Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thai film and the flood of 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Like Raining at the End of April gets support from Rotterdam

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

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

The film was previously pitched at the Paris Project Screenings.

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

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Friday Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related posts:

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

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

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

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

Here's the program:

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related posts:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Introducing Piak Poster in Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about it in a recent Nation article.

And check out the trailer, embedded below.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Culture Ministry lists 25 films as Thai national heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Insects in the Backyard at Exit Art in New York City

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

So, Hi-So is finally opening in Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

Apichatpong-a-rama: A French promotion, Busan speech, Syndromes in Singapore

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has received a promotion in rank in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

After a ceremony on Friday, in which Ambassador Gildas Le Lidec pinned a medal on the filmmaker's lapel, Apichatpong is now an officer in the order. He was first inducted in 2008, when he received the rank of chevalier (knight).

Apichatpong's contributions to French culture include his win of last year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. His 2002 feature Blissfully Yours won the festival's Un Certain Regard prize. And in 2008, he served on the Cannes main competition jury. Also last year, his multi-platform Primitive art show was exhibited in Paris.

Other officers in the French order include singer Van Morrison, director Neil Jordan, actor Shah Rukh Khan, director Johnnie To and actress Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan.

Just last month another Thai was inducted into the order, Cultural Promotion Department director-general Apinan Poshyananda, who was also awarded the officer rank.

Following the French ceremony in Bangkok, Apichatpong winged his way to the Busan International Film Festival, where he gave a keynote address at the Busan Cinema Forum.

Film Business Asia was there:

After showing a string of images grabbed from Thai television, with bikinis and even cartoon women's bodies pixelated out by censors, Weerasethakul joked: "I grew up watching blurred images. Maybe that's why I don't know a woman's anatomy and I prefer men."

Go read the rest for his thoughts on Bangkok's dummy CCTV cameras and piracy of his movies in Thailand.

More appreciation of Apichatpong comes later in the month from Singapore, where the Perspectives Film Festival will screen his 2006 feature Syndromes and a Century, which was controversially censored in Thailand for its depictions of whisky-drinking, smooching doctors and guitar-strumming, spaceship-flying monks. Syndromes is playing alongside such other films as The Battle of Algiers, A Clockwork Orange, Czech Dream, Caterpillar and Blue Kite. The Perspectives fest runs from October 27 to 30.

Update: The Hollywood Reporter has more on Apichatpong's keynote at Busan.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Top 5 Thai Oscar submissions, 1984-2011

Over at CNNGo, there's a rundown of all 18 of Thailand's Oscar submissions, spanning the years from the first pick in 1984 – Euthana Mukdasanit's teen drugs drama Story of Nam Poo (คนโขน) – to this year's critically panned flop Kon Khon.

The CNNGo piece is a long one, and I'm grateful they actually ran it. I believe it's the most comprehensive list of Thai Oscar submissions anywhere on the Web.

And from there, I want to cherry pick, and offer a Top 5. At first I thought it would be easy – just choose the three Pen-ek Ratanaruang Oscar hopefuls and add two more. But then I got to thinking, which is always dangerous, and came to the conclusion that I'd have just one Pen-ek, in order to make the list more diverse.

5. Ahimsa...Stop to Run (อหิงสา จิ๊กโก๋ มีกรรม), 2006

There have been better Thai movies submitted to the Oscars, but Leo Kittikorn's loopy Buddhist morality tale, with its confusing predestination paradoxes, is nonetheless hard to ignore by virtue of its batshit craziness.

Visually, Ahimsa ... Stop to Run has some pretty stunning moments, which include the Pattaya party scene. But the most eye-catching is Ahimsa's red-haired, red-tracksuit-clad karma ghost (Teeradanai Suwanahom), wielding a two-by-four to whack Ahimsa (Boriwat Yuto) upside the head. Even better is when red-karma dude is driving a fire-engine red Chevy convertible with painted-on flames, chasing Ahimsa down. He's a fun character, who squeals like Bruce Lee when he's kicking Ahimsa in the gut.

Another highlight is Joni Anwar as Ahimsa's eccentric bar-owner friend, Einstein, who is always conducting "experiments" and sits in a powered wheelchair even though he doesn't need one.

4. Once Upon a Time ... This Morning (กาลครั้งหนึ่ง เมื่อเช้านี้), 1995

I was fortunate enough to see Once Upon a Time back in 2008 at the Bangkok International Children's Film Festival, and it made me cry like a little kid.

