Monday, February 28, 2011

Thai Film Director Association awards Apichatpong and Boonmee

The Thai Film Director Association held its first awards this year, with Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his Cannes Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives taking both the prizes in the two-award field for Best Film and Best Director.

In the ceremony held on Friday, runner-up honors for Best Film went to Sahamongkol's teen romance Sing Lek Lek Thee Riak Wa … Ruk (First Love) and the GTH comedy Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (The Little Comedian).

The runner-up prize for Best Director went to Banjong Pisanthanakun for his hit GTH romantic comedy Guan Muen Ho (Hello Stranger).

Other Best Film nominees were Nak Prok (Shadow of the Naga) and Guan Muen Ho.

Other Best Director nominees were Witthaya Thongyooyong and Mez Tharatorn of The Little Comedian, Uruphong Raksasad of Agrarian Utopia and Putthiphong Promsakha na Sakon Nakhon and Wasin Pokpong of First Love.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

HKIFF 2011: Hi-So, Tee-Rak and a trailer for Quattro Hong Kong 2

The schedule is now live for the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival, which includes Quattro Hong Kong 2, a pan-Asian anthology of shorts shot in Hong Kong by Brillante Mendoza, Ho Yu-hang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Stanley Kwan.

Apichatpong's segment is M Hotel, which has the filmmaker hanging out and shooting video in a hotel room. Mendoza's is called Purple. Ho Yu-hang goes black and white in Open Verdict, "a gem about some kind of cross-border trade". Kwan takes the airport shuttle bus to Kowloon in 13 Minutes in the Lives of ....

Quattro 2 is among the open films of the HKIFF along with Johnnie To's latest, Don't Go Breaking My Heart.

Thai features in Hong Kong this year are two movies from indie production company Pop Pictures: Wonderful Town director Aditya Assarat's sophomore effort Hi-So and Sivaroj Kongsakul's mournful romance Eternity (Tee-Rak).

The Hong Kong International Film Festival runs from March 20 to April 5.

Agrarian Utopia, Boonmee, Chua Fah Din Salai and Nak Prok win Bangkok Critics awards

The indie documentary Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Baan Na) took the Best Picture prize from the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards (ชมรมวิจารณ์บันเทิง) on Wednesday night.

The film about struggling rice farmers, produced by the Extra Virgin Company, also won best cinematography for the stunning camera work by director Uruphong Raksasad.

Best director went to Apichatpong Weerasethakul for Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which last year made history as the first Thai film to win the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and has been the toast of the film-festival circuit. On the strength of the Cannes prize, Boonmee quickly secured a local release, enabling it to qualify for awards in Thailand. It recently picked up three trophies from the Starpics Awards.

The Critics Assembly showered four awards on ML Bhandevanop Devakula's lavish period romance Eternity (Chua Fah Din Salai), with a best actor for Ananda Everingham.

Eternity leading lady "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak shared her best actress award with newcomer Nuengtida Sophon from the blockbuster GTH romance Guan Muen Ho (Hello Stranger).

Eternity, which was also awarded for art direction and score, was the top nominee, with 12 nods across the 11 categories.

Director Phawat Panangasiri's Buddhist-themed crime drama Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok) got the supporting actor and actress awards for veteran actor Sa-ad Piampongsan and actress Intira Charoenpura, as well as best screenplay and best editing.

The lifetime achievement award went to Piak Poster (เปี๊ยก โปสเตอร์ ), who directed a string of teen-oriented romance films in the 1970s.

(Photo via Teenee)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Ripe Volcano ready to blow in Bangkok

Filmmaker and visual artist Taiki Sakpisit and sound artist Yasuhiro Morinaga collaborate on A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), an art installation that opens this week at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

Taiki previously did the short film/art video I Did Not Dream Last Night/Looking in God's Eyes.

A Ripe Volcano is "an allegorical revelation where Bangkok becomes a site of mental eruption and the emotionally devastated land during the heights of terrors, primal fears, trauma, and the darkness of time."

A Ripe Volcano revisits the Rattanakosin Hotel, the site where the military troops captured and tortured the civilians, students and protesters who were hiding inside the hotel during the Black May of 1992; and Ratchadamnoen Stadium, a Roman-amphitheatre-styled Muay Thai boxing arena, which was built in 1941-45 during the Second World War and since then has become the theatrical labyrinth of physical and mental explosions.

There's a trailer at YouTube and embedded below. Watch it full screen and turn up the sound. The multi-channel video and sound installation opens on Thursday at the BACC in the fourth floor studio, and runs until March 6.

Power Kids director and Film Frame boot up action-comedy in The Microchip

Director Krissanapong Rachata returns to the big screen this week with a new action comedy The Microchip (ชิป /หาย, Chip/Hai). He's the director of Power Kids (5 หัวใจฮีโร่, Ha Huajai Heroes, a.k.a. Force of Five).

The Microchip is produced by Film Frame, the same company that did the pair of action fests with stuntman Mike B., Brave and The Sanctuary, and has a pedigree that goes all the way back to the B-movie days of Panna Rittikrai.

The Microchip has an everyman named John (Akarin Akaranitimetharat) who accidentally comes across computer chip belonging to a gangster. He and his colorful friends then get into all sorts of trouble trying to return the gizmo to its owner.

Anuwat Tarapan, Jazz Chuancheun and Kom Chuanchuen are among the huge supporting cast of characters in this madcap tale.

The movie also introduces a new stunt talent, Simon Kook, who with his long hair and grim demeanor looks to be in the mold of Tony Jaa. And indeed, according to the studio's website, he's been a stand-in for Jaa as well as Johnny Tri Nguyen. He plays an unstoppable cop in The Microchip.

Follow the movie on its Facebook page, where you'll find a line to a behind-the-scenes video. There's also a trailer, embedded below.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Uncle Boonmee the big winner of Starpics Awards

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives has picked up three more prizes in the Starpics Awards.

The indie arthouse drama, produced in part by Apichatpong's Kick the Machine production house, won Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

The top nominee for the Starpics magazine honors was director ML Bhandevanop Devakul's Chua Fah Din Salai (Eternity), with 12 nods across the 11 categories. The lavish period romance, produced by Sahamongkol Film International, earlier swept the Kom Chad Luek Awards and is the top nominee for the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards but for the Starpics it only won for the score composed by Chamras Saewataporn and art direction by Siranat Ratchusanti.

Two other indie Thai films also won awards – Best Cinematography for Uruphong Rakasad's Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Baan Na) and Best Editing for Lee Chatametikool on Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (Jao Nok Krajok).

Best actor went to comedian Choosak "Nong Chachacha" Iamsuk, for his portrayal of a hitman with erectile dysfunction in director Yuthlert Sippapak's action comedy Saturday Killer (Meu Puen Dao Pra Sao).

