Monday, August 29, 2011

15th Thai Short Film & Video Festival: The winners

The 15th Thai Short Film & Video Festival wrapped up on Sunday night with the awards ceremony.

Among the big winners was the animated short, Ramakien Animation: Episode 1 (รามเกียรติ์แอนิเมชั่น ตอนธรรมะแห่งราชา), which won the top prize for animation, the Payute Ngaokrachang Medal, named for the pioneering Thai animator, as well as the popular vote award.

Lavishly brought to life by a team of 50 animators led by director Atitat Kamonpet, Ramakien – the Thai version of India's Ramayana epic – was made by photographing murals depicting the story at Wat Phra Kaew and then digitally separating the characters from the backgrounds and giving them movement.

The results are spectacularly mesmerizing.

The Nation had a story about the project last year. There's also a trailer.

The winner of the festival's top prize for general Thai filmmakers – the R.D. Pestonji Award, named after the pioneering Thai filmmaker – was Taiki Sakpisit for A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), which screened earlier this year in Bangkok as a two-channel video-and-sound installation. Taiki edited the two channels into one frame, making for a powerful statement on authoritarianism and military might in Thai society.

A runner-up in the R.D. Pestonji competition was Kong Pahurak, for his black comedy Shinda Gaijin, in which a young Japanese woman has to deal with the corpse of a white man repeatedly turning up in her bathtub.

Eakalak Maleetipawan won for A Moment in the Rainforest, which played on similar themes as Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, with a mystical story about a young woman, a tiger ghost and a monk in the forest.

And Pramote Sangsorn, fresh off his Cannes Cinefondation residency this year, won runner-up for The Island of Utopias, a bleak post-apocalyptic drama that had an old man searching for something in the rubble of a demolished building.

Special mentions went to the three-part Erotic Fragment No. 1, 2, 3 by Anucha Boonyawantana; Distinction by Tulapop Saenjaroen and Mrs. Nuan Who Can Recall Her Past Lives by Chulayarnnon Siriphol. Recalling the title of Apichatpong's 2010 Cannes-award-winning feature, Mrs. Nuan is about two men burying a dead dog.

Tulapop's Distinction had a maid and her employer talking about their lives. Giving their monologues in front of a white background, the two women swap roles back and forth, so after awhile their identities become blurred. Distinction also was among the winners of the Vichitmatra Award for distinctive achievement in filmmaking.

Here's the complete list of winners:

R.D. Pestonji Award (Thai filmmakers)

  • Winner: A Ripe Volcano by Taiki Sakpisit

  • Runners-up:

    • Shinda Gaijin by Kong Pahurak

    • A Moment in a Rain Forest by Eakalak Maleetipawan

    • The Island of Utopias by Pramote Sangsorn

  • Special Mentions

    • Erotic Fragment No. 1, 2, 3 by Anucha Boonyawatana

    • Distinction by Tulapop Saenjaroen

    • Mrs. Nuan Who Can Recall Her Past Lives by Chulayarnnon Siriphol

R.D. Pestonji Award (international competition)

  • Winner: Silent River by Anca Miruna Lazarescu (Germany-Romania)

  • Special Mentions

    • Open Doors by Ashish Pandey (India)

    • Machine Man by Alfonso Moral and Roser Corella (Spain)

White Elephant Award (for Thai university filmmakers)

  • Winner: Kari Yuka by Eakapon Settasuk

  • Runners-up

    • Imperial Earths by Phatthi Buntuwanit

    • Toilet by Koranan Chuenpichai

  • Special Mentions

    • Unlikeness by Pitchnut Suktorn

    • N.B. by Nattaphan Boonlert

    • Swimming Pool by Puangsoi Aksornsawang

Special White Elephant (for filmmakers under 18 years)

  • Winner: Change by Boonjira Phungmee

  • Runners-up

    • House by Setthasiri Chanjaradpong

    • Pedigree by Rajchapruk Tiyajamon

  • Special Mentions

    • Lesbian Fantasy by Teerath Wangwisarn

    • The Horse-Faced Lady by Narongchai Naksrichan

Payut Ngaokrachang Medal (for Thai animation)

  • Winner: Ramakien Animation: Episode 1 by Atipat Kamonpet

  • Runners-up

    • Stop Here by Twatpong Tangsajjapoj

    • Pupa by Kraisit Bhokasawat

  • Special Mentions

    • Be with You Japan by Cholawit Xuto

    • Over the Rainbow by Phattharamon Urahvanicha

    • Makprao by Sarida Pao-aroon

    • Together by Nalat Choravirakul

Duke Award (for Thai documentaries)

  • Winner: 95110 Postal Dream by Taweewit Kijtanasoonthorn

  • Runners-up

    • Our Home Huai Hin Dam by Pisut Srimhok

    • A Brief History of Memory by Chulayarnnon Siriphol

Kodak Film School Competition (for cinematography)

  • Unlikeness by Pitchnut Suktorn

Vichitmatra Award (for distinctive achievement in filmmaking according to jury’s judgement)

  • Night Blind by Chonlasit Upanigkit and Rasika Prasongtham

  • Just Came Back from the Magic Kingdom Far Far Away by Pass Patthanakumjon

  • Distinction by Tulapop Saenjaroen

  • Swimming Pool by Puangsoi Aksornsawang

Pirabkao Award (for the film that expresses freedom and equality issue and urges the social concern)

  • Three Generations; What do they think? by Panu Saeng-xuto and Kwankaew Ketphol

Best Acting

  • Cholpassorn Khahakantara from Just Came Back From the Magic Kingdom Far Far Away

Popular Vote

  • Ramakien Animation: Episode 1 by Atipat Kamonpet

The list of winners in Thai is at the Thai Film Foundation website.

(Thanks Sanchai!)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Apichatpong-a-rama: Keynote in Busan, Wavelengths in Toronto, trailer in Seoul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul will give a keynote presentation at the first Busan Cinema Forum, which will be held during the 16th Busan International Film Festival.

Under the theme "Seeking the Path of Asian Cinema in the 21st century: East Asia", the forum will host representatives from the film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Six world film research organizations and a group of critics will also participate.

Apichatpong is a keynote presenter along with Dudley Andrew, film studies professor at Yale University.

There are more words about it in a press release.

The forum will be held from October 10 to 12 during the October 6 to 14 fest.

At the Toronto International Film Festival, Apichatpong's short film Empire has been added to the Wavelengths program. The two-minute video of a cave diver, "a beguiling miniature of an enchanted grotto", was originally created as the trailer for last year's Vienna International Film Festival.

Empire screens in Toronto alongside the world premiere of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot. TIFF runs from September 8 to 18.

Meanwhile, Apichatpong has created Empire x 2, which became a trailer for another fest, the recent fifth edition of the Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival (CinDi).

Featuring parting red curtains, you can watch it at the festival website or see it embedded below.

There's also an essay about it, so go read it at the festival website.

Filmed in the Lapinsuu cinema in Sodankyla, Finland, Empire x 2 pays tribute to the now long-gone movie palaces of Apichatpong's boyhood hometown of Khon Kaen.

