Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: Hi-So

  • Directed by Aditya Assarat
  • Starring Ananda Everingham, Cerise Leang, Sajee Apiwong
  • Limited release in SF cinemas, Thailand, on October 13, 2011; re-release on December 29, 2011 at House, Bangkok. Rated 13+.
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Why's Ananda so sad? He's got a great life as an actor in Thailand, and his hot girlfriend from the States has come to visit him at the beachside location of the movie he's making. Later, he gets a cute Thai girlfriend, and he's got cool friends to hang out with and a whole apartment building to call his own.

But, for whatever reason, Ananda is sad. He's uncomfortable with the American woman's visit and her uncomfortableness with the photo-snapping quirks of Thai culture. He maybe likes the Thai lady better but she's uncomfortable with the casual traits of Western culture that Ananda picked up while he when to school in the U.S.

The cultural confusion has ripped away part of Ananda's soul, possibly symbolized by the decaying beach resort, destroyed by the tsunami, and by the deteroirating condition of his Bangkok apartment building, which has had an entire wing clawed away to supposedly make room for new development.

This is Hi-So (ไฮโซ), the second feature from Wonderful Town director Aditya Assarat, and like his first film, Hi-So – Thai slang for blue-haired high-society types that's usually said with a snear – is ironically titled. Like the town that wasn't so wonderful after all, here's a society that's well-off enough but not really all that high.

Hi-So is a partially autobiographical story by the Thai-born filmmaker who was shipped to the U.S. for education while in his teens. The story also reflects the changes Thailand has gone through in this age of globalized culture, in which a Thai actor drinks Tennessee bourbon, talks like an American hip-hop singer, dresses like a New Yorker and adopts a stray dog that turns out to be Japanese.

Ananda Everingham's really the only guy who could have pulled off the role of this actor named Ananda, and there's probably more than a little of himself in the character. He's refreshingly cool and casual but has a melancholy side that comes out when he's alone.

Hi-So is a movie of two halves, each pairing Ananda up with a different girlfriend. Even some of the dialogue and situations are the same in both parts.

Cerise Leang is the American girlfriend Zoe, who Ananda is still with after he's returned to Thailand. She's come for a visit while he's on a film location. While he's off working, she's left alone at a five-star resort, which is virtually empty because it's low season. Zoe has some Lost in Translation moments, only because there's no Bill Murray hanging around, she becomes pals with the hotel bartender (Pison Suwanpakdee) and other members of the staff. The platonic interactions only serve to make things sadder and further emphasize the cultural divide.

Zoe eventually visits the film set, but doesn't understand what Ananda is doing, why she has to be quiet, even when the cameras are not rolling (a scene that reminded me of 24 Hour Party People and "recording silence"), and why Thai people have to take so many pictures.

Cut to some months later, and Ananda has taken up with a Thai woman, May, who works for the film company. Yet, for some reason, she's left to wander the halls of Ananda's Bangkok apartment building alone.

She adopts a stray dog, who she names Ananda, but it's not enough to fill her heart. A night out in a pub with Ananda's internationally schooled pals only serves to widen the gap between them.

Related posts:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: The Kick

  • Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
  • Starring Jo Jae-Hyeon, Ye Ji-Won, Na Tae-Joo, Kim Kyong-Suk, Petthai Wongkumlao, Yanin Vismitananda
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 22, 2011; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Koreans play nice and rough with Thais in the bi-national co-production The Kick (วอนโดนเตะ!!), in which cultural icons of both countries are trotted out for display. There's a dancing elephant, Thai and Korean food, Korean and Thai music, national costumes and plenty of demonstrations of the respective martial arts, taekwondo and Muay Thai.

Co-produced by South Korea's CJ Venture Investment and veteran Thai producer Sa-nga Chatchairungruang's Bangkokfilm Studio, The Kick aims to capture in movie form the feel of the South Korean stage shows like Jump and Cookin' Nanta, cultural tableaux that have proven popular with Thai tourists. Cookin' Nanta has even established itself in its own theater in Bangkok.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew with the screenplay and action choreography by Panna Rittikrai, The Kick is about a South Korean couple, both former national taekwondo competitors. They have moved to Bangkok, where dad (Jo Jae-Hyun) runs a martial-arts dojo and the strong-willed, domineering mother (Ye Ji-won) operates a Korean restaurant. They have three children, a teenage boy (Na Tae-Joo), a teen daughter (Kim Kyong-Suk) and a little boy.

And, of course, everything they do is done with taekwondo flair. Mom cooks with martial-arts moves and rips a live octopus in half. And the elder son waits on tables with dramatic sweeping motions. Later, he does some dance moves, incorporating taekwondo kicks and flips. Daughter does a 360-degree somersault to kick a soccer ball.

Together, they also do taekwondo demonstrations at Bangkok shopping malls.

As is usual for action movies from the pair of writer-directors who brought us such movies as Ong-Bak and Chocolate, the plot involves something being stolen. In this case, the MacGuffin is an old dagger that once belonged to a Siamese king.

The Korean family, in their rattletrap little Daihatsu van, get in the way of black-suited gangsters who are stealing the dagger. There's a little car chase involving the tiny van and a big black Mercedes, and then the teenage son and daughter fight the thugs in the Airport Link train station. The head bad guy (Lee Gwan Hoon) comes away with his face scarred, giving him another reason to sneer wickedly.

Having retrieved the artifact knife, the Koreans are hailed as heroes and it's arranged that they will perform at the official unveiling of a museum exhibition.

Meanwhile, masked thugs come calling at the family restaurant, and mom and dad decide they should send the kids away. So they call their oldest Thai friend, a comic-relief zookeeper named Mum, played by Petthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao. Mum takes the kids out to his place in the countryside, where he has an elephant, a pet monitor lizard and some monkeys.

Here, finally, is where they meet Mum's niece, Wahwah, played by none other than Chocolate heroine Jeeja Yanin. She's introduced while practicing Muay Thai moves in a rippling stream and is spied on by the teenage guy. Later, she spars with the guy and his sister, beating the guy and calling it a draw with the girl. Turns out she's a national Muay Thai champion.

There's a subplot involving the father and the elder son. Dad suffered an emasculating defeat in his Olympics days and he's pressuring the boy to train hard in taekwondo and redeem the family's honor. But the son really wants to be a back-up dancer for K-pop bands, and he's kept that a secret from his parents. Another family dynamic is that the mother and the daughter are actually portrayed as stronger martial artists than the men. So the henpecked hubby has another reason to push No. 1 son to try harder.

Eventually, the gangsters find the kids. They put up a good fight, but the little boy ends up kidnapped.

The older brother and Jeeja go on the run, with Jeeja helping the guy with his dance tryout or something. Junior passes the audition with flying colors, not only doing taekwondo with K-pop moves, but, inspired by Jeeja, adds a few Muay Thai elbow thrusts as well.

Meanwhile, to get the little boy back, the family will have to steal the dagger during their demonstration at the museum. This involves teaching Mum a few martial-arts moves so he can join the taekwondo troupe.

