Saturday, October 31, 2009

Villains and ghosts for Halloween

CnnGo Bangkok is celebrating Halloween.

They got somebody to list the "5 baddest Thai movie villains of all time". I don't know how comprehensive that list is, or even how villainous the characters on it are. There are probably worse villains in Thai films I haven't seen, or ones that I'm not recalling. But it's still five great characters, including the Red Suitcase killer from Slice -- go see Slice if you can.

Mae Nak from Nang Nak is on there to, even though she isn't really a villain -- just a ghost who's trying to keep her family together.

She's on another CnnGo feature too -- a rundown of Thai superstitions.

And speaking of ghosts, there's a gallery of Thailand's forgotten cinemas feature photos from the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thunska's Quarantine is banned

The first casualty of the ban provision of Thailand's new film law is hardly a surprising choice, but it's still an unpleasant distinction.

Thunska Pansittivorakul's This Area Is Under Quarantine is officially banned from public screenings by the Ministry of Culture after the World Film Festival of Bangkok attempted to get it cleared by the ministry's censorship board. The 83-minute documentary was one of the first titles to be mentioned for this year's festival.

The controversial film examines sexuality, religion and censorship in a wide-ranging, frank discussion between two young gay Thai men -- a Muslim from southern Narathiwat province and a Buddhist from Yasothon in the Northeast.

Thunska included banned footage that showed the Tak Bai Incident of 2004, in which Muslim protesters were rounded up, stripped of their shirts, made to lie face down on the ground and were bound and beaten before being stuffed into army trucks. At least 85 of the detainees died, mostly from suffocation. Another topic of discussion covers the 2005 hanging of Iranian teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni.

And then for the latter third of the documentary, Thunska's two subjects pose in their underwear and get to know each other intimately and explicitly.

But, "nudity is not their concern at all. It's the politics," festival director Victor Silakong says of the censors' decision. "Thunksa's film is quite strong. It's really up front, about everything."

The film was submitted to the Culture Ministry's censorship board after attempts to have it classified under Thailand's new motion-picture ratings system proved impossible. With much confusion still surrounding the new film law, the festival organizers were told that only the films' rights holders can submit movies to the ratings system, which is geared for commercial screenings, not film festivals.

In previous years, the World Film Festival of Bangkok had worked with the censorship board that was under control of the police. But that changed this year, with censorship coming under control of the Culture Ministry.

With the new board, the process of submitting the films was fraught with contradiction. At times it was difficult to obtain a simple "yes" or "no" answer from the board, which would give an non-committal "erm" or "uh" response because they weren't sure themselves what was right or wrong.

Festival organizers plan to hold a forum during the show times allotted for This Area Under Quarantine, during which filmmakers and authorities will be invited to discuss the issue and come up with a solution.

Several other films at the festival are also controversial, including the opening Mundane History, by Anocha Suwichakornpong. It contains sex and nudity and the characters in the film are allegorical to Thai society. But censors said Mundane History is okay, as long as patrons' IDs are checked and no one under 20 is let in to see it.

This Area Is Under Quarantine was shown in an invite-only "rough cut" screening in Bangkok in September 2008. It officially premiered this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and was also featured in the documentary competition at this year's Torino International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Other appearances have included the 13th Queer Lisboa in Portugal and the Q! Film Festival in Indonesia. It was part of a retrospective and forum at Chiang Mai University in July.

Thunska, it should be noted, is a 2007 recipient of the Silpathorn Award, an award for contemporary artists that is given by the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture. He joins another Silpathorn honoree, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with the rather dubious distinction of being censored. Apichatpong's Syndromes and a Century was lauded at festivals the world over, but when it finally came back to Thailand, it had six scenes that were deemed offensive to Thai morals and was ordered to be censored.

In response to the banning of This Area Is Under Quarantine, Thunska released the following statement, which is translated from Thai:

"I'm not surprised about the ban. Since hearing last month that my documentary would be viewed by the Culture Ministry's censorship watchdogs, I thought my film might be banned. But I wondered about the reason. It's not because of the nudity or depiction of the male organ but because of political issues. The ban is like we're stepping backward. We can't present the facts about things happening in our own country.

"However I think the ban will benefit me. It'll be another controversial case study in the Thai film circle in which we think we have freedom of expression, but in fact we don't.

"From now on, it's my own right to continue my own style. I don't care anymore about censorship. I'll give up my |worries and fears and think positively. This is my opportunity to be more free. I don't really care about it anymore and will do what I believe in. And this is my true fight against the censorship. Thank you krub, Thailand."

Update: The Bangkok Post (cache) and Screen Daily (cache) have stories, both of which add to my confusion about the processes that took place that led to the banning of this film.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Southeast Asian films to screen in My Dear ASEAN at Thammasat

Films from Burma, Cambodia, East Timor and Laos -- countries not often or ever heard from when it comes to the region's cinema -- will be featured alongside dramas and documentaries from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam in "My Dear ASEAN", a film series put on by the Southeast Asian Studies program at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

The Thai entry will be Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town.

The series starts on Friday, October 30, and runs on Fridays and Saturdays until December 4. Each screening will be followed by commentary from scholars and experts. The show time is at 1pm. Here's the lineup:

  • October 30 -- Burma VJ, 2008, directed by Anders Østergaard (Denmark/Sweden/Burma) with commentary by Soe Aung. This documentary covers the efforts of Joshua, a Burmese video journalist based in Chiang Mai who funnels video footage from his cell of reporters out of the closed country of Burma during the 2007 uprising by Buddhist monks.
  • October 31 -- Un Soir Apres La Guerre (One Evening After the War), 1998, directed by Rithy Panh (Cambodia) with commentary by Songyote Waehongsa. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge and the end of the Cambodian Civil War, a former soldier struggling to return to normal life hampers that effort by falling in love with a 19-year-old Phnom Penh bar girl.
  • November 6 -- My Magic, 2008, directed by Eric Khoo ( Singapore) with commentary by Kamjohn Louiyapong. An alcoholic magician wants to change his life in order to better care for his 10-year-old son.
  • November 7 -- Bagong Buwan (New Moon), 2001, directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya (Philippines) with commentary by Sirote Klampaiboon. A look at the Estrada regime's war against the secessionist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
  • November 13 -- Nerakhoon, directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath (U.S./Laos) with commentary by Charnvit Kasetsiri. Twenty-three years in the making, the American cinematographer Kuras doggedly sticks with her friend Thavisouk in telling the story of his family and their flight from Laos to refugee camps in Thailand and eventually to life the U.S.
  • November 14 -- Wonderful Town, 2007, directed by Aditya Assarat(Thailand) with commentary by Benedict Anderson. This award-winning romantic drama is set in the small isolated coastal town of Takua Pa in Pang-nga province, which was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami and the pain of that disaster still lingers. The story follows a young architect and his budding relationship with the young woman who runs a small hotel.
  • November 20 -- The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi), 2008, directed by Riri Riza (Indonesia) with commentary by Onanong Thippimol. This drama is about a schoolteacher and the 10 boys she inspired in a poverty-stricken island village.
  • November 21 -- Journey from the Fall, 2006, directed by Ham Tran (U.S./Vietnam) with commentary by Sriprapha Petcharamesree. A South Vietnamese family is separated after the Fall of Saigon in 1975, with the husband imprisoned in a re-educational camp while the rest of the family becomes refugee "boat people".
  • November 27 -- The Last Communist (Lelaki Komunis Terakhir, 2006, directed by Amir Muhammad (Malaysia) with commentary by Supalak Ganjanakhundee. This hilarious musical documentary takes a whimsical look at the life of Malaysian communist leader Chin Peng and the places he used live. It's been shown at festivals around the world but paradoxically remains banned in Malaysia.
  • November 28 -- Long Road To Heaven, 2007, directed by Enison Sinaro (Indonesia) with commentary by Chayanit Poonyarat. This drama looks at the tragedy of the 2002 Bali Bombing from different points of view.
  • December 4 -- A Hero’s Journey, 2007, Grace Phan (Singapore/Timor Leste) with commentary by Saranarat Kanjanavanit. This biographical documentary is about Xaxana Gusmao and his struggle to make East Timor an independent country.

