Monday, August 31, 2009

Award-winning Thai shorts coming to Singapore

A chance to see some of the award-winning shorts from the recent 13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival will be in Singapore at the ninth Asian Film Symposium at the fifth Singapore Short Film Festival from September 13 to 21 at the Substation.

Here are the films packaged in the S-Express Thailand program showing on Sunday, September 20:

  • Man and Gravity, Jakrawal Nilthamrong -- Okay, this is the Man and Gravity that premiered in competition at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam and was later shown in Bangkok as part of the 6 Degrees of Separation series. It's about a man with a loaded-down, under-powered motorbike. A sequel of sorts, Man and Gravity: Plateau, which was made in Japan, was a runner-up for the R.D. Pestonji Award at this year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival.
  • Abtakon, Thawatpong Tangsajjapoj -- This was a runner-up for the Payut Ngaokrachang medal at this year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival. Making a special cup of coffee can be harder than one can imagined.
  • Red Man, Nattaphong Homchuen -- What happens when you where the wrong color to the office in Thailand's color-coded society? This won a special mention for the White Elephant Award for student filmmakers.
  • Français, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit -- The other runner-up for the R.D. Pestonji Award this year is about a blind college student who is struggling to study for a test on French philosophy, but the Braille translation of the materials she needs isn't ready. She convinces her roommate to help, but the roommate can't read French.

The S-Express programs are part of the Asian Film Symposium, which was a separate annual event from the biennial Singapore Short Film Festival. This year the fest becomes an annual event with the symposium being a segment under it. Check out the full program, which includes S-Express programs from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Chinese, and the closing program includes a retrospective of shorts by Indonesia's Edwin.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Water Drops of Life in limited free screenings

Water Drops for Life (หยาดน้ำ เพื่อ ชีวิต), a collection of 11 short films commissioned by Thailand's Royal Initiative Discovery Project (โครงการ ปิดทองหลังพระ) and produced by My Diwa, is playing in limited free screenings around Bangkok until Wednesday, September 2.

The project is in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Royal Development Center, which has aided rural development in Thailand by improving water resources and the promotion and marketing of local produce.

A common theme running through each of the films is the wisdom of His Majesty the King, especially his sufficiency economy philosophy.

Filmmakers taking part include veteran director Thanit Jitnukul, Silpathorn Award-winning performing artist Nimit Pipithkul, Fan Chan co-director Vithaya Thongyuyong and two actresses trying their hand at shooting a movie, "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol and Napakpapha "Mamee" Nakprasit.

Here's the rundown of the films.

  • Subconscious (Ruang Nai Jai), Nimit Piptthkul -- Set in a coastal village, an angry boy, tired of toiling with this wood-gatherer father, is taught patience when a puppet troupe visits his school and teaches him how to build and perform with a marionette. Tears well up in the boy's eyes and drop down on the face of puppet, making it look like marionette is crying.
  • Hope, Pisuth Praesangeiam -- A mother whose son has been missing since a helicopter crash stays at an army base near the crash site, awaiting word if her son is alive.
  • The Photographer, Vithaya Thongyuyong -- A humorous entry from one of the six directors of Fan Chan. Here, an elderly woman, apparently inspired by His Majesty, who always seems to be photographed while using a camera, has acquired a digital camera but doesn't know how to use it. She tries to convince her young grandson to stop playing videogames long enough to help her out.
  • Mr Kiew, A Proud Citizen, Thanit Jitnukul -- The veteran director offers a docu-drama look at a real character from the streets of Bangkok -- a "tricycle man" who supports himself by salvaging recyclable trash around the Sathorn area. He earns about 200 baht a day -- enough to pay for rent on his tricycle motorike, eat and have savings to pay rent on his room. He can't afford to get sick, so to keep himself healthy, he goes on daily runs in Lumpini Park, dragging a tire behind him to add weight. A young woman hangs out with him for a day for a class assignment. The man has no Thai ID, yet is a patriot through and through, wearing Thai flag regalia. And the walls of his small room are covered with images of the Royal Family and kings of the Chakri Dynasty -- pictures, it's implied, that he found in the trash. "Some things are too valuable to throw away," he says.
  • Faith, Napakpapha Nakprasit -- The actress gets behind the camera for this story of a foolish young businessman who is all "buy, buy, buy" while he orders huge meals, hardly eats any of it and leaves a 500 baht tip. Of course his world comes crashing down pretty quickly, and he must learn to make due with what he's got. He starts getting his leftovers boxed up to eat later.
  • Just a Difference, Supaksorn Chaimongkol -- Another actress makes her directorial debut in this story about a brother who takes his blind younger sister to a special school and meets someone unexpected. The students sing a song composed by the King.
  • Role Model, Chinawat Tangsuthijit -- Elderly men sit and talk about the virtues of a good society.
  • Ending and Starting, Sukho Wesalee -- A small flower, spouting up in the unlikeliest of places provides inspiration.
  • I Am Pod, Amnard Thangsomboon -- Customers at a restaurant where a boy is working leave behind a book, The Story of Tongdaeng, written by the King about his virtuous and much beloved dog. The boy aims to give the book back.
  • Khaki, Sinut Kamukamakul -- Comedian Udom Songsang portrays a dutiful traffic policeman who isn't taking bribes and hopes to instill the same sense of duty in his grandson, who is chafing at having to wear his Boy Scout uniform to school.
  • The Picture, Vitidnan Rojanapanich -- Young men in a poor village try to raise money to put on a big celebration for the King's birthday, but they find that everything they need is right there in the village.

Water Drops of Life
is showing at 5 on Sunday, August 31, and at 7 nightly from Monday to Wednesday at Paragon, Esplanade Ratchadaphisek, Major Ratchayothin and EGV Pinklao. Free tickets are availabe in the cinema lobbies about 30 minutes before showtime.

Review: Buppha Rahtree 3.2: Rahtree Revenge

  • Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak
  • Starring Chermarn Boonyasak, Mario Maurer
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 20, 2009 (rated 18+)
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Nothing is what it seems in Buppha Rahtree 3.2: Rahtree Revenge. Confusion leads to surprising coherence and closure. Comedy meets horror, with guffaws giving way to gushing blood. And then there's moments that will be permanently seared into your brain -- the kind of scene that probably wouldn't have been possible without Thailand's new ratings system, of which Buppha Rahtree 3.2 is the first Thai film to come under. And in that regard, it's a triumph for writer-director Yuthlert Sippapak -- finally he gets to make the movie he's always wanted to make and stick it to the man.

Going into Buppha Rahtree 3.2 (บุปผาราตรี 3.2) , the fourth installment in Yuthlert's ghost-comedy franchise that follows closely after the April release of Buppha Rahtree 3.1, it's perhaps better if you forget everything you think you know or remember about the first two movies, 2003's Buppha Rahtree (Scent of the Night Flower) and 2005's Buppha Rahtree Phase 2: Rahtree Returns. With 3.1, Yuthlert essentially rebooted the series, or at the very least remixed it.

I didn't care for 3.1 much at all. I found it too disjointed, overly confusing and uncomfortable to watch as it lurched clumsily from slapstick to splatter and back again. But without 3.1, 3.2 wouldn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense.

Buppha Rahtree 3.2 picks up immediately where 3.1 left off. There's a man's corpse in one of the apartments, and the rescue squad is there bundling him up. Two policemen are outside in their vehicle. They are apprehensive about going in, with good reason -- they've been there before. They are none other than Thailand's answer to the buddy-cop comfort food of Andy Taylor and Barney Fife -- Adirek "Uncle" Wattaleela and Boonthin Thuaykaew, who've portrayed the comic duo of policemen in the first Buppha Rahtree and have since made cameo appearances in character in several other movies. The laughter ensues as the policemen pair go in to question the dead man's cross-eyed chubby girlfriend and convince her give them all the details -- down to the last inch -- about her life with the man, because, you know, anything could be helpful.

