Saturday, November 28, 2009

IFFI '09: How about a little help from India?

Veteran filmmakers Nonzee Nimibutr and Yongyoot Thongkongtoon are heading the Thai delegation at the International Film Festival of India, where they were full of praise for the Indian film industry and support its audiences give it, but were down on the prospects for their own country's cinema.

Talking to the press, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon says:

"It is just that we don't make films which the audiences will like. The Hollywood movie 2012 is one of the top grossers in Thailand in just five days of its release," he said adding that Thai filmmakers have a long way to go before it achieves the box office numbers like that of Hollywood movies.

Yongyoot is at IFFI in support of his latest feature, the romantic comedy-drama Best of Times, which is Thailand's submission to the Academy Awards..

Also at IFFI is Nonzee Nimibutr, subject of a piece in The Hindu by Lekha Shankar. He has five films in a retrospective, ranging from 1997's Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters to last year's Queens of Langkasuka. He laments the lack of support for filmmakers from the Thai government.

"Almost all films produced in Thailand have financial support from Korea, Japan and other countries. Recession has hurt the local industry. Conflicts in the government also cast a shadow on the return of investments. Besides, severe competition from Hollywood and lack of audiences for local cinema are also some of the causes of the downslide."

Yongyoot voiced optimism:

"The government doesn’t do as much as we expect them too, but with a change in film production we will see change in Thailand. We have learnt a lot being a part of this festival, hopefully we will carry it over to Thailand.

According the Navhind Times, Nonzee said he was open to "collaborating with an Indian film team to expand his audience", while Yongyoot asserted that India films are popular in Thailand, even though they aren't shown as regularly in cinemas as they used to be. Putting on his hat as artistic director of the Bangkok International Film Festival, he promised to include more Indian films in next year's BKKIFF line-up.

Here's more from Nonzee, Yongyoot and actress May Pathawarin Timkul in The Times of India.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nymph in running for Best Asian Film of 2009

Asian Movie Pulse has a poll running that lists Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph among eight contenders for Best Asian Film of 2009.

It has the spooky forest romantic thriller alongside Taiwan's No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti by Leon Dai, Japan's Love Exposure by Sono Shion and Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea by Hayao Miyazaki, South Korea's Thirst by Park Chan-wook and Like You Know It All by Hong Sang-soo, Hong Kong's Accident by Soi Cheang and City of Life and Death by Lu Chuan.

Results will be announced on December 28.

Syndromes and a Century makes TONY's top 50 for the 2000s

The end of 2009 not only means there will be an onslaught of year-end lists to pore over, but also lists of the best films of the first decade of the 21st century.

We've already had the best of the decade list from the TIFF Cinematheque, that was topped by Syndromes and a Century by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and had his Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours ranked as well.

Now comes the Time Out New York top 50 movies of the decade, which has Syndromes and a Century at No. 44. Says TONY's Kevin B. Lee

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul turns the memories of his doctor parents into a narrative seed, planting it in both a jungle and a city hospital to see what will grow from each. Few recent films seem as driven by pure, organic intuition—and are as consistently sublime.

Thai censors disagreed with such praise. They said Apichatpong's parents should be ashamed for what he'd done to them in his film, said the film was without artistic merit and ordered six scenes censored before it could be shown in Thailand. Who are you going to agree with? Thailand's esteemed cultural minders or dozens upon dozens of film critics the world over?

Spirited discussion about the TIFF Cinematheque list and who should be the best directors of the decade is taking place at Wildgrounds.

(Via Wildgrounds)

Fireball to hit DVD and Blu-ray in the UK

Fireball, Thanakorn Pongsuwan's bloody and violent blend of Muay Thai and no-holds-barred basketball, hits Region 2 DVD and Blu-ray on January 18. Check it at Amazon or

Details about specs or extras are thin on the ground, but I imagine folks hungry for hard-hitting Muay Thai basketball action will be happy to have this in any form. After all, where else can you find Muay Thai basketball? I'm not sure it's been released on English-friendly DVD anywhere else, has it?

If you want to watch a bit, there's a trailer on the Fireball website.

(Via Wildgrounds and 24framespersecond)

Agrarian Utopia wins Unesco Award at APSAs

Uruphong Raksasad's experimental documentary Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Baan Na) continues its award-winning run, picking up the Unesco Award at the third edition of the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards, which were given out on Thursday in Gold Coast, Australia.

The Unesco Award recognizes "outstanding contribution to the promotion and preservation of cultural diversity through film". Uruphong, racking up the flight miles, was in Queensland to accept the prize.

It's the first year Thailand has had nominees in the APSAs, which were first awarded in 2007.

Agrarian Utopia, shot in a gorgeous hi-def digital format, was a nominee for Achievement in Cinematography.

A second Thai documentary, the epic look at politics and violence in southern Thailand, Citizen Juling, was a nominee for Best Documentary.

The full list of winners is at the APSAs' website.

Uruphong recently picked up an award at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, and Agrarian Utopia continues its festival run, hitting the ongoing Taipei Golden Horse and France's 3 Continents festivals, and now the International Film Festival Bratislava.

(Via Extra Virgin, Screen Daily)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2009 ends with frightened monks, country comedy and romance

Six more Thai films remain to be released this year, with a heavy dose of country comedy and romance -- in some cases a blend of the two.

Opening tomorrow is Yom-Pee-Poa (โยมผีพ่อ), a comedy produced by Pacific Island Film, about a cheeky novice Buddhist monk who is haunted by his ghost dad (Charnnarong Khantheetao), who wants the boy to find his mother. Ghost dad grows to terrifying heights, to hilarious effect as can be seen in the trailer, embedded above. So there is lots of running around and screaming from a cast of the usual comedians, including Apaporn Nakhon Sawan and Naowarat Yuktanun.

On December 3, taking over the slot for the auspicious December 5 holiday weekend for His Majesty the King's birthday and Father's Day is Yam Yasothon 2 (แหยม ยโสธร 2), comedian Mum Jokmok's sequel to his colorful 2005 country comedy.

The story, still set in rural Thailand sometime in the 1960s or '70s, takes place many years after the first installment. Mum's character Yam is now a civil servant and the graying, shotgun-toting father of teenagers, with his daughter -- played by his actual daughter Em Busarakam Wongkamlao -- being courted by a young man who's portrayed by "Dim" Harin Suthamjaras from the rock group Tattoo Color.

Janet Khiew is back as Yam's wife. Mum's son Mick Paytai and comedienne "Tukkie" Sudarat Butrprom also figure into the cast.

The costume design for this sequel is even more colorful, so blazing in fact, I fear many burned-out retinas. Check out the trailer embedded below.

Closing out the year will be four romance films.

First up on December 10 is the ensemble romantic comedy Pai In Love (ปายอินเลิฟ), which takes place in northern Thailand's hippie retreat, Pai. The cast includes Ray MacDonald.

