equally distressed, audio track--which you can't always count on with Thai films of this vintage.

Todd goes on to note that Wisit Sasanatieng is in the process of making a new Insee Daeng film, possible rebooting the movie series that starred Mitr Chaibancha as a masked vigilante crimefighter, assisted by his faithful girl Friday, played by Petchara Chaowarat. He says:

So here's my--undoubtedly naive and completely unfounded--hope: That Wisit Sasanatieng's upcoming revival of Insee Daeng (aka Red Eagle) will be so awesome that it will inspire renewed interest in both the films of Mitr Chaibancha and 1960s Thai cinema in general, and that as a result we'll finally get to see more of these older films restored--if that's even possible--and subtitled on DVD.

Don't let me down Wisit. You've got me a little nervous, because The Unseeable kind of sucked.

More information:

Sick Nurses Region 1 DVD release on April 22

Sick Nurses, last year's exploitive slasher ghost film, released in the wake of the censorship of Syndromes and a Century, will be released on Region 1 DVD on April 22 by Magnet, the "extreme" subsidiary label of Magnolia Pictures.

Directed by Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat and produced by Sahamongkol Film International, the film was notable for its unsavory portrayal of medical professionals, working in a hospital, dressed like hookers, having sex (including some twin sister girl-on-girl action) and killing their co-workers.

This would have been all fine and well, if just a few months before Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century hadn't been censored by the very same board that approved Sick Nurses. With Syndromes, censors found something wrong with gentle scenes of some doctors having a friendly drink of some whiskey in the hospital basement, and of a doctor taking some time out of his busy day to meet his girlfriend and passionately kiss her. No, can't have any of that! Please, give us hot sex with lesbian twin sister lovers!

Predictably, gorehounds worldwide are hotly anticipating the release of this DVD. Says a poster on the Mandiapple forum:

Despite the fact that it has a long haired ghost for revenge, the film is said to be one of the most entertaining, original, and violent films out of Thailand, also featuring some ironic humor and many beautiful nurses! Also, the film is bathed in colors ala Suspiria.

Sick Nurses is available for pre-order at

The censored theatrical version of Syndromes and a Century, meanwhile, is slated for release in Thailand on April 10 at Paragon Cineplex. Deknang has more on that, and I'll have more on it in a few days.

More information:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

BEFF5: Anocha Suwichakornpong's Black Mirror, Thai Indie's music videos and showcase

Black Mirror, a new short film by Anocha Suwichakornpong, is part of the Daily Rounds program screening at 2pm on Saturday at Esplanade Cineplex as part of the 5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.

It's part of Daily Rounds, a collection of new Thai works devoted to cycles of daily life. Other films are Chalermrat Gaweewattana's A Century of Love, Tanatchai Bandasak's Endless Rhyme; Watchathanapoom Laisuwannachai's Golden Mountain and Chai Chaiyachit's provocatively titled National Anthem.

This is followed at 4pm by International Harvest II - Paranoid Dance, a collection of films that offer "unsettling flirtations with genre, paranoia and strange choreography ... explor[ing] the psychological programming of modern life." The film's are A Very Slow Breakfast by Edwin from Indonesia; Plot Point by Nicolas Provost from Belgium; Kempinski by Neil Beloufa from France; Haak Sei Wuih Tuhng Mau Jai by Adrian Wong from Hong Kong; May I Go to Toilet Please? by Veerapha Engmahatsakul and Ravitsara Phunphrae from Thailand' and Faceless by Manu Luksch of Austria.

From 6.30pm, the floor will be taken over by Thunska Pansittivorakol and his Thai Indie collective, with two programs: a one-hour package of music videos and a 105-minute Thai Indie showcase.

Here are the videos: Thunska's Blind Spot and Zart Tanchareon's Answer by Soundlanding; D.I.E.'s The Time We Had by Goose; Thawatpong Tangsujjapoj's Message by T-Bone; Pichanan Lauhapornsawan's Body and Pathompol Tesprateep's Reverse by Assajan Jukrawan; Chanatip Kunasayeamporn's We do it all the Time by Mae Shi; Chatchai Ngamsirimongkolchai's Circle; and Sathit Sattarasart's Escape by Klear. 4:00

The Thai Indie Showcase starts at 8pm. The shorts are: Chulayarnnon Siriphol's 1013; Panata Dissuwankul's RGB; Unnop Saguanchat's Hear the Wind Sings Nontawat Numbenchapol's Volatilize Sathit Sattarasart's Breeze; Olan Netrungsi's Self Portrait, Kati, Nujj; Pathompol Tesprateep's 4 Feb 2006 live @ Bangkok Code; Zart Tanchareon's Before Raining Suchada Sirithanawuddhi's Floating Thoughts and Patchara Eaimtrakul's Close Friend.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

BEFF5: Uruphong Raksasad's Roy Tai Phrae

Roy Tai Phrae, a new short film by Uruphong Raksasad, is part of the Doco Loco: Thammachad Tumra/Nature's Recipe program at the 5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.

