Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thai censors uphold ban on Saw VI

The movies in the Saw splatter-horror movie franchise involve characters being trapped in elaborate devices where they must make painful decisions, usually cutting off a limb or killing another person, in order to free themselves.

Thai censors aren't comfortable with these scenarios, and so a ban on Saw VI has been upheld by Thailand's National Film Board.

The movie was originally scheduled to open in Thai cinemas last November 26, but it was pulled from release. Local distributor Rose Media and Entertainment recently appealed the ban on the film, but was denied.

If Saw VI were shown, rules the Ministry of Culture, it "might affect peace and order and public morals".

Tuesday's decision to uphold the ban was a rather bureaucratic move, with Culture Ministry Permanent Secretary Vira Rojpojchanarat saying that the appeal was denied because it had not been filed within the stipulated 15 days of the original decision.

It's also a meaningless move, seeing how the movie is several months old and is now available on imported DVDs at gray-market retailers, as well as other sources, such as file sharing and pirated DVDs. The ban is sure to prompt more viewers to seek the movie out.

Saw VI is Rated R in the U.S., which restricts viewers under 17, because of "sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language". The movie made history in Spain as the first time the restrictive Película X rating, usually used for pornographic films, was applied for extreme violence.

Under the Film and Video Act of 2007, Thailand has a motion-picture ratings system that came into effect around August of last year. The most restrictive rating in the six-tiered system is 20-, which prohibits viewers under the age of 20 and makes I.D. checks at the theaters mandatory.

So far only two films have been commercially released with the 20- rating, the recent Thai sex comedy-drama Sin Sisters 2 and Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans. An upcoming Thai film that's been rated 20- is the independent social drama Mundane History, set for release in August as part of the Director's Screen Project.

There's also the hidden seventh category for banned films, which Saw VI falls under, alongside such other Hollywood movies as Zack and Miri Make a Porno and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

(Sources: Thai Rath, Thai Audience Network, NangDee, and thanks to Thai101)

Fantasia Festival 2010 has Raging Phoenix, Phobia 2 and ... Sompote Sands

Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival has announced its full lineup, and as usual there is a strong roster of genre films from Thailand as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, and, for the first time, Indonesia.

Here's the rundown on the festival's Rise of Southeast Asian Cinéma program:

Three films represent Thailand this year. First off, Raging Phoenix (Canadian premiere) is a martial-arts film that mixes Muay Thai, drunken boxing and breakdance and in which Jeeja Yanin (Chocolate) solidifies her place amongst the rising stars of the international action scene. Then comes Phobia 2 (North American premiere) which, following 4Bia's presentation at Fantasia 2008, offers a horror collective conceived by the top Thai craftsmen, including the creators of Shutter Banjong Pisanthankun and Parkpoom Wongpoom. Finally, presented in collaboration with the Cinemathèque francaise, Les Hommes d'une autre planète, the “classic” kaiju film with a singular history, not to mention surrealist slant, will create waves of laughter with its approximate French translation and ugly monsters. The team behind The Rebel, screened at Fantasia 2008, returns with Clash (Canadian premiere), an explosive Vietnamese martial-arts picture in which Johnny Nguyen (The Protector with Tony Jaa) and Veronica Ngo give us more than an eyeful. This year, Fantasia presents its first Indonesian film, Merentau (Canadian premiere), a halting full-length feature displaying the ancient art of silat harimau, an impressive technique of Indonesian combat. Finally, a musical from Malaysia, SELL OUT!, will offer Fantasia audiences surrealist musical numbers worthy of Monty Python. Yeo Joon Han’s first feature is assuredly one of the most lucid and corrosive critiques of reality television and the corporate mentality.

Raging Phoenix screened on Monday at the New York Asian Film Festival, where it had nice things said about it.

Will GTH's Phobia 2 (5 Phrang) repeat the success of 4Bia, which won a bronze audience award in 2008?

As for Les Hommes d'une autre planète (Men of a Another Planet), it's perhaps better known as Giant and Jumbo A, a 1974 film by Sompote Sands, a.k.a. Sompote Sangduenchai, the entrepreneur who had a tenuous relationship with Japan's Tsuburaya Productions. With Giant and Jumbo A (ยักษ์วัดแจ้ง พบ จัมโบ้เอ, Yak Wat Jaeng Phop Chambo E), Sompote repurposed footage from Japan's Jumborg Ace TV series, taking the kaiju action and mixing it with odd bits of Thai folklore. The Fantasia Fest will present a French-dubbed version of the film that should be hilarious.

Saw Clash (Bẫy Rồng) at the Phuket Film Festival, and it was awesome. And the World Film Festival of Bangkok had SELL OUT! back in 2008. Also awesome. Have yet to see Merentau.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs from July 8 to 28.

(Via Twitch, Dread Central)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On DVD in Hong Kong: Best of Times

Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's mature romantic drama Best of Times (Kwaam Jam San Dtae Rak Chan Yaao, ความจำ สั้น แต่รักฉันยา), is out on DVD in Hong Kong.

It's available at Here's the synopsis:

Directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon (The Iron Ladies), the 2009 Thai romance Best of Times interweaves two bittersweet stories of love and memory. Awkward veterinarian Keng (Arak "Pae" Amornsupasiri, Body) never got over his high school crush, Fai (singer Yarinda Bunnag), who ended up marrying and divorcing his best friend. Years later Fai walks into Keng's clinic with a stray dog. Pretending he doesn't remember her, Keng begins to pursue Fai, who hasn't let go of her ex-husband. Finding love again in their golden years, elderly couple Jamrat and Sompit make great efforts to see each other every week, but Sompit's family objects to the relationship and Jamrat is slowly but surely losing his memory.

Best of Times was the top winner at the Star Entertainment Awards, with Yongyoot picking up best director. It also won best film and best screenplay as well as supporting actres and actor, Sunsanee Wattananukul and Krissana Setthatumrong. Susanee also won at the Kom Chad Luek Awards as well as the industry's top honors, the Subhanahongsa Awards.

The English-subtitled Region 3 NTSC disc is distributed by Kam and Ronson.

(Thanks Logboy!)

On DVD: Meat Grinder

The controversial cannibalism thriller Meat Grinder has been released on DVD in Hong Kong. You can get it at

Here's the synopsis:

Thai filmmakers have found a secret recipe that will make gorehounds drool! Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong of The Fatality fame, 2009 Thai horror cinema sensation Meat Grinder serves up a sumptuous feast of murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism in this proud member of the "torture porn" sub-genre. Destined for cult status, the over-the-top gorefest stars Mai Charoenpura (Suriyothai) as a deranged woman in 1970s Thailand who runs a noodle stall and is hearing voices in her head all the time. When she finds a dying man in her stall one night, she gets the idea to chop him up, and grind the body parts into meatballs as ingredients for her noodle soup. It turns out to be a popular dish, and as the stall gets more and more business, she must find a steady supply of fresh human meat to feed her customers...

