Monday, October 25, 2010

PIFF 2010: Great showcase for Asian and Thai cinema

Thai films again had a strong presence at the 15th Pusan International Film Festival, with Sivaroj Kongsakul's Eternity (Tee Rak) premiering in the New Currents competition, Aditya Assarat's sophomore directorial feature Hi-So making its bow, as well as The Red Eagle and The Little Comedian and Wisit's Iron Pussy short with Michael Shaowanasai making its debut as part of the Busan Project a.k.a. Camellia. Anocha Suwichakornpong came away a winner at the Pusan Promotion Plan for her in-development feature The White Room. Thai studios shopped their wares at the Asian Film Market. Leading man Ananda Everingham posed for photos with fans and hit the parties. Panit Jirawattananunt took part in the Asian Film Academy. And there was a Thai princess gracing the festival, presiding over a gala presentation of a 10-minute preview of an action film she starred in.

Lekha Shankar was there for all that, and she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha J Shankar

There’s no doubt the Pusan International Film Festival is one of the best showcases for Asian cinema, and in particular, Thai cinema.

In addition to the festival exposing them to filmmakers, programmers and distributors from around the world, the other sections of the festival have also benefited Thai filmmakers greatly, namely the Asia Cinema Fund, the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) and the Asian Film Academy.

It was exciting to meet and interact with the large Thai contingent at the festival, which almost distracted one from the dazzling range of Asian films and film personalities on view, in particular from the host country South Korea.

One met all the big names from Asian cinema – Zhang Yimou from China, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-liang from Taiwan, Ann Hui from Hong Kong, Mani Ratnam from India, Abbas Kiarostomi from Iran, not to mention Park Chan Wook, Im Kwon Taek from South Korea, as well as lots of exciting filmmakers from Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and even Kurdistan.

Not to forget big international names like Oliver Stone, Juliette Binoche and Carlos Saura.

Juliette Binoche easily stole the show, with her easy charm, spontaneous gestures and superb articulations. It was then, easy to see why she could be so effortlessly trilingual in her film Certified Copy, which won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes this year and which brought her to the Pusan festival.

Juliette set the festival on fire when she danced with wild energy at the farewell party of Kim Dong-Ho, the brilliant director of the Pusan festival who was retiring this year after a superb 15-year tenure with the festival.

Kim was proud of the many Thai directors who had been "discovered" by the festival, in particular Aditya Assarat, whose first feature Wonderful Town won the first of many international awards at Pusan.

Aditya premiered his second feature Hi-So at Pusan this year starring Ananda Everingham and two new actresses, Cerise Leang, an American actress from Singapore and Sajee Apiwong, a Fine Arts student from Chiangmai Varsity, both of whom have steamy love-scenes with Ananda.

In fact, Sajee looked quite besotted by the actor, and the two wandered around the town together.

Ananda cakewalks through his role in Hi-So, where he does little else but play himself – an "outsider" who returns to his country, works at becoming a movie star, indulges in two relationships, but finds himself always an "outsider".

"It’s Aditya's story, not mine!" laughed the actor.

Director Aditya said the film was about "disconnections".

"When I was studying in America, I was considered a Thai, and when I returned to Thailand, I was considered an American," he said.

He felt that with rapid globalisation, many individuals would soon lose this "one country" fixation.

The film is noted more for its style than substance, and Aditya's sense of visualisation is still his strength.

Hi-So was scheduled to be the opening film of the Bangkok International Film Festival in November, but one has just heard that the festival has been "postponed" to early next year.

However, the World Film Festival of Bangkok will unspool as scheduled, on November 5, with the debut film Eternity, of indie director Sivaroj Kongsakul, which was premiered at the Pusan festival too.

Sivaroj has worked earlier with Aditya Assarat (and also Apichatpong Weerasethakul), and so, it was his "mentor" Aditya who produced the film and presented the director at Pusan .

Eternity was in the competitive New Currents section, with arresting films from first and second-time directors .

Eternity moves at a slow pace, especially the opening sequence which is word-less for 15 minutes. Sivaroj uses images and sound patterns more than words, to etch out a simple tale of love, which he said was a homage to his father.