It will be shown at 6pm on Friday at the Alliance Francaise. The package is "an ethnographic program giving a taste of the diverse food traditions of Southeast Asia that could inspire the maintenance and revival of ancient knowledge."

Other films in the package are Pattanaphong Jatikaet's The Chameleon Hunt; Manu Luksch's and Mukul Patel's Aju J's New Year Feast - In the Year of the Fire Dog; Etta Säfve's North Sea: Low Tide (Ophelia); Jun Iwakawa's Harmonics (Fridge promo) and Rhino Ariefiansyah's Bisa Dèwèk – We can do it ourselves.

Special mention goes to Uli Westphal's and Kristin Cooper's Coleoptera, an animated short that in two minutes runs through silhouettes of beetles. The order Coleoptera contains up to 8 million species, which would take a very long time to go through. I forget exactly how long. Frame by frame, the short goes through as many of the bugs as possible in two minutes. Coleoptera was showing on a TV at a reception at Wednesday night's opening of BEFF5. I sat and watched it rather than mingle. And now I'm thinking about eating beetles.

Across town at the Esplanade Cineplex on Friday, there's a package of German shorts at 6pm in International Harvest - Introducing Berlin II with a talk by Mario Pfeifer and then International Harvest III - Variety Theatre with shorts from France, the US, UK and Belgium, closing with the 55-minute Singapore Gaga by Tan Pin Pin.

Uruphong's Roy Tae Phrae is also screening in the Learned Behavior program, which will have an encore screening at 2pm on Sunday at the Esplanade.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Set photos from Ong-Bak 2

Stunt actor and martial artist Tim Man has posted photos from the set of Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak 2, which is looking to be a historical fantasy that has nothing to do with 2003's Ong-Bak. It's a sequel in name only.

That's Tim Man in the monkey mask, and Tony Jaa is praying before he kicks Tim in the head. Man was in last year's Fighting Beat (if I remember correctly, he played one of the leading bad guys) and also filmed Bangkok Adrenaline.

Jaa is directing Ong-Bak 2 himself. It is filming now and is due out sometime later this year.

A plot synopsis for Ong-Bak 2 was offered up at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Here it is from TonyJaa.Blog.FR:

Set in the regal times of King Naresuan, Tony Jaa plays Tien, a man who was born into nobility but had it stripped from him after his parents were brutally murdered. During his childhood Tien learned Khon, a form of dance which is usually reserved for royalty.

Although he didn't know it yet Khon would later prove to be an invaluable aide to him. After seeing his parents murdered at the tender age of 10, Tien is forced to live on the streets where he is eventually captured by a group of thieves who take him in and teach him how to steal and fight. Tien expertise as a thief and fighter grows and it isn't long before he is made head thief.

Then Tien sees something that makes his stomach churn. A competition is being held to find the best knights to serve under the very man who had killed Tien's parents all those years ago. Tien passes the tests easily and is made Lord Rachasana's second Knight.

Now, he has his opportunity to strike but he will have to use all his skill and ingenuity if he is going to get his revenge on the man who killed his parents."

Meanwhile, Tony Jaa has also been cast in a small role in M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol's Naresuan III, which judging from the period haircuts of cast members at the recent awards ceremonies, must be filming right now, too. The third part in the Naresuan trilogy was to have been released for His Majesty the King's 80th birthday last December 5, but maybe now it will be ready for HM the King's 81st?

More information:
(via Twitch)

Wonderful Town wins Fipresci award in Hong Kong

Aditya Assarat has picked up another award for his feature, Wonderful Town, from the International Federation of Film Critics at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

A romantic drama set in post-tsunami Phuket Province, Wonderful Town has won a load of hardware -- first winning the New Currents Award last year at the Pusan International Film Festival, then the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and also a prize at the Deauville Asian Film Festival.

(Via Variety)

Female ex-con boxing champ lands movie-rights deal

She fought a boxing match in prison, winning a world title and an early release. Now a company is looking to make her life story into a Hollywood movie, according to news reports.

Serving a 10-year sentence on a drug conviction, Siriporn Thaveesuk, won the WBC female light flyweight title in a prison match last year, and was granted a pardon and released three years early. The specially arranged bout was held in the yard of the women's prison in Pathum Thani, where Samson Sor Siriporn defeated Japan's Ayaka Miyano as prisoners and guards cheered loudly.