Meat Grinder was released in March 2009, just a few months before the ratings system came into effect. The movie reportedly had cuts ordered by censors and also underwent a name change for the Thai title before it was released, from Guay-dteow Neua Kon (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว เนื้อ คน), literally "human meat noodles" to Cheuat Gon Chim (เชือด ก่อน ชิม), "carve before tasting", all in the name of "social order" so the reputation of Thai beef noodle vendors would not be damaged.

One my favorites of last year, it still turned out pretty gory and suspenseful, with a fine performance by Mai, who was nominated for the Star Entertainment Awards.

It's rated Category III in Hong Kong, where the all-region disc is distributed by Kam and Ronson. I don't know about special features.

Meat Grinder is also scheduled for release in the U.K., where it's due out on August 23. The provisional listing for the Region 2 DVD has the Thai trailer, a making-of and a music video as special features.

It's distributed by 4Digital Asia, which has DVD-market observer Logboy worried because that's the same company that tried to have the Japanese torture-porn title Grotesque certified for U.K. release, only to be denied.

Will Meat Grinder suffer a similar fate and be banned in the U.K.?

Well, it was shown at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival in May, so maybe not.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Phuket Film Festival 2010: Awards for Bitter/Sweet, Elephants, Clash and Killer

Wrapped up more than a month ago, the troubled Phuket Film Festival has finally announced its awards for this year's edition, with prizes doled out to Bitter/Sweet, Do Elephants Pray?, Clash and Friday Killer.

The Thai-Hollywood romance Bitter/Sweet (ข้ามฟ้า หาสูตรรัก, Kam Fah Ha Sut Rak) and the poetic indie English comedy Do Elephants Pray? shared the Audience Appreciation Awards.

"Bitter/Sweet ... filmed entirely in Thailand portrays a side of the Kingdom rarely seen in film, that of Thailand's coffee industry," says a festival press release issued today. "Stunning location shots of Koh Samui and a plethora of the movie's stars at the Coliseum Cineplex for the Thailand premiere helped make this picture an audience delight."

Do Elephants Pray?, meanwhile, was enthusiastically supported by director Paul Hills, writer-star Johnnie Hurn and actor John Last, who drove the length and breadth of the island in their tiny rented car, passing out fliers and urging all to come see the movie. When their Elephants was dropped from the schedule because of cutbacks, they took it upon themselves to hire a digital projector so it could be shown. They had probably the biggest audience of the festival, with around 80 or 90 people turning out at the Green Man pub to see it.

Vietnamese helmer Le Thanh Son was named the New Asian Director for his gritty action drama Bẫy Rồng (Clash), starring the dynamic duo of Ngo Thanh Van and Johnny Tri Nguyen. Le brought the 35mm print of the film to the festival himself, walking the cans through the airports.

"First screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival as part of their Cinemania slate, Clash is a broad, colorful, snappy action flick that delivers the basic goods at a very brisk clip – and doesn't waste a lot of brain cells while doling out the violence. A great start to a budding genre in Vietnam," says the Phuket fest.

Yuthlert Sippapak's new crime drama Friday Killer (Meu Puen Dao Prasook, มือปืน ดาวพระศุกร์) was given the top prize, the International Break-out Award, with the prediction that the prolific genre-hopping director will have "great success with his trilogy of hitman films (Friday Killer, Saturday Killer, Sunday Killer) but will go on to break-out of directing domestic Thai films and pick-up a wider regional and international audience."

Friday Killer was the fest's closing film, shown on a first-edit DVD screener that was subtitled and rushed to the festival by Yuthlert himself. However, it appears the dramatic Friday Killer is too downbeat for Yuthlert's producers at Phranakorn Film, who will likely release the more comedy-oriented Saturday Killer and Sunday Killer first with Friday Killer coming out sometime next year. The films all pair veteran comic actors with starlets in a mash-up of genres that include crime drama, romance and comedy. Friday Killer stars Thep Po-ngam as an ageing gunman who's released from prison to discover he has a daughter, and she's a policewoman gunning for him. Saturday Killer (มือปืน ดาวพระเสาร์) stars Choosak "Nong Chachacha" Iamsuk and Cris Horwang while Sunday Killer (มือปืนพระอาทิตย์) pairs Kotee Aramboy with May Pitchanart Sakhakorn.

As for the Phuket Film Festival's troubles this year, the festival press release explains further:

Lower-than-expected attendance, a reluctance to travel to "town" to view movies, a need by organizers to cut financial losses by releasing screening equipment early (equipment that was costing nearly 30,000 Baht a day) shortening the Festival to seven days from 10 and underfunding (Festival was supported by one private sector source with only a 300,000 baht grant from the Thai government), all led to the poor performance of the 2010 Phuket Film Festival.

Due to the overall lack of interest and support on the part of the Phuket community, the People's Choice Awards for the Festival have been canceled.

"While the Festival had some very strong supporters in the community, lack of overall response to movies that did play the Festival does not allow us to proceed with a People's Choice Award," said organizer Scott Rosenberg. "It is unfortunate that while our business plan was strong, things just did not pan out the way they should have. You never expect to make money but you can break even if you fill the auditorium with an audience, which we just were not doing. It was embarrassing for us and embarrassing for the international filmmakers that attended the Festival to see their film screen to less than a handful of people."

While the People's Choice Awards are not being presented, the organizing committee does feel some filmmakers and their craft do deserve international attention, thus the following special festival awards are presented ...

It's unknown if there will be another Phuket film festival.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pen-ek's next project is a film-noir hitman movie

Since the release of Nymph last year, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's been earning cash by making TV commercials.

But he's also been at work on his new movie, Fon Tok Kuen Fah (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), which is among the projects slated to receive money from the Culture Ministry's controversial Thai Khem Kaeng (Strong Thailand) creative-economy stimulus fund.

He's due to start shooting next month. That's what I heard anyway, and was asked to report it as a "rumor".

The movie is based on a 2007 novel by Win Lyovarin (วินทร์ เลียววาริณ).

Translated roughly as "rain falling up to the sky", the book is described as a "film noir novel" about a hitman.

Excuse me while I pick my jaw back up off the floor and stick my eyeballs back in their sockets.