There's a fight in a riverside warehouse, and eventually the action moves to Mum's zoo where each character gets their moment to fight, even the little boy.

The mother goes to the kitchen, where she uses pots and pans as weapons. Later, she stumbles into a pit of CGI crocodiles.

In a nifty innovation by Panna, the elder son jumps on top of some empty animal cages where some low-hanging ceiling fans are going around and around. There's an endless parade of masked henchmen, and they all get knocked to the straw-covered floor by the spinning fan blades. The guy even grabs one from the ceiling and wields it as a weapon.

Jeeja grabs a tree branch and uses it to wallop bad guys. Later, she and the girl team up to take on a long-legged female gangster (Kim Yi-Roo), and their fight takes them to the glass roof of a greenhouse.

And dad somehow ends up wired with a bomb that someone will have to defuse.

A niggling problem with pan-Asian productions involving a cast of different nationalities is language. In Thailand, the Korean actors lines are dubbed, with the same voiceover artists that dub all the movies. I guess when the movie showed in Korea, the Thai actors were dubbed, and if this movie is ever picked up for the English-speaking world, everyone will be dubbed in the grand tradition of grindhouse kung-fu flicks.

The story is okay, but as is the case with these types of movies, the plot is secondary to the action, and there's plenty of it. Action that is.

Since Oldboy, it's become a cliche in Thai movies involving Koreans that a live octopus get involved. Don't worry though, unlike Oldboy, the octopus is CGI. No cephalopods were harmed in the making of this movie.

Some stuntmen, however, were harmed.

The obligatory blooper reel accompanies the end credits, and shows several stunt guys being injured by hard strikes by the Korean actors. One is taken away in an ambulance.

Related posts:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hua Hin International Film Festival set for January 26 to 29

Thailand's film-festival calendar for the end of next month just got even more crowded with the announcement today for the Hua Hin International Film Festival, which will take place January 26 to 29.

The newly announced fest overlaps with the rescheduled 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok, which was postponed because of the floods from November to January 20 to 27.

Also in Bangkok, there will be the 6th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival on January 28 and 29 and February 4 and 5 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. And in Chiang Mai, there is Payap University's Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival from February 2 to 5.

The Hua Hin International Film Festival is organized by the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand in conjunction with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Hua Hin municipality. FNFAT and the TAT previously co-organized the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009. The BKKIFF has been on hiatus since being cancelled in 2010 after the main festival venue was burned in an arson attack that followed the crackdown on the red-shirt political protests.

The Hua Hin fest is chaired by Suwat Liptapanlop (สุวัจน์ ลิปตพัลลภ), a political figure and businessman whose InterContinental Hua Hin Resort and Centennial Park will host several festival activities. Most movies will be screened at the Major Cineplex in Hua Hin. Other activities are planned at the Vic Hua Hin theater.

More than 50 films are being programmed, including Hollywood, European and Asian titles. There will also be an emphasis on Southeast Asian films.

The fest has a YouTube Channel, where a few trailers are posted. Films include South Korea's Always, Hong Kong's Magic to Win, Taiwan's Warriors of the Rainbow (Seediq Bale), Vietnam's Fool for Love and The Lady, Luc Besson's biopic of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, starring Michelle Yeoh, which was filmed in Thailand.

There will be a retrospective of films starring theater doyenne Patravadi Mejudhon, who has established her stage troupe and arts school in Hua Hin at the Vic Hua Hin theater. And there will be outdoor screenings of classic Thai movies starring the likes of Petchara Chaowarat and Mitr Chaibancha.

Seminars and workshops will include ASEAN Movies for ASEAN Community, country reports from nine Southeast Asian film industries, Can Government Help? on film funds and the DIY Movie workshop for the general public conducted by Thai directors.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Carried You Home picks up French distributor, competes in Marrakech

I Carried You Home, the debut feature by Tongpong Chantarangkul, has been acquired by French distributor Pretty Pictures, which will hold the rights for the film in France, Germany and Benelux. The film also was in competition at the recent Marrakech International Film Festival.

Starring Apinya Sakuljaroensuk and Akhamsiri Suwannasuk, I Carried You Home follows a pair of estranged sisters who have an awkward reunion during a long ride in an ambulance as they escort their dead mother's ashes from Bangkok to their home in southern Thailand.

Here's what Pretty Pictures head of acquisitions Aranka Matits had to say about it:

“When we saw I Carried You Home we instantly fell in love with this equally light-hearted and pensive film. It takes audiences on a deeply emotional journey, taking up the universal themes of homecoming, loss and gain. The film’s elegance and precision in both story-telling and style are remarkable; they establish Chantarangkul as a strong new voice.”

I Carried You Home was recently featured in competition at the Marrakech International Film Festival, where the jury included actresses Jessica Chastain and Aparna Sen and Filipino director Brillante Mendoza and was headed by director Emir Kusturica. You can check the list of winners at the festival website.

Check out the movie's Facebook page for photos from the festival, which have Tongpong wearing a cast on one leg and being pushed around in a wheelchair.

I Carried You Home, a.k.a. Padang Besar (ปาดังเบซาร์), had its world premiere in the New Currents Competition at this year's Busan International Film Festival. It was set to open this year's World Film Festival of Bangkok, which was postponed to January 20-27 because of the flooding. Hopefully, it'll still be the opening film.

(Via Film Business Asia, Screen Daily)

Good deeds done in Thang Yak Wad Jai

Each year around this time, the Thai film industry offers special films called "pappayon chalerm prakiat", which honor the achievements of his Majesty the King, whose 84th birthday was celebrated on December 5.

This year's offering is Thang Yak Wad Jai (ทางแยกวัดใจ), which is produced by the telecom corporation True and features directorial talents from the GTH studio.

It's a trio of shorts, all starring actor Pitisak Yaowanon from such films as Ai-Fak and Shadow of the Naga. He's a man who affects the lives of others with his good deeds.

The segments are directed Chayanop Boonprakob (SuckSeed), Sophon Sakdapisit (Laddaland) and Nithiwat Tharatorn (Dear Galileo).

The movie opened today at Major Cineplex theaters. You can get a pair of free tickets if you can figure out how to register your good deeds at the website,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Headshot (Fon Tok Kuen Fah)

  • Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang
  • Starring Nopachai Jayanama, Cris Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoung, Apisit Opasaimlikit
  • Released in Thai cinemas (SF cinemas only) on November 24, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Pen-ek Ratanaruang has created a weirdly fractured and inverted world in his latest thriller Headshot, a.k.a. Fon Tok Kuen Fah (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), literally "rain falling up to the sky".

"Peter" Nopachai Jayanama stars as Tul, a hitman whose world is literally turned upside-down after he's shot in the head - karmic hell for him because he was posing as a Buddhist monk when he did the hit.

He wakes up from a coma only to see everything flipped. He copes by upending his TV and watching nature shows, only the guy doesn't have much time to get soft on the couch. He's soon cowering from snipers who are shooting up his apartment, shattering his aquarium and leaving his goldfish gasping on the floor.