More beautiful settings come in the drama October Sonata (รักที่รอคอย), with Rak/Sam/Sao's Koy Ratchawin playing the romantic interest for a young leader of the student activists in the October 1973 democracy demonstrations ("Pope" Thanavat Vatthanaputi). Apart from having potentially contentious political matters as a backdrop, the lovers meet at the October 8, 1970 funeral of Mitr Chaibancha and vow to meet again in subsequent Octobers. It's directed by veteran screenwriter Somkiat Vithuranich, who wrote the screenplay for Ai Fak and co-directed the doggie comedy Mid-Road Gang. Produced by NGR, October Sonata is set to open on December 23.

December 30 sees the release of another romantic drama, As It Happens (บังเอิญ...รักไม่สิ้นสุด), which appears to be a globe-trotting love story that on the surfaces seems similar to GTH's Dear Galileo, released earlier this year.

And on December 31 there will be the romantic comedy 32 December (32 ธันวา). This is the first production from M39 Pictures, the new joint venture by former crew of RS Film's Avant studio and distributor M Pictures. Directed by Rerkchai Paungpetch (Noodle Boxer), it stars Dan Worrawech as a guy with amnesia who falls in love with three women. The supporting cast includes "Nong" Choosak Iamsuk and "Saipan" Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, with yet another radical hairstyle.

Blu-ray and DVD releases set in US and UK for Ong-Bak 2

Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning is coming to Blu-ray and DVD in the US. The release is set for February 2. Amazon has a listing.

Extras are said to include HDNet: A Look at Ong Bak 2, behind-the-scenes, making-of, interviews with cast and crew including Tony Jaa and "never-before-seen footage" from the upcoming Ong-Bak 3.

The UK release is set for January 2 February 15. Check it at and

This would be a fabulous movie for Blu-ray viewing. Too bad it's not coming out before Christmas.

(Via Kung Fu Cinema and thanks to Logboy!)

Syndromes and a Century tops TIFF's decade list

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century has been named the best film of the decade in a critics poll by the Toronto International Film Festival Cinematheque.

The movie that was censored in Thailand continues to be hailed by critics worldwide.

In fact, three of Apichatpong's films are on the list. His 2004 Cannes Jury Prize-winning drama Tropical Malady is at No. 6, and 2003's Cannes Un Certain Regard winner Blissfully Yours is at No. 13.

The rankings are based on a poll of more than 60 film experts -- curators, historians, archivists and programmers. Films that got the same number of votes are tied in the same ranking.

Apichatpong shares space with such names as Jia Zhang-ke, Wong Kar Wai, Jean Luc-Godard, David Cronenberg and Gus Van Sant on a list the Globe and Mail calls "either the best examples of film art of the decade or a cinema snob's top cocktail-party namedroppers." Here it is:

  1. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand) - 53 votes
  2. Platform (Jia Zhang-ke, Hong Kong, China/China/Japan/France) - 49 votes
  3. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke, China) - 48 votes
  4. Beau travail (Claire Denis, France) - 46 votes
  5. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, China) - 43 votes
  6. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, France/Thailand/Germany/Italy) - 38 votes
  7. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania) and Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, Hungary) - 35 votes
  8. Éloge de l'amour (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/ France) - 34 votes
  9. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania) - 33 votes
  10. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands) - 32 votes
  11. Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Germany) - 31 votes
  12. The New World (Terrence Malick, USA) - 30 votes
  13. Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, France/Thailand) - 29 votes
  14. Le Fils (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France) - 27 votes
  15. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland) - 25 votes
  16. Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (Agnès Varda, France), In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, Portugal/Germany/Italy/Switzerland) and Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson, Sweden/Denmark/Norway) - 24 votes
  17. Caché (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany/Italy), A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, USA), Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, France/USA) and Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan) - 23 votes
  18. Rois et reine (Arnaud Desplechin, France) - 21 votes
  19. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, USA) - 20 votes
  20. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain) - 19 votes
  21. The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France) and YI YI (A One and a Two) (Edward Yang, Taiwan/Japan) - 18 votes
  22. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Spain) - 17 votes
  23. L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France), The Heart of the WorldI Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France/Austria) and Star Spangled to Death (Ken Jacobs, USA) - 16 votes
  24. The World (Jia Zhang-ke, China/Japan/France) - 14 votes
  25. Café Lumière (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Japan), The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/Spain/France/Italy), L'Intrus (Claire Denis, France), Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan/France), My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada), Saraband (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden), Spirited Away (Hiyao Miyazaki, Japan) and I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, USA) - 13 votes
  26. Gerry (Gus Van Sant, USA) - 12 votes
  27. Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey), Dogville (Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/UK/France/Germany) and The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, USA) - 11 votes
  28. Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/France) and demonlover (Olivier Assayas, France) - 9 votes
  29. Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada) and Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan) - 8 votes
  30. Longing (Valeska Grisebach, Germany), Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea), Vai e Vem (João César Monteiro, Portugal) and Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA/France) - 7 votes
(Via CBC, IndieWire)

Thailand's first Emmy nominee

The International Emmy Awards were handed out on Sunday night, with 41 nominees from 17 countries competing in 10 categories.

Among them was a first-time nomination from Thailand. It was Lharn Phoo Koo E-Joo (หลานปู่กู้อีจู้), an entry in the Children and Young People category.

Lharn Phoo Koo E-Joo is produced by Work Point Entertainment and is broadcast on Channel 7. It's hosted by ubiquitous TV personality Panya Nirankul.

In the clip on the International Emmys website (I couldn't embed it for some reason), a boy wearing blinder goggles tries to describe one of his teachers to his grandfather, who has to pick the woman out of a line up. The comedy factor is upped by the fact the teacher is a farang -- a white-skinned foreigner. A person's physical appearance is always good for a laugh.

More humor is mined from the boy's and the grandfather's clumsy attempts to speak English and extract a nugget of information from the teacher -- what is her favorite food?

Lharn Phoo Koo E-Joo didn't win an Emmy. The prize went to the biggest winner this year, Britain, for Dustbin Baby.

More examples of Lharn Phoo Koo E-Joo can be found at the Work Point website, some of which feature popular comedian "Tukkie" Sudarat Butrprom.

Other nominees from Southeast Asia came from the Philippines. Angel Locsin was up for an actress award for The Wolf from ABS-CBN. And two Filipino telenovellas were nominated in that category, Magdusa Ka from the GMA Network and A Time for Us from ABS-CBN. The Singapore-produced The Amazing Race Asia, a staple on AXN Asia, was up for a prize in Non-Scripted Entertainment.

The winners are listed at the International Emmys website.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a story.

(Via AFP)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

He's 'The Prince of Red Shoe'

Ever heard of Nathan Oman? He's a big fake who's now in real trouble.

Earlier this year, Nathan -- singer, actor, writer, tour guide -- said he'd been in the Arabian desert, shooting The Prince of Red Shoe, an epic fantasy adventure, based on his own life as an orphaned half-Thai, half-Nepalese child. Bruce Willis and Christina Ricci co-starred and it was directed by Wolfgang Peterson. Twentieth Century Fox was producing.