Best actress went to newcomer leading lady Neungtida Sophon for the GTH romantic comedy Guan Muen Ho (Hello Stranger).

Director Phawat Panangkasiri's Buddhist-themed crime thriller Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok) swept the supporting actor and actress categories. Veteran actor Sa-ad Piampongsan won for his portrayal of a wise tattoo-dispensing monk and Sai Inthira played the prostitute girlfriend of one of the thieves who hid loot in a temple.

The popular movie award went to last year's two top box-office blockbusters, the romances Guan Muen Ho and Sahamongkol's teen romance Sing Lek Lek Thee Riak Wa … Ruk (First Love).

There's more photos and commentary about the Starpics Awards at Deknang's Popcornmag forum.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: Sudkate Salateped

  • Directed by Rergchai Paungpetch
  • Starring Arak Amornsupasiri, Ramida Mahapruekpon, Sudarat Butrprom, Charoenporn Onlamai, Kom Chuanchuen
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 31, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

One of the last Thai movies released in 2010 is one the biggest hits of 2011.

Still in cinemas after nearly two months, the M-Thirtynine romantic comedy Sudkate Salateped (สุดเขต สเลดเป็ด) is a phenomenon with Thai audiences, raking in more than 125 million baht.

It's directed by Rergchai Paungpetch, the hitmaking helmer who made his mark with 2006's Sab Sanit (Noodle Boxer) at RS Films. Now with M-Thirtynine, the breakaway startup by former RS Film producers, Rergchai follows on the success of 2009's year-end comedy cash bonanza 32 Thunwa (32 ธันวา).

Sudkate Salateped (Loser Love) is created from the same formula as his previous hits, which includes a mix of appealing young pop star/actors, veteran comedians and romance.

Here, indie rock musician and actor "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri is appealingly well-cast as an earnest young indie singer-songwriter. Ped is trying to land a recording contract with the hilariously named C.O.P.Y. Records.

When he walks into the audition, he's inexplicably awestruck, love at first sight, by Mayom ("Yipso" Ramida Mahapruekpon), the rather plain member of a group of backup dancers who are also auditioning.

He then spends the rest of the movie chasing after this weird girl, despite the fact she does all she can – even going on a date with another guy – to give him the message that she's not interested.

But this is a Rergchai Paungpetch movie, so it doesn't have to make sense.

Like a lot of Thai movies, it starts out fun and full of energy but quickly goes downhill.

One of the best bits early on is Ped exchanging rapid-fire banter as he trades his ID with a security guard at the record label. It's one of the those routine moments that you go through daily in Thailand, but the incorrigible Ped puts his own odd spin on it, which makes it enjoyable.

The rest of the film is an eye-glazing 90 minutes or so of folks sitting around, talking about relationships and snapping pictures of each other with their iPhones. It's not bad, but as a grumpy fortysomething white dude, I found it pretty boring. Obviously, it's not a movie made for people like me – it's made for the young Thai audiences who made the movie a hit.

I'll give credit to the supporting cast, which includes "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom, Charoenporn “Kotee Aramboy” Onlamai and Kom Chuanchuen for helping to keep my interest. These are comedians you see in just about every Thai comedy, but they are all well suited to their roles here and give great performances.

Wearing bowl-cut hair and the clothes of a young woman perhaps half her age, brassy comedienne Tukky – a pint-sized Carol Burnett – is among Mayom's group of back-up dancers. She punctuates things with an odd sniff, like she's allergic to something and has a runny nose.

Gibzy is Tukky's character's name and this little berry of a girl wins a date with a handsome member of a boyband duo, and has the guy fulfill her three wishes, which includes taking her out in public and pretending they are a couple, and going to sing karaoke.

They are interrupted in their karaoke session when a teenybopper fan presses her face up against the glass of their booth, and writes messages to the singer in the fog of her breath. It's "Saipan" Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, making a cute cameo appearance.

Sudket, meanwhile, is wondering how he'll ever land his dream girl. He gets support from his friend and bandmate who is named Under (Kotee, wearing a chimpanzee-like fake beard and hipster clothes). Dear old dad (a restrained Kom, with the long hair and fake grey mustache of an ageing hippie), the owner/deejay of a community radio station, gives fatherly advice.

Kohtee gets a chance to show his talents as a singer, playing the drum-box and singing back-up to Sudket in their musical act.

There's also this strange character, a skinny guy wearing nerd glasses and skinny jeans who's a biker. This gives the movie a chance to comment on Thai trends, specifically the "dek wan" hipster motorbike gangs that race around at night and their "skoi" (biker groupie) girlfriends who wear exhaust-burn marks on their inside right calves with pride.

I don't get what the appeal is about the actress Yipso Ramida, who was featured in 32 Thunwa and portrayed the sight-impaired glasses girl in the travel romance That Sounds Good. Maybe she's nice in person but on the big screen I find her mannerisms annoying and fake, like all the "ab beaw" cute poses teenagers do for their Facebook pages.

There's a music video at the end to liven things up. It's the best part of the movie.

Here's where there's better chemistry between Tukky and Kohtee, finally meeting after speculating about each other the whole movie. It's hate at first sight, and Tukky can't keep her composure as she and Kohtee have a little slapfest.

See also:

Related posts:

Review: Lud 4 Lud

  • Directed by Ekkasith Thairath, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Phawat Panangkasiri, Chookiat Sakveerakul
  • Starring Alex Rendel, Pakorn Chatborirak, Ananda Everingham, Alice Tsoi
  • Released in Thai cinemas on January 20, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating 3/5

Directors Chookiat Sakveerakul, Kongkiat Khomsiri and Phawat Panangkasiri bring their own styles to stories scripted or co-scripted by thriller writer Ekkasith Thairath, who rounds out the foursome with a directorial debut of his own in Sahamongkol Film International’s horror omnibus Lud See Lud (หลุด 4 หลุด).

Ekkasith, writer of comic books and such films as 13 Game Sayong (13 Game of Death), Body Sop 19 and Who R U, offers Grian Laang Lok (Clean-up Day), a short-but-sweet manga-style teaser to start things off.

It stars Alexander Rendel, the young actor who played a scared little boy in Chookiat’s 2004 debut feature Pisaj (Evil). He’s one of a group of guys hanging out, bemoaning the world’s overpopulation. Ironically, they’re sipping coffee at one of Bangkok’s posh and trendy neighborhood malls – places that would cease to exist if there were no people.

Yet they still think a virus would be a great way to end the world – or maybe not, as they soon discover when they’re drowning in the chocolate-syrup blood that’s coming out of their noses.

Ekkasith also manages to chastise people who leave their cell-phones on during movies. Turn it off and you’ll foil his plans, and that’s a good thing.