Women in Focus Production paid US$10,000 for Siriporn's life story, according to the Daily Xpress. She will get an additional $100,000 if Women in Focus is able to get a green light in Hollywood.

"We are now in the development process. The girl who will play Samson must have a similar passion. Studio staff in the US will cast the film. Locations will be mostly in Thailand," said Narumol Sriyanond Bartone, head of the production company.

Meanwhile, Siriporn will mount a third title defense against Japan's Kayako Ebata on April 26 in Phnom Penh.

BEFF5: Pramote and Kuck make Observation of the Monk

One of the hundreds of short films at the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival is Observation of the Monk, a brand new work by director Pramote Saengsorn in collaboration with performance artist Wannasak "Kuck" Sirilar, who portrays a Buddhist monk.

While Kuck is well known in the theatre community for "her" stage works, Thai action cinema fans might recognize Kuck as the lead villain in Dangerous Flowers (Chai Lai). Though, it's a bit hard to tell with the saffron-robed Kuck's shaved head.

Pramote acted in some mainstream films back in the late '90s, Romantic Blue among them. He directed Sneak and Zero to Hero for RS Film. As an independent filmmaker, he directed Tsu, one of the best-regarded works in 2005's Tsunami Digital Short Films.

Observation of the Monk is part of the Learned Behavior core program, which "explor[es] the poetics of reproduction, and the unconscious forces that shape the patterns of social and political life." It premieres at 8.30 tonight at Esplanade Cineplex, with an encore screening at 2pm on Sunday at Esplanade.

Other films in the program are the provocative Middle Earth by Thunska Pansittivorakul; Uruphong Raksasad's new film, Roy Tai Phrae; Sports News by Manatsak Dorkmai; The Love Culprit by Sanchai Chotirosserranee; 3 – 0 by Anocha Suwichakornpong; Drive by Olan Netrangsri; The Duck Empire Strikes Back by Nutthorn Kangwanklai; Escape from Popraya 2526 by Paisit Punpruksachat; Krasob by Nitipong Thinthupthai and Legacy by Inge 'Campbell' Blackman.

Middle Earth, the hilarious Duck Empire, Anocha's 3 - 0 and Escape from Propraya 2526 were featured in the Spoken Silence program at last year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival, which offered some insightful commentary on the 2006 coup.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

BEFF5: Bangkok Tanks, Thunska world premieres tonight

The Bangkok Experimental Film Festival gets off the boat tonight, and heads across town to Esplanade Cineplex.

Starting at 6pm, there will be Thunska + Sompot, featuring five works by Sompot Chidgasornpong and indie maverick Thunska Pansittivorakul.

Sompot's films are Naoko is trying to Teach Me How to Make "Tonkatsu" in 1 minute and 8,241.46 Miles Away from Home from 2006 and Landscape 101 01 1101 01... from last year.

Thunska premieres two brand-new works, "Action!" and a 65-minute feature, Soak, which is actually a remake of his first film using technology that wasn't available when he first made it.

Thunska and Panu Aree will hold a Q&A session afterward, and there will be an opening reception in the VIP lounge.

At 8.30pm, the first of the core programmes will unspool. According to the festival organizers, Track Changes "reflects the role of the media and translation in the making – and the forgetting – of political history." It includes Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Bangkok Tanks, which was part of the Spoken Silence program at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival.

Other films in Track Changes are Bopitr Visenoi's 19.09.2549 (the date of the 2006 coup); Wathit Wattanasakonpan's In the Night of Revolution; Michael Shaowanasai's brand new Observation of the Monument; Prap Boonpan's Letters from the Silence; Prateep Suthathongthai's Explanation of the word ‘Thai’; Nok Paksnavin's Burmese man dancing; Ricardo Nascimento's AUTRMX; Tintin Cooper's Promethean Invention and Jakrawal Niltumrong's Man with a video Camera.

An encore screening of Track Changes will be at 6pm on Sunday at the Alliance Francaise Bangkok.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Review: Shutter (2008)

  • Directed by Masayuki Ochiai
  • Written by Luke Dawson
  • Starring Joshua Jackson, Rachael Taylor, Megumi Okina, David Denman, John Hensley
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on March 20, 2008
  • Rating: 2/5

If you've seen the original Thai Shutter, then take of snapshot of it in your brain and cherish the memory. Better yet, get the DVD of the original Thai film and watch it again. A repeat view of the 2004 film will be far more rewarding than watching the laughably dull, half-reheated Hollywood version, which doesn't achieve anything near the suspense and scares of Banjong Pisanthanakul's and Parkpoom Wongpoom's smash hit.