Directed by Bhandit Rittikol, this was one of the string of acclaimed social-problem movies that were among the first to be submitted to the Academy Awards. The issues include divorce, broken homes, homeless children and child prostitution – unflinching portraits of contemporary Thai society that just aren't seen that often in movies these days.

The story is about three kids ho run away from their vain mother (Jintara Sukkapat) to be with their doting dad (Santisuk Promsiri), who told the kids stories using paper dolls. The children fall in with a gang of drug-dealing homeless boys and are chased by gangsters.

What trips my emotional trigger is that recapturing of lost childhood innocence. There's no way to go back, except in the movies.

3. The Elephant Keeper (คนเลี้ยงช้าง), 1989

Before veteran director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol was making epic palace-intrigue dramas, he was into social-problem movies, which go back to the 1970s, and they remain his best work.

One of my favorites is The Elephant Keeper (Kon Liang Chang), an environmentally conscious drama that has its share of rip-roaring action.

Chatrichalerm's regular leading man Sorapong Chatree stars, playing the title character, a mahout named Boonsong who works the forests with his magificent elephant Tang-on. It's a time when logging companies are shifting to mechanization and the authorities are clamping down on timber harvesting, so Boonsong and Tang-on are put out of work. Feeling sorry for himself, Boonsong gets drunk on white liquor, which sets up a scene that likely hasn't been done in any other film – a man puking down the side of his elephant. Maybe The Hangover boys can come back to Thailand and do that.

The action ramps up thanks to Chatrichalerm's designated hitter for badassery, Ron Rittichai, playing the hardened, shotgun-toting forestry department officer Sergeant Kam. He comes to respect Boonsong and Tang-on after initially insulting the elephant and getting his Land Rover pushed into a creek for his harsh words. He apologizes to the elephant, who then pushes the Land Rover back out. Later, Boonsong and Tang-on help the officer battle the bad guys, which makes Boonsong a target. He's a desperate working man caught in the middle, and the machine-gun-equipped outlaws look to be the ones who put the squeeze on.

Ittisoontorn Vichailak, who would later go on to direct another Thai Oscar contender, 2004's The Overture (โหมโรง), also stars, playing the rookie deputy forestry official who narrates the tale as a campfire story. And one of the youngsters listening to the story is singer Ad Carabao.

2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), 2010

A snorting buffalo, an awkward dinner with a ghost wife and a monkey ghost and the story of the princess and her talking catfish boyfriend make for one of the weirdest movies ever, but Apichatpong Weerasethakul's tale of reincarnation and karmic retribution is also one of the most magical and heartfelt.

I don't know what else to say about it at this point, except that I'm glad Thailand's industry-leaning Oscar panel put aside its differences with indie director Apichatpong and submitted Boonmee, which was the winner of last year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

1. Monrak Transistor (มนต์รักทรานซิสเตอร์), 2002

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's musical comedy was among the first Thai movies I ever saw and it remains one of my favorite films of all time. Monrak Transistor one of those breathtakingly sprawling, shaggy-dog tales in which I see something new everytime I watch it.

For all its sunny humor, the story of a simple country boy who goes AWOL from the army to pursue his dreams of being a singer, meanwhile leaving behind his wife and baby, is actually pretty bleak.

On the CNNGo list I was dismissive of its actual cultural significance, except for its role in showcasing the songs of luk thung singer Suraphol Sombatcharoen. But really, the whole movie is a tableaux of Thai culture, awash in the things folks see and do everyday in Thailand but take for granted, things like temple fairs and canal villages.

Of course, it isn't the high-minded stuff the Culture Ministry usually likes to promote as "Thai culture", so I suppose it's easy to dismiss. And I missed mentioning something that I believe is unique to Thai culture – the travelling medicine show that puts on a movie screening, with the medicine salesman dubbing all the live voices. And the movie he's showing? Why it's Tears of the Black Tiger, of course.

Bin Binluerit: He's that guy, from that movie

Actor-director Bin Binluerit got his start back in the 1980s. He's something of a cult icon, even though some folks (meaning me) don't know who he is or what movies he was in.

I mean, I know Bin Binluerit played the axe-wielding town drunk who rode a buffalo into battle in Bang Rajan. And I know that he directed this year's Isaan-dialect country comedy Panya Reanu, which will screen at the Luang Prabang Film Festival. I even know he has a twin brother who's also an actor, even though I probably can't tell them apart.

But there were other things I didn't know, until recently, when a bunch of stuff came together as the result of a Twitter conversation. I won't bore you with the particulars of the exchange, though I will say it involved Thai science-fiction films and TV series and the lack thereof. And that eventually led to my discovery of facts that are generally known to most Thai cinema fans but not me.