The narrative skitters and shuffles, going back and forth in time, to keep you as confused and off balance as the main character.

Tul wasn't always a hitman. But even when he was a cop, he was trapped in a web of deceit - a mere pawn in the games of the wealthy and powerful.

After refusing a briefcase full of cash to drop charges against a government minister's drug-dealing brother - an arrest that got Tul's police partner killed - he finds himself framed for the murder of a prostitute and sent to prison.

But things are not what they seem.

While locked away, he corresponds with the shadowy "Demon" (Krerkkiat Punpiputt), a pamphleteer doctor who rails against corruption. He is one of Tul's visitors in prison, and it turns out he heads a secret society of hitmen. "We prefer the term 'assassination experts'," the Demon says.

Tul refuses to join at first, but later feels he has nowhere else to turn.

It's a bleak existence for Tul, who is desperate for redemption and enlightenment. He finds it at one point, and the world feels right again, but it's fleeting.

Adapted from the short "film-noir novel" by SEA Write and Silpathorn Award laureate author Win Lyovarin, Headshot is Pen-ek's return to the hitman genre, which he previously tapped in his debut Fun Bar Karaoke and his pair of mood-drenched pan-Asian productions Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves.

Headshot continues the dark turn Pen-ek's been exploring in his recent films: the claustrophobic marriage drama Ploy and his forest-ghost thriller Nymph.

And it is indeed dark. The drug bust at night in a warehouse establishes that Tul has trained himself to operate in the black. His skill is put to use in a convenience store fracas. There's more action during a nighttime shootout in a rubber plantation. And, of course, it's raining.

With much of the action taking place in dimness, it's up to cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong to shed a little light on the subject, and he and his supporting team of Red camera technicians are more than up to the task.

The real brightness in Headshot comes from the cast, especially leading man Nopachai, who also starred in Nymph. Here the actor is given a chance to show the lean-yet-musclebound, action-hero side he's displayed in the Naresuan movies, but with a sensitive, cerebral edge who carries his torment on the sleeve of his torn shirt.

Similar to the character in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, Tul undergoes a transformation to become a superhero of sorts, and he somehow learns to use his upside-down outlook to his advantage.

The supporting cast adds more color, particularly model and fashion blogger Chanokporn "Dream" Sayoung, making her screen debut as Tul's artistic prostitute girlfriend. The femme fatale first turns up in a revealing pink mini-dress and Tul doesn't need much convincing to take her to a short-time hotel.

Apisit Opasaimlikit, the rapper-actor who's better known as Joey Boy, gives an oddly subdued turn as a gangster who would probably be more menacing if he wasn't dressed in tennis whites and bouncing a tennis ball. In another scene, he calmly pedals a bicycle around a warehouse, taking a break to torture Tul by dripping candle wax in a sensitive spot.

Then there's Tul's rescuing angel, Rin, played by Cris Horwang. He hijacks her car after the candlewax episode, but she remains cool while he's waving a pistol in her face, tossing off a sharp retort or two and offering a towel to wipe up his blood. Helpfully, she keeps a stash of pork rinds in her back seat, as if she knew Tul would be hungry after being tortured. She's always in the right place at the right time.

But again, things are not as they seem.

Related posts:

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Get ready for The Kick

While Tom-Yum-Goong 2 with Tony Jaa, Jeeja Yanin, Dan Chupong and a host of other martial artists may be apparently delayed because of the flooding in Thailand, there's still the Thai-South Korean co-production The Kick with Jeeja kicking around.

Originally slated to open in Thailand last month but postponed over flood fears, The Kick (วอนโดนเตะ) is now set for release on December 22. It premiered at the Busan Film Festival and was released theatrically in South Korea already.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, this is a joint effort by CJ Venture and Bangkok Filmstudio, which Sahamongkolfilm is distributing.

The plot, via, goes something like this:

Couple and former Taekwondo champs Moon (Jo Jae-hyeon) and Yun (Ye Ji-won) settle down in Thailand and open a Korean restaurant and Taekwando school. Their three kids are interested in different things; the teenage boy is crazy about K-pop, the girl loves football and Thai dance and only the youngest boy shows any interest in Taekwando. There, the family made friends with Mum and his niece Wah Wah (Jeeja Yanin), a talented Muay Thai boxer. Their life changes when the family and their friends become involved with Korean mobsters who've stolen some ancient daggers.

The Thai trailer's now available for viewing (embedded below). It's a bit different than the Korean trailer.

By the way, there's more Jeeja action in a review of Jakkalan, a.k.a. This Girl Is Bad-Ass at, with loads of screenshots. Fun to look at, but the opinion of the movie itself isn't much different from mine. The trailer's got most of the best bits.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tony Jaa and Jeeja take time out for flood relief

The floods in Central Thailand have delayed filming on Tom-Yum-Goong 2, but director Prachya Pinkaew and stars Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin aren't just sitting around waiting for the waters to recede.

Along with execs from Sahamongkolfilm International, they've been doing a roadshow, handing out relief supplies and putting on movie screenings, complete with popcorn and cotton candy, in the flood-hit areas.

The photos here are from November 25 in Nakhon Chaisri, Nakhon Pathom, northwest of central Bangkok.

There's a couple more shots from reader Alex in comments to a previous post.

According to an item in The Nation's Soopsip column today, the 3D Tom-Yum-Goong 2 – a sequel to Tony Jaa's 2005 missing-elephant drama – has indeed been stalled by the flooding. The column gives no details on when filming might resume.

And, no, I don't know anything about the plot of the sequel, whether it's set in ancient or contemporary times or even if it's really a sequel at all.

Apichatpong-a-rama: Primitive in Bangkok, For Tomorrow, For Tonight in Beijing, In the Woods in Japan

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's multi-platform art exhibition Primitive finally makes its way to Bangkok after touring the world for the past couple of years or so.

It opens today at the Jim Thompson Art Center and runs until February 29.

Part of the same project as the acclaimed feature Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the video installation Primitive is an intimate look at the village of Nabua, Nakhon Phanom, along the Mekong in northeastern Thailand. It was there in 1965 that the Royal Thai Army staged a massacre during an anti-communist offensive.

Primitive deals with ghosts of that violent past. The seven-channel video installation also offers a slice-of-life look at the young men of Nabua and includes a music video by Moderndog and a behind-the-scenes film of the building of a spaceship – just one of the art projects Apichatpong came up with as a way of engaging the villagers in his project.

Commissioned by Haus Der Kunst, Munich, with FACT Liverpool and Animate Projects and produced by Illuminations Films, London, Primitive has previously shown in Munich, Liverpool, Paris, New York and the Yokohama Triennale. I checked it out at New York's New Museum earlier this year and am glad I'll be able to see how it fits into Bangkok. The Jim Thompson Art Center is on Kasemsan Soi 2, near the National Stadium skytrain station. It's open daily from 9 to 5.

Meanwhile, Apichatpong's been in Beijing, where his latest art installation For Tomorrow, Tonight has been showing at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. There's more about this new project at the Wall Street Journal Scene Asia blog.