The screenings will be in the Rewat Buddhinan Room, Floor U2, in the Pridi Banomyong Library at Thammasat University's Tha Prachan Campus.

(Via Limitless Cinema in Broken English and Matichon; and thanks to Graiwoot!)

Ong-Bak 2 and Tony Jaa's Hollywood hopes

Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning opened for a limited theatrical release in the U.S. last weekend, giving fans there the chance to see Ong-Bak 2 as it should be seen -- on a big screen in a cinema.

It earned $26,500, which Kung Fu Cinema compares to Magnolia's U.S. release of the first Ong-Bak in 2005. The English dubbed version was released in 387 theaters and it earned $1.3 million on its opening weekend. For Ong-Bak 2, Magnolia's Magnet label experimented with a video-on-demand release a month before the theatrical opening. I don't know how that worked out.

But more importantly the movie and its star-director Tony Jaa have gained lots of exposure from the U.S. media.

The Associated Press got Jaa to answer a few questions. The quote:

"I'm happy to know that there are people in the States who like my movies. Hollywood is the capital for the movie industry. It would be interesting to go there. It's a matter of time."

Jaa has long flirted with the idea of working in Hollywood, and was recently rumored for a Hong Kong project with Donnie Yen.

New York Magazine also did an e-mail interview. What about when Jaa pulled a Colonel Kurtz and went missing during production of Ong-Bak 2? The answer:

This is my first time as a director, and it is common to face some difficulties and pressure. I think it is important to take time to produce a good film [rather] than just to hurry — [then] the quality of the movie is not as good. I gave myself time to think over things, to see everything as clearly as possible, or just see things as they are.

If anything, Jaa's meltdown have heightened his mystique and built up buzz for the film.

Capturing that best, while also giving U.S. readers a primer in all things Jaa is none other than former Kaiju Shakedown artist Grady Hendrix, writing for Slate. An entertaining snip:

Jaa shot the majority of this movie himself, and it's staggering to see just how much crazy is inside his head. Filmed in every color of the fungus, from lichen-gray and mushroom-brown to rich, moldy black and rotten-mildew green, the screen is soaked in liquids. The few times it actually stops raining, someone immediately spits, bleeds, or drools on the camera. The visuals are primitively powerful, as bold and savage as pounding tom-toms, all warped short lenses and bizarre Dutch angles. Half the dialogue is maniacal laughter; the other half is savage screams.

The reviews in the U.S. tend to have a more favorable flavor than the ones in the U.K., where what was called Ong-Bak: The Beginning was released on October 16. There, it was genre-friendly Empire that give it a positive review, as did Epoch Times. The rest I've scanned were generally put off by the narrative and typically reserved when it came to getting excited about the action.

Like their British counterparts, the U.S. reviewers are pretty down on the story and the fact that ancient-times Ong-Bak 2 is a prequel in name only to the modern-day streetfighting of the original.

But out of all the U.S. reviewers, one that might actually help get Jaa into Hollywood is the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan (also on National Public Radio). It helps that he "gets" Thai film. Turan sums up:

Ong-Bak 2 is slicker production-wise than the original, and it has so much noisy action that Thai foley artists must have made a fortune inserting thuds and grunts. According to the press notes, it features kung fu, judo, several kinds of Thai boxing and something completely new, a combination of Thai dancing and martial arts called Natayuth, which Jaa invented just for this movie. No wonder he had to take time off and meditate.

After the actor proves his ability to take a licking and keep on ticking, Ong-Bak 2 sets the stage for a yet unnamed sequel -- Ong Bak in Boyle Heights or even Ong Bak in Brentwood perhaps -- but even if that doesn't happen it's nice to know that Jaa has added skills to fall back on. "Works and plays well with elephants" does not appear on every résumé, not even in Hollywood.

No news being good news, Jaa is at work on Ong-Bak 3, which is now tentatively slated for release in early 2010. After that, Hollywood?

Gays, a transgender ghost and a giant snake

Three Thai films are opening this week in Bangkok cinemas, and none of them are from the major studios.

Probably the most promising of the three is the purely indie feature, Seng Ped (เซ็งเป็ด, Boring Love, by writer-director Sarawut Intaraprom. He previously did the indie animated feature Boyfriend, which had a limited run in Bangkok in 2007.

Boyfriend was developed from a webcomic that ran on the popular forum, and Boring Love is adapted from a novel that was serialized on Pantip.

It's about a love triangle that develops when when Kai (Intira Kateworrasoonthorn) dumps her boyfriend Ped (Nattaphon Nilphoom) for a new guy. She then discovers that Ped has fallen in love with her new sweetheart Ooy (Athiwat Lumgool) and the three of them shack up together.

Boring Love is in limited release in Bangkok at the Lido cinemas. There are no English subtitles. The trailer is on YouTube and it's embedded here.

In a wider release is Ja-Ae ... Goi Laew Jaa (จ๊ะเอ๋... โกยแล้วจ้า) from Five Four Three Two Action Film, which released the martial-arts drama Ha Teaw last year. They're back with this ghost comedy romance starring "Poy" Treechada Marnyaporn, who is probably best known as the winner of the 2004 Miss Tiffany Universe pageant -- a pageant for transgender competitors. This year's pageant, now called Miss International Queen takes place on Saturday.

Poy, seeking to be taken seriously as an actress, portrays a young woman who commits suicide and returns as a ghost, waiting for her boyfriend to come back to the village. She scares off all the villagers and when her fella returns he doesn't realize she is a ghost, until she tries to persuade him to commit suicide to be with her forever.

Along with Poy, there's the usual cast of comedians like Somlek Sakdikul and Kom Chanchuen to liven things up. There's a trailer for this one too.

It's directed by Nati Phunmanee, who previously helmed the 2006 crime comedy Zapp.

Also in wide release is The Scout (Bit Pi-Pop Ta-Lu Lohk, บิดพิภพทะลุโลก). Produced by Logo Motion Picture, it's a children's adventure film by Pleo Sirisuwan. He previously directed 2006's Vengeance (recently reviewed by Peter Nellhaus) and like Vengeance The Scout has a giant snake.