Meanwhile, Buppha ("Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak) is sadly going about her existence, frumping about the Oscar Apartments building in her baggy pajamas. For a ghost who's been stuck in the tenement limbo for six years now, she looks surprisingly normal. It's hard to be certain she's actually dead. Her new neighbor from down the hall, Rung (Mario Maurer), keeps knocking on her door. The young cartoonist college student says Buppha tutored him when he was a boy, and he needs help with math and science again. But Buppha demurs. "Now is a not a good time for me," she says. Their exchanges are enigmatic, sad and dispassionate.

Rung pursues the mysterious Buppha even though his three schoolmates have warned him about her, and have vowed to stay away from his apartment -- the last time they were over for a visit, they were attacked by a razor-blade-wielding little girl, and one guy had his ear sliced off. He's had it sewn back on and can hear better than ever.

The action gets to stirring when that wrapped-up man's corpse stands up and starts hopping around, making everyone who sees it run around and scream.

In the midst of this corpse hopping around, and that mysterious little razor-blade girl still lurking, the apartment block's landlady Miss Third and her running-shorts clad casino operator (Kom Chuanchuen) are trying to stage a high-stakes dice roll in another part of the building.

The police have been tipped off to the illegal game. A comical policeman from Hong Kong is in Bangkok to assist with the case. The man from Hong Kong is dressed in a bright yellow traffic cop's tunic, which has the pair of Bangkok's finest a bit concerned -- do all undercover Hong Kong policemen dress that way? But the traffic cop speaks perfect Thai, which is why they sent him. They aim to catch a dice master named Yuen Wo-Ping (but not that Yuen Wo-Ping).

Heading into the stake-out at the apartment building, the cops enlist a passing Buddhist monk to bless them. This is none other than rapper Joey Boy, in character as the monk he portrayed in Holy Man 2. As they wait in the hallway, the game by foreign dice masters gets started, but that wrapped-up corpse is standing in the corner of the casino. The farang dice master isn't comfortable with ignoring the obvious and he points it out, making the corpse jump and sending everyone flying.

In the hallway, the police are confronted by razor-blade girl, and the stake-out comes to a blood-spurting end.

Hong Kong dice sifu Yuen Wo-ping aims to retrieve the cash left behind in the haunted casino, so he summons up his "Little Zombie" -- a pint-sized version of the hopping Chinese "vampire" from such movies as Mr. Vampire, Spooky Encounters or The Shadow Boxing. That's good fun for a little while -- could have done with more of it -- but the Thai ghost and her straight razor trump the hopping Chinese kid zombie.

Buppha Rahtree 3.2 then takes on a grim and serious tone. With Rung's life hanging in the balance, the movie sets about to bring closure to the story of the little razor-blade girl named Pla (Natawan Saksri) -- the abused step-daughter of a barber (Santisuk Promsiri) who ran away from home, ended up at the Oscar Apartments and somehow merged with the spirit of the long-dead Buppha.

I'm not sure I completely understand what happened, but it has to do with such things as reincarnation (can ghosts be reincarnated as other ghosts?), transformation and other elements of mysticism and spirituality that escape me.

The landlady's child-rapist nephew hires a Cambodian black-magic priest to perform an exorcism of Buppha's apartment 609. This doesn't end well for the nephew, the priest and the priest's assistant. If you've seen the Indonesian indie arthouse hit Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, then you know what to expect. If not, well then I won't say anymore. Whatever's going on, it must be highly symbolic and cathartic for director Yuthlert.

At the same time, Rung's friends hire a hermit shaman -- a white-bearded old man swaddled in leopard skin like a character out of Payut Ngaokrachang's Adventures of Sudsakorn, adapted from Sunthorn Phu's Apai Manee. Backed up by his giant hunchbacked assistant (Somdet Kaew-ler), this bug-eyed cartoon character is great fun as he tries to dispatch the ghost with laser beams from his crooked staff.

And just when I was getting worried, a character from all three previous Buppha Rahtree films (Somlek Sakdikul) makes a brief appearance.

In the end, it's rather melancholic, with the feeling that perhaps Buppha's tale has ended, or perhaps it actually ended long ago and this episode is a coda of sorts.

But I also have the feeling that Yuthlert isn't done, especially since these latest Buppha Rahtree entries have been box-office hits. Perhaps his new direction for the franchise is endless, incremental remixes that don't really go anywhere.

While I found 3.2 more gratifying than 3.1, I'm still not satisfied. What I want is the best bits of 3.1 and 3.2 to be remixed yet again and gelled to form a cohesive and coherent new entry in the Buppha Rahtree series. To see either one of the 3.1 and 3.2 movies without seeing them both will leave anyone who cares about such things as logic and storytelling totally baffled.

Related posts:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

'This case is about greed, it's about corruption and it's about deceit'

The trial of Hollywood producer couple Gerald and Patricia Green began in Los Angeles this week. The pair are charged with violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and accused of bribing a Thai government official in exchange for being granted several management contracts, among them the running of the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Prosecutors say that from 2004 to 2006, the Greens created shell companies to funnel US$1.8 million to the then-governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Juthamas Siriwan. The money was transferred into bank accounts held by Juthamas' daughter and a friend. The deal netted the Greens $13.5 million worth of contracts, the prosecutors say.

The FCPA Blog is on the case. Here's a choice snip, sourced from AP's coverage of the trial:

This case is about greed, it's about corruption and it's about deceit," [Jonathan Lopez, a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice] told the seven man-five woman jury. The Greens "turned TAT into their own personal piggy bank."

That's the kind of stuff that gets the folks back home all excited, and the Bangkok Post ran the story on the front page on Thursday.

In the Greens' defense, attorneys have said that husband-and-wife Hollywood players turned a struggling film festival "into a rising star on the international circuit ... attracting the likes of Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irons and director Oliver Stone to Thailand". From an earlier AP article:

The Greens' lawyers said they never paid to get the contracts.

"They got the contracts because they did good work," said Jerome Mooney, Gerald Green's lawyer. "They entered into consulting agreements with those who had connections with powerful people."

Mooney made similar statements to The Wrap ahead of the trial.

Meanwhile, Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission is apparently getting serious about taking up the case, and is probing for angles of attack. The Bangkok Post has a story today saying the NACC "would consider looking into tax evasion", that is if the "commission fees" are taxable.

Here's the part of the article that caused my brow to furrow:

[NACC commissioner Vicha Mahakhun] said the US court earlier invited him to testify as witness in the couple's trial. The US had found that a manager of the American couple had set up a company to handle the money transfers to the bank account of the "daughter of a certain senior TAT official".

However, he decided not to testify to the court after US prosecutors informed him they were sure that Thailand has a law through which tax evasion charges could be pursued in connection with the bribery case.

Thanks for the tip, you U.S. prosecutors!

The timing of the Greens' trial is awful. The Bangkok International Film Festival brand is being shellacked with the negativity brush just as this year's edition from September 24 to 30 is ready to roll and titles are being announced. While the programming division of the fest has landed dozens of great films, that's not enough for another faction of festival-makers, who are leaning right into the punch, picking "Old Hollywood Glamour" as the theme with plans for welcoming banquets, fancy parties, red-carpet galas and invited celebrities. I know there's people who think all that is fun and generates publicity for the festival and Thailand's film industry, but how much money does it cost and is it really worth it?