Also at CinDi was Chira Wichaisuthikul's Thai boxing documentary Lumpinee, which was in competition. A transcript of the Q&A session is at the CinDi website.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thai officials aim for prosecution in film fest scandal

Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission has formally ruled that former Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Juthamas Siriwan committed criminal acts in connection with the Bangkok International Film Festival bribery scandal, and they have forwarded the case to prosecutors, according to news reports today.

The Bangkok Post, Film Business Asia and MCOT have stories.

The NACC, which had unsuccessfully sought Juthamas' testimony, says the ex-governor and her daughter Jittisopa took $1.8 million in bribes as kickbacks for the awarding of $13.5 million worth of contracts to manage the Bangkok International Film Festival and other TAT projects to Hollywood producer couple Gerald and Patricia Green.

The Greens, whose Los Angeles-based Film Festival Management ran the Bangkok International Film Festival from 2004 to 2006, were subsequently arrested in the U.S. and charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. They were found guilty and sentenced last year to six months in prison.

According to the FCPA Blog, the Greens were released in June to six months of home detention. In addition to the prison term and home detention, the Greens have faced property forfeiture.

The FCPA Blog lists the Greens' case among the "worst FCPA prosecutions ever".

The U.S. Justice Department sought much-stiffer sentences against the Greens. Appeals against the six-month sentence are in the legal works.

Juthamas and her daughter also face charges in the U.S., and they have hired lawyers who are working to get the case dismissed, according to the Wall Street Journal's Corruption Currents blog. A hearing on that is set for October 20.

After Juthamas stepped aside as TAT governor in late 2006, the Bangkok International Film Festival continued to be run by the TAT. From 2008, the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand assisted in the management of the fest.

However, last year's edition was canceled in the aftermath of the red-shirt political protests, and I've heard no word of the BKKIFF re-emerging this year.

Update: U.S. Justice officials have dropped their appeal against the Greens' prison sentence.

I Carried You Home in Busan's New Currents competition

I Carried You Home, the debut feature by Tongpong Chantarangkul, is among the 13 entries announced today for the New Currents competition at the Busan International Film Festival, October 6 to 14.

The story of estranged sisters brought together by their mother's death, I Carried You Home recently received post-production assistance from Busan's Asian Cinema Fund. The ACF also backed the project's script development.

Here's the synopsis from the festival press release:

Pann and Pinn are sisters living in the wake of their mother’s death at the core of this time-shifting road trip drama. Despite communication difficulties from years apart, the women slowly reconnect as they ponder about loneliness, abandonment, and the secret that tore them apart.

Tongpong, schooled at Rangsit Universiety and London Film School, previously directed the 30-minute short Wings of Blue Angels, which included Ananda Everingham and Sinitta Boonyasak in the cast.

There's more about I Carried You Home at the film's website.

The New Currents selection also includes a Burmese film – Return to Burma, by Burmese-Taiwanese director Midi Z. It's the story of an expatriate Burmese filmmaker returning to his homeland to see how it's changed.

(Via Film Business Asia)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nonzee, Aditya selected for Asian Project Market

Nonzee Nimibutr and Aditya Assarat are among the filmmakers selected to take part in the Asian Project Market, formerly the Pusan Promotion Plan, at this year's Busan International Film Festival.

Nang Nak and Queens of Langkasuka director Nonzee has a "genre film", a "psycho-thriller" called Distortion.

Wonderful Town helmer Aditya is taking part in a pan-Asian omnibus called Southeast Loves with Sri Lanka's Vimukthi Jayasundara, Vietnam's Phan Dang Di, Indonesia's Ifa Isfansyah and Bangladesh's Ishtique Zico.

The list of 30 projects is at the APM website.

APM runs from October 10 to13 alongside the Busan International Film Festival, October 6 to 14.

(Via Film Business Asia, Screen Daily, Variety)

15th TSF&VF review: Poor People the Great

  • Directed by Boonsong Nakphoo
  • Starring Boonchoo Nakphoo, Kraisorn Nakphoo, Thup Nakphoo, Boonsong Nakphoo
  • Special screening at 15th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, August 20, 2011
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Motorcycles whiz by. Tractors are on the move. Folks are riding in trucks, talking on mobile phones. But poor farmer Choo is a man out of synch with this fast-paced world. While relatives and neighbors zip around on motorbikes, he's on his bicycle. And no cellphone for him. He's pedalling to a payphone.

He's the protagonist of Poor People the Great (คนจนผู้ยิ่งใหญ่, Khon Jon Pu Ying Yai), an independent feature by Boonsong Nakphoo. It had a limited screening earlier this year at the Lido cinema. I missed it then, so was glad to see the 15th Thai Short Film & Video Festival give the 70-minute feature a special screening slot.

It's a quiet, little family drama, captured with a steady and sure hand, with a simple, engaging story about an out-of-work farmer who is heavily in debt.

Boonsong, who once made a mainstream studio comedy called Crazy Cops, went the indie route for this picture, casting his family and friends and shooting around his home province of Sukhothai. The patience and love are apparent in every frame.

Poor People the Great comes at a time when most mainstream movies about Thai rural life romanticize the countryside and/or parody it, such as Mum Jok Mok's Yam Yasothon comedies. A recent exception is Uruphong Rakasasad's Agrarian Utopia, which didn't flinch from the hardships of farming, and it recalls 1977's docu-drama Tongpan, which examined the impact of a dam project on an impoverished farmer.

Right from the start, the pressure is on Choo. He's working in a dusty field, hoeing away at the rock-like soil. No tractor or even a water buffalo. It's just the man, toiling away, alone. Then a guy on a motorbike rides up and shouts at Choo. "Go fetch Sorn," he barks.

The ridiculousness of this request becomes apparent after the motorbike man speeds off and Choo climbs aboard his bicycle to go pick up his son Sorn. Now, wouldn't it be faster for the motorbike man to go get the kid? And then to top that, the teenage Sorn is hanging out with a local group of troublemakers, who all have motorcycles. Yet Choo is still stuck with giving the boy a ride home on his bicycle.

Back at the tin-roofed shack Choo shares with his elderly, bent-over mother, the local money-lender lady is waiting and wants to know when Choo will pay her back.

He's not got a lot of options. There is no work around Sukhothai.

"How about Bangkok?" someone asks.

"Don't talk to me about Bangkok," Choo replies. He's gone that route before, and had little to show for it because it's more expensive to live in Bangkok, even if you are making an effort to save money.

So, despite there being little chance he'll find work, Choo sets about looking for employment, pedaling his bike around the province to ask about construction work. He rides all the way to Sukhothai city to track down a man who owes him money, with no luck.

Meanwhile, Choo's son guitar-playing son Sorn is getting into trouble, hanging out with a motorbike gang of delinquents who spend their day in a rice-field shelter drinking beer and singing songs.

They sell their empty bottles to a pickup-driving scrap dealer (played by the director himself), who spots Sorn's guitar and takes an interest in the kid's music. The scrap dealer has musical aspirations himself, and tells a funny story about getting kicked out of a country-music troupe.