There's something sickening about this brief opening segment I couldn't quite put my finger on. I found out later it was all one take. The unblinking camera was the reason for my slight nausea.

Kongkiat, who previously helmed Five Star’s Slice and Muay Thai Chaiya and had a hand in the Art of the Devil series, directs the darkly comic Ran Kong Kwan Peua Kon Tee Kun Gliat (The Gift Shop for the Ones You Hate).

Pakorn “Boy” Chatborirak stars as an office worker who’s just been promoted to manager, and he receives congratulatory gifts that aren’t all that nice. One gag gift is an umbrella with a lightning rod built in. There’s also an iPad, which would be great if the touchscreen weren’t dusted with poison. Another present kills Boy’s cat.

Phawat, directing Keun Jit Lut (Eerie Nights), brings the same film-noir touch as in last year’s Buddhist crime thriller Nak Prok (Shadow of the Naga). It’s a similar tale too, about three criminals on the run. They hide out in a creepy old hospital.

The trio is led by Ananda Everingham, still in his angry, bad-ass Red Eagle mode. He shouts and brandishes his pistol, scaring his two cohorts. Bad karma eventually catches up with the trio, complete with a "gotcha" ending.

Finally, 13 Game Sayong and Love of Siam director Chookiat directs the colourful all-out comedy segment Hoo Aa Gong, about a wacky Thai-Chinese family dealing with the spirit of their grandfather. On his deathbed, the ancient patriarch asked that there be no cremation nor burial, that instead his body would be preserved “until ...”

His words trailed off, and years later the old man’s dried-out corpse still rests in bed in his ancestral home, scaring off superstitious maids. To watch after grandfather, all the family’s four grandchildren are brought in to live with him.

There’s the eldest daughter (Alice Tsoi), a masturbation-addicted younger brother, the effeminate brother who wears curlers and a flowery nightie but swears he’s not gay, the brainy asshole doctor brother and the little sister who does nothing but play with her BlackBerry.

Like most other horror comedies, there are jumps and scares and much running around and screaming, even though things aren’t really all that scary. But the antics, which included the sex-starved sibling being humped by his dead granddad, had viewers busting their guts. A sweet and cute ending calms things down.

Produced by Prachya Pinkaew’s Baa-Ram-Ewe studio, Lud 4 Lud follows more or less the same formula as GTH’s successful Phobia series, 2008’s See Phrang and 2009’s Haa Phrang, which got together that studio’s top directors.

Sahamongkol got in on the act with 2009’s Maha’lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities), which was four stories about haunted schools. Phranakorn Production compiled topical thriller shorts in last year’s Tai Hong.

Lud See Lud shows that the trend hasn’t yet played out, nor is it likely to as long as the studios have acclaimed directors willing to participate in such projects and top actors who will draw the big crowds.

Related posts:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Apichatpong-a-rama: Swinton and an Uncle Boonmee trailer

For a quick followup to the previous update on all things Apichatpong and the director's possible next project Mekong Hotel, I turn to The Playlist:

The project definitely sounds like the director’s gestating project with thespian Tilda Swinton which was noted to center on the eponymous river and “address the relationship between man and water, the catastrophic flooding which is blamed on Chinese dams and diseases spread by industrial-scale pig farming.”

“It’s definitely not going to be a film that will just have a foreign movie star for the sake of it,” Weerasethakul previously told the Guardian. “It’s going to be an exchange of ideas, of images, of ... I don’t know. It’s like a game for me: the river, the pigs, and Tilda Swinton.”

It won’t be first time the director has explored the Mekong (the river which runs through his native Thailand as well as Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) with one of his shorter projects, Luminous People, centering on a man’s journey on the river scattering the ashes of his dead father. That effort was part of one segment of the 2007 omnibus film, State of the World.

Swinton and Apichatpong have long wanted to work together. She invoked his Tropical Malady back in 2006 in the State of Cinema address at the San Francisco International Film Festival, saying:

"I actually remember rubbing my eyes with my fists in a comedy gesture during the screening, convinced, for one split second, that I fallen asleep, that only my unconscious could have come up with such a texture of sensation."

The Playlist also picks up on the Edinburgh Film Festival curating project.

they have the U.S. trailer for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, catfish sex and all.

It's embedded below.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nostalgia for an Isaan childhood in Panya Reanu

Bin Banluerit is perhaps most well known for his role in the ultra-violent action film Bang Rajan but as a director he's making the sweet and sentimental childhood romantic comedy Panya Reanu (ปัญญา เรณู ), which hits Thai cinemas this week.

It looks to be channeling the same kind of nostalgia as the 2003 hit Fan Chan. Here, instead of being set in a Thai-Chinese town in central Thailand, the story is set in Isaan and involves a village boy Panya. He has his eyes on a local cute girl but is hounded by the chubby girl Reanu.

The music of Northeast Thailand plays a large part in this movie, with the kids getting involved in a song-and-dance contest.

A few of the familiar comedians make appearances in supporting and cameo roles.

Check the trailer at YouTube.

Apichatpong-a-rama: Checking into Mekong Hotel, curating in Edinburgh

In an interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, just before he won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, I asked the director what his next big project might be.

With the environment on his mind, Apichatpong replied that he wanted to do something about "water", specifically the Mekong, the lifeblood river that runs down from the Tibetan mountains through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

"I'm really interested in the situation about the Mekong drying up and flooding," he said last April.

As always with Apichatpong's projects, what form it will take be can't be determined until it's finished.

But it's in its early stage, and Screen Daily reports it's to be called Mekong Hotel.

It's unknown "whether it will be a full-scale theatrical feature or a smaller, more experimental effort", Screen says, but reports "whatever happens, it has been confirmed that Apichatpong will again be partnering on the venture with Keith Griffiths and Simon Field of Illuminations Films", the U.K. producers of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Apichatpong's Primitive art project.

In the nearer future, Apichatpong has another project lined up: he's been named a guest curator of the 65th Edinburgh Film Festival, running June 15 to 26. He's among an all-star roster of curators that also has actress Isabella Rossellini, director Gus Van Sant, director Jim Jarmusch, indie filmmaker Sara Driver, film-score composer Clint Mansell, rock critic Greil Marcus, author Alan Warner and musician Mike "The Streets" Skinner.

According to the Scotsman, the curators will be selecting a mixture of new films, retrospectives and one-off events.

In addition, Mark Cousins, Linda Myles and Tilda Swinton are acting as creative advisers to James Mullighan, the Australian producer who was appointed festival director in December.

So no big surprise that Apichatpong was selected to be among the curators, since both Cousins and Swinton contributed to last year's "pink book" biography of Apichatpong, and Swinton has stated she's keen to work with the Thai director.

As for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, there's more screenings cropping up around the world, including the Portland International Film Festival and in Minneapolis at the Walker Art Center.

Update: See the above post.