"I didn’t know him well when he was alive, and I try to re-create him in this film," said the director.

He said it was "an important first step" to screen the film at the Pusan festival, but it was also "very special" for him to screen it at the World Film Festival of Bangkok.

I want to share my film with my Thai friends, colleagues, and especially my mother," he said.

The other Thai films screened at Pusan festival were GTH’s The Little Comedian and Five Star Production's The Red Eagle.

Both these companies partook in the Asian Film Market, as well as Kantana, Oriental Eyes and others. There were many market screenings of Thai films too.

The closing film Camellia had three stories from three countries, including Thailand , which were all shot in Busan. In spite of the cold weather, a huge audience watched the open-air screening, together with a bevy of top Korean stars

The Thai segment was called Iron Pussy: A Kimchi Affair and was directed by Wisit Sasanatieng, with Michael Shaowanasai revelling in his Iron Pussy role again. It was a lively, colorful thriller, with many welcome Wisit touches that one found missing in Red Eagle.

At the post-film dinner, Wisit confessed that he did not enjoy making Red Eagle and would never make a studio film again.

Michael flaunted his designer Jim Thompson handbag, fitted with a silk Iron Pussy poster cloth!

Meanwhile Ananda confessed to his Korean audience that The Red Eagle was the toughest film he had done.

"The toughest part was shooting in the tight leather pants, in the hot weather of Bangkok," he laughed.

And after all that hard work he had put into the film, the actor still had not found time to see the film since he was busy shooting his next film, a road-movie set in Tibet.

"We may have to shoot the film in Ladakh, as it won’t be easy to shoot in Tibet," said the actor. who this writer bumped into at Seoul's Incheon airport. A huge group of Thai tourists who had travelled with this writer to Seoul by the new, budget Thailand-Korea airlines Business Air were very excited on seeing Ananda at the airport, and the actor willingly posed for pictures with them.

"All I want to do is sleep," he said on the Seoul-Busan flight as he played some wonderful meditative music on his iPad and went into a slumber.

But the Pusan festival is hardly the one where you can slumber, considering how packed with events and parties the festival is, the last one often starting at midnight.

Ananda attended the Thai Night hosted by the Ministry of Culture, where Princess Ubolratana addressed the audience, and where the trailer of her new film My Best Bodyguard was screened.

Commerce Minister Porntiva Nakasai spoke about Thailand's numerous film location sites to the large film gathering.

Among the more interesting parties, was a spectacular one at the Busan Aquarium, where the sharks and other huge fish floated over the guests’ heads, as they cooly sipped wine below. Ananda made a late-night entry at this party, with Hi-So actress Sajee, and then, with Nonzee Nimibutr (who jetted into Busan for a couple of days) went out to eat at the town’s best-known fish restaurant.

"The fish in this aquarium have made me very hungry!" he quipped.

Director Anocha Suwichakornpong, film editor Lee Chatametikool and producer Soros Sukhum, who are regulars at the Pusan festival, were seen interacting at the parties every day. Anocha won another grant of $10,000 from the PPP for the script of her new film The White Room.

The Thai Film Foundation's Chalida Uabumrungjit was on the selection committee of the Asian Cinema Fund.

A perky Thai youngster who seemed to be enjoying the festival thoroughly was Panit Jirawattananont, who had been selected for the Asia Film Academy. He said he had enjoyed every bit of his three-month stay there.

Meanwhile, at a seminar on film funds, addressed by a wide range of companies, they all said they were looking foward to getting more scripts from Thailand.

"So far I’ve got only one script from Thailand – Apichatpong’s wonderful Uncle Boonmee," said Sonja Heinen, of the Berlin festival’s World Cinema Fund. "I'd like to check out more.'

"Me too," said Santhosh Daniel of the new Global Film Initiative from the US.

Ulf Sigvardson of Sweden's Goteburg festival also said they had a cinema fund.

Are the ‘new’ Thai directors listening?

There certainly should be more Thai names in the Pusan festival's New Currents section next year

There’s no doubt that this Asian festival is the perfect springboard for young, new talents.

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