I think possibly this venom-slobbering super king cobra is too prominent in the trailer (embedded here) and on the posters, because once you let a giant CGI snake loose, where else can you go? But Pleo must be confident in his his kid actors and their work in front of the green screen as well as his CGI creations, which aren't bad. There are other critters too, like sharp toothed toads with bat wings. Yikes!

The story is about schoolchildren on a scouting field trip, who stumble on an old temple where things are not as serene as they seem. The Scout was initially promoted for release on October 15, but it's out today.

Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story rides the box office

Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story (Rot Fai Faa ... Maha Na Ter) has been the top film at Thailand's biggest multiplex chain for the past two weeks.

This past weekend at Major Cineplex, BT(L)S bested Sahamongkol's newly released horror omnibus Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities) and another new release for Thailand, the Bruce Willis robot thriller Surrogates. Also hanging in the top five for a second week was Law Abiding Citizen. The Jerry Bruckheimer-Disney talking rodents comedy G-Force was still in fifth place from the previous weekend.

Missing in action in that top 5 is Slice, the twisty thriller from Five Star Production and director Kongkiat Komesiri and writer Wisit Sasanatieng. People want to see CGI guinea pigs more than a murder movie? Apparently.

The big success of BT(L)S will likely encourage studio GTH. Like the studio's Haa Phrang horror anthology, which topped the box office back in September, BT(L)S has celebrated more than 100 million baht in earnings and made star Cris Horwang the studio's 100 million baht baby.

I think this coming weekend will be dominated by Michael Jackson's This Is It, but there are a total of nine other movies, including three Thai films, opening in Bangkok's cinemas.

Update: Nangdee has a box-office chart that has earnings. The chart for October 22-25 has BT(L)S was No. 1 with 30.3 million baht, Maha'lai Sayong Kwan with 15.5 million baht and Slice in fifth place with 2.4 million baht.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities)

  • Directed by Bunjong Sinthanamongkolkul and Sutthiporn Tubtim
  • Starring Panward Hemmanee
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 22, 2009; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Anthology films are all the rage these days, especially horror anthologies. Following the success of GMM Tai Hub's smash hit Phobia short-film franchise, producer Prachya Pinkaew and Sahamongkol Film International join the trend with Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities) -- four loosely joined but solidly scary ghost stories that take place in the halls of higher learning.

Young helmers Bunjong Sinthanamongkolkul and Sutthiporn Tubtim make their debut as a directing team with Maha'lai Sayong Kwan , though Bunjong previously directed the Mum Jokmok-produced mad-dog comedy Wor and Sutthiporn has been an assistant director and crew member on several productions.

The four stories are joined together by vignettes of a young woman with a special gift (Panward Hemmanee) who works on one of Bangkok's volunteer rescue crews. These are the jumpsuit-clad folks who race around the city in pickup trucks with lights flashing and sirens blaring, retrieving corpses from car wrecks, suicides and other mishaps. Panward's character is talking on her mobile phone most of the time. Just who she is talking to is not made clear until the end of the film.

The first segment, The Toilet, begins on Khao San Road, where a group of students are out drinking. Trouble starts when a couple of rough characters -- one is played by Chalat na Songkla -- turn up and start a fight. Chalat grabs a whisky bottle and wails on one of boys so severely the kid should be dead. But he's not. Battered and bruised, the young guy and his girlfriend are bundled into the back of the bad guys' car, where the girlfriend is surprised to learn her sweetheart has been dealing drugs and owes money to the two men. To retrieve the unsold merchandise, the foursome drive to the young guy's campus, where he has the drugs in his locker. Then, for a reason not really explained, the bad guys want to have look around. That's when they're told about a ghost in the fifth floor bathroom, where a student killed herself and there's now a shrine. This first story is the weakest of the four in terms of a coherent narrative, but it's still pretty scary as the students and their abductors ride a creaky old elevator up to the fifth floor. It stops on every floor and a ghost is waiting on each one, getting closer to getting in the elevator at each stop. But for these folks -- the two students and their captors -- going back down will be a lot quicker.

The second story, The Elevator, also deals with a scary elevator in a classroom building. The "red elevator" is actually haunted. It was where students were gunned down during the 1973 democracy uprisings. Now, generations later, one young freshmen -- the granddaughter of the general who ordered the killings -- has been singled out during the hazing rituals. To put an end to the punishment, she has to ride the red elevator. It turns out to be the worst elevator ride of her life, because the spirits of 1973 are still very much present. The co-ed ends up covered in blood and from then on, she's seeing activist ghosts wherever she goes. Eventually, she also sees some of the human stories behind the protests, and the guilt she feels for what her grandfather did becomes overwhelming.

Third is Morgue and a switch to comedy, with a story of a dental student who is frightened of corpses -- a career-killing fear for a medical student who must practice on cadavers. This young goofball named Prasert has to make up for his foolishness and get on the good side of his professor by volunteering as an orderly at the teaching hospital. Little does he know when he offers his services that the job he has to do is to watch over the morgue. And it doesn't help when his friend, appropriately named Joke, is always around pulling pranks. The tension and fun ratchet up as the rescue crew brings in the body of a drowned woman. The police call and want Prasert to look for a tattoo on the woman. It should be a simple manner, but for the squeamish Prasert it becomes an ordeal that makes the cops impatient and his professor disappointed. The ringing phone, squirming Prasert and his imagination of dead people who still move keep the suspense going. Prasert can't walk into the morgue without believing the corpses are all animated, and when one of the sheet-covered bodies sits up, Prasert is ready to fight back.

The fourth and final segment is The Stairway, about a pair of young women in their dormitory who get into a webcam chat with a creepy guy, who terminates the chat session by saying he's going to murder them both. The girls write the guy off as just a weirdo. One goes to sleep while the other steps out for a late-night dinner. Finishing up at the roadside eatery, the young woman is approached by some trash-talking teenage bikers, only to be chased off by a man who has an air of authority. His smooth talk and clean-cut look makes the girl relax and she accepts a ride back to her dormitory with him in his SUV. But it's a setup. Mr. Smooth is in league with the creepy webcam nerd, and they drive the woman into the woods, where unspeakable horrors await. But this short is called The Stairway. Why? Well, you'll have to see it to figure that out. But it's not the stairway to heaven, that's for sure.

Related posts:

Mundane History among first selections for Rotterdam's Tiger Awards competition

Anocha Mai Suwichakornpong's debut feature Mundane History is among three titles already announced for the VPRO Tiger Awards competition at the 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Stands to reason. Mundane History (Jao Nok Krajok), a family drama about a paralyzed man, has received major support from the IFFR and its Hubert Bals Fund, with a grant for script support in 2007 and a post-production grant this year.

Mundane History has been building up a good buzz from its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival. Next week, it opens the 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok.

The other films announced for the Tiger Awards are are Ben Russell’s Let Each One Go Where He May and Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s To the Sea.

The Tiger Awards Jury 2010 will include Argentinean filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, French actress Jeanne Balibar and Singapore International Film Festival director Philip Cheah. A further two jury members will be announced later.

The 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam takes place from January 27 to February 7, 2010.