(Thanks to @elehelp)

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Chocolate coming, in 3D

What I'm guessing will be Sahamongkol Film International's first 3D movie (though not the first Thai 3D film), Chocolate 2 is being promoted at the European Film Market. Twitch had something to say about it.

I actually read about this awhile back in one of Thailand's English-language newspapers. Okay, it was The Nation. It was during the flurry of year-end round ups and new year's previews and I never got around to blogging about it until now.

From what I recollect from the newspaper article, Chocolate 2 will be at least partly filmed in Japan.

Jija Yanin returns as the autistic savant martial artist. She's the daughter of a yakuza heavy, portrayed by Hiroshi Abe, who will also reprise his role. The story looks to be picking up from where the first film left off, with the girl and her father finally united after being kept apart by bad blood between the yakuza and a Thai mobster – a feud that resulted from Abe's character falling in love with the mistress of the Thai mafia chieftan.

Prachya Pinkaew is directing. And yes, as Twitch mentions, he's got plenty going on. There's the South Korean-Thai co-production The Kick, which he's also directing. That has Jija in a supporting role. Meanwhile, Prachya's helmer-for-hire job for Hollywood, Elephant White is in post production. Hope to hear more about that sometime.

(Via Far East Films)

The Terrorists is up for a Teddy

Thunksa Pansittivorakul's The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย, Poo Kor Karn Rai) is playing in the Berlinale Forum, and while that is not a competition slot, the maverick indie director's latest provocative effort is eligible for the Teddy Award, which is for any film that has "queer content".

Here's what the Teddy Awards website says about The Terrorists:

The movie is divided into seventeen unrelated segments and is a mixture of both documentary and experimental film genres. By inhabiting the lives of laymen from different parts of Thailand, the movie brings us through blurry trails, distorted memories and recently constructed histories. We unearth missing pieces of the puzzle in our attempt to understand why Thai democracy is still considered backwards and frozen. Are we deceiving ourselves that we are in a democratic society when we are not?

The movie begins on a fishing boat, as we observe two boys conversing in an indecipherable tongue. It moves on to contemplate the light penetrating the sea and observe small lives swimming under the surface overlapped with a human body victimized by an unseen person. Beneath the darkness of a rubber farm, only faint light from the lamps illuminates the way. The truth from our present is superimposed with the blood-thirst from the past. The past is erased from the page of Thai history, and what is left is only the accusation that they are the terrorists.

By the way, the jury of this year's Teddy Award includes Thai raconteur Victor Silakong, the director of the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which tried to program Thunska's This Area Is Under Quarantine back in 2009, only to have it rejected by one of the cogs in Thailand's confusing film-censorship bureaucracy.

On Wednesday, Thunska will participate in a Berlinale Talent Campus presentation, As Queer As It Gets. He's with filmmaker Wieland Speck (one of the initiators of the Teddy Award), indie producer Christine Vachon, John Greyson the video artist, and director Monika Treut. They'll discuss the concept and form of the "queer film", the possible future role of queer cinema and the challenges faced by filmmakers in less queer-friendly parts of the world.

Should be interesting.

The Terrorists has three screenings at the Berlin International Film Festival. The first was on Saturday night. It, along with Aditya Assarat's Hi-So, was reportedly sold out. There's also a Valentine's Day screening and the last one on Friday, February 18.

Here's the official synopsis from the festival:

A black cloak of forgetting, suppressing and covering has descended on the events that took place in Bangkok in spring 2010. Black as the night of complete darkness in which the film opens. Two men are in a fishing boat talking. One feels more than one sees that the seawater around them is warm and smooth, teeming with brightly-colored fish. By night, the rubber plantation also comes across as enticing and full of secrets, until lurid reminders of the bloody massacre flash up. This film arose from of a state of shock – about the news, about the subsequent repression in the authoritarian kingdom but also about the debilitating passivity that followed the pro-democracy Red Shirt uprising. It is a radical personal assessment in 17 episodes. An angry protest in the form of a diary, where sexual resistance and erotic fantasies are juxtaposed with thoughtful rummaging through the director’s family album, creating a confusing pamphlet. As a young boy in the 1970s, Thunska was already forced to flee Bangkok for the south with his mother. The film poses questions without knowing the answers, providing an unusual insight into an extremely traumatized society.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top 10 Thai films of 2010

First of all, apologies to the couple of readers who've been asking me when I'm going to get around to posting this. Not sure I can explain why it's taken until the middle of February to complete it, but here it is.

The year in Thai cinema of 2010 started out triumphantly, with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives winning the Palme d'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Powered by its Cannes win, Uncle Boonmee quickly secured a limited release in Thai cinemas, heralding a growing acceptance in Thailand for Thai independent cinema.

A pair of festival favorites from my 2009 Top 10 list, the indie films Agrarian Utopia and Mundane History, also had limited runs in Bangkok in 2010 and along with Uncle Boonmee are nominated for many awards here in Thailand. Meanwhile, the film industry experienced lucrative success with teen romantic dramas like Guan Muen Ho and First Love, which means that there will be more commercial films along those lines.

Thailand's film-ratings system looked to show some daring with the release of the 20- movie Sin Sisters 2 – probably the worst movie of the year. It showed lots of skin and some sex. There was also the release of the rated-18+ Brown Sugar "erotic" movies from Sahamongkol Film International.

But then toward the end of the year, the censors showed they were just as stubborn and intolerant as ever with the banning of Insects in the Backyard, a sexually explicit gay-themed social drama by independent director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit.

Well, without further ado, let's get to my favorite Thai films of 2010.

10. Tai Hong (Still, a.k.a. Die a Violent Death)

Horror from the Thai film industry was on the wane in 2010, giving way to romances and slapstick comedies, but there were still a few decent examples, including Tai Hong, a quartet of short thrillers produced by Poj Arnon for Phranakorn. Joining Poj in his fun were indie directors Chartchai Ketknust, Manus Worrasingha and Tanwarin Sukkhapisit. Among the tales was a topical drama about the agonized spirits of a New Year's Eve nightclub fire, echoing 2009's Santika tragedy. The foursome of loosely interlinked stories had decent performances from top stars like "Golf" Akara Amarttayakul, "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol and Mai Charoenpura.

9. Unreal Forest

Like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Singaporean director Sherman Ong and a few other indie filmmakers, Jakrawal Nilthamrong makes movies that aren't necessarily designed to be shown in cinemas. While Unreal Forest has been shown in film festivals, in Bangkok its major release was as an art installation at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. That's just a smidgen of what made Unreal Forest unique. The film was the result of an interesting experiment by the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which commissioned Asian filmmakers to travel to Africa and make movies. With a low budget, Jakrawal's approach was to make a documentary of his process of recruiting Zambian filmmakers, watching them work and then showing the story they came up with, which is about a shaman coming to a village to try and heal a sick boy. There's also an ironic message of Dutch colonialism and colonialism in general and how it relates to Thailand. As a bonus the film makes stunning use of Zambia's landmark Victoria Falls.

