Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Aditya Assarat picks George Washington for Berlinale Forum celebration

The Berlin Film Festival's Forum program is 40 years old this year, and to celebrate, a birthday party is being held at the Kino Arsenal from July 1 to 5.

For the symposium celebration, "Dialogues with Films: 4 Decades of the International Forum of New Cinema" has 12 directors selecting films they really like and explaining why they really like them.

Among the directors having to explain themselves is Thailand's Aditya Assarat. He chose George Washington, a 2000 independent film by David Gordon Green who's since gone on to direct the Judd Apatow-produced stoner comedy Pineapple Express.

Aditya writes at length about why he likes the film -- "hard to say" -- on the Four Decades of the Forum website.

The entire lineup of films and their presenters makes for interesting reading. If I had a NetFlix queue, I'd be adding to it right now.

(Via Pop Pictures)

Venue and program set for Samui Film Festival

The first Samui Film Festival, set for August 14 to 16, will be held at the Imperial Boat House, located on Choeng Mon Beach.

The lineup is a shorter version of program from this year's Phangan Film Festival, which is put together by the same folks. It's a collection of documentaries and shorts on the themes of "Nature" and "Spirit". Check the website for details.

Meanwhile, next year's Phangan Film Festival is set for March 12 to 14.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Asian Film Festival of Dallas has Thai spirits

Two Thai ghost films -- GTH's four-segment horror omnibus 4Bia and Five Star's thriller The Screen at Kamchanod -- are the Thai entries for the 8th Asian Film Festival of Dallas, which is set for July 17 to 23.

And those aren't the only Thai spirits. The festival is sponsored by Beer Chang and Mekhong whisky -- both pretty lethal poisons, from what I've heard. Never sampled them myself. Don't want to. But I'm sure the big, tough Texas filmgoers can handle it. Maybe they'll need the liquid courage to brave the Thai horror.

4Bia, of course, is already much-lauded on the festival circuit, is headed for DVD in the U.K. and has a sequel coming out later this year. It's making what AFFD calls a "Southwestern Premiere". 4Bia also gets some short-film support from Indonesia's Mo Brothers, whose Dara will be shown before the main feature.

The Screen at Kamchanod (Phee jang nang) has been a bit slower to gain recognition. From what I've been able to keep track of, the 2007 thriller screened last year in the Udine and Puchon festivals and it had a general release and DVD in Singapore. I've lost track of it since then. The AFFD screening is termed a "Dallas Premiere", but I'm not sure where else it's premiered. Must've had a ghost screening somewhere.

And that's what The Screen, directed by Songsak Mongkolthong, is about -- a young doctor is driven mad in his investigation of the mysterious case of an outdoor movie shown to ghosts. It is apparently based on an actual event that took place in 1987 in the Kamchanod forest preserve in Udon Thani province. Beyond the Mango Juice recently recounted the story.

And there's more than just horror at AFFD. From the Philippines is the drama 100, which is inevitably being referred to as the "Filipino Bucket List". From Singapore is Royston Tan's musical melodrama 881. There are even documentaries, among them Story of Spirits, about the Vietnamese diaspora after the fall of Saigon.

(Via Twitter)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Meet Gybzy, Pen-ek's new muse

Wanida Termthanaporn is making her feature-film debut as the lead in Nymph (Nang Mai), the new thriller by Pen-ek Ratanaruang. It's obvious from the lingering looks at her in the trailer that Pen-ek is quite taken with her as an actress. And her performance has been noted by the film critics -- even those who didn't particularly care for the movie liked her.

But they could probably criticize her all they want. Better known as Gybzy of the pop girl group Girly Berry, she's pretty used to scandalmongers, critics and rumors by now. The image of Girly Berry seems to be the lightning rod for critics -- the young women dress sexy and act sexy, and so rumors are started about them. I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Girly Berry was at the center of a controversy last year when the group was appointed role models for the traditional celebration of Songkran, the Thai New Year. The Culture Ministry dressed the four young ladies up in traditional Thai dresses, and had them demonstrate the demure ways of good Thai girls, sedately sprinkling water in a sacred annual cleansing rite. Of course the Culture Ministry's move backfired when Girly Berry went right on being Girly Berry (yay!), wearing short-shorts and the much-frowned-upon spaghetti-strap tops as they bumped and ground in a stage show for the rauscously splashing Songkran revellers on Khao San Road.

After the Cannes Film Festival, Gybzy was at the center of more criticism for her choice in clothes -- taste-minders said the denim shorts she wore for a photo call and the little white dress she wore at the premiere were too short. Dirtii Laundry had more on that awhile back.

Now really. Who cares? Sure, most of the actresses hitting the red carpet are wearing long gowns, or some semblance of a long gown. But then those gowns will be see-through, reveal cleavage from multiple angles or be so low cut in the back that another kind of cleavage is showing. Gybzy actually has some class.

Anyway, Gybzy has apparently been trying to cross over into acting for some time. Remembering a glance at an earlier Bangkok Post article about Nymph, Pen-ek selected her from an audition disc and decided he wanted to make a movie with her.

Gybzy describes her reaction in an article in Saturday's Bangkok Post. Here's an excerpt:

"When I was told Pen-ek had cast me, I was very surprised," she recalled. "After reading the script, I thought the role was not exactly for me. The lead character is a housewife in her mid-thirties and I am just a childish 25-year-old girl."

In Nang Mai, she plays May, an urban housewife who is married to photographer Nop, played by Noppachai Jayanama. One evening, the couple go on a trip into the jungle where Nop plans to take photos and spend time with his wife. In the jungle, he stumbles upon a mysterious tree, underneath which he believes there is something that calling out to him. When he fails to return to the tent, May sets out to look for him only to find his mobile phone and one sandal. She is then struck by the premonition that she has lost her husband maybe forever.

"I guess it was my hairstyle I had at the time of the audition. It was a bit short and it made me look a little older. So, I assumed it was the reason why he cast me," she said, jokingly.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post's film critic Kong Rithdee, Pen-ek shared that a minute into watching the tape of Gybzy's audition he found in her what he felt was missing in his script and in the rest of the candidates.

"It was guilt. Gybzy looked as if she had done something wrong and was afraid people would find out. So I chose her based on that fact. My casting director protested that she wasn't at all like the May in the script," he said.

In the end, said Pen-ek, Gybzy inspired him so much that he decided to re-write the script just to have her in his film.

Gybzy is also set to star in Pen-ek's short for the Saneh Bangkok omnibus film.

Nymph, meanwhile, opens in Thai cinemas on Wednesday. It's also headed for Toronto in September, and Saturday's Bangkok Post article tips it for this fall's Pusan International Film Festival.

Wonder what Gybzy will be wearing?