Apichatpong himself has been in Beijing to screen a retrospective of 20 of his features and shorts and give talks. The retrospective program runs until December 11.

Coverage of the Beijing event includes an interview with City Weekend, in which Apichatpong says he's still hoping to make Utopia ("set in the snow plains in Canada with a giant spaceship") and he offers a list of other Thai filmmakers to watch.

They also bring up the Japanese earthquake short Apichatpong did as part of 3.11 A Sense of Home. It was screened at last month's Asiana International Short Film Festival in Seoul, and features works by 21 filmmakers, including South Korea's Bong Joon-ho, China's Jia Zhang-ke and Japan's Naomi Kawasi. There's also an animation by Japan-based Wisut Ponnimit. Apichatpong's quake short is called Monsoon. All the shorts are 3 minutes and 11 seconds.

There's more coverage of Apichatpong in Beijing in the China Daily, headlined "Sleep-watching Weerasethakul". And People's Daily Online has a photo gallery.

Coming up, there will be a four-film retrospective, Apichatpong in the Woods, at the Baust Theater in Tokyo from January 28 to February 10. They'll screen Mysterious Object of Noon, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Blu-ray in Hong Kong: Laddaland

One of the year's best Thai films, Laddaland, has hit English-subtitled Blu-ray and DVD in Hong Kong.

Directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit, the screenwriter of Shutter who made his directorial debut with Coming Soon, Laddaland is a dread-filled family psychological drama dressed up as a ghost story.

It's about a young father, struggling to keep his family together, who seeks a fresh start in Chiang Mai, and moves his wife and two children to a housing estate called Laddaland. It's all lawn sprinklers and golden retrievers until a Burmese maid is found murdered and stuffed into a refrigerator in the house down the street. Dad's dream home becomes a nightmare and his chance at a new life with his family comes unravelled.

YesAsia has the goods, either on Region A Blu-ray or Region 3 DVD.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pen-ek's Headshot comes home

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's latest feature Headshot (Fon Tok Kuen Fah, ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า) opens this week in Thailand after premiering on the festival circuit.

Based on a short novel by acclaimed Thai writer Win Lyovarin, it's a film-noir flavored thriller about a hitman who is shot and wakes up from a coma and sees everything upside-down. He then finds himself the target of revenge killers and has to go on the run.

Headshot was initially set for release in Thailand on November 3 but was then postponed because of the floods in suburban Bangkok. It had been penciled in for December 1, but when the Twilight movie Breaking Dawn settled on that date for its Thai release, Headshot was shifted a week earlier to avoid a clash. Apparently, those teenybopper vampires and werewolves are popular in Thailand, though I have no idea why.

This is the first feature that Pen-ek's done without the Thai studio Five Star Production. He's gone the indie route and is now with the upstart production marque Local Color, started by producer Pawas Sawatchaiyamet (formerly Saksiri Chantarangsri). The Thai release is similar to other indie Thai films in that it's limited to just the SF cinemas chain rather than being blanketed in all the multiplexes.

The press screening was last night at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, where the ceiling of eighth-floor events area was festooned with upside-down umbrellas as a way of playing on Headshot's Thai title Fon Tok Kuen Fah, literally "rain falling up to the sky".

I've got a review in the works. I liked it and will post my thoughts about it here in a few days.

Headshot had its world premiere back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.

It also screened in competition at the Tokyo fest, where Pen-ek did an official interview. You can read it at the festival website.

The film also screened at the Vancouver fest, where IndieWire gave it a favorable review.

Internationally, the distribution rights are being handled by Memento, which has previously done deals with Aditya Assarat for Wonderful Town and Hi-So. Wild Side – coolest meowing cat logo since MTM Enterprises – has French rights and Kino Lorber for North America. Further support for the film has come from the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, the Goteborg International Film Festival Fund and the Tokyo Project Gathering.

There's a Thai trailer for Headshot and it's embedded below.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Roundup: Yes or No in HK, Killers in Indonesia

Notes from a couple film festivals in the region:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Watch this: Trailer for the 2011 Luang Prabang Film Festival

The folks from the Luang Prabang Film Festival have put together a trailer of highlights for this year's edition. It's embedded above.

The fest runs from December 3 to 7 in Laos' former royal capital and Unesco World Heritage site, and features movies from across Southeast Asia. The schedule is posted at Facebook.

If the trailer seems a bit heavy on Thai action and Dan Chupong, keep in mind the Thai stunt star is in two movies at the fest – Tabunfire, a.k.a. Kon Fai Bin or Dynamite Warrior, and the high-seas fantasy Queens of Langkasuka. I expect all the Thai movies – the boxing documentary Lumpinee and the Isaan childhood friendship story Panya Reanu, as well as the Lao-Thai co-production Lao Wedding, are also in the fest – will crowd-pleasers.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Roundup: Eternity and a flood of other Thai films around the world

Thailand is still coping with the severe flooding around Bangkok, which has disrupted the movie business, with a dozen or cinemas closed and World Film Festival of Bangkok postponed.

Movie-industry PR guy Scott Rosenberg, hit by floods himself, talked to the local multiplex chains to find out how they are doing.

Film programmer and publisher Sonthaya Subyen was flooded out and lost some 16mm films including footage of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mysterious Object at Noon, according to the Bangkok Post, which also details how the Thai Film Archive's been surviving.

The release of some big movies like Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot and Prachya Pinkaew's The Kick have been delayed until next month though some other Thai movies have gone ahead with their releases, which I've been noting on the Bangkok Cinema Scene blog, and done well in spite of the floods, according to Film Business Asia.

And there's stuff happening for Thai films elsewhere in the region and across the globe. Here's a look:

  • The Cinemanila International Film Festival started today. It's always been an important platform for Thai and other Southeast Asian films. This year's roster will really confuse audiences as there are two films from Thailand called Eternity. One goes by the Thai title Tee Rak (ที่รัก). The debut feature by indie director Sivaroj Kongsakul is in the Southeast Asian Competition. And that other Eternity is Chua Fah Din Salai (ชั่วฟ้าดินสลาย), the lavish, big-budget costume drama by ML Bhandevanop Devakula and starring Ananda Everingham and Ploy Chermarn. It's in the non-competition Asian Cinema program along with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's celebrated Cannes Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Quattro Hong Kong 2, which has a segment by Apichatpong. The musical documentary Baby Arabia is playing in the documentary section. Check out the whole line-up at the festival website.
  • That other Eternity, that is the costume love-triangle drama by "Mom Noi" Bhandevanop, will also be featured at the Asean Film Festival in Bali on November 16 and 17. It's held in conjunction with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit and will include seminars other functions.
  • And, to really confuse matters, the indie Eternity is playing on Sunday at the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. Just to be clear, this is Sivaroj's Tee Rak, not that other one. Twitch's Mack has a review.
  • Classic Thai films are screening in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art's "In Focus: Fortissimo Films" program, which includes Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger, Pen-ek Ratanruang's Last Life in the Universe and The Eye by the Pang brothers. The program is a tribute to the Dutch-Hong Kong film company that helped introduce Asian films to the world stage in the early part of this century. Thai films especially benefitted from the guiding hand of Fortissimo co-founder Wouter Barendrecht, who died in 2009 at the age of 43. The Hollywood Reporter has more on the MoMA film series.
  • Thai films were featured at the recent American Film Market, where a Thai Night was planned. Yuthlert Sippapak's boyband action flick Bangkok Kung Fu was screened there, represented by Golden Network Asia. Sahamongkolfilm International was promoting Prachya Pinkaew's The Kick and it picked up worldwide sales rights to 23:59, a Singaporean boot-camp horror thriller.
  • And back closer to Bangkok, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's multimedia exhibition For Tomorrow, For Tonight goes on show from November 26 to February 10 at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thai film and the flood of 2011

Flooding has hit Thailand's film industry, with the releases of several local films pushed back and the World Film Festival of Bangkok postponed.

The Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, faces a threat of severe flooding, however precautions have been taken to move films and other artifacts to second-story storage, a concrete flood wall has been erected in front of the film vault and sandbags are placed around the museum. It's still there after the high tide this morning, but there's still a lot of water yet to drain from the north, and most of it is going to flow to the west of Bangkok, which is right through the Archive's front yard. Monitor the situation at the Thai FilmArchive Facebook page.

The World Film Festival of Bangkok, set for November 4 to 13, has been postponed until January 20 to 27. That means the ninth edition of the fest is also cut from 10 days to eight. It's expected the World Film Fest's program of around 80 movies will remain the same. The opener is I Carried You Home, the debut feature of Tongpong Chantarangkul. Other Thai entries include the trio of Thai films from this year's Venice fest: Kongdej Jaturanrasamee's P-047, the short flm Passing Through the Night (Pu Fao Mong Rattikal) by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai and Uncle Naew Visits His Neighbours, the debut film of artist Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Some Thai films have postponed their local releases. This week's roster was to have included the motorsports comedy Racing Love (มิดไมล์) from Saga Studio and Phranakorn's teen gangster drama Meung Ga Gu (มึง-กู เพื่อนกันจนวันตาย), a.k.a. Friends Never Die. The former is put off until November 10 while the latter will hit screens on December 29.

Sahamongkol has pushed back next month's local release of Prachya Pinkaew's The Kick until December 22 and the musical drama The Melody (รักทำนองนี้) until December 9.

Meanwhile, despite the threat of flooding, central Bangkok cinemas are still operating as usual. Among the releases is Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn, who's in Thailand making his next movie, Only God Forgives (Thai casting is not yet complete – don't believe IMDb).

Aditya Assarat's Hi-So is still screening at three SF cinemas in Bangkok – CentralWorld, Lat Phrao (take note, though, Lat Phrao's a flood-danger zone) and the new SF Cinema City at the new Terminal 21 shopping center at the Asok intersection. Showtimes are at around 7 nightly with Saturday and Sunday matinees around 2.

But while Bangkok's streets are dry and the sun is out, reporters are standing in puddles.

Spare a thought for the suburban areas of the metropolis under chest-deep water that's swimming with escaped crocodiles. And panic buying has struck Bangkok's grocery stores, emptying shelves of bottled water, instant noodles, canned tuna and eggs. The shortages could last for several weeks, until the disrupted supply chain catches up.

The flood of information can be overwhelming, and it's difficult to know what information is correct and current.

One thing that keeps floating to the top is the short animated films put together by a group called RooSuFlood. The first one is embedded above, and all of them are on the RooSuFlood YouTube channel.

Update: Here's a more about the flood videos and those blue whales.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Like Raining at the End of April gets support from Rotterdam

Wichanon Somumjarn's debut feature Like Raining at the End of April (สิ้น เมษา ฝนตก มา ปรอย ปรอย) received a big boost from the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund, with an award of cash for post-production and final financing.

Wichanon previously made the award-winning short Four Boys, White Whisky and Grilled Mouse. Like Raining, produced by Maenum Chagasik at Anocha Suwichakornpong's Electric Eel Films, is a "very low-budget film" about a construction foreman in Bangkok who's thrown out of work by political instability. He goes back to his hometown in the northeast of Thailand to attend a high-school friend's wedding, which is taking place during the Thai New Year in April – the hottest time of the year.

The film was previously pitched at the Paris Project Screenings.

You can find out more about it at its Facebook page.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Friday Killer

  • Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak
  • Starring Thep Po-ngam, Ploy Jindachote
  • Released in Thai cinemas on September 29, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

There are Yuthlert Sippapak films and there are Yuthlert Sippapak films. Some are slight and best forgotten, like Bangkok Kung Fu earlier this year, while others are sublime and ought to be remembered.

The hitman drama Friday Killer (Ma Kae Untarai, หมาแก่อันตราย, "dangerous dog") firmly belongs in the latter category. It's pure Yuthlert and his trademark blend of genres – comedy, drama and action – with plenty of cheeky references to his own films and other movies. There's also his trademark casting of comedians in dramatic roles.

Part of Yuthert's Mue Puen 3-Pak trilogy of hitman films pairing veteran comedians with younger actresses, for awhile it seemed like Friday Killer would be forgotten after it premiered more than a year ago at the Phuket Film Festival but was then shelved and the second entry in the series Saturday Killer was released first. Meanwhile, Friday Killer made the rounds at a few other film festivals and even won awards.

The bald comic Thep Po-ngam stars. He plays much the same role as he did in Yuthlert's debut film Killer Tattoo, an ageing assassin. Here, he's Pay Uzi, who at one time was famed as "the Eagle of Chanthaburi". He's let out of prison after a lengthy term only to be repeatedly stabbed right outside the prison gate by butterfly-knife specialist Lek Bowie (Akhom Pridakun, in a refreshing change of pace from his geeky romantic comedy roles).

Circumstances lead to the bleeding ex-con to being discovered in the nick of time by his policewoman daughter Dao (Ploy Jindachote), only she doesn't understand he is her father. The travesty of this misunderstanding is further compounded when Pay Uzi is fingered for a crime he did not commit. Involving Dao's dying mother (Viyada Umarin), the man she thinks is her father (Kowit Wattanakul) and a photographer named Petch (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), it's a breathtaking combination of tragic events that will raise eyebrows.

Pay Uzi meanwhile returns to his hometown of Chanthaburi, a sleepy seaside provincial capital. He attempts to secure his former abode, but finds it occupied by a mentally deranged man who is obsessed with Quentin Tarantino's movies. He dresses in yellow tracksuit like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (and like Bruce Lee in Game of Death) and his walls are covered with Japanese swords. Later, a shocking scene from Pulp Fiction is re-enacted.

Pay looks up old colleagues from his hitman days, with an aim to secure an assignment.

He trades hilariously cutting insults with a rude cross-eyed woman, which puts him in conflict with the lady's male friends – a gang of ghost-faced killers who tie Pay Uzi to a chair and dump water on him.

The bullets from his Uzi fly. Among Pay Uzi's targets is a political gathering, where a kingpin's henchmen are handing out money for votes.

This puts the ageing gunman in deepening conflict with the political boss of Chanthaburi (Anek Inthachan).

