Monday, January 30, 2012

Hua Hin fest gets Gosling, awards It Gets Better

‎From left, Dr. Sorajak, Secretary General of the National Federation of Film Associations of Thailand, Nicolas Winding Refn, Liv Guldenlove, Ryan Gosling, Festival chairman Suwat Liptapanlop and Festival director Jareuk Kaljareuk at the Hua Hin International Film Festival's gala red-carpet event. (Via Facebook)

The first edition of the Hua Hin International Film Festival wrapped up its four-day run over the weekend, with organizers giddy over the participation of the big-name star Ryan Gosling.

Actress Michelle Yeoh and French director Luc Besson appeared at the closing gala on Sunday for the Southeast Asian premiere of the Aung San Suu Kyi biopic The Lady, which was filmed in Thailand.

The festival also gave out its first Audience Award, and it went to a Thai film, It Gets Better (ไม่ได้ขอให้มารั, Mai Dai Kor Hai Ma Rak), indie director Tanwarin Sukhapisit's follow-up to the critically acclaimed but banned drama Insects in the Backyard. With intertwining storylines about transsexuals in love (among them veteran actress Penpak Sirikul playing an ageing transsexual), It Gets Better has similar themes as Insects but is apparently geared for more-mainstream approval, as evidenced by the Audience Award. It'll be released in Thai cinemas on February 14, Valentine's Day.

Film Business Asia has a final wrapup of its HHIFF coverage.

The festival had hoped to attract big-name stars for its red-carpet event. Jude Law had been mentioned as a possibility, but those rumors turned out to be false. Then when Drive star Ryan Gosling arrived in Thailand to start work on director Nicolas Winding Refn's latest effort Only God Forgives, the rumor mills cranked up again, and organizers were rewarded with an appearance by Gosling and Refn, and they took time to schmooze with the officials from the festival and National Federation of Film Associations of Thailand, among them Suwat Liptapanlop, the businessman and political figure who dreamed up the whole idea of the Hua Hin fest after he attended the Cannes Film Festival.

Coconuts Bangkok has more on the Gos getting mobbed and what he's doing here in Thailand.

In addition to Gosling, other Hollywood talent included Alex Meraz from The Twilight Saga, who took time out for an elephant ride.

Vietnamese star Johnny Nguyen, who lit up the red  carpet at 2007's Bangkok International Film Festival, was back in Thailand to grace the Hua Hin fest and train at a local Muay Thai camp.

There's more photos and stuff at the festival's Facebook page.

It's April in Rotterdam

The International Film Festival Rotterdam is underway, and as in the past recent years, there is a Thai film in competition and several others in the other programs.

Up for the Tiger Awards is In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire (สิ้นเมษาฝนตกมาปรอยปรอย) by Wichanon Somumjarn. Previously titled Like Raining at the End of April, it's the debut feature from the director of the award-winning short Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse.

The story of a young man returning to his hometown in northeastern Thailand from his job in Bangkok to attend a friends’ wedding takes place during the hottest month of the year, "turns into a semi-autobiography, and a journey into the labyrinth of the real and the imagined, the past and the present, the personal and the political."

The buzz about April is already quite positive, with IndieWire noting it as "advancing" in its first dispatch from Rotterdam:

"Very playful from the start: what looks like the lead character stops by an indie film set and asks his buddy what film they're shooting; friend replies In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire, the name of this film. Later at a bus depot at first it sounds like ambient muzak playing in the back, but reveals itself to be a non-digetic score for the credit sequence, and very lush at that. These are the kinds of slippages on which Apichatpong Weerasethakul made his bones; so for this is lively enough not to be dismissed as a carbon copy."

In a video introduction for his film, Wichanon says "you shouldn't miss this film because it has horses. Horses are beautiful." There's also a trailer (embedded below) and a Facebook page.

Another Thai feature in Rotterdam is I Carried You Home, which opened the recent 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok. The debut feature by Tongpong Chantararankul makes its European premiere in the IFFR's Bright Future line-up for new directors.

There are 196 short films in the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, a jaw-dropping number that the IFFR says is "not as extensive as past years".

Among the selection of Spectrum Shorts is Schip by Tanatchai Bandasak, which has a ship floating down the Mekong, and 15th Thai Short Film and Video Festival: Opener, a two-minute clip by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit that was the introduction to screenings at last year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival. Heralding the preponderance of Canon digital photo cameras in filmmaking, it has granny showing off her 7D and explaining its features.

As part of the Rotterdam fest, there's CineMart, where filmmakers gather to make their pitches for financing. Past Tiger Award winner Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town) is there trying to raise cash for something called White Buffalo and Apichatpong is wearing his producer's hat for a project by French filmmaker Christelle Lheureux, Le Vent des ombres.

The influence of Apichatpong looms large over the independent film scene in Thailand, and his win at Cannes for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives has opened more doors for Thai filmmakers. Just about every indie feature and short being made today seems to have been inspired by Apichatpong. His influence is felt outside Thailand too, and Variety in particular notes the trend of visual artists turning to film. Here's an excerpt:

Leif Magne Tangen, of art-oriented production company Vitakuben, sees a new appetite in the market.