(Photos via Bangkok 1080/Deknang/Popcornmag and NangMaiTheMovie.com)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More on Pen-ek and art films

As his latest film Nymph looms closer to the July 1 release in Thailand and September's North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Pen-ek Ratanaruang is giving interviews to major media outlets. Among them is The Wall Street Journal.

Pen-ek talks to writer Dean Napolitano about what Nymph is about, how the story developed, its themes, his evolution as a director and how his films are received. Here's a snip:

What is your response to some critics who say you make art-house films primarily for foreign audiences?

A reaction I get in Thailand is that people don't understand my films. I don't think the world is divided into foreign and domestic audiences -- I think the world is divided into taste. I find that the people who like my films are the same people who like the films I watch, who like the books I read and who like the music I listen to. I have a very faithful and loyal audience in Thailand.

But as Pen-ek reflected in another recent statement, that loyal audience is likely shrinking.

Looking at the recent box-office performance of Thai films against the Hollywood blockbusters, it's hard to be optimistic that the likes of Nymph or even Mum Jokmok's Wongkamlao will make much of a dent in the dumb explosive insanity that is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Perhaps it's a cycle we're going through. But can filmmakers like Pen-ek ride it out until the wheel comes back around and favors the types of films he makes? Or maybe he'll be the one to change?

Comments from filmmakers and stars at the World Comedy Film Festival

Sick of hearing about the World Comedy Film Festival yet? I know I am. But Lekha sent some more stuff as a follow-up to her earlier report, and I thought it had some pertinent things to say about the festival, so here it is.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

The inaugural World Comedy Film Festival has come and gone. There were good, bad, funny, un-funny films. There were sparse audiences . But there was much action outside the movie screenings -- parties, cruises, stand-up shows, beach-trips. All the delegates agreed that the Land of Smiles was unbeatable! If the festival’s aim was to give a big boost to the shaky image of the country and the battered tourism industry, after the recent political problems, it did succeed.

Where it could have improved was have more of an interaction with members of the Thai film industry, which would have proved beneficial to both the local and foreign film-folk. Here’s what the foreign film artistes had to say:

Singaporean Superstar Fann Wong, co-star of The Wedding Game with her fiancé Christopher Lee. The film by Ekachai Uekrongtham won the top prize at the festival.

Bangkok is very different from Singapore. I love to come here, to shop, to relax, to unwind -- it’s such a wonderful city! Christopher and I come here often, but this is the first time we have come with a film. I’m happy I met at least one Thai movie star ['Gof' Akara Amarttayakul], but would have liked to meet more."

American director Ari Gold, whose Adventures of Power was screened at more than 20 festivals around the world.

I’ve been to festivals with my film and Bangkok is very different. I’m disappointed I could not interact with my audience, and also with more Thai film folk, which is what’s most important for a filmmaker at foreign festivals. But I love the country! Phuket is so different than when I went there 10 years back. The hotels are outstanding!"

I’m also stunned by the film facilities and plan to convert my film from digi-beta to 35mm here. The service in studios like Kantana is so impressive.”

American actress Shosannah Stern, star of Adventures of Power.

I went to Chiangmai, which was beautiful! I love Thai food, which is so much better, here than in the US ! I wish I had met some Thai actresses -- I hear they are beautiful.”

Singaporean director Jack Neo, who screened three of his films in a retrospective.

The theatres and facilities in Bangkok are excellent, but I’m disappointed the audiences are so small. I do my post-production work here, and after this trip, I’m even more amazed by the facilities!"

Australian director Murray Fahey, winner of Best Short Film for The Code.

This is my first visit to Thailand and I simply love it! I wish I could have done a stand-up show with Thai comedians, like I did at the Berlin Film Festival, which was a great experience.”

Scottish director David Newbigging, maker of the short film Eyes on the Street.

This is so far from home, and our first visit to Asia. We love the heat, the food, the people, and I wish we didn’t have to go back. We also wish we had met more people from the Thai film industry, as we know nothing about Thai cinema.”

Indonesian producer Muslich Widjaya of Cinlok.

“My director and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. We met only one Thai actor, but I wish we could have met more Thai film people so that we could know more about the Thai film industry.”

Malaysian actor-directors Hans Isaac and Afdlin Shauki, whose Wash was in competition.

We always come to Bangkok for our post-production work, but it was on this trip, that we realised how advanced, the film facilities are, and how many options we have! Thailand seems far ahead of Malaysia in the film area. We met a very pleasant Thai actor, but we would have liked to meet more Thai film folk, as we could possibly do a co-production.”

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Taiwanese 'cute princess' becomes a horror queen in the Pangs' 3-D Eye film

The Pang Brothers are back in Thailand, working on the fourth in their Eye series, The Child's Eye, which is budgeted at US$4.5 million and touted to be the first Asian 3-D film.

Playing the lead role is Rainie Yang, a 25-year-old Taiwanese pop singer and TV-drama star who's been dubbed the "cute princess". The Nation's Sunday Leisure section had a story about Rainie and The Child's Eye this past weekend. A similar story is online at the China Post.

Here's a snip from Yasmin Lee Arpon's feature for Sunday Leisure:

Rainie’s appearance in a horror movie is not an expected choice for a young idol, but her choices have never been predictable. In her last outing, Spider Lilies, she played a webcam girl plying her sexy-cute wares nightly on the Internet.

Asked about Child’s Eye, Rainie says it’s not just another horror film out to scare people.

“I’m the lead actress, but I’m not constantly screaming, like you usually see in movies like this,” she tells us during a break in shooting in Bangkok, with the translation help of Cai Shanshan of the China Daily. “It was quite hard for me at the start because I’d never tried this before. It’s demanding, because it all depends on your own imagination. But I feel lucky that I could try such a special role, the kind that actors always want to try but rarely get the chance.”

She co-stars with Hong Kong actor Shawn Yu. He plays one of six tourists who come to Thailand and disappear. Rainie plays his girlfriend, who'se tryhing to get him back.

The Pang Brothers have more to say:

“The elements are quite the same, but the feeling is different,” Oxide Pang, who’s co-directing with sibling Danny, says, drawing comparisons with other pieces of The Eye series.

“The audience will be more scared,” he assures The Nation.

The shoot will take two months and post-production at least another six because of the 3-D effects.

“This being the first 3-D film in Asia is our selling point,” says Pang. “This means we have to spend more money on the special effects.”

The original background for the script was last November’s closure of Bangkok’s airports by anti-government protesters, but that’s been jettisoned.

“It’s basically a teenage movie about six travelers coming to Thailand and vanishing. There’ll be lots of supernatural effects.”

Early reports on the film mentioned a monster and an underworld that’s made of the paper facsimiles that Chinese traditionally burn as offerings to deceased ancestors.
The movie is set to premiere in Hong Kong next year.

