As the curtain falls on the 18th Busan International Film Festival tomorrow, mixed reviews for the Thai films in the New Currents competition – Concrete Clouds and The Isthmus – have started to trickle in.
But first, there's this – Concrete Clouds producer Soros Sukhum was honored at the festival's Thai Night this week with a special award for his contributions to Thai cinema given to him by none other than a princess, Princess Ubol Ratana. It appears no one got a photo of the auspicious handing of the award, perhaps owing to the intricate protocols involved when photographing a member of Thailand's royal family, but Pop Pictures has news of it on Facebook (as well as other news from Busan).
It's a well-deserved honor for Soros, whose friends call him Tongdee and who's been quietly and tirelessly working behind the scenes (and sometimes in front of the camera) on indie Thai films for more than a decade. Among Thai producers on the circuit right now, he's one of the most traveled, with a passport that must be absolutely bulging with stamps from such places as Rotterdam, Berlin and Busan. Aside from films like Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town and Hi-So, Soros' recent credits include Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Tang Wong and P-047.
The Princess, an actress and fixture of Thai film events in Cannes and Busan, is for the first time actually in a movie showing in the festival, as part of the ensemble cast in the family drama Together, directed by Saranyoo Jiralak, screening in the Window on Asian Cinema.
Another in the Window was Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, the latest from last year's New Currents winner for 36, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit. Having premiered in Venice (and also now screening in Chile's Valdiva Film Festival), Mary was well-received in Busan and producer "Aditya is happy, Aditya is happy", according to the Pop Pictures' Facebook timeline. Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy will also screen at the upcoming Tokyo International Film Festival.
Meanwhile, Aditya made a market deal to sell Nawapol's experimental romance 36 (also an award-winner in St. Petersburg) to the U.K. distributor Day for Night, according to Screen Daily. That's the same outfit that bought Aditya's Hi-So.
Aditya was also in Busan supporting the premiere of Letters from the South, an omnibus about the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia. Others directing segments are Tsai Ming-Liang, Malaysia's Tan Chui Mui, Singapore's Royston Tan and Sun Koh and Myanmar's Midi Z.
Now, let's get to those reviews. To recap, Concrete Clouds is the much-anticipated debut feature by longtime film editor Lee Chatametikool. Set in during the 1997 financial crisis, it stars Ananda Everingham as a young Thai-American trader who returns to Bangkok after his father commits suicide. The Isthmus is the debut feature of a pair of academics, Sopawan Boonnimitra, a film studies lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, and Peerachai Kerdsint, from Bangkok University's film department. It's about a little Thai girl who suddenly starts speaking only Burmese after her family's migrant-worker maid dies. So her mother, played by Saengthong Gate-Uthong, goes searching for answers in the Burmese migrant community in Thailand's Kra Isthmus.
First up is the much-anticipated Concrete Clouds, which Meniscus magazine gives a mixed review:
In his directorial feature debut, Concrete Clouds, Lee Chatametikool turns the clock back to 1997, the year of the Asian financial crisis. However, despite a well-known Thai cast, and a potentially multi-layered observation of love in a time of depression and mourning, the story unfortunately never really gets going.
And The Hollywood Reporter was even more downbeat on the other Thai New Currents entry, The Isthmus, calling it "well-meaning but tepid" and the bottom line being it "offers too much emotion and a wafer-thin a treatise that doesn’t support a very tangible socio-political issue".
Perhaps both Concrete Clouds and The Isthmus will find more receptive audiences when they eventually screen in Thailand. I'm not sure when Concrete Clouds will be released in Thailand, but for Bangkok residents The Isthmus will be seen soon in a film festival near you.
The Nation rounds up the Thai Busan entries today and the Bangkok Post previewed them last week.