"Everything changed with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the Thai filmmaker and artist who won Cannes in 2010. You can see that more independent producers are looking towards projects that cross this bridge between contemporary art and filmmaking."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ong-Bak: The Video Game announced

Gamers will have moves like Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak: The Video Game that's being developed by Studio HIVE of Thailand, under an agreeement with Sahamongkol Film International, according to various gaming websites.

Akarapol Techaratanaprasert, business development director at Sahamongkol Film International says:

"Ong-Bak is well known as a powerful international martial arts brand. We are very selective with our licensing partners and found in Studio HIVE the right partner to bring Ong-Bak to gaming platforms. Their approach to tie in movie and game is the right way to create a perfect interactive entertainment."

Kan Supabanpot, general manager at Studio HIVE adds:

"It’s a great honor for our team to work on the very first Ong-Bak multiplatform game. As a Thai development studio we love the movie and have a deep understanding of the Ong-Bak brand values and we make sure that the videogame will be an inspiring martial arts action experience for gamers."

At this time, it's unknown what platforms the game is being developed for, but it seems like it'll be available for X-Box 360 and PlayStation 3.

9th WFFBKK reviews: Short Wave, Mango Filmmakers, Unreasonable Man

Thai shorts were seeded throughout the World Film Festival of Bangkok's Short Wave selections and the special Mango Filmmakers program. There was also the feature, An Unreasonable Man, which is actually a trilogy of shorts.

Short Wave 1Distinction by Tulapop Saenjaroen was the lone Thai short in this international package. It won a special mention and the Vichitmatra Award at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival. It's an interesting social experiment, interviewing a maid and the lady of the house and having them switch roles, with the maid putting on her boss lady's blouse, hairdo, make-up and earrings, and the lady throwing on the maid's ratty T-shirt and tying back her hair. After awhile, the identities blur so it's somewhat hard to tell who is who.

Short Wave 2 – Kong Pahurak brings his usual sense of dark humor to An Indiscreet Incident on Yotha Street, about a young man living in a rooftop apartment who is visited by a crow spirit. A symbiotic relationship turns tormented when they run out of canned fish. Clothes Pegs is from Japan with Japanese actors and a very Japanese fatalistic sensibility, but the director is Thai. Like Kong, he studies at Waseda University. It's a strongly acted story of a depressed housewife and an eventful day for her after her husband leaves for a business trip. A third Thai entry was Kanin Ramasoot's The Last Shot, which was previously in competition at the 2010 Thai Short Film & Video Festival. Cliched but entertaining, it's a crime drama about an ageing, clumsy police sergeant (Vinai Taewattana) who tries to solve a murder-suicide on his last day before retirement. He gets help from a wheelchair-bound nerd (Torphong Kul-on from I Carried You Home).

Short Wave 3 –  Passing Through the Night by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai competed in last year's Venice Film Festival. It's an experimental piece that's dominated by its sound design, ambient breath-like noise that support the scenes of an apartment building hallway, a vacant, ruined room and scary macro close-ups of an elderly person's skin and body parts. And you do get the sense of "passing". It provided a great lead-in to an excellent black-and-white short by Christelle Lheureux, La Maladie Blanche, which is set during a festival in a rural French mountain village. A wild pig emerges from the woods, turning the short into a fairy tale that recalls Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke and there's a journey into a cave like Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

Short Wave 5 –  This is an all-Thai package of student films from Mahidol University. Some were weird, ambiguous thrillers, like Photoshop, which stars Penpak Sirikul as a mysterious woman who demands that a harried farang photo studio owner let her sit for a portrait. Another was Coax by Kevin Vivis-Visithsiri, about a young guy finding himself trapped in a room and hearing a voice on the other side of the wall. Never Say Goodbye by Sutthasin Tanmanasiri has a guilt-wracked single mother caring for her comatose daughter. Another strange one was Youth by Sutthinan Ampornchatchawan, in which a girl wakes up and finds her soul has been transferred to the body of a young woman, and there's an older man about. A cute one was Amaranth by Lakkana Palawatvichai, about a grandmother who's lost her dentures. Also cute was the animation Illumination by Panpilas Pitayanon, about a lonely light bulb that wants to pay tribute to His Majesty the King. Thawan Duchanee by Siripa Intavichein was a rather dry documentary on the well-known Thai artist.