Meanwhile, the Pangs have completed The Storm Warriors, their sequel to The Storm Riders. They filmed the Hong Kong martial-arts fantasy in a green-screen-equipped waterfront warehouse last year in Bangkok. It's due for release in December.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mum Jokmok takes on hi-so soaps in Wongkamlao

Petchtai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao gathers a few familiar faces from his past films for his latest directorial effort, Wongkamlao (วงษ์คำเหลา), which spoofs the classic hi-so Thai soap opera Baan Saithong.

With Mum playing the head of a wealthy family, the comedy also stars Apaporn Nakonsawan, who had a memorable role in Mum's first Bodyguard, playing the club-hostess matriarch of a slum family. There's also Mum's sister, Waew Jokmok and Anuwat Tarapan from Yam Yasothon. Add to the mix veteran comedy hand Somlek Sakdikul and plucky character actress Sudarat Butrprom, and there's a pretty strong cast.

The story is set in Wongkamlao Mansion, where the noble-blooded Petcharawuth family resides. The head of the family, Khun Chai (Mum) runs the family jewellery business. Veteran singer Chantana Kitiphan plays Khunying Praewpiras, the family matriarch. His older sister Khun Ying Yai Ploywarin (Weaw Jokmok) is a strict old maid. Younger sister Khun Ying Lek Praewpraow (Apaporn) is noisy and bossy. Junior Paitoon (Chalerm Yamchamang or Lern Mum Show) , the youngest brother, is autistic, while Grandpa Porncharas (Somlek) is a mysterious guy who alway hides hin his secret pavilion.

Conflict arises when a private English tutor Piramon (Akamsiri "Jakkrajan" Suwansuk) is hired to teach Junior, and the sisters are jealous of the teacher's physical attractiveness and popularity.

I've been looking forward to Wongkamlao, hoping it would be as good as Yam Yasothon, in which Mum parodied and paid homage to the rural Thai musical comedies of the 1960s.

The trailer (embedded below) has been playing in cinemas for awhile. While there are highlights -- Mum's singing and Somlek's impeccable comic timing among them -- I was disappointed to find that instead of playing it straight, and letting the satire speak for itself, there's the usual idiotic bleeps, bloops and slide-whistle sound effects that are found on the nightly variety shows, to let people know when to laugh.

I don't recall any of that in Yam Yasothon, or at least not as much of it.

Oh, and there's the screaming transvestite character -- a time-honored tradition in Thai theater -- but the one in Wongkamlao (Orachon Mamchow) seems to be screaming more often and more loudly than ever.

Not much credit is given to the audiences, or to the strength of this comedy, but I am still nonetheless curious to check it out. But only after I've seen Nymph, which opens in Thai cinemas the same day, July 1.

More Thai comedy films in the Week of Siam

"Make 'Em Laugh" is the theme of the fourth Week of Siam classic Thai film series at House cinema on RCA in Bangkok.

Starting this Thursday, June 25 until Wednesday, July 1, the six comedy films are 1978's Rak Talen (Preppy Love) and 1979's Prinya Kreung Bai and Mor Song starring Ampha Phoosit, Ai Paet Niw by Dokdin Kanyamarn, 1978's Seub Yud Sai and 1987's Ee Sib Won Lok Ja Taek (10 Days Before the End of the World). Here's the schedule:

Thursday, June 25

13.00 – Prinya Kreung Bai (ปริญญา ครึ่ง ใบ)
16.00 – Mor Song (หมอซ้ง)
19.00 – Ai Paet Niw (ไอ้ แปด นิ้ว)

Friday, June 26

13.00 – Seub Yud Sai (สืบยัดไส้)
16.00 – Rak Talen (Preppy Love, รักทะเล้น)
19.00 – Ee Sib Won Lok Ja Taek (10 Days Before the End of the World, อีก 10 วัน โลกจะแตก)

Saturday, June 27

13.00 – Mor Song (หมอซ้ง)
16.00 – Ai Paet Niw (ไอ้ แปด นิ้ว)
19.00 – Prinya Kreung Bai (ปริญญา ครึ่ง ใบ)

Sunday, June 28

13.00 – Rak Talen (Preppy Love, รักทะเล้น)
16.00 – Ee Sib Won Lok Ja Taek (อีก 10 วัน โลกจะแตก)
19.00 – Seub Yud Sai (สืบยัดไส้)

Monday, June 29

13.00 – Ai Paet Niw (ไอ้ แปด นิ้ว)
16.00 – Prinya Kreung Bai (ปริญญา ครึ่ง ใบ)
19.00 – Mor Song (หมอซ้ง)

Tuesday, June 30

13.00 – Ee Sib Won Lok Ja Taek (10 Days Before the End of the World, อีก 10 วัน โลก จะ แตก, 1987)
16.00 – Seub Yud Sai (สืบยัดไส้)
19.00 – Rak Talen (Preppy Love, รักทะเล้น)

Wednesday, July 1

13.00 – Seub Yud Sai (สืบ ยัด ไส้)
16.00 – Prinya Kreung Bai (ปริญญา ครึ่ง ใบ)
19.00 – Ai Paet Niw (ไอ้ แปด นิ้ว)

Admission is 120 baht (100 baht for members) for films and 80 baht (50 baht for members) for digital media.

Proceeds benefit the National Film Archive. The Week of Siam series continues on the last week of each month through August.

Call (02) 641 5177-8 or visit www.HouseRama.com.

(Cross-published at Bangkok Cinema Scene)

Old man and his flying house crowd Roommate out

Roommate, a teen-oriented musical romance, opened as the No. 2 movie at the Thai box office the weekend before last, but taking in just 7.4 million baht, or around US$222,000, it's considered a failure, according to Bangkok of the Mind, which cites a Manager report.

Those figures are reflected on the just-updated Box Office Mojo chart, with Roommate taking a solid trouncing by the Pixar animated feature, Up, about a crotchety old widower who embarks on an adventure by attaching helium balloons to his house.

Roommate is about flatmates -- two guys and two girls -- who form a rock band and have their friendship tested by the addition of a new singer, who's an old girlfriend of one of the guys. Released in cinemas without English subtitles, it doesn't seem like a promising start for motif+, the former Mono Film.

Roommate had originally been set to star Love of Siam heartthrob Mario Maurer, who backed out of the project, apparently after having been paid 200,000 baht. Mono is now suing Mario and his former manager "Coco" Nirun Limsomwong to try and get its money back, plus damages. Mario, according to Lyn's Lakorns, doesn't seem bothered in the least by the controversy.

A second Thai release over the June 11-14 weekend, the imaginative children's comedy-romance Dek-Khong, directed by Taweewat Wantha and released by Sahamongkol Film International, had an even more disappointing spot on the chart, coming in fifth place and earning around $99,000.

The top five is rounded out by Terminator Salvation, dropping to third place after being No. 1 the previous couple of weeks, and Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, which dropped two places from debuting the previous weekend at No. 2.