His problems are further compounded by failing eyesight, and his eye doctor is a close friend of the political kingpin.

Policewoman Dao, meanwhile, is on the trail of Pay Uzi. She still doesn't know he's her father. And, despite her tough demeanor and battle-ready wardrobe of close-cropped hair, tight black jeans, leather jacket and big motorcycle, she is conflicted about her chosen profession because she's never killed a criminal and doesn't believes she'd ever be able to pull the trigger.

There are confusing digressions involving another ageing gunman (Udom Chuanchuen), who's interviewed by a young reporter ("Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri) at his Volkswagen-bus bar in a spookily abandoned housing estate. And there are various other assassins, including the Saturday Killer pair of Cris Horwang and Choosak Iamsuk. In fact, the movie is peppered with cameos, including singer Ad Carabao and the lively rap group Buddha Bless. Even the late Boonthin Thuaykaew puts in one last appearance, portraying a police sketch artist alongside his partner in crimefighting "Uncle" Adirek Watleela.

Eventually, there's a shootout in the political boss' giant Chinese-Thai-style mansion, and the confrontation between father and daughter.

Despite all the gunfire and madcap craziness, there's a deliberate, calm feel to the movie, which is anchored by a strong dramatic performance from veteran comedian Thep, ably portraying the hitman with failing eyesight, whose chance at a better life and redemption has long slipped away.

Ploy Jindachote ably supports the proceedings as the black-clad policewoman, channeling the stoic Gary Cooper in High Noon by way of Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead.

With the setting of the dusty provincial capital and the surrounding saline plains, Friday Killer has the feel of an old western, especially those of Sam Peckinpah, in particular his Ride the High Country, about ageing gunmen on their last go 'round. Not only is Friday Killer a wistful ode to an assassin who's seen better days, it could also be seen as a tribute to the old ways of showbiz, which have faded in the new fast-paced era of reality TV and streaming movies on the Internet.

Related posts:

Bodily Fluid Is Revolutionary: Thai queer shorts in New York City

MIX 24, the 24th MIX New York Queer Experimental Film Festival includes a line-up of shorts from Thailand that question "the legitimacy of Thai gender norms and Asian noe-imperialisms".

The program. called Bodily Fluid Is Revolutionary, showcases the recent work of Thai media artists who push the boundaries of sexual and political expression. The films are by such well-known names as Michael Shaowanasai, Thunska Pansittivorakul and Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, all of whom have been censored or banned by the Ministry of Culture for their debasement of Thai values. Additionally, there will be younger artists Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke, Chama Lekpla, and Korn Kanogkekarin, "who gleefully carry on the queer tradition despite the climate of political unrest and social turmoil."

Curators are Dredge Kang, Nguyễn Tân Hoàng and Arnika Fuhrmann. They've taken their program name from the title of one of Ratchapoom's films.

Here's the program:

  • Ma Vie Incomplète et Inachevée (Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke, 2007, 4 min., US premiere) – Grandmother desperately wants her granddaughter to appease her sexual need with her little tongue, but her desire won’t be easily satisfied as her own son’s, the girls’ father, also wants his daughter for the same purpose.
  • X (Korn Kanogkekarin, 2010, 5 min., US premiere) – X for symmetry. X for chromosome. X for erasure. X marks the spot.
  • After Shock (Wan Fa Suai [The day the sky was beautiful], Thunska Pansittivorakul, 2005, 12 min., NY premiere) – A silent foray across the skies, the streets, an amusement park, and the commercial areas of a small town ultimately takes us to the ocean. Across the water, we close in on a young man’s crotch. The film culminates in blood and semen.
  • Observation of the Monument (Michael Shaowanasai, 2008, 3 min., US premiere) – The viewer is positioned in the crowd, directed to look up at the one who is placed on the pedestal.
  • I’m Fine (Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, 2008, 3 min., US premiere) – The director/actor sits in a cage on a hot sunny day in front of Democracy Monument in Bangkok. She’s used to it; she’s doing fine.
  • Essence de Femme (Chama Lekpla, 2011, 16 min., US premiere) – What would it look like if humanity had no gender? A kathoey noi (baby tranny) shows us how to cook international chicken curry (curry is slang for prostitute in Thai). People have sex with places, the locations they inhabit. A girly boy and a girly girl play snooker and then get dirty. These three scenarios propose new modes of sexuality and relationality.
  • Look at Me! (Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, 2007, 5 min., B&W, US premiere) – On a stormy night, we catch glimpses of each other.
  • Don't Forget Me (Manatsak Dorkmai, 2003, 10 min., US premiere) – Archival footage of the October 6, 1976 massacre of pro-democracy student protestors in Bangkok is juxtaposed with a Siam Society visit to the Yellow Banana Leaf Ghosts tribe.
  • Burmese Man Dancing (Nok Paksnavin, 2008, 8 min., US premiere) – Images of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are overlaid with Thai commentary about them. Subtitles are provided in an invented language.
  • Middle-Earth (Thunska Pansittivorakul, 2007, 8 min., US premiere) – “To show naked men is forbidden in Thailand, but the fact that we did show it on a big screen is a statement. It is my political expression. To just show it, without saying anything more, already means something. The authorities ban films for the silliest reasons, so here it is.”

The fest, running November 15 to 20 is at MIX Factory, 45 Bleecker Street. The Thai program is on November 29. Find out more at the Facebook event page.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan

  • Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan
  • Starring Patchara Chirathivat, Somboonsuk Niyomsiri
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 20, 2011; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

The story of Thailand's youthful fried seaweed snacks tycoon Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan (Top Secret วัยรุ่นพันล้าน), a.k.a. The Billionaire, has been widely compared to The Social Network, about the founders of Facebook and their rapid rise to billionaire status while they were still young men. So does that make director Songyos Sugmakanan and screenwriter Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit the David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin of Thailand? Perhaps. The movie is slickly done and the dialogue breezily cracks along.

The big difference is, the subject of Top Secret, Tao Kae Noi seaweed snack brand founder “Top” Aitthipat Kulapongvanich, is portrayed as a lot more likable guy than Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Along with The Social Network, Top Secret has also been compared by way of contrast to a Thai biopic released earlier in the year, the profile of a famous luk thung singer, Pumpuang (The Moon). Thai biopics are pretty rare because strong defamation laws mean the filmmakers run a big risk of getting sued. Pumpuang was especially problematic because the singer's survivors all dispute the source biography, so many of the tragedies, bad relationships and personal problems in Pumpuang's life were glossed over, with the focus put instead on musical sequences.

Top Secret, made with the cooperation of Top Aitthipat, goes a different route, and doesn't shy away from showing how arrogant and reckless Top was in his youth.

So there's a perfect story arc, which begins with Top's early success in making stacks of cash from online gaming and dropping out of business school. He then makes uninformed business decisions and lots of mistakes in his first venture of roasting chestnuts. Meanwhile, his family has been ruined financially by his own father's failed business ventures. Eventually, Top stumbles onto fried seaweed snacks, and by trial and lots of errors, comes up with a way to cook and package them. Much of the story is told in a flashback, by the 19-year-old Top to an impatient banker. Just as the loan officer is hoping to get rid of the kid, the irrepressible Top somehow reels the guy back in and has him hooked on his incredible rags-to-riches-to-rags story.

