Friday, April 30, 2010

Sentencing in Bangkok film fest bribery scandal postponed over age concerns

How will prison affect 78-year-old Gerald Green?

That's what a judge wants to know in the case of a Hollywood producer couple convicted of paying bribes to a Thai official so they could run the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Set for yesterday in Los Angeles, Judge George Wu postponed the sentencing yet again. He's concerned whether Mr. Green, an emphysema sufferer who's been hooked to an oxygen bottle for his court appearances, can handle the 10 years of prison prosecutors are seeking. He's asking for doctor's reports on Green's health.

The Wrap has the story.

Gerald is the producer of such films as Salvador and the Thailand-set prisoner-of-war drama Rescue Dawn. He and his wife Patricia were convicted last year of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. They were found guilty on charges of bribery and money laundering.

The U.S. Justice Department says that from 2002 to 2006, the Greens paid $1.8 million in bribes to Juthamas Siriwan, the then-governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The payments were kickbacks in return for guarantees the Greens would run the Bangkok International Film Festival and have a hand in other TAT projects. Under Juthamas and the Greens from 2004 to 2006, the Bangkok International Film Festival gained a reputation as a glitzy, red-carpet-festooned affair, with appearances by major Hollywood stars and lavish banquets. They showed films too.

Juthamas stepped down as TAT governor in 2006. After a military coup removed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from office, Juthamas headed a political party and stood for election in 2007, but dropped out after the Greens were arrested that year.

The U.S. has indicted Juthamas, and she presumably remains at large. Somewhere. Maybe in Bangkok.

The next sentencing hearing for the Greens is now set for June 3.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Indie filmmakers, ministry set to meet over Strong Thailand funding of epic

Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Manit Sriwanichpoom are heading up an effort by independent filmmakers to protest the Thai Culture Ministry's support of the big-budget epic The Legend of King Naresuan 3 and 4.

They have set a meeting for 2pm 10am on Monday, May 3, in Conference Room 2 of the Ministry of Culture, where Deputy Permanent Secretary Apinan Posayanond will "clear up the situation", according to The Nation.

Under the Thai Khem Kaeng (ไทย เข้มแข็ง, Strong Thailand) "creative economy" scheme, the Culture Ministry plans to give 100 million baht -- half of the 200-million-baht film fund -- to support the third and fourth entries in the historical-drama franchise by veteran director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol.

The Naresuan sequels had earlier been given 330 million baht from the Commerce Ministry.

According to Apichatpong and Manit, who posted an open letter on Facebook, 295 projects were submitted for consideration to the Culture Ministry’s Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture (OCAC). Forty-nine were approved.

They say the allocation of 100 million baht for King Naresuan was not fair to the 246 projects that were not approved.

They also criticize the lack of transparency in the process and say the project-screening committee is partial, biased and unfair.

Furthermore, according to a translation of the letter by Prachatai, "it appears that a certain private film production company has received a large amount of financial support for its various movie projects."

If, according to The Nation story, the ministry doesn't provide any answers, the filmmakers will "petition the Administrative Court and National Anti-Corruption Commission to probe this case because it was viewed as an inappropriate use of tax money to benefit only specific groups of people."

Apichatpong himself has said he stands to be awarded 3.5 million baht from the fund, which would go to defray the debts he incurred to make his new feature, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which is headed for competition in the Cannes Film Festival. But the filmmaker, an honoree of the OCAC's Silpathorn Award, says he'll refuse the money until there's been an independent accounting of the fund.

Manit is an photographer, owner of Bangkok's Kathmandu Gallery and filmmaker. He co-directed the award-winning documentary on politics and southern Thailand violence, Citizen Juling.

Prince Chatrichalerm, a long-time industry figure known for his socially conscious dramas from the 1970s to the 1990s, has previously defended the funding of his latest epics.

In the Prachatai article, Apinan, former director of the OCAC, says the money was allocated to the King Naresuan movies as a show of support by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is also the chairman of the National Committee on Films and Videos. And, says Apinan, the movies’ content promotes Thai history, which is in line with the objective of the Ministry of wanting to promote love and unity in the nation.

Culture Minister Theera Slukpetch tells The Nation that the funding process was transparent but that a misunderstanding arose due to the delay of the notification of funding results to all parties and the lack of an explanation of the funding decisions to filmmakers.

The 100 million baht is being given to Naresuan on the condition that it would yield a return to the ministry for use to develop the film industry, he said.

Update: The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee says the 100 million baht would be used to film ONE SCENE -- the elephant battle between the king and a Burmese prince. "Even Avatar didn't spend 100 million baht on one scene."

Kon Thai Tin Pandin and that snake movie finally released

Two movies that had been postponed from earlier release because of Thailand's ongoing political protests finally opened today, despite that protests are still going on.

The Kantana historical epic Kon Thai Tin Pandin opened yesterday and producer Poj Arnon's snakes-in-an-apartment horror thriller Kheaw Aa-Kaard (เขี้ยว อาฆาต, The Intruder) opened in Thai cinemas today.

In production for more than three years, Kon Thai Ting Pandin (คนไท ทิ้งแผ่นดิน, The Edge of the Empire) was earlier tipped for release on April 10. Heralded as the Kantana studio's return to live-action feature films, Kon Thai deals with the Tai people of China, who according to legend migrated south and settled in what is known today as Thailand.

Poj's Khaew Aa-Kaard has been postponed three times, according to an item in The Nation's Soopsip column today.

The movie is directed by "James" Thanadol Nualsuth and "Ping" Thammanoon Sakulbunthanom. The ensemble cast includes Akara Amarttayakul and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk.

“My film is about snakes and Nong Ngu Hao,” Poj is quoted as saying in Soopsip. He's referring to "Cobra Swamp", the traditional name of the wetlands area east of Bangkok that eventually became Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok's main international gateway.

Under his Film Guru shingle, Poj produced the film for release by Phranakorn. I'm not sure exactly when its earlier openings had been planned.

“I think we should release some snakes to scare off the protesters,” Poj was quoted as saying by Soopsip.

The protests by the red-shirt anti-government group continue to occupy the Rajprasong intersection, a neighborhood of glitzy shopping malls and hotels. CentralWorld shopping center and its SFW multiplex have been shut down.

Down the street, Siam Paragon has closed some days or curtailed hours, taking another 14 multiplex screens and Bangkok's IMAX out of the equation.

The Apex cinemas in Siam Square are seeing much-reduced business.

Bangkok's skytrain, blocked by tires earlier in the week, has reduced hours.

Although the red-shirt protests do become mobile and deadly on some days, much of the rest of Bangkok outside of the Rajprasong, Siam and Silom areas continues to operate as usual. Despite travel warnings, other parts of Thailand are generally not affected and safe.

But I don't think the snakes would stand a chance on Rajprasong.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: The Scrollmaster (Nuu Gunpai)

  • Directed by Arinthawit Chomsri
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 22, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Mixing morality messages with over-the-top violence, the biographical action drama Noo Gunpai Seuk Maha Yan Ying Kan Sanan Jor (หนู กันภัย ศึกมหายันต์ ยิงกันสนั่นจอ) plays like one long public-service announcement.

Right from the beginning, there is a warning that anyone pirating the movie will be cursed, but anyone who paid to see it will be blessed forever.

So I've got that going for me.

The movie, says another message, is a fact-based account of the life of spiritual tattoo master Ajarn Noo Gunpai. But some events have been changed "for entertainment purposes".