Pen-ek working on a film-noir hitman tale?

I think that's going to get fanboys excited, particularly the guys who were left flat by his past two romantic thrillers, 2007's hotel-set marriage drama Ploy and the haunted forest tale Nymph.

Win Lyovarin is a two-time S.E.A. Write-award winning writer and is a fellow Silpathorn Award laureate with Pen-ek. Among his tales was Puen Yai Jome Salad, which he adapted into a massive screenplay for Nonzee Nimibutr's pirate adventure Queens of Langkasuka (also known as Legend of the Tsunami Warrior).

Pen-ek previously worked with another S.E.A. Write Award-winning writer, Prabda Yoon, which resulted in two films, the pan-Asian collaborations with cinematographer Christopher Doyle and actor Asano Tadanobu, Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves.

Nymph (Nang Mai), is still on the festival circuit. It played at the recent Shanghai International Film Festival and is due to screen in Rome's Asian Film Festival.

Samui Film Festival announces opening party, plants Uruphong's Stories from the North in lineup

The second annual Samui Film Festival will have its grand-opening party at Beach Republic in Lamai on Thursday, August 5.

"Meet and mingle with film lovers, directors and VIPs ... at the chic and uniquely designed ocean club," says the festival press release.

Attendees will be treated to a live audio-visual performance by local artists and a feature-movie screening.

Doors open at 6. Tickets are 250 baht with a complimentary drink or dinner and a movie is 800 baht.

The Samui Film Festival then runs from August 6 to 8 at Tamarind Springs Forest Spa. The open-air festival features "a roster of inspiring and exquisite hand-selected films from around the world."

The lineup of mostly documentaries that focus on spiritual matters and environmental issues includes Uruphong Raksasad's Stories from the North (เรื่องเล่าจากเมืองเหนือ), a 2005 collection of short documentaries. Here's more:

The footage forms a cinematic collage of life in the northern Thai village where he grew up. The film captures the details of everyday situations from the most fundamental and commonplace – from the village to city life – to more intriguing moments such as the bicycle club formed by the village elders. Uruphong’s roots in the village allows him to achieve a rare intimacy with his neighbors – while some footage are contemplative and observational, at other times his camera gets both literally and emotionally as close to his subjects as it could be.

It's a fantastic addition to the lineup and a great opportunity to see an earlier work by the director of Agrarian Utopia.

Check the festival website for the rest. And there's more to come.

The Samui Film Festival has also joined in a partnership with the Disposable Film Festival and will screen a selection of “enviro shorts” shot on "disposable video" – one-time use video cameras, cellphones, point-and-shoot cameras, webcams, computer-screen capture software, etc.

The full schedule is expected sometime next month.

NYAFF 2010: Tickets to Power Kids given away

I have already given away two pairs of tickets to Power Kids at the New York Asian Film Festival.

To the two winners, the festival will have the tickets waiting for you at the box office.

The pint-sized, ass-kicking cousins of Tony Jaa, Power Kids is about a group of children from a Muay Thai school who have to fight terrorists who've taken over a hospital in order to retrieve a heart to save their dying friend. It's also known as Force of Five as well as Haa Hua Jai Heroes (5 หัวใจฮีโร่, literally "five heroes for the heart"),

If you're tired of flying double knee drops and elbow punches or bored at the prospect of seeing Vietnamese martial-arts star Johnny Nguyen throw a kid through a plate-glass window and get his head kicked in, then don't bother with this movie.

Here's more from festival:

To trace the downfall of Western civilization, look no further than the sad state of our children's entertainment. Sure, Nickelodeon can claim commercial success, but when international terrorists come to your house to kill your parents, The Suite Life of Zach and Cody is not going to help little Johnny nut up. Here at NYAFF, we believe the children are our future; teach them well, and let them lead the way ... with a flying knee to the face.

If you miss the days when movies could beat kids like rented mules then let them give it back as good as they got, look no further than Power Kids, the first tween-friendly product of the Thai hit factory behind Ong-Bak and Chocolate.

Wut, Kat, Jib, and wisecracking Pong are living an idyllic life at their Muay Thai school in Bangkok, racing toy cars and beating the crap out of obnoxious Western tourists. But when a friend needs a new heart and the only one available is inside a hijacked hospital, our young heroes must band together in the spirit of friendship to kick terrorist ass, facing off against The Rebel's Johnny Tri Nguyen and kicking hapless stuntmen in the junk until they piss blood (no, seriously).

Don't look for any fancy jump-cuts cheating the action; these moppets can take some serious punishment. That really is a kickboxing 11-year-old girl going face first through plate glass as Johnny Nguyen beats his pint-sized nemeses with laptops, hurls them off mezzanines, peppers them with machine gun fire and goes toe-to-toe with a boy not old enough to shave. Cracking skulls, ripping the plumbing out of the walls and immolating bad guys with Molotov cocktails, the Power Kids are the mutant love children of Die Hard and Bugsy Malone.

Power Kids is playing on July 3, in the IFC Center@Midnight slot.

Raging Phoenix, starring Chocolate martial-arts heroine Jija Yanin in a sick mashup of B-boy breakdancing moves and drunken Muay Thai, is playing on Monday at 1pm at the Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. I two pairs of tickets for that one, but they've been given away.

The New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 25 to July 8 at the Walter Reade Theater, July 1 to 4 at the Japan Society and midnights on June 25-26 and July 2-3 at the IFC Center.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Director’s Screen relaunches with Mundane History, Agrarian Utopia and Phuket

Begun in 2008, indie distributor and production-marque Extra Virgin is restarting its Director's Screen Project, bringing independent arthouse films to the Bangkok multiplexes.

The series starts on August 5 with the long-awaited local theatrical release of Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก, Jao Nok Krajok). Since premiering at last year's Pusan International Film Festival and opening the World Film Festival of Bangkok, director Anocha Suwichakornpong's family and social drama has been on a tear through the festival circuit, winning the VPRO Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and most recently Transilvania Trophy at the Transilvania International Film Festival. Upcoming screenings include the Munich Film Festival and the Paris Cinema International Film Festival.

Next on September 2 will be Agrarian Utopia (สวรรค์บ้านนา , Sawan Baan Na), a beautiful, digitally shot experimental documentary on the hardships of rice farming by Uruphong Raksasad. It's also been ripping up the festival circuit. It won the Unesco Award at last year's Asia Pacific Screen Awards, best narrative feature at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, and most recently a jury prize at the Millennium International Documentary Film Festival. Earlier it was in the Berlin Documentary Forum, where The Nation's correspondent caught up with Uruphong before the filmmaker jetted off to upstate New York for Colgate College's Flaherty Seminar. More screenings are coming up at the NETPAC Festival in New Delhi plus Toronto, Adelaide, Tokyo, Warsaw and Ramalla.

