Friday, September 18, 2009

Thailand Entertainment Expo relaunches as "Miracle Wonder Gateway"

With the turn of a giant key and a resulting explosion of shiny confetti, the Thailand Entertainment Expo 2009 opened on Tuesday in Siam Paragon's Royal Paragon Hall. Accompanied by shimmying, silver-bedecked dancers and a polished presenter who shifted smoothly from Thai to English and back again, the opening ceremony was at least more entertaining than last year's inaugural event.

Organized by the Ministry of Commerce's Department of Export Promotion, the expo has been "relaunched" with the rather nonsensical theme "Miracle Wonder Gateway", and aims to market Thailand's role as a hub of the entertainment industry in Asia.

But where were the customers to start that wheel spinning? Granted, it was the opening day, and was still early. Some booths were still being set up. One display was still being painted. Others were completely unmanned, and some of those that did have people working the booth had no pamphlets or informational brochures to give away.

After hanging out for a couple hours, not much seemed to be happening, aside from a very loud show starting up in the 4D Theatre, which is a curtained-off zone in the middle of the exhibition hall.

Off to the side of the theater, armoured ancient Siamese soldiers and shirtless fighters awaited to take the stage. Costumed elephant furries from Kantana's Khan Kluay movies were being dressed -- their heads being attached and big, floppy hooves fluffed up by their herders.

A couple other cartoon characters from the Software Industry Promotion Agency (SIPA) cluster milled around and waved at passers by.

But the booming explosion of amplified shouting -- why yell when you already have a microphone? -- just made me want to run away and hide.

Still, I managed to carry on a conversation with a couple of exhibitors before I fled with my ears bleeding.

One, back from the previous year, remarked that visitor traffic seemed light compared to the same period the year before.

Another, a first-time exhibitor at the Expo but a long-time industry pro who's attended film markets and festivals worldwide, said it didn't make much sense for the Thailand Entertainment Expo to be held a week apart from the Bangkok International Film Festival. For industry visitors, travelling from anywhere, even within the region, it would be hard to justify making the effort to hit just the expo or vice versa.

Clearly, closer cooperation and coordination between the film festival and the entertainment market is needed.

The number of exhibitors, stated at around 80, is about the same as last year.

Film studios and production companies turning up include Technicolor Asia (Thailand), touting its state-of-the-art film lab and other services.

Kantana Group is there touting its Khan Kluay computer-animated features as well as an upcoming live-action historical epic, The Edge of Empire, due out around December. It's about Tai people in ancient China, being slaughtered and persecuted by the Han. They didn't have any other details to give me, like who's directing and who's starring, nor are they ready to put their Edge of Empire trailer online.

Toranong Srichua's Twentieth June Entertainment is back, with posters for the same films as the year before. The company released the special-effects laden 2022 Tsunami earlier this year and still has The Baby: Secret of the World and Amphetamine War yet to come. Primarily, I think, Twentieth June is there to promote its large studio complex.

One of the most elaborate booths was by Oriental Eyes, a production company devoted to films by Princess Ubolratana. The Princess made the socially conscious drama Where the Miracle Happens last year and is branching into action with My Best Bodyguard, due out in 2010, and the historical battle epic Legend of the Queen, set for 2011. Eight-foot-high standees for the films greeted visitors as they walked into the convention hall. And the Oriental Eyes booth itself is a two-story affair with an office upstairs and a small seating area downstairs for watching trailers on a big flatscreen monitor.

The Princess herself later paid a visit to the Expo, according to news reports, appearing gracefully in a purple dress and make opening remarks.

Another big exhibit is the Thai-Korea Friendship Pavilion, put on by the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (Kofice) and feeding an insatiable hunger that Thailand has at the moment for all things Korean -- Korean soap operas, Korean fashions and haircuts, but especially South Korean pop bands. Several groups, among them the boy band SHINee and girl group Kara, met the Princess, put on a gala concert and later a free outdoor concert with such Thai pop artists as Golf-Mike and Ice Saranyu.

But I was mostly interested in the film cluster.

Showing off all manner of cameras, dollies, lights and other equipment were film-service companies such as Lighthouse, with its own booth at one of the entrances.

Another group of companies were gathered under the Foreign Film Production Services Association. One of these was VS Service, which has worked on a lot of films by Thailand's Five Star Production, including Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph and Ploy and Wisit Sasanatieng's The Unseeable and Citizen Dog, as well such foreign features as L: Change the World, American Gangster and Rambo.

Over in the animation and computer graphics cluster was Imagimax, which does computer animation as as well as visual effects on live-action films. Their show-reel includes First Flight, Muay Thai Chaiya, Tiger Blade, Vengeance and Rescue Dawn. They also had a hand in the Japanese animator Rintaro's latest feature Yona Yona Penguin, which is the world-premiering opener of the the first Bangkok International Animation Festival.

The Thailand Film Office has a booth. This government agency, under the Office of Tourism Development in the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, is responsible for granting permits to foreign film projects. The office is in the news today over the controversial U.K. reality series Big Trouble in Thailand, which depicts a group of Royal Marines on R&R in Phuket being threatened by a gun-toting jet-ski rental operator named JJ for alleged damage to the personal watercraft. The videos have become a viral hit on YouTube, made the Phuket jet-ski scam known worldwide and, of course, damaged Thailand's reputation. Plans are to prosecute to the Thai production company that arranged for the video shoot, surely a chilling reminder to filmmakers that they'd better get their films cleared or else.

I found the Mongkol Channel booth pretty comical. The satellite channel, which broadcasts non-subtitled Thai-language programming of Sahamongkol Film International's movies, was doubling as a shop for various herbal products, giving that corner of the expo a decidely flea-market atmosphere.

And then the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand had a pair of attractive female presenters at their booth but nothing to really present -- no brochures or hand outs. Hoping for information, I walked away feeling teased.

The Expo continues until Sunday. After being open to "trade only" until yesterday, it's open to the public today, with free daily shows and concerts. Bring your earplugs.

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