And the best part: "Viewer discretion is advised." Always a sign of good things to come. And it is actually. Though old-fashioned and hokey in places, Noo Gunpai is entertaining and fun, though I'm still not convinced I need to get one of his tattoos.

The movie begins with documentary-style scenes from a Noo Gunpai tattoo session, where a Westerner receives a spiritual tattoo on the top of his head. Ajarn Noo then asks the man if he believes. "I believe," the man says in European-accented English. A razor-blade box cutter is drawn out and run across the man's ear, but the ear doesn't come off. Heavy swords are brought to bear down on the man's back. Pink indentations are made, but no blood is drawn.

Next we see Noo Gunpai flying into a remote jungle area in a helicopter, where disciples have been kept waiting.

Everything about this location is picture perfect, with the tattoo session set up under an ancient tree on a spit of land that juts out into a gentle waterfall on a clear, flowing river. Ajarn Noo uses an ornately sculptured golden rod with an ink-dipped needle to apply the tattoos in tiny repeated stabbing motions. The tattoo is completed by a breath of air from Ajarn's Noo's pursed lips.

A foreign TV crew is documenting the session while a pair of Thai comedians fill viewers in on Ajarn Noo's life story, how he came from a humble background, discovered his supernatural powers and grew to become a revered tattoo master who's sought out by international celebrities like Angelina Jolie.

One of the comedians, Note Chern-yim, is dressed too young in hip-hop fashion with a sideways ballcap, but instead of a large clock pendant like Flavor Flav, he's wearing an oversized haa taew (five row) scripture tablet. Even so, he doesn't really believe in the tattoos. It's just fashion he says.

And lightning strikes him. Literally. Because burnt crispy comedians are hilarious.

It's a warning to those who would scoff at the notion of tattoos that protect the wearers against blades and bullets.

And then the action flashes back to Noo's childhood in 1960s Nonthaburi, when he was a pudgy 6-year-old boy, bullied by the neighborhood toughs and unhappy with his home life, though his mother and stepfather aren't particularly mean.

He's already showing he has a supernatural gift, and is taken under the wing of the local temple's abbott. Soon the novice monk is giving yantra tattoos that prove to be more effective than prized protective amulets.

Noo Gunpai's reputation grows.

Cut to a few years later, and a neighborhood tough guy is smoking a cigarette. He'll give another guy a light off his smoke, but only if the long chunk of ash off the end is not disturbed. The would-be toker ends up in a heap on the ground, and that's a warning message about the dangers of smoking.

Teenage Noo is a samlor driver, and because of his prayers and powers, he's the most popular tricycle-taxi drivers at the market, earning him the enmity of other drivers.

This leads to the most-exciting, action-packed scenes -- a samlor chase, the likes of which I don't believe have been seen since Sammo Hung's 1989 action-comedy Pedicab Driver. There's shooting and stabbing and even explosions as a bomb-laden samlor blows up.

When Noo isn't being pursued by rival samlor drivers, he's pursuing the village beauty, but despite his incantations, he ends up heartbroken.

Cut to a few years later, the young adult Noo is still driving his samlor. He's an angry, bitter young man who's grown too cocky about his powers and is starting to abuse them.

The action climaxes in a gambling den/brothel -- let that be a warning about drinking, gambling and prostitution -- with a rough-and-tumble shoot-em-up and series of fistfights.

It sets up Tears of the Black Tiger gunfighter Suppakorn Kitsuwon as a powerful amulet-wearing rival to Noo Gunpai, who is protected from gunshots by the clearly visible squib vest underneath his T-shirt.

Veteran actor Kowit Wattanakul gets in on the action as a portly police officer.

And there's another warning to heed, which comes from Thai action-film fan James Marshall -- The Dirty Tiger:

I saw the new Ajarn Noo movie last night, Noo Gunpai and you might like to inform people it has the English title The Scrollmaster ...

What I didn't know is it's part one of two. Nobody knows when part two is coming - that was a real disappointment as all the good stuff in the trailer is waiting for part two.

They had a small promo last night and Ajarn Noo came. We waited three hours for him, he was super late! And he only stayed for five minutes, so disappointing. But they gave us a free book, badge and T-shirt for the movie.

The closing credits have scenes from the hopefully upcoming part two, mainly involving a huge shoot-out with the police, including a familiar pair of buddy cops. There's also an outtake reel of an injured stuntman.

Related posts:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tony Jaa mourns loss of his elephants

Along with concerns for the health of stuntmen who are beaten and brutalized in the name of entertainment, viewers of the "no wires, no CGI" movies of Tony Jaa might also express worry about the elephants.

According to an item in Soopsip in today's Nation, two "pet elephants" that performed in Ong-Bak 3 "succumbed to injuries sustained while filming the admittedly realistic battle scenes, which involved nearly two dozen of the beasts."

Jaa continues:

I have no elephants left – they were all I had.”

Having recently lost my pet cat of 10 years, I guess I understand a little bit about how Tony feels.

The item goes on to says that Jaa hopes to earn "a lot more money overseas and will bring the cash back to help Thai elephants in general".

According to legend, Tony Jaa and his family raise elephants on their farm in Surin, with tony learning how to somersault off the backs of elephants into the water-filled rice paddy.

The pachyderms are highly prized and receive the best of care, even has they are put to work. Photos from the set show the cast and crew praying to the elephants by way of making amends to them for the work they'll do.

A previous interview details more about the elephants, with Jaa saying he's added "more risky scenes" involving the elephant herd.

This time, we are among more than 20 elephants and we use more than 200 extras. It took 10 takes for us to get this scene right.

Training for the elephants and the 200 extras was very important. We had to postpone due to the rutting period and we had to familiarise the elephants with our body odor.

RIP Tony's elephants.

Ong-Bak 3 will be released in Thai cinemas on May 5.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Help Bitter/Sweet brew up a Thai title

The coffee-infused Thai-Hollywood romantic drama Bitter/Sweet is looking for suggestions for its Thai title.

Playing festivals and winning awards around the world for the past year, Bitter/Sweet will finally make its Thai premiere on June 11 at the Phuket Film Festival.

A Thai commercial release is also being planned and the filmmakers are looking for a title that will perk up the interests of Thai moviegoers.

They're giving away a free trip to Phuket to whoever comes up with the winning title. Details are on the Bitter/Sweet blog (ประกวด ตั้งชื่อภาษาไทยสำหรับหนังเรื่อง Bitter/Sweet).

Set on a coffee plantation in southern Thailand's Krabi Province, the movie stars Kip Pardue as an American coffee buyer who comes to Thailand to check out a crop and at first clashes with but is ultimately captivated by a fiery public-relations executive, played by Mamee Nakprasit (Art of the Devil 2 and 3). James Brolin and Spencer Garrett also star with Thai talents "Gof" Akara Amarttayakul, "Tong" Pakkaramai Potranan, Kalorin Nemayothin, Arun Whasadeewong, Viyada Umarin and Sompop Benjatikul.

The film won awards at last year's WorldFest in Houston. It played in LA's Feel Good Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Director (Jeff Hare) and Best Cinematographer (Sayombhu Mukdeeprom). Its Asian premiere was in the 11th Mumbai Film Festival. It won the Best Foreign Film award at the 3rd Mammoth Film Festival in December. Other festival appearances have included Louisville's International Festival of Film, the Naples International Film Festival and the Charleston Film Festival.