On September 30, closing out the first leg of this year's series, will be a package of shorts by Aditya Assarat, headlined by Phuket, a drama about a South Korean actress (Lim Su-jeong from I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK and Sorry, I Love You) who gets a tour of the island from her hotel limo driver, played by veteran leading man Sorapong Chatree. The short was commissioned as a tourism promotion by South Korea and Thailand. Two other shorts by the recent Silpathorn Award laureate will be shown, 2004's Boy Genius and 2005's The Sigh. Together, the two shorts are the first two parts of Aditya's Boy Genius trilogy.

The Director's Screen films will show for one month at SFX the Emporium in Bangkok, with daily showtimes at 7 and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2. Throughout the release period, there will be special activities on Saturdays after the evening show, where the films’ directors will do a Q&A session.

Here's a bit more on the series from Extra Virgin:

Striving to introduce more distinctive, thought-provoking titles from Thailand as well as around the world to the local audience, the Director's Screen project reflects the widespread recognition in contemporary Thai cinema in an international arena as evident in the Palme d’Or success of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which is being released in Thailand this week.

The Director's Screen series was launched in 2008 with Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town. Already an award-winner on the international circuit, the limited release secured a spot for the haunting romantic drama in the local awards, where it swept many top prizes, including five trophies at the industry's top kudos, the Subhanahongsa Awards.

Pimpaka Towira's sprawling political documentary, The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong, was the second film on the Director's Screen slate in 2008.

This year’s Director’s Screen project is supported by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Ministry of Culture, and with a new technical partner in ACD Network, Singapore. "The strengthened commitment and shared vision of all the project’s partners will confirm the longevity of the initiative and more titles are set to be released in the next phases of the project in the coming year," says Extra Virgin.

(Via e-mailed press release from Extra Virgin, thanks Mai!)

Thai Short Film Marathon starts on July 1

It's that time of year again, when the selection committee, enthusiastic cinephiles and student filmmakers hunker down in a room and watch the hundreds of entries that have been submitted to the Thai Short Film & Video Festival.

This year for the festival's 14th edition, there's around 500 entries to look over, and in order to be seen, they have to be shown.

The Thai Film Foundation has the list of entries.

The Short Film Marathon is the first round of selection to pare down the selection for the various competitions in the 14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, which is open to student films, documentaries, the general public and foreign filmmakers.

The marathon starts on July 1 and runs daily until August 1, except on Mondays and July 13 and 18. Showtimes are 5 to 8.30 Tuesday through Friday and 11 to 8.30 on Saturday and Sunday. The screening space is the fourth-floor meeting room in the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Apichatpong, other award-winning filmmakers honored by industry federation, Culture Ministry

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Anocha Suwichakornpong and Uruphong Raksasad were among the filmmakers honored by the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand and the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture at a gala ceremony on Thursday night at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok.

Essentially, Honoring World-Class Thai Talents was about giving awards to award winners.

Here's the filmmakers honored:

The filmmakers brought their trophies from overseas and showed them off while mingling with industry and ministry brass. Dokdin Kanyamarn, the comedian and director of a string of musical comedies in the 1970s, was on hand to congratulate Apichatpong.

(Photos via Wallapa on Facebook)

Apichatpong-a-rama: Bangkok, Munich, Jerusalem, Sitges to see Uncle Boonmee

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives opens for a limited run in Bangkok today. It's showing at SFX the Emporium, with nightly showtimes at 7.20 and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2.30.

Film critic Kong Rithdee urges everyone to go see it. He has a story in today's Bangkok Post, chronicling the fast-track local release. Here's a snip:

As of last week, there was an undercurrent of worry that Uncle Boonmee, which features one scene of a wayward monk, would get into trouble, just like Apichatpong's previous film, Syndromes and a Century, did with the famously narrow-minded censors.

But everything went smoothly. Observers are prone to judge that the glittering aura of the Palme d'Or has helped ease up the hearts of the rating committees, though Apichatpong has publicly said on several occasions that his film must be judged by the same standards as other Thai films. The award, he said, must not be factored in. Favouritism is a vice that won't help the progress of Thai cinema.

Since Uncle Boonmee won the top prize at Cannes Film Festival last month, the enthusiasm in Thailand has been visible, almost over-the-top. Fans of Apichatpong's cinema – a brand of Third World surrealism fused with the gentlest of humour – as well as non-fans and downright detractors, have worked up the eagerness, or just curiosity, to see the film. As with any other film made in the world, there will be those who like Uncle Boonmee and those who don't; those who find a connection with its delicate, oddball wavelengths, and those who don't; those who'd go back and dream about the people and animals in the film, and those who don't. It's natural, and it doesn't mean anybody is right or wrong. The Palme d'Or, like the director said, shouldn't be factored in.

I've seen anxious comments here and there from readers and fellow bloggers who are seemingly begrudging Bangkok's getting to see Uncle Boonmee so soon ahead of the rest of the world. Usually it's the other way around with Apichatpong's films, Thailand being among the last to see his movies.

Folks everywhere just can't wait to see this movie.

But until I hear different, it looks like Uncle Boonmee will follow the usual pattern of hitting the festival circuit for a year or so.

Upcoming appearances include the Munich Film Festival, which starts today and runs until July 3; the Jerusalem Film Festival from July 8 to 17; and Sitges International Film Festival Catalonia from October 7 to 17.

Noticeably absent from festival announcements so far is anything in the U.S. There's no sales deals that I've heard of in the States.

Lucky Canadians are promised a "proper theatrical run" after Toronto-based Filmswelike picked up Boonmee in Cannes.

Contact The Match Factory in Germany. They're handling worldwide sales.

The print that screened in Bangkok last Friday came from the Sydney Film Festival and was headed for Jerusalem when the Kick the Machine crew snagged it out of orbit to show Bangkok audiences.

In Sydney, the Sydney Film Happenings blogger Ian Barr wrote:

Taken on its own terms, Uncle Boonmee is thoroughly hypnotic if – in my eyes – even more perplexing than Joe’s previous three films (all of which are personal all-time faves). But I’ve found the film more and more moving as I look back on it, without taking the spiritual aspects of the film too literally. In particular, the film’s coda and final scene feels absolutely perfect in the culmination of ideas and motifs introduced earlier, clarifying ‘rebirth’ as something that lso occurs moment-to-moment in addition to life-to-life. It can’t be a coincidence that the film ends with three characters watching images on a TV set – continuing a process of regeneration.