Drag Me to Hell I can get behind -- a solidly entertaining and suspenseful effort. But Terminator Salvation is completely lame and ridiculous. In terms of the Terminator storyline, it never happened. Forget about it. Go watch reruns of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sadly, it'll probably be the explosive insanity of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen that sits atop the chart for the next couple of weeks, because that's the kind of movie being more heavily marketed than anything else.

Another Thai film, 2022 Tsunami was in 11th place after three weeks after peaking at fourth place over its opening weekend on May 28-31. The disaster flick's poor performance had so depressed director-producer Toranong Srichua -- who boasted of spending 160 million baht to make it -- that he had reportedly threatened to commit suicide, but was talked out of it.

The always controversial Toranong had also resorted to forcing prospective cast members for his next film to starve themselves, though he denied it was a publicity stunt.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nymph announced for Toronto International Film Festival

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's jungle ghost story Nymph (Nang Mai) is among a slate of 26 titles announced for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Nymph, about a haunting supernatural love affair involving a forest spirit and a young couple who've drifted apart, will make its North American premiere in the Toronto fest's 34th edition, which runs from September 10 to 19. It's part of the Visions program for "brazen newcomers and veteran filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of contemporary cinema".

Other Asian titles include Air Doll by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Face by Tsai Ming-liang, Independencia by Raya Martin and Karaoke by Chris Chong -- all which played alongside Nymph in programs at the Cannes Film Festival.

Nymph opens in Thailand on July 1.

(Via IndieWire)

French and Thai stars turn out for Largo Winch; sequel to be shot in Thailand

The sixth annual French Film Festival is running at Bangkok’s SF World Cinemas at CentralWorld until July 1. The invitation-only opening was last Thursday night, and Lekha J Shankar was there. She sent the following report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

Bangkok’s month of film festivals wraps up with French Film Festival, following the Italian Film Festival and then the World Comedy Film Festival.

Hopefully, this will lead to more movie audiences in a city that boasts of some of best movie theatres in the world – but simply not enough moviegoers to fully enjoy and appreciate them.

The opening film Largo Winch at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, was a well-attended affair, the chief attraction of the evening being the presence of the film’s director Jérôme Salle and star Tomer Sisley. Among the Thai stars at the event were actor Sakda Kaewbuadee (a regular in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films) and commercial names like Sonia Couling, Dom Hetrakul and Akara Amarttayakul.

Akara was seen interviewing the French actor and director for Sahamongkol Film's satellite Mongkol Channel, presented by Parichart Borisute.

Also present at the opening were the chief programmers of the upcoming Bangkok International Film Festival (September 24 to 30) -- artistic director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon as well as programmers Pimpaka Towira and Mai Meksawan. They said they picked up good films at the Cannes Film Festival, and were working hard to provide a strong package like last year. Also present, was Victor Silakong of the "rival" World Film Festival of Bangkok (November 6 to 15). It’s obvious that both festivals have a strong interest in French cinema.

Largo Winch, a breezy action-drama that globetrots across Brazil, Croatia and finally plays out in Hong Kong, is based on a popular Belgian comic book by Philippe Francq and Jean Van Hamme.

After its festival run, it will get a limited general release at SF World Cinemas, starting on Thursday, June 26. A second film from the French festival, the epic gangster drama L'ennemi public n° 1) (Public Enemy #1, parts one and two), starring Vincent Cassel, will also be released, with part one on July 1 and part two on July 30, at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square. Both films have been picked up by distributor M Pictures.

Most interesting to learn was that the sequel to Largo Winch will be shot in Thailand, early next year. In fact, the whole production team of the film, led by producer Jean-Yves Asselin, were present at the opening and said they came to Bangkok to scout for locations.

Director Salle said during a meeting with the media next day that most of the three-month shoot will be in Chiang Mai, with certain sequences in Bangkok. He said he was looking for Thai stars, and asked for suggestions from the press.

While most of the cast would be the same as the first Largo Winch, he said they would be looking for a new actress for the second part.

Salle said he opted to shoot the film in Asian countries like Hong Kong and Thailand, not because these were the settings in the original comic series, but because “Asia is now the centre of the world. ”

Actor Sisley, better known as a stand-up comedian and TV personality, said the role was a dream come true for him, and he had "prepared hard" for it, as he had dreamt of acting in movies ever since he was 7 years old.

The actor is charismatic as Largo Winch, the young adventuring head of a global empire, and director Salle said he had auditioned numerous actors in many countries for the role before zeroing in on Sisley .

“He just had it within him!"

Sisley, who is of Jewish origin -- his family came to Israel by way of Lithuania and Yemen -- said that his comedy acts enabled him to joke about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and drive many points home. “When people laugh more, they also think more."

The French Film Festival is part of La Fête, the annual French cultural festival in Thailand.

See also:

Limited Bangkok release for Citizen Juling

Citizen Juling (พล เมือง จูห ลิง, Polamuang Juling) will get a limited release in Bangkok at House cinema on August 12.

The sprawling, 222-minute political documentary that springs from the 2006 fatal mob-beating of a young Buddhist schoolteacher in a Muslim community in southern Thailand, Citizen Juling is directed by artist Ing K, photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom and activist-politician Kraisak Choonhavan. It premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and was also shown at last year's Bangkok International and at Berlin earlier this year.

(Via House blog, Deknang/Popcornmag)

Jeeja rocks the drums and Bruce Lee shades

Sweet Chocolate star Jeeja Yanin is looking the part of the rebel in her upcoming Jeeja Project, Du Suay Doo (ดื้อ สวย ดุ, "stubborn, beautiful and fierce"), also known as Raging Phoenix.

Produced by Prachya Pinkaew, directed by Rashane Limtrakul (4 Romances, Romantic Blue) and co-starring Kazu Patrick Tang, Raging Phoenix has been touted as a blend of romance and martial-arts action.

New stills at Deknang reveal that the stubborn, beautiful and fierce girl is a drummer in a rock band, wearing the type of face-hiding shades that could have made her Bruce Lee's double in Game of Death.

The release is coming up fast. It's August 12, Her Majesty the Queen's birthday and Mother's Day -- an important holiday and auspicious day for movie openings in Thailand.

(Via Twitch, Deknang)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Japanese Cinema Blogathon/NYAFF '09 - Review: Children of the Dark

  • Directed by Junji Sakamoto
  • Starring Yosuke Eguchi, Aoi Miyazaki, Praptpadol Suwanbang, Prima Ratchata, Setanan Homyamyen
  • Screening at the New York Asian Film Festival, 1.25pm on Wednesday, June 24 and at 9.40pm on Monday, June 29, 2009; reviewed on screener DVD, courtesy of Grady Hendrix and the New York Asian Film Festival
  • Rating: 4/5


It's the haunting cry of a girl.