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee says as much in an article in yesterday's Real Time section. He also shares memories of the heady years when the Greens and Juthamas were running things:

Some of the most perplexing anecdotes from those years was when an old couple -- who had nothing to do with the film profession but happened to be neighbours of the American team -- were flown in first class to Bangkok so they could tour the City of Angels. I also met a construction worker who came here as a "film writer" (he admitted to me he wasn't writing for any publication in the whole world; just a movie fan and friend of the organiser) along with his wife, again on business class. There were many more cases that would make Thai taxpayers' blood boil. When the American team left, the feeling was like that of the natives watching a conquistador leaving the "Third World" with the loot of Aztec gold.

Kong suggests that festival-goers keep one eye on the movies and the other covered up so as not to notice the champagne-and-tuxedo set, or the headlines from the L.A. bribery trial. I like to try and keep both eyes open, and locked on that big screen. But sometimes off to the side I catch sight of something, and like a bad car wreck, it's difficult to turn away and not look.

(Bangkok Post cartoon from 2007 via

Love of Siam coming to Region 1 DVD

The acclaimed gay teenage romance and family drama Love of Siam will be released on Region 1 DVD on October 13. Amazon has it ready for pre-order.

No surprise that Strand Releasing -- which specializes in queer-oriented titles, among them Bangkok Love Story -- is the one that's picked this up.

How the film is being marketed is telling -- there's the boys -- Mario Maurer and "Pichy" Witwisit Hiranyawongkul -- on the bed, sharing a sweet moment with the little wooden Santa figurine. The posters for the Thai release didn't hint at that type of relationship at all. And the Taiwanese DVD opted for a gauzy, enigmatic sunset photo.

What serves the film best? Will marketing it as a "gay" film -- even though there's more to it than that -- put it into a box that won't be opened by people who might actually like the film?

I don't see many other details about the U.S. release, other than that it's the 150-minute version that was released commercially in Thailand.

Going whole hog and picking up the three-hour director's cut and all the special features that have become available would have been costly I suppose. Which is too bad for U.S. viewers.

The Taiwanese release of the director's cut is chock-full of extras, but there have been complaints about the poor job of subtitling and other technical problems. Part of the deal with the subtitles on the director's cut is it only had a limited theatrical release (House plans a limited revival next month) and was never subtitled in Thailand. Usually, the subtitling folks for the Thai theatrical releases of Thai films do a decent job.

Anyway, I'm pleased that Love of Siam is finally getting a home-video release in North America. Directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul, the film was received with great acclaim in Thailand, collecting many awards, including Subhanahongsa Awards for best director and best film and best actress from the Bangkok Critics for Sinjai Plengpanich, playing a worried mother. It was also Thailand's submission to the Oscars last year.

Thor has more at Something to Sing About. A snip:

A confession, Love of Siam is responsible for my exponentially growing love for Thai cinema. Equally devastating and buoyant, it is a deliberate drama about different aspects of love: familial, romantic, and to an extent, ascetic.

If Love of Siam serves as a gateway drug to more Thai cinema, then that's great.

(Via Something to Sing About)

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Sanctuary, starring Russell Wong, due out on October 8

Bad guys wear white when it comes to the upcoming action drama The Sanctuary, which is being touted for an October 7 8 release in Bangkok cinemas, according to an item in today's Daily Xpress.

The hero in what Thais will call Sam Pan Bohk (สามพันโบก) might be played by Thai action star Pairote "Mike B" Boongerd, but it's the participation of Hong Kong and Hollywood veteran Russell Wong that's being played up by producers at Film Frame and director Thanapon Maliwan.

Russell's character is well suited for the script. And once we started worked together, I was very impressed by his dedication and professionalism," says the director.

In fact, the version of the Daily Xpress article that somehow managed to find its way online doesn't even mention poor Mike B's name.

And on the new poster, it's the white-suited Russell Wong at dead center, pointing a big pistol who captures all the attention, while Mike B is crouching below with his head hanging down. Nang Nak and Naresuan star Intira Jaroenpura floats ethereally in the background, and a menacing-looking Pathawarin Timkul brings up the rear, with her pistol ready to back up her bad-guy boyfriend.

Wong's character is an ex-military operative, hired to recover ancient stolen treasure. Trying to stop him will be Mike B., the descendant of that lost treasure's guards. Intira is an archaeologist who will help.

Want to watch the trailer? It's here.

Deknang has the new poster and more photos from behind the scenes.

Red Eagle stage show satirizes Thai cinema

One of Thai cinema's legendary heroes, the masked vigilante crimefighter Red Eagle, is pressed into service of satire of the film industry in a stage show that is putting on its final performances this weekend in Bangkok.

Most famously portrayed by Mitr Chaibancha -- who died with the mask on in making Golden Eagle in 1970 -- and due for a reboot soon by Wisit Sasanatieng with Ananda Everingham in the mask -- Red Eagle leaned heavily on camp anyway. Outlandish situations, silly special effects, sloppily staged action, half-baked plots and half-hearted acting are just some of the elements of the much-loved, long-running film series that started in the late 1950s.

But I'm not sure Red Eagle has ever been seen like this. In the stage show Insee Daeng Plaeng Rit (อินทรี แดง แผลงฤทธิ์, or roughly "power of the red eagle"), a thug wearing a red eagle-feathered mask takes an indie film director hostage.

Theater correspondent Pawit Mahasarinand has more in his story for Daily Xpress, which is cross-published at his blog:

The hostage taker wants three other directors to write a screenplay within 24 hours. It must have, among others, a miserable woman and a jealous woman, or the elements in successful Thai films," says director Sonthaya Suchada.

One of the directors is renowned for gay cinema, another is a world-famous action-film star-cum-director, and the third is a woman who makes tearjerkers.

"The comedy pokes fun not only at Thai cinema but also modern society in general," promises Sonthaya.

The cast includes Sarayut Petsamrit and veteran theater actors Surachai Midam and Neelacha Fuengfookiat, TV producer Piyamat Waiya-wat returns and Worawit Kaewpetch, star of the 2003's historical battle epic Khunsuk.

The Thai-language production is at Makhampom Studio. Check there or Pawit's blog for showtimes.

A first look at Aditya Assarat's Phuket

Director Aditya Assarat his crew from Pop Pictures sweated for eight days to make the short film Phuket, a project commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Association of Hotel Operators on Phuket that will hopefully give the island a boost.

It stars National Artist actor Sorapong Chatree as a hotel limo driver, shuttling around a South Korean tourist, played by Lim Su-jeong from I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK.

They gang are all back in Bangkok now, recuperating before commencing with the editing of the film. The Pop Pictures blog has the first image from Phuket and more about the ordeal of making it.

Synopsis and photos for Sawasdee Bangkok

One of the selections for the Toronto International Film Festival that makes me think about walking off my job, turning my cat loose, packing a bag and jumping on an Air Canada flight is Sawasdee Bangkok, a four-segment short-film omnibus featuring works by four of my favorite filmmakers -- Aditya Assarat, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng.

TIFF's canny programmer Raymond Phathanavirangoon cherry-picked the four shorts from the nine-segment Saneh Bangkok project commissioned by TV Thai earlier this year. Presumably all nine of those films will be shown together at some point, sometime, somewhere, where everyone will get the chance to see them as many times as they'd like. But for now, it's just these four that will have their world premiere in TIFF's Contemporary World Cinema Section. Here's the synopsis from the TIFF website:

In Thai, sawasdee is a customary greeting that could mean either hello or goodbye. The country's capital, Bangkok, is famous for its hospitality while also notorious for its nightlife and recent political turmoil. It is the dichotomies of these two words that, when combined, make the title of this omnibus film, Sawasdee Bangkok, so fitting.