(Via IFFR press release; also at Variety and IndieWire)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Slice (Cheun)

  • Written and directed by Kongkiat Komesiri; story by Wisit Sasanatieng
  • Starring Chatchai Plengpanich, Arak Amornsupasiri, Jessica Pasaphan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 22, 2009; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

There's a serial killer on the loose in Thailand. Draped in flowing red rain poncho, the killer preys on men who are committing kinky and depraved sex acts. The victims have been repeatedly stabbed and hacked up. All have their genitals cut off, which are generally stuffed ... somewhere else. Also the victims are generally bundled up in a large red suitcase. And they are connected to very powerful and wealthy people.

A corrupt cop, Lieutenant Chin (Chatchai Plengpanich -- looking the part of a scumbag, with dirty bleached blond hair and grimy Hawaiian shirts -- is on the case. Papa Chin, as he's called by some, is told by a government minister -- father of the most recent victim -- that he has 15 days to solve the case and bring the killer to justice. Or else Chin can take responsibility for the killings himself.

Desperate, Chin turns to the one man he doesn't want to use -- Tai ("Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri), a former undercover cop from his unit, who's serving a prison sentence for a crime that isn't made clear until needs to be. Tai takes care of Chin's dirty work inside the walls, and knows too many secrets.

But Tai believes he knows the killer. They were friends in childhood.

There is a raw, rugged and artfully lit grittiness to Chuen (เฉือน, Slice), this gory-laden crime thriller by Kongkiat Komesiri, who wrote the script and shares cinematography credits. He's previously directed the boxing-underworld drama Muay Thai Chaiya and was a co-director of the Art of the Devil occult thriller series. The story is by Wisit Sasanatieng, who's previously scripted such Thai cinema classics as the ghost drama Nang Nak and Daeng Bireley's and Young Gangsters and directed such films as the cult western Tears of the Black Tiger and the satiric romantic comedy Citizen Dog. Slice is another that will be mentioned along with all those.

Though it's mostly set in contemporary times, Slice looks and feels much older, as if it's a lost social-message film out of the 1970s.

But it is clearly a Thai film of 2009 and the Kingdom's newly enacted motion-picture ratings system. Free from the scissors and Vaseline of the censors, it has images that not even MC Chatrichalerm Yukol could have gotten away with in his social-message films of the '70s and '80s.

Slice takes a deliciously demented headlong dive into a pit of depravity, with a visit to a high-society orgy club, where everyone is slain. And there's a long gaze at the bare butt and air-brushed prison tats of Pe Arak. Rated 18+, the nudity and violence have been carefully calculated, with shadows covering up any offending full-frontal nudity or sex acts.

Tai is released from prison and he drives his battered Subaru back to his hometown to dig up clues. The story then toggles back and forth from the present day back to Tai's childhood, when he developed a friendship with a troubled boy named Nut who was abused by his father and bullied by all the other kids, who taunted him because they believed he's gay. Even Tai participated in the bullying of Nut, when he wanted to become part of the gang. Eventually though, Tai can't take seeing Nut bullied, and he takes on the role of Nut's protector. They form an intimate friendship, flying kites (there's probably an idiomatic Thai metaphor there) and hanging out in an old barn atop a hill and enjoying the solitude.

The present-day town isn't as idyllic -- it's gone to hell and is now a den of prostitution. Perhaps if Tai had time to hang around, he'd pick up a stick and be like Joe Don Baker's Buford Pusser in Walking Tall.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Chin is keeping a watchful eye on Noi, Tai's hairdresser girlfriend, as insurance that Tai brings in the case.

As Tai recalls more of his childhood and gets closer to the truth of the present day, the noose of suspense tightens, and there is nothing else for the dangling body of the story to do than to kick, spin and violently twist.

Related posts:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thai classics online at Asia Pacific Film

Classics of Thai cinema, including films by Ratana Pestonji, are available at Asia Pacific Films, a new online film library that is offering free viewing until November 1.

From Thailand are three classics by Ratana Pestonji -- 1957's crazy musical-comedy-film noir Country Hotel, 1958's tale of tragic love Dark Heaven and 1961's film noir Black Silk. There's also 1955's story of chained-up cheating lovers Forever Yours, which had Pestonji as cinematographer and was directed by Tawee na Bangchang.

And there are two more films from Thailand's classic era, 1965's musical Ngern Ngern Ngern (Money Money Money) starring Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat, and the 1969 musical comedy Paradise Island, starring Sombat Metanee and Aranya Namwong. They are directed by Prince Anusornmongkolgan.

Apart from Thailand, other countries represented include Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. These selections tend to be newer, indie titles, such as Riri Riza's pot-smoke-tinged Three Days to Forever, James Lee's romances like Things We Do When We Fall in Love, John Torres' Years When I Was a Child Outside and Kan Lume's The Art of Flirting.

There's also movies from China, India, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka. There's nothing yet from Cambodia, Laos or Burma, but give them time. is offering unlimited access in a free trial until November 1, after which the subscription rate will be US$8.99 a month for unlimited access.

According to the website, the money will be filtered back to the filmmakers and rights-holders in the form of royalties, and also benefit the work of the Network for Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC). From the website:

By acquiring digital rights and streaming our film collection on our website, we give our subscribers access to half of the world’s films: films made by Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Fact: 95 percent of these films are never seen outside of their own countries because mainstream distributors don’t bring them to the global market, or filmmakers from these areas lack access to distribution channels.

Our curators -- experts in Asian and Pacific cinema studies – hand-pick our films for their cultural nuances and historical significance, and for their themes, filmic techniques and styles.

Our film selections present artistic works that offer viewers a broad historical and cultural context about Asia and Pacific. We are creating an online library and archive because we believe the virtual environment is the best way to keep our cinematic heritage in perpetual circulation. features high-quality reviews, excusive interviews, theme-based searches, online commenting, podcasts, and much more.

Our filmmakers -- among them, renowned directors from China, Korea, India, Iran, and Southeast Asia -- receive royalties. A portion of our profits go to support the important work of NETPAC. In the future, a special research and development fund will support future film projects of filmmakers who have contributed films to this website.

All the Thai films so far are available on DVD with English subtitles from the Thai Film Foundation, but for well-connected Internet users, the Asia Pacific Online Film Library might be an appealing alternative. I can't use it myself, because my Internet connection sucks.

(Via ThorGB and Babel Machine)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cambodian films have their Golden Reawakening

The past week has seen a resurgence in interest for Cambodian cinema, thanks to an event at Phnom Penh's riverside Chinese House, Golden Reawakening, which has been showing classic Khmer films from the 1960s and '70s.

The exhibition wraps up tomorrow with two films by Tea Lim Koun -- an early version of Puos Keng Kang (of which there was a Thai-Cambodian remake in 2001) and A Chey Neang Krot.

The films are from a golden age of Cambodian culture, a time of incredibly progressive and unmatched arts that encompassed cinema, architecture, fashion and a lively rock 'n' roll scene. But all that came to an end in 1975 when the communist Khmer Rouge took over and sought to remake Cambodia as an agrarian utopia, expelling people from the cities into work camps and engaging in genocide that targeted artists and scholars. Around 2 million people are thought to have killed in executions and torture or died from starvation and overwork. Here's more from Australian Broadcasting:

The walls of the exhibition centre, the Chinese House in Phnom Penh, are hung with black and white photographs of Cambodian actors and actresses, directors, classic film scenes and exotic locations.