(Via the Bitter/Sweet blog)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Phuket Film Festival bags Friday Killers as closing film

The second edition of the Phuket Film Festival will close with a bang with the world premiere of Friday Killers, the first in director Yuthlert Sippapak's planned trilogy of hitman dramas.

Friday Killers (มือปืน ดาวพระศุกร์, Meu Puen Dao Prasook or Venus Hitman) is a drama starring actress Ploy Jindachote and veteran comedian Thep Po-ngam. It's the first in a trilogy that Yuthlert is producing and directing for release by Phranakorn Film, all with well-known comics paired up with leading ladies. Others due to come are Saturday Killers (มือปืน ดาวพระเสาร์) with Choosak "Nong Cha Cha Cha" Iamsuk and Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story star Cris Horwang and Sunday Killers (มือปืนพระอาทิตย์) with Kotee Aramboy and "May" Pitchanart Sakhakorn.

Here's the synopsis for Friday Killers:

Friday Killers is the story of Pae Uzi (comedian Suthep Pho-ngam) aka “The Eagle of Chantaburi”, a professional hitman who was just set free from prison. After his release, he learns for the first time he has a daughter Dao (Ploy Jindachote – actress played lead role with William Hurt and Cary Elwes in the supernatural thriller Shadows). The tables are turned on Pae when his daughter tries to kill him because she thinks that he killed the only father that she knew.

The trilogy marks a return to the hitman genre for Yuthlert, a prolific genre-hopping filmmaker who made his debut with 2000's comedy-action-drama Killer Tattoo, which also starred Thep as a gunman.

The Phuket Film Festival's calendar of events (PDF) is firming up.

The closing day on June 13 will also see the Phuket premiere of Sawasdee Bangkok (สวัสดีบางกอก). Premiered last year in Toronto and shown at several other festivals, this is the abbreviated four-segment version of the nine-part omnibus produced by the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS or TV Thai). It comprises the films by Wisit Sasanatieng, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee and Aditya Assarat.

Another Thai highlight will be a tribute and retrospective of the work of Kom Akadej (คมน์ อรรฆเดช), an actor and director who made a lot of action films in the 1980s, including many Hong Kong co-productions. He gave action director Panna Rittikrai his start in the industry. A past president of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, Kom Akadej is also the cinema mogul of southern Thailand, the owner of the Coliseum chain of multiplexes. Days 2 and 3 of the festival on June 5 and 6 will be dedicated to Khun Kom, with his movies being screened for free all day from noon.

Of course, the festival's venue this year is the Coliseum Paradise Multiplex in Phuket Town. It's the island's first and only facility with 3D projection.

First held in 2007, the second edition of the Phuket Film Festival was to have taken place a year ago after a hiatus in 2008. But festival organizer Scott Rosenberg pulled the plug because of a scheduling conflict with the planned Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit and a heavy security presence to counter possible protests. Heartbreakingly, he was perhaps too hasty, because 15 minutes after he sent his cancellation e-mail, the government announced it was postponing the ASEAN meeting. But it was too late to call back the mass e-mails and tell everyone it was a false alarm.

This year, Thailand's political situation is as unstable and insecure as ever. The red-shirt anti-government protesters are keeping parts of Bangkok locked down, but there's no foreseen threat to Phuket, which can be reached by direct flights from many countries and transfers from Bangkok's main international airport.

Much of this year's Phuket Film Festival line-up is the same as last year's, with many guests who were to have come in 2009 finally making their way to the Pearl of the Andaman.

Director Gus Van Sant will be on hand to go surfing. He's the guest of honor for the fest's Alternative Lifestyle night on June 9 when Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic Milk, My Private Idaho and shorts Ajumma Krazy and Boy Meets Boy will be shown.

Also invited back is director Darnell Martin, whose Cadillac Records will screen. The movie, starring Adrien Brody, is about Leonard Chess, head of Chicago's pioneering blues-and-R&B label Chess Records. Beyonce is featured as Etta James.

Van Sant and Martin are also expected to take part in the festival's new "Meet the Directors Series" with screenings and parties at The Yamu resort at Cape Yamu.

Also, a year later, the Thai-Hollywood romantic drama Bitter/Sweet will finally make its Thai premiere. Produced by Urs Brunner and Jon Karas and directed by Jeff Hare, the romance stars Kip Pardue as an American coffee buyer who locks horns with a spirited young Thai woman (Art of the Devil's Mamee Nakprasit) on a coffee plantation in southern Thailand's Krabi province. James Brolin, Spencer Garrett and Akara Amartyakul and Tong Pakaramai are among the mixed cast of Hollywood and Thai players. Singer Tata Young makes an appearance. Shot in Thailand in 2008, Bitter/Sweet won awards at last year's WorldFest in Houston and has appeared in many other festivals.

The Phuket fest opens on June 4 with Harishchandrachi Factory, the debut by Paresh Mokashi and India's submission to the Oscars for best foreign-language film. The comedy-drama is about Raja Harishchandra, who made India's first feature-length silent film in 1913. Mokashi is expected to be in attendance.

The opener goes in line with the festival's Spotlight on India, which also includes 2009's Chadni Chowk to China, the crazy and fun-filled mash-up of Bollywood romance and Shaw Brothers martial-arts action that stars Akshay Kumar and Gordon Liu. Though partly filmed along China's Great Wall, most of the film was actually shot in Thailand. It's showing on Saturday, June 5. No word on whether the Thailand-based co-star villain, 7-foot-tall stuntman and actor Conan Stevens, will be in attendance.

The night of June 6 will have a another screening with a Thailand-location connection, The Prince and Me 4: The Elephant Adventure, with the Thai cast and crew in attendance. It was produced by Frank DeMartini with production services by DeWarrenne Films, which have teamed up to make the action film Elephant White, currently in production with director Prachya Pinkaew at the helm.

The festival this year is receiving major support from the Ministry of Culture as well as Vijitt Resort, TwoVillas, Phuket Beer, Siam Winery, the Phuket Gazette and Global i Care.

Further details are on the festival website and the schedule is expected to be finalized soon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: SGfilm 2010: Asian Shorts

This series of five shorts includes three works by Edmund Yeo as director, writer and/or producer. Born in Singapore in 1984, trained in Australia, and now based in Japan, Malaysian filmmaker Yeo has made numerous award-winning shorts that have been shown in major film festivals around the world. He became the youngest Malaysian to ever compete at the Venice Film Festival with Kingyo in 2009.