But the scrap dealer is also the type of guy who buys stuff without really caring where it came from, and he's a magnet for a local cop, who is always nosing around. This leads to trouble down the road for Sorn and his friends.

More worries arrive in the form of Choo's estranged wife, who ran off to Bangkok years ago without a word. She comes bearing gifts – a shirt for Choo and a pair of trousers for Sorn. And that's it.

So, with a pile of debt and having to bail Sorn out of jail, Choo's path seems inevitable – a loan to pay off a loan and a bus ride to a place he doesn't want to go.

See also:

Panna Rittikrai choreographs the action in The Outrage

There are plenty of reasons to be anticipating the upcoming Thai version of RashomonU Mong Pa Meung (อุโมงค์ผาเมือง) – by director ML Bhandevanop “Mom Noi” Devakula. The international English title is The Outrage, which is the same as the 1964 Paul Newman western that was a remake of Rashomon.

Artsy types will be attracted by the literary and theatrical leanings of Mom Noi's script. They'll also adore the lush setting of the mountains of Chiang Mai and the sumptuous period costuming, same as Mom Noi's award-winning romantic epic last year, Eternity (Chua Fah Din Salai).

Movie buffs will be impressed by the sheer star power of a cast that includes Ananda Everingham, Love of Siam's Mario Maurer, "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak, Dom Hetrakul, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Teerapong Leowrakwong and even comedian Petthai "Mum Jok Mok" Wongkamlao.

And action fans will likely take note because the fight scenes are choreographed by none other than Ong-Bak stunt maestro Panna Rittikrai.

Mom Noi explains in today's Soopsip column in The Nation, "What gets a Movie moving?" (Page 1B, print edition):

“I have no expertise in action scenes, but this film needed a good battle in the forest between Ananda Everingham and Dom Hetrakul.”

Panna went to work and Mom Noi ended up calling him a genius. “He not only makes the fight look real, but his action design is very artistic!”

You can catch a glimpse of the action in the (English-subtitled) trailer (embedded below).

Like all of Mom Noi's movies – his film career stretches back to the 1980s – U Mong Pa Meung has its roots in literature and/or the stage. Rashomon, best known as the classic 1950 movie by Akira Kurosawa, was originally adapted from two short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Rashomon and In a Grove.

In turn, Mom Noi's movie is based on a Thai adaptation of the story by MR Kukrit Pramoj, which was inspired by a 1959 Broadway version that Kukrit saw. Mom Noi himself directed a Thai stage version of the story in the 1990s.

The movie comes out as Thailand is observing the 100th birth anniversary of Kukrit, a multi-hyphenate statesman, scholar, artist, dancer and writer. The movie also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the studio, Sahamongkolfilm International.

U Mong Pa Meung (The Outrage) opens in Thai cinemas on September 8.

You've met Uncle Boonmee, now meet Uncle Naew

As three Thai films head off to the 68th Venice Film Festival starting next week, The Nation has a look at one of them in a story today.

Lung Naew Visits His Neighbours is the debut feature by Rirkrit Tiravanija, an internationally acclaimed artist. A 2007 recipient of the Culture Ministry's Silpathorn Award for visual art, he's famed for his "relational aesthetics" –exhibitions that will have him serving up spicy curry dishes for his guests.

Lung Neaw, or "uncle" Neaw, is an elderly laborer and farmer in Chiang Mai who has been a subject of Rirkrit's recent works. Rirkrit first encountered Neaw when the man was part of a crew building the artist's home. The Nation's Phatarawadee Phataranawik has more in today's story, "Lung Naew goes to Venice":

Rirkrit’s been pestering Neaw almost since the day he moved to Chiang Mai four years ago. He filmed him with a 16mm camera and has previously used some of the footage in other artistic media.

You might have seen Neaw, for example, in singer Petch Osathanugrah’s “Let’s Talk About Love” video project. And his portrait was among those in the blueprint-sheet flip-books in the “Imagine Peace” exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre a year ago. Rirkrit helped Apinan Poshyananda of the Culture Ministry curate that show.

Londoners last year got to see Rirkrit’s Lung Neaw, an eight-hour-plus video loop projected onto two huge screens. There was our farmer, picking his nose, combing his hair, dozing and eating – but never once doing any work.

He’s more active in the new film, though not much. Neaw walks to his old rice field, rests in his little sala and plucks some ma kua puang to sell at the market. He goes into a forest to pick various plants for dinner and bathes in the river in front of his house.

Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbours is produced by Cristian Manzutto of Estudio de Produccion in Mexico. It's in competition in the Orizzonti (Horizons) section alongside the 13-minute short Passing Through the Night by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai.

A third Thai film, added late to the Venice line-up is P-047 by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

The Venice Film Festival runs from August 31 to September 10.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Camellia is coming to Thailand

Months ago, I wondered if I would ever see Camellia, the pan-Asian trilogy of shorts made for last year's Pusan International Film Festival.

It includes a new Iron Pussy segment by Wisit Sasanatieng.

Well, I have to wonder no more. Camellia is getting a theatrical release in Thailand on September 15, from Five Star Production.

The trailer is on YouTube (embedded below).

I've also found a couple of posters, and I thought it was funny that they don't have any pictures of the Thai star, Michael Shaowanasai, and instead focus on the Korean actors, I guess owing to the continued popularity that Korean dramas and music enjoy in Thailand.

The segments, all filmed in Busan, are divided in "past", "present" and "future".

Wisit directs the "past", Iron Pussy: A Kimchi Affair, starring Michael in character as the transvestite secret agent Iron Pussy, who he's portrayed in a series of shorts and a 2005 feature that he co-directed with Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Capturing the colorful spirit of the 1960s Thai romance movies, it has Iron Pussy travelling to Korea on a mission and falling in love with a local man (Kim Min-Jun).

Kamome by Isao Yukisada is set in the present and is about a director (Sol Kyung-Gu) making a movie in Busan and falling in love. Yuriko Yoshitaka also stars.

And Love for Sale, directed by Joon-hwan Jang, is set in a future the when buying and selling memories is common. Gang Dong-Won plays a guy wanting to retrieve his memories of a lost love (Song Hye-Kyo).

Duelling masked-dance troupes in Kon Khon

Khon, the traditional masked dance used to depict the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana epic poem, has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

A recent production, The Battle of Maiyarap drew big crowds of Bangkok's elite to the Thailand Cultural Center. Featuring elaborate sets and stunning costumes, it was staged by Her Majesty the Queen's Support Foundation.

However, there are monthly khon performances, also under the auspices of the Support Foundation, at the National Theater, that aren't so well attended. And the disparity has lead some to question why the Thailand Cultural Center shows were so popular among Bangkok's trend followers while the National Theater shows, "draw only die-hard fans, many of them elderly."

Anyway, khon is buzzworthy just as a movie about duelling khon troupes is being released this week.

Kon Khon (คนโขน) pits two veteran actors – Sorapong Chatree and Nirut Sirichanya – against each other. They are the leaders of rival dance troupes.