It's the cry of another.

Who Yairoon and Senla are is a suspenseful thread that runs throughout Children of the Dark, a gripping Japanese drama about exploitation of children for the sex trade and organ trafficking in Thailand.

Directed by Junji Sakamoto and adapted from a book by Sogil Yan, Children of the Dark (闇の子供たち, Yami no kodomotachi) gained notoriety in Thailand after it was pulled from the program of the 2008 Bangkok International Film Festival.

At first the reason given for yanking the film was that Sakamoto hadn't received proper permission to shoot it in Thailand. But in fact Children of the Dark was a made as a Thai-Japanese co-production, and Sakamoto denied he'd done any sneaking around or that he'd filmed anything that was "hidden", as Thai authorities had said.

He finally screened it in Bangkok this past February for the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, and explained that the sex scenes with the children had been shot in such a way that the adult and child actors were filmed separately.

But it's easy to see why Thai authorities had deemed the film "inappropriate" and
didn't want it shown in a festival co-sponsored by the government's image-obsessed tourism agency. Children of the Dark is perhaps too raw, too exploitive, too explicit and overly dramatic. Call it poverty porn if you will, yet it lays bare the problems that exist in society -- corruption, greed, a lack of compassion and the idea that anything goes for anyone who has enough money.

The blame isn't just on the complicit cops and dodgy hospitals ("Don't make fun of Thai doctors."). And it's not just the parents who are, for reasons not fully explained in the film, compelled to sell their children to the bottom-feeder traffickers.

Foreigners are also to blame. Perverted Japanese, fat European pedophiles, weirdo co-dependent Americans. All are there. Naked and sweating, their folds of flab there to see, creating the demand for this stomach-churning, unnatural sex trade.

"Do you take Visa?"

The story begins and ends in the mountains of northern Thailand, in a remote village of thatched-roof huts, where a trafficker hands over some money to a father and takes away a child.

But the driving force is Nambu (Yosuke Eguchi), a reporter for the Bangkok bureau of the Japan Times. He's heard that Thai children's organs are being harvested for transplants for Japanese patients. On the street and talking on the phone with his editor, Nambu says the Thai kids aren't brain dead, but healthy. They're anesthetized and put on the operating table. As the list of body parts is reeled off, Nambu's eyes drift across trays of organs and meat, on ice, waiting to be cooked by a street vendor.

It's little details like that, along with the bare butts of those foreigners, that keep the story moving along.

Meanwhile, an earnest young Japanese woman (Aoi Miyazaki) arrives to work at a child-welfare non-governmental organization. Keiko is taken to a railway shantytown, where tin shacks sit almost directly on the tracks. Seeing the living conditions there, and hearing of a girl named Aranya (Setanan Homyamyen) who's likely been sold off by her father, Keiko becomes even more determined.

A smuggled letter leads Keiko and the child welfare people to Chiang Rai, in the mountains of northern Thailand, and brothel that caters to foreign sex tourists. It's the same place the girl from the mountain village was brought by the trafficker. The kids are bundled into the place inside luggage -- wriggling sacks.

If the kids get AIDS, they are bundled back out in bags -- trash bags, thrown onto the back of a truck. Yet another child's journey is followed on this route, eventually leading back to that little mountain town of thatched-roof homes.

Getting inside the brothel to find out if Aranya is there proves to be difficult. The gangsters who run the place are armed with machetes.

Eventually, the social workers and the journalists combine forces, and the story goes to Japan, to try and convince the parents of the intended recipient of the organs not to go through with the operation.

There are numerous side characters in this sprawling story. Among them is a troublemaking young Japanese photographer (Satoshi Tsumabuki), who's bailed out of a Thai jail by Nambu and enlisted to stake out the hospital and watch for the organ donor and the recipient's family to show up.

Keiko, meanwhile, is staking out the Chiang Rai brothel, watching for a wriggling black garbage bag to be tossed onto the trash truck.

And the fiery children's NGO head (Prima Ratchata) is staging rally to publicly expose the traffickers. It turns into a gunfight that includes a trailer-worthy shot of a car exploding.

Over-the-top melodrama leaves a bit of a sour taste. No wonder the kids are spitting.

And then there's a puzzling twist with regards to Nambu, and a conflict that brought him to his knees.

And he's not the only conflicted one. There's that trafficker, played in one of the strongest performances in the film by Praptpadol Suwanbang. He menacing one moment, but the next is singing a sweet song to calm down screaming children. He remembers his own childhood sexual abuse -- memories so vivid they make him vomit. Yet he still takes part in the flesh trade.

With a return to the mountain village, and a stream that runs beside it, the thread of Yairoon and Senla finally plays out. But the story isn't over.

See also:

Related posts:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pimpaka Towira, Bruce Gaston among Silpathorn Award honorees

Pimpaka Towira will receive this year's Silpathorn Award for film, the Ministry of Culture's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture announced yesterday.

And in a first for the contemporary arts honor, American musicologist and composer Bruce Gaston will receive the Silpathorn Distinguished Award, the first non-Thai to be honored.

Pimpaka, a former film critic and reporter for The Nation, made her directorial debut in 1997 with the short film Mae Nak, which told the point of view of the famous ghost wife. Her first feature was in 2003 with the psychological thriller One Night Husband (Kuen rai ngao). Her most recent feature was 2007's sweeping documentary on Thai politics, The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong. She was also director of the film within the film in 2005 Silpathorn honoree Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Worldly Desires.

With Mai Meksawan, Pimpaka's a co-founder of the indie production and distribution company, Extra Virgin. Her latest production is director Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia, which is touring the festival circuit. She's also been a festival programmer, having a hand in an edition of the old Bangkok Film Festival, and last year she and Mai took on programming duties at the Bangkok International Film Festival, set this year for September 24 to 30.

Her next feature will be The Island Funeral, which is in development.

As a Silpathorn honoree for film, Pimpaka joins Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Apichatpong, Wisit Sasanatieng, Thunska Pansittivorakul and Nonzee Nimibutr.

Created in 2004, the award is given to active contemporary artists between the ages of 30 and 50 whose works are considered to have a great impact on Thai culture. Honorees receive a jeweled brooch and a cash award. Other honorees announced yesterday were:

  • Literature -- Orasom Suddhisakorn
  • Visual arts -- Phatyos Buddhacharoen and Sakarin Krue-on.
  • Performing arts -- Janaprakal “Kru Chang” Chandruang
  • Music -- Den Euprasert
  • Creative design -- Kulapat Yantrasast, Eggarat Wongcharit, Somchai Jongsaeng and Prinya Roj-arayanont

And, for the first time, a non-Thai has been named as a Silpathorn honoree -- musician Bruce Gaston, an American composer who’s lived in Thailand for more than four decades and is well known for his work with the Fong Nam Orchestra in pioneering a blend of Western electronic music and Thai classical.

