Monday, January 2, 2012
Top 5 Thai films of 2011
The flooding and the postponement of the 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok from November until January 20-27 at Esplanade Cineplex Ratchayothin put a major damper on at least three features that I probably would have seen this year and put on this list.
But, in truth, I can't use the flooding as an excuse. Hardly any Thai films this year really grabbed me by the heartstrings and compelled me to say "I loved it".
As a consequence, I've limited my annual rundown of top Thai movies to five. I felt 10 would have been a stretch.
I welcome readers to comment, and suggest what they would have liked to have seen on this list.
There is no particular ranking. Let them fall where they may.
There were a couple of strong hitman movies this year. One was the sometimes poignant Friday Killer by Yuthlert Sippapak, with a solidly dramatic performance by veteran comedian Thep Po-ngam as an ageing assassin. It really spoke to me, and reminded me of Sam Peckinpah's odes to the end of the Wild West, particularly Ride the High Country.
But it was Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot that turned the genre on its head. Adapted from Win Lyovarin’s “film-noir novel”, it had a cop-turned-hitman shot in the noggin and then awakening from a coma and seeing everything upside-down.
It skittered around to keep you just as confused and off-balance as the main character, portrayed in a standout performance by Nopachai “Peter” Jayanama.
The murder tale of Rashomon, in which the witnesses and participants recount the deed in wildly conflicting testimony, was most famously depicted in Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic. Forget that, implores dramatist ML Bhandevanop Devakula, who brings his sense of highly literate, sweeping melodrama to the tale, which is lavishly costumed and set in the lush northern mountains of the Lanna Kingdom in 1567 in Umueang Pa Mong (The Outrage).
The cast boasts the biggest names in Thai showbiz. At the centre is Mario Maurer as a young monk having a crisis of faith after he witnesses a trial in the woods. At issue was the murder of a nobleman (Ananda Everingham), supposedly by a bandit – Dom Hetrakul in the role made famous by Toshiro Mifune. The wife is played by "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak with comedian Petthai “Mum Jokmok” Wongkumlao as the woodsman. Pongpat Wachirabanjong stole the show as the crazy old undertaker living in a tunnel and listening to the monk and the woodsman talk about the murder trial and goads them into seeing the truth.
Poor People the Great
Industry veteran Boonsong Nakphoo, who once made a comedy called Crazy Cops, went the indie route for this documentary-style feature that was screened at the Lifescapes festival in Chiang Mai, the Thai Short Film and Video Festival and at the Lido cinemas in Siam Square.
Back in his home province of Sukhothai, Boonsong cast family, friends, neighbours and even himself to patiently craft a simple gem of a film, Poor People the Great, about an impoverished farmer named Choo.
He’s a man out of synch with the fast-paced world. While others zoom around on motorcycles and talk on cellphones, Choo pedals his bicycle around the province and makes calls on payphones as he tries to find work.
A slacker son and an estranged wife make things more difficult for him.
Choo could likely find a job in Bangkok, but that would mean leaving home.
It’s a story of determination, with a soul-crushing outcome that’s more real than anyone cares to admit.
Family dysfunction and ghosts combined for genuine terror in Laddaland, an intense, dread-filled drama about a young father (Saharat Sangkapreechat) struggling to keep his family together.
He thinks he’s found a dream home in a Chiang Mai subdivision, and sends for his wife, teenage daughter and boy from Bangkok, where he aims to make a fresh start, away from the meddling of his mother-in-law.
But then a Burmese maid is found stuffed inside a refrigerator in the house down the street. A black cat defecates on his lawn. The neighbour next door abuses his wife. Other neighbours start leaving in droves. The dream house becomes haunted and the promise his life held turns nightmarish.
Directed by Sophon Sakdapiset, who had a hand in writing past hit ghost thrillers like Shutter and Alone, it was another solid entry in the canon of horror films from studio GTH.
Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan
Biographical films are rare in the Thai movie industry because they run the risk of having their makers sued. But 2011 actually saw two major biopics, and it’s hard to write about one without mentioning the other.
First was Sahamongkol’s Pumpuang (The Moon), chronicling the tragic life of luk thung singer Pumpuang Duanchan. With a breakout performance by 19-year-old Paowalee Pornpimon, Pumpuang offered lots of great music, but glossed over much of the troubles in the life of the illiterate Suphan Buri farm girl who rose to be one of Thailand’s biggest stars.
Then GTH came out with Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan (The Billionaire), which looked at the early entrepreneurial efforts of “Top” Aitthipat Kulapongvanich, who started his Tao Kae Noi seaweed-snacks brand when he was a teenager, got the product into 7-Elevens and was a (baht) billionaire by the time he was 26.
Along the way, the arrogant business-school dropout learned lessons in humility as he made poor choices and rash, uninformed decisions – hardly a flattering portrait of a successful businessman.
Songyos Sugmakanan directed, with Patchara Chirathivat starring in his second big film role, following the fun rock ’n’ roll comedy SuckSeed earlier in the year.
Another highlight of the cast was Top’s kindly "uncle" portrayed by Somboonsuk Niyomsiri, an 80-year-old acting newcomer who’s better known as Piak Poster, the director of many youth-oriented films of the 1970s.
(Cross-published in The Nation)