Mango Filmmakers Project – Anocha Suwichakornpong's Electric Eel Films collaborated with the Nation Group's Mango TV, working with three teams of young filmmakers, each making their own project. The results were enjoyably quirky and put the spotlight on promising new talents. Thanks to the help from the Eels, the filmmakers had technical assistance from experienced indie filmmakers and even drew on the talents of experienced actors, such as Wonderful Town's Anchalee Saisoontorn, Hi-So's Sajee Apiwong and Insects in the Backyard director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit in a cameo role. Reminisce by Thai Pradithkesorn started out weird, with an elderly woman entering a tattoo shop. What's her business there? It then goes to another point in time, though that's not immediately clear. A daughter and her mother are chatting about boys, and then another daughter and another mother, and they have nearly the same conversation. Eventually the story of that tat is explained. Gun Kama by Nuttawat Attasawa is a black comedy in which a young man performing a "planking" stunt falls from the ledge of his apartment and into the lives of a young woman who's the mistress of a gangster. She's having an affair with another man in the building. The gangster returns to the apartment earlier than expected and all hell breaks loose. The best of the bunch was the Isaan comedy One Man Can Run by Nuntawut Poophasuk. It's about a young man who's given too much change by an ice-cream man, and to correct the mistake he spends the next 25 minutes or so going through increasingly hilarious and ridiculous motions as he tries to chase down the tricycle-riding vendor. There's even special effects, with the runner calling his nerd friend to hack the satellite grid to pinpoint the ice-cream man. An honest man to a fault, the running man is waylaid in his quest by various other people in distress, and he stops to help them. It'd be neat to see One Man Can Run expanded into a feature, as long as the energy could be sustained and the same exhuberant cast could be used.

The Unreasonable Man – The first part of this trilogy of shorts was made in 2009. Supharat Boonamayam directs, with well-known actor Somchai Klemglad (who also co-directed) as a brooding Luddite barber who is given a cellphone and is mystified about how to use it. The story is inspired by a wrong-number call received by the director, and I think most phone users in Thailand can relate – I've probably said more words on my phone to wrong-number callers than I have to colleagues and friends. The barber receives a call and dials back the mystery number and gets a woman's voice recording. He's then obsessed with the woman and listens to the recorded greeting repeatedly. It's never quite clear if his daydreams about her come true or if they just stay dreams. In later episodes, the barber takes an art class and serves as the artist's assistant. And a mysterious man (Pramote Sangsorn) starts hanging around, causing more confusion for the brooding barber. The barber also fantasizes about a woman who works in a coffee shop. The barbershop boss and a co-worker who is always licking an ice-cream treat provide welcome comic relief to Somchai's brooding and Pramote's looming mysteriousness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ready? And ... here's the poster and trailer for The Cheer Ambassadors

Among the homegrown entries in the World Film Festival of Bangkok, I'd think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic bunch than the people behind The Cheer Ambassadors.

The documentary about the Thai National Cheerleading Team is the story of one young Thai man who saw the so-called "Cheerleading Olympics", the World Cheerleading Championships on ESPN and then had a dream of a Thai team carrying their flag to compete. So he rallied his friends and they formed a team, building it from scratch as they watched YouTube performances of American cheerleaders and struggled to safely learn the sport in late-night practices on hard concrete floors without benefit of mats.

Directed by Luke Cassady-Dorion and Jason W. Best, the documentary focuses on five key team members, the coaches and the team fortuneteller.

There's a trailer screaming online, embedded below.

The Cheer Ambassadors makes its world premiere at 6pm on Friday, January 27 at the World Film Festival of Bangkok at the Esplanade Ratchadaphisek.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tanwarin's It Gets Better to premiere at Hua Hin fest

The World Film Festival of Bangkok is on, with Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr in town to receive the festival's Lotus Award and to talk after the screening of his latest and what he says emphatically is his last film, The Turin Horse. Ryan Gosling is in Bangkok, to begin filming on Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn's latest, Only God Forgives, and there's yet another film festival happening in the Kingdom, starting January 26, down in Hua Hin, promising to bring in a bunch of big-name celebrities.

Only just announced in December, details about the first Hua Hin International Film Festival have been eking out in the weeks since, but the website is up and they have their program together.

Among the highlights will be the gala premiere of It Gets Better (ไม่ได้ขอให้มารัก) by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit. It's a followup to Tanwarin's Insects in the Backyard, which was banned by the Office of the National Culture Commission for alluding to patricide and depictions of prostitution. .

It Gets Better is an ensemble romance with three stories about transsexual love. Veteran actress Penpak Sirikul stars in one, playing a retired transsexual who travels to northern Thailand and falls in love with a local man who works in a garage. Another has a young man returning to Thailand from the U.S. to find that he's inheritd a gay bar from his father. He then falls in love with a bar employee. She's played by "Bell" Nuntita Khampiranon, whose singing talents surprised a nation on the "Thailand's Got Talent" reality-TV series. A third thread involves a feminine-acting boy sent away to the monkhood, where the novice falls in love with a senior monk.

The trailer is embedded below.

With a focus on films that were big at the box office, other Thai films include the thirtysomething romantic comedies 30+ Singles on Sale and 30 Kamleung Jaew, Pen-ek's Headshot, Thailand's Oscar submission Kon Khon (which didn't make the Oscar shortlist), the GTH horror Laddaland, the teen romance omnibus Love, Not Yet, the teen gangster drama Friends Never Die, The Legend of King Naresuan (parts 3 and 4), and The Unreasonable Man (also screening in the World Film Festival of Bangkok).