8. Eternity (Chua Fah Din Salai)

This Eternity is a breathtakingly lavish and steamy romantic melodrama, set in the 1930s, with sumptuous costuming and a fantastic cast, led by Ananda Everingham and "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak as cheating lovers chained together "until eternity". Breaking at 13-year hiatus from filmmaking, veteran drama teacher ML Bhandevanop Devakula directs this adaptation of Malai Choopanit's 1943 novel. The initial theatrical release was a sleeper summer hit that became one of the year's top 10 movies at the box office and it looks set to rule this year's movie-awards season. The original was rated 15+ while the three-hour director's cut was rated 18+ and showed more skin and sex.

7. Eternity (Tee Rak)

The other Eternity, the indie Eternity (ที่รัก, Tee Rak), by director Sivaroj Kongsakul – making his feature debut – is an existential romance that's an autobiographical ode to Sivaroj's late father. It traces the man's thoughts and memories in his afterlife, from a tearful ghost, riding a motorcycle around his old haunts, to memories of his youthful courtship and finally to a time when recollections about him have faded. Full of nostalgia, tears and longing, it's slow and quiet with that far-away camera work that's a trademark of indie arthouse cinema. Eternity is an lingering emotional musing. Following its recent Tiger Award win at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Eternity will be making its way around the film-festival circuit in the year to come and making sure Sivaroj is another Thai name to be reckoned with.

6. Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok)

One of the reasons I began feel hopeful about the future of Thai cinema under the ratings system was this film – a film-noir thriller that took a serious look at Thai Buddhism and tackled taboo subjects with a story about three bank robbers who hide their loot in a temple and then pose as monks in order to retrieve it. In this place of contemplation, greed and rage boil to the surface. There's strong, showy performances all around by the cast of Somchai Kemklad, Ray MacDonald, Pitisak Yaowanan, Inthira Charoenpura and Sa-ad Piampongsan. Director Phawat Panangkasiri's drama languished in Sahamongkol's vaults for three years before producers decided the time was right to release it. The ratings board passed it with an 18+ rating though there were pop-up warning messages for scenes that go against Buddhist practices.

5. Baby Arabia

A soulful, spiritual triumph, the lively Arab-Malay music of the band Baby Arabia propels this documentary by Panu Aree, Kaweenipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee. Unusually for a Thai film, it's not about Buddhism but about Islam, a faith that isn't ordinarily heard about in Thailand unless it's connected to the extremists, violence and deaths in southern part of the country. And aside from showcasing the infectious music and telling the story of the band, that's the point of the movie. It's an effort to show a side of Islam that isn't ordinarily heard from – presenting the moderate viewpoint that by its very nature doesn't make itself heard.

4. Reincarnate

Thunska Pansittivorakul's 2008 documentary This Area Is Under Quarantine was an explosive combination of political commentary – banned video footage of Thai army brutality against Muslim men – and young men having sex. It was prevented from being screened at the 2009 World Film Festival of Bangkok on a technicality by censors who said they weren't authorized to permit it. Whatever that meant. Essentially, they banned it, though not officially. Anyway, Thunska became unrepentant, and he ups the ante in Reincarnate, which screened at the Rotterdam fest, in Berlin and Buenos Aires last year. Featuring an on-screen masturbation and ejaculation with risky metaphorical social commentary, Thunska didn't even try show Reincarnate in Thailand. He looks to be continuing on that track with The Terrorists, produced by Germany's Jürgen Brüning, and screening at the Berlin International Film Festival.

3. Insects in the Backyard

Tanwarin Sukkapisit's soul is poured into Insects in the Backyard, a magnum opus from the gay cross-dressing director. It's by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. Tanwarin stars as the flamboyant, Audrey Hepburn-inspired transvestite father of a troubled teenage son and daughter. The kids, confused about their own sexuality, rebel against their eccentric father by entering the sex trade. There's fetish sex, with the teenage characters in school uniform. The explicit film, with a damning social message, screened in Vancouver and at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, but efforts by Tanwarin to secure a limited release for Insects have been thwarted by censors, who deemed the film to be against public morals. It's Thailand's first officially banned film under the ratings system. They were disturbed by fantasy images of the son killing his father. Another scene that had the culture watchdogs barking was when Tanwarin is watching porn and her dress is pulled back to reveal her man parts.

2. The Red Eagle

At first look, Wisit Sasanatieng's Insee Dang (The Red Eagle) is a dark, brooding, ultra-violent affair that is quite unlike his colorful cult-favorite earlier efforts like Tears of the Black Tiger or Citizen Dog. A deeper look will reveal Wisit's cheeky sense of humor and sly digs against product placement and the cliches of Hollywood action films. Perhaps it's Wisit's frustration boiling to surface, since making The Red Eagle – a much-anticipated reboot of the 1960s action franchise that starred Mitr Chaibancha, with Ananda Everingham taking over the storied role – left Wisit feeling so creatively hamstrung he vowed it would be his last studio film. But it's not his last film. So even if Wisit doesn't come back to direct Insee Dang out of his cliffhanger ending, there's hope he'll get his indie Muay Thai film Suriya off the ground.

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Winner of the Cannes Film Festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or – the first for a Thai film – Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee is a bit different form his previous features like Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, which had elliptical qualities that told abstract stories. Here, the stories are just fractured as ever but there's a solid narrative that makes Boonmee perhaps more accessible than the previous films. Sure, there's still viewers who haven't a clue what to make of such things as the Monkey Ghost with the glowing red eyes, the ghost wife and the princess and the catfish. Apichatpong has said his movie channels his movie memories, mainly from when he was growing up and going to the Khon Kaen cinemas in the 1980s. The magic of Uncle Boonmee is that in its blissfully weird way it can speak to anyone's movie memories. For example, I felt like I was watching Apichatpong's version of Star Wars, even though he's said he wasn't influenced by George Lucas. Though perhaps Planet of the Apes fit in there somewhere.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Apichatpong-a-rama: U.S. poster for Boonmee by Chris Ware, U.K. DVD details, on the train in Singapore

Cult comic-book artist and cartoonist Chris Ware has designed the poster for the U.S. release of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The design was premiered on New York magazine's Vulture blog. Ware says:

"I wanted to get at both the transcendent solemnity of the film while keeping some sense of its loose, very unpretentious accessibility. This being a poster, however — and even worse, me not really being a designer — I realized it also had to be somewhat punchy and strange, so as to draw viewers in and pique their curiosity without, hopefully, insulting their intelligence."

I think it captures the monkey ghost spirit of Uncle Boonmee just fine.