Unlike the recent Paris, je t'aime and New York, I Love You, Sawasdee Bangkok is notable in that only Thai filmmakers were commissioned for the project, giving this omnibus work a much more intimate knowledge of its city. Moreover, the directors are not afraid to show the darker side of Thai society, from prostitution to poverty.

The first segment, Sightseeing, directed by Wisit Sasanatieng (Tears of the Black Tiger, Citizen Dog), is a magic-realist tale of a blind woman ["Tak" Bongkot Konmalai] who longs to see the city in which she lives. Bangkok Blues from Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town) follows an amusing account of two buddies [actor Ananda Everingham and singer Louis Scott], both of mixed nationality, and their awkward relationships with Thai women. One scene is particularly effective: a slow pan of a dilapidated playground accompanied by the recorded sounds of children. Kongdej Jaturanrasamee (Midnight, My Love) directs the melancholic third segment, Pi Makham. The title [literally "tamarind ghosts"] refers both to a ghost and to the prostitutes who roam an area called Sanam Luang Park each night. Finally, Silence by Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe, Nymph) tells the funny and poignant story of one woman's drunken escapade with a friend. It leads to a chance encounter with a bizarre homeless man at two in the morning when her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.

Together, these shorts by four acclaimed filmmakers form a surprisingly cohesive and entertaining whole –- a rarity for an omnibus project. For those who have never been to Bangkok, this film is probably the cheapest way to experience the “land of smiles” without having to pay for a long-haul flight. And if you don't crack a grin during the shorts, wait until you see the hilarious post-credit segment.

There are lots more photos at the TIFF website.

I wonder if that "hilarious post-credit segment" will be included with the whole nine-film package, or is it just for Torontonians? When it comes to works by these four directors, the feeling that I'm going to miss out on something is a difficult one to shake.

(Via Pop Pictures)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival: The winners

A 20-minute short that captures a young couple's conversation about politics was among the top prize winners at the 13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, which handed out its awards on Tuesday night.

The White Short Film/The Candlelight by Prap Boonpan won the R.D. Pestonji Award, the prize category for general individuals, usually accomplished independent filmmakers. The winner gets 20,000 baht plus a medal and a certificate. The award is named after Ratana Pestonji, the pioneer of contemporary filmmaking in Thailand.

The White Elephant Award -- the top prize for student filmmakers -- went to Prisoner by Prachaya Lampongchat, about a prisoner out on a work detail who becomes lost in the city. The winner gets 20,000 baht and a White Elephant figurine.

Filmmakers aged 18 and under get the White Elephant Special Award, and this year the winner was Nunikan Pichairat for A Corner (มุมหนึ่ง), a documentary about a social worker who adopts a 15-year-old boy.

The Duke Award for documentaries went to Throughgether by Sasikarn Buddhavana, about a mother with breast cancer and a family that must overcome obstacles to support her. The prize, which comes with 10,000 baht and a medal, is named for Prince Sanbassatra, regarded as the "Father of Thai Film" because he brought the first filmmaking equipment to Thailand and set about making films around the Palace and the Royal Family. He was nicknamed "Duke" by his brother, King Chulalongkorn.

For animation, the Payut Ngaokrachang Award went to Pittaya Werasakwong for Sink (Vi), an animated drawing of panda. The award carries a 10,000-baht cash prize and a medal designed by Payut, which was given to the winner personally by the 80-year-old pioneering creator of Thailand's first animated feature, The Adventure of Sudsakorn.

The International Competition winner was Three of Us, by India's Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni. The 14-minute documentary captures the daily routine of an elderly mother and father who share an apartment with their disabled adult son -- a guy who is determined to do what he can to take care of himself with only the use of his feet.

Here is the complete list of awards:

  • Best Actor -- Nachya Soranunt from Perfect Gray, about a mother's love for her daughter. Directed by Kornkanok Srisomboon, it was an entry in the White Elephant college competition.
  • The Pirabkao Award -- The Passion of Freshy by Piroon Anusuriya. The 14 October 73 Memorial Foundation grants this award and a 5,000-baht prize to one film that best expresses freedom and equality issues and urges social concern. An entry in the White Elephant college competition, Freshy depicted the brutal, torturous hazing of freshmen that continues every year on college campuses across Thailand. If they can stop college women from wearing short skirts and tight blouses, they can stop the hazing.
  • Kodak Film School Competition Award -- Red Man by Nuttapong Homchuen with cinematographers Isra Arieakanant and Tahuchan Ruengsri. The award goes to projects that were shot on actual (Kodak) film. They win 5,000 baht and are selected for the regional Kodak Student Filmmaker Program. Another White Elephant entry, this comedy takes Thailand's red and yellow color-divided politics and puts it into an office situation.
  • Vichitmatra Award -- This award from the Vichitmatra Foundation goes to four films that "demonstrate distinctive achievements in filmmaking according to the jury’s judgment". Each winner gets 5,000 baht and a certificate.
    • Super Tai FC by Nichakarn Tormtouch (Special White Elephant)
    • Raisara by Amornlap Promsywan (Payute Ngaokrachang competition)
    • Hungry or Full by Anuchit Muanprom (White Elephant competition)
    • Whispering Ghosts by Taiki Sakpisit (R.D. Pestonji competition)
  • The Duke Award (documentaries)
    • Special Mention -- Empire of Mind by Nontawat Numbenchapol
    • Runners-up -- A Life of Garoon Takulpadejkrai by Sittidech Rohitasuk and Uncover by Thiraporn Poo-ngarm
    • Winner -- Throughgether by Sasikarn Buddhavana
  • Payut Ngaokrachang Award (animation)
    • Special Mention -- The Value of Tree by Salisa Piencharoen, Dae Ther by Thawatpong Tangsajjapoj, Raisara by Amornlap Promsywan and Destination by Mokhaphon Sanghirun
    • Runners-up -- What Is My Art? by Thodsapon Thiptinnakorn, Abtakon by Thawatpong Tangsajjapoj and Pee-Bok Song by Chatchai Thammaphirome
    • Winner -- Sink (Vi) by Pittaya Werasakwong
  • The Special White Elephant (for filmmakers under 18 years old)
    • Special Mention -- Bicycle by Veelayoot Gajangsri, My Best Friend by Tossaporn Riangtong, Do It By Myself by Phumrapee Sae-tang, Hurt by Woratep Tummaoros
    • Runners-up -- Untitled by Rajapruk Tiyajamorn and Mike by Prempapat Plittapolkranpim
    • Winner -- A Corner by Nunikan Pichairat
  • The White Elephant Award (for Thai university students)
    • Special Mention -- Buddhist by Vachirathan Ngoungsam-ang and Red Man by Nuttapong Homchuen, Pray by Janejira Chotpratum
    • Runners-up -- Stained by Manasrawee Wongpradu and A Day by Misak Chinphong
    • Winner -- Prisoner by Prachaya Lampongchat
  • International Competition
    • Special Mention -- Point of View by Avishag Leibovich (Israel), Nicolas & Guillemette by Virginie Taravel (France)
    • Winner -- Three of Us by Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni (India)
  • The R.D. Pestonji Award (for general individual)
    • Special Mention -- Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse by Wichanon Somumjarn, Mr. Mee Wanna Go to Egypt by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Hungry or Full by Anuchit Muanprom
    • Runners-up -- Francais by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Man and Gravity: Plateau by Jakrawal Nilthamrong
    • Winner -- The White Short Film/The Candlelight by Prap Boonpan
  • Popular Vote -- Pray by Janejira Chotpratum

More details about the various prizes are at the festival website.