Boonmee is actually a funny movie. The crowd in theater 5 at last Friday's screening was laughing a lot. Of course, the same folks also clapped and cheered during the credits, like when the names of the editor (Lee Chatametikool), the production and costume designers (Akekarat Homlaor and Chatchai Chaiyon) and sound designers (Chalermrat Kaweewattana, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, Shimizu Koichi and Richard Hocks) came up. It was a rowdy crowd.

Apichatpong himself has urged audiences not to take it so seriously, saying "please don't think too much and let yourself be hypnotized and taken on a journey".

Update: Tickets to Friday night's show sold out, reports Chaisri, and seats were going fast for Saturday's show. You can try calling SF cinemas at (02) 268-2888 to reserve a seat. Contrary to what the cultural watchdog thinks, it seems Thai people DO go to see Apichatpong's movies.

Visra Vichit-Vadakan's Rise in Karlovy Vary docs competition

U.S.-schooled filmmaker Visra Vichit-Vadakan's experimental short documentary Rise is in competition at the 45th Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Here's with the festival has to say about the 8-minute work:

In her intriguing documentary essay, Thai director Visra Vichit-Vadakan ponders the universal theme of understanding between parents and their newly adult offspring, who are looking for their own way in life and hope that their parents will understand and respect them. To wit, a young Thai man spends afternoons on the streets of Bangkok performing a bizarre one-man show: wrapped in sheets, he rolls in various directions through paint, thereby creating colorful, abstract compositions with his movements. He hopes that passersby will grasp the meaning of his actions.

Rise was previously in competition at the 56th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and was also shown at the Rotterdam fest.

Visra has a feature project, Karma Police, which received support from Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund.

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival runs from July 2 to 10.

(Via IndieWire)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

  • Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Starring Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwonk, Geerasak Kulhong, Wallapa Mongkolprasert
  • Limited release at SFX the Emporium, Bangkok, from Friday, June 25, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

That Apichatpong “Joei” Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year wasn’t much of a surprise.

The avant-garde artist and moviemaker had been groomed for the top slot ever since his first appearance on the Croisette in 2002, when he won the second-tier Un Certain Regard prize for Blissfully Yours (Sud Saneha). He won the third-place Jury Prize in the main competition in 2004 with Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad). And he even helped judge the entries in 2008.

But after seeing Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat), winning the prize does seem surprising. Compared to other Golden Palm winners, like Apocalypse Now or The Mission, Apichatpong’s movie is gentle and small.

Yet it has the power to conjure up those huge epics by sheer force of imagination. An independent production put together for around 20 million baht, Boonmee was shot on 16mm stock and uses old-fashioned special effects. It’s an antiquated film in an age of digital production and computer graphics.

And therein lies its magic. As Cannes jury head Tim Burton said, it’s “a beautiful, strange, dream”. And he too was surprised by it.

Apichatpong’s subconscious laid bare, Boonmee recalls the filmmaker’s past life, growing up in the 1970s and '80s, watching movies in a Khon Kaen theatre, as well as TV dramas, and poring over comic books.

It’s also inspired by a Buddhist monk’s sermon booklet, Phra Sripariyattiweti's A Man Who Can Recall Past Lives, written in 1983. Cinema and spirituality combine to produce the supernatural.

Boonmee is different from Apichatpong’s previous works, which had elliptical qualities that told abstract stories. Here, the story is as fractured as ever, but the narrative is clearer, with charming comic touches.

Nephew Tong and sister-in-law Jen – Apichatpong’s long-time players Sakda Kaewbuadee and Jenjira Pongpas – take the audience by the hand on this weird odyssey, going to visit the terminally ill uncle (Thanapat Saisayma) on his farm in the Thai Northeast.

He’s dying of kidney disease and wants to be surrounded by his loved ones. More folks turn up than he bargained for.

At supper one night, the family is taken aback when a woman fades in and takes up an empty chair at the table, her translucence becoming solid. It’s Boonmee’s late wife Thuy (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk).

Then a big black apeman with red glowing eyes mounts the stairs and takes another empty chair. This monkey ghost is Boonmee’s long-lost son Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong).

Boonmee’s Lao labourer (Samud Kugasang) comes into the room, assesses the oddball collection of dinner guests and says, “I feel like I’m the strange one here.”

And it gets even more bizarre.

The story goes back to ancient times, with a princess (Wallapa Monkolprasert, who walked the Cannes red carpet with Joei) being carried on a palanquin through the forest. She has a date in a waterfall pool with a talking catfish whose whiskers tickle her privacy.

Earlier, a water buffalo snorts, pulls its rope free and runs into the woods.

Which one is Boonmee? Even the uncle himself isn’t certain.

He is drawn deeper and deeper into the forest, a mystical force guiding him to a crystal cave, his birthplace in his first life, whatever it was. In his dying throes he wonders if bad deeds he did as a soldier – tying this film into Apichatpong’s Primitive art project on a 1960s anti-communist crackdown in a rural village – are the reason for his karma.

“What’s wrong with my eyes? They are open, but I can’t see a thing,” he murmurs.

But we can see. Thanks to unprecedented interest in Joei’s prize-winner, he’s made it possible for Thailand to be the third country on the planet to witness the subtle power of Uncle Boonmee. Usually Thai audiences wait a year or more for Joei’s films, and until now, not so many people really cared.

Things have changed, though. His last movie, Syndromes and a Century (Sang Sattawat) was censored, with the culture controllers saying scenes of doctors drinking whisky and a monk playing a guitar were inappropriate. The harsh censorship galvanised the art-film community.

Though the authorities still censor and ban movies, there’s now a ratings system in place, with Boonmee okayed for viewers age 15 and up.

Like in Syndromes, there’s Sakda in monk’s robes again, doing inappropriate things, but this time someone tells him he’s wrong.

And perhaps in a shout-out to the censored Blissfully Yours, three people sit on a bed, including the Blissfully lead actress Kanokporn Thongaram. But they're just sitting there. It's natural.

You be the judge. Watch it and insert your own past life or long-ago movie-going experience into the equation.

With the monkey ghost and the princess, I couldn’t help but think of 1977's Star Wars, with Boonmee as a sort of doomed Darth Vader. Not sure how the talking catfish fits in, though.

Apichatpong says Star Wars likely wasn’t an influence. The monkey ghost came from an old comic. “Or maybe Planet of the Apes,” he says.