There are also gaudy and colourful film posters showing acts of celluloid bravery, tragedy and that old film favourite - love.

The exhibition's curator, Davy Chou, 26, says the purpose is to introduce young Cambodians to a neglected aspect of their cultural history and to remind the older generation of the happiness of those times.

But there is sadness. Mr Chou says that of the top 10 actors, only two could be found today - the legendary Dy Saveth and Virak Dara, who is also in France.

Mr Chou's grandfather, who disappeared in 1969, was one of the era's leading film producers. The young man was born in France.

Director Tea Lim Koun was recently rediscovered alive and well in Canada, according to Kon Khmer Koun Khmer, which has been covering the festival.

And there's critic and scholar Tilman Baumgaertel and his Southeast Asian Film Studies Institute. Now relocated from the Philippines to Phnom Penh, Golden Reawakening is his domain.

The screenings have been packed, with audiences sitting on the floor of the Chinese House gallery. And more and more folks have turned up during the week, including grannies clad in the ubiquitous street wear of Phnom Penh -- pajamas.

Mr. Baumgaertel has reviews up for Lay Nguong Heng's Tip Soda Chan, King-Father Norodom Sihanouk's Crepuscule, Yvon Hem's Sovannahong, Biv Chhay Leang's Rattanavong and Uong Kan Thuok's Pel Del Trov Zum (A Time to Cry) and Chhea Nuk's Panhcha Por Tevy.

Among the highlights is Ly Bun Yim's remarkably well-preserved Puthisen Neagn Kongrey (12 Sisters). A snip:

The story is based on an ancient Khmer myth: A king marries twelve orphaned sisters, but his thirteenth wife (who is really a giant witch, who has turned herself into a beautiful princess) fools him into believing him that they are the witches. The misled king has the twelve sisters blinded (in a scene that makes the opening sequence of An Andalusian Dog look like kid´s stuff) and throws them into a cave, where they bear his children, which they are forced to eat as they have no other food. And that is just the first 30 minutes!

Some of the films can be found on YouTube, including a bit of 12 Sisters, which Mr. Baumgaertel says has parts of which aren't shown in the version of 12 Sisters he saw. It's embedded below. Enjoy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: Rod Fai Fah ... Maha Na Ter (BTS: Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story)

  • Directed by Adisorn Trisirikasem
  • Starring Sirin Horwang, Theeradeth Wongpuapan, Panisara Pimpru, Ungsumalynn Sirapatsakmetha
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 15, 2009, rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Formulaic and predictable they may be, romantic comedies endure because they are easy date movies and comfort food for the lonely, the isolated and the bored, who file into cinemas or plump down for the home video in the hopes that something new will be offered in the form of escapism.

If the rom-coms are at least entertaining, coherent and competently made, like GTH's latest smash hit Rot Fai Faa ... Maha Na Ter (รถไฟฟ้า...มาหานะเธอ), then all the better. The movie, the title of which loosely translates as "I rode the skytrain to meet you", is apparently like catnip for moviegoers, presumably mostly single ladies. It has crossed the important 100-million-baht mark in its first week of release and could be the biggest box-office hit of the year.

With the international title BTS: Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story, the movie celebrates 10 years of Bangkok's BTS skytrain with a story of a 30-year-old single woman staring into the abyss of spinsterhood who finally sees her chance at romance with a maintenance engineer who keeps the tracks polished on the decade-old elevated railway.

Directed by Adisorn Trisirikasem, there is feeling of hopelessness and loneliness that pervades Rot Fai Faa ... Maa Haa Na Ter, even as the movie hits the usual titillating beats of romantic comedies.

It has stars that are so impossibly good looking, it's hard to believe they are in the situation the movie puts them in. These are the Zellwegerish leading lady Sirin "Cris" Horwang -- an appealingly bubbly yet unattached young woman -- and her Tom Cruise/Hugh Grant/Colin Firth stand-in, soap-opera hunk "Ken" Theeradeth Wongpuapan -- a handsome single young man who has to resort to renting porn VCDs to get a thrill.

These movies have to have a goofy grandma who says outlandish things. And for Cris' character Mei Li, a second-generation Chinese-Thai, there's a granny who still only speaks the language of the old country and, through translations from Mei Li's mother, makes remarks that Mei Li's breasts are too small.

Another convention is the heroine's supportive best friend, seen here in the GTH stock company's comic relief, brassy comedienne "Opal" Panisara Pimpru. She's Mei Li's last friend, but Ped has a new chubby hubby and is spending her nights in gender-reversal roles and taking their aging Boston terrier bitch to the breeder to have puppies.

Yes, even the dog is getting more action than Mei Li.

It's Ped's wedding that sets things into motion. Mei Li makes a fool of herself, getting so drunk at the wedding party that she passes out in the newlywed couple's honeymoon bed. She eventually wakes up to drive home, but nearly crashes her car into a roadside eatery. Her car's sideview mirror lands in the early-morning meal of the leading man, who appears as an angelic vision to Mei Li. Here is a plot point that is in danger of becoming a standard of GTH romances -- another one from the studio -- director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's Best of Times (Thailand's Oscar submission this year) also began with a drunken-driving incident. It's an issue that's treated so casually, it's probably worrisome to social advocacy groups.

Throw in the story culminating on a big holiday -- in Thailand that would be Songkran, April's water-soaked Thai New Year -- and there you have your romantic comedy.

Having grown up in a strict Chinese-Thai household -- she still lives with her parents in a riverside neighborhood shophouse -- Mei Li has mistakenly been under the impression that a woman should not make the first move on a man. Losing her mind over a Nuvo music video when she was a 13-year-old teenybopper, she misheard what her mother was yelling one day and went through her teenage years and 20s without any boys.

She can't get back those wasted 17 years of her life -- gone in a swirling, purple flash -- but she can do something now. Hope shows up at her doorstep, after the family's maid is caught having sex with a neighborhood guy. There to get the young man out of trouble is his "uncle", none other than the angelic leading man whose name is actually Lung, meaning "uncle".

With her car taken away by her father -- ah, consequences -- Mei Li then bumps into Lung again while she's riding the skytrain, and she finally comes up with an angle for hooking this man. And despite her bumbling ways -- every time she meets Lung she breaks something, including his sunglasses, digital camera and laptop -- they somehow manage to make a connection.

Mei Li gets advice on reeling in this big fish from college girl Plern ("Pattie" Ungsumalynn Sirapatsakmetha), who embodies the stereotype of a plaid-skirted co-ed with multiple mobile phones, a bulging collection of toys and charms dangling from those jeweled phones and harem of various boyfriends or "gigs", who each also embody stereotypes. So some comic mileage is gained in riffs about a guy whose jeans are so tight he can't get off his motorbike, a sportscar-driving tough guy and a skateboard-riding, English-speaking hip-hop enthusiast.