I was happy to see that some of the films that I most enjoyed and remembered -- among them Man and Gravity: Plateau, Mr. Mee Wanna Go To Egypt, Francais, Four Boys, White Whisky and Grilled Mouse, Empire of Mind, A Life of Garoon Takulpadejkrai, Mike, Red Man and Pee-bok Song -- were recognized.

It also stirs memories of one more animated short -- Raisara by Amornlap Promsywan -- animated drawings on notebook paper that captured the spirit of Calvin and Hobbes as a student engages in epic imaginary battles against his monstrous teacher.

Congratulations to everyone and thanks to the Thai Film Foundation for putting on this great festival.

See also:
(Thanks Sanchai! Photo of winners via Chulayarnnon Siriphol on Facebook)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Buppha Rahtree scalps Basterds at Thai box office

Inglourious Basterds might have been No 1 everywhere else, but in Thailand, it was the horror-comedy-romance Buppha Rahtree 3.2: Rahtree's Revenge that reigned supreme at the box office.

According to the Box Office Mojo chart for August 20-23, Buppha Rahtree 3.2, distributed by Sahamongkol Film International, was at No. 1, earning US$300,720 (about 10 million baht) from 93 screens.

Basterds, distributed by United International Pictures, wasn't even in second place. That spot was held by another UIP release, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which was still showing on 104 screens in its third week. Basterds only burned up on 59 screens.

After Quentin Tarantino's talky World War II action comedy, Sahamongkol's action-drama-romance Jija: Deu Suay Du (Raging Phoenix) was in fourth. Jija, starring Chocolate martial-arts heroine Jija Yanin, had debuted at No. 2 the week before.

In fifth was the Phranakorn musical comedy E-Som Somwang Cha Cha Cha (In Country Melody 2).

Other new releases last weekend were a limited run for Coco avant Chanel and the creepy-kid thriller Orphan, which had bowed the week before in a sneak preview run.

Interestingly, Orphan is censored, with noticeable cuts, according to the Thomat Chiang Mai Film Blog, which tracks showtimes and movie releases in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai.

Presumably because of its early bow in sneak previews, Orphan didn't fall under Thailand's newly enacted ratings system, which assigns age ratings as an advisory to audiences. Under the old censorship system, in place since 1930, films were cut and blurred if they were deemed inappropriate for general audiences.

Inglourious Basterds and Buppha Rahtree 3.2 were the first two films to be released under the new ratings system.

Distributors in Thailand now expect delays because of the ratings system, which has a part-time multi-discipline seven-member review board that can only watch one film a day.

Three films are set for release this week: The Thai horror-romance Fan Kao (My Ex) from RS Film's Avant studio, the animated feature Ponyo and the teen musical Bandslam. As of last week, only Ponyo had been assigned a rating -- approved for general audiences.

Khan Kluay II in Ani Asia! at Pusan

Looking around the Pusan International Film Festival site for a hint of any titles that might already be programmed, I came across a press release mentioning two special programs.

One of them is Ani Asia!: A Leap of Asian Feature Animation. It's the fourth year for this showcase of Asian animated features and among the nine titles is Khan Kluay II, the historical action-adventure involving war elephants in 16th century Siam.

Check out the press release for the other features as well as another interesting special program, Mabuhay! Pinoy Indi-Cinema!.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pen-ek on Pusan's New Currents jury

Pen-ek Ratanaruang will serve on the jury for the New Currents Award at the 14th Pusan International Film Festival, according to a festival press release.

The New Currents panel is headed by French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix. Other members are Turkish director Yesim Ustaoglu, Taiwanese actress Terri Kwan and South Korean cinematographer Kim Hyungkoo.

Pen-ek is no stranger to Pusan. His 2007 drama Ploy was a finalist for 2006's Pusan Promotion Plan.

PIFF runs from October 8 to 16.

(Via The Hollywood Reporter)

Shahkrit in tears over My Ex publicity

In the upcoming horror-romance My Ex (Fan Kao, แฟนเก่า), star Shahkrit Yamnarm portrays a womanizing actor named Ken whose ruthless disregard for one woman's feelings causes him to have a vengeful ghost making his life hell.

But for Shahkrit, publicity for the film by RS Film's Avant production company has been an ordeal. He and his mother called a press conference yesterday to state once and for all that he's not like the Casanova actor portrayed in the film. Also, he's upset with rumors that he'd groped co-star actress "Bowie" Attama Chiwanitchapan in a love scene or had become aroused at the sight of "Gybzy" Wanida Termthanaporn in a bikini during filming of a beach romp for the movie.

Shahkrit was in tears by the end of the press conference.

A veteran film and television actor, whose roles include playing the sidekick to Nicolas Cage in Hollywood's Bangkok Dangerous remake and as a gay playwright in A Moment in June, says he might leave show business and go to live anonymously in the U.S.

Bangkok of the Mind and Lyn's Lakorns have more on Shahkrit's saga.

Directed by Piyapan Choopetch and also starring "Aom" Navadee Mokkhavesa, My Ex opens in Thai cinemas on Thursday. Great PR for the movie, eh?

Update: Dirtii Laundry has RS Film's side of the story.

Seven Days to Leave My Wife on DVD in Hong Kong

Here's another blast back to 2007. Seven Days to Leave My Wife (ยังไงก็รัก, Yang ngai gaw rak) is out on DVD in Hong Kong.

YesAsia has it. Here's the synopsis:

Directed by Torpong Tunkamhang, the uproarious 2007 Thai comedy 7 Days to Leave My Wife follows a cheating husband with the seven-year itch, and his hilarious efforts to untie the knot. Salesman Yong (Samapon Piyapongsiri) is a typical aging salaryman with a boring job and even more boring wife. Life is a daily drag until he somehow attracts the attentions of sexy colleague Pim (Benjawan Artner)! Next thing Yong knows, he's in a hot affair with Pim. But then Pim slaps down the ultimatum: leave his wife in a week or she'll leave him. Yong starts cooking up different schemes to end his marriage, leading to a barrel of laughs and mishaps, and even some romantic rivalry.

Suwajanee Chaimusik was a Subhanahongsa Award nominee for her role as the wife Ngek. I missed seeing this back in the day, though Coffee Coffee and More Coffee's Peter Nellhaus did and he liked it well enough.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Ploy on English-friendly-but-censored DVD in Singapore

It figures. The first English-friendly DVD release for Pen-ek Ratanaruang's moody marriage drama Ploy is from Singapore. And of course it is an edited version because there's sex scenes that Singaporeans aren't allowed to see.

MovieXclusive has it. Richard Lim Jr. reviews it. Here's an excerpt:

Since there might be a gem that I’m missing, I rewatched Ploy in the wee hours of morning and they are right, the movie became more tolerable. Without the rush to find out the outcome of the plot and in-between 2am to 3am, things become more bearable and easy to swallow. However I wouldn’t be calling this a masterpiece by a master. There are far too many aspects that could be interpreted as an amateur effort and it’s really open to interpretation if you are so inclined to. Personally Ploy isn’t a movie that I would recommend to people.

I think that's a great review. And I agree with the sentiment. Ploy is exactly the kind of movie to watch between 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning. Then you, in your half-asleep state can relate to the main characters -- a jet-lagged married couple back in Thailand after a long-haul flight from the States.