  • Love Suicides, Edmund Yeo (Malaysia/2009/13 min) -- Bit slow moving and weird. Hmm, must be a Malaysian film? Yes! In an isolated Malaysian fishing village, a woman receives communication from her husband via series of letters. The man can hear, but isn't seen. The letters are all telling the woman to keep the daughter quiet. Don't let the girl play the flute. It makes too much noise. Don't let her wear shoes to school. They make too much noise. No ceramic dishes, no cooking. "My heart is aching," the man writes, possibly from the great fishing fleet in the beyond. (5/5)
  • Ladybird's Tears, Kong Pahurak (Japan, Thailand, Malaysia/2010/11 min) -- Would it be nuts to say I booked last-minute plane and movie tickets and hotel reservations just to come to Singapore from Bangkok to see this? Yeah, probably. Because who in their right mind would do that? Better just say I went through all that just see if I could. And I did. Through editing and rewriting, Yeo salvaged this unfinished short by Kong, which was intended as a low-budget sci-fi drama set in a dystopian future. A mix of black and white and vivid color adds to the dreamy quality of it all as Kong narrates the story of his unfinished film while the actress Zhu Dan is perhaps the titular ladybird, or ladybug. It is what it is, and it's pretty cool. (5/5)
  • Hujan Tak Jadi Datang (It's Not Raining Outside), Yosep Anggi Noen (Indonesia/2009/16 min) -- A young woman in a furniture-store van is helping to deliver a sofa. Lucky for her there's a young guy there to help her tote the other end and give the sofa a whirl. (4/5)
  • Gaarud (The Spell), Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni (India/2009/12 min) -- The camera goes through walls as it pans across a guesthouse and peers into the rooms of various guests to the strange goings-on. It needs Bill Murray narrating, "Let me tell you about my boat." No, not really. Lots of cool shadows, lights and sounds. (5/5)
  • Kingyo, directed by Edmund Yeo (Japan, Malaysia/2009/25 min) -- Yeo split his brain in half to make this split-screen short, which has the characters in different frames even when they were shot in the same frame. It's a cool effect. I get it. It's a poignant tale, about an Akihabara cosplay maid who gives tours in her maid costume. She is visited by her old university professor and the details of their relationship and what happened to a pair of titular goldfish are revealed slowly and sparingly, more through significant glances in those split frames than through dialog. (5/5)

Breaker Morant, Bruce Beresford (1980, Australia) -- Even with its famous-last-words quote ("Shoot straight you bastards. Don't make a mess of it."), this classic military courtroom drama brings to mind another great quote from another great movie, and that is "charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500." But this was Africa of 1901-02, not Vietnam. And the Indy 500 hadn't even started yet. The ironies stacked up like so much cordwood in the case of three Australian lieutenants of the Bushveldt Carbineers charged with killing Boer prisoners and a suspected Boer spy (a German missionary). It was a show trial of scapegoats by the British Empire, which aimed to bring the Boers to the peace-talks table and keep Germany out of the war. The late, great Edward Woodward portrays the officer-gentleman title character, a poet warrior and horse breaker. Bryan Brown as the "wild fellow" co-defendant Handcock was crowd pleaser with his sharp quips. Jack Thompson rose in prominence in his portrayal of the underdog defense attorney. Great mustaches and beards. And brass band music. There was a palpable resonance in watching this depiction of so much stiff-upper Britishness running roughshod over the "colonials" in the former British outpost of Singapore. Part of a director's focus on Beresford that also included Driving Miss Daisy as well as the opener of the 23rd Singapore International Film Festival, Mao's Last Dancer, the screening of Breaker Morant was in the Old School hilltop boutique arthouse cinema. It's a long, sweaty climb up the hill that's rewarded with crisp digital projection in a room filled with long, red couches. (5/5)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Throwing a bone to Apichatpong's editor, Lee Chatametikool

Watch enough Thai films, and one of the names that you'll see often as the credits roll by is editor Lee Chatametikool.

His list of credits offers a cross-section of Thai cinema, including the mainstream GTH horror of Shutter, comedies like Sayew, Cherm and The Sperm and even Hollywood co-productions like Bitter/Sweet and The Elephant King.

But he's best known for his work on indie films.

He's been credited with shaping the non-linear direction of Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History, for example. He also edited Aditya Assarat's award-winning Wonderful Town.

He recently picked up his second Asian Film Award for editing on Malaysian director Chris Chong's indie drama Karaoke.

Perhaps his best-known collaborations have been with Apitchatpong Weerasethakul. Lee's cut the frames on Joei's previous Cannes prize winners, Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady, as well as Syndromes and a Century.

He's also edited Apichatpong's latest, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which is in the Official Selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

It's on that occasion that Lee sat down for a one-on-one with the Bangkok Posts' Kong Rithee, who says Lee's award-winning "touch is talismanic". Here's the first question:

A blunt question, what is editing? Or what does an editor do in a movie?

It's a way to tell a story _ and it does a lot more, too. Editing juxtaposes two images, and in that juxtaposition, you can create a new meaning. So editing allows a film to do things that aren't possible through other elements of the filmmaking, like camera movement or acting. For instance, like in that famous shot in 2001: Space Odyssey, in which an ape tosses up a bone then we cut to a spaceship -- the impact like that can only be achieved with editing.

Lee's also got his own feature in development, Past Love, which is being produced by Anocha.

Anyway, read the rest for more of Lee's thoughts on the art of film editing, Hollywood style and who his favorite editors are.

Showing Hotel Rwanda the solution for Thailand?

There are 16 organizations that believe showing the 2004 drama Hotel Rwanda in a free screening will ease the political conflict in Thailand.

Yesterday afternoon, plans were announced to show Hotel Rwanda on the big screen at Hualumpong Railway Station. A Facebook event posting says proceedings will start around 12.30 today.

While I recognized the well-meaning intentions, my knee-jerk reaction to this was that it was a bad idea, that instead of heeding the warnings of the film -- of the media playing a role in promoting the 1994 genocide or following the example of hotelier Paul Rusesabagina who shielded people from the inter-tribal killings -- is that the movie will show the various "shirt" factions new ideas on how to kill.

Then ThaiCam Twittered: "The Hotel Rwanda showing seems inappropriate on many levels. Some need to take a step back and reflect. NOT THE SAME SITUATION!"

Anyway, the various "shirt" folks are too busy shouting and fighting to watch a movie.

And there was no stepping back.

Later in the evening there was mass confusion in the Bangkok Twitter stream as explosions rocked the BTS skytrain station at Sala Daeng, near the intersection of Silom and Rama IV roads. It's near Patpong, where a lot of tourists turn out at night.

Most news stories today are saying three people are dead and 75 injured in what's being called a grenade attack.

The area had become the scene of a tense standoff between the red-shirt anti-government protesters, government security forces and various other "shirt" factions -- yellow, multi-color, no-color, white shirt, no-shirt, cheesecloth-shirt -- I can't keep track.

Bangkok Pundit has a roundup. There's video footage of the aftermath on YouTube, showing the skytrain station as a triage zone.

Sometime before the outbreak of violence, The Nation editor Tulsathit tweeted: "I'd say let's show Pen-ek's Nang Mai (Nymph) at all rally sites to put everyone to sleep so soldiers can haul them home. lol."


Now I'm getting angry and sharpening a bamboo stick.

No. I'll let Anasuya have the last word: "To paraphrase , shamefully, this is Bangkok, gentlemen. Screening films about genocide will not save you."

Update: The screening of Hotel Rwanda was not held "thanks to technical problem," says Veen_NT. Apparently, the screening had not been cleared with the State Railway of Thailand, Veen continues. A statement was read and a moment of silence was observed by the approximately 30 people in attendance.

Update 2: The Nation has a story, with State Railway of Thailand governor Yutthana Thapcharoen saying he refused to grant permission for Hotel Rwanda to be shown on the station's 200-inch LED screen because he feared it could worsen tensions.

Update 3: The Bangkok Post editorializes: "While well-intentioned, the decision by the SRT governor was misguided. One overriding message of the film is that when prejudice and intolerance become extreme enough human beings really do have the potential to become monsters. That is a message Bangkok needs to hear now, especially those at the centre of the name-calling and bottle-throwing skirmishes."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beyond Ong-Bak 3 with Tony Jaa

Ong-Bak 3 will be released in Thai cinemas on May 5. It looks to be the conclusion of an epic two-part historical martial-arts prequel to the 2003 urban action drama that made Tony Jaa a star.