There's also a strong selection of films from across Southeast Asia. They include Love Story and Lovely Man from Indonesia (also in World Film Fest), the first Lao thriller At the Horizon (also screening at the Lifescapes fest in Chiang Mai), the Vietnamese director Charlie Nguyhen's hit romance Fool for Love with Dustin Nguyen, Malaysia's Great Days and KL Gangster, Singapore's ,b>It's a Great Great World by Kelvin Tong, Cambodia's Kiles, the Philippines' The Mountain Thief, Niño and Ways of the Sea and the Burmese drama The Moon Lotus.

Touted as "the biggest film industry and cultural event of the year", with an aim to make Hua Hin "the Cannes of Thailand", there are.more than 50 films from more than 15 countries.

Other highlights include the Southeast Asian premiere of The Lady, the biopic of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, which was partly shot in Thailand. Director Luc Besson and star Michelle Yeoh are expected to be in attendance.

Others expected include David Lancaster, producer of Drive, Hong Kong producer Terence Chang, actor Alex Meraz from The Twilight Saga and the stars of the South Korean romance Always, So Ji-Sub and Han Hyo-Joo.

The program also includes "controversial and uncensored films" like Steve McQueen's Shame with Michael Fassbender and the Taiwanese film Blowfish, as well as David Cronenberg's Freud-Jung flick, A Dangerous Method.

The opening film is Taiwan's Warriors of the Rainbow (Seediq Bale), which just made the shortlist for the foreign-language Oscar.

Money raised from ticket sales goes to flood relief.

The Hua Hin International Film Festival runs from January 26 to 29 at the InterContinental Hua Hin Resort and Major Cineplex, Market Village.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

9th WFFBKK review: I Carried You Home

  • Directed by Tongpong Chantararangkul
  • Starring Akhamsiri Suwanasuk, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Torphong Kul-on, Porntip Kamlung
  • Opening film of 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok, January 20, 2012; unrated
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Like an unplanned road trip, I Carried You Home (Padang Besar, ปาดังเบซา) takes awhile to get moving. Typical of a lot of Southeast Asian indie features that are aimed at the festival circuit, it's a langorous journey, but once it's well and truly on the highway, about an hour into the trek, the pace picks up.

The debut feature by Tongpong Chantararangkul, I Carried You Home mixes death and humor, though not in the raucously morbid way of say, Weekend at Bernie's. After all, this is a Thai indie feature and not a silly Hollywood comedy. Also, there's bucketloads of tears in this story of estranged sisters reunited by their mother's passing.

But there are a few laughs along the way as the siblings spend an awkward 800-kilometer ride with mom's corpse in the back of an ambulance. The laughs are mainly thanks to the ambulance driver (Torphong Kul-on) – a young guy who mines nose nuggets and gets stoned enough to trip out on the light refracting through raindrops on the windshield.

More weirdness comes from the seemingly bizarre practice the characters have of talking to the dead woman, telling her that the ambulance is going through a tunnel, crossing a bridge, making a left turn and passing by a grilled chicken stand. At one point, they almost cause a traffic pile-up on the entrance to a freeway because they forget to tell mom they are turning and reverse to make the turn again. I guess it's a Thai thing, but Western audiences are sure to be perplexed.

Beginning with the ambulance backing up to the hospital door to load up the mother's body, the narrative dips in and out of the past just before mom died, and slowly spoon-feeds background information on the sisters, the younger Pann (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) and her older sister Pinn (Akhamsiri Suwanasuk). Pann is in high school in Bangkok, living with her Aunt Toey. She's on the verge of heading to university, and to get away from her gushing aunt and her visiting mother (Porntip Kamlung), she makes the excuse that she's got to study for exams. Instead, she spends her time hanging out with a girl classmate, ice-skating at a mall, smoking cigarettes in the carpark and talking about boys.

Pinn, the more delicate-featured of the two, has run off to Singapore, where she works a menial job in a dry cleaners. The circumstances of Pinn's running away are mysterious, and Pann and the mother become quiet when their Aunt Toey brings Pinn up.

The girl's mother has come up from Padang Besar (hence the film's Thai title), a town in the southern Thai province of Satun, on the Malaysian border, to visit Bangkok. She spends her days singing karaoke for a crowd at a shopping-mall food court. Because of the way the chronology is structured, the freakish circumstances of the mother's death is kept mysterious as well. One minute she's warbling an old ballad for an appreciative crowd of beer-drinking aunties and the next she's a stiff on a stretcher. Though she does have an immaculate hairdo and freshly applied makeup.

With Pinn toiling away in Singapore, young Pann is left alone to deal with the mother's death and the outpouring of emotion by the blubbering Aunt Toey. Pann, the tough girl, the smoking girl, keeps things bottled up until it becomes too much for her, and then she's sobbing uncontrollably.