Now, as far as I understand, the unedited version of Ploy has been released in Thailand (despite that a specially edited "clean" version was released in Thai cinemas) and other non-English territories. And, as far as I understand, it's possible to play that movie with a fan-prepared subtitle file. It's easy I'm told. But darn it, whenever I'm in the mood to see Ploy, and it's usually around 4 o'clock in the morning, it's more trouble than I want to deal with and I end up going to sleep instead.

13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival: Reviews Part 2

R.D. Pestonji Awards competition

  • Four Boys, White Whisky and Grilled Mouse (เถียงนาน้อยคอยรัก), Wichanon Somumjarn -- What better way to kick back with your buddies than to hang out in the rice-paddy shelter than to cook up a rat, drink some white firewater and sing a few songs? (5/5)
  • Somwang 2552 (สมหวัง 2552), Thitiwat Samitinan -- Somewhere in Bangkok there's an aging cinema that's still showing Monrak Transistor, and it's where a young man from the countryside has come looking for his father. Though not as bleak as Serbis, it still seeks to examine the meaning of family. (4/5)
  • Moon, Nadta Homsap -- Dude is walking around Bangkok with a boom mic, looking for that "special sound" that Robert Johnson got when he traded his soul to the Devil. Umm, how about looking around at the crossroads of highways 49 and 61 in Mississippi? Just sayin'? (4/5)
  • Francais (ฝรั่งเศส), Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit -- A blind college student is struggling with her studies. But her Braille materials for her French philosophy test aren't ready. "Come back tomorrow night," she's told. But her test is in the morning. She manages to coax her roommate into helping her study -- but the roommate can't speak or read French. It's going to be a long night. (5/5)
  • Mr. Mee Wanna Go to Egypt (พี่หมีอยากไปอียิปต์), Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit -- Two filmmakers are having trouble coming up with their next film for the anti-smoking campaign. They've already done Syndromes and a Cigarette, Last Pipe in the Universe and In the Mood for Smoke, but now they are blocked. When they finally do come up with something, it's a little boy saying "let's smoke." Over and over. (5/5)
  • 5 Minute War, Achira Nokthet -- Nice to see this again. (3/5)
  • Man and Gravity: Plateau, Jakrawal Nilthamrong -- Made while on an artist-in-residence program in Japan, Jakrawal continues exploring the myth of Sisyphus, with a man pushing a pulling a boulder up a hill. (5/5)
  • The Safe House, Attaron Bayan and Chanin Panthong -- A gunman jumps in a guy's car -- picked the wrong guy to carjack. (4/5)

Digital Forum

  • Apai:Mani (อภัย:มณี), Witcha Suyara -- Slick computer animation, live action and animated drawings blend seemlessly in this film-noir-flavored sci-fi fantasy adapted from Suntorn Phu's tale involving flying cars and a head in a refrigerator. (4/5)
  • The Plot (กัด), Krittanut Tarawisid -- Who's playing who in a scheme involving an office worker, a bar girl and a policeman? (4/5)

Siam and a Century

  • Old Heart, Anocha Suwichakornpong -- Will a change really come? To Thailand? (5/5)
  • Is Woman (คือผู้หญิง), Sanchai Chotirosseranee -- Found video footage (as in found on TV) looks at different kinds of women -- young giggly teens at a dim sum buffet and actress Jintara Sukkapet on a classic old TV soap opera as well as a child in TV commercial contrasted with children begging on the streets of Bangkok. (4/5)
  • Encantos, Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa -- Thanks to Wiwat, the films of Filipino director Lav Diaz have lodged themselves in the brainpans of several indie filmmakers, critics and other seriously sick film people in Thailand, thanks to the ongoing series, Death in the Land of Melancholia: Lav Diaz Retrospective in Thailand (it moves to Phuket this weekend). Here is more found footage, again on a TV screen and from there springs an exploration of an oceanside landscape, made bleak and lonely in the trademark Diaz minimalistic monochrome, with metaphoric original narration. (5/5)

The awards for the 13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival will be handed out today at 5 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. Again, as I explained in Part 1 of my capsule reviews from this year's festival, not all the films I saw are mentioned here, but just because I don't note it, doesn't mean I didn't appreciate or love it -- it just means I can't explain what I saw. Sorry. Until next year.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Agrarian Utopia, Nymph among early titles for Bangkok International Film Festival

I don't suppose there was any doubt that Agrarian Utopia would make its Bangkok premiere at this year's Bangkok International Film Festival. And I have to believe that even if the film's producers Pimpaka Towira and Mai Meksuwan weren't also directors of programming, the acclaimed documentary-style drama would still find a place there.

Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph are among the titles already listed for next month's fest.

There are also many Southeast Asian films filling out the early line-up, fulfilling Pimpaka's promise that this year's festival would have an even stronger focus on the region.

Agrarian Utopia is part of the Documentary Showcase that also includes Anders Østergaard's Burma VJ, which was assembled from video footage smuggled out of Burma after the 2007 democratic uprisings. There's also Malaysian Gods, Amir Muhammad's latest political documentary. It takes a look at street protests that followed the sacking of Malaysia's reform-minded Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. It wasn't allowed to be screened publicly in Malaysia -- though not banned outright like Muhammad's previous two documentaries -- a move by the Malaysian censors to quiet the film's underground buzz level.

Pen-ek's jungle thriller Nymph is in the Southeast Asian Competition. Other competition entries so far are Call If You Need Me, which looks to surely be a return to romantic dramas by Malaysia's James Lee after his foray into horror with last year's Hysteria. From the Philippines is Sherad Anthony Sanchez's Imburnal, about boys growing up around the sewers of Punta Dumalag, Davao City. There's also The Moon at the Bottom of the Well from Vietnam's Nguyen Vinh Son.

Already up in the Southeast Asian Panorama section are Jermal from Indonesia, directed by Ravi Bharwani, Rayya Makarim and Utawa Tresno and Manila by Adolfo Alix Jr. and Raya Martin from the Philippines.

The Main Competition has a Vietnamese entry: Adrift by Thac Chuyen Bui.

The World Cinema line-up has Lukas Moodysson's globe-trotting family drama Mammoth, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams and partially set in Bangkok and a southern Thailand island.

Still to come are titles for the Thai Panorama program.

The Bangkok International Film Festival will be held from September 24 to 30.

(Via Thailand Voice and Matthew Hunt)

This film should be played loud! Watch a preview of Baby Arabia

Documentary filmmaker Panu Aree has uploaded about 16 minutes of pre-post-production footage from the upcoming musical documentary Baby Arabia to YouTube. It's in two parts, here and here.

A follow-up to The Convert, directed by Panu, Kaweenipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee, which was about a Thai Buddhist woman's conversion to Islam for marriage, Baby Arabia is about a Thai band that performs an infectiously rhythmic brand of Malay-Arab music. With a sprawling lineup that includes accordion, guitars, keyboards, several singers and a battery of drums and percussion, they play at weddings, funerals, fairs and other events in Muslim communities and elsewhere. The documentary project recently received money from the Pusan International Film Festival's Asian Cinema Fund and the Asian Network of Documentary.

Panu posted the YouTube clips to Facebook and I started watching them there, but I wanted to stop. It's too good for a little YouTube window. But I couldn't turn away and became engrossed as the minutes ticked by. I guess if there's one weakness I have it's for musical documentaries, or if you will, rockumentaries.

I've taken the liberty of putting the two clips in a playlist, and it's embedded below. Turn it up to 11.

Update: The clips were taken down, but a 9-minute trailer was later uploaded. It's now embedded below. Enjoy.

(Via Panu Aree at Facebook)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Design the poster for the 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok

For the second year, the World Film Festival of Bangkok invites the public to design this year's festival poster.