Thai entertainment journalists eagerly lapped up the story. Back in May, The Nation even visited Nathan at the Bangkok cafe he supposedly co-owns, and did a glowing profile piece and restaurant review for its Sunday edition. Don't bother looking. The Nation doesn't put stories from its Sunday features section online.

Cracks in Nathan's story started to appear in July, when "detectives" said they couldn't find anything about this huge movie project on IMDb. Fox denied there was a project.

The house of cards that Nathan Oman built has come crashing down. His name, his age, his ethnic background are fabrications. He's just another poor Thai guy with bleached hair who's unhappy inside his own skin.

And now he's facing serious legal hassles over various deals involving -- what else? -- money.

I have hesitated mentioning this guy -- a fake celebrity who revels in the drama and thrives on any kind of publicity.

It's obvious that Nathan Oman is hoping that someone will make a movie about him, or maybe offer him a reality-TV show. And somebody probably will. And people will watch it.

If it becomes a movie, make it a documentary. And I could only hope it will be fair and lay the truth bare for all to see.

But that probably won't be the way it works out.

Bangkok of the Mind has been diligently covering the Nathan Oman saga. Bkkdreamer's latest posting summarizes the story so far.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Retrospective for Pen-ek at Kerala International Film Festival

It's film-festival season in India. In the second of two reports, Lekha Shankar looks at the Kerala International Film Festival's retrospective for Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who's had a busy year on the festival circuit with his latest feature, Nymph.

Story by Lekha J. Shankar

With no sleek multiplexes, no state-of-the art sound systems, red carpets or wine-and-dine galas, the International Film Festival of Kerala attracts the highest number of movie audiences to its annual festival in the state captial Trivandrum. This is a festival of hard-core cinema for hard-core cinema audiences, who throng from every corner of the state to revel in the 200-odd films.

One of the highlights of the 14th IFFK is a retrospective on Pen-ek Ratanaruang.

“Pen-ek represents a new generation of filmmakers from Asia who are redefining ideas about Asian cinema, and using a modern idiom, both rooted and yet universal," says festival director Bina Paul Venugopal, who has chosen to screen five of Pen-ek's films -- 2001's romantic comedy-drama Monrak Transistor, his two films with Japanese superstar Asano Tadanobu, lensed by the inimitable Christopher Doyle, Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves, his arresting domestic drama of 2007 Ploy and his latest film, the spooky ghost-tale Nymph.

Nymph will also go to the Dubai International Film Festival, December 9 to 16, where it's in competition.

Before Kerala, Nymph is showing at the Black Nights Film Festival in Talinn, Estonia, where Pen-ek will serves on the jury for the main EurAsia competition and Nymph cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong is on the Tridens Baltic feature film competition.

Meanwhile, Pen-ek says he was looking forward to his first trip to India, and hoped he could combine sightseeing, with movie-watching in lush Kerala.

Update: Nymph is also in competition at Tokyo FilmEx, running until November 29.

Retrospective for Nonzee at the International Film Festival of India

It's film-festival season in India. In the first of two reports, Lekha Shankar looks at the retrospective for Nonzee Nimibutr and the other Thai films in the lineup of Goa's International Film Festival of India.

Story by Lekha J. Shankar

India's biggest film festival, the International Film Festival of India starts on Monday and runs until December 3, and like last year, this year's IFFI has a big Thai film package.

One of the highlights of the festival will be a retrospective of Nonzee Nimibutr's work. Five of his features will be shown, his 1997 debut about 1950s teenage gangsters, Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters, 1999's ghost drama Nang Nak, Jan Dara, the Thai-Hong Kong production that caused much controversy for its sex scenes, OK Baytong, which dealt with the religious unrest in southern Thailand, and the pirate fantasy Queens of Langkasuka, his most expensive film, which was screened at the Venice Film Festival but bombed at the domestic box office.

Nonzee, who is currently shooting his second TV serial Metta Mahaniyom for Channel 3 in Pranburi, after the big success of his last TV drama, the action-packed Din Nahm Lom Fire, will attend the grand opening of the Goa festival, which is expected to be attended by many celebrities, including Bollywood stars.

Thai glamour will come from dynamic stage and screen actress "May" Patravarin Timkul, who stars in Jan Dara.

Nonzee has been to many festivals in India. In fact, Nang Nak won a prize at IFFR in 1999.

But for May, this is her first trip, and she says she’s very excited. “It’s an honor and pleasure to attend this important Indian festival!”

Another Thai film will be Yongyoot Thongkongtoon’s Best of Times, which is this year's Thai Oscar entry. The veteran producer-director for GTH will also attend the festival.

There will be Thanit Jitnujkul’s Samchuk, the heart-warming drama about a teacher reforming a bunch of drug-addicted students. Benjarat Vittayathep, of production house Pacific Island Films will attend.

Also showing will be Torpong Tankamhaeng’s debut feature Memory Rak Long, the psychological drama starring Ananda Everingham and Mai Charoenpura.

Actress Mai, an Indophile, was very sorry she could not attend the festival, as she was busy shooting a new film with Meat Grinder director Tiwa Moeithaisong.

However, Memory director Torpong says he's excited to attend his first international film festival.

Last year, top Thai stars Ananda Everingham, Jeed Sangtong Ket-Uthong, Akara Amarttayakul and Krissada Sukosol attended the IFFR, along with a big line up of Thai films, The Coffin, A Moment in June, Muay Thai Chaya, Chocolate and First Flight.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: Vanquisher (Suay ... Samurai)

  • Directed by Manop Udomdej
  • Starring Sophita Sribanchean, Kessarin Ektawatkul, Jacqueline Apithananont, Saranyu Wongkrachang, Pete Thongchua
  • Released in Thai cinemas on November 5, 2009; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

When he set out to make Vanquisher, director Manop Udomdej might have had a globe-trotting, labyrinthine, intrigue-filled political thriller like Syriana in mind.

But about all Vanquisher and Syriana have in common is a CIA agent named Bob, who in this case is not played by George Clooney.

Involving sword-wielding Thai operatives for the CIA pitted against their American former handler and a terrorist who may or may not be a double agent, the message seems to be that the Americans are fomenting the violence in southern Thailand and want to see an escalation so they can expand their war on terrorism to Southeast Asia.

Which is ridiculous.

There's a scene of a market bombing in a southern town. But the reasons for the terrorist acts and the southern separatist movement are not addressed in Vanquisher's flurry of bad acting, strangely accented English, close-quarters action scenes and cheesy CGI.

And when one of the movie's trailer-worthy scenes involves the lead actress unzipping her jacket to reveal her guns popping out of a tight tank top, and the camera panning around above the actress as it leers down into that cleavage canyon, well any serious notions there were about this movie are dispelled.

Sophita Sribanchean stars as Genja, am extremely fit and action-hungry young policewoman who volunteers for duty with a Thai-US task force. In a rain-drenched training sequence, Genja shows her skills as a swordswoman and martial artist, besting her male assailants while precipation flings from her swinging ponytail. She impresses Sirin ("Nui" Kessarin Ektawatkul), the Thai spy agency's lead fighter, as well as Claire (Jacqueline Apithananont), the CIA's handler.