Such as the fact that it was Bin Binluerit who starred in a 1985 movie called Taptim Tone (ทับทิมโทน), directed by Kom Akadej. Bin's the guy on the movie poster, wearing a white jumpsuit and blasting off with a rocket pack while holding a revolver and the red gemstone of the movie's title. The poster image for Taptim Tone has become something of a cult classic because of its use as the cover of Thai Film Archive director Dome Sukwong's book A Century of Thai Cinema

It was Regis Madec, the go-to guy on classic Thai films who runs Thai World View who filled in the blanks of my knowledge. Sadly, like a lot of movies of the era, especially those of Kom Akadej, Tubtim Tone has apparently not survived.

But that poster image is still around and Bin's proud of having starred in the film. He said as much in a recent interview with BK Magazine, in which he also talks about his work as a volunteer on a rescue squad.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Memory of Mitr Chaibancha on Saturday at the Film Archive

Forty-one years ago this Saturday, October 8, superstar actor Mitr Chaibancha fell to his death from a helicopter while making Insee Thong (Golden Eagle).

As they do each year in memory of Mitr, the Thai Film Archive will have a special program including some of Mitr's movies.

They'll screen the 1966 comedy Sam Kler Jer Long Hon (สามเกลอเจอล่องหน, "three friends meet the invisible man") at 10.30am, with a team of live dubbers. Petchara Chaowarat and Ruj Ronnapop also star.

Following lunch, at 2pm, actress Butsakon Sakonrat, who co-starred with Mitr in some other movies, will have her hand-and-foot impressions made in the Star Terrace outside the Sri Salaya Theatre.

And at 3.30, there will be a presentation of a voice clip of Mitr from 1965, obtained from the Rank Organization in the U.K. It's a rare opportunity to hear Mitr's voice, because in all his films, his voice was dubbed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Luang Prabang Film Festival 2011 announces program

The Luang Prabang Film Festival will screen 26 features in its second edition, set for December 3 to 10 in the former royal capital of Laos and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The feature films have been chosen by the festival’s Motion Picture Ambassadors (MPAs) and aim to represent the best works produced in Southeast Asia within the past five years.

There will also be a program of shorts by filmmakers in Laos, as well as a collection of propaganda films from the National Archive. Additionally, visitors will experience Southeast Asian cinema throughout the week at exhibitions around town.

Among the selection, Thailand has the biggest representation, with five films curated by Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee. They range from the Muay Thai documentary Lumpinee to the big-budget swashbuckling epic Queens of Langkasuka. There’s also the buffalo-rustling action flick Tabunfire (Dynamite Warrior), the country comedy Yam Yasothon and the childhood comedy-drama Panya Reanu. There's also Lao-Thai co-production Lao Wedding.

Here’s the selected films for the 2011 Luang Prabang Film Festival:

CAMBODIA (MPA: Chhay Bora)
  • Facing Genocide
  • Finding Face

INDONESIA (MPA: Prima Rusdi)
  • 3 Wishes, 3 Loves
  • Conspiracy of Silence
  • Hip Hop Diningrat

LAOS (MPA: Michel Somsanouk)
  • At the Horizon
  • Lao Wedding
  • On Safer Ground (special preview)

MALAYSIA (MPA: Amir Muhammad)
  • Aku Tak Bodoh
  • Khurafat
  • World Without Shadow
  • Year Without a Summer

MYANMAR (MPA: Myint Thein Pe)
  • Hexagon

PHILIPPINES (MPA: Francis Joseph A. Cruz)
  • Dagim
  • Halaw (Ways of the Sea)
  • Senior Year
  • The Rapture of Fe

SINGAPORE (MPA: Wahyuni Hadi)
  • Old Places
  • Gone Shopping
  • Invisible City

THAILAND (MPA: Kong Rithdee)
  • Lumpinee
  • Panya Reanu
  • Queens of Langkasuka
  • Tabunfire
  • Yam Yasothon

  • Floating Lives

The list is subject to change at the discretion of the organisers of the Luang Prabang Film Festival, and the Lao PDR Department of Cinema.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another Japanese AV star in another Thai beach movie

Several years ago it was Japanese adult-video star Sora Aoi heating up Thai big screens in Hormones (Pidterm Yai…Huajai Waawoon, ปิดเทอมใหญ่..หัวใจว้าวุ่น). She paved the way for various other AV starlets getting work in Thai films.

The latest to make the transition is Yui Tatsumi. a former racetrack queen who's most proud of her hips. She's moved on from being a race queen to star in videos in which she plays a nurse, a teacher, a schoolgirl and a killer lady ninja.