There are no restrictions on the topic, idea or format. All that is needed is the logo for the 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok, along with the date and venue in English.

The deadline for entries is September 30. The artist of the winning design gets a 10,000-baht cash prize.

Last year, the festival's cartoonish poster and theme were from the creative efforts of an eight-year-old boy.

You can find out more about the poster contest at the festival website. The 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok runs from November 6 to 15 at Paragon Cineplex.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Looking back and looking forward to Siam and a Century

Six indie filmmakers express their feelings about Thai culture and society in Siam and a Century, premiering on Saturday night at 6 as part of the 13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

Letting it all out are Anocha Suwichakornpong, Sanchai Chotirosseranee, Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, Prap Boonpan, Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn and Nok Paksnawin.

The project is inspired by the Spoken Silence program at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival in 2007, in which indie filmmakers offered their mostly silent reflections on post-coup, post-Thaksin Thailand. Several of those films, such as Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Bangkok Tanks have gone on to be packaged in other festivals.

Here's the project statement for Siam and a Century from the festival catalog:

Recently, there are lots of thing encouraging us to think about ourselves, our generation, our society, our country and our world. In the same time, there are something suppressing our thought and imagination.

We love to think about our past, either painfully or beautifully. But we rarely think of future. It might because that past is what we have experienced (and, moreover, we have power to reconstruct and reinterpret it by own hand). But future means uncertainness. It might be just dream that can be evaporated in a flash as well as be condensed to thing we experience.

This is the origin of the special project Siam and a Century our feeling toward future. It gathers filmmakers who want to invite everybody to think of future via their works. The title of the project does not mean that these works must be about 100 years after this. We want word that inspires imagination toward thing that cannot be described in words.

Back to 2006, the Thai Film Foundation asked short filmmakers to join the Spoken Silence project, in order to make “silent” films to express their feeling in “silent” period. Siam and a Century owes Spoken Silence a debt, in particular its inspiration. Somewhat, it is unofficially Spoken Silence’s sequel. Therefore, here we want to express our gratitude to the Thai Film Foundation to create the past project.

What is about the third, fourth or fifth sequel? Who knows? It is about future, right?

And here are the projects and the "feelings expressers" in the 99-minute program:

  • Old Heart, 8 min., by Anocha Suwichakornpong
  • คือผู้หญิง (…is woman), 7 min., by Sanchai Chotirosseranee
  • Encantos, 8 min., by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa
  • บทกวีของบางเรา (Resistant Poem), 20 min., by Prap Boonpan
  • ธัญญาเรศ (Tunyares), 15 min., by Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn
  • ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่ยังไม่จบสิ้น (Pulsatile Mass), 40 min., by Nok Paksnawin

The 13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival runs until Sunday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, with shows starting at 5pm on weekdays and 11am on Saturday and Sunday. The full schedule is at Bangkok Cinema Scene.

(Via Facebook and Bioscope Magazine forum; top photo courtesy of Electric Eel Films)

Buppha Rahtree 3.2 the first Thai film to be rated

Yuthlert Sippapak makes Thai cinema history as the director of the first Thai film to be classified under Thailand's new motion-picture ratings system. Buppha Rahtree 3.2: Rahtree's Revenge is rated 18+, suggested only for viewers aged 18 and older.

Buppha Rahtree 3.2, the fourth film in Yuthlert's comedy-horror franchise, opens in Thai cinemas today alongside Quentin Tarantino's World War II action comedy Inglourious Basterds, which is probably the first film to get the Thai rating. It's also 18+.

The Nation/Daily Xpress has a story about this historic day, quoting a manager from Basterds distributor United International Pictures as well as Yuthlert. Both are pleased with the rating system so far.

“It’s really meant more as a guide to the audience as to whether the movie is appropriate for them or not,” says UIP sales manager Pannatat Phromsupa.

Buppha director Yuthlert is also happy with the rating.

“I’m very okay with it. It helps save me from being attacked for putting violent and offensive language in my films. The rating gives a clear indication of the degree of violence and rude words. It’s your call whether it’s good for you and your kids,” he says.

Yuthlert was hammered under the censorship system for making “socially irresponsible” movies. “I didn’t have a way to explain that they weren’t appropriate for kids, which to me means anyone under the age of 15. Now the rating makes that clear,” he says.

“It eases our social responsibility. Parents can monitor their children’s viewing through the ratings.”

The story goes on to say that the 13+ to 18+ age ratings are advisory with only the 20+ rating requiring an ID check, but the checking of IDs for the 15+ and 18+ films may eventually be instituted.

Also, questionnaires are supposed to be handed out at cinemas, with audiences invited to give the film they just saw a rating. The responses will help the ratings board fine tune its criteria.

As it's early days yet for the system, there might be some films slipping through unrated, or the release of some films might be delayed while awaiting a screening by the board of seven people, who all have other jobs besides watching movies.

The symbols for the rating system haven't yet come into use. Their approval is expected at a Cabinet meeting on August 25.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jija gunned down by G.I. Joe

Raging Phoenix probably has executives at studio Sahamongkol Film International boiling over after the highly touted new action movie from Chocolate star Jija Yanin failed to reach No. 1 at the Thai box office last weekend.

Known in Thailand as Jija Dua Suay Du (literally Jeeja: Stubborn, Beautiful and Fierce), the romantic-action drama debuted in second place, pinned down by the kung-fu grip of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which was in its second week.

According to Box Office Mojo's latest chart, Jija made US$259,902 or around 8.8 million baht -- considered a flop for such a high-profile project. Released on Wednesday, August 12 -- the Queen's birthday and Mother's Day, a national holiday -- Jija was put on 125 screens vs. the 142 for Joe, distributed by United International Pictures.

In third place was the country-music comedy E-Som Somwang Cha Cha Cha (In Country Melody 2) from Phranakorn.

The top five last week was rounded by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.

Other Thai films on the chart were Sahamongkol's and Work Point's horror thriller 6:66 Tai Mai Dai Tai (Death Happens). It debuted at No. 1 on July 30. The GTH Europe-set drama Dear Galileo was in eighth place after peaking at No. 2. The teenage-drugs drama Samchuk, released on August 6, was 11th after debuting in sixth place.

13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival: Notes and reviews

It's officially open
Last year the Thai Short Film and Video Festival was one of the first events to break in the then-new Bangkok Art and Culture Center, and the fest feels like it's home this year. But the BACC officially becomes official today with a visit by Her Majesty the Queen who will preside over the opening of the art exhibition, Virtues of the Kingdom. To make room for the big event, there's no film program today, but the fest will be back on tomorrow.

What are they selling here?
The design of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center feels a bit like a shopping mall -- I guess to fit in with the aesthetic of the neighborhood which has MBK Center and Siam Discovery Center on opposite corners, and Siam Center and Siam Paragon not far away. With the opening of the Virtues of the Kingdom exhibit, various art galleries and arts groups have taken up the small shop spaces in the first through fourth floors, making the BACC a lively place. It's now possible to get a cup of coffee or have an ice cream without leaving the building. Bangkok Opera has a shop on the first floor -- dominated by a huge and scary topless ogress from Bruce Gaston's Phra Apai Manee. Another shop has nothing but old pencil sharpeners on its shelves. Sorry, no photos. And on the second floor, the Thai Film Foundation has an old-time tea shop, where they are brewing sweet milky iced tea and selling T-shirts and books. It's a popular hangout between programs at the film fest. Next door, the Film Archive Public Organisation Thailand has a set up a mini museum and cinema with a show reel of Thai cinema history.