Through all the Rings and Grudges, by now it should be painfully obvious that Hollywood execs aren't looking to improve on the originals -- just cash in. They think they can cast a pretty blond actress and have some models strut about in lingerie, show some leg and call it good. But it doesn't work. This Shutter has no snap.

The only curiosity is seeing this Hollywood remake of a Thai film through the filter of a J-horror lens, with the director Masayuki Ochiai and the setting transplanted from Bangkok to Tokyo.

A bland Joshua Jackson stars as Ben, a hotshot fashion photographer who has just married an angularly thin blonde, Jane. For their honeymoon, he whisks his new bride away to his old stomping grounds in Japan. They take a few days in the countryside and enjoy a stunning view of Mount Fuji before heading to Tokyo, where Joshua has been booked for a shoot. From almost the outset, you can see that Jackson's character is no good, from the way he is greeted by other women and how he struts about like a rooster with his old Westerner running buddies.

Jane is portrayed by Rachael Taylor, who was last seen as a genius computer hacker in Transformers. Anthony Anderson should have been brought in to play the lead role in Shutter, because he and Taylor had better chemistry in Transformers than she has with Jackson. Nonetheless, she displays plenty of plucky grit and determination as she doggedly pursues the mystery behind the white blurs and streaks that start showing up in all the couple's photos. Even when she's stripped down to some black lace undies for a PG-13 sex scene, she holds her own.

The Thai version, which starred Ananda Everingham as the haunted photographer, was far more chaste. And it was also a lot more subtle.

More information:

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bangkok Experimental Film Festival to launch on the Chao Phya River

The fifth Bangkok Experimental Film Festival starts tonight and runs until March 31, with a launch party at Gallery Ver in Bangkok's Klong San neighborhood from 6.30pm. Short films will be screening during 30-minute video cruises that depart Klong San Pier from 8 until 11pm. The cruises are limited to 30 persons each.

The festival gets under way on Wednesday at the Esplanade Cineplex
and the Alliance Francaise Bangkok with daily Core programmes and ThaiIndie showcases of mostly short films. Around 380 films will be shown.

Tomorrow night's program features films by Thai Indie's maverick director, Thunska Pansittivorakul and Sompot Chidgasornpong, including the world premiere of two brand new works by Thunska, Action! and Soak. They start at 6pm at Esplanade Cineplex.

Thursday and Friday night's core programs at Esplanade look promising. They start at 8.30pm. There's also stuff going on at the Alliance Francaise.

Sunday afternoon at the Esplanade has a Q&A session with Benedict Anderson, Apichatpong Weersethakul and May Adadol Ingawanij, and an animation program on Sunday night.

Other venues are Jim Thompson House, where Remains can be screened on demand from 10am to 5pm daily. Gallery VER also has daily screenings running from 1pm to 8.30pm.

Tickets for Esplanade Cineplex screenings are 60 baht.

More information:


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Review: Pid Term Yai Huajai Wawun (Hormones)

  • Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan
  • Starring Charlie Trairat, Michael Sirachuch Chienthaworn, Angsumalin Siraphatsakmetha, Ratchu Surajaras, Chutima Theepanat, Focus Jirakul, Lu Ting Wei, Chanthavit Sunasewee, Thaniya Amaritachote, Sora Aoi
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on March 20, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

Some surprises are in store in Hormones, not the least of which is the presence of a former Japanese porn star in an orange string bikini.

Though light, fluffy and frivolous, this enjoyable teen romantic comedy produced by GMM Tai Hub is a cut above the usual melodramatic trifles offered by Thai studios, showing a bit of maturity that is sometimes thought provoking.

The second solo feature by Dorm director Songyos Sugmakanan, Hormones is sometimes sexy and funny, innocently cute or heartbreakingly sad, but always lovely to look at. Inspired by Richard Curtis' ensemble romance Love Actually, Songyos weaves together four stories of teen romance during the summer school break:

  • Hyper-competitive in everything, girl-crazy Chiang Mai schoolboys Pu and Mai (Charlie Trairat from Fan Chan and Dorm and Michael Sirachuch Chienthaworn from Dorm) make a summerlong pact to see who will be the first to score the phone number of Nana (Angsumalin Siraphatsakmetha), a former fat girl who went away to Bangkok to study and has returned to Chiang Mai for the summer; she has blossomed into a coy beauty. Their game of one upmanship escalates until the boys risk their friendship.
  • Bespectacled college student Jo (Ratchu Surajaras) plays it cool and creative in an effort to start a serious relationship with one of the most popular girls on campus, Cee (Chutima Theepanat from Seasons Change). Jo has a large library of romance film DVDs (including Love, Actually), alphabetized on labeled shelves. (My thought upon seeing this: "by the power of Grayskull!") A hopeless, pathetic romantic, he exchanges banalities on the telephone with Cee, and tries to woo her with some elaborate cue cards, similar to Bob Dylan's famous "Subterranean Homesick Blues" film clip. A gift of sweet sticky rice in bamboo is refused. The geeky guy is heartbroken.
  • Screaming Bangkok teenybopper Oh Lek (Focus Jeerakul from Fan Chan) is crazy about Taiwanese singer-actor Titee (Lu Ting Wei). Her obsession has alienated her from her schoolmates. Her half of the bedroom she shares with her sister is plastered with Titee photos. A lifesize cardboard cut-out of the singer is the crowning glory. She enrolls in Mandarin lessons in an effort to understand the songs Titee sings, and she comes up with some hilarious translations, involving the singer's mother and her liver.
  • Senior college student Hern (Chanthavit Sunasewee) revels in momentary freedom after his long-time school sweetheart Nual (Thaniya Amaritachote) heads off to Trang to work as an intern at a radio station. Hern is to be reunited with Nual for their anniversary, and is on the train to Trang when he meets an attractive Japanese tourist named Aoi (Sora Aoi), who is heading to the Full Moon Party on Phangan. It doesn't help that Hern has a fetish for Japanese porn.

As the stories weave in and out of each other, the common thread running through them all is a fictional Taiwanese romance film, Remember ... I Love You, starring Titee and playing in local cinemas (never mind that it is screened with a Mandarin soundtrack and Thai subtitles only, which almost never happens -- the Taiwanese films here are usually Thai dubbed or have the soundtrack with both English and Thai subs). This gauzy, melodramatic confection is viewed by each of the "couples".

Like in Love Actually (and in The Love of Siam), the stories culminate on a big holiday, though instead of Christmas, it's the biggest Thai holiday, Songkran, or Thai New Year, on April 13. Heartbreaks, misunderstanding and betrayal all come to a head to the throbbing, guitar-driven beat of Moderndog's "Tar sawang" (ตาสว่าง). (The song was also used in the Final Score soundtrack.)

Instead of being the usual sanitized depiction of Thai culture, concessions are made to contemporize things and make the film a little more realistic. The Bangkok kids hang out at a nightclub and drink Scotch and soda. Jo drinks too much and pukes. References are made to a "hand party" as a friend of Hern hands him a stack of DVDs burned with Japanese porn. Hern and his friends are out drinking in a club, and references are made to visiting the rooms "upstairs" with some women (one of whom is GTH's answer to Frances McDormand, the scene-stealing Panisara Pimpru). The infamous Full Moon Party is visited, and there's sex on a moonlit beach. The Chiang Mai kids are alone together in a karaoke room, though they remain chaste. There's no nudity or smoking or pimples. That would be too much.

And, it would be too much of a departure to stray from the GMM Tai Hub formula that demands all films have neatly tied-up, happy endings. Here, it's to the tune of "Yhang noy" (อย่างน้อย) by the band Big Ass. So the only real surprises are in watching how debauched or morally questionable the characters become.

That said, this is a very well-made film, beautifully lit and craftily edited. I was entertained, rather than annoyed. And it was nostaglic, for once, long ago, I was a teenager who thought the world would end if I didn't get a girlfriend or get laid. And I did a lot of stupid things, and got myself into situations I later regretted. But I don't regret seeing this film.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nonzee wins HAF award for Secret of the Butterfly

Thai new wave godfather Nonzee Nimibutr has won a cash prize at the Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum at the Hong Kong International Film Festival for his project, Secret of the Butterfly, a psychological thriller written by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee. It's about a woman who carries a virus that can destroy all the men in the world.

Nonzee takes a share of the US$75,000 offered by HAF. His award comes from Technicolor Thailand.

The top prize when to The Bus by Pang Ho Cheung. Other prizes went to Crazy Stone director Ning Hao for 7 Dreams, Teresa Cavina for Fugitive Club and Carol Lai Mui-suet for Shuffle.

Nonzee is a previous winner at HAF, having won some cash in 2006 to develop Toyol, about a Southeast Asian ghost legend, which he is developing with Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo. Nonzee's next film is Queen of Langkasuka, which will be released in May. He is also working on a Japanese co-production, Just as Chao Phya River Flows.

(Via Variety, photo via Screen Daily (PDF))

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hong Kong roundup, Wonderful Town, Handle Me With Care reviewed

The Hollywood Reporter's Maggie Lee is at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, reviewing films. She covered Handle Me With Care and Wonderful Town in her Day 2 coverage (PDF).