Sorapong is currently starring as the mentor monk in MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's Naresuan 4 while Nirut is probably best known for his recent portrayal of Tony Jaa's mentor in Ong-Bak 2 and Ong-Bak 3.

Sumptuously set in 1965, Kon Khon is about the various relationships and romances within two khon troupes.

It's directed by actor Sarunyu Wongkrachang, a veteran actor who played the corrupt king Ong-Bak 2 and Ong-Bak 3 and was the cop in 13: Game of Death.

With the retro setting, Kon Khon seems to be channeling in the same nostalgia as the recent biopic about '80s singer Pumpuang Duanchan.

Have a look at the English-subtitled trailer (embedded below).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kongdej's P-047 added to Venice fest

There's been a late, late addition to the Venice Film Festival's Horizons program.

It's P-047, the new indie feature by writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

Rumors about Kongdej's first indie feature going to Venice surfaced late in the week and it was confirmed last night by producer Soros Sukhum that P-047 would screen out of competition.

P-047 previously had a post-production screening at the recent Paris Project Screenings at the Paris Cinema International Film Festival.

It's the story of two young men who work at a shopping mall – a locksmith at a key-making booth and a clerk from the neighboring magazine stall – who become friends and then break into apartments and "borrow" things.

Another late addition to Venice was Filipino indie godfather Lav Diaz's latest, Century of Birthing (Siglo ng pagluluwal), but P-047 comes even after that.

Two other Thai films were previously announced for Venice: the feature documentary Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbours, the debut film by Rirkrit Tiravanija and the short, Passing Through the Night by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai.

The Venice Film Festival runs from August 31 to September 10.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Marrese Crump joins Tom-Yum-Goong 2 cast

American martial artist Marrese Crump, who's long been angling to take part in a film project with action guru Panna Rittikrai, has announced that he's joined the cast of Tom-Yum-Goong 2 (The Protector 2), starring Tony Jaa along with Jija Yanin, Dan Chupong and "Kazu" Patrick Tang.

Here's the announcement from Marese Crump's blog:

The collaboration between the prominent American martial artist and legendary action director Panna Rittikrai is much sooner than previously arranged. The Protector sequel, locally titled Tom-Yum-Goong 2, is to now set the stage for the much anticipated appearance of Crump facing the series' star, Tony Jaa.

Marrese Crump's project Formless, set to be directed by Rittikrai and already boasts a hard hitting cast, is next in line after the filming of Protector 2. The sequel's cast also includes Chocolate star Jija Yanin, Dan Chupong and Kazu Tang, which has everyone expecting this to be the studio's most action-packed movie so far.

In the Opening Ceremony to kick off production [on August 17], Panna Rittikrai, who reprises his position directing the action, has stated he is very excited to be working with Marrese Crump, Tony Jaa and the rest of the action lineup, while Prachya Pinkaew directs and produces.

Marrese Crump has recently come back from the set of RZA's The Man with the Iron Fists in Shanghai China, now in post-production, and is looking forward to Protector 2 with many more projects to follow.

There's more photos at Crump's blog.

Tom-Yum-Goong 2 filming is under way, with plans for a 3D release.

(Thanks Anesti!)

2nd Luang Prabang Film Festival set for December 3-10

The second edition of the Luang Prabang Film Festival is set for December 3 to 10, 2011 in the former royal capital of Laos and UNESCO World Heritage site.

Here's more from a recent press release:

The ongoing project is dedicated to harnessing the power of film to foster cultural development and plurality in Laos, build regional understanding in Southeast Asia, and support sustainable development.

The festival will present over 30 Southeast Asian films and other curated events throughout the week. All screenings and activities will be free and open to the public. The primary venue will be the outdoor Handicraft Market, at the main intersection in town. Other screenings and exhibitions will take place in non-traditional venues, as Luang Prabang has no working cinemas. The festival will feature films that showcase Southeast Asia’s cultural traditions, artistic heritage, and contemporary socio-political issues from a broad range of filmmakers and countries.

Exhibitions, panel discussions and children’s workshops during the festival, and the year leading up to it, will target Lao residents and Southeast Asian filmmakers, but also benefit international visitors. Notably, LPFF is working closely with UNESCO, the French Cultural Center, and the Department of Cinema to curate special exhibitions in venues around town that reflect the history of film in the country and region. There will also be a showcase of contemporary short-form works of talented Lao filmmakers. LPFF plans to hold lectures and workshops during the festival to encourage more domestic filmmaking and regional collaboration. The official Opening and Closing Ceremonies will be open to the public, each followed by VIP parties for invited guests, featuring performances by local artists and attended by regional celebrities.

After the festival, a selection of the films will tour several other provinces in Laos, exposing a larger segment of the population, especially those in more rural communities, to this form of cultural expression.
By the end of 2011, the project will have screened over 60 indigenous Southeast Asian films reaching 18,000 in audiences, supported the production and screening of 30 local student-produced films, and provided the government with professional training in international cultural activity planning.

The Luang Prabang Film Festival is organized in partnership with the Department of Cinema (of the Ministry of Information, Culture & Tourism), with the support of the Lao Journalists' Association, and is endorsed by UNESCO Bangkok.

Catch the latest updates from the fest on Facebook or on Twitter.

(Thanks Gabriel!)

On DVD in Hong Kong: Spiritual World and Scared

A couple more Thai horror films from a few years back have recently turned up on English-friendly DVD in Hong Kong: 2007's The Spiritual World (วิญญาณ โลก คนตาย) and 2005's Scared (รับน้องสยองขวัญ), both originally released by Sahamongkolfilm International.

The synopsis for Spiritual World from YesAsia:

Sometimes, the truth is scarier than ghosts ...

Directed by Tharatap Thewsomboon, the moody Thai horror Spiritual World slowly gets under the skin with the story of a troubled young woman being haunted by the ghosts of the past. Ever since she was a little girl, Ming (Nuttamonkan Srinikornchot) has been able to see ghosts. Wandering between the living and the dead, she encounters beckoning spirits and mysterious spectres no matter where she goes. For the past 15 years, Ming has constantly moved from one place to another in order to escape a ghost that has been following her. One day, childhood friend Buud (Anuchit Sapanpong) suddenly shows up, and asks for her help to find out the truth behind his father's death. Buud's appearance awakens Ming's buried memories, including vague recollections of the ghost that has been chasing after her.

YesAsia also has Scared:

Battle Royale meets Thai horror in the slasher-thriller Scared. Directed by Pakphum Wonjinda, Scared follows a group of teenagers on a retreat who get lost in a forest when their bus falls down a wooden bridge. Just when things can't seem to get any worse, a brutal serial killer begins to kill the teens off one by one. In line with classic slasher films like Friday the 13th and Halloween, Wonjinda comes up with plenty of inventive ways for the killer to dispatch the innocent teens, making Scared perverse fun for fans of the genre.