With Ong-Bak 3 being readied for release, Tony Jaa is making the rounds with the press. He was interviewed this week by The Nation's Parinyaporn Pajee and the one-on-one is in today's paper.

Here's a chunk:

After Ong Bak 3, do you have any plans in mind?

I'd love to do something new and different. I love movies and martial arts. So it could be anything, action with comedy or romance or like James Bond. Who knows?

Sia Jiang [Sahamongkol boss Somsak Techaratanaprasert] says that he has a plan for you to work with Donnie Yen. When will it happen?

It is the next step but we haven't settled anything. In fact, it's been talked about since Ip Man. The second part is due to come out [on April 29] but I was in the middle of shooting Ong-Bak 3, so may be next time.

Who do you want to work with exactly?

Many people. I'd love to work with my childhood hero Jackie Chan and also Jet Li.

You're 33 now. Does your age change anything about how you play action roles?

I'm still doing my own stunts even though I have a few problems with my body. In the future, I might work behind the scenes as a director, action choreographer.

Will you continue to make Thai films or seek international projects?

Maybe it's time to go international. But I need to consider the script first. I'll still make Thai films because I have plenty ideas about bringing Muay Thai, our culture, to the screen. International projects might have limitations in that we can't do what we want.

Read the rest for Tony's thoughts about swords and clubs and the martial art of Nattayut, as well as karma, khon dancing, difficulties working along the Thai-Cambodian border, rutting elephants and body odor.

Seen the trailer yet?

Noo Gunpai: The Thai tattoo movie to beat all Thai tattoo movies

Thai tattoo movies are a unique subgenre of Thai films, though off the top of my head I can only give a few examples.

Of course there's Killer Tattoo, but that isn't really what I'm thinking about here.

It's about the Thai spiritual tattoos that are said to convey supernatural powers that protect the wearers from bullets and blades.

You'll see the tattoos around, worn by policemen, soldiers, motorcycle-taxi drivers and other hard-working men in Thailand.

The ink is very much in evidence in historical battle epics like Bang Rajan 2.

The recently released Buddhist thriller Nak Prok (Shadow of the Naga) made a cheeky reference to the "power" of the tattoos and showed one of the main characters receiving one from a monk.

The tattoos are applied with an ink-dipped needle that's attached to a long stick.

Supernatural tattoos were a focal point of the 2008 action movie Hanuman: The White Monkey Warrior, in which the characters assumed the powers of the mythical gods they had tattooed on their backs.

Another 2008 tattoo-action movie was Haa Taew, literally "five columns", which refers to the five lines in a tablet of Buddhist scripture that is usually tattooed on the shoulder.

Lots of young actresses and models are getting these haa taew tattoos on their delicate little shoulder blades. Other women get little scrolls on the small of their back.

They're following the example of Angelina Jolie who came to Thailand some years back and got one from Ajarn Noo Gunpai, the recognized master of the yantra tattoo. There's lots of videos dedicated to Noo Gunpai.

It was Noo Kanpai who produced Haa Taew and now he's made another movie -- an action-packed biopic about his own life.

According to the legend of Noo Gunpai, the master first started to study about magic spells and yantra tattooing at the age of six. When it was discovered the tattoos conveyed magical powers, everyone wanted one, even as Noo Gunpai tried to remain modest and avoid infamy. The full title is, check this out, Noo Gunpai Seuk Maha Yan Ying Kan Sanan Jor (หนู กันภัย ศึกมหายันต์ ยิงกันสนั่นจอ), something about fighting furiously and loudly.

Khet Thantap, Bin Bunluerit, Suebsak Pansueb and Supakorn Kitsuwan star with a special appearance by Noo Gunpai himself. Keep your eyes peeled on the trailer (embedded below) for a familiar pair of policemen -- probably the last appearance by the two of them together. Arinthawit Chomsri directs. It's released by Oom Maharuay Film and opens today.

(Via Enjoy Thai Movies)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Anocha and the resonance of Mundane History

Writer Philippa Short interviewed Mundane History director "Mai" Anocha Suwichakornpong for the travel website CNNGo. The piece was posted yesterday.

Here's a snip:

CNNGo: What do you think about the political situation and protests happening right now in Bangkok?

Anocha: I hope that peace and reconciliation will not become just two empty words. Both the government and the protesters should have more tolerance towards each other and value human life above all else. I’m disappointed with the stance that the government has taken. As a government, they have the power to set the agenda and negotiate with the protesters, especially now that it’s apparent that a crackdown is not the answer.

Moreover, they should allow freedom of speech by lifting the ban of websites and TV stations that are critical of their administration. Suppression is not a solution for long-lasting peace. It only breeds contempt and will prove fatal in the long run.

CNNGo: You describe the family in Mundane History as a microcosm of Thailand and the film as reflecting its ongoing political struggle. Do you think these aspects are accessible to those not familiar with Thai politics?

Anocha: Thailand is, by and large, a patriarchal society. It is men who control the power in this country, especially when it comes to politics. Right now, we are in the midst of a political crisis that has put the country on hold for the past four years.

It is true that the film had a particular resonance with audiences when it was screened in Bangkok, but although some of the nuances might escape those not familiar with Thai politics, I think that there are other themes in the film that have universal appeal. You can have no knowledge of Thai politics and still come away with something to think about after the film ends.

Read the rest for details about the film's fragmented narrative, the soundtrack that includes music by the Photo Sticker Machine and Malaysia's Furniture and that masturbation scene in the bathtub.

Mundane History (Jao Nok Krajok) is currently on the festival circuit, in competition at the Singapore International Film Festival, which ends Saturday, the Open Doek Film Festival in Belgium from Friday, April 23 to May 2, and at the Barcelona Asian Film Festival, April 30 to May 9.

Apichatpong on moving on

I got to interview Apichatpong Weerasethakul a few weeks back for The Nation, where editors anticipated that his new feature, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives would be picked for the Cannes Film Festival, even if the filmmaker himself was perhaps only half positive his film would be chosen.

Most of the article was written from what Joei told me on that Sunday afternoon at a coffee shop in the Soi Aree area of Bangkok, though a couple of follow-up questions were handled via e-mail.

Well, his film was indeed chosen for the Cannes Film Festival's main competition. It's among many honors.

And The Nation piece ran yesterday. But the headline, "The late, great Apichatpong" has generated a few comments. It wasn't my headline, though I let it go through. A colleague came up with it and I recognized that it was metaphorical, with the Past Lives of the film title and reincarnation in mind and the very-much-alive Joei talking about how Uncle Boonmee was made and speculating that a phase of his career might be ending with this film.

Apichatpong says:

I think Boonmee will be the last film I can do like this. I think it's good because it really summarises everything. The memories of the old movies ... it's time to move on to the other movies."

Read the rest of the piece for what his possible upcoming projects might be, what he thinks about submitting the censored Syndromes and a Century to the new motion-picture ratings system and what he thinks about the controversial Strong Thailand film fund, under which he stands to receive 3.5 million baht.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: 9 Wat (Secret Sunday)

  • Directed by Saranyoo Jiralak
  • Starring Siriphun Wattanajinda, James Alexander Mackie, Penpak Sirikul, Pharadorn Sirakovit
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 13, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Everyone and everything has its own karmic cycle, according to the Buddhist-themed thriller 9 Wat (9 วัด).

Throwing a rock at a bird to keep it from eating a worm is one way to interfere with a karmic cycle you are not part of. In other words, mind your own business.