Genja and the Thai-American team are then sent to southern Thailand to capture a blue-eyed foreign Muslim terrorist leader, but in the confusion of the operation, the members of the Thai team, including Genja and Sirin, are left behind and are presumably blown up by Claire, who has been ordered to destroy all traces of the operation called "Vanquisher", because evidence of it and the CIA's ties to Muslim terrorists could prove to be damaging.

But a year or so later, Genja and Sirin are back at their regular jobs, running around Bangkok, free with no explanation of how they survived. Whose side they are on and what they are fighting for seems less important when there are cool action sequences to get out of the way.

Like an army special-forces unit using off-road motorcycles to attack terrorists in a rubber plantation. The bikes have two people on them. As one soldier drives, another stands on the back with an assault rifle, hosing down anyone who runs.

There's one decent fight between Sirin and a sword-wielding Japanese operative. Taekwondo champ Nui Kessarin from Born to Fight is the only real martial-arts star in this movie and though she appears in most scenes, her talents are pretty well wasted.

The star, Fon Sophita, looks fierce enough, but most of her cool moves appear to be assisted by a rope and harness.

Chewing up the scenery is the nostril-flaring Jacqueline Apithananont from Queens of Langkasuka. Like her role in The Bodyguard 2, she again plays a CIA agent, but is a dirty one. Because Claire is American, Jacqueline has to speak English and she appears to have taken her acting cues from her co-star in early scenes, Nicholas Snow, who as CIA supervisor Bob says his lines in a weirdly halting manner, as if he's trying out for William Shatner's role in a reboot of TJ Hooker.

Poor Jacqueline takes things a step further, totally mangling her lines. Rather than call for another take, director Manop just keeps rolling, making for one of the many bits of unintentional comedy that give Vanquisher its odd charm.

And speaking of scenery chewing, there's also Pete Thongchua, back in the movie business for the first time since 2002's Los Angeles-set Province 77. He brings a certain world-weary heaviness to his role as a yakuza mobster's chief enforcer, who somehow gets mixed up in the plot.

Plot? Oh, that's something having to do with Saranyu Wongkrajang, cast as a Thai Muslim terrorist, who is planning to set off a large explosion that will level Bangkok. Or something.

It culminates in a riot of CGI blood sprays as the sword-wielding female agents hack and slash their way through an endless supply of ninjas in a series of murkily rendered action scenes. As far as I could tell, there was no explanation as to why these Thai women are carrying feudal-period Japanese swords in 21st century Bangkok. They just are. And that's okay.

Manop might have had something a good deal more serious in mind when he first started on Vanquisher -- Thai title Suay ... Samurai (สวย...ซามูไร), literally "beautiful samurai" -- more than two years ago. The troubled production lost one of its actresses, "Amy" Chotiros Suriwong, when the young starlet wore a scandalously revealing dress when she presented trophies at 2007's Thailand National Film Awards. Executive producer Somsak Techaratanaprasert ordered all scenes with Amy scrubbed from the film.

Maybe those were all the scenes that would have made this movie make sense.

Related posts:

Review: The Scout

  • Directed by Pleo Sirisuwan
  • Starring Narathit Namkang, Pimpawee Kreuangsai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 29, 2009; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

An labored exercise in anti-climax, The Scout (Bit Pi-pop Ta-lu Lohk, บิดพิภพทะลุโลก) is a kid-friendly adventure yarn about children who enter an ancient temple and have to run from a giant snake and flying fanged toads.

The kids are pretty stereotypical. There's a new kid in school, Odd, who's arrived with a chip on his shoulder. He's befriended by another outcast, the skinny bespectacled nerd, Ball. Minnie, precocious girl class president hits Odd up for votes in the next election. Making life miserable for them all is the overweight bully Berm, who is bigger than all the other kids in his class because he's stupid and has had to repeat a grade.

The four bond on a Scouts' camping trip (in Thailand, girls are also in the Scouts), and on a dare from the fat kid they decide to check out a nearby temple to see if the legends they've read about there being a big snake are true.

Well, yes, they are true, just like in the guidebook they have, which was written by Dr. William (Yano Kazuki), who has been missing for years. And after the kids step through a secret doorway, it becomes sealed until an eclipse. And right away the giant snake is introduced so that there is really nowhere to go except to have to come back to that giant snake.

That is if they can outrun the slobbering fanged toads with bat wings that swarm around and are generally fun to watch.

Through the passages of the temple, the kids learn valuable lessons about one another -- girls and skinny nerds are a lot tougher than they appear and fat bullies are actually sensitive about their weight. And the new kid in town is still the new kid in town. To get out of the temple and past that giant snake, they'll all have to work together.

More fanciful CGI critters might have improved an otherwise dull story. But director Pleo Sirisuwan and his special effects supervisor and co-writer Parkpoom Suwatipanich probably gave us all they could with whatever budget they were working with for the Logo production house.

Pleo previously directed the insane genre-hopping jungle-fantasy-crime-drama-horror cult hit Vengeance. That one had no end of weird and wonderful CGI creations, and probably a bigger budget. Fans hoping for more of the same with The Scout will be disappointed. So be prepared.

Related posts:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Short documentary looks at threat to Thailand's 'train market'

With the Science Film Festival going on in Bangkok right now -- yes, yet another film festival -- one of the entries that caught my eye is A Mirror of a Living Train Market (กระจกสะท้อนวิถีชีวิตชาวตลาดรถไฟ), a five-minute documentary produced by the MCOT TV station Modernine.

It's about the famous (or infamous) "train market" on the Mae Klong Railway.

Here is the synopsis:

This story tells about Payao’s life who works as a vendor at the train market in western city of Samut Songkhram where the provincial authorities plan to rebuild the permanent market for buyers’ safety and rail traffic control. She does not want to change this distinguished market. What Payao, the provincial authorities and the train official eye this living train market--- all opinions--- are like aspects of a mirror reflecting the movement and cycles of the market.

Among railfans and tourists, the Mae Klong train market is one of Thailand's most unique sites.

There are lots of videos about it on YouTube. I've posted a short clip above, just to offer a glimpse of the phenomenon of a market that is conducted on the very railbed of this historic railway, with vendors calmly pulling back their awnings and merchandise to let the train through. Once the train is passed, the awnings fold back out and the market returns to doing a bustling business.

The Mae Klong line was inaugurated in 1904. It runs from Wong Wian Yai in Thonburi to Mahachai. Passengers wishing to continue to Mae Klong must take a ferry across a river. Making this connection can be pretty tough or impossible, as detailed in this trip report on, which also has extensive information about the line. Little has changed about it over the years, except for perhaps the move from steam to diesel locomotives.

Not surprisingly, this quaint railway and the market have been under threat for quite sometime, with the authorities wanting the market to move as they make plans to refurbish the dilapidated train line.