(Thanks Logboy)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

15th Thai Short Film & Video Festival to open with O.B.L. and Terribly Happy

The 15th Thai Short Film & Video Festival starts this week, opening on Thursday night with the new short O.B.L. by the Baby Arabia trio of Panu Aree, Kaweenipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee, and Terribly Happy, the 30-minute drama by Pimpaka Towira that was the first Thai short to compete in the Berlin Film Festival. Only Terribly Happy will have English subtitles.

The fest is at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre with daily screenings until August 28 (except Monday).

The line-up includes competition shorts by Thai and foreign filmmakers, student films, animation and documentaries. The top prize for general individuals is the Ratana Pestonji Award, with the White Elephant and Special White Elephant prizes for college students and younger filmmakers, the Payut Ngaokrachang Medal for animation and the Duke Award for documentaries.

Special programs include the always entertaining "Best of Clermont Ferrand" showcase from the world's largest shorts fest, the S-Express packages from the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and Queer shorts from all over the world.

Screenings are in the 5th floor auditorium and the 4th floor meeting room at the BACC.

The schedule, for now mostly in Thai, is on Facebook, at the festival's page.

Update: Here's the English translation of the schedule spreadsheet and the screening timetable with partial notations about subtitles. There is also information on another special program, B-Sides: The History of Video Art in Spain, the festival's Facebook page. (Thanks Sanchai!)

Review: Gangcore Gud

  • Directed by Apisit Opasaimlikit
  • Starring Joey Boy, Buddha Bless, Sing Nuea Suea Tai, DJ Spidamonkee, DJ Leo, Lakana Wattanawongsiri, Kumiko Sugaho
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 28, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Hokey special effects and a convoluted story are overcome by the charms of bouncing bikini babes and amiable hip-hop musicians in Gangcore Gud (ก้านคอกัด), a low-budget horror comedy that serves as a showcase for rapper Joey Boy and his crew.

Shot primarily in the same shaky videocamera documentary style as The Blair Witch Project, the movie recounts the adventure of Apisit "Joey Boy" Opasaimlikit and the Gangcore rappers as they go to a remote island with a boatload of bikini-clad magazine models but instead end up running from zombies.

After a slow buildup with plenty of sun-dappled scenes of bathing beauties frolicking on the beach, it suddenly turns violent when axe-wielding cannibalistic killers emerge from the jungle and start hacking everyone in sight. Fleeing for the water doesn't help, because there's aquatic zombies lurking, ready to chomp on fresh meat.

The bikini bunnies turn to zombies themselves, leaving Joey Boy and his band to head for higher ground in a bid for survival.

The action is choppy and for the most part too tightly framed to get a sense of what's really happening, though there are a few decent shots of practical gore effects.

Joey Boy and his ensemble cast of musical cohorts are natural performers, and the scenes of them simply trying to survive are the strongest in the film.

Big bearded rapper "Golf" Sing Neua, a.k.a. Fukking Hero, turns into a zombie and is trapped in a pit. Poor DJ Spidamonkee goes through the whole movie missing a leg – it was hacked off with an axe after it was bitten by the zombies. Another guy has his arms paralyzed by poison darts from one of the jungle tribesmen.

Joey Boy, who previously starred in one of Phranakorn's Monk Teng movies and the GTH rock 'n' roll comedy The Possible, holds things together, assuming his role as leader. He makes dryly comic asides on the ridiculousness of the situation – that it's something you'd only see in a movie.

The hip-hop trio of Buddha Bless, meanwhile, venture off on their own and eat mushrooms that first has them jumping around like Super Mario. They then begin hallucinating. One of the guys becomes a policeman, the other a Thai version of Satan and the third becomes the ubiquitious comedian Anek Inthachan (เอนก อินทะจันทร์), who like comedian Kom Chuanchuen (อาคม ปรีดากุล) is in practically every Thai comedy made (Kom makes a cameo during the end credits). The surreal hilarity of it all had the audience in stitches.

The story heads off the rails when it attempts to explain why the island is home to zombies. Loincloth-clad, nostril-flairing drama queen Lakana Wattanawongsiri is the tribal chief. She rules over her Montagnard army, who worship her, like a goddess. The axe-wielding cannibals do her bidding to collect sacrifices to feed the zombie spirits, which apparently were angered by the killing of a mermaid many decades ago.

A Japanese tourist (Kumiko Sugaho) also figures into the increasingly complicated tale, as does a cache of World War II-era weapons.

Satisfyingly, Joey Boy picks up a pair of swords and heads out to the beach in the rain, and in slow motion starts cutting down zombies and cannibals. The two-handed sword action is like a scene out of a Thai historical action flick, which is surely not a coincidence since Bang Rajan director Thanit Jitnukul served as an adviser on Gancore Gud, the directorial feature debut by Joey Boy.

Released by Phranakorn, Gangcore Gud might find audiences outside Thailand on the genre-fest circuit or at midnight screenings.

The narrative keeps rolling right through the closing credits. In fact, the whole story is told as a flashback by Joey Boy, talking on the phone to a strange woman, while he's trapped in a dark space of some sort.

And suddenly the lights come on.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

No elephant battle but still lots of fighting in Naresuan 4

There's no elephant in the room in The Legend of King Naresuan Part IV. Well, okay, maybe one or two. But not the huge fighting herd of pachyderms that was promised for the fourth movie in the series.

It's tough to get those big beasts to cooperate for the cameras, so the vaunted elephant battle will be depicted in Naresuan 5, which is being filmed at the Prommitr studio in Kanchanaburi. It's tentatively planned for release in December.

Meanwhile, there's enough battle footage – some of it shot for the first two installments back in 2007 – to cobble together another violent and bloody chapter from ancient Siamese history. Naresuan 4 (Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj 4: Suek Nandabayin, ตำนานสมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราช ภาค 4 ศึกนันทบุเรง) is being released this week to coincide with the auspicious occasion of Her Majesty the Queen's birthday on August 12, which is also Mother's Day in Thailand.

Naresuan 4 follows the March release of Naresuan 3.

Meanwhile, the first two movies in the Naresuan series have been released on DVD in the U.S. as Kingdom of War.

With the movie's subtitle loosely translated to mean "wars with Nandabayin", Naresuan 4 focuses on the various battles with the army of Burmese King Nandabayin in the 16th century.

Jakrit Ammart portrays the Burmese monarch. Lt. Colonel Wanchana Sawasdee returns as Naresuan, back in action with a cast of thousands that includes Taksaorn Paksukcharoen, Chatchai Plengpanich, Sorapong Chatree, Grace Mahadumrongkul and Inthira Charoenpura.

"Peter" Nopachai Jayanama is back as Naresuan's right-hand man Lord Ratchamanu. Also starring in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot, he's interviewed in today's Bangkok Post.

The trailer (now with English subtitles), playing for the past month or so in cinemas, on Bangkok's skytrain and elsewhere, has been frightening children and tourists with a graphic beheading scene. It's embedded below.

Apichatpong-a-rama: Boonmee Blu-ray, Irish exhibition, out of Venice, monkey ghost sighting

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes prize-winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives made its highly anticipated debut on Blu-ray in the U.S. last month, after a bit of an apparent delay.