Here is an excerpt of her review of Handle Me With Care:

Director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee is in two minds about turning his script into Jim Carey-like slapstick, a candy floss romance with a dash of magical fantasy, or an offbeat road movie. He handles none of these generic variations with enough care, leaving each dangling like an unwanted arm. A faintly haunting, soulful mood emerges toward the end, but then the plot recourses to a jingoistic conclusion, exacerbated by MTV song with syrupy lyrics. The biggest visual startle may be the “arm double” provided by a real person rather than CGI.

Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town, a romantic drama set in post-tsunami Phuket Province, was better received by Lee. Here is an excerpt from a capsule review:

The director makes no concession to a commercial audience, letting the film unfold at a dreamlike, languorous pace ... Assarat evokes the eeriness of a ghost town where about 8,000 had people died with wide shots of empty beaches, sea with no horizon and coolly detached shots of townspeople doing nothing much.

Aditya is in Hong Kong pitching his next project at the Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum, High Society. Screen Daily profiled the project in its Day 1 coverage (PDF). He also took time out for a Q&A with Variety's Vicci Ho. Here's an excerpt:

Q: If you can direct any sequel of any film, what would it be?
A: Bangkok Love Story.

Nonzee Nimibutr is also at HAF pitching a project, Secret of the Butterfly, which features a screenplay by Handle Me With Care's Kongdej Jaturanrasamee. It was profiled in Screen Daily's Day 3 coverage (PDF). The concept of this psychological crime horror is promising: It's about a woman who carried a virus that can destroy all the men in the world.

Screen Daily's Day 3 coverage also has news of Mono Film's upcoming project, The Follower, a horror thriller about a student being shadowed by a mysterious man after his girlfriend dies in a car wreck. The director is Pleo Sirisuwan, who did the insane jungle fantasy Vengeance. The Follower has already been sold for distribution in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Mono Film also has the ghost comedy ICU Ghost of Fine Arts opening in April, the romantic comedy Miss You, Two in June, the romantic drama Happy Birthday by Pongpat Wachirabunjong and the Buddhism-themed Aramboy

Mono Film is also getting into distribution, securing the Thai distribution rights Storm Riders II, which will be directed by the Pang Brothers and shot in Thailand. This is a huge deal, being the followup to the massively successful 1998 fantasy action film that was directed by Andrew Lau and starred Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng. The two actors will reprise their roles in the sequel.

Another film coming to Thailand will be The Weinstein Company's Shanghai, a period drama that was in pre-production in China but then was denied shooting permits. Variety has more on that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Apichatpong's Morakot at Jim Thompson House

While I've been overwhelmed by the recent news of the censorship of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, life goes on, and one of the director's newest works, Morakot, is showing as a video installation in the Tomyam Pladib exhibition at the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok.

The show features the works of Thai and Japanese artists, who examine the meanings of contemporary art vs. traditional art.

Apichatpong's short film, Morakot, or Emerald, is an 11:50-minute loop in the derelict old Morakot hotel on Thonglor Road in Bangkok. It was originally made as a video installation for the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, and was featured in a recent exhibition of the director's short films at the Anthology Film Archives in New York.

The Tisch Film Review offered this view of Morakot:

CGI flakes float through a deserted room, seemingly the ashes of the lovers whose voice-overs dominate the space, occasionally popping up in ghostly flashes equally endearing and spooky. We’re deep in a new direction here, where CGI plays a role as prominent — and as texturally rich — as the jungle/urban spaces Joe delineates so richly. Much of the value of these two programs [at the Anthology Film Archives] comes from seeing how Joe’s avant-garde experiments and background has been integrated (arguably barely) into the narrative realm; if he ever figures out how to integrate this into a narrative feature, he’s even more of a marvel than generally thought.

As part of the Jim Thompson House exhibition, Apichatpong will give a talk and a free workshop. "An Artist Talk With Apitchatpong Weerasethakul" will be at 7pm on March 27 at Jim Thompson House. He's to talk primarily about his short films and his work with the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, which is coming up from March 25 to 30.

The workshop, "*uck the Fame, Hooray for Love", on "how to use association techniques of words and images to create a fabulous story" will be an all-day event from 10am on March 29.

Both the talk and the workshop will be in Thai, with English translation.

For the workshop, participants must register by March 21. And for the talk, I don't know if reservations are possible, but they would probably be a good idea.

The Tomyam Pladib exhibition runs until June 5.