Altering the karmic cycle of another human being opens up a whole can of worms, as the characters in 9 Wat discover. On a road trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, they experience increasingly horrifying visions the closer they get to their destination. Final destination?

Not a boring Buddhist thriller, Saranyoo Jiralak's debut feature starts off with a bang, when the special-events-lighting designer Nat played by James Alexander Mackie finds himself in a terrifying situation, with grey ghosts, ghouls and crawlie things coming out of the woodwork.

Later he dresses up as a vampire in an effort to scare his girlfriend Pun, played by "Noon" Siriphun Wattanajinda.

They head out for a night of hedonism, drinking, dancing and smoking cigarettes in a flashy Bangkok nightclub. A chat with a friend in the women's room reveals a secret about Noon's character, who dresses in contemporary fashions and has dyed blond hair.

And, horror of horrors, she wears a revealing two-piece bathing suit when she goes swimming in her apartment building's pool. No good Thai girl would ever do that.

Left alone in the pool -- perhaps the other residents are frightened of so much flesh being exposed -- she has an unsettling feeling, like something is lurking or she's being watched. And doesn't that kid know he's supposed to shower before he enters the pool?

Pun and Nat are planning a road trip up to Chiang Mai. They've been together a year, but suddenly Pun wants to meet Nat's mother (Penpak Sirikul). She lives is Uthai Thani, which is on the way.

Mum is a devout Buddhist, and her family business is making Buddha statues. She frowns when she goes to wake the couple up in the morning, and finds them sleeping in the same bed. She says Nat has bad karma and urges him to visit nine temples to clear things up. She also wants Nat to go to temple with her in the morning, but Nat blows his mother off.

He does visit the temple, but it's to show Pun a comical drawing on a part of the temple wall he painted.

Throwing a rock at a bird to keep the bird from getting a worm, a young monk (Pharadorn Sirakovit) reprimands Nat, and tells him it's bad to interfere in the karmic cycle of other living things.

Turns out Nat knows this monk, who's an old childhood friend. Just by chance, the monk has his prayer mat all packed and is about to embark on a pilgrimage to Nan Province. And he would accept a ride.

Gosh, what a coincidence. Not. There are no coincidences.

Nat, speeding along behind the wheel of his Jeep Cherokee, stops at temples here and there. But only so Pun can use the toilet. He doesn't bother praying. Other temples, he drives by and honks.

The monk looks on knowingly and smugly. He knows something.

Like Nat is going to burn in hell.

Or maybe it's something else. something having to do with karma.

The fright-meter amps up little by little. A headless dog here, a rock thrown by motorbikers and a broken windshield there. A funeral and more monks. A blood-covered calf. A zombie worshippers.

There is no escape. Because it is their karma.

But what's cool about 9 Wat (Kao Wat) -- also called for reasons unknown Secret Sunday -- is that the bad stuff that's happening to the characters isn't necessarily because of how much they drink or smoke or how they dress or because they have sex or are faithless.

What's also cool about 9 Wat is the soundtrack -- a rock and electronica score by musician and DJ "Jay" Montonn Jira, plus a few bands, like the Richman Toy. It's effective, energetic and a refreshing change from the pounding pianos and grating strings that usually drone away.

Related posts:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Big Boy

  • Directed by Monthon Arayangkoon
  • Starring Toni Rakkaen, Setha Sirachaya, Rattanarat Eertaweekul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 6, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Breakin' meets Strictly Ballroom in Big Boy (บิ๊กบอย), a mostly energetic and slick look at the Thai b-boy scene.

Toni Rakkaen, the Australian-schooled former hairdresser son of morlam singer Banyen Rakkaen, stars as a Chiang Mai rich kid who never found an interest to hold him for long. But after seeing breakdancers in front of Tae Pae Gate and making an attempt to moonwalk and show off for his girlfriend, the teenager Po becomes obsessed with breakdancing. He sees a video on YouTube of Bangkok b-boys and suddenly decides he wants to go to the capital to visit his grandfather, who he hasn't seen since he was perhaps four years old.

Granddad, played by veteran entertainer Setha Sirachaya, is an old smoothie with the charm of Lando Calrissian. When the sportscar-driving senior meets his grandson at the airport, he's waiting out front by his car, with a bevy of red-clad Thai AirAsia flight attendants gathered around, and he introduces the kid as his younger brother.

After a race back to the hyper-competitive granddad's swinging architectural wonder of a bachelor pad and a break to have granddad beat the grandson in video games and swimming, the pair then head to Bangkok's city center to hunt for breakdancers. They find them, including the flashy male dancer who caught Po's eye in the YouTube video. He dials the phone number included with the video's description but it's answered by a young woman (Rattanarat Eertaweekul). Eventually the two come face to face. It was the woman New who posted the video, and it is she who gives the breakdancing lessons, not the show-off guy.

Po isn't interested in being taught by a girl, because it'll cramp his style. He attempts to ask Mr. Show-Off to give him lessons, which immediately eliminates any street cred he might have had. That isn't how it works, Po's told. Rich kids can't just buy the mad skillz they need to be b-boys.

Po tries to dance anyway, and is pushed out of the circle. Then granddad gets in on the action, and immediately he's moonwalking, popping, locking and spinning around on the ground. Po is shown up by an old man, who, as it turns out, was the tango king of Thailand in his youth.

Pushed by his grandfather, Po's only alternative is to humble himself and ask for the girl New's help.

And so begins the training montage, set in a dusty old ballroom dance club that granddad used to frequent in his dancing days. Along with honing his body -- Toni's fans will be disappointed to see only brief shirtlessness -- Po starts to fall for the pixie-like New.

The second feature from new production house M39 Pictures, Big Boy is directed by Monthon Arayangkoon, who shifts away from the kaiju thrills of 2004's Garuda (Paksa Wayu) and the horror of The Victim and The House. Monthon co-wrote the story with producer Leo Kittikorn and co-scripted the screenplay with go-to scribe Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

The story's arc wavers, beginning with an ending and then flashing back to show how the characters got there. It hits slow spots here and there. The girl New is forgotten about for a time, after a twist reveals where she practices her dance moves. It's treated as something more shameful than it ought to be as the story skitters to cover a bit of social-class commentary.

The dark side of the b-boy scene, involving gangsta drug dealers and an underground rave club, offers a chance for a bit of action and even a car chase through the suspiciously uncongested streets of Siam Square (must have been filmed around 3 or 4am).

It also delves into the grandfather's melancholy side, something having to do with an old dance record and baile amour ... baile allegra, in attempts to reveal why he and his grandson became estranged, due to the death of the grandmother.

There are even a few laughs involving the comic-relief trio of a non-Thai-speaking b-boy king named LeRoy (Roy McCoy) and his sidekicks who mistranslate everything he says, so "you're cool" becomes "you're cold."

Breakdance sequences are a highlight, even if its dance-doubles doing the acrobatic floor work for Toni and Setha.

Bangkok shines, as the story takes in such locations as Siam Square's art-deco Scala Theatre, where the first big dance face-off takes place, as well as actual b-boy haunts, such as the MBK skywalk and on a piece of linoleum down by the river.

Another neat scene is a tap-off in which Setha's drunk granddad dances to the improvised beats of a car alarm, echoing in a parking garage.

There's even a breakdancing sequence -- for fun, not a battle -- on Bangkok's MRT subway train. The filmmakers make sure to include a bit where a security guard waggles his finger and says, "nice dancing kid, but we don't allow it on the trains", just to make sure the MRT's legal hind parts are covered.