Distributed by Strand Releasing, the film opens on March 2 in New York and I would guess other major U.S. cities will soon follow.

In the U.K., where Uncle Boonmee had a theatrical release last year, the DVD and Blu-ray release is being readied for March 20. New Wave Films is handling the release.

Extras on the DVD and Blu-ray include:

  • Filmed interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • 40 minutes of deleted scenes
  • A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, a companion short film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Essay by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, The Memory of Nabua

Although Boonmee already appears on an English-subbed DVD in another territory, it looks like the U.K. DVD will be the one to get, unless Strand considerably steps up its game beyond the no-frills huge hard-burned subtitles of its Syndromes and a Century DVD release.

That said, I don't think either the DVD or the Blu-ray are a substitute for seeing it in the theatre.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives opened on January 27 at the Picturehouse in Singapore.

There's more press interviews with Apichatpong in Singapore, including the Straits Times and My Paper. There's a Straits Times Razor TV in which Joei says "You can sleep during my films."

There's also an interesting piece at the Sindie blog, in which Apichatpong was interviewed while taking the subway in Singapore. It has lots of photos, with talk about censorship and the history and current affairs of Thai cinema. Here's a bit:

"For, example you cannot portray the policemen in a bad way. (pause) The censorship board has become like a moral police. If they do not think it is right, they can ban it. I think the system is quite fascist. The last movie that was banned was a movie that dealt with transsexuals [Insects in the Backyard]. The government said ‘oh, it’s not a good image for the Thai young people.' Even though they have a rating system, they don’t really trust their own rating system. It may be because even with the ratings, people can still sneak in. (pause) There is another film that has high school students kissing [Love Julinsee], in fact, not even kissing, they were only about to kiss and the censors stepped in."

A few other things:

Lifescapes 2011: Bleeps, Blurs and Bans and Insects in the Backyard

Tanwarin Sukhaphisit, director of the banned Insects in the Backyard took part in the panel discussion Bleeps, Blurs and Bans – Film Censorship in Southeast Asia at the Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival. Also taking part was Bradley Cox, director of the documentary Who Killed Chea Vichea?, which is banned in Cambodia.

Cox talked about the various times he's tried to show Who Killed Chea Vichea? in Cambodia only to be thwarted for various reasons.

One time, the garment-workers union that the labor leader had headed wanted to show the movie on the spot where he was killed to mark International Labor Day. Police turned out in riot gear against the mostly female workers, and the government declared the movie was an illegal import. Another time the filmmakers attempted to show the movie at Cambodia's so-called Freedom Park, a far-flung spot of land where demonstrations are allowed, but only if they receive a permit. Who Killed Chea Vichea? wasn't permitted.

Cambodia's Information Minister and spokesman Khieu Kanharith has said: "It might have been that the documentary intends to accuse the government of murder."

To which Cox retorts that it's probably one of the few times that Kanharith has spoken the truth.

Tanwarin began her segment by thanking the Culture Ministry and the censors for banning her movie, which has served to increase the awareness about how gays are discriminated against in Thailand.

Speaking through a translator and keeping the Thai-speaking crowd entertained with her frank and funny talk, Tanwarin said she's still not sure why the movie was banned because it doesn't talk about politics. "It's just about people ... human being insects."

Tanwarin said that what she tried to present in Insects in the Backyard is something that already exists. She says that one reason her film has met been met with resistance is because of the belief that there are only two sexes in this world.

She said that one of the ministers acknowledged that it was a problem, but that it could not be presented. Which led Tanwarin to muse whether there's truth in anything the government has said about anything.

Tanwarin said it was her intention to release the film under Thailand 20- rating, the most restrictive classification which restricts viewers to those age 20 and older and makes I.D. checks mandatory. But ministers disagreed that anyone 20 years or older would have the maturity to know what's right or wrong. Tanwarin said she wondered if a 50-year-old mother would be allowed to watch the film? No, the ministers said. They were apparently worried that adults would go out and buy student uniforms and copy the sex scenes they saw in the movie.

The transvestite gay filmmaker, who started dressing was a woman in her teens after putting on plays, taking on the female roles and feeling comfortable with thatm said she aimed to presented transvestites as real human beings.

In Insects in the Backyard Tanwarin portrays a father of a teenage son and daughter and aims to look at the world and through that character's eyes. In a patriarchal society like Thailand, the authorities cannot take it.

The movie was in part inspired by a nephew who wouldn't accept a shirt from Tanwarin because he didn't want to wear a transvestite's T-shirt. And then what if, one day, Tanwarin met a woman and they loved each other and had a child?

The penis is just an appendage, a body part, like an arm or a leg. It's for peeing and procreating. Nothing more, Tanwarin said. Yet these body parts are referred to in Thai as "secret things", so people are naturally curious. Just like they are about Insects in the Backyard. What's it about? Why's it censored?

In a story by National Public Radio, a member of the Censorship Committee says Tanwarin knows very well why the movie is censored.

Raksarn Wiwatsinudom ... film scholar at Chulalongkorn University ... says the film was banned mostly because of one scene, which contains male nudity and a pornographic video playing on a television.

"Tanwarin knows which scenes are the most provocative," he says. "She knows that the committee members said that this particular scene is against the law. They told her that if this scene is cut, everything will be okay, even though what she's trying to portray is dangerous to the Thai society."

Professor Raksarn argues that parts of the movie's plot line – particularly the fact that Johnny and Jenny engage in prostitution of their own free will instead of being forced into it – send a harmful message to society. He says that art must be beautiful, not ugly – and he says Insects in the Backyard is ugly.

"Tanwarin says she wants to portray social problems," Raksarn scoffs. "But she's not doing that. She's just projecting her own subconscious fantasies onto the screen."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lifescapes 2011: This Prison Where I Live/The Most Secret Place on Earth

The first Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival was held from February 3 to 6 at Payap University in Chiang Mai. Here's a couple more of the films I saw.

This Prison Where I Live

There's a reason the Burmese junta wants the comedian Zarganar in prison – the people like him too much. And in a country that desperately needs someone the people can look up to, Zarganar poses a grave threat. A sharp-witted satirist who can effectively communicate across all media, be it stand-up and sketch comedy, film, television, theater or poetry, Zarganar always made fun of the military government, which got him jailed repeatedly.

He's serving a 35-year stretch now for criticizing the junta's lack of disaster relief after 2008's Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy Delta. In 2007, British director Rex Bloomstein visited Burma and filmed Zarganar at his home in Rangoon.

Scenes juxtapose Zarganar playing his traditional xylophone with footage of Burma's leaders staging military parades. Who's the real threat here? Zarganar, obviously. He's friendly and tells funny jokes. Can't have that in Burma. His talent and charisma pop off the screen, whether it's in TV sketches, directing typhoon relief efforts or just standing there smiling, with a towel on his shoulder to wipe away the sweat of just standing there smiling in Burma's humid climate.