A Mirror of a Living Train Market is showing several times during the festival, which I think is geared for schoolkids, but maybe the general public is welcome. I am not sure it has subtitles. The schedule is all in Thai, but I've managed to find a suitable screening time at 4pm on Sunday at TK Park in CentralWorld.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This is Bang Rajan! and Deknang have stunning first images from Bang Rajan 2 (บางระจัน 2), Thanit Jitnukul's sequel to his 2000 battle epic, which is being produced by Phranakorn Film.

The stills follow a teaser that was posted last month.

It'll be the biggest thing done yet by Phranakorn, which is breaking into the international marketplace while also still churning out the modestly-budgeted country comedies and ghost stories that have done well at the domestic box office.

Twitch's Todd Brown points out that there is a 300-like feel to the stills. And perhaps that is that patriotic "HA-OOH!" feeling that Thanit is going for as he reboots this Alamo-like story of a tiny village that sacrifices itself to holds off the Burmese hoardes.

One thing though, where are the water buffalo?

Update: That's Thai tennis ace Paradorn Srichaphan (ภราดร ศรีชาพันธุ์) making his movie debut. And Photoshopped stills are already making rounds on the Pantip forum.

Black Belt Jones does Thailand in Hot Potato

Along with Emmanuelle in Bangkok, another movie from 1976 that the Thailand Film Office would probably rather people forgot about is Hot Potato, an exploitive action vehicle for martial-arts star Jim Kelly that was filmed in Chiang Mai.

Only reason I mention Hot Potato now is because it's making the rounds on Cinemax, playing at 8 tonight Bangkok time, and I have a cool picture to go with these words.

I don't subscribe to cable and I am not equipped for the heavy lifting it would take to obtain the movie. So I've never seen it. And I'm only familiar with Jim Kelly through his role in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. There, the Afro-coiffed actor was cast as Williams, a super-tough smooth-talking ladies man who's on the run after beating up a pair of white cops who were hassling him. He steals their police car and high-tails it for the tournament on Han's Island.

According to Wikipedia, Hot Potato was filmed in Chiang Mai and is a sequel to Black Belt Jones, which was Kelly's first film as a lead character following the break-out success of Enter the Dragon. In Hot Potato, Jones is sent to "Chang Lan, a fictional country somewhere in east Asia" along with a motley crew of mercenaries to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a senator or an ambassador.

The Wikipedia entry claims it is "one of 'the worst martial arts movies ever made'", and cites IMDb as the source. It could at least be diverting ironic viewing.

For me, I got enough of a taste in a short highlights reel on YouTube.

As the world crumbles, Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story sets a record

Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story's four-week hold on the top spot of the Thai box office was broken over the weekend by the Hollywood disaster flick 2012, which had lines of people snaking through the lobby of the giant Paragon Cineplex.

As the thunderous sound effects of Roland Emmerich's latest Earth-destroying epic resonated throughout multiplexes and disrupted quieter films, BT(L)S had bosses at studio GTH celebrating -- the winsome romance with the Thai title Rot Fai Faa ... Maha Na Ter earned more than 140 million baht, topping the studio's previous biggest box-office smash, 2003's Fan Chan.

According to Nangdee, Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story was still in second place at the Thai box office and earned a total of 144.7 million baht.

The previous week, BT(L)S had been No. 1, topping Michael Jackson's This Is It, which has had a weak showing in Thailand compared to the rest of the world.

Sahamongkol's ghost-story omnibus Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities) was out of the Top 5 this past weekend. Previously it had been at No. 4.

Other Thai films playing include Sahamongkol's action-heroine vehicle Suay ... Samurai (Vanquisher), which was released on November 5 and didn't crack the top five. It's largely been pushed out of central Bangkok's flagship multiplexes but can still be found in a few scattered screenings in places like EGV Metropolis, Century the Movie Plaza and perhaps the UMG RCA.

Also performing poorly here was Five Star's blood-soaked serial-killer thriller Slice (Cheuan), which only cracked the top 5 but will probably get a better reception from festival audiences next year. If not already, Slice will soon be playing in the second-class theaters -- perfect places to see that one.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Agrarian Utopia harvests award in Toronto

The 13th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday, with Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia winning the Best Narrative Feature Film or Video Award (with an honorable mention to Nakamura Yoshihiro's Fish Story). Uruphong was present for the closing gala and awards ceremony.

Movie Moxie was there to capture the ceremony on video.

It continues to be a busy year on the festival circuit for this beautiful experimental documentary. Other recent festival appearances include the Mumbai Film Festival, the AsiaticaFilmMediale in Rome, CPH:DOX in Copenhagen and the Mar del Plata International Film Festival. It is screening in the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, which runs until November 26. Coming up, Agrarian Utopia will be in the Festival of 3 Continents in Nantes, France from November 24 to December 1. And it's a nominee for the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards that will be handed out on November 26 in Gold Coast, Australia.

(Photo via Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival; info from Extra Virgin)

WFFBKK '09: Final notes

The 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok thudded to a mellow bass-heavy end on Sunday night, with the outdoor screening of Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, a documentary on the artists of the Jamaican musical genre that built the bridge from the frenetically upbeat ska to the laid-back reggae.

Directed by Stascha Bader, the Swedish-Canadian production caught the star Jamaican recording artists of the mid-1960s as they recorded a 40th anniversary greatest-hits album and put on a reunion concert. The artists included pianist Gladstone Anderson, who with Hopeton Lewis, slowed down the ska beat to make rocksteady for the first rocksteady tune, "Take It Easy". Others were Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, Leroy Sibbles, booming-voiced Derrick Morgan, superb guitarist Ernest Ranglin, Dawn Penn and I-Threes, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, and, in a special appearance, Rita Marley. The songs are all strikingly familiar, like "The Tide Is High", which was first recorded by the Paragons in 1966 but became a big hit for Blondie in the 1980s. Griffiths gives it a powerful reading in the film, which shows her on tour in the US. Other songs that resonated are well-known because they appear on the soundtrack to the cult musical crime drama "The Harder They Come". These include "Stop the Train", "Shantytown (007)" and "By the Rivers of Babylon".

The change in venue to Discovery Plaza was a big improvement over last year's, when the Rolling Stones' concert film Shine a Light was marred by the blinding flashing billboard of Parc Paragon that can't be shut off for less than 1 million baht. At Discovery Plaza, the lack of a breeze made it sweaty, but if you just sat and chilled, it was okay. Free beer kept the crowd lubricated. Smoking isn't allowed, otherwise there probably would have been a certain kind of smell in the air.

It was a celebratory end to the festival, and a great way for the festival staff to relax after being cooped up for 10 days in the harsh environment of the Paragon Cineplex. And it was also another chance to experience the culture of outdoor movies in Thailand and watch the projectionists in action. If you missed it, you can watch a reel change in a YouTube clip (embedded below).

A story in Monday's Daily Xpress/The Nation details the closing event, which included the crowd-warming Celebrity Lookalike contest. See, there's no need to fly in celebrities when you can create your own.

Attendance this year was about the same as past years, with I guess an average of around 50 people attending each show. Some movies were packed, while others just had a handful of "mostly crazy people" watching.