(Cross published in The Nation, xp section, Page 3B, June 24, 2010)


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leo Kittikorn hits the road to romance with That Sounds Good

The main point of the road-trip romance That Sounds Good (เรา สองสาม คน, Rao Song Sam Khon), it appears, is to get director "Leo" Kittikorn Liawsirikul out of the office.

“I was completely bored with studio shoots,” he's quoted as saying by Soopsip in today's Nation. Leo previously directed such films as Goal Club, Ahimsa – Stop to Run, Bus Lane and Dream Team.

Musician Jay Montonn Jira shifts from scoring movies to starring in them with That Sounds Good. The composer of the 9 Wat soundtrack portrays the driver of a four-wheel-drive rig on an Indochinese road rally.

Along for the ride with Jay's Somchu are two young women, Ter and Soontri (Ramita Mahapreukpong and Rattanrat Eertaweekul). The former doesn't see so good and wears thick round eyeglasses while the latter has impaired hearing and wears a hearing aid.

Inevitably, with the three attached to their orange Suzuki four-wheeler, a love triangle forms, with lots of significant glances and long, mood-drenched stares across the exotic landscapes.

Leo set his romantic drama against backdrop of one of those off-road caravans, in which Thai motorheads kick up dust on the backroads of Laos and Vietnam. Such petrol-guzzling events provide filler for TV news shows, car magazines and the automotive sections of newspapers.

Leo said he “virtually” scouted the route beforehand, but found plenty of opportunities to improvise, letting the plot find its own way.

Most of the dialog is unscripted.

“There was no need for us to memorize the script like parrots,” actress "Gypso" Ramita is quoted as saying. “We just tried to communicate the script in our own words.”

Opening on Thursday, That Sounds Good is the third feature from the M39 production house, started up by Leo and other former crewmembers from RS Film's disbanded Avant unit.

The trailer is at YouTube on the M39 That Sounds Good channel, and is embedded below. Nangdee has posters.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Apichatpong-a-rama: Uncle Boonmee and the past lives of Thai films

And I'm still formulating my thoughts about the Cannes Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat).

Meanwhile, there are other people writing about Apichatpong Weerasethakul's acclaimed film.

Filmsick pointed me to a Cinema Scope interview with Apichatpong, done in Cannes by Mark Peranson and Kong Rithdee. Kong wrote an earlier story in the Bangkok Post that was based on this same interview, in which Apichatpong talks about the episodic nature of his film. Here, he talks more about that, and the death of old-time movie-making.

Are you talking about Thai cinema or cinema in general?

Thai cinema, yes, but I think Uncle Boonmee will be one of the last films that will be shot on film, as everything is moving to the Red or Sony or whatever, so it’s a tribute, and a lamentation, in a way, for celluloid. The first reel is really like my way of filming: you see the animal in the forest, a long take with the kidney dialysis, and the driving scene. And the second reel is very much like old cinema with stiff acting, no camera movement, and a very classical stage, like Thai TV drama, with monsters and ghosts. The third reel becomes like a documentary, shot in the exteriors on the tamarind farm—and also French, in a way, this kind of relaxing film. The fourth reel, with the princess and the catfish, is a costume drama, a Thai cinema of the past. So even though there is a continuity, the time reference always shifts…The fifth reel is the jungle, but it’s not the same jungle as Tropical Malady because it’s a cinema jungle – a day-for-night drama that we shot with a blue filter, like very old films. You put this old actor into a cinema jungle, and the cave refers to those old adventure novels or comic books. (In the scene with the ghost we also used a mirror, another allusion to the cinema of the past.) And the sixth reel, in the hotel, the time is slowed down, the time has become seemingly documentary. Again it’s like my films, with the long takes, but at the same time in the end when it splits, when you see the doubles of the two characters, Jen and Tong, I wanted to suggest the idea of time disruption, that the movie isn’t dealing with one reality, there are multiple planes …

Okay, even having all that explained, it doesn't really help me process the film in my own head.

However, it's clear that things are changing for Apichatpong and the Thai film industry. He's talked before that Uncle Boonmee will likely be the last film he can make in the manner he's been accustomed to.

He alluded to that "dying kind of cinema" in an interview with Agence France-Presse, which quoted earlier. It's available in various places on the Web but all the versions I've come across somehow got garbled. Here's a clean version of a key passage:

"Fear is the key word," he added, likening Thailand's current situation to Eastern Europe in the 1960s and 70s, when filmmakers resorted to "a symbolic kind of movie" rather than an overtly political one.

This seems true of his two-hour tale about Uncle Boonmee.

While the plot takes the dying man on a trek through the jungle with his dead wife and his son in monkey form, Apichatpong said it is a parable on a dying kind of cinema from his youth, and he links this closely to censorship.

"People try to – especially from the government – they try to tell you what is the right thing to wear, the right thing to do or what is the proper national language and stuff like that," he explained.

Set in the Thai northeast where Apichatpong grew up, the film is also a tribute to the rural region, which has its own distinct culture and dialect.

Winning Cannes, as Apichatpong told me, means he has more enemies, as well as people who want to work with him.

His Cannes win is even being parodied.

Interviewed on the Woody Kerd Ma Kui TV talk show on Sunday night, Joei revealed more about that. The Nation's Soopsip gossip columnist was watching the show (and not the World Cup?), and here's a snip from today's column:

After Joei won the top prize at Cannes, a French producer offered him 200 million baht [US$6.2 million] to make an action film. The money was tempting, he said, but the answer was no.

“I could make an action film, but only in my own style. With that much money, it’s doubtful I’d stay independent!”

Joei also revealed that his cinematic childhood was filled with the same "Hollywood junk [as] the rest of us", citing Steven Spielberg and George Lucas among his favorite directors. He'd also like to work with Thai leading ladies Pissamai Wilaisak, the now-blind 1960s and '70s screen siren Petchara Chaowarat and still-active veteran stage and screen actress Sinjai Plengpanich.

Here's more from the Soopsip report:

Joei was asked about the common belief that all of his films are difficult to understand. It’s okay, he says: “My parents don’t understand my films either.”

Does Joei understand his own films? He smiled, but it wasn’t a trick question, as it turned out. He watches them many times, “and I always find a new dimension, something I missed before.”

So yeah, there's some good advice. Trouble is, I have to somehow write a review of Uncle Boonmee before it opens in a limited release on Friday at Bangkok's SFX the Emporium cinema, where showtimes are at 7.20 nightly with 2.45 matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.

It did remind me, oddly, of Star Wars. And, I've found, I wasn't the only one.