Gaston, 65, receives the “Cherd Choo Kiat” or Distinguished Award, which was created last year to honor artists over age 50 who are continuing to make active contributions to the contemporary arts scene.

Gaston's achievements include creating a score for the DVD release of the 1927 silent Chang. It was Gaston's score that was adapted by a live orchestra for an outdoor screening of Chang at the recent Bangkok Bananas!! arts fest.

In 1983, he collaborated with the late Thai dramatist Boonyang Ketkong for the 70-year anniversary of composer John Cage at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts' Alice Tully Hall.

It was back at New York's Lincoln Center in 2006 that Gaston collaborated with 2007 visual arts honoree Rirkrit Tiravanija, 2006 performing arts honoree Pichet Klunchuen and several Thai rock musicians for Nak Loy: A Rak Opera, the first Thai production at the center.

The show featuring the likes of rapper Joey Boy and Moderndog performing a rock opera based on the Ramakien. But the production was overshadowed by an onstage tussle by rocker Sek Loso and pop singer-actor Krissada "Noi Pru" Sukosol Clapp. Sek recently apologized and invited Noi to sing at his arena comeback concert next month.

But the Rak Opera also came under criticism from Thai cultural conservatives who deemed the show “inappropriate” for its blending of the sacred khon masked dance with rock music and contemporary dance.

The Silpathorn Awards presentation takes place in August.

(Via Daily Xpress, page 2, print edition only, June 19, 2009, "Silpathorn 'breaks rule', awards foreign artist" by Phatarawadee Phataranawik; photos from Facebook and Flickr)

Danny Boyle: Shooting The Beach was like 'an army invading Thailand'

Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle is the head of the jury at this year's Shanghai International Film Festival. And amid speculation on whether his next film will be shot in Asia, he took part in a panel discussion at the Shanghai fest on Thursday.

The headlines deal with Boyle talking about the "regrettable" restrictions on filmmakers in China. But what interested me was his illustrating a contrast between making Slumdog Millionaire with a small crew in India versus the big-budget production of The Beach, shot in in Thailand. Here's a snip from the Associated Press story by Min Lee:

Boyle said he tried to shed an "imperialist" mentality when he shot Slumdog Millionaire, learning from the experience of his 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio drama The Beach, when he arrived in Thailand with 200 crew members.

"You are an army invading Thailand. You flatten everything in front of you. People just see you as money," Boyle said.

By contrast, he said he brought only 10 crew members from Europe to Mumbai to shoot Slumdog, relying heavily on a local Indian crew, which he said worked better because Indian extras "won't react to the controlling instincts of the Western crew, quite the opposite — the chaos just becomes more and more manifest the whole time."

He said he believes working with local crews is the future of Western films shooting overseas.

"The imperialist or colonial days — you have to forget," he said.

The Beach was controversial, not only for charges by environmental activists that the production "destroyed" the pristine sands of Koh Phi Phi Leh, but also for the depiction of Thailand as paradise for hedonism and drug use, as well as a scene with a sacred Buddha image in a bar.

I think since then, most foreign productions in Thailand have been kept on a tighter leash, though for now at least, Thailand is still seen as a less-restrictive place to make movies compared to China.

(Photos via AP/Yahoo News and IMDb)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

NYAFF '09 giveaway: Children of the Dark tickets are gone

The New York Asian Film Festival starts on Friday, June 19, running until July 5, and as part of the festival, I had an enthusiastic response to the giveaway of three pairs of tickets to the controversial drama Children of the Dark.

The tickets are all gone. Congratulations to Brian, FunnyAV and Alexandria for being the first three to e-mail me.

The only Thai-related film in the festival lineup this year, Children of the Dark is playing at 1.25pm on Wednesday, June 24 and at 9.40pm on Monday, June 29 at IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue.

Directed by Junji Sakamoto and filmed primarily in Bangkok, Children of the Dark is a grimly gripping, unflinching tale about exploitation of children for sex tourism and the black-market organ trade. This is the film that was pulled from last year's Bangkok International Film Festival after officials deemed it "inappropriate".

Having recently watched a screener DVD of it, courtesy of the NYAFF, I can see why the festival's top officials thought that way. It's a highly dramatized indictment of corruption in Thai society.

Once you start watching, you can't turn away. I hope to post a review soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The ghost of a katoey sports comedy that won't go away

In 2002, director Sukij Narin followed up his controversially awful sex comedy Sin Sisters (ผู้หญิง 5 บาป, Phu Ying Ha Bap) -- considered a cult classic in some quarters -- with a sports comedy called Phee Katoey, about a dead football goalkeeper who has his body inhabited by the spirit of a gay transvestite man.

Phee Katoey was never released. Sahamongkol Film International executive producer Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert, who feared his reputation would be damaged if he released such an awful film, shelved it.

But now it's back, and it opens in Thai cinemas tomorrow. Can't blame Sia Jiang for wanting to make a little money on a film that's just sitting, reputation be damned.

Now called Phee Tum Tim (ผีตุ๋มติ๋ม), this comedy stars Veeraphab Suphabpaibool as Thanom, a goalkeeper for Thailand's national soccer team who dies of head injury during a match. He wakes up inhabited by the spirit of a gay transvestite man named Sa-ngiam (Jim Chuanchuen). Thep Po-ngam also stars.

I saw the trailer half a dozen times over the weekend at the World Comedy Film Festival. I've seen enough. But have a look if you want. The trailer is at YouTube, and I've embedded it below.

(Via Daily Xpress)

First World Comedy Film Festival wraps up with award for The Wedding Game

Note: Lekha J. Shankar attended Tuesday night's closing ceremonies of the World Comedy Film Festival, and she sent the following report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

Thailand's first World Comedy Film Festival concluded on Tuesday night with an entertaining closing film, the Hong Kong romantic comedy Look for a Star. There was also clowning around on the dais and Aussie stars strutting the red carpet at Bangkok's CentralWorld shopping center.

Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham's The Wedding Game was named Best Comedy Film. Starring Singaporean couple Christopher Lee and Fann Wong, it had opened the festival and was part of an eight-film lineup for the International Competition.

There are plans for a general theatrical release of both The Wedding Game and Look for a Star in Thailand. Sahamongkol has The Wedding Game and plans to roll it out on July 30, while Rose Media has slated a limited release for Look for a Star.

Singh is King, the mega-budget Bollywood comedy, shot in Australia, got a Special Mention. The best comedian award went to Lim Won-hie, star of the South Korean spy spoof Dachimawa Lee. The Audience Award went to Silent Wedding from Romania.