Movies that were well attended included this year's Lotus Award honoree Tsai Ming-liang's Face, the public screening of Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History and Olivier Boonjing's Somewhere Between Here and Now. The Belgian-Thai director did a grassroots marketing campaign, in which he worked the backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road and passed out fliers in the theater lobby, urging people to see his romantic drama.

Other wrapups of the festival include Limitless Cinema, which also has a poll, and from Film Sick.

My own top 5 of films I saw for the first time at the World Film Festival of Bangkok are:

Criticisms of the fest that continue to niggle are the lack of Thai subtitles, which festival organizers conceded would help attract bigger audiences. But the festival's corporate sponsors, Nation Multimedia, have yet to come through with a budget for that massive undertaking, and I suppose we are lucky to have the festival at all.

Another criticism I heard was about the venue -- Paragon Cineplex is too loud and too crowded. The big drawback is that festival audience had to jockey through massive lines of people dying to see 2012, so perhaps a dedicated queue for festival-goers would help speed people through.

Monday, November 16, 2009

WFFBKK '09: Capsule reviews part 4

CalArts Shorts: Portrait Documentaries from Women's Perspective

This is a compilation of five shorts by women directors, curated by filmmaker Sompot "Boat" Chidgasornpongse (Diseases and a Hundred-Year Period), who is attending the California Institute of the Arts and is working on his thesis.

  • Hollywood by Stephanie Owens (US) -- This is a portrait of a town's local character, a gregarious woman named Hollywood who is obsessed with Hollywood and NASCAR. She does paintings and drawings and mugs for the camera. Delightfully diverting. I wonder what Hollywood thought about it being in black and white?
  • Eight Women by Laura Bouza (US) -- Eight women, now in their 80s, who in the 1960s formed a housewives' modern dance group, the Confettis, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They achieved top levels of professionalism and recognition in the dance world, and could have toured all over, but they stayed local so they could continue to raise their families. Amazing women.
  • Me Broni Ba (My White Baby) by Akosua Adoma Owusu (Ghana/US) -- An experimental look at hair salons in Ghana, and the elaborate and laborious woven hair extensions that culminates in a look at girls and women practicing hairdressing on discarded white dolls. Very cool.
  • Speech Memory by Caroline Key (US) -- Through an interview with her father, the director details the life of her dead grandfather -- a deaf-mute Korean born in Japan during its occupation of Korea and who communicated through Japanese sign language. Interesting and traumatic.
  • The Wet Season by Brigid McCaffrey and Ben Russell (US/Suriname) -- Back to Africa. This experimental portrait of life in a farming village has a fractured narrative and long, staring takes.

The first two were accessible and were bridged by the experimental Me Broni Ba (my favorite). The package becomes increasingly challenging in terms of difficulty for general audiences but more in line with what festival-goers and programmers would expect and like. (5/5)

Colors of Our Hearts by Supamok Silarak (Thailand) -- This was a repeat for view for me. This docudrama look at the lives of minorities and migrant workers in Thailand blew me away when I first saw it back in June. I wanted to watch it again to see if it was still as powerful as I thought. It was, maybe even more. The audience reaction was highly favorable, and a lively Q&A followed, in which a man hijacked the microphone to a disagree with one question/statement about how and why Burmese and minority women are ending up in the sex trade in Thailand. Another woman broke down in tears during her question. The plan for this film, produced by the Friends Without Borders organization in Chiang Mai, is to show it to minority communities and maybe rights groups. Hopefully it'll be available on DVD in a year or so from the Friends Without Borders website. (5/5)

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and I Forgot the Title by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Christelle Lheureux (Thailand/Italy/France) -- Nabua, Nakhon Phanom is a small northeastern Thai village that in 1965 was occupied by the Thai military in a brutal and deadly anti-communist purge. Apichatpong film his multi-channel Primitive art project there and Boonmee is an overview. The camera floats around the village while village men voiceover a letter to Apichatpong's reincarnated uncle, in which the project is explained. Primitive ends in Liverpool on November 29 and in Paris until January 3. I want to get on a plane right now and see it, but I can't, so Uncle Boonmee will have to do for now. I Forgot the Title is equally beguiling, with an abstract look at a man roaming the blackened landscape of a volcano cone who finds a woman up there. They are meant to be Marcello Mastroianni, with his impeccably tailored suit and silver-haired charm, and the delicate Ingrid Bergman, incongruous to the smoking, otherworldly scenery. Apichatpong and Lheureux were collaborating filmmakers on the Ghost of Asia segment of the Tsunami Digital Short Films project in 2005 and are reunited in this pairing of their short films, mainly because they fit together in a 90-minute timeslot. (5/5)

Flooding in the Time of Drought by Sherman Ong (Singapore) -- This 158-minute experimental docudrama is compiled from an eight-channel art installation that was shown at the Singapore Biennale. It deals with eight couples, mostly living in Singapore's HDB apartments. They are various nationalities and ethnic backgrounds -- Mainland Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Filipino, Thai, Italian, Singaporean and pan-Asian. The backdrop for their stories is a water shortage that is gripping the city and causes everyone a lot of anxiety about the economy and living in Singapore. Even when it's raining, people are still short of water because there is no capacity to capture the seasonal heavy downpours. Many want to get out, but have no place else to go. Others want to get in, and will do almost anything for citizenship. They sit around in their apartments and talk. Their stories are surreal, but amazingly they are based, at least in part, on real-life situations. Probably the weirdest episode is also different because it is the only one not set in the HDB flats -- it's in a grand house with a swimming pool, showing the great disparity between the wealthy and the ordinary. And they are Thai characters. This soap-opera episode involves a young man who arrives at the house. The lady tells him to wear women's clothing when he sleeps, because many Thai men in Singapore have died from sleeping-death syndrome, thought to be caused by a ghost that preys on men. Does the ghost get him? Well, you'll have to try to catch this at another festival -- it's headed to Rotterdam -- to find out. (5/5)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

WFFBKK '09: More about Mundane History

Mundane History played to a packed auditorium on Thursday night at the World Film Festival of Bangkok. It was the second screening at the festival, after it had been the opening film. Thursday night's show show was more intimate. It was held in one of the regular theaters, instead of Paragon's cavernous Pavalai hall, where it had shown on opening night.

Director Anocha Suwichakornpong, producer Soros Sukhum and actors Phakpoom Surapongsanurak (Ake) and Arkaney Cherkham (Pun) were present for Thursday night's screening and they took part in a Q&A session afterward.

I think a lot of people were surprised to find out that the non-linear structure of the film came about in the editing process, in which Anocha worked with editing ace Lee Chatametikool.

Phakpoom commented that after he read the script, he had no problem doing the controversial bathtub scene.

But Arkaney, a beefy, muscular guy who plays nurse Pun, said his role was challenging. One reason is that Pun and the paralyzed Ake are more intimate than even lovers, because Pun has to attend to nearly everything for Ake -- a scene where Pun has to wash Ake, who had wet himself during the night, and another where Pun turns away while Ake urinates in a bottle -- are particularly poignant. He also said he had difficulty with the scene in which he carries Phakpoom up the stairs. Even with his huge biceps, 11 takes left Arkaney exhausted.