When Pinn finally shows up, Pann gives her the silent treatment. Together, they have to ride in the ambulance to take mom back to Pedang Besar. It's going to be a long, tedious drive. At first, it's Pinn, apparently trying to make up for running away by playing the dutiful daughter. She does all the talking, telling her dead mother where the ambulance is going. She also lights an incense stick, prompting the driver to say something, asking Pinn to crack a window.

Other people want to talk too. The mother's phone rings. "Why don't you answer it?" Pinn asks her younger sis. "Why didn't you answer when I called?" Pann retorts. But Pinn was busy working when she got the call about her mother.

The ill feeling between the sisters persists. A request to turn up the air-conditioning by one sister is belayed by another sister. Eventually, they stop for the night. The sisters have to share a room, and in their day of constant togetherness, the tension begins to melt away, and more is revealed. Even Pann starts to talk to the dead mother and tell her where they are.

So they make it to the funeral, and there are lovely scenes of life around Pedar Besar, and the mixed Thai-Chinese Buddhists and Muslim community. Previously, there are lovely scenes of other things, stretching this movie to 115 minutes when 80 or 90 minutes would probably do. There's a final poetic shot and then the fade to the credits, over which plays indie Thai rock.

Related posts:

9th WFFBKK review: P-047

  • Directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
  • Starring Aphichai Trakulkraiphadej, Parinya Kwamwongwan
  • Thai premiere at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, January 21, 2012; no rating
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

Fragments of memories, identities, possessions, sights, sounds and smells are toyed with in P-047 (Tae Peang Phu Deaw, แต่เพียงผู้เดียว), the latest feature from Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

Since premiering last year at the Venice festival, where it was a last-minute, out-of-competition selection, P-047 has been met with praise, and it lives up to the hype, though hype is probably too strong a word it, because it's only from people who regularly go to film festivals who have seen this weird movie. Quirky is another term that's been used to describe it, and I'd agree with that. But think quirky not in the precious way of say, Wes Anderson or Napoleon Dynamite but grittier and trippier, like Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry.

As it's been explained in the synopsis circulated at various film festivals, the story is about a locksmith and his friend who break into homes and "borrow" the absent occupants' lives. They don't steal, not anything that would be missed anyway. They wear surgical gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, bring their own towels and trashbags and clean up after they are done sampling the homeowners' wine, listening to their music, play their pianos, watch their TVs, use their showers, wear their clothes, etc.

Lek (strong-yet-vulnerable Aphichai Trakulkraiphade), the locksmith, and his buddy Kong (wickedly subversive Parinya Kwamwongwan) are guys who live in a basically hidden world. Lek's key-cutting stall is one of those places you see in the entryway between the shopping mall and the carpark, at the back of the building by the elevators. Kong's magazine stall is next to the locksmith's. Kong, an aspiring writer with a love for spy novels, thinks he's found a use for Lek's skills of picking locks. Unless you need a key copied or the latest issue of Gossip Star magazine, you don't even notice these people. And it's from their anonymous position in the social strata that they are able to observe others and notice their routines.

But things go awry after Kong prys too far into an apartment owner's personal life.

There's all kinds of different strands here that go off in wild directions. There's a forest thriller that recalls the recent work of Kongdej's contemporaries Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pen-ek Ratanaruang. And a hospital sequence, again like Apichatpong. But Kongdej layers his own twisted sensibility on top of those elements and makes them his own.

Kongdej got his start directing a sex comedy called Sayew about a tomboyish teenage girl who goes to work writing for a pornographic magazine. He then directed Midnight My Love, with Mum Jok Mok as a taxi driver who gets into a relationship with a massage-parlor lady. Rooted in old-time Thai music and movies, Midnight My Love went off the rails with surrealism that hasn't been seen much since, except for maybe Apichatpong's Uncle Boonmee and now P-047. Kongdej also made a movie about a three-armed man falling in love with a large-breasted woman called Handle Me With Care, but it was a little too commercial, if you can believe that. He's also been a screenwriter for hire, most notably on the Ananda Everingham vehicle Me ... Myself, about an amnesiac transvestite cabaret dancer.

P-047 is Kongdej's first foray into independent filmmaking away from the big studios like Sahamongkol and GTH. He's had to bow and scrape for cash like rest of Thailand's indie directors, cobbling together funds from various sources just to get prints of the film made. It may not be as flashy as a Spize Jonze film but the imagination is there.

The best special effects are low-tech, like a potato-chip-eating peacock or a fragmented archival clip from an old Thai film called Charming Bangkok, dug up from the rubble of a certain burned cinema by an olfactory-obsessed character. Like Midnight My Love it reflects Kongdej's admiration and acknowledgement of Thai cinema's past.

It's hard to write about P-047 without feeling like you're spoiling it. So maybe there ought to be a rule about P-047: don't write too much about P-047. And a second rule about P-047: don't write too much about P-047.

And yet, I've probably written too much.

And what's the title mean anyway? You'll have to see it to find out.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sixth Bangkok Experimental Film Festival raids the archives

Held every two, three, four or five years or so, just whenever the busy and diverse group of organizers find the time, the sixth edition of the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival has long been in the works but just so happens to partly conflict with the World Film Festival of Bangkok because the latter was postponed from November due to the flooding.