Who knows, maybe there'll be Big Boy 2: Electric Booglaloo. Even if it doesn't happen, it's fun to say.

See also:

Related posts:

Thai-Malaysian short Ladybird's Tears to premiere in Singapore fest

In addition to Jakrawal Nilthamrong's Unreal Forest and Anocha Suwichakorngpong's Mundane History, there's another Thai film in the 23rd Singapore International Film Festival that I missed earlier.

It's Ladybird's Tears, an experimental short by Kong Pahurak, written and produced by Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo.

Yeo explains it all on his blog, Swifty Writing, saying Ladybird's Tears was assembled from footage of Kong's unfinished experimental short Stardust Memories. "I saw some potential in what he did, and decided that it would be a bit of a pity to leave the film in the can," Yeo says.

Here's a bit more:

Ladybird's Tears became the story of an aspiring filmmaker who is chronicling a low-budget sci-fi film that he was unable to finish, and also his musings of the film's lead actress. The 11-minute short film is narrated by Kong himself (he translated my writings to Thai). It's almost meta, but still somewhat fictionalized ...

The 11-minute film stars actress Zhu Dan.

It's part of the Asian Shorts program in the Singapore fest, which includes three works by Yeo, who was schooled in Australia and is now based in Tokyo. He's made numerous award-winning shorts, among them last year's Kingyo, which made him the youngest Malaysian to compete at the Venice Film Festival.

Aside from Kingyo and Ladybird's Tears, the Singapore fest is showing Yeo's Love Suicides, which was produced by Malaysia's Woo Ming Jin.

The Asian Shorts package screens tomorrow at 4.15.

(Via The Great Swifty)

Agrarian Utopia in Wisconsin

America's Dairyland is the setting for the Wisconsin Film Festival, which wraps up this weekend.

Among the selections on Sunday in the Madison, Wisconsin, festival is Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Baan Na), a hardscrabble tale of rice farmers, struggling to bring their crop in and survive another season.

It's been too long since I've been in that part of the country, but I'll venture to guess that Uruphong Raksasad's experimental documentary might have resonance in this Midwestern U.S. city surrounded by farmland, where family farms are becoming factory farms.

Thessaloniki plans Apichatpong retrospective

Last year might have been declared the "Year of Apichatpong", but 2010 is shaping up to be even bigger.

With his new feature Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives set for the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival and his recent win of the Asia Art Award for his Phantoms of Nabua short, Greece's Thessaloniki International Film Festival seeks to celebrate the filmmaker even more with a complete retrospective.

And so goes the press release:

On the occasion of the selection of his latest film for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival competition, the 51st Thessaloniki International Film Festival would like to announce a complete Retrospective to the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, organized by the Independence Days section with the invaluable help of the director himself. The Thessaloniki film festival has long been a promoter of Weerasethakul’s work, having previously screened several of his films.

The Thai film director’s newest, Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives (Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chaat), competing in Cannes, is the feature film part of a multi-platform project Primitive, which deals with the concept of extinction and remembrance. It recounts the last days of Boonmee, who, suffering from kidney failure and aware of his impending death, asks to spend his remaining time at home. There he will meet ghosts of his past, such as his deceased wife, and will take a journey along past lives that have lasted for hundreds of years. Primitive itself deals with a specific area of northeastern Thailand; the town of Nabua, where it was shot, has a bloody history of confrontations between communist farmers and the Thai government, as well as a primordial legend about the ghost of a widow who would seize the men who dared enter her world.

Weerasethakul has been the most celebrated independent Thai filmmaker of the past decade and one of the most idiosyncratic auteurs worldwide. He has directed numerous features and shorts and has received several honors, such as a jury prize for Tropical Malady at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and the top prize of the Un Certain Regard section at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the TIFF Golden Alexander for Blissfully Yours.

He makes personal, affecting and aesthetically unique films, while several themes consistently permeate his work: the Western-oriented and influenced perceptions of his country and Asia, sexuality (and more specifically homosexuality), as well as memory and dreams and the interaction between man and nature.

The 51st Thessaloniki International Film Festival is set for November 19 to 28.

Meanwhile, the Primitive project commissioners Animate Projects have a new video with "Joei" Apichatpong talking about Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives as well as his influences. Check it out!

(Thanks Stephen!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shelldon could be the first Thai 3D movie

Thailand's Shellhut Entertainment has teamed up with Singapore-based Tiny Island Productions to co-produce a 3D CGI-animated feature based on Shelldon, which is about various forms of marine life under the waves of the Andaman Sea. It's planned for release in 2012.

As far as I know, it would be the first stereoscopic 3D Thai movie.

Created by the entertainment arm of a shell-craft company, Shelldon was first broadcast in Thailand in 2008. The first season of Shelldon ran for 26 episodes and last year was translated for release in other territories, including various broadcasters in Europe and on the NBC network in the US. It was co-produced by Tiny Island.

Set in Shell Land, the main character is a shell named Shelldon, a shy boy who lives with his parents and helps them run the Charming Clam guesthouse.

(Via Film Business Asia, The Hollywood Reporter)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Apichatpong and his Uncle Boonmee in competition at Cannes

Apichatpong Weerasethakul will return to the Cannes Film Festival with his new feature, Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ, Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chaat), among those announced for the main Palme d'Or competition today in Paris.

The program, including the competitions, is incomplete. More films could be added later. As festival director Thierry Fremaux explained last week: "It's a very difficult, complicated year."

It's the second time Apichatpong has been in the main competition. He won a jury prize in 2004 for Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad). His 2002 feature Blissfully Yours (Sud Sanaeha) won the Un Certain Regard competition. He served on the Cannes main competition jury in 2008.

Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives is the feature-film component of Apichatpong's multi-platform Primitive art project, which includes a massive seven-channel video installation that has been exhibited in Paris, Liverpool and Munich, as well as two other award-winning short films, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms of Nabua.

The project is inspired by a book written by a Buddhist monk in Apichatpong's hometown of Khon Kaen, which told of a man who believed in reincarnation and could remember his past lives. The concepts of memories are interwoven in the experiences of the northeastern Thailand village of Nabua, Nakhon Phanom, which was the scene of a deadly anti-communist crackdown by the Thai army in 1965 and is still commemorated in the village today.

Past Lives will likely range further afield, taking in the journeys of Apichatpong, his film crew and regular cast members, actress Jenjira Pongpas and Sakda Kaewbuadee, throughout northeastern Thailand.

It's part of a strong Asian lineup in competition that includes The Housemaid by Im Sang-soo and Poetry by Lee Chan-dong from South Korea and Japanese director Takeshi Kitano's much anticipated return to gangster movies with Outrage. Ha Ha Ha by South Korea's Hong Sang-soo was announced for the Un Certain Regard competition.

Others in the main competition include Hors la loi by Rachid Bouchareb, Tournée by Mathieu Amalric, Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Certified Copy by Abbas Kiarostami, La Princesse de Montpensier by Bertrand Tavernier, Burnt by the Sun 2 by Nikita Mikhailov, Un homme qui crie by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, You my joy by Sergei Lovnitsa, Des hommes et des dieux by Xavier Beauvois, Fair Game by Doug Liman, La nostra vita by Daniele Luchetti and Another Year by Mike Leigh.

Among the possible additions is Tree of Life by Terrence Malick, which "is not ready.

Also yet to come is the closing-night film.

Out-of-competition entries include the opening film Robin Hood by Ridley Scott plus Oliver Stone's Wall Street 2 and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger by Woody Allen.