Trouble is, in enlisting this girl's help, Mei Li also has gained a competitor for Lung's attention. And Plern imposes herself on the couple's outing for the Songkran water splashing.

But Mei Li's biggest enemy is herself. In her mooning over Lung, she seemingly loses any sense of propriety. Another of Lung's broken things is his old laptop bag, which Mei Li salvages from the trash. She discovers some old photo negatives in that bag and -- putting her button nose in a place it doesn't belong -- has them developed. It turns out that Lung's college girlfriend is a now-famous soap-opera actress named Kob Kavita. And those pictures from college turn up online, thanks to an unscrupulous photo-shop operator. This causes a further strain on Mei Li's and Lung's budding relationship.

This plot point, perhaps a bit of a stretch, serves to satirize the media's fascination with celebrities and their relationships, which are always answered by the celebrities in the same way, "we were seeing each other but we're just friends", etc.

It also allows for the filmmakers to have a soap opera within the movie, and this is a bit of a treat, to see the nightly slap-and-kiss fests satirized. Kob Kavita, played by Tak Sukjarern, is the show's nang-ek (heroine) with Sunny Suvanmethanont from Dear Dakanda as phra-ek and "Peak" Pataraya Krueasuwansiri from Rak/Sam/Sao as the itcha (villainess). At one point, Peak runs Tak's face over a piano keyboard -- an act that's probably not an exaggeration of the type of catfighting that's seen on those shows.

But Mei Li's biggest obstacle in landing Lung is his job. He works nights on the railway and sleeps during the day. She is the opposite, working during the day for a solar-power accessory company (headed by a comically controlling Japanese boss played by Yano Kazuki, another GTH stock-company player).

And when it emerges that Lung is going abroad for more studies, all hope seems to be lost. Another missed opportunity. Mei Li for sure looks like she will grow old, forever unmarried.

After a lively and comical first half, the movie settles in for a second half that is moody, slow and mournful.

Through its rhythms, Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story captures the movement and scenes of the city. In this way, it's an ode to romance in Bangkok. Paris, je t'aime, New York, I Love You and Sawasdee Bangkok, eat your heart out.

And because it celebrates the Skytrain and was made with the cooperation of the Bangkok Mass Transit System, the movie preserves bits of the Skytrain culture, and takes loving looks at the BTS's infrastructure -- from the stations at Taksin pier, Mor Chit terminal in the north and On Nut terminal in the east and the multi-story Siam interchange, to the system's massive car barn and maintenance facilities. There are little details that riders will recognize, like dropping your fare card on the floor of the station and struggling to pry the flat thing back up. The movie also takes in the attractions around various stations. Next station: Ekamai ... Ekamai. And the Bangkok Planetarium.

Never mind that the much of the excitement and novelty that accompanied the skytrain's opening 10 years ago has worn off. The ear-bleeding advertising messages in the stations and aboard the trains don't intrude on Lung's and Mei Li's conversations. The system now extends past Taksin station, across the river into Thon Buri -- a segment of the line not covered in the movie -- and the BTS is now so overburdened with passengers during the rush hours that the older surface modes of transport -- taxis, city buses, songthaews, tuk-tuks, motobike taxis, river ferries and canal boats -- look more attractive.

But at least we'll always have our cute couple -- Cris and Ken -- to elevate us and keep things moving along.

Related posts:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yam Yasothon 2 gunning for December 3 release

Mum Jokmok's Yam Yasothon character moves from reluctant lover to shotgun-toting dad for Yam Yasothon 2.

After a brief delay earlier this year due to a fatal lightning strike on the location, Yam Yasothon 2 is on target for a December 3 release for the long weekend in celebration of His Majesty the King's birthday.

A sequel to 2005's country comedy, Yam Yasothon 2 promises more eye-scaldingly colorful outfits and a double-barrel load of down-home country humor. Janet Khiew is back as Yam's amorous wife Juei , with Mum's real-life daughter, Em Busarakam Wongkamlao and son Mick Paytai joining the cast. There's also "Dim" Harin Suthamjaras from the rock group Tattoo Color as the romantic lead, and comedienne "Tukkie" Sudarat Butrprom is in there as well. Looks like fun.

Sahamongkol has a set of production stills on Facebook.

Stars make short films for Thai tourism

World Tourism Day is October 26 and to celebrate, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has commissioned five short films for the I Love Teaw (I Love Travel) anthology. The directors are veteran filmmaker Thanit Jitnukul (Bang Rajan, Samchuk) and actors Akara Amarttayakul, Mamee Nakprasit, Premsinee Rattanasopha and Pitchanart Sakakorn. Additionally, a short-film contest was held, and the winning entries will be shown alongside the shorts by the stars. Lekha Shankar had a look at the shorts and has more about the project.

Story and photo by Lekha J. Shankar

Expanding on the tourism-and-cinema scheme it started with the Bangkok International Film Festival, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is sponsoring a short film anthology.

I Love Teaw (I Love Travel) consists of five shorts made by well-known filmmakers and actors, on different parts of the country.

There was also a competition component of the project, open to the public. The deadline was yesterday. Submitted films had to be seven minutes and could be on any part of Thailand.
First prize is 200,000 baht.

The short films made by the Thai stars, as well as the best of the contest entries will be screened on World Tourism Day, October 26, during an exhibition in the Infinity Hall of Paragon Cineplex. The screenings will continue until November 3.

The five shorts by the stars were previewed for the press recently and show how "Amazing Thailand" is viewed by some of its cinematic folk. The diverse destinations, styles and articulations made for interesting viewing.

Each of the stars was given a budget of 100,000 baht, asked to choose a favourite part of the Kingdom that appealed to them and make a seven-minute film on it.

The artists chosen for the project were director Thanit Jitnukul, actor "Golf" Akara Amarttayakul and actresses Mamee Nakprasit, "Cream" Premsinee Rattanasopha and "May" Pitchanart Sakakorn.

Thanit’s film, Coffee Hill, is set in Khao Kao district, Petchaburi, and is a mood-piece starring actor "Bank" Pawarit Mongkolpisit as a youngster tired of the noisy city who returns to his hometown to revel in the peace and quiet of a quaint coffeeshop that faces misty mountains and foggy skies.

Golf's Friendship is set in the Amphawa Floating Market of Samut Songkhram province, and is a heart-warming tale of two children from diverse backgrounds who meet in the teeming marketplace and strike up a sudden friendship.

“Life is full of short memories. That’s why a short film is challenging, because it has to say so much,” Golf said.

Mamee shot her film in the Talay Nai area of Koh Samui, one of her favourite destinations in Thailand. Tang Ar-kard is about two young men who discover the lush beauty of the area and also discover, to their joy, that it is highly affordable -- a valid point. Despite being very busy with the on-going Superstar reality TV show, Mamee took time to attend the press screening and say that directing the short was “a great opportunity to experience the other side of the lens.”

Cream's Will You Marry Me is a romantic drama set in the scenic mountains and vineyards of Khao Yai. The actress plays the lead in the film with actor "Aun" Witthaya Wasukraipaisarn, as a girl who constantly rejects her boyfriend’s ring, until finally the breathtaking surroundings entice her to change her mind and accept his marriage proposal.