With the theme "Raiding the Archives", BEFF6 offers a line-up of contemporary and historical experimental works and rare old footage of Siam and Southeast Asia, with programs from arts groups and archives from around the region and the world, including sixpackfilm, LUX, Hanoi DOCLAB, KLEX and Experimenta India.

It starts on Tuesday, January 24, with two days of workshops, talks and screenings at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom. The program includes "Conversations: What is an Archive (For)?", and an archival screening of Fai Yen, a.k.a. Cold Fire (ไฟเย็น), a 1965 anti-communist propaganda film that was selected for the first listing of Thai National Heritage Films.

More screenings are planned for January 28 and 29 and February 4 and 5 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. The Goethe-Institut and the Jim Thompson Art Center also have screenings.

Check the BEFF website for the day-by-day schedule.

An ATM spitting out cash

A malfunctioning ATM that's disbursing too much money is in the backdrop of the GTH studio's latest romantic comedy ATM Er Rak Error (ATM เออรัก เออเร่อ)

"Ter" Chantawit Thanasevee from Coming Soon and Hello Stranger stars as an employee of the wonky automated teller's bank. His girlfriend ("Ice" Preechaya Pongthananikorn) works for the bank too, and they have to keep that a secret because it's against company policy. They agree to get married, but only if one of them resigns, so they race to be the first to fix the broken ATM. Whoever gets to it first can keep their job.

Mez Tharatorn directs. He previously co-directed the The Little Comedian and had a hand in co-writing a segment of Phobia 2.

Released today, ATM Er Rak Error had been slated for last year, but was postponed because of the flooding. There's an international English-subtitled trailer, embedded below.

The movie's cash-spewing ATM is an apt visual cue for the current state of the Thai film industry, which since the end of 2011 looks to be recovering nicely from whatever losses, if any, the floods might have caused. And romantic comedies from the big studios are what's putting bums in the seats.

The last Thai film of 2011 was released December 29. Just as they did in the previous two years, director Rerkchai Paungpetch and studio M-Thirtynine offered a year-end romantic comedy. Bangkok Sweety (Sor Khor Sor Sweety, ส.ค.ส. สวีทตี้) was the biggest effort yet, with a large ensemble cast that includes "Dan" Worrawech Danuwong, "Pae" Arak Amornsupasiri, Charoenporn "Kotee" Ornlamai, "Saipan" Apinya Sakuljaroensuk and sisters "Gypsy" Keeratee and "Yipso" Ramita Mahaphrukpong. It portrays different kinds of love, all culminating during Bangkok's New Year's Eve celebration. So basically, it's an M-Thirtynine version of Garry Marshall's star-studded Hollywood love offering New Year's Eve. It led the box office for two weeks in a row and is still raking it in, earning around US$2.5 million so far.

Last week, Sahamongkol and Lucks Film released another rom-com, Rak Wei Hei (รักเว้ยเฮ้ย!). From the same team that did the Saranair comedy films, Rak Wei Hei is about a nerd (Phongphit "Starbucks" Preechaborisuthkul) who falls in love with a young female DJ ("Ink" Chayanuj Boontanapibul from Channel [V] Thailand) and learns how to win her heart from a weird romance guru (Nakorn “Ple” Silachai). Directed by Kunchat Chitkhachorawanit (he previously directed the prison comedy 8E88 แฟนลั้ลลา), it debuted at No. 1 at the box office.

Another holdover from the floods last year is Friends Never Die (มึงกู เพื่อนกันจนวันตา, Mueng Gu Phuean Kan Jon Wan Tai), a teenage gangster movie. Moving from Bangkok to study in Chiang Mai, the new kid in town, Song ("Mouse" Nattacha Chantaphan), faces problems with senior students and copes by joining a gang led by a guy named Gun (Mario Maurer). Together, the schoolboys slick back their hair and don leather jackets. Written and directed by Atsachan Satkowit (previously directed Soul's Code) and released by Phranakorn, it debuted at sixth place at the box office.

Monday, January 16, 2012

9th WFFBKK: Preview of the Thai films

Postponed from November because of the floods, the 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok starts this week. As always, the festival is an important platform for local premieres of Thai independent films.

There are four features: the opening film I Carried You Home (Padang Besar, ปาดังเบซาร์) by  Tongpong Chatarangkul, Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbours by  Rirkrit Tiravanija, P-047 by Kongej Jaturanrasamee and The Unreasonable Man (Mai Roo Mun Ke Arai Tae Chob, ไม่รู้.มันคืออะไร.แต่ชอ) by Supharat Boonmayam.

The debut feature by Tongpong, I Carried You Home is about estranged sisters brought back together by their mother's death. It's been picked up by a French distributor and was featured in competition at the Marrakech International Film Festival. Update: It's also been selected for the Bright Future program of the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

P-047 and Lung Neaw both made their world premieres at the Venice Film Festival.