With Tim Burton already announced as president of the feature-film jury, the panel will have actress Kate Beckinsale, actress Giovanna Mezzogrino, film expert Alberto Barbera, writer Emmanuel Carerre, actor Benicio del Toro, director Victor Erice and director Shekhar Kapur. Jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi was announced for the jury as well.

Already it's shaping up to be a contentious year between festival organizers and the press, with major wire services boycotting today's announcement over an exclusive coverage deal with Canal Plus and Orange.

(Via Matt Riviera, On the Croissette, IndieWire, Wildgrounds)

Review: Saranae Siblor

  • Directed by Naruebordee Wetchakam
  • Starring Mario Maurer, "Ple" Nakorn Silachai, "Sena Hoi" Kiattisak Udomnak, Kohtee Aramboy, Ruengrit "Willy" McIntosh, "Chompoo" Araya A. Hartgett, Patheera Sarutipongpokim
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 1, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Attention Michael Bay: The Thai film industry is capable of making Transformers for a fraction of the cost, with giant robots that exude more emotions and are more vividly memorable in a short segment than yours were in two overly long, way-too-costly feature films.

It's a brilliant Transformers parody that comes at the climax of the slightly too-long Saranae Siblor (สาระแนสิบล้อ, also Saranair Siblor), the latest everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink Thai comedy. Instead of a flashy new General Motors model, it's the humble antique workhorse of Thailand's highways, a rickety utilitarian Isuzu 10-wheel truck -- the "siblor" of the title -- that changes into a giant robot and goes tearing through rice paddies, looking for the film's heroes.

The "Thai transformer" is part of a plot twist that's the high point of this otherwise average comedy featuring the usual comedians riffing on their usual scatalogical jokes, gross sight gags and double-entendre wordplay.

It's produced by the Lucks Film crew from the Saranae reality-TV prank show that last year had the big-screen hit Saranae the Movie (Saranae Hao Peng). But unlike last year's effort, Saranae Siblor is a fictional tale.

Heartthrob young leading man Mario Maurer stars in this road-trip farce. The filmmakers capitalize on the cultural perception that because a guy "looks" gay he must be gay, which is reinforced in this case by Mario's having starred in the gay teen romance Love of Siam (Rak Haeng Siam). He plays Ake, a weak-wristed high-school kid who favors pastel-shaded shirts and is the captain of the cheerleading team. His schoolmaster father (Santisuk Promsiri) thinks the boy could use some manning up, so he packs him off during a school break to visit his Uncle Che.

If being a man means driving your 10-wheel truck through a crowded market, living in pigsty-like conditions, not wearing clean clothes, paying no attention to personal grooming and boozing and whoring the night away, then Uncle Che is the example you want to live by.

With a patchy growth of whiskers, jaunty beret and aviator shades, Che, as played by Saranae co-host Nakorn "Ple" Silachai, appears as the spitting image of the iconic Latin American communist leader. But instead of leading revolutions, this Che stays behind the wheel, guiding his old 10-wheel truck on the highways and byways of Thailand, delivering who knows what.

He has two helpers, the twin brothers Add and Ood, portrayed by Saranae cast member Sena Hoi and the cherubic comic Kohtee Aramboy, who was pranked in the first Saranae movie. Though they don't look alike, Sena Hoi and Kotee share similiar comedy DNA and they make a good team, even as they are kicked and beaten and made to look even more ridiculous than their bowl-shaped haircuts, thick glasses and grease-covered striped T-shirts already make them. Among the gross-out highlights is a sequence that shows how the former Siamese twins were separated.

The foursome hits the road with no clear purpose stated. They are truckers and they must drive. What is that truck hauling anyway?

Turns out it's loaded with the jokes. Whatever's needed, the Saranae crew will pull it out of the back. Ghosts? There's a dozen or so in there, under the tarp. Zombie bikers? Why yes, they've got that covered too. Haunting memories of a fatal traffic wreck? How could there be a movie without them? An angry gun-toting pimp? Well, they had to had something for Saranae cast member Ruengrit "Willy" McIntosh to do. It has everything. Like Steve Goodman and John Prine's quintessential country-and-western song "You Never Even Called Me by My Name", there's even a big holiday like Christmas, only here its November's love-boat floating Loy Krathong, which seems an odd choice for a movie released during the water-splashing Songkran Thai New Year.

There are even love interests. For Uncle Che, it's a prostitute-masseuse with a prosthetic leg, played by "Chompoo" Araya A. Hartgett. And Mario meets his age-appropriate match in a 7-Eleven store clerk (Patheera Sarutipongpokim) who seems interested in the fact he's buying three boxes of fruit-flavored condoms.

The movie dazzles the eye with its 1960s fashions and color palette but the jokes seem even older, falling back on the usual rhythms of Thai horror-comedies of folks running around screaming even though things don't seem that scary.

Until that Isuzu truck turns into a robot.

And Mario finally proves he's a man. By picking up a gun.

It wasn't necessary. His pink T-shirt with Rambo as the lead guitarist in a rock band proves he's man enough, even if he can't stop from cracking up at the antics of Ple, Kohtee and Sena Hoi. Wonder how many takes they tried before giving up on getting Mario to stay in character?

Now how about another Saranae movie, and make it all transformers with a role for Thailand's tuk-tuks?

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Phantoms of Nabua to appear in London

Fresh from winning the first Asia Art Award, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short film Phantoms of Nabua will screen as an installation in London starting next month.

It's the first London solo exhibition by Apichatpong, a two-time winner at the Cannes Film Festival and nominee for the 2010 Hugo Boss Prize.

Phantoms of Nabua, according to Animate Projects, which commissioned the film, is "an ethereal portrait of a town in northeast Thailand, using natural and artificial light to exude the comfort of home, a sense of destruction, and to explore place and memory."

It's part of the multi-platform Primitive project, which focuses on a concept of remembrance and extinction.

You can listen and watch "Joei" Apichatpong talk about his Primitive project in a video interview at Animate Projects, in which he talks about growing films while the villagers grow rice and building a spaceship.

Still hoping to see the whole Primitive exhibit someday.

As for Phantoms of Nabua, I've watched it quite a few times online at the Animate Projects website, and it gives me chills. Layers upon layers.

As an installation, out in the wild, Phantoms must be pretty powerful, seeing how it won the 39-year-old artist and filmmaker the first Asia Art Award, a distinction Joei told the Japan Times was "surreal".

Meanwhile, Phantoms is wrapping up a run in Tokyo on April 17.

The Japan Times checked out the exhibition at Scai the Bathhouse. Jon Lowther describes it:

Phantoms of Nabua (2009) ... is placed at the heart of the Native Land exhibition. Enshrouded in nightfall, lightning repeatedly strikes a small village, producing ghostly plumes of smoke. The dark silhouetted figures of an anti-social mob emerge as they proceed to play soccer with a raging ball of fire and wreak havoc on a burning landscape. Mysterious nocturnal events unfold in video work Vampire (2008), too, as the viewer follows a nighttime pursuit of a legendary bird that feeds on animal blood.

Viewed as an audiovisual diptych, these works seemingly contrive to portray fleeting moments of light within darkness that are loaded with the hidden memories, histories and legends of a given location.

In Phantoms of Nabua, Weerasethakul states: "The film portrays a communication of lights, the lights that exude, on the one hand, the comfort of home and, on the other, of destruction."

In London, Phantoms of Nabua will be screened at BFI Southbank from May 14 to July 4.