Bloomstein kept the footage secret out of deference to the comedian being banned from speaking or writing or even having his name uttered. But after Zarganar was imprisoned, Bloomstein became determined to make a documentary. A chance call from German comedian Michael Mittermeier, who was interested in Burmese causes and felt a kinship with Zarganar, made that documentary possible.

This Prison Where I Live documents Bloomstein's return to Burma with Mittermeier and their efforts to get as close as they could to the remote prison where Zarganar is being held. The paranoia is palpable. Burmese society is described as a Matrix-like place, where everyone is a potential spy. This Prison Where I Live aims to spark enough interest around the world to raise the call to free Zarganar.

The movie played previously at last year's Doi Saket International Film Festival, with Zarganar being honored with a special jury prize. The movie is also playing in Bangkok this week, at the FCCT on Wednesday and at a special screening with Burmese comedians at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center on Thursday. The Nation has more about that in a story today.

The Most Secret Place on Earth

While news of the American war in Vietnam was broadcast on the nightly news in homes across the US during the 1960s and '70s there was secret sideshow conflict taking place in Laos, a country that remains overshadowed by its bigger neighbors.

This "secret war" resulted in Laos having more bombs dropped on it than Germany and Japan combined during World War II.

The documentary by German director Marc Eberle, co-scripted by, interviews various characters who fought that war, among them US diplomat James Lilley, who was a CIA agent back in the day, as well as an Air America pilot and the Hmong general Vang Pao, who talk frankly of their efforts. Critics adding balance to the proceedings are historian Alfred McCoy and journalist Fred Branfman.

The idea of the secret war at first was to use the Hmong to fight against the communist Pathet Lao. The CIA supported their efforts by training them. CIA officers like Tony Poe – whose tactics and background are remarkably similar to Lt. Colonel Walter Kurtz in Apocalypse Now – commanded Hmong troops in the field.

A secret airbase at Long Cheng, which at one time was the world's busiest airport and Laos' second-largest city, was Air America's base of operations for efforts to supply rice and "hard rice" (a euphemism for weapons and ammunition) to the Hmong freedom fighters.

It was a wild time, recalls an Air America pilot, who chuckles as he remembers the girly bars around the airbase and being in awe of charismatic Hmong leader Vang Pao, an illusion that was shattered when he witnessed the general casually shoot a guy.

As noble as the ideas were, things got way out of hand, with the war efforts being propped up by the heroin trade, and villages bombed out of existence by the Arc Light strikes by B-52 bombers, aiming to disrupt the Laos leg of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. There are lakes that dot the Plain of Jars to this day. Those are bomb craters. Unexploded ordnance still litters the countryside.

The footage of Vang Pao is especially poignant today, because since the film was made Vang Pao has died and been denied burial at Arlington Cemetery. Meanwhile, his Hmong fighters are still in the hills, still fighting. The documentary has footage of photographer Philip Blenkinsop's dramatic discovery of an isolated group of Hmong fighters in 2003.

Lifescapes 2011: Lending Lenses/Only Love

The first Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival was held from February 3 to 6 at Payap University in Chiang Mai. Here's a couple of the films I saw.

Lending Lenses: Shorts Series

This is a collection of short films produced by various non-government organizations in Burma, Cambodia and Thailand. In developing countries these "NGO documentaries" are often the only way filmmakers can learn their craft and get work. The Thai shorts were produced by a group called Rung Oan, which puts video cameras in the hands of young filmmakers. The two offerings were Grandma Niad and Vow! The first, directed Anawat Iamrabieb, is a well-acted social-message drama about an elderly woman and her granddaughter who earn their living by collecting mushrooms and other things from the forest to sell at the market. The area being declared a national park puts the old woman in conflict with soldiers and an end to her traditional way of life. What will the future hold for the granddaughter? Vow! by Yupin Mipat is an interesting blend of the socially aware NGO doc and the aesthetics of a teenage horror thriller. The story is about college roommates praying at a shrine and vowing that one of the girls will die if they are lying about stealing some household money. From Cambodia's Meta House came The Pepper Fields, which looks at the resurgence of black-pepper production by small-scale farmers in Kampot Province. The crop was introduced in the French colonial era, and experts are trying to establish Kampot peppers as a brand. The documentary also addresses Cambodia's rampant land speculation. Another Meta House short was Smot by Neang Kavich, which looks at the spooky and ancient form of singing that was popular at Cambodian funerals, and how the last smot masters are teaching a new generation of performers. The Yangon Film School, which had a package of shorts at last year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival offered the inspirational My Positive Life, by Wai Mar Nyunt, about a spirited HIV-positive man who works tirelessly as an AIDS counselor, and Stimatise This! by Aung Ko Ko, about a group of HIV-positive folks from various walks of life who teach sessions to UN workers about overcoming HIV fears and discrimination.

Only Love

Anousone Sirisackda, who co-directed Sabaidee Luang Prabang and is a producer of Thai director Sakchai Deenan's cross-border romance franchise, makes movies that mix heavy social messages and soap-opera-style melodrama. He previously made A Father's Heart, which told of the dangers of bird flu and the heartbreak that eating runny eggs can cause. His latest feature Only Love carries a blunt-force message about socialist values and sustainable farming with its chaste romance between an idealistic young man from an upstanding family and his longtime sweetheart. Mr. Pure Heart wants to reopen his village's community learning center and get everyone to work together and improve irrigation practices. The scheme will cut into the business of the local money lender, since the improvements will mean more bountiful crops and less reliance on the loans. So the messed-up-hair son of the money-lender lady plots to take away the hero's girlfriend, who is already on the edge because her indebted ill-health father is eager to marry her off. Social ills are manifested in appearances by Tiger Beer and Lady Gaga's Telephone. It's a tragic melodrama but not without a tidy and happy end. Of course.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

IFFR 2011: Eternity (Tee Rak) wins Tiger Award

Sivaroj Kongsakul's debut feature Eternity (ที่รัก, Tee Rak) is among the three Tiger Award winners at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

The other two winners are The Journals of Musan by Park Jung-Bum of South Korea and Finisterrae by Sergio Caballero of Spain.

In all, 14 first or second films competed in the 2011 Tiger Awards Competition. The jury included Thai filmmaker Wisit Sasanatieng, as well as director Lucrecia Martel of Argentina, former IFFR director Sandra den Hamer, director of the EYE Film Institute Netherlands and former IFFR director; Romanian filmmaker Andrei Ujica and Sonic Youth musician Lee Ranaldo, who put on a solo concert as part of the awards ceremony.