P-047 ( Tae Peang Phu Deaw), about a pair of men who break into people's homes to "borrow" their lives, has also been featured at fests in Busan, Dubai and Palm Springs.

Lung Naew is the debut feature by Rirkrit, an internationally known artist. It's a documentary about a 60-year-old rice farmer in rural Chiang Mai.

The Unreasonable Man is a trilogy of short films by Supharat. "Tao" Somchai Kemglad stars as a barber. He's starred in such features as Killer Tattoo and Shadow of the Naga. Indie filmmaker Pramote Sangsorn also stars. The series got its start back in 2009.

As for feature documentaries, there's The Cheer Ambassadors by Luke Cassady-Dorion, about a Thai cheerleading team that went all the way to the World Cheerleading Championships in Orlando, Florida, and had great success. My Rohingya, is a look at the Rohingya by Thananuch Sanguansak, a Nation Channel reporter, who become interested in Rohingya after reports by Western media that the Thai navy was stranding the Burmese Muslim refugees at sea.  And there's 500 Years Siam-Portugal’s Relationship by Yuwadee Vatcharangkul, a look at the oldest Thai-European diplomatic relationship.

Sprinkled throughout the Short Wave and Mango film programs are 14 Thai shorts, Amaranth by Lakkana Palawatvichai, An Indiscreet Incident on Yotha Street by Japan-based Kong Pahurak, Coax by  Kevin VivisVisithsiri, Distinction by Tulapop Saenjaroen (a prize-winner at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival), Gum Karma by Nuttawat Attasawat, Illumination by Panpilas Pitayanon, Never Say Goodbye by SutthasinTanmanasiri, One Man Can Run by Nuntawut Poophasuk, Passing Through the Night by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai (which premiered at the Venice fest), Photoshop by Sopolnawitch Achira Ponglamjiak, Reminisce, Thawan Duchanee by Siripa Intavichein and Youth by Sutthinan Ampornchatchawan.

The opening film I Carried You Home will be at on January 20 at Paragon Cineplex, but after that all screenings will be at the Esplanade Ratchada. The closing ceremonies on January 27 will be at the Village Square at the Nine Neighbourhood Centre on Rama IX Road, with outdoor screenings of Earthly Paradise from Chile and a collection shorts by Aki Kaurismaki.

Other highlights include Turin Horse by Bela Tarr, who'll be in Bangkok to receive this year's Lotus Award from the festival. There's also the 3D Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog. Here's the complete film list and the schedule.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lifescapes opens with Golden Slumbers, closes with Hi-So

The schedule is coming together for the Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival from February 2 to 5 at Payap University in Chiang Mai, with the opener Golden Slumbers, a documentary on the lost classics of Cambodian cinema. The closing film is Hi-So, Aditya Assarat's drama about being bi-cultural in a mono-cultural society.

Directed by Davy Chou, the documentary Golden Slumbers looks at the "Golden Age" era of Cambodian cinema in the 1960s and its destruction under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to '79. Have a look (and listen) at the trailer on YouTube. If you're like me, and like the old Cambodian rock 'n' roll, you'll probably also be interested in knowing about the films from that era. Golden Slumbers has been featured in festivals around the world, and won Best Southeast Asian Film at last year's Cinemanila.

The closing film, Hi-So, stars Ananda Everingham as a U.S.-schooled Thai actor who's back in Thailand and is first visited on a movie set by his American girlfriend, and he can no longer connect with her. Later, he gets a Thai girlfriend and the same things happen again. Hi-So has been on the circuit for the past year or so, and screened in Bangkok last October. It's actually back at House cinema in Bangkok, but Lifescapes will be the first chance folks have to see it in Chiang Mai.

Aside from Cambodia and Thailand, other countries represented are Burma/Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Other Thai films are the documentaries Baby Arabia, about a Thai Muslim band that pours its heart and soul into an infectious blend of Arabic rock 'n' roll, and Lumpinee, about child boxers living in a Muay Thai training camp.

Another Cambodian film is Lost Loves, a genocide drama by Chhay Bora that's been five years in the making. It's just opened at the Cineplex in Phnom Penh, and you can read more about it at the Phnom Penh Post.

From Laos is At the Horizon by Anysay Keola. The first feature-length thriller ever made in the Lao P.D.R, the drama is about two men from different walks of life who are doomed to share a destiny during a night in Vientiane.

From Vietnam comes the documentary With or Without Me by Swann Dubus and Phuong Tao Tran, about two Vietnamese men fighting heroin addiction and living with HIV. There's also Hanoi Eclipse by Barley Norton, about the controversial Vietnamese band Dai Lam Linh. Fronted by two female singers, the band has caused scandal with its experimental sound and sexually explicit lyrics.

From Burma/Myanmar are pair of medium- and feature-length documentaries, Aung San Suu Kyi – Lady of No Fear and Into the Current: Burma’s Political Prisoners. There's also a pair of shorts from the Yangon Film School, including Bungkus.

Also in the works from Burma is a selection from the recent Art of Freedom Film Festival in Rangoon, among them the short Uninterruptedness.