The redoubtable DVD Beaver gives it a look, and includes a set of stunning screenshots. Reviewer Gary Tooze says the film "doesn't appear visually overwhelming ... but knowing the director's other features – I'd be more inclined to feel this is authentic rather than a fault of the respectable dual-layered transfer from Strand Releasing."

The only real technical nitpick seems to be a lossy soundtrack, which is a shame, because great care was taken with the sound design of Uncle Boonmee, and with Blu-ray, there's really no reason to have a compressed soundtrack.

Tooze goes on to praise the film as one of the best he's seen this year. "The director effortlessly produces a harmony within his films that becomes ... addictive. It floats with gentle grace and lands innocently in your cinematic lap."

There is also a review at, which is full of technical information, saying the transfer "is practically identical to the one used by British distributors New Wave Films for their local Blu-ray release."

Both reviews note that the Strand Releasing disc is region-free. According to the forum, the British release is locked to Region B.

Also, the subtitles are imposed – they can't be turned off – but the text size seems to not be as intrusive as the hard-burned subs on the Strand DVD release of Syndromes and a Century.

Extras on the Boonmee Blu-ray include "Interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul", which he discusses the message of his film, its success and Thai culture, deleted scenes, the trailer, trailers for other Apichatpong films and the 17-minute short A Letter to Uncle Boonmee.

If you have a Blu-ray player, it sounds like the Blu-ray is the way to go for Uncle Boonmee – maybe even a good reason to get a Blu-ray player. It's also on DVD, but that doesn't have the Letter short.

Meanwhile, Apichatpong has been in Ireland with a season at the Irish Film Institute, in which he screened his short films, engaged in a conversation and showed his features, Uncle Boonmee, The Adventure of Iron Pussy, Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady.

There's coverage of these activities at the Focuspullr blog. Here's a snip:

The director filled us in on his background in Thailand, and spoke of his time in Chicago studying experimental film. He was an amiable, intelligent and humourous interviewee; when asked if his films contained “a message”, he laughed saying this lack of any overt meaning was one of the problems he himself has with his films, and which also caused problems when he went looking for funding. He spoke about his belief in the “shared authorship” of his films – seeing the process of filmmaking as collaborative and open, though admitting that he is something of a “dictator” when it comes to putting the final film together.

The films were presented in collaboration with Dublin's Irish Museum of Modern Art on the occasion of Apichatpong's new multimedia exhibition For Tomorrow For Tonight, which opened on July 27 and is running until October 31.

It's a new work that explores the theme of night through video, photographs and installation. "Night and darkness are recurring motifs in Weerasethakul’s films ... and the themes are examined even further here," says the IMMA. It was created following the Primitive project and Uncle Boonmee.

Activities at the IMMA continue into next month. On September 7, film expert Tony Rayns will present a keynote lecture, Touching the Voidness in which he'll present an illustrated introduction to the art of Apichatpong.

Apichatpong continues to travel around the globe and is much in demand. But one place he won't be will be at the Venice Film Festival, where he was previously named as the head of the jury for the Orizzonti section. That program is set to premiere the debut documentary feature by another Thai artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija, about another Thai uncle, Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbours. Apichatpong has since bowed out of the jury – Variety cited a festival rep saying it was because of "personal reasons" – and has been replaced by Chinese director Jia Zhangke.

Apichatpong did make a stop at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya recently, giving a masterclass that was the first in a planned series of academic and technical workshops and seminars. He also dropped off some props from Uncle Boonmee: The veiled palanquin of the princess, a pair of mechanical catfish and a band of monkey ghosts, one of which is perched on ledge in the Thai Film Museum. They're good reasons to visit the place and see actual pieces of Thai cinema history.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Asian Cinema Fund backs Suriya, Interior, I Carried You Home and Boundaries

Four Thai projects are among the 31 finalists for this year's Asian Cinema Fund of the Busan International Film Festival.

Getting backing for script development are Wisit Sasanatiang's Muay Thai biopic Suriya and Interior by indie filmmaker Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit.

Suriya, which will be Wisit's first indie project since parting ways with the studio system after his last feature The Red Eagle, was previously pitched at the Ties That Bind workshops and at Cinemart in Rotterdam.

Interior, which "narrates contemporary family issues", will be the feature debut by Nawapol, whose Cherie is Korean-Thai won the top award at last year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival. His other shorts include Bangkok Tanks, Penguin, and Mr. Mee Wanna Go To Egypt. He also runs the film-activist group Third Class Citizen.

I Carried You Home by Tongpong Chantarangkul receives post-production funding. The "drama/black comedy" is about two estranged sisters two estranged sisters who take a journey with their mother’s corpse to her home where they will bury her. There's more about the project at the movie's website.

And the Asian Network of Documentary's DMZ Fund is supporting Where Your Boundaries Are by Nontawat Numbenchapol. The documentary looks at the hot topic of villagers near Preah Vihear, the Angkorian temple along the contested Thai-Cambodian border. Nontawat's previous films include the family portrait Empire of Mind, which won an award at the 2009 Thai Short Film and Video Festival, Bangkok Noise, Volatize and the 2005 skateboarding doc Weirdrosopher World.

The 16th Busan (not Pusan) International Film Festival runs from October 6 to 14.

(Via Film Business Asia, Screen Daily)

Fantasia 2011: Bangkok Knockout lands Guru Prize

Pana Rittikrai's stunt extravaganza BKO: Bangkok Knockout continues its sweep of the genre festivals in North America, winning the gold Guru Prize for the Most Energetic Feature in the audience awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Film Business Asia has a look at the other Asian titles winning awards at Fantasia, which wrapped up on Sunday.

A showcase for the Ong-Bak action choreographer's army of stuntmen, Bangkok Knockout previously screened at the New York Asian Film Festival, North Carolina's ActionFest, the Udine Far East Film Festival and Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

It's due out on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. at the end of Agust.

(Via Film Business Asia, Hollywood Reporter)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pen-ek's Headshot set for world premiere in Toronto

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's highly anticipated crime thriller Headshot is set for its world premiere in the "cutting-edge" Vanguard section at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Hailed as Pen-ek's return to the film-noir genre of his previous works like Fun Bar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9, Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves, Headshot is based on the novel Fon Tok Kuen Fah (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า) by S.E.A. Write Award-winning writer and Silpathorn Award laureate Win Lyovarin. The Thai title is translated as "rain falling upward", referring to an upside-down world.

The synopsis from the TIFF press release (PDF) has more:

Tul, a straight-laced cop, is blackmailed by a powerful politician and framed for a crime he did not commit. Disillusioned and vengeful, he is soon recruited to become a hitman for a shadowy group aimed at eliminating those who are above the law. But one day, Tul is shot in the head during an assignment. He wakes up after a three-month coma to find that he sees everything upside down, literally. Tul begins to have second thoughts about his profession. But when he tries to quit, roles are reversed and the hunter becomes the hunted. Can Tul find redemption from the violence that continues to haunt him.

"Peter" Noppachai Jayanama (Nymph, Naresuan) stars along with Cris Horwang (Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story, Saturday Killer).