Maybe it was the Monkey Ghost, who reminded me of Chewbacca? But, Apichatpong says that's maybe more from old Thai comic books, "or maybe Planet of the Apes.

(Nation photo by Pramote Putthaisong)

Agrarian Utopia harvests award in Brussels doc fest

Uruphong Raksasad's documentary-drama Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Baan Na) is still making its way around the festival circuit, winning awards.

Its latest triumph was in Brussels at the Millennium International Documentary Film Festival, where it won a special jury award.

Other recent appearances for Agrarian Utopia have included the Berlin Documentary Forum, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival and the Ljubljana International Documentary Film Festival.

(Via Extra Virgin)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Still waiting for Juthamas to answer charges in Bangkok film fest bribery case

I missed the news more than a week ago that former Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Juthamas Sririwan will be charged in Thailand with taking bribes in the Bangkok International Film Festival bribery case.

Actually, the National Anti-Corruption Commission informed Juthamas of its findings last month and is still waiting for her to answer the charges.

Juthamas and her daughter are also under indictment in the U.S. for the case, in which U.S. Justice Department officials say the Siriwans took $1.8 million in bribes from Gerald and Patricia Green. The husband-and-wife Hollywood producers paid the bribes in order to secure contracts to run the Bangkok International Film Festival and other tourism-related schemes between 2002 and 2007.

The Thai case against Juthamas will likely make use of evidence gathered by the U.S. authorities, say the Bangkok Post and The Nation.

Gerald, the producer of such films as Salvador and Rescue Dawn, and Patricia, were convicted of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The Greens' sentencing in the case has been repeatedly delayed. The last update had a sentencing set for June 3, but that date has come and gone without a peep out of Los Angeles.

Under Juthamas and the Greens, the Bangkok International Film Festival from 2004 to 2006, gained a reputation as a glitzy, red-carpet-festooned affair, with major Hollywood stars flown in at Thai taxpayers' expense to be wined and dined at lavish banquets, golf tournaments and tours, and put up in five-star hotels.

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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Apichatong-a-rama: Uncle Boonmee comes home

It's happened so fast.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Palme d'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat) will open in Bangkok on Friday, June 25, in a limited, month-long release at SFX the Emporium cinema. It's passed censors and is rated 15+.

Showtimes will be nightly at 7 with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 as part of Bioscope magazine's Independent Spirit series.

"It's not like my other films," Apichatpong said, making a statement that speaks volumes. His previous features haven't been seen in Thailand until after they've been on the festival circuit for a year or more.

But interest in the top prize winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival is intense, and when Apichatpong's Kick the Machine crew saw the chance to show the film, they took it.

The Thailand premiere screening was held on Friday night, with Uncle Boonmee unspooling for two packed halls of press and VIP cinephiles.

Before the screening, the theater lobby was jammed tight, and it was impossible to turn around without bumping into a filmmaking celebrity. Among the crowd were Nonzee Nimibutr, Yuthlert Sippapak, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Chookiat Sakveerakul, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Somkiat Vituranich, Michael Shaowanasai, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Pimpaka Towira, Lee Chatametikool, Zoe Popham, Sukie and Noi Sukosol Clapp, Ping Lumprapleung, "Pop" Areeya Chumsai and some of the Fan Chan directors.

Before the screening, Apichatpong remarked that seeing so many people packed in for Uncle Boonmee was proof enough that Thai people do go to see movies by him, disproving the dismissive statements in Time magazine three years ago by Cultural Surveillance chief Ladda Tangsupachai that Thai moviegoers are "not intellecturals" and only want to watch comedies.

Apichatpong's remarks to the audience last night echoed statements he made in an interview issued earlier in the day by Agence France-Presse, in which he referred to Ladda's statements. The key excerpt:

Back in 2007, a top official at the Ministry of Culture was more blunt. "Nobody goes to see films by Apichatpong," Ladda Tangsupachai told Time magazine. "Thai people want to see comedy. We like a laugh."

Defending a controversial draft film law that passed later that year – despite opposition from filmmakers including Apichatpong for its wide-ranging censorship powers – she said Thai film fans were "not intellectuals".

The softly-spoken director recalls being upset by Ladda's "very strong" comments about his work, coming as they did from a public figure: "I don't think she has a right to say that."

A Nation op-ed piece today recalls Apichatpong's past struggles with censors, which saw his highly personal Syndromes and a Century eviscerated in 2008, after it been critically acclaimed at festivals overseas.

That was before the ratings system was enacted.

And last year, the then-new Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch swore "never again" would a Thai film that had been lauded internationally be subjected to harsh censorship at home.

So perhaps the authorities are loosening up their grip on culture, and letting some things slide? Perhaps they've finally learned that blocking information usually backfires?

Or maybe they're just worried about other things?

A renewed crackdown has been announced on anti-monarchy websites by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, which is increasing its focus on censorship.

And Teera, who couldn't correctly remember the title of Apichatpong's new movie, is no longer culture minister.

It's Niphit Intharasombat's job now. Niphit, a lawyer and Democrat MP from Phatthalung Province, has promised he'll do his best.

The Culture Ministry, along with MICT (and new freedom-loving minister Juti Krairerk) and the Justice Ministry, have agreed to work together on the Web crackdown, and a new agency has been formed to stamp out criticism of the monarchy.

Anyway, enough about all that. How about the film?

My initial thoughts were: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ... absurdly fantastic, dryly comic, haunting. Won't soon forget. Want to see again."

Then a little bit later: "Now thinking about Uncle Boonmee I'm feeling very melancholy. Kind of want to cry and don't know why."

In a way, it's like science fiction, or an altered state, much like the other films of Thailand's David Lynch.

I'm still formulating thoughts.

Update: Bangkok Pundit has more on fear and the political situation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Aditya Assarat is this year's Silpathorn Award honoree for film

Congratulations to "Juke" Aditya Assarat (อาทิตย์ อัสสรัตน์) on being given the Silpathorn Award!

The Wonderful Town director joins the ranks of Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wisit Sasanatieng, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Nonzee Nimibutr and Pimpaka Towira as an honoree for the award for Thai contemporary art.

Bestowed annually since 2004, the Silpathorn Award (รางวัลศิลปาธร) is given by the Thai Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture to artists at mid-career under the age of 50.

Born in 1972 in Bangkok, Aditya studied at New York University and the University of Southern California. His first short was Motorcycle, which was the winner of many prizes, including the R.D. Pestonji Award at the Thai Short Film & Video Festival in 2000. It still turns up in festivals.

He took part in the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative in 2004, being mentored by Indian filmmaker Mira Nair.