Finally there is Long Love by May Pitchanart Sakakorn, shot on Khao Ta Kiab beach of Prachuap Kiri Khan province. May said she was looking for an unknown, untouched beach, and was stunned when she encountered such a place. Her segment captures this sense of wonder and excitement, as seen through the eyes of May and her actress-pal "Ple" Paradee Yoopasuk, who play the role of typical Bangkokian youngsters who catch a boat out of the city and wake up to encounter the serene stunning beauty of Khao Ta Kiab and are dumbstruck in open-mouthed amazement.

The film aptly encapsulates "Amazing Thailand", with all its multi-varied pleasures, from urban delights to scenic wonders.

TAT’s central region executive director Chaisong Churitt said he was "delighted" by the enthusiasm of the stars, who worked hard on the project, despite their busy schedules.

The stars in turn said the tourism project was a "great break" from their hectic film and television routines.

Watch out for the screening of I Love Taew from October 26 to November 3 in the Infinity Hall of Paragon Cineplex.

See also:

Superstar is super raunchy

The second season of Superstar has started airing on Modernine and is already causing controversy. It's a reality TV talent series, similar to Dancing With the Stars, in which experienced showbiz people are looking for a new challenge or a boost in their celebrity. This season's theme is "Fantasy World", so fantastically outrageous costumes and behavior are the rule. Lekha Shankar was in the studio audience for a recent broadcast, and she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

The Superstar reality show was a super-raunchy event last weekend, with a no-holds barred stance from the Thai stars that surprised and shocked the audience.

As a first-timer attending the live show at the Krystal Design Centre on Ramindra Road, it was a sensational introduction to Thailand's super-cool superstars.

Last week’s show focused on a bevy of international dances and the display of bare bellies, breasts and much brazen energy.

The Brazilian dance featured muscular Matthew Deane swaying his hips provocatively, the climax coming with his female partner ripping his shorts at the back, revealing a pair of well-endowed bums!

Then came the Egyptian bellydance, where actresses "Ming" Chalisa Boonkrongsub and "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol clung and clawed "mummified" rapper-actor-model Nicky “The Stick” Sura Theerakol. He was over-wrapped in white mummy-clothes, but showed he was not "dead" by repeatedly pointing to his crotch. The climax came when the two actresses knocked him down and then lingeringly kissed each other.

In the final number, singer Tata Young's ex-boyfriend Prem Busarakamwong threw off his shirt, revealing deadly six-pack abs, but it was actress Mamee in her skimpy gold-sequinned attire, black braid and "bindi" who stole the show, with her sizzling Bollywood dance number. She put Mumbai’s actresses to shame with her lush body and lethal movements, partnered by the animal-like "Aon" Sarawut Martthong, who pawed, licked, kissed her all over, and would not stop, even after the song had ended.

And all this, for family audiences, on live, free-to-air broadcast television?

It was an action-packed show to be certain, and it was an amusing to see lots of teenyboppers in the audience, cheering and rooting for their favourite stars.

Slim, small-built actor Oil Thana was the most unimpressive star in the show, but his orange-shirted fan club were the most vociferous.

It was also amusing to see some people in the audience confusing fair-skinned singer and actress Nathalie Davis with former Miss Universe, and now tennis star Paradorn’s wife, Natalie Glebova.

But guess who made the strongest impression? That would have to be former male boxer turned female model Nong Toom! Her life story was made famous by the much-talked-about film Beautiful Boxer and she sure looked beautiful and strong with her red skimpy outfit and raunchy charm.

It takes tremendous courage and confidence to partake in a popular TV show with alongside such experienced talents, but judging by the many fans who wanted to pose for photographs with Nong Toom after the event, it looks like she will become more famous as a TV star than as a world-renowned boxer.

See also:

Five Star's Legend Collection truly legendary

More than a year has passed since I first heard about Five Star Production dipping into its storied vaults with plans to release a line of its remastered classics.

The DVDs are out now, and over on Thai 101, Rikker offers the third in his series of Thai movies on DVD with a look at The Legend Collection.

The name of the DVD line is not an exaggeration. Some of the films in this series are regarded as masterpieces. Among them are Euthana Mukdasanit's Butterfly and Flowers, which continues to elude me, and The Story of Nam Poo and Vichet Kounavudhi's Luk Isaan (Son of the Northeast). There's also movies by Piak Poster, Sakka Charuchinda, Narong Charuchinda and the recently departed Bhandit Rittakol.

In all there are 70 titles so far, which Rikker has helpfully compiled on a spreadsheet.

None have English subtitles. And I am unaware of any plans by Five Star to license the masters to English-speaking territories, though many of the titles would make a fine addition to any specialty label's collection.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Slice cutting it up with Haunted Universities

With the end of the calendar year fast approaching, Thailand's studios are in a rush to get their completed films into this year's books. And with Halloween coming up, what better time than to release two blood-soaked thrillers -- Slice from Five Star Production and Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities) from Sahamongkol Film International.

Slice has been covered here before and is highly anticipated. Directed by Kongkiat Khomsiri (Muay Thai Chaiya, Art of the Devil 2 and 3) and co-scripted by Wisit Sasanatieng, Slice (Chuen: Kaat-Dta-Gam Ram-Leuk), เฉือน: ฆาตกรรม รำลึก) is a crime thriller starring "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri as a convict who is sprung from prison for 15 days to work with the police and catch a serial killer. Veteran actor Chatchai Plengpanich also stars as a rather unorthodox police detective.

Haunted Universities is less anticipated by me, but only because I didn't know much about it until now. It's about students (Panward Hemmanee, Anna Reese from Queens of Langkasuka and Ashiraya Peerapatkunchaya) who are facing all the various ghost stories that are told at Thai universities, probably just to scare freshmen. It's by Bunjong Sinthanamongkolkul and Sutthiporn Tubtim, two young filmmakers who are making their debut feature as a team. Bunjong has previously worked as an assistant or crew member on such movies as Fake, Goal Club and Yam Yasothon. Update: He directed last year's mad-dog comedy, Woh Mah Ba Maha Sanook. Sutthiporn's credits include Goal Club, editor on Mercury Man and Colic and co-director of the pirate flick Salad Ta Deaw.

The trailer for Haunted Universities is playing alongside the one for Slice in Thai cinemas. And it's online. It's embedded below.

(Via Deknang, Enjoy Thai Movies)

Venturing into Jakwaral Nilthamrong's Unreal Forest

Production company Extra Virgin whets my appetite with the first still from Man and Gravity director Jakwaral Nilthamrong's debut feature, Unreal Forest, which was shot in Zambia as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Forget Africa campaign.

Classified as a "creative documentary" -- a term I expect to be seeing more and more of -- Unreal Forest is a film-within-a-film-type film, part documentary and part magical-realism storytelling.

Here is more from the Extra Virgin page:

Unreal Forest is one story told in two different forms: one in fiction and another in documentary-style. It’s a story of outsiders travelling overseas to a forgotten land. Their mission is to discover a talented unknown filmmaker and show him to the world. Is the way of Western thoughts really benefitting, or if it’s just another helpless colonization?