Made in Black Maria
A highlight of each year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival is a title reel that's shown before each program. This year it's a collaboration by indie filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul (who's also a juror for the international competition) and Film Archive chief Dome Sukwong. Filmed in Dome's scale-model replica of Thomas Edison's Black Maria film studio, Man Who Eat an Egg is in jumpy black and white to approximate the feel of the Edison Kinetoscope. Thunska's actor is wearing just a pair of white underwear briefs and a Thomas Edison mask. I've seen it a dozen or so times now, and I still get worried whenever the guy starts spreading gel on his hands. What's he going to do with that gel? The short pokes fun at several things -- swine flu and the new ratings system among them. And the egg motif that's always been a part of the festival is there.

Special for the Queer Shorts
Queer Relations, a collection of queer-themed shorts screens at 6.30 on Thursday night (August 20), and preceding that program is a special queer title reel by Thunska, filmed in Black Maria like his "straight" one. The shorts in the program are Shadow of a Fire (L’Ombre D’Un Feu) by Mikaël Ivan Roost from Switzerland, Heiko by David Bonneville (Portugal), อาหาร 3 หมู่ (Hungry or Full) by Anuchit Muanprom (Thailand), About Colors and Razors (Entre Cores E Navalhas) by Catarina Accioly and Iberê Carvalho (Brazil) and Homo Baby Boom by Anna Boluda (Spain).

Capsule reviews
Somehow I've managed to attend just about every competition screening so far this year, despite my fears that because of my hectic schedule I'd hardly get to see any of them. Now I've seen so many, they are a jumble in my fast-fading brain. Here's the ones that stand out.
  • The Duke Award documentary competition:
    • A Monks (สารคดีพระ), Thachai Komolpech -- The censorship of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century will continue to influence filmmakers for years to come. A Monks springs from the banned Syndromes scenes of a Buddhist monk playing guitar and monks playing with a remote-control flying saucer. Thing is, monks are seen buying computers and other tech gear in the infamous Bangkok IT mall Pantip Plaza all the time. How is that different? Why are computers needed by monks? This film provides a fascinating look at contemporary monastic life, following a bespectacled laptop-using monk as he travels the country with his team, who are hired by New York Life to give Dhamma talks at universities. Short answer: The computers are needed to record those talks and distribute them. The 45-minute documentary also visits Wat Dhammakaya (they also need computers to make websites), an immense Buddhist worship center that's said able to accommodate 500,000 visitors. (5/5)
    • 76795, Krissada Tipchaimeta -- Here's another fascinating look at Thai Buddhist life, with worshipers preparing for the annual Katin ceremony to present robes to monks. There is a spirituality to the routine as the community pitches in to prepare food and parade down the street. The focus is the accounting for all the cash donations. The money is taken out of envelopes, sorted by denomination and arranged into little money trees, which are then paraded to the temple. At the end, all the money is counted, with the total being highly significant if you play the lottery. (4/5)
    • A Life of Garoon Trakulpadejkrai (รูการุญ), Sittidech Rohitasuk -- Who is Garoon Trakulpadejkrai? Well, he's a writer and entertainer who's led a fascinating and colorful life. As the camera pans around his home and focuses on all his books and memorabilia over the course of 16 minutes, Garoon narrates his roller-coaster story of many ups and downs. His voice is haunting. Where have I heard it before? Just watch and listen. And don't take your eyes away. Garoon is an amazing fellow, a singular soul in Thai culture. If you watch Thai action movies, you're probably already one of his fans and you don't even know it. I can't recommend this one enough. (5/5)
    • Empire of Mind (อาณาจักร แห่ง ใจ), Nontawat Numbenchapol -- For the Duke documentary competition, filmmakers are allowed to go beyond the limits of what's considered "short film", and so for 90 minutes, Nontawat tells the story of his family as they are making a crucial and obviously heartbreaking transition. The star of the show is his hilarious grandmother, who's always asking him to stop filming her (so she can smoke a cigarette), yet she's the biggest ham. It's a lovely document, capturing a moment in time that feels like it's already lost. (4/5)
  • The White Elephant Special Award competition (high-school films):

    • Mike (สารคดีพระ), Prempapat Plittapolkranpim -- Nobody likes Mike. They want to stomp on his face. (4/5)
    • Sleepwalk (ละเมอ), Harin Paesongthai -- Exuberant youthful filmmaking at its best. Basically, two guys just whup on each other. One guy's foot is stabbed. There's fake blood. Fun stuff. (4/5)
  • The White Elephant Award (college films)
    • The Assignment, Pea Panuvatvanich -- A descent into madness, informed by the The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's Joker. Why so serious? Indeed. (4/5)
    • 15: Minutes, Katon Thammavijitdej -- A guy can't figure out why any CD he puts in his CD drive won't play more than half a song. And there's a bonus five minutes. (4/5)
    • The Passion of the Freshy, Pirun Anusuriya -- There's still hazing going on in Thai universities, propagated by seniors who were mistreated as freshmen who can't wait to dish out the same treatment. (4/5)
    • Red Men, Nattaphong Hornchuen -- The red vs. yellow clash of Thai politics comes to the office when a guy shows up at work wearing red and all his co-workers are wearing yellow. The looks on the co-workers faces as he walks past them to his work station are the best part of this 8-minute short. (5/5)
    • Hard Candy, Phunjephol Songvisava -- This is like a Guy Ritchie heist flick, about a hapless loser who owes money to a kingpin. (4/5)
    • Seduction Lullaby, Napat Treepalawisetkhan -- This is dedicated to Michael Haneke. And since Haneke's White Ribbon hasn't yet made it to Thailand, I'll leave it to you to figure out which film of his so profoundly effects this insane 23-minute psychological drama. (4/5)
  • Payut Ngaokrachang animation competition:
    • Tee N̂ee Meuang Poot (ที่นี่ เมือง พุทธ), Taweesak Prathungwong -- Lovely stop-motion animation of a diorama-like cardboard Bangkok. (4/5)
    • The Longan-Eyed Princess (เจ้าหญิงตาลำไย), Chanokporn Chutikamoltham -- An animated charcoal (?) drawing that serves as a cautionary tale about replacing your eyes with longan pits. Especially troublesome when you cry. (4/5)
    • Belief, Sittisak Kaeocharoenrungrueang -- 3-D computer animated characters battle over a MacGuffin in the form of a small cardboard cube. (4/5)
    • Grow, Aurawan DisCharoen, Nattha Yambupha, Kamonwan Chum-im -- Combines live action and cut-outs in a tale of environmental doom and gloom. (4/5)
    • Pee-Bok Song (เพลงผีบอก), Chatchai Thammaphirome -- It's Carabao! The moustachioed songs-for-lifers are featured in this South Park-style music video about the everyman getting it stuck to him by corporations. (5/5)
    • Destination (สุดปลายทางฉันและเธอ), Mokhaphon Sanghirun -- A boy and a girl see other on passing trains in this manga-inspired animated drawing. (4/5)
    • Luminous, Suchada Thapyang, Apinun Julthong -- A down-on-his-luck man chasing a precious photo that's blown away in the wind discovers he hasn't got it nearly as bad as other people. (4/5)
    • On the Table, Pawit Treemek -- The sunlight beams in on a drawing, and man, is it hot! (4/5)
    • See You 'Round, Chawee Busayarat -- Snaps by 33 lomographers are assembled into a Matrix "Bullet Time" inspired dance piece. (5/5)

Apologies to all the young filmmakers and animators I didn't mention. Just because I didn't write about it here doesn't mean I didn't love seeing it.

The 13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival continues until Sunday at Bangkok Art and Culture Center, and the awards ceremony is on Tuesday, August 25.

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