It's a movie well worth seeing a second time because there is so much going on in terms of symbolism. Everything means something. And I'll probably see it a third or maybe even fourth, because there are plans for at least a limited general release in Thailand, probably sometime next year. In Thailand, the film has officially been rated 20+ -- the first Thai film to receive the restrictive rating, under which viewers must be at least 20 years old and IDs must be checked at the cinema.

The film heads back out on the festival circuit next year, where it'll be in competition at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which has supported Mundane History with its Hubert Bals Fund.

One thing I've really enjoyed about Mundane is its music, by The Photo Sticker Machine and Furniture, which are both slow burn rockers. Embedded below are the two songs, a YouTube upload of Furniture's "Hush, the Dead Are Sleeping", which is used in the mind-blowing ending and an audio link to The Photo Sticker Machine's distortion-heavy "Are You Sure".

Saturday, November 14, 2009

WFFBKK '09: Capsule reviews part 3

Short Wave Program 2

This is a collection of seven shorts of differing styles from various countries.

  • Autosuggestion by Vasilis Siafakas and Chrysa Kalfi (Greece) -- I enjoyed the surrealistic art installations and performance-art pieces that were visions for a man who lives alone in an abandoned house in the woods. Is he a ghost, or are the "others" the ghosts?
  • Home by Filippi Francesco (Italy) -- This story of a woman who becomes trapped in a mysterious house has an old-timey silent-film feel to it, even though it's in color. Also, appropriately, it's shot with a webcam, though maybe Mac users will not get why.
  • Kissing Faces by Wesley Leon Aroozoo (Singapore) -- A repeat view from this year's Singapore Shorts Festival. The second time around was better for me and this story of a karaoke-bar hostess who wishes her life were like the videos.

  • Nekro by CJ Andluz (Philippines) -- Some twisted goings on at a funeral home.
  • Flashed by Julian Krubasik (Scotland) -- A photo booth has a transformative effect on a man who becomes obsessed with having his picture taken.
  • Until The Morning Comes by Lucky Kuswandy and Moonaya (Indonesia) -- I blacked out during most of this one. Sorry.
  • Kitchen Sink by Seymour Barroz Sanchez and Ginalyn Dulla (Philippines) -- The contentious history of U.S. military forces in the Philippines is relayed by radio broadcasts and newspaper headlines while the drama of a young woman and her soldier lover and a crazy woman who spies on them plays out. The story is inspired by the 2005 case of rape of a Filipina by an American soldier.
  • Click In Fear by Saikyaw Khaing (Burma/Thailand) -- This is another facet to the Burma VJ story of the Buddhist monks' protests in Rangoon in 2007 -- it's the story of a photographer who took a picture of young monk with an upturned alms bowl, which was carried worldwide by the European Press Agency and became an iconic symbol for the movement. The photojournalist, a Karen man who's left Burma for hjis own safety, weeps when he wonders what's happened to the people he photographed.

My main reason for wanting watch this package was to see Click in Fear, and they young festival staff running the screening almost didn't show it, until I told them they had skipped one of the films. So I'm glad I saw it, as it turned out to be my favorite of this batch. (4/5)

Echo from the Well: I Can Hear the Mekong Weep by Pipope Panitchpakdi (Thailand) -- Nation Group editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon travels the length of the Mekong, talking to people about how their livelihoods are being affected by the dams built by China. In Tibet, he witnesses rapidly melting snow. If there is no snow, where will the river go, and what will be the point of the dams? He meets some pretty interesting people along the way, including a communist former friend who's lived in China since the 1960s, the last king of the Tai people of Xishuangbanna (Sipsongpanna) and a old fisherman who says it's harder to haul in a day's catch. There's even a look at Thailand's folly on the Mekong's tributary, the Mun River and the Pak Mun Dam, which has not fulfilled its promise of creating electricity and in turn disrupted fishing. More than a story of the river -- lifeblood to seven countries -- it's also Suthichai's story. As scripted by The Nation's arts-and-culture editor Manote Tripathi, the 70-minute documentary (edited from a 10-hour TV mini-series) takes Suthichai back to Songkhla in southern Thailand, where he grew up on a rubber plantation, and back to the well he used to draw water from as a boy, and where he says he learned many life lessons. It's now overgrown with vegetation. The sense of community that existed around the well is being shattered by the dams on the Mekong. Suthichai says he was surprised to learn that Songkhla Lake is fed in part by distributaries that trickle down from the Mekong. (4/5)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

WFFBKK '09: Belgian-Thai director is Somewhere Between Here and Now

Olivier Boonjing is a film director based in Brussels, Belgium. He was born to a Thai mother and a Belgian father and grew up in the German-speaking part of Belgium close to Germany and the Netherlands. Since he was young, his family has, as often as they possibly could, visited their relatives in Ubon Ratchathani in northeastern Thailand, his mother's hometown. That's near an international Buddhist forest monastery. Boonjing has been living in Brussels since he was 18.

His first feature film is Somewhere Between Here and Now, which makes its international premiere as part of the Cinema Beat program of the 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok.

A trailer can be found on the film's blog. Here's a short synopsis:

Louise comes back to Belgium after a long trip in Asia, but is reluctant to go home. She postpones the moment to come home. In Brussels North Station Adrian notices Louise. He is about to leave. Instead of taking his train, he follows her. Unlike Louise, he postpones the moment to leave. What follows is a backpacking trip through Brussels at night. They are in a moment in between, not yet gone, not yet arrived, in a huge transit zone, called Brussels. A place that makes surprising encounters possible, an inter-cultural, inter-national area. How to experience the home land as a foreign country? A reflection on travel as a state of mind, and home as a feel.

Somewhere Between the Here and Now premiered at the 2009 Brussels Film Festival where it won the Telenet Prime Award of Best Film (audience award). The World Film Festival of Bangkok will be the movie's international premiere.

Reviews, at, Rogue Cinema and Quiet Earth, have been generally favorable.

Somewhere Between the Here and Now is showing at 8.15 tonight, with a Q&A session by Boonjing and members of his film's team. A second screening is on Friday at 1.15.

Bitter/Sweet and Mamee a big hit in Mumbai

The Thai-Hollywood romance Bitter/Sweet made its Asian premiere at the recent Mumbai Film Festival. Lekha Shankar was there and she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

Bitter Sweet. the Thai-American film that was a surprisingly not selected for the Bangkok International Film Festival, was a big hit at the Mumbai Film Festival, where it held its Asian premiere last week.

This year’s Mumbai fest was supported by Reliance Big Entertainment, the new entertainment wing of the mega Reliance Industries, and boasted big names like Hollywood screenwriter Paul Schrader, Theo Angelopoulis of Greece, Brilliante Mendoza of Philippines, etc.

The venue for the Bitter/Sweet screening, Fun Cinema Theatre 2, was packed to capacity with people sprawled on the floor and aisles, when lead actress Mamee Nakprasit walked in, wearing a gorgeous blue gown, accompanied by Bangkok-based Swiss producer Urs Brunner and his Thai wife Maleerat.