Top Secret is also notable for showing the inner-workings of Thailand's 7-Eleven corporation, with Top wearing out an office lobby seat while waiting for a chance to talk to the lady in charge of accepting new products. An exacting inspection of the factory doesn't go well, and Top runs the risk of making his first delivery late and getting off on the wrong foot.

Through his experiences in starting his business in his teens and becoming a (baht) billionaire by the time he was 26, the headstrong Top is taught many lessons in humility.

Carrying the movie is mop-headed young actor Patchara Chirathivat in his second big movie role after studio GTH's fun rock 'n' roll love story SuckSeed earlier in the year. It's been said the scion of Thailand's Central Department Store family was inspired by his own relationship with his father in the portrayal of a son who never quite measured up to his dad's expectations.

But the real revelation of the movie, it's heart and soul, is Somboonsuk Niyomsiri, an 80-year-old acting newcomer. But he's better known as Piak Poster, the director of a string of popular teen-oriented comedies and dramas in the 1970s. In Top Secret, he plays Top's kindly "uncle", who's there every step of the way for Top, helping to hawk roasted chestnuts, fry seaweed and sleep on the floor of the factory shophouse.

Related posts:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Introducing Piak Poster in Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan

Film studio GTH is primarily known for making youth-oriented movies. It was, after all, founded by the three studios that made the hit 2003 childhood romance Fan Chan.

Its latest offering, Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan (Top Secret วัยรุ่นพันล้าน), continues the tradition. It's an autobiographical account of the brash young man – "Top" Aitthipat Kulapongvanich – who started his Tao Kae Noi (เถ้าแก่น้อย) seaweed-snack company when he was barely out of his teens. It became a brand known worldwide and made Top a billionaire by the time he was 27.

In many ways, GTH's films owe a debt to 1970s director Somboonsuk Niyomsiri (สมบูรณ์สุข นิยมศิริ). Better known as Piak Poster, a name that came from his former occupation as a poster artist, Somboonsuk made a string of gritty youth-oriented dramas and comedies, beginning with 1970's Tone (recently listed as a national heritage film) and included the Wai Onlawong series that saw a reboot in 2005, though with a different director.

Top Secret director Songyos Sugmakanan aims to repay that debt by casting Piak in his movie. So, at age 80, the veteran filmmaker Piak Poster makes his acting debut. He plays a partner of Top, showing the rebellious kid how to make it in the business of selling roasted chestnuts.

The Top Secret teen billionaire is portrayed by "Peach" Patchara Chirathivat, the young actor who made his scene-stealing debut in the rock 'n' roll movie SuckSeed earlier this year. Peach is a scion of the family that owns Thailand's Central department store chain, so though he's never had to struggle like Top did, he at least knows how it feels to be a billionaire.

Read more about it in a recent Nation article.

And check out the trailer, embedded below.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Culture Ministry lists 25 films as Thai national heritage

Thailand's Culture Ministry and the Thai Film Archive have started a registry of national heritage films. The initial 25 titles go back as far as the beginning of film history up to the accomplishments of today and range from shorts to features. It includes newsreels, travelogue, documentaries, experimental films and fictional features.

The earliest is 1897's Berne: Arrivee du Roi de Siam, chronicling the arrival of King Chulalongkorn in Berne, Switzerland, likely the first filmed record of a Siamese person.

The most recent is last year's history-making Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the first Thai film to win the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

A news release says that according to Culture Minister Sukumol Khunpluem "the films deserved to be the national heritage for they are the masterpieces of Thai filmmakers and are about Thai people and Thai culture."

Among the entries is The Flood in Bangkok 1942 by Tae Prakardwuttisan, which has been making rounds at a time when Bangkok is threatened by a record deluge of water. It's embedded above. Many other examples on the list, including episodes from Thai history that are politically sensitive topics, can also be found on YouTube.

Here's the list of 25 Films as National Heritage 2011, in Thai alphabetical order:

  1. การต่อสู้ของกรรมกรหญิงโรงงานฮาร่า, The Struggle of Hara Factory Workers (1975) by Jon Ungpakorn – A documentary about the women workers in the Hara Jean factory who seized the factory to fight back at the owner.
  2. คล้องช้าง, Klongchang (1938) – An elephant round-up filmed by a Japanese crew, the first half is a look at old Bangkok's streets and lifestyle, which even today is popular stock footage for TV shows and news programs. The second half is the actual elephant round-up.
  3. ทองปาน, Tongpan (1977) – This documentary-style drama, directed by Euthana Mukdasanit and Surachai Jantimatorn and written by Khamsing Srinawk, Paijong Laisagoon and Mike Morrow, is a look at a man who lost his farm because of dam construction attending a seminar about the building of another dam. Because of its socialist leanings, the film was actually banned for a time.
  4. ทวิภพ (ฉบับผู้กำกับ), Siam Renaissance (Director’s Cut) (2005) by Surapong Pinitkha – This is one of many adaptations of writer Thommayanti's novel Thawipob, about a present-day woman who time-travels through her mirror to Rama V-era Siam and falls in love with a man from the past.
  5. โทน, Tone (1970) by Piak Poster – The debut feature by Piak, this sweeping romance, musical and action drama follows a poor young man (Chaiya Suriyun) as he's spurned by the girl he has a crush on, eventually moves to Bangkok to attend college but trouble from his home village follows him. Roj Ronnapop, Aranya Namwong, Jaruwan Panyopas, Sa-ad Piempongsan and Sangthong Seesai also star. The movie is notable for the music of the popular "string music" group of the 1960s and '70s, the Impossibles.
  6. นิ้วเพชร, The Diamond Finger (1958) by Ratana Pestonji – A khon (masked dance) episode of the Ramakien is lavishly mounted by the pioneering filmmaker.
  7. น้ำท่วมกรุงเทพ 2485, The Flood in Bangkok 1942 (1942) by Tae Prakardwuttisan – Tae was a photographer, journalist and film producer who was named a National Artist of Performing Art (Cinema and Drama) in 1999.
  8. Record of October 6, บันทึกเหตุการณ์ 6 ตุลา (1976) – This was the date of the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre, which was a deadly crackdown on anti-dictatorship students and protesters by the police and military.
  9. Pi Tong Leaung, ผีตองเหลือง (1962) – An ethnographic film about the Mra Bri people, also known as the "yellow banana leaf tribe".
  10. ผีเสื้อกับดอกไม้, Butterfly and Flowers (1985) by Euthana Mukdasanit – Adapted from the award-winning 1978 book by the writer Nipphan, this drama is about a boy who sells ice treats at a southern Thailand railway station and is forced by economic hardships to smuggle rice across the border.
  11. แผลเก่า, The Scar (also Plae Kao, 1977) by Cherd Songsri – Classic star-crossed romance in the ricefields, with the headstrong Kwan (Sorapong Chatree) hopelessly in love with Riam (Nantana Ngaokrachang), the daughter of a rival village chief.
  12. พระเจ้ากรุงสยามเสด็จ ฯ ถึงกรุงเบิร์น, Berne: Arrivee du Roi de Siam (1897) – King Chulalongkorn's arrival in Berne, Switzerland, was recorded and when the entourage returned the king's brother Prince Thongthaem "the Duke" Sambassatra brought filmmaking equipment, making him "the father of Thai cinema".
  13. พระเจ้าช้างเผือก, The King of White Elephant (1941) by Santi Wasutharn – Statesman Pridi Banomyong produced this epic, set during the Ayutthaya Kingdom era, about a monarch who is reluctant to go to war, but then does so when he's attacked. Made as the threat of Japanese occupation loomed, the English-language film, featuring students and faculty from Pridi's Thammasat University, was intended as anti-war propaganda and a statement to the outside world that not everyone in Thailand were ready to side with Japan.
  14. พระราชพิธีเฉลิมกรุงเทพมหานครและพระราชวงศ์จักรีอันประดิษฐานมาครบ ๑๕๐ ปี, The Celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of Bangkok (1932)
  15. The Coronation of King Prajadhipok (1925) – King Rama VII ruled 25 from 1925 until his abdication in 1935.
  16. ไฟเย็น, Fai Yen (also Cold Fire, 1965) – An anti-communist propaganda film.
  17. ประมวลภาพเหตุการณ์สูญเสียพระเอกผู้ยิ่งใหญ่ มิตร ชัยบัญชา, Chronicle of the Loss of Mitr Chaibancha (1970) – This film clip is a record of the outpouring of grief over actor Mitr Chaibancha, who fell to his death from a helicopter on October 8, 1970, while performing a stunt for the movie Golden Eagle.
  18. มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง, Monrak Luk Thung (1970) – This musical romance, set in the countryside, starred the era's classic screen couple Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat. The soundtrack was hugely popular and the movie remained in cinemas for six months.
  19. รัฐประหาร 2490, Coup d' Etat (1947) by Tae Prakardwuttisan – The coup, led by Lt-General Phin Choonhavan, ousted the unpopular government of Rear Admiral Thawan Thamrong Nawasawat and eventually led to the return to rule by the wartime dictator Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram.
  20. โรงแรมนรก, The Country Hotel (also Rong Raem Narok, 1957) by Rattana Pestonji – A cavalcade of music acts, arm-wrestling, boxing and comedy skits enliven this crime drama about a mysterious man and woman on the run from the mob hiding out at a bizarre bar and one-room guesthouse.
  21. ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul – A terminally ill man is visited in his last days by his closest surviving family members who pay witness to the strange and spiritually supernatural aspects of their dying uncle's incredible life.
  22. ลูกอีสาน, Son of Northeast (also Look Isaan, 1982) by Vichit Kounavudhi – This landmark drama follows the migrations of a close-knit group of struggling farming families in northeastern Thailand of the 1930s.
  23. สุดสาคร, Sudsakorn Adventure (1979) by Payut Ngaokrachang – The first Thai animated feature is adapted from poet Sunthorn Phu's epic Phra Aphai Mani and follows the adventures of a boy who is the son of a mermaid and a minstrel prince.
  24. อนุทินวีรชน ๑๔ ตุลา, Diary of October 14 Heroes (1974) – Recounting the events of October 14, 1973, in which a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy student activists resulted in His Majesty the King removing a field-marshal dictator and the country's return to a democratically elected government. It's an earlier bookend to 1976's Record of October 6, which marked a bloody return to military dictatorship.
  25. ! (1977) by Surapong Pinitkha – An exclamation mark is the title of this experimental film about poverty.

Many thanks to Chalida Uabumrungjit, deputy director of the Thai Film Archive, for translation of the list.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Insects in the Backyard at Exit Art in New York City

Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's acclaimed banned-in-Thailand family drama Insects in the Backyard is coming to New York City.

It'll screen at Digimovies, the new microcinema at Exit Art.

Campy, acerbic and somber, Thai director Tanwarin’s debut feature tells the story of a Hepburn-worshipping kathoey widow (played by the director herself) raising her teenage son and daughter while all three come to terms with their sexuality and memory of their deceased mother. The film became an object of controversy last year when Thailand’s Board of Censors banned it from commercial release due to its taboo subject matter and explicit sex scenes.

The screening is at 7.30pm on Wednesday, October 19, and will be followed by a Skype Q&A with the director.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

So, Hi-So is finally opening in Bangkok

Borders are breaking down in indie filmmaker Aditya Assarat's sophomore feature, Hi-So (ไฮโซ), which finally opens in Bangkok this week after screening for the past year on the festival circuit.

Inspired by Aditya's own life – he was raised in Thailand but spent half his life going to school in the U.S. – Hi-So is a bifurcated look at a melancholy man who doesn't fit in either place.

Ananda Everingham stars. He plays a Thai actor who's recently moved back to Thailand after years in the States. While making a movie on location in Phang Nga Province (the same setting as Aditya's 2008 debut Wonderful Town), he's visited on set by his American girlfriend (Cerise Leang) and is having trouble connecting to her. Later he's back in Bangkok and has a Thai girlfriend (Sajee Apiwong), and can't relate to her either.

It's a movie of halves, with the first in English and the second in Thai.

"By the nature of the structure, the two halves always reflect each other, and I always thought it would be like the same movie being played over again," Aditya told The Nation last month. "Even some of the conversations are the same, except one is in English and the other in Thai."

Aside from getting a highly personal project out of his system, Aditya says the aim of Hi-So is to depict a modern Thailand that's been changed by globalization.

"It's a contemporary Asian film. It's about what it's like to live in Thailand now and what it feels like to live in Asia now, where there's a breakdown of culture and borders. We're all becoming one Asian culture," he says. "A hundred years ago, to be born in Thailand meant something. It meant that you spoke Thai and you never left the country and you were Thai. Now it could mean anything. You can speak English or Japanese and you don't eat Thai food. You watch Korean TV shows or French movies and you wear your hair the way people wear it in Brazil."

Enthusiasts of contemplative cinema, as well as as fans of Ananda and indie Thai films will probably enjoy Hi-So, which despite all the brooding by its lead actor, has its entertaining moments, thanks in large part to the two fabulous female stars and a colorful supporting cast.

Hi-So premiered a year ago at the Busan International Film Festival and his played the circuit, hitting Tokyo, Berlin and recently Singapore, among other fests. It also had a limited run in New York.

Part of the Extra Virgin Director's Screen Project, Hi-So is in limited release for the next month at three SF cinemas: CentralWorld, Central Lat Phrao and SF Cinema City at the new Terminal 21 mall at the Asoke intersection.

Find out more about the movie at its Facebook page. There's also an official YouTube channel, which includes the trailer (embedded below), cool clips from the soundtrack and a couple of short films by Aditya that are closely linked to Hi-So6 to 6 (part 2 here) and Bangkok Blues (part 2 here).