A magic man is in a canoe and paddling across a big river. He has white powder covering all over his body. He arrives at the riverside where an old man is waiting for him. They speak in indigenous language. Then the old man leads him to a house where his ill son is lying on his sickbed.

At night the two starts a campfire and the whitened man says he will try to ask the spirit to heal his son. The next day, the whitened man applies white powder to the son’s body before disappearing into the wood.

The whitened man meets the spirit and comes out from the wood with a disease. His skin is shredding out like wood chips. The man tells the father that his son is dying and there’s no way to help. But the spirit in the wood tells him that the son’s soul belongs to a great waterfall, so they should transport him there so that he could return to meet the father again in another form.

The film is supported by Bangkok's Numthong Gallery and the IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund. So there's a good chance it will come back to Bangkok for screening at some point next year after it premieres in Rotterdam.

(Via Extra Virgin)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Official trailer for Vanquisher

With a fresh dose of bright red CGI blood to go with the catsuit-clad, cleavage-baring female swordfighters, Sahamongkol Film International has debuted the official trailer for Vanquisher (Suay ... Samurai, สวย...ซามูไร).

Directed by veteran helmer Manop Udomdej, this long-in-the-works action flick will finally see the dark of cinema halls on November 5 in Thailand.

It stars Sophita Sribanchean, who plays Genja, a CIA agent who is betrayed by rival operatives. Kessarin Ektawatkul from Born to Fight and Dangerous Flowers also stars, along with Jacqueline Apithananont (The Bodyguard 2, Queens of Langkasuka) and Pete Thongchua (Province 77).

This new trailer, embedded below, replaces a rough-footage clip that has been making the rounds since last month.

(Via Sahamongkolfilm, posters at Deknang)

Teaser for Bang Rajan 2

Thanit Jitnukul and Phranakorn Film are really doing it. They are making Bang Rajan 2 (บางระจัน2), a sequel to the hit 2000 historical battle epic. Never mind that everyone died at the end of the first one. A teaser is up at YouTube, and it's embedded above. I think it needs a buffalo.

(Via Deknang/Popcornmag)

Two winners get autographed posters for Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning

Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning opens in U.S. cinemas this Friday, October 23, and to celebrate, distributor Magnet has posters signed by star and director Tony Jaa to give away to U.S. readers of this blog.

They went to the first two people from the U.S. to e-mail me: The first was Ryun Patterson in Chicago and the second was Kathie Smith in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Congratulations, and thanks for reading!

Sorry, this giveaway was for U.S. residents only. The posters will be mailed out by Magnet's representatives.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Review: The Sanctuary

  • Directed by Thanapon Maliwan
  • Starring Pairote "Mike B." Boongerd, Inthira Charoenpura, Russell Wong, Patharawarin Timkul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 8, 2009
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Skilled martial arts are stylized with moody slow-motion in The Sanctuary, an archaeological action drama starring stuntman-turned-leading man Pairote "Mike B" Boongerd and Hong Kong star Russell Wong.

A prologue goes back to 1897, when a U.S. diplomat is Siam, making a gift of a device -- fantastically advanced for that time -- that holographically projects Muay Thai boxing scenes. In return, Siam makes a gift of a set of three MacGuffins in form of jewel-encrusted vases, which are then promptly stolen by bandits. The palace's security chief goes after the treasure, and, in a fog-enshrouded forest, a fight ensues that sees the palace's man sacrifice his life and the treasure lost to the mists of time.

Fast forward 110 years or so, the descendants of that palace guard, twin-brother fighters (both Mike B.), are digging in the yard of a Buddhist temple and one of them unearths the holographic pendant and one of the vases. He's quickly tailed by bad guys, who chase him to a junkyard for a spectacular brawl atop a wobbly stack of derelict Toyotas.

Fast forward another couple of years, and the remaining twin brother Krit is working as a scam artist, selling fake antiquities to unsuspecting tourists. His ruse is exposed by archaeologist Fah (Inthira Charoenpura).

Meanwhile, an American mercenary (Russell Wong) hired by Burmese drug lord Wisa (Winston Omega) -- descendant of the 19th century "Poison Knife" bandits -- is digging in the temple for the remainder of the treasure.

Krit and Fah then team up to get the treasure back. What follows is a series of action scenes in which Mike B. pits his martial-arts skills against Wong's various henchmen in a variety of settings, from an apartment building in the city to a leaf-covered woodland scene that is reminiscent of a swordfighting duel in Zhang Yimou's Hero.

A rhythm develops in which Mike B. fights valiantly but is beaten and then nursed back to health with the aid of Fah and the herbal medicine of the helpful Buddhist monk Ram. And the holographic pendant proves to be a key for Krit to gain the skills he needs to finally defeat the bad guys.

The set up makes Wong a pretty ineffective villain, time and again leaving his underlings to deal with the problem of Krit and Fah and thinking they are dead, but each time Krit and Fah return.

It's not until the end that Mike B. and Wong square off for a contest of martial-arts against the stunning backdrop of cliffs and exposed rock on the banks of the Mekong.

As a leading man, Mike B. is serviceable, showing he can at least crack a smile -- a bit more diverse than Thailand's top martial arts star, Mr. Serious, Tony Jaa. And Mike B.'s athleticism and balletic acrobatics might be close to equal of Jaa, but it's hard to tell with the slow-motion stylization deployed during the action scenes. Framing, for the most part, is done in such a manner that you can tell there is real fighting going on, so that's a plus.

Mike B. was a stuntman on Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak, making him another branch on the family tree of Thai action cinema that springs from Jaa's mentor Panna Rittikrai, whose early B-grade action efforts were directed by Chartchai Maliwan. It's Chartchai's son Thanapon who directs The Sanctuary.

Wong, with his slicked-back hair and white tropical-weight suits, comes off as a bit of a dandy, but he delivers his lines with such smoothness and self-assured efficiency, it's hard not to admire the guy, especially when he finally deigns to get his white patent-leather shoes muddy in the final fight with Mike B.

Key among the supporting players is Bangkok-based German actor Erik Markus Schuetz -- another connection to Ong-Bak. He plays Gary, a hard-hitting brute who's one of Wong's chief enforcers.

The exposition in between the action is also sparked by enjoyable performances and even a girlfight between the two veteran Thai actresses -- Inthira Charoenpura (Nang Nak, Naresuan II) and Pathawarin Timkul (1999's Bangkok Dangerous, Jan Dara).

May Pathawarin, who's trained as a dancer, looks like she's having an especially good time vamping it up in an action role as Wong's deadly gun moll, which requires her to kick, throw knives, blow stuff up and have sex.

For its run in Thai cinemas, which will likely be all too fleeting, The Sanctuary (Thai title: สามพันโบก, Sam Phan Bok or loosely "3,000 treasures") was screened in a mixed Thai and English soundtrack -- Thai characters speak Thai for the most part and the foreigners speak English. Perhaps if it's sold overseas all the parts will be dubbed in English.

The Thai title refers to Sam Phan Bok Canyon, the stunning sandstone canyon backdrop for the finale fight scene. It's in Ubon Ratchathani, on the Mekong River.

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