And now she's in a Thai movie, opening this week. Released by M Pictures, it's called Love Summer: Rak Talon on the Beach (Love Summer รักตะลอน ออน เดอะ บีช), and is about a summer adventure by a couple of young Thai guys (Tanwa Suriyachak and Thana Sutikamol) and a young Thai woman ("Bai Fern" Pimchanok Leuwisetpaibul from Crazy Little Thing Called Love). They are on a roadtrip to a beach destination and along they way they become acquainted with the bikini-clad Japanese star and a hairy foreigner dude (Jonathan Samson). There are also various Thai comedians making appearances.

You can read more about the Japanese actress in a Nation article from a few weeks back.

And there's a trailer, embedded below.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ekachai directs Tourism Authority music video, starring Bird McIntyre

Beautiful Boxer and The Coffin director Ekachai Uekrongtham has directed a music video (embedded below) that's being used by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to attract Chinese-speaking visitors.

“Rong Hai Tham Mai” ("ร้องไห้ทำไม", "Why the Tears?") is a syrupy pop ballad sung by Thongchai "Bird" McIntyre, who is the TAT's tourism ambassador.

In the video, Bird, who had a big film role back 1997 as the Japanese officer in the star-crossed romance epic Sunset at Chaophraya, portrays a tour guide who witnesses the breakup of a woman (Taiwanese actress Sonia Sui) and her boyfriend (“Pong” Nawat Kulrattanarak). She escapes by jumping on Bird's tour bus, and she and Bird take in various attractions such as beaches, the Bung Bua National Study Centre in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Khao Wang in Phetchaburi and various places around Bangkok like the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Chatuchak Weekend Market, the Giant Swing, Yaowarat Road and the Golden Mount. Meanwhile, that ex-boyfriend is lurking around the corner, watching as his ex gets close to Bird.

According to a TAT press release, the video will be broadcast in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore as well as "Chinatown districts" in Europe and Australia.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

More love coming from Little Thing director and Ploy Chermarn

Fans of Thai romance movies rejoice!

Putthiphong Promsakha na Sakon Nakhon, the director of last year's teenybopper hit First Love (Sing Lek Lek Thee Riak Wa … Ruk, สิ่งเล็กๆ ที่เรียกว่า...รัก,), a.k.a. A Crazy Little Thing Called Love or A Thing Called Love, has another movie coming out.

Only this time, instead of spying on the romantic life of a high-school girl, he's got a 30-year-old woman on his hands in 30+ Singles on Sale (30+ โสด on Sale).

"Ploy" Cherman Boonyasak stars in this Sahamongkolfilm International production, playing a rare comedic role. And from the looks of the trailer (English-subtitled and embedded below), she's a charming teary-eyed mess, similar to Cris Horwang in GTH's 2009 thirtysomething romance Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story. Ploy's a single 30-something gal stuck in the city. Musician-actor "Pe" Arak Amornsupsiri co-stars along with Phichitra Siriwetchachaphan and comedic actress "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom as her supportive best friends.

Putthiphong, who has possibly the longest name in Thai showbiz, is helpfully nicknamed "Sena Petch". About his movie, he was quoted by The Nation's Soopsip, talking about the pressure to make another hit that follows his debut feature:

"It all comes down to the same thing – everyone needs to love and be loved. I don't feel any pressure because I think my second movie is the same as the first. I offer something good and something I put all my effort into. If people like it, then they'll like it."

Sena Petch is actually a veteran of the movie industry, working on the crews of various productions before making his directorial debut last year with Sing Lek Lek, which he co-directed with Wasin Pokpong.

Sing Lek Lek has been a sensation.

Starring the young actress "Bai Fern" Pimchanok Luevisetpaibool as a girl head-over-heels in love with her school's star athlete (played by hearttrob actor Mario Maurer), the cute romance has been making the rounds at film festivals, and working crowds into frenzies.

It won the Technicolor Asia Award at this year's Udine Far East Film Festival as well as the Laugh Award at last year's Okinawa International Movie Festival. It was also a runner-up in the Thai Film Director Association Awards,

German fans of the movie called Immer diese Liebe! have a chance to watch it at the 16th Schlingel, the International Film Festival for Children and Young Audiences, running from October 10 to 16 in Chemnitz.

30+ Singles on Sale (30+ โสด on Sale) opens in Thai cinemas on October 13, ironically the same day the indie director Aditya Assarat's romantic drama Hi-So opens in a limited release. It stars a frequent co-star of Ploy's – Ananda Everingham.

Let the battle of the hearttrobs begin.