Here's the jury statement about Eternity:

"With a great sense of cinematic duration, this film builds its own universe, finding its own pacing, so consistently, to tell its particular story. A film that seems on the surface to be about death but which is really about love, a beautiful and delicate love story."

Produced by Aditya Assarat, Umpornpol Yugula, Soros Sukhum, the film was supported by IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund.

Eternity premiered at the Pusan International Film Festival last year and was the opener of the World Film Festival of Bangkok.

The film deals with the memories Sivaroj has of his father, who died when the filmmaker was very young. The story tracks the man through the stages of his life and afterlife, from a ghost haunting his boyhood home, to the romance of his wife and finally to years after his death when memories of him have faded but longing by loved ones still lingers.

Sivaroj talked a bit at the fest about his film. Here's a bit from the IFFR website:

It’s an immersive experience, and one that Kongsakul doesn’t mind audiences scratching their heads over. “I didn’t expect the audience would understand the whole film, but everybody would have at least one shot that would trigger something for them,” he says. “I didn’t want to trap people into specific feelings.”


The three parts of the story are marked by formal changes. Kongsakul was especially attentive to sound, using surround sound to capture a natural ambience and shifting registers. “The first part is intended to be a bit ghost-like,” he says. “The sound there was more mysterious – I didn’t really understand it myself. We were trying to get the sound of the feeling of hurt, of separating from your body – not pain, exactly, but lots of confusing things together.” The result is a kind of ambient drone.

Early in the festival, the poster for Eternity was selected by's Adrian Curry as the Movie Poster of the Week.

Other Thai films at Rotterdam this year were Immortal Woman by Jakrawal Nilthamrong, which was in the short film competition, Wisit Sasanatieng's The Red Eagle, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner by Wang Jing, Anocha Suwichakornpong and Kaz Cai and the shorts All That Remains by Wichanon Somumjarn, My Father by Pimpaka Towira, Cherie Is Korean-Thai by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit and A Tale of Heaven by Phuttiphong Aroonpheng.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Teng is again Monk Teng but it's not a Monk Teng movie

Veteran comedian Pongsak "Teng Terdterng" Pongsuwan is back on the big screen as Monk Teng in Teng Nong Jiwon Bin (เท่งโหน่ง จีวรบิน), the third entry in the Teng Nong/Nong Teng franchise produced by Sahamongkol Film International.

The movie pairs Teng up with his TV-show co-star Choosak "Nong" Iamsuk.

Teng became a major movie star in 2005 when he played Monk Teng in Luangpee Teng (หลวงพี่เท่ง), a.k.a. The Holy Man, which was a smash-hit comedy by the then-new studio Phranakorn Production.

He played a monk who comes to a downtrodden temple in a small town, and helps the residents in their fight with a local gangster, played by Somlek Sakdikul.

Teng then shifted his big-screen efforts over to the Work Point studio, which makes the TV variety shows he stars in. Work Point has a production partnership with Phranakorn's bigger rival Sahamongkol Film International.

With Sahamongkol, Teng and his Ching Roi Ching Lan TV-game show co-star Choosak "Nong" Iamsuk teamed up for 2006's Nong Teng, Nak Leng Phukhao Thong (โหน่ง เท่ง นักเลงภูเขาทอง), a historical comedy that surrounded the making of the lost 1923 silent film Nang Sao Suwan. They followed that up in 2007 with Teng Nong Khon Ma Ha Hear (เท่งโหน่งคนมาหาเฮีย), which was some sort of crime comedy set in the present day and having nothing do with the earlier film.

Meanwhile, Phranakorn forged ahead with the Monk Teng franchise, which was created by producer-director Note Chernyim. Luangpee Teng 2 had the rapper Joey Boy in monk's robes, preaching rapid-fire sermons that inspired residents of a downtrodden town. The most recent effort, last year's Luangpee Teng 3 had rock stars Noi Sukosol and Oui Buddha Bless in saffron and shaved heads, backed up by the Harley-riding Ad Carabao.

But now Teng is back as Monk Teng, even if Teng Nong Jiwon Bin isn't a Monk Teng movie, it's a Teng Nong movie.

But the movies all look about the same, with the usual cast of comedians who seem to appear in every comedy film. So audiences can be excused if they don't make the distinction or pay attention to what studio the movies are from.

In Teng Nong Jiwon Bin, co-directed by Teng and Smith Timsawat, Teng is a Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage. He is aiming to return to Thailand and is offered a ride on a cargo plane by a wealthy jeweler, played Nong in a ridiculous fake mustache. The flight turns into something that's right out of Con Air thanks to a gang of thieves, led by a hot-headed "Tao" Somchai Kemklad.

Comic relief is offered by familiar faces, among them actress "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom as a flight attendant, along with comic actors Somlek Sakdikul. Kom Chuanchuen leads a band of ghost-faced jihadists. New-face actress "Mo" Amina Phinit gives the boys something to look at.
There's trailer at YouTube.

I guess it's okay for monks to pilot airplanes?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oneminutesjr shorts from the Luang Prabang Film Festival

The 15 one-minute movies by Laotian youths that opened last year's Luang Prabang Film Festival are online and you can watch them all.

Meanwhile, LPFF festival director Gabriel Kuperman is interviewed at Travelfish, and he says the fest's second edition is in the works and is set for December 3 to 10.

Thailand's next top catfighter

There's a reality-style TV show on in Thailand called The Acting Queen, in which 12 aspiring actresses scream, scratch and claw at each other, eliminating the weakest until one stands alone and is guaranteed a place in the pantheon of Thai cinema and television.

The Bangkok Post has a story about it, including an interview with the show's host, Marsha Wattanapanich, the veteran singer-actress who contemporary Thai cinema fans might recognize from the GTH horrors Alone and Phobia 2.

The panel of judges includes Ong-Bak and Chocolate producer-director Prachya Pinkaew, who directed the actresses in a stunt scene in which they were "fighting bad guys [then] escaping a bomb explosion and calmly walking away from a wall of fire, captured by five cameras." He's looking for a movie star:

"The TV show aims to find a new face for the Thai movie industry, which lacks magnet stars. Unfortunately, the industry is not big enough to have actresses dedicated to playing only movies," said Prachya. "Hollywood, on the other hand, has Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and Emma Watson who guarantee box office success. Here, it's often the name of the director that attracts movie-goers. But we hope that the industry will grow bigger so that one day we will have our own league of movie actresses."

They try their hand at various genres. Other directors creating scenes for the contestants have included Nonzee Nimibutr, Guan Muen Ho and Shutter helmer Banjong Pisanthanakul, Kongkiat Khomsiri (Slice, Muay Thai Chaiya) and Poj Arnon.

Chookiat Sakveerakul directed a horror segment involving loads of maggot-like worms being dumped on the women. There's a YouTube clip showing them all screaming.

The Acting Queen finale will be broadcast on February 13 on Modernine.