As for the Short Film category, the top award went to Australian stand-up comedian Murray Fahey for The Code, while Norwegian filmmaker Anne Sewitsky’s Oh, My God won a special mention. The Audience Award for short films was won by Los Angeles filmmaker Kevin Acevedos’ The Last Page.

That Audience Awards were given was ironic because attendance of the festival's films was pretty sparse.

American director Ari Gold, whose entertaining film on the unique subject of air-drummers, Adventures of Power has been to about 20 festivals around the world, including Sundance and Karlovy Vary, called the World Comedy Film Festival "strange" because of the lack of interaction with an audience.

Treated as a VIP, he was amazed at being flown to Phuket and spending a night in a super-luxurious room, which he heard cost as much as US$1,200 a night.

More opulence was to follow at Sunday's "Thai Nite" in the Siam City Hotel, when all the "celebrities" -- comedians, actors and TV stars, mostly from Australia, and little known in Thailand -- dressed up in spectacular traditional Thai costumes and raved about their fantastic trip to the Kingdom.

Probably the biggest actual celebrity was pocket-sized comedian Verne Troyer, who perched on the shoulder of his friend and said he only wished they would make less cars in Thailand, to ease traffic.

Attending the event were Malaysian filmmakers Hans Isaac and Afdlin Shauki, whose film Wash, about an Olympic window-cleaning competition, was screened in the Asian Comedy section. But "Thai Night" conflicted with the screening, and they were disappointed to miss it.

Another filmmaker who was disappointed at not having a Q&A for his film because he was asked to join a dinner cruise instead, was told consolingly that there wouldn’t be an audience in any case.

Singaporean director Jack Neo, who had a retrospective of three of his films, was shocked that he only had one person in the hall to watch his super-hit Money No Enough.

So what was the purpose of holding this 70-millon-baht film festival?

To make audiences laugh and celebrate comedy films, or to have a great party and celebrate the Land of Smiles?

Making audiences laugh would have been welcome in these troubled times, but showing the festival's guests a good time was the raison d'être.

Which is a pity, because a comedy festival should work well in a country like Thailand, where there are not too many takers for serious cinema. Judging by the loud laughs from the sparse audience, at a superb film like Leonid Gaidai's Diamond Arm, one felt sorry there were not more audiences to enjoy the Russian classic comedy, which was also shown on Sunday.

When asked if the Comedy Festival would continue, Weersak Kowsurat, chairman of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said he hoped it could be held at least once in two years. When queried by about the sparse audiences, he said with honesty that they "had not worked at audiences". Instead, they had worked at the daily 30-second television beaming of the stand-up comedians’ acts around the world, which would give a boost to the depleted image of Thailand after the political disturbances.

Well, the motley bunch of Australian stars who attended the festival will certainly have a lot to talk about, when they get back home,

And the party is not yet over. Wednesday is a day trip to Pattaya, which will reiterate that the beach-town has been cleansed of the swine flu.

Now that the image of the Kingdom has been resurrected, one hopes that the Bangkok International Film Festival (BKKIFF) to follow -- the dates were finally announced for September 24 to 30 -- will focus on quality films and quantity audiences -- as every film festival should.

The BKKIFF did it fairly successfully last year and this year should be better. They would also go one notch higher, if organizers arranged for a strong interaction between folks from the Thai movie industry and those from abroad, which would be benefical to both.

The foreign filmmakers at the World Comedy Film Festival felt this was a big "miss" of the festival. Some of them "accidentally" met Thai director Ekachai, actor Gof Akara and actress Mamee Nakprasitte and said they thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.

The local stars who enjoyed the festival the most were the local farang stand-up comedians, Jonathan Samson and Joey Chernyims. They performed at the "Thai Nite" and said they’d never met so many comedians from around the world.

“This festival was a great exposure for comedy!” they exclaimed.

Hopefully, the World Comedy Festival will continue, and hopefully, a lot more audiences will partake in it, and realize that “ A day without laughter, is a day wasted.”

See also:

Related posts

French trailer for Ong-Bak 2

Ong-Bak 2
was picked up in France by Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, leading to big fears that the movie would be rescored with a French hip-hop soundtrack like the first Ong-Bak was when it was acquired by Besson.

Well, put away your ear plugs. According to Bob Critique, Ong-Bak 2 will retain its original score, though it will get a French-dubbed voice track.

Ong-Bak 2: La Naissance du Dragon is in French cinemas on July 22, two to three months before it bows in the U.S., depending on your viewing options there.

Bob Critique has the French trailer, and I've embedded it below.

(Via Wildgrounds Quick News)

Meat Grinder, Chocolate head to PiFan

The cannabalism thriller Meat Grinder will make its international premiere at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. It's a main course in the Forbidden Zone of "violent .. extremist movies".

Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong, Meat Grinder (Cheuat gon chim) stars Mai Charoenpura as a woman with a troubled family history and a special recipe the noodles she sells. The film has been controversial in Thailand, with censors ordering that the Thai title be changed and that cuts be made out of fear of showing a negative portrayal of Thai cuisine. The film has been in the market circuit in Cannes and Hong Kong, but Puchon marks its first festival screening.

For dessert, there's Jeeja Yanin kicking up a storm as an autistic girl bent on revenge in Chocolate, playing in the World Fantastic Cinema lineup.

The full PiFan program was announced on Tuesday, according to Variety. The opening film is MW, a live-action adaptation of the work of Japanese cartoonist Tezuku Osamu, and the closer is the Indonesian martial-arts drama Marantau, directed by Gareth Evans and starring Iko Uwais.

The Puchon Choice competition lineup has two more from Indonesia, The Forbidden Door by Joko Anwar (also at the New York Asian Film Festival) and the Singaporean co-production Macabre by the Mo Brothers (picked up for distribution by Five Star).

The Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival runs from July 16 to 26.

(Via Variety)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

World Comedy Film Festival: Capsule reviews

The World Comedy Film Festival wraps up today (June 16) with the Hong Kong romantic comedy Look for a Star with Shu Qui and Andy Lau. However, because of scheduling conflicts -- a full-time job-type job -- I won't be attending any further screenings. Here's a look at what I did see.

Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly

Having paid millions of rupiah for the rights to the Stevie Wonder song "I Just Called to Say I Love You", it seems only fitting that director Edwin -- who like many Indonesians has only one name -- would use the tune as much as he could. It's first sung by a blind dentist, and then warbled through six more times over the course of this absurdist look at Chinese culture in Indonesia. And by the way, Edwin, present for a helpful question-and-answer session after this bizarre film, says he hadn't seen Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, which also has a singing dentist. Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly shares many of the non-sequitur traits and meditative pacing of Apichatpong's films, evidencing the rise of another independent film voice out of Southeast Asia. In addition to the blind singing dentist, Blind Pig is full of abstract characters, like Linda, the girl who eats firecrackers (Ladya Cheryll), and a fragile badminton player who watches a television evangelist but is spurned by the singing dentist because he wants to convert to Islam. The dentist enters into a deal with an influential pair of heavies (one played by filmmaker Joko Anwar) to ensure his new girlfriend (Indonesian Playboy Playmate Andhara Early) wins a spot on the Planet Idol reality talent series. This involves a much-talked-about scene in the dentist office that was the reason the film was pulled from public screening at the Singapore International Film Festival because of censorship concerns. Appropriately for the World Comedy Film Festival, the scene had the audience laughing -- albeit uncomfortably. The dentist does not squeal like a pig, but he does grunt like one. And just to prove it, there actually is a pig. (4/5)

Dachimawa Lee

This South Korean spy spoof is so overstuffed with gags, it made me numb. I wasn't laughing so much because I was left catatonic by the onslaught of slapstick and action. Subtitle problems meant I missed a great deal of what was being said. Basically, it involves a jowly secret agent, who reminded me a bit of the swordsman in Lone Wolf and Cub, traveling around the world in a quest to retrieve a stolen Buddha statue and find a mole in his agency. In each place he lands, he's confronted by the enemy, and I guess their dialogue went something like, "Oh ho, so we meet again, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" Etcetera. Furiously fast martial-arts battles became a blur. The sumptuous costuming, period setting and intentionally exaggerated melodramatic acting made me think Dachimawa Lee would be the next Tears of the Black Tiger. But it didn't knock my socks off like Tears did. So I'm still looking. (3/5)

James Band 007 (เจมส์แบน 007)

A fitting bookend to Dachimawa Lee, here's proof that even in 1980, Thai comedies took brilliant concepts and ran them into the ground. Directed by Chai Nimitrchotinai, James Band 007 is a fish-out-water spoof about a Pattaya bicycle rickshaw driver who takes over a mission for a secret agent. Even the real secret agent was low rent. Sent to Pattaya to stop an evil plot of some sort, the tuxedoed hero takes the bus! No Aston Martin or Q Branch for this Bond. And then, apparently because of agency policy, the real Bond hires the samlor driver named Band (Tep Thienchai) to take him up the hill to the Hyatt Pattaya Palace (now Royal Cliff). The rest of the film only exists to string together a collection of gags and confusing situations that put the grinning, toothless Band in touch with as many skinny, skantily-clad women as possible. I'm trying to make this movie sound bad, and it is. But it's no more ridiculous than Roger Moore in say, The Man With the Golden Gun. I think I might prefer James Band 007 to that. The real reason to watch James Band 007 is legendary comedian Lor Tok taking on the role of the mastermind villain with gusto. But even he's a thankless afterthought behind a couple of robots in the villain's hideout, named A and B, who are obviously patterned after C-3PO and R2-D2 in Star Wars. And then there's the score, which liberally borrows cues from the James Bond theme, as well as John Williams (the Superman love theme "Can You Read My Mind" and "Cantina Band" from Star Wars), Isaac Hayes ("Theme from Shaft") and Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Update: Here's a review of the VCD at TarsTarkas.net. (3/5)

Singh is Kinng

Here's another broadly illustrated fish-out-of-water scenario -- a village idiot from rural Punjab becomes a crime boss in Australia. Akshay Kumar is Happy Singh, an “illiterate fool" who is packed off on a trip to Australia to fetch Lucky Singh and bring him home to his ailing parents. At least that's what Happy is led to believe. Actually, the villagers just want him gone, because he's a walking disaster area. For no reason other than staging a few song-and-dance sequences among the pyramids, the hero first lands by mistake in Egypt, where he meets the heroine Sonia (Katrina Kaif). Then, as quick as you can say, "Okay, let's go to Australia", the action shifts to Gold Coast, Queensland, where Lucky Singh (Sonu Sood) is the much-feared boss of the underworld. Through Happy's usual bumbling, Lucky is not so lucky and he's put in a wheelchair. The good-hearted Happy is placed in charge of the gang. More hijinks ensue when the turbaned Sikh gangsters all pose as servants for the benefit making Sonia and her fiance think her impoverished mother is wealthy. More songs and dancing, shootouts and action sequences ensue. Finally, after 2.5 hours, the end credits roll and we can hear rapper Snoop Dogg offer his take on the Bollywood phenomenon. (3/5)


Here's a more commercial example of Indonesian cinema than Blind Pig. In Cinlok or Love on Location, tattooed leading man Tora Sudiro (Quickie Express, The Rainbow Troops, Arisan!) stars as a fast-talking, slacker van driver named Cundra who strikes up a romance with Naila, a young woman he spots in the train station. Neither want to reveal they are single, so they both make up stories about their significant others, leading to the classic misunderstandings and humorous situations as can be expected from a romantic comedy. Naila's "boyfriend" Tio is a wealthy oilman and shipping magnate but is actually an eccentric farmer from her home village. She also fibs about her job, which leads to another humorous situation. Cundra's "girlfriend" Tika is an older woman, a fashion designer, but she's actually a village woman who's come to Jakarta to get a job as a maid with an employment agency. There's an inside joke when Tika and the other maids run away from the agency when they find out they are to be sold as prostitutes. Cundra is hired to find them. He describes Tika as looking like actress Ria Irawan. Well, she is veteran actress Ria Irawan. While not a ground-breaking film, Cinlok mainly works because of its easy-going pace, a talented, good-looking cast and competent production helmed by Guntur Soeharjanto, who somehow makes filming in the Jakarta railway station and other areas of the bustling Indonesian capital look painless. It was refreshing to watch this relaxed romance after the other comedies I'd viewed were trying too hard to make me laugh. (3/5)

Partly Cloudy/Up

Thanks to showtimes that stretched into the late night, well past when anything for the film festival was showing, I was able to go off the reservation and catch the latest animated feature from Disney-Pixar. It's telling that the one digital 3-D screening of Up I attended probably had a bigger audience than the entire run of the World Comedy Film Festival. Up has a bigger marketing budget -- there was a magician and other performers promoting the film in the cinema lobby -- while most of the money spent on the World Comedy Film Festival has been used to bring in a few celebrities in an effort to shore up Thailand's flagging tourism industry. So hardly anybody is actually watching the films. Even more telling is that I laughed harder and more loudly at the Pixar animated short Partly Cloudy than I'd laughed at anything I'd seen in the comedy fest. Up had laugh-out-loud moments too -- mainly having to do with the talking dogs. But maybe I'm too much of a grumpy old man, because I found Up overwhelmingly schmaltzy and the characters awkwardly drawn. I was still thrilled by the action sequences toward the end, but I wasn't as wowed by this effort as I have been on other Pixar films, like The Incredibles, Toy Story or Wall-E. (4/5)

Update: Asian Cinema - While on the Road has a couple of reviews.

Update 2: Celine Julie saw 14 films at the World Comedy Film Festival!