The film is being produced by Pawas Sawatchaiyamet at Local Color Films and old Toronto festival programming hand Raymond Phathanavirangoon.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8 to 18.

(Via Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily, Twitch)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thai Film Archive celebrates trains and Ratana Pestonji

I guess I visit the Thai Film Archive every six months or, and it's easy to get overwhelmed each time I'm out there. I probably don't visit often enough.

Every time I go, there's something new. Since I was there in January, a major addition to the grounds is an old steam locomotive, which has been repainted, greased and made to look like it's ready to chug off down the tracks, that is if there were tracks for it to run on. It'll be the centerpiece of a "movie town" that archive director Dome Sukvong is building. A luxury dining car is being added behind the locomotive, on which they'll show train movies, like Buster Keaton's The General, the iconic stunt from which Dome happily recreated.

Dome notes that lots of hard-core movie fans and film archivists are also railfans. There must be something about the clicky-clack sound of films running through projectors and trains on the track. For Thailand, there's a stronger, historical connection. One of the key developers of the film industry in Thailand was the Topical Film Service of the Royal State Railways of Siam, formed in 1922 to shoot newsreels and documentaries as well as commercial features. The Topical Film Service had a hand in the now-lost Hollywood silent film Miss Suwanna of Siam.

There's also workers at the Archive building a new "Black Maria", a replica of Thomas Edison's historic movie studio, which had a retractable room and rotated to catch the sun.

Other additions include the monkey ghost, catfish and palanquin of the princess from Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

The archive's Sri Salaya Theater now has daily programs, and thanks to a pair of 35mm projectors, some of the movies are on film. There's also a new sound system and a coffee shop selling neat souvenirs.

They are not only showing Thai movies, but also a lot of foreign films. However, not all have English subtitles. For those that do, I'll try to list them in my weekly updates on the Bangkok Cinema Scene blog. Show times are at 5.30 on weekdays (moving to 6pm in September) and 1pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

In addition to Dome, the archive now has a deputy director, Chalida Uabumrungjit, and assistant director Sanchai Chotirosseranee.

This month's program at the Sri Salaya Theatre includes "Memorial to Ratana Pestonji", which pays tribute to the pioneering director who strove for innovations in the Thai film industry and put Thai movies on the world cinema map.

His features include Black Silk (แพรดำ, Prae Dum), which is not only regarded as the first Thai film noir, it's also one of the first Thai films to compete at an overseas festival. It screened in competition at the 1961 Berlin Film Festival. It'll screen at 1pm on Friday, August 12, with English subtitles.

Another of his films is 1958's Dark Heaven (Sawan Mued), about a singing garbageman who enters into a tragic romance with an orphan girl. It'll show at 1pm on August 14.

Pestonji's other directorial efforts. include Country Hotel and Sugar Is Not Sweet. He served as cinematographer on 1955's Chua Fah Din Salai (Forever Yours), which was remade last year as Eternity starring Ananda Everingham and "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak as the chained-up cheating lovers.

You can read more about the activities at the Archive in a Nation story today, and follow the events on its Facebook page or at its website.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: Pumpuang (The Moon)

  • Directed by Bandit Tongdee
  • Starring Paowalee Pornpimon, Nathawut Sakidjai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 21, 2011; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Singer Pumpuang Duanchan was given her stage name by a mentor. The auspicious name, Duanchan, means "the moon", which is the English title of the musical biopic Pumpuang (พุ่มพวง).

But she was a shooting star, who shot to fame and quickly burned out.

As portrayed in the movie directed by Bandit Tongdee, the story of her life – an illiterate farmgirl who became a superstar – is as inspiring as it is a sad, cautionary tale of the pitfalls of stardom and the dark side of showbiz.

Bringing Pumpuang's story to the big screen hasn't been an easy task. Though there was a TV movie, made shortly after her death from lupus in 1992 at the age of 31, a film about her life has been complicated by bitter disputes among her family and threats of lawsuits.

Consequently, Pumpuang, based on an unauthorized biography by SEA Write Award-winning writer Binla Sankalakiri, is a much-sanitized version of the singer's life, glossing over and omitting the details of her two troubled marriages. Though as much as the filmmakers tried to scrub away the dirt, there's still characters who end up looking bad. Perhaps even Pumpuang herself comes away looking the worst, just because she couldn't say enough was enough. The dog-eat-dog entertainment industry is the real villain, just for the way it uses people up and spits them out when they have no more to offer. A life that was as sad as Pumpuang's can't be totally cleaned up.

Of course there's always the music: Ballads of tragic heartbreak and goofy love songs buoyed by bouncy melodies, jangling guitars, shimmering horns, cascading keyboards and a tight, funky rhythm section. Later on, her music added a disco beat. The stage shows rival Las Vegas nightclub acts for sheer spectacle, with rows of dancers in sequined costumes and the lead singer in a get-up that would give LIberace the jitters. No wonder Pumpuang became a gay icon and idol of drag queens.

The music is luk thung, Thai country. It's the sound of the central plains, Northeast and North. It was Pumpuang who popularized luk thung, making it mainstream enough for Bangkok nightclubbers to dance to. Put side-by-side with the sounds, looks and backgrounds of such American country-and-western artists as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline or Porter Waggoner (who had the audacious costumes to rival Pumpuang's), and you might see the correlation, especially in view of what American country has become today.

It's entertainment for the masses, pure and simple.

Unable to get into the salacious aspects of Pumpuang's life, the filmmakers give us music, and they haven't skimped. Thanks to a licensing agreement with showbiz moguls GMM Grammy, producer Prachya Pinkaew and the folks at Sahamongkolfilm have filled the movie with enough of her songs to make a soundtrack CD.

They are performed by the lead actress, 19-year-old Paowalee Pornpimon, who like Pumpuang, is a luk thung singer from Suphan Buri and a winner of many talent contests. Paowalee gives a perky, spirited performance as Pumpuang. She'll surely be a nominee for best actress when awards season rolls around. I just hope she isn't ground up and wrung out like Pumpuang was.

Like Coal Miner's Daughter, Walk the Line or Ray, the movie follows the usual patterns of a musical biopic, tracing the artist from her childhood and chronicling her talent, rise to stardom, romance and hardships on the road. Unlike those other movies though, there's a tragic end.

Pumpuang Duanchan was the fifth of 12 children of a family of migrant farmers in Suphan Buri. She grew up singing to her siblings in the sugarcane fields. The family was poor, and could not afford to send their children to school.

When she was around eight years old, Pumpuang was taken by her father to see a singer-songwriter whose troupe was playing at a local temple fair. Dad begged the music guru to take his daughter, in order to get the girl away from the hardships of farm life and to make for one less mouth to feed at home. Though he was visibly moved by Pumpuang's a capella singing audition, the music man refused, telling the Pumpuang and her father that she should go to school and grow up a little.

Pumpuang never went to school, but she did enter music contests, winning many prizes.

As a teenager, she again asked her father to take her to see the music guru. But the man was in Bangkok; how could they find him?

Well, Pumpuang may not have ever learned to read, but she did possess a steel-trap mind – she had memorized the man's phone number, which she'd seen on a poster during her visit years before.