(Via Matthew Hunt, Daily Xpress)

Original Shutter directors 'satisfied' with remake

The Hollywood remake of the 2004 hit horror Shutter opens in local cinemas on Thursday, and ahead of the release, the directors of the original, Banjong Pisanthanakul and Parkpoom Wongpoom, offered their verdict: It's okay, they say.

The top-grossing Thai film of 2004, the original starred Ananda Everingham as photographer who starts seeing ghostly images in the pictures he's taking. The mystery behind these spectral shadows, blurs and lights has deadly consequences for anyone he comes into contact with, and his wife.

In the remake, Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor are a young American couple. He's a photographer, assigned to a fashion shoot in Tokyo, and after a car wreck kills a young woman (same as the original), they start seeing ghostly images in their photos. The trailers hint at a few tips of the hat to the Thai original, though the "Asianess" of the proceedings will also be due in large part to the remake's director, Masayuki Ochiai. And when it comes time for Jackson's character to meet the ghostly Japanese girl Megumi, things are a lot more overt than the chaste Thai version, with the trailers hinting at some ghostly getting-it-on.

Banjong says he doesn't think Jackson is as good in the role as Ananda was. The Daily Xpress has more:

Joshua's character just isn't the kind of guy you can forgive when he does something wrong. With Ananda, you could," says Banjong, who would loved to have seen Orlando Bloom and Scarlett Johansson in the Hollywood remake.

"My favorite part is the Megumi character [Nate in Thai version]. She's a pitiful, nerdish girl, with a similar background to Nate," says Banjong, adding that he's also impressed with the art direction.

Parkpoom says that while he's satisfied with the remake, he had hoped to see the project handed to an American director.

"Masayuki is Japanese, so he shares similar beliefs. I think an American would have had a different interpretation."

The Shutter boys also chatted with The Star in Malaysia, which offered a broader survey of the current state of Asian horror. Here's an excerpt from that article:

Asian horror films are more simple in terms of special effects – we are concerned more with the atmosphere in the movie, the feeling of fear which comes mainly from believing in something that we feel close to, rather than from scaring the audience through excitement and special effects,” said Parkpoom and Banjong in an e-mail interview.

As for the current status of horror films, the duo said that the genre was experiencing a downward trend and that it would take yet another pioneering horror film to revive it.

“We think it is a cycle. Once there is a big hit, there will be lots of horror films and audiences will get to watch them until they get bored.

“And then there will have to be a ‘hero’ among horror films, like The Ring or The Sixth Sense, that will make audiences want to see horror movies again.

“At the moment, it is down time for horror films, we think. We have to wait and see which film will initiate a comeback for the genre.”

When asked whether there was a formula for making good horror films, both gave their own perspective.

Banjong said: “For me, in a horror film you have to anticipate the audience’s feelings. You have to make them feel scared and shocked.

“It’s different from other genres of films where you can pretty much do what you want, even if you are trying to extract a certain emotional reaction from the audience.”

Parkpoom, on the other hand, had this to offer: “It’s really not that different from other kinds of filmmaking. It is just a different kind of entertainment the audience is after. They want to be scared.

“There is no fixed formula, though, because audiences are getting smarter every day.”

Finally, we asked what advice they could offer to up-and-coming film directors.

“You need to have new ideas and a strong and interesting plot. There will always be a need for that in the market,” said Banjong, while Parkpoom advised: “Don’t just follow trends. Work on what you believe in.”

Shutter is the first all-Thai remake to be completed. Pen-ek Ratanaruang's second film, 6ixtynin9 had been up for a remake, but I don't think anything ever came of it. The 2002 transvestite-gay-transgender comedy adventure Saving Private Tootsie was also optioned for a remake, but it has fallen off the map.

Future remake projects include Banjong and Parkpoom's second film, last year's twin horror, Alone. The Weinstein Company bought the remake rights to 13 Beloved, but recently released the original in the U.S. as 13: Game of Death on their Dimension Extreme DVD label.

After getting their start in Thailand, the Pang Brothers are well entrenched back in their native Hong Kong (they will be back in Thailand this year, filming Storm Riders 2), and have two remakes: their 2002 hit The Eye, and their 1999 debut, Bangkok Dangerous. Starring Jessica Alba, The Eye remake was released in the US last month to tepid reviews. Originally a Hong Kong-Singaporean co-production filmed in Hong Kong and Thailand, the remake was directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud. For Bangkok Dangerous, the Pangs directed their own remake, but cast Nicolas Cage in the lead role that had previously been held by a deaf mute character. Shooting was wrapped up in 2006 in Bangkok, and it had been scheduled for release earlier this year, but has since been moved to summer.