Wonderful Town in 2007 was his first feature. The story of a big-city architect's fleeting relationship with a small-town hotel owner in a tsunami-stricken southern Thailand town, it shared the New Currents Prize at the Pusan International Film Festival and the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

As an independent film, given a limited release in Thailand in 2008, it made history last year when it was the top winner of the Thai film industry's biggest honors, the Subhanahongsa Awards.

Aditya's other projects include 3 Friends (Ma-Mee), which he co-directed with Mingmongkol Sonakul and Pumin Chinaradee; Bangkok Blues, which was part of last year's Sawasdee Bangkok short-film anthology; and another short, Phuket, a South Korean-Thai tourism promotion.

He's at work on his sophomore solo feature, the semi-autobiographical romance High Society, starring Ananda Everingham.

Aditya runs Pop Pictures, a production company that has made the Dreamchaser TV series starring musician Sukie Sukosol Clapp on his motorcycle journeys, as well as music videos. Pop Pictures has also backed the projects of many other indie filmmakers, including the feature Eternity by Sivaroj Kongsakul.

Both High Society and Eternity will be featured in the upcoming Paris Project screenings.

Other Silpathorn Award winners this year are:

  • Chaiyoot Tosa-nga, leader of the Boy Thai band, for music
  • Saneh Sangsuk, author of White Shadow, for literature
  • Patama Roonrakwit, the Association of Siamese Architects' Young Architect Award winner, for architecture
  • Nikorn Saetang, theatre director, for performing arts
  • Navin Rawanchaikul, artist, for visual arts
  • Withoon Khunalangkan for interior design
  • Pracha Suveeranont for graphic design
  • Wasinburi Supanichwarapat for design

The recipients each receive a shield of honor, 100,000 baht cash and a jeweled golden brooch.

(Via The Nation; photo via Flickr by cjegu)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

NYAFF 2010: Tickets to Raging Phoenix given away

I had two pairs of tickets to give away to the screening of Raging Phoenix at the New York Asian Film Festival.

They went to the first two people who came hopping into my office in Bangkok on a pair of bladed pogo stilts.

Actually, scratch that part about the bladed pogo stilts.

They were just the quickest to e-mail me at wisekwai [at] gmail.

It's the New York premiere for the sophomore feature starring Jija Yanin, the female action star who burst onto the scene with Chocolate. Here, she's a bitter, lonely and headstrong young socialite who survives being kidnapped by transvestites. She's rescued by a swell group of guys, from whom she learns how to combine Muay Thai beatdowns with B-boy moves. It's "truly jaw-dropping ... full of high impact kicks, lethal breakdancing and the discovery that the greatest martial art of all is Drunken Muay Thai," raves the festival.

Here's more from the festival:

Raging Phoenix is a living organism, a gorgeous pop abomination from beyond media sent to Earth to teach us its strange ways of love, with a shrieking breakbeat pulse and a soul pickled in 100-proof starshine. This latest mad monster from producer Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-Bak) reunites us with Chocolate star "Jeeja" Yanin for the sickest, slickest lost weekend you've ever had, and we promise: no hangover. With a magic mushroom premise and production design straight out of Fraggle Rock, this might just be Thai action cinema's first elbow-gouging, pelvis-smashing chick flick.

Lonely-hearted rock drummer Deu (Jeeja) is in no mood for monkey business when some sniff-happy hoodlums come bouncing after her on gigantic pogo-scythes, determined to use her crazy lady pheromones to cultivate a forbidden black-market perfume made from tears of sorrow. Rescued by four beach bum badasses – Dog Shit, Pig Shit, Sanim, and the ever-mysterious Bull Shit – Deu joins their ranks to learn Meyraiyuth, the hip-hop-flavored drunken fighting technique born of the DTs, unlearnable without having first consumed massive quantities of hard liquor. Armed with only her pluck and a rainbow coalition of the world's strangest booze, Deu must drink the sacred demon Hell Grog that mere men dare not drink, and become the Raging Phoenix who will liberate womankind.

As Deu, Jeeja Yanin proves her acting mettle, playing an abrasive burnout case who'd rather open your throat than open her heart ever again, while the eye-popping, break-boxing choreography by Panna Ritikrai (Chocolate, Ong-Bak) is like nothing you've ever seen - you haven't lived until you've watched someone take down an opponent with the Worm, and Rashane Limtrakul's fluid-groove camera captures every B-Boy beatdown. Raging Phoenix is a gloriously debauched addition to the Thai action canon, an hallucinogenic cocktail which goes nova in your throat and gets you drunk on the fallout. Come drunk, leave happy.

Though check the showtime first: Raging Phoenix is at 1pm on Monday, June 28, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater.

Want to bitch about that lame-ass slot? Head over to Subway Cinema's blog, where Grady Hendrix will set you straight, probably while dressed in drag and wearing a pair of bladed pogo stilts, so watch out.

The New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 25 to July 8 at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, July 1 to 4 at the Japan Society and midnights on June 25-26 and July 2-3 at the IFC Center.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A vengeful ghost in a haunted tree in Takien

The latest ghost story to hit the big screen in Thailand is Takien: The Haunted Tree (นางตะเคียน, Nang Takien), about the spirit of a suicidal garment-factory worker inhabiting the tree where she hanged herself.

Directed by Saiyon Srisawat (สายยนต์ ศรีสวัสดิ์) and produced by Pacific Island Film, there's sure to be a moralistic message rooted in there somewhere.

Pacific Island is the company that last year released Samchuk, a morale-filled schoolboy drugs drama that won best-actor prizes for Paramej Noi-um during this year's movie-awards season.

Here's the synopsis for Takien that's been aired already on various horror-movie websites:

Yaibua is a woman in despair. Unemployed and betrayed, she returns to her hometown where her family is her last hope. On her arrival, she finds her parents and sister are gone. Distraught, Yaibua tries to contact Pichan, her boyfriend, but she doesn’t hear any news and hangs herself on a big tree near the graveyard. But the wrongdoing she has done from her past life to this life causes her spirit to possess the tree, waiting for Pichan and her own redemption.

Jiranun Manochaem stars as Yaibua, with Pirapan Arayapan as the boyfriend Pichan.

There's a subtitled trailer at YouTube, and it seems to tell another story, involving more black magic and revenge. From BigFun's channel, it's embedded below.

Loads of posters at NangDee. There's also a music video.

Takien: The Haunted Tree opens in Thai cinemas on Thursday.

Update: There's a long history of takien-tree ghosts in Thai cinema. ThaiWorldView has more.

(Via MovieSeer, NangDee)