So the father and daughter boarded the bus to Bangkok. I think the same ricketedy old bus they used back then is still running today. They tracked down the music guru, and after a suspenseful all-day wait on the street, he took the girl into his home.

Here's where Pumpuang recalls some of the same story beats as Pen-ek Ratanaruang's luk thung comedy Monrak Transistor, in which the main character, following his dreams of being a singing star, ends up mopping floors at the music company for two-and-a-half years, waiting for his big break. That's what Pumpuang started doing – swabbing the deck while watching others dance and singing to herself while sorting sequined costumes.

She moves up after another singer is let go because she was caught having a romantic relationship. That's one of the rules of the house, posted like the 10 commandments beneath a photo of god himself, the slain "Thai Elvis" Suraphol Sombatcharoen.

It's a rule Pumpuang herself would not heed, as she finds herself growing close to saxophonist Teeraphol Saensuk (Nathawut Sakidjai) and the two are eventually caught and kicked out of the musical troupe.

On their own, Pumpuang and Teeraphol develop a symbiotic relationship – she needs him to read her the lyrics, which she memorizes with her photographic mind, and he needs her for her singing talent, so he can ride on her glittery coattails.

But Pumpuang is also capable of forging her own path. A scene that demonstrates her indomitable spirit is when she's working as a back-up dancer in a nightclub and the club owner is blatantly going to cheat her out of money. She refuses to accept that kind of treatment, and though the club owner forbids her to return, she's back the next night, and stares the old man down with fiery eyes. Later, when a comedian doesn't show up, Pumpuang takes the stage herself, and shows she's not only a great singer, she excels in slapstick as well.

Forming her own band with Teeraphol as manager, she hits the road, but runs into problems with rival luk thung troupes and their hired thugs. Sparsely attended shows are countered with lowered ticket prices. A bullet hole in one of her signs is plastered over with a sticker saying "free admission". A sleeping driver of the tour bus threatens to bring everything to a halt, but then a Bangkok producer makes her an offer she can't refuse. And I have to wonder if the slick Bangkok promoter drugged the bus driver himself.

While Teeraphol is opposed to changing luk thung to appeal to Bangkok audiences, Pumpuang eagerly accepts – she wants her music to be heard by as many people as possible so she can make more money so that she can take care of her family. Her goal is to perform luk thung in one of Bangkok's finest hotels, the Dusit Thani.

It's this iron-willed work ethic that Pumpuang has, to please her fans and take care of her family, that proves to be her undoing. After she collapses onstage, it's revealed she as lupus, an autoimmune disorder that saps her strength and worsens if she works too much or gets stressed out. In short, she has to stop performing or she'll die.

She does try to make a go of doing less work. She takes time to learn to read and write, making for a particularly tearful scene in which she sends a note to Teeraphol, who has run off, telling him to come back home.

The movie ends with Pumpuang strapping on her iconic leopard-print headband to perform for a crowd of shieks, rajahs and high-rollers at the Dusit Thani. A montage of photos summarize Pumpuang's life and death (sorry farangs, there's no translation for the text).

Questions to ponder: Was it so terrible that she put everything she had into working, sacrificing herself so she could support her family and please her fans? Why couldn't she put her energies to work in a less-stressful position in the music industry. How long would she have survived? What would her legacy be today?

Review: Mai Ka Mum Don Ka Don

  • Directed by Petchtai Wongkumlao
  • Starring Mai Charoenpura, Petchtai Wongkumlao, Choosak Iamsuk, Pongsak Pongsuwan
  • Released in Thai cinemas June 23, 2011; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Drama queen Mai Charoenpura is upstaged by a drag queen in Mai Ka Mum Don Ka Don (หนัง ใหม่กะหม่ำ และ โดนกะโดน).

This romantic comedy, directed by and also starring Petchtai “Mum Jokmok” Wongkumlao, is touted as Mai's first comedy, even though the veteran singer-actress had a great comic turn as a pickpocketing hooker in last year's horror-shorts anthology Tai Hong, a.k.a. Die a Violent Death.

In Mai Ka Mum she portrays a thirtysomething modeling agency's stylist who is terminally unlucky in love. And she's not actually that funny, except for the opening scene in which she's puking into a toilet at a nightclub. Meanwhile, other women are going through their bathroom routines, shown in painfully scatalogic graphic detail. Good thing the movie isn't in Smell-O-Vision.

Mai has gone to the nightclub to drown her sorrows after dumping her latest boyfriend, whom she caught cheating on her. As she does every time she has a break-up and gets drunk, she calls Mum, her best friend since the two were in elementary school. Mum brings Mai back to his place so she can sleep it off, and this makes Mum's wife Kaprow extremely jealous.

She's played by comedian "Nong" Choosak Iamsuk. Again, as he demonstrated in movies like Pattaya Maniac and last year's Saturday Killer, give Nong a meaty role and he'll run with it. Dressed in a flowing, floral-print nightgown and immaculately made up, Nong puts everything he's got into playing the shrill, henpecking spouse of Mum.

But later it's Mum who gets jealous when he sees Kaprow chatting intimately with a man in the beauty parlor she runs with other transsexuals. He also thinks he sees Kaprow kissing the guy and giving him oral sex. But it's all a big mistake. The guy, Khosan (played by Mum's and Nong's frequent comedy partner "Teng" Pongsak Pongsuwan), is actually asking Kaprow's advice about getting a sex change.

Mum doesn't realize his error though, and he goes off the deep end, getting drunk in a nightclub, and then calling his friend Mai to come pick him up. Mai takes Mum back to her place and the pair have sex, after which Mai turns up pregnant and Mum makes the decision to leave Kaprow and marry Mai, even if Mai isn't sure the baby is Mum's.

Kaprow, devastated that her husband has left her, embarks on a series of black-comic suicide attempts.

It's a weird, sexuality-ambiguous fantasy world that Mum has constructed for Mai Ka Mum. Like the Muppets in which Kermit the Frog and can marry Miss Piggy and no one bats an eye, nobody makes a big deal out of Mum having married a woman who is an obvious transsexual.

The prolific director Mum pads out this otherwise-routine romantic comedy with digressions, like his character's job as a tour guide, who ironically can only give tours to Thais because he can't speak English.

As usual for a Mum movie, there are plenty of appearances by his comedy colleagues. Thai-speaking Ghanian comedian Johnson "Joey Chernyim" Amidou is a tourist who helps Mum guide a bunch of Westerners in a Bangkok market. Kom Chuanchuen is a friend Mum meets in a hospital. Chuanchuen family patriarch Udom is Mai's father. And Janet Khiew turns up in a cameo that references Mum's Yam Yasothon movies.

But probably the biggest scene stealer is the secretary at the modelling agency. She's played by a sharp-featured "eel face" actress from the long-running commercial for the Thai diet coffee brand Nature's Gift, in which an office worker sashays like a model to the water cooler and distracts all the men. And that's just how she walks around the office in Mai Ka Mum, and gets the biggest laughs of anyone else in the movie.