They watched the film with avid interest and gave a rousing ovation after the screening.

One youngster said it was her favorite film of the festival and wished more of her friends had managed to get seats for the “house-full” screening.

At a press conference following the screening, the media asked many questions about Krabi (where the film was shot), the coffee plantations of Thailand (which form the back-drop of the story) and the facilities for international film-shoots in Thailand (as this film had a big American team).

Mamee was asked if she would like to do a Bollywood film, and she agreed immediately, even singing excerpts from the Bollywood song to which she did a raunchy dance-number recently at the Superstar TV reality talent series.

Many were amused that Mamee’s name matched with the festival’s MAMI -- the festival organizer is the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image..

Producer Brunner later held a cocktail party at the Marimba Lounge adjacent to the Fun Cinema complex, which was attended by directors, programmers and media personnel.

Philip Cheah , former director of the Singapore International Film Festival and presently a programmer with the Locarno and Dubai festivals, told Mamee she “could be anything she wanted!”

Brunner and Mamee were happy to meet well-known Indian directors like Amol Palekar, Shaji Arun, Ketan Mehta and the new Bollywood box-office genius Anurag Kashyap

Mamee was in Mumbai for only two nights as she had to get back to Bangkok and rehearse Superstar. But she found time to sightsee, eat lunch at the legendary Taj Mahal Hotel and shop madly.

Meanwhile the new Director of the Mumbai festival, S Narayanan, said he would love to screen more Thai films next year.

WFFBKK '09: Capsule reviews part 2

Guts Short Programme 1

This is a collection of shorts from Thai directors.
  • The Great Dictator by Noraset Vaisayakul is inspired by Charlie Chaplin's film and it reminded me of something out of 1984 or Equilibrium, with a figurehead leader appearing in agitprop fashion to calm citizens even as the country is burning down around him. The English subtitles added playfulness, as they would be made bigger to emphasize some parts of the speech.
  • Lumphini 2552 by video artist Tomonari Nishikawa is a fast-moving montage of black and white photos of vegetation found in Bangkok's central park.
  • Man and Gravity: Plateau by Jakrawal Nilthamrong is the second of two films on a theme taken from Buddhist scripture about how possessions weigh a man down. In this one, made while Jakrawal was on a fellowship in Japan, a man tries to drag, push and pull a giant ball up a hill.
  • There's something familiar about My Mother and Her Portrait by Chaisiri Jiwarangsan, in that it includes young men holding Roman candles, shooting fireballs into the night sky, and of youths playing under a light in a field. If it seems awfully similar to recent works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it's because Chaisiri -- a stills photographer for Apichatpong's Kick the Machine -- shot his film in Nabua, Nakhon Phanom on the sidelines of Apitchatpong's Primitive project.
  • Thematically similar to the preceding short and also really cool is Now Showing by Nitipong Thinthupthai, which features boys in a village imaginatively playing violent movie action scenes. And then an outdoor film screening comes to town to show an old Red Eagle film. The boys then stage their own outdoor theater. Using an open flame to light the back of a small screen, they put on a shadow puppet show until their screen burns up. It's the end of cinema in the countryside.
  • Parallel: The Dawn, The Day, The Dusk, The Dark by Sudsiri Pui-Ock uses split-screens to place one set of railroad tracks horizontally as mirrored images, creating the effect of two sets of tracks rushing away from each other. Snaking patterns are followed as the camera clickety-clacks over the iron tracks and crossties, through switches and intersections and over trestles.
  • Spirits by Chulayarnnon Siriphol is filmed in Bangkok's Q Bar during the day, when there's hardly anybody around, but the audio is taken from perhaps the night before, and faint images of the nightclub's patrons are seen, like ghosts.
  • The Absent Island: A Soundscape Video by Marut lekphet, aka Nok Paksnavin, is filmed at dusk and into the night in a Moken (sea gypsy) village in the Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea off Phuket. It shows what goes on in a Moken village, as residents turn on their TV sets to watch Bollywood movies and Thai VCDs.
My favorites of the bunch are Now Showing and The Great Dictator (5/5 for the whole package).

I Am the Director -- Young filmmaker Nitchapoom Chaianun interviews nine directors -– five established ones and four who hope to make it big. The name players are Sakchai Deenan, Aditya Assarat, Wittaya Tong-U-Yong, Chookiat Sakveerakul and Komkrit Treewimol, with the upstart guys being Uten Sririwi, Supakit Seksuwan, Harin Paesongthai and Pitchaya Jarusboonpracha. Oftentimes hilariously contradictory, the directors talk about what makes them a good director -- they all agree EGO (the subtitles' caps, not mine) is the main thing. But how much EGO? Too much and you come off like a prick, but not enough and you won't earn any respect. I would have liked to know more about the different backgrounds of the established guys. Sakchai Deenan, for example, is a veteran but is basically only known for last year's Sabaidee Luang Prabang. What's he been doing? Aditya, director of Wonderful Town, chose to start his own production company. How's that working out compared to the guys who are in the studio system -- two of the Fan Chan six Wittaya and Komgrit at GTH and Love of Siam's Chukiat at Baa Ram Ewe/Sahamongkol? Adding context was the special treat of three of the younger directors' shorts, Resurrection (zombies!) by Harin Paesongthai, Space, the college freshy romance by Pichaya Jarusboonpracha, and The Love (pestering your grandparents while they try to sleep) by Supakit Seksuwan. (4/5)

White Days -- Similar in tone to In the House of Straw, seen at that other film festival, the experimental Singaporean feature White Days is full of existentialist musings by young people who are wondering what to do with their lives. Black and white adds to the indie aesthetic of this improvised absurdist drama about three friends. One is a young man who is obsessed with Israel. Having returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he won't shut up about it. But his friends indulge him. Maybe they are looking for inspiration. A young woman wants to leave her job in Singapore and make a pilgrimage of her own -- to the Taipei sites she's seen in the films of Tsai Ming-liang. The improvisational aspects make this a pretty daring film. Particularly brave is an extended scene where the three characters are sitting on a curb just off a busy street, just talking. Anything could have happened. Reality and performance blend, with the film's structure actually coming together in the editing process -- a credit to the creativity and skill of the debuting director, Lei Yuan Bin (Looi Wan Ping), who also edited and was cinematographer. (4/5)

A Mischievous Smile Lights Up Her Face -- At night, on a film set, in the forest, an actor and a script girl are hanging out. The audio begins, and then the man explains what is happening, saying that Alfred Hitchcock has walked out of the pet shop with a pair of white terriers. It's The Birds. You hear it, but you do not see it. In between the dialogue, the man narrates what is happening, while on screen there is a light romance developing. Directed by Christelle Lheureux, A Mischievous Smile Lights Up Her Face is intended as a film for blind people. It's a deconstructionist way of interpreting a classic film, with the result being it was actually more suspenseful in some ways than the work of the Master himself. It also makes me want to watch The Birds again, and maybe see a similar experiment done with some of my favorite films. Additionally, this would be a great double bill with Double Take. (5/5)