More information:

(Photo info: Joshua Jackson in Shutter (2008); Banjong Pisanthanakul, left, and
Parkpoom Wongpoom in a photo courtesy of GMM Tai Hub)

Extended gore-filled trailer, uncensored scenes for Art of the Devil 3

Oh. Ick. Twitch has found an extended trailer for Art of the Devil 3. I can't watch it.

And, 24 Frames per Second (via Deknang) points towards a hidden section of the film's website that contains clips that presumably didn't make it into the film because they were too gory.

Interestingly and confusingly, Twitch notes that Art of the Devil 3 is actually a prequel to Art of the Devil 2, I guess getting into the story of how Mamee's character came to be so skilled in the black arts of torture. In Thai, the title is Long khong 2, which makes it a sequel to Long khong, which was Art of the Devil 2. The first film in the series was Khon len khong, and is not connected with the Llong kong films in any way. Different characters, different story, but same gore.

Understand? Good, because I don't.

Oh, here's something kinda cute: One of the sponsors of the film is Parachute Brand's Pises Powder, which is used to disinfect "pimple wounds, infectious wounds, chronic ulcers, burn cuts" etc. The orange packet is on the film's website and is featured in the trailers.

Art of the Devil 3 is released in Thai cinemas on April 3.

More information:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Film Act and censorship of Syndromes

Bangkok's new freesheet, the Daily Xpress yesterday ran Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul on its front page, giving the tabloid treatment to the censorship of his film, Syndromes and a Century.

"Blackout" screamed the front cover, while inside the headline was a loud, large and orange "Censorship", followed by slightly smaller, black typeface, "'Syndromes' and silence."

The story centers on the filmmaker's plan to go ahead with the local screening of his film, with the scenes the censors cut out replaced by lengths of scratched, black film leader. The longest such scene will run for seven minutes.

Says the director of the decision to run black, silent frames:

It's cynical, but actually it's a statement for the audience to make them aware that they are being blinded from getting information in this society."

The story also gives hints that the Film Act passed last year as a rubber-stamp item by the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly is indeed starting to come into effect. The Film Act contained a tightly tiered ratings system, which hasn't yet been put into place, but it appears the Act's provisions that call for films to be censored or banned has been adopted.

Here's more from the Daily Xpress story:

With the election of a new government and a new film law on the books, Apichatpong said he submitted his film to the censors again, hoping they would view it differently. The censors asked that two more scenes be excised.

"I was wrong. It's worse than the first time, but it was still worth the effort. I learned that the problem with the new film law is not the law itself, but the people who will be enforcing it," he says.

Apichatpong and producer Pantham Thongsang explained the film's artistic intentions to the board, but their appeals fell on deaf ears. The censors characterised the film as "non-artistic" and said it harmed the nation's image and its institutions. The film was made as a tribute to Apichatpong's parents, both physicians, but the censors didn't see it that way, saying his parents should feel ashamed of the depiction of their lives.

The director says he's angry and feels stupid for trying to work within the system.

"Some of [the censors] teach filmmaking," he says.

When the film was submitted to the Censorship Board last year, they found four scenes objectionable:

  • A Buddhist monk playing a guitar.
  • Two monks playing with a remote-control flying saucer.
  • A doctor kisses his girlfriend and then has to make an “adjustment” inside his trousers.
  • A group of doctors share a bottle of whiskey in their hospital basement.

On the latest appeal, censors objected to two more scenes:

  • A statue of the Prince of Songkhla, the father of Thai medicine (and father of His Majesty the King).
  • A statue of the Princess Mother (mother of His Majesty the King).

Kong Rithdee, writing for Variety, also covers this latest chapter in the story of Syndromes. He says that despite the new Film Act, censorship remains under the control of the police for another two months. After that, it will be wholly transferred to the Ministry of Culture.

Police Major General Somdej Khaokam, who chaired the censorship appeals board had this to say of their decision:

We maintained the decision of the previous committee because those are inappropriate images."

Similar to the Motion Picture Association of America's secret ratings process, names of the Censorship Board's members are kept secret, though it is known that the committee includes representatives from the police, the Thai Medical Council, the Buddhist Society and film experts.

The mutilated film will be preserved at the National Film Archive. Screenings of it will be organized by the Thai Film Foundation, with proceeds going to benefit the foundation. Says Apichatpong in Variety:

It will be a statement, and a historical record of Thailand."

Commissioned for the New Crowned Hope Festival in celebration of Mozart’s 250th birth anniversary, Syndromes and a Century premiered in the main competition at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival. It was screened at many other film festivals and was on the top 10 lists of dozens of film critics and film bodies for 2007.

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