Aside from movies, the Lifescapes fest also devotes a large bloc of its programming to panel discussions, including the States of Censorship, with four or five panelists from mainland Southeast Asia. There will also be a look at Gender & Sexuality in Myanmar and Vietnam, to accompany the Yangon Film School short Burmese Butterfly, about transgendered youth in Yangon, and the short doc, Which Way to the Sea, about lesbian couples in Vietnam.

More details about Lifescapes are sure to come on the website.

Update: Press release issued.

Censorship satire takes top prize at Art of Freedom fest in Burma

In a sign that things are further loosening up in Burma (or Myanmar as more news organizations are starting to call it), the Art of Freedom Film Festival was held recently in the former capital of Rangoon (or Yangon as ... oh never mind).

The fest, touted as the first of its kind in Burma, was organized by newly liberated democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the comedian Zarganar, fresh from his first "shocking" trip abroad, which he took after being released from prison. Zarganar was the subject of the documentary This Prison Where I Live, shown in Thailand last year and the year before.

Suu Kyi and Zarganar were on hand to give out prizes at the Art of Freedom fest, with the Audience Choice Award going to Ban That Scene, which satirizes the Byzantine process of submitting films to the censorship board, which operates under the Orwellian slogan “Eye Everything With Suspicion.”

The Irrawaddy has more:

The movie devotes much of its attention to scenes where a group of government officials from the state censorship board, the ministry of religion, and the ministry of health watch uncensored movies together, and begin arguing about which parts should be banned. Set in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the state officials are depicted as obtuse and self-righteous; they decide to censor scenes of beggars, of girls in mini-skirts, and of characters complaining about power cuts. The ministers reason that those characters “degrade the dignity of the state.”

Winner of Best Short Documentary was by Sai Kyaw Khaing for Click in Fear about a young Karen photographer  who took iconic photos of protesting Buddhist monks during the 2007 "Saffron Revolution" and then went into exile in order to avoid arrest. The short was previously shown at 2009's World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Mizzima has more on the fest, including the complete list of winners and a photo from the ceremony.

Interesting to note is that some films were were disqualified because they had been uploaded to "the Internet", but were accepted again after the directors and producers explained that their works had been posted without their knowledge.

Market roundup: Two each in Rotterdam and Hong Kong

There's a couple recently announced project markets.

First up from January 29 to February 1 is CineMart, the project market of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. It has two Thai-related projects.

Le Vent des ombres is by Christelle Lheureux and co-produced by Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Kick the Machine and France's Independencia Productions. Apichatpong previously collaborated with the French filmmaker Lheureux on the 2005 tsunami short film Ghost of Asia.

And there's The White Buffalo, the next feature project by Wonderful Town and Hi-So director Aditya Assarat and his Pop Pictures shingle. He told me recently that his next film was going to be about me. I guess he wasn't kidding.

Next, from March 19 to 21 is HAF, the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum, which has two more projects.

There's another Thai co-production: Hangman by Jakrawal Nilthamrong and Romania's Ionut Piturescu. It's being pitched in partnership with Copenhagen's CPH:DOX festival and Thailand's Extra Virgin Company. It's a result of the 2012 selection for the DOX:LAB project, which pairs European filmmakers with filmmakers from Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. A previous project from this initiative is last year's Vanishing Woman by Uruphong Raksasad and Danish director Jesper Just.

Also at HAF is Kongdej Jaturanrasamee with Tang Wong, which has Kongdej teaming back up with his P-047 producer Soros Sukhum.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Art of Thai movie posters at Palm Springs fest

Showing concurrently with the Palm Springs International Film Festival is the exhibition, Eyegasm: The Art of Thai Movie Posters by Swank Modern Design.

Here's more about it from a press release:

"Thai illustrators used still photos as source materials," explains curator John Goss, photographer for the book, Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture. "They arranged those disembodied characters and scenes into a seething galaxy of graphic invention that stand alone as works of art, independent of the quality of the actual films."

The posters are jam-packed with action, saturated with color and highlight often bizarre imagery designed to sell tickets for films ranging from international hits like Apocalypse Now, Tron and Dr. No, to home grown Asian ghost epics and kung-fu action flicks.

"Being twice removed from the movies they depict," adds Goss, "Thai movie posters always look like they are trying to explode out of the frame and into your dreams."

The show features work by some of Thailand's master graphic artists, like Tongdee and Piak Poster, whose rainbow hues and dynamic visual compositions owe more to the world of comic art than they do to Hollywood publicity factories.

Film editor and collector, Mike Wright, lent prized pieces of his collection to the exhibition.
"Colorful, imaginative, and always in motion...nothing beats the lure of a Thai movie poster," Wright enthuses.

Check the gallery website for details on when to view the works.

As far as Thai films at the Palm Springs fest, running January 5 to 16, they have Kongdej Jatruranrasamee's bit of quirk, P-047, which was a favorite of other festivals last year, and hopefully Bangkok will get to see it this year.

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 Outrage

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)

See also: