Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: W.


  • Directed by Chonlasit Upanigkit
  • Starring Patcharaporn Samosorn, Siriphan Rattanasomchok, Suttipong Klummanee
  • Limited release at House cinema in Bangkok on December 11, 2014; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating 4/5

A college student is thrown into the deep end of soul-crushing mediocrity in the enigmatically titled W., the remarkable directorial debut of young filmmaker Chonlasit Upagnit.

Neung, a brainy freshman, is captured in her first days at university, trying to get her head around the fact that she's been assigned to the faculty that was her last choice – sports – even though she's not particularly "sporty".  She's befriended by a red-haired girl, Ploy, and the two enjoy a close friendship – Ploy tries to teach Neung to swim. But it becomes apparent to Neung that the slacker Ploy is cozying up so she can sit next to Neung in classes and copy off her test papers.

It's a reality check for the naive Neung, who is talented in math and science and had hoped to get into medical school, but for some reason was denied that chance by Thailand's extremely competitive university placement system. Ploy, meanwhile, only aspires to be an aerobics instructor at a shopping mall.

Neung then moves on to a guy friend, Ton, whom she encountered on campus one night. She goes on a date or two with Ton, but then it becomes apparent he's just using her to recreate moments he had with his previous girlfriend, who he's broken-hearted for.

The friendship dramas are interspersed with lighthearted segments in which Neung, Ploy and their friends rehearse English-language speeches about themselves as part of a class assignment.

But loneliness and despair are the main themes for Neung, whose parents are estranged and no longer stay in the family home. At school, she's also mostly alone, thanks to a roommate who never moved in.

Generated out of Silpakorn University, which is also the setting, Chonlasit's film caused a bit of a sensation when word about it spread through the Thai indie community. I mean, it's pretty unusual for an undergraduate student to turn in a three-hour feature as a thesis film.

Aditya Assarat took the project under his wing during the editing process, working with the director to trim the massive drama down to a more-commercial two-hour running length.

With help from ace sound designer Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr (Wonderful Town, Headshot), they shaped W. into yet another solid entry from the Thai indie "shoegaze" movement (or contemplative cinema, if you prefer). Think Hi-So, Mundane History, Concrete Clouds or Uncle Boonmee. Like those films, W. made its initial splash on the festival circuit, world-premiering at Busan and also screening at the relaunched Singapore International Film Festival.

Of course, Chonlasit already has impeccable credentials of his own in the youth-oriented shoegaze realm, serving as editor on Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy and 36. In fact, W. is similar to Mary, but instead of Mary's punky irony there's palpable sadness. There's also a swimming pool angle that W. dwells on, which might earn it comparisons to the slickly commercial (and somewhat shoegazey) GTH thriller The Swimmers.

The burbling electronica soundtrack, moody natural lighting and overall dreaminess also reminded me a lot of Drive, though instead of Ryan Gosling staring blankly in silence over his steering wheel, you have nattering college girls Neung and Ploy riding their bicycle across campus.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

LPFF 2014 reviews: The Patriarch, Iskalawags, When the Rooster Crows

The Patriarch (Kabisera)


Walter White, meet your kindred amoral spirit from the Philippines. In The Patriarch (Kabisera), he's Andres, a humble fisherman who rows out to sea one morning, hears gunshots and then discovers several floating crates. Upon inspection, he finds the boxes are full of crystal methamphetamine. What to do? The best thing would be to leave them and forget about them, but then there wouldn't be a movie. So Andres hauls in his illicit catch. If he can unload the drugs, he stands to make millions of pesos, but more importantly the ex-con Andres would finally be able regain control of his family from his domineering wife, a college-bound son who is desperate to leave the nest and headstrong daughter who is ready to get married and also move out. To sell the drugs, Andres turns to his slick gangster best friend Jose (Arthur Acuña), who has a ragtag band of street-level idiots peddling the meth. A bent local cop becomes another partner in the scheme. Soon there are federal drug agents sniffing around, and there's that pesky Muslim cartel, which wants its drugs back. It's a pressure-cooker situation that's as heart-pounding as an episode of Breaking Bad. Ultimately, Andres betrays everything he believed in. Leading man Joel Torre, a veteran actor with a list of credits that makes him the Bryan Cranston of the Philippines, except more kick-ass, is amazing, and I want to seek out other stuff he's been in, such as John Sayles' Amigo or Erik Matti's hitman drama On the Job. The debut feature by Alfonso "Borgy" Torre (a nephew of the leading man), Kabisera scooped up three prizes at least year's Cinema One festival, including best director, best actor and supporting actress for Bing Pimentel as Andres' wife. The film is very, very dark, not only with its subject matter of ambiguous morality, but in terms of lighting. Many of the action scenes were so low lit, it was frustratingly hard to see what was going on. But perhaps that was a technical problem with the projector setting at the Luang Prabang Film Festival's daytime venue? (4/5)

Iskalawags


Fun-filled and nostalgic, the childhood friendship drama Iskalawags is a lively recounting of the adventures of a club of boys in a small town on the island of Cebu. It's a partly autobiographical effort by director Keith Deligero, who appeared at the Luang Prabang Film Festival to explain he aimed to recapture the atmosphere of an outdoor movie festival he organizes in his Cebu hometown. Along with the usual shenanigans by the ragtag group of boys, they share a love for the gritty Filipino action films of the 1990s and act out their various shoot-out scenes. These are the types of movies that were popular during the Betamax era, when communities would attend outdoor screenings of the videotapes. A Cinema One entry, Iskalawags is also notable for its use of the local Cebuano dialect, making it part of the regional dialect movement in Pinoy film. Among the mysteries in this coming-of-age story is that of the boys' stern teacher, Ma'am Lina (Dionne Monsanto), whose estranged husband is ominously hanging around, trying to fix his broken motorcycle. With a crucial role to play, he's portrayed by none other than Jeric Raval, the leading man of many of the old action flicks the boys are fans of. (4/5)

Southeast Asian Cinema: When the Rooster Crows


From Thailand to the Philippines, the crowing rooster is the often-heard soundtrack of Southeast Asian films, the plucky spirit of which is captured in the documentary Southeast Asian Cinema: When the Rooster Crows. A last-minute entry to the Luang Prabang Film Festival, the documentary was a fine complement to the fest's panel talks with regional filmmaking talents and its selection of the best of Southeast Asian films. And, fittingly, it was accompanied by a soundtrack of the actual roosters and hens that live next door to the festival's daytime screening venue in an old-style wooden house on the grounds of the Hotel de la Paix, a colonial-era edifice that used to be a prison. Italian Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso, who previously did Through Korean Cinema, was inspired to look Southeast after the surprising 2009 best director win by Filipino Brillante Mendoza for Kinatay. He starts with Mendoza and then picks Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Singapore's Eric Khoo and Indonesia's Garin Nugroho. Each of the four countries are given standalone segments, which in addition to the interviews with the directors are supplemented by generous film clips – even Pen-ek's hard-to-find debut Fun Bar Karaoke is highlighted. And there is testimony from film producers, actors, crew members and film critics, among them Kong Rithdee. Pen-ek's regular cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong recalls that time when Pen-ek collaborated with lensman Christopher Doyle on two career-changing landmark features, Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves. And Pen-ek's regular sound designer Koichi Shimizu offers an added treat, plugging wires into his magic box. Electronic bleeps and bloops emanate and pretty soon it's music. For regular fans of Southeast Asian cinema, the documentary will likely offer little in the way of new information, but it's still essential viewing. Already a huge fan of Pen-ek and Mendoza, the segments on Khoo – a versatile auteur – and Nugroho were eye-openers and piqued my interest in seeking out more of their films. (4/5)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

LPFF 2014 review: Vientiane in Love

Longing for Love

  • Directed by Anysay Keola, Phanumad Disattha, Vannaphone Sitthirath, Xaisongkham Induangchanthy
  • World premiere at the Luang Prabang Film Festival, December 6, 2014
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5


There's a feeling of urgency or maybe even impatience when it comes to the burgeoning Lao film industry. In the decades since the Vietnam War era, filmmaking in the Lao People's Democratic Republic was strictly for propaganda efforts under the purview of the government, but it was chronically hampered by a shortage of funding, resources and properly trained professionals.

The digital photography age has changed all that. And after decades of being pent up, commercial filmmaking in Laos is beginning. Showing an eagerness to get to work and tell their stories, the directors involved with the collective called Lao New Wave Cinema have put together the five-segment omnibus Vientiane in Love (ຮັກນີ້ທີ່ວຽງຈັນ), telling short stories about romance and relationships in Laos' capital city.

For the world premiere at the Luang Prabang Film Festival, the package was led with Longing for Love (Kid Hod Kuam Hak), written and directed by Anysay Keola, a founding LNWC member who made his debut with the thriller At the Horizon.

Here, Anysay shows his knack for broad comedy and the conventions of Asian rom-coms – slide-whistle sound effects, bloody noses and all – with an amusing story of a photographer who earns his living taking pictures of couples at the city's Patuxai arch monument. One day a single young woman asks Mon to take her photo and as she comes into focus, she starts crying and says she's just out of a bad relationship. The two strike up a friendship, but the comically homely Mon has fallen hopelessly in love and thinks he has a chance for something more with the pretty red-haired girl.

Next up was I'm Fine, Thank You (Kob Jai), written and directed by Phanumad Disattha, director of LNWC's sophomore feature, the country comedy Hak Aum Lum. Just as Anysay switched gears from thriller to comedy, Phanumad goes for impressionistic drama in a story about the reunion of a rock musician (Deuk, the former guitarist of the popular band Cell) with his ex-girlfriend. They had an ugly break-up, as shown in flashback scenes, but are on friendly terms as they stroll the streets of Vientiane by night. It's a glimpse of an increasingly cosmopolitan city and its hip clubs and a reminder that I am long overdue for a visit. Skateboarders and BMX bikers cavort behind the handsome couple – he with his augered earlobes, hipster goatee, skinny jeans and Bob Marley T-shirt, and she with her high-waisted slacks, crop top and glamorous updo.

The proceedings turn dark with The Truth (Kam Tob), a neo-noir thriller that I thought for sure was directed by At the Horizon's Anysay. But, nope, it's written and directed by newcomer Vannaphone Sitthirath. The shadow-filled tale follows a businesswoman who suspects her husband is having an affair, and she sets up a situation so she can confront the girl.

I'm Fine, Thank You

Social networking enters the fray with the intriguing Update Status (Juud Lerm Ton) by Xaisongkham Induangchanthy, in which two boys sitting a coffee shop spot a schoolgirl at a table with a middle-aged American man. They post about the sighting on Facebook, and soon the girl's reputation is in tatters. Meanwhile, the girl has spotted the boys and catches one of them flexing his biceps for his friend, and she posts potentially damaging comments about him. And there's that weird expat guy, who is yammering on and on about the government, channeling Noam Chomsky as he warns of the impending "idiocracy".

Xaisongkham, also a newcomer, is one of two recipients of this year's edition of the Luang Prabang Film Festival's Lao Filmmakers Fund, which dispensed $15,000. He's working on a drama, Those Below, which addresses the deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance left by the American carpet bombing of Laos during the Vietnam-era "Secret War". A crowd-funding campaign was also held to boost the film's budget. The other recipient of the Lao Filmmakers Fund is Vilayphong Phongsavanh, whose at work on a short documentary on the trendy sport of freerunning, which he aims to capture using a flying drone camera.

Finally, there's a fifth segment, Against the Tide (Kuam Sook Kong Por), written by Xaisongkham and directed by Anysay and Phanumad. The story involves an elderly fisherman who is compelled to leave his Mekong River island home and move in with his daughter and son-in-law in the city. It's a segment that doesn't seem to fit with the others, and could be titled "Vientiane, I Hate You", because the old man can't stand living in the city and he feels trapped in his daughter's fancy modern home.

Of the five segments, I liked Anysay's comical Longing for Love the best, followed by The Truth. I had a hard time following I'm Fine, but Lao viewers will probably dig it for its rock-star leading man. And Update Status is as I said, intriguing, for its look at the spread of social media in the Socialist country. Against the Tide feels like another movie entirely, but is anchored by a strong performance by its lead character.

According to Anysay, plans are to release Vientiane in Love in Laos' cinema around Valentine's Day, perhaps with the order of the segments swapped in order to give viewers some more upbeat in the end.
The Truth

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

LPFF 2014 reviews: The Jungle School, Shift, Madam Phung's Last Journey

The Jungle School


If it's been awhile since you've seen a Riri Riza film, then The Jungle School (Sokola Rimba) is a great way to get reacquainted with one of Indonesia's finest auteurs. Despite the gaps in his IMDb page – the last entry was 2008 – the veteran writer, director and producer is steadily working. His latest effort, making its way around the festival circuit, is based on the true account by teacher and community activist Butet Manurung, a determined woman who brought literacy to the loincloth-clad indigenous people of Indonesia's jungles. She's portrayed by martial artist, actress and model Prisia Nasution, who'll be in the next action film by The Raid director Gareth Evans. She rides a dirtbike into the mountains and with a blackboard strapped to her back, she hikes far into the forest. Pushing herself too hard, she collapses from exhaustion but wakes up in the tribal camp where she was heading. But she is then told she was rescued by a young man from a "downstream" tribe, a group the upstreamers are wary of. Butet wants to find this mysterious downstream tribe, and she does. But she's regarded with suspicion by the tribal elders, especially a mean matriarch who believes that the teacher's pencils and words will curse the tribe. Along with that conflict, Butet also struggles against the bureaucracy of her NGO and a boss who wants her to stage her classes for the media in the easier-to-access upstream village. The coverage means more funding for the NGO, but the money isn't really helping the tribes, which are under increasing pressure from encroachment by loggers, palm-oil plantations and national park expansion. Butet perseveres and forms a  bond with the downstream tribe boy, teaching him to read. It's a skill that comes in handy when the palm-oil guys come with their cases of packaged food to trade for the tribal lands. The looks on their faces when that kid starts reading the contract to them is worth the effort of seeking this film out. A fantastic animation sequence that illustrates the tribe's mystical beliefs adds even more visual loveliness to the picture, which is clearly lensed against a beautiful jungle backdrop that also includes many close-up shots of wildlife. (4/5)

Shift


One of the highlights of the Luang Prabang Film Festival is getting to catch up with the latest of the so-called "maindie" offerings from the Philippines, which churns out dozens of low-budget films that are aimed squarely at mainstream audiences. Shift, an entry from the Cinema One festival, which commissions original digital features for competition and then holds the broadcast rights to them, is an eye-catching romantic comedy about a rebellious young woman with a shock of punk-rock maroon hair. Directed by Siege Ledesma, who makes her feature directorial debut, Shift won the Grand Prix at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. Her main character is portrayed by TV talent show singer Yeng Constantino, who expresses frustration by running her hand through that crazy dyed mane. And she's frustrated a lot. Estela works in the Philippines' extremely competitive call center industry, but she'd rather be playing music or pursuing her hipster hobby of film photography. She's also under pressure at home, where her family's apartment is about to be demolished. Her folks are out of town, but they keep tabs on Estela through her tattletale younger sister. In the midst of company restructuring, Estela is assigned a mentor, a long-haired gay dude named Trevor (Felix Roco). The two quickly form a bond, and tomboyish Estela finds herself falling for the guy. Much confusion ensues over sexuality and gender roles. Fun as it is in the beginning, the energy of Shift slackens in the latter third, causing a few heads to shake in the LPFF screening. Like last year's LPFF entry, What Isn't There, which featured Felix in a cameo as a twin of the mute character portrayed by twin brother Dominic Roco, Shift looks at the trendy youth culture of the Philippines. It's a cycle away from the "poverty porn" of so many Filipino films a few years ago. At some point, I suppose there will be a shift back. (3/5)

Madam Phung's Last Journey


Making her remarkable debut feature, director Nguyen Thi Tham offers a glimpse at Vietnam's transgender culture in Madam Phung's Last Journey, following a travelling carnival troupe run by two ageing drag queens. It's a much different scene than the one I'm used to seeing in Thailand, where there is high tolerance for transgender folk and they are pretty much part of the mainstream even though discrimination does exist. It's much harsher in Vietnam, where queer and transgender culture is frowned upon by authorities. Men who dress as ladies aren't allowed to hold business licenses, and they generally aren't hired for any legitimate jobs. So the travelling carnival troupes are the only way for these marginalized people to make a living. Madam Phung's troupe travels the countryside and highlands, moving from town to town with their ragtag fair. While the veteran drag queens perform songs and sketches, pretty younger ladyboys roam the fairgrounds, flirting with the local men as they sell lottery tickets. There's kiddie rides and games of chance. One game has you guess which numbered slot a guinea pig will run into. Another attraction involves a shotgun being pointed at performers as they do skits on demand. Early in the evening, it's all good clean fun, with families taking in the entertainment. But later in the evening, after the families go home, the level of bawdiness rises and the audience is mostly drunk (and/or high) young men. Then it turns ugly. Fights break out. The police are called. The townspeople turn against the performers who entertained them, and the carnival troupe is forced to hastily pack up and get back on the road. It's a pattern that's repeated at each stop. In between, there are interviews with the colorful Madam Phung and another senior performer, who recall their hard lives as queers in Vietnam. And you get a general feel for what it's like to be in the troupe, who fill the time between performing and travelling with drinking and card games. It's a wild, rough existence. Nguyen began her project in 2009, spending years getting it together. The closeness of her subjects is palpable, and they frequently turn to the camera, feigning shyness in their padded bras and various other states of undress, and affectionately call her "little devil". Appearing at the Luang Prabang Film Festival, the tough and shrewd director was tight-lipped about what her next project might be. Whatever it is, it'll be one to keep a lookout for. (4/5)


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Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: The Eyes Diary



  • Directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul
  • Starring Focus Jeerakul, Parama Im-anothai, Chonnikarn Natejui, Kittisak Pathommaburana
  • Released in Thai cinemas October 30, 2014; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5


Chookiat Sakveerakul makes his return to horror with The Eyes Diary (คนเห็นผี, Kon Hen Pee), which blends in elements of romantic drama with the story of a bickering couple whose constant fighting his dire consequences.

Like Chookiat's sophomore feature effort, the thriller 13 Game Sayong (13: Game of Death, remade as 13 Sins), The Eyes Diary is based on a comic book. In this case, it's a Siam Intermedia title by Anek Roikaew. No relation to the Pang brothers' Eye franchise, The Eyes Diary actually feels similar to another Thai horror film, Shutter, including references to a haunted photo and a couple other elements.

But with a fine young cast and a story that slowly builds the tension and scares, The Eyes Diary has plenty to stand on its own.

Parama Im-anothai (It Gets Better) stars as Nott, a college drop-out who works for one of Thailand's rescue squads, those notorious crews of pickup-racing bodysnatchers who retrieve corpses from wrecks and clean up after suicides. He's a somber, brooding fellow who has the macabre habit of keeping souvenirs from the bodies he finds. His latest score is a rubber bracelet off the wrist of a motorbike rider who was ripped in half by a truck and spread like jelly on the highway. His co-worker and closest pal Jon (Kittisak Pathommaburana from Chookiat's Grean Fictions and Home) tries in vain to warn Nott from keeping dead people's stuff, but Nott is stubborn.

Anyway, Nott is haunted by the death of his girlfriend Plaa (Focus Jeerakul), who was killed in a bike wreck as the two were fighting. And her last words, "you'll never see me again", haunt him. He's desperate to find a way to communicate with her on the "other side", hence his predilection for collecting curios from corpses. Eventually, Nott is put in touch with an acquaintance of his old school friends, the young woman Modta (Chonnikarn Natejui), who has also suffered a loss of a loved one but has had some success in getting in touch with them. Also, there's Jon, who seems to have a talent for communicating with the dead.

The scares gradually ramp up. There's all that creepy stuff in John's cabinets, and all the horrifying ghosts, putrefied and gross from their various causes of death.

One thing I appreciated about The Eyes Diary was how it sought to build a universe in which belief in ghosts isn't necessarily taken for granted as it is in other ghost flicks. There's a healthy dose of skepticism among the characters. Perhaps, the biggest non-believer is Nott, who despite all the dead people's junk he collects still can't manage to break through and reach Plaa.

It's a solid cast, but the highlight is the two actresses, borrowed from the GTH stock company. Focus, who made her debut as one of the child stars of Fan Chan in 2003, gives a performance that subtly shifts from sweet and vulnerable to terrifying.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tsunami documentary Silent Waters is ready for viewing

This December 26, 10 years will have passed since the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami sent deadly waves rippling through the region, causing much devastation in parts of Thailand that are still struggling to recover.

In observance of the disaster's anniversary comes a new documentary, Silent Waters, directed by Mike Thomas, who held a crowdfunding campaign to complete the film. A Thailand-based English expat, Thomas previously made Living with the Tiger, a documentary on HIV-positive orphans performing in a travelling musical play. His new film Silent Waters is now available for streaming online. Here's the synopsis:

What happened once the waters receded, the beaches were cleaned up and the aid organisations left? Silent Waters provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of fishing communities on an undeveloped Thai island in the Andaman Sea.

The immense power from the waves destroyed the main village of 200 households. Many survivors moved to the mainland, too afraid to return. Those that chose to re-build their lives on the island recap their memories of that fateful day and how they coped after losing their families, homes and livelihood. They talk about their concerns for the future and how their unique lifestyle will likely change with the arrival of electricity.

Silent Waters is also due to be shown on U.K. television on the tsunami's anniversary, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, but anyone can watch it online for $4.99. Check out the trailer, embedded below.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: Vengeance of the Assassin



  • Directed by Panna Rittikrai
  • Starring Chupong Changprung, Nathawut Boonrubsub, Ping Lumpraploeng, Nisachon Tuamsungnoen
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 13, 2014; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5


Vengeance of the Assassin (Rew Talu Rew, เร็วทะลุเร็ว) wasn't supposed to be Panna Rittikrai's last film. It feels more like a middling placeholder, a fun slice of gritty action to tide folks over until something bigger from the director and martial-arts choreographer comes along. Heck, there's even a tag that hints at a sequel to Vengeance of the Assassin, which was completed around a year or so ago and kept in the vaults of Sahamongkolfilm. Sadly, Panna passed away in July at age 53 of liver ailments. So a sequel seems unlikely.

Vengeance of the Assassin also harks back to the original backyard stunt movies Panna made in the 1980s and '90s, before he blew up big in 2003 with his protege Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak, which made Panna a household name among action cultists worldwide. Before then, Panna's rough-and-tumble direct-to-VCD offerings were mainly only viewed in his native Northeastern Thailand, and were popular among farmers, truckers, cab drivers and laborers hailing from the Isaan region.

And the opening scene of Vengeance of the Assassin could be viewed as a standalone, a beautiful and moving tribute to Panna's talent at staging martial-arts setpieces. It has everything the late stunt guru became known for. The scene involves young guys squaring off at a game of indoor soccer, with deadly consquences. Panna dusts off all his tricks, with fighters swooping in from outside the frame to converge in a mass of swinging limbs and bone-crunching sound effects. Water is spraying everywhere, and there's tons of glass to break, for no apparent reason other than it just looks cool. With each moment, Panna one-ups himself, and for the players, the risks become greater and greater until they are essentially playing soccer in a lake of gasoline next to a red-hot charcoal grill. Boom!

"Diew" Chupong Changprung, who made his debut with Panna's first big mainstream directorial effort, 2004's, Born to Fight as well as another top-shelf Panna project, Dynamite Warrior, stars. He's Thee, a young man seeking answers about the death of his parents. Thee's drunken auto-mechanic uncle (scene-hogging comedian Ping Lumpraploeng) is mum on the details but his daily afternoon Beer Leo stupor makes it easy for Thee to sneak into a secret room and find clues.

So Thee lights out on his own, tracking down a mysterious Buddhist monk who knew his parents. He then bumps into a cardigan-clad man who is a member of a league of assassins. Brooding Thee joins this shadowy band of killers in zipper sweaters. But it's anything but a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

The plot becomes a bit muddled, but it boils down to Thee being framed for trying to kill Ploy, the daughter of a politically connected bigwig, and he has to go on the run with the girl (bright-eyed newcomer Nisachon Tuamsungnoen).

His quest for revenge and refuge leads him back home to his uncle and brother Than, who are reluctantly drawn into Thee's fight. Ploy's family doctor, a Chinese healer named Master Sifu, also ably pitches in. A fierce fighter, he's portrayed by a Malaysian actor, but I missed the fellow's name in the credits.

Nathawut Boonrubsub, who made his debut as a pint-sized warrior in 2009's Power Kids – another Panna project – is in fine form as Thee's kid brother Than. He teaches himself martial-arts moves and gun-fu by watching old videotapes of his parents that his uncle had hidden.

Bad guys clad in black are literally coming out of the woodwork as martial-arts battles ensue in the confines of greasy garages, grimy factories and abandoned office buildings.

Among the villains Thee and Than have to tangle with is an imposing female assassin portrayed by Diew's Born to Fight co-star, former taekwondo national athlete "Nui" Kessarin Ektawatkul. She's having a blast as the oversexed lead baddie, but her threat is short-lived. She has a boyfriend with a neck tattoo who takes over for her in the fight.

There's a lot of gunplay. And a gratuitous number of car chases. And a big setpiece atop a moving passenger train that is probably 90 percent CGI, but is still great fun. There's thrills and painful-looking spills aplenty during the train sequence, which involves the uncle and the Chinese healer chasing along in a Land Rover filled with machine guns and a misfiring RPG. Then a helicopter swoops in and it all goes crazy.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

EXpatZ sets Thai premiere


ExpatZ, a short film made in Thailand that has been screening and winning awards at fests worldwide, will make its Bangkok premiere next week at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.

Directed by Jimmie Wing, ExpatZ is a psychedelic horror-comedy mash-up set in the totally fictional country of Wighland, which bears no resemblance at all to Thailand. Nope. Not one bit. Anyway, in this strange land, a foreign TV journalist encounters all sorts of colorful characters as he tracks down a rogue retired American military officer.

Here's more details:

A foreign television reporter specializes in interviewing bizarre foreigners living in Wighland. The reporter and his local partner, Professor Roasted Squid, take off to find an especially peculiar retired American military officer. Ordinarily, the boss of a local hamburger joint, the retired officer hides a secret culinary technology. When a few of the reporter’s jealous "friends" show up on the scene, they get caught up in a long and unexpectedly strange trip. The hilarious antics and cross-cultural relationships of these crazy white people perfectly set the scene for this wild adventure.

In awarding Jimmie Wing's film the grand prize for best short film, the Urban Nomad Film Festival (Taiwan’s largest independent film confab) said, "Adopting a humorous and visually alluring style, EXpatZ describes the strange and twisted stories of Westerners in Asia and the adventures of one Asian people’s turnabout in fortunes. The film is a satire on the ridiculousness of the superiority of white people and lampoons standards of racial stereotyping. Through extreme subversion and sabotage, EXpatZ presents a multi-faceted view of the relative relationship between the West and Asia within the ecology of Southeast Asian colonialism.”

The screening is set for Wednesday, November 19, at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. The event starts at 6pm with hamburgers, followed by the film at 7pm. Wing will talk and answer questions later, along with co-leads Soontorn Meesri and Lex Luther. Kamonrat Ladseeta, who plays Madame Quoits, the wife of Commander Quoits (Darren Potter), will also field questions.

Check out the trailer, embedded below.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: So Be It



  • Directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee
  • Starring Sorawit William Caudullo, Bundit Laocharoeysuk, Phra Sanan Titameto, Phra Marhalatsiam Thammutasiu
  • Limited release at House cinema in Bangkok on October 30, 2014; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasmee harnesses his flair for telling engaging stories about unusual people with So Be It (A-Wang, เอวัง ), his first feature documentary.

It's about Buddhism, but it isn't preachy. There are no talking-head interviews like ordinary documentaries. There's pleasant images of shaven-headed men and boys in saffron, but there's more to it than that. Its accessibility is boosted by clear, high-definition images and polished editing and post-production. A burbling acoustic guitar soundtrack provides ear candy, gently spurring the story along.

Like his narrative features, Kongdej takes an unconventional approach to his subjects. No lost elephant, or three-armed man, or cabaret dancers with amnesia. Here, there's two very real Thai boys from very different backgrounds. Their whose lives are entwined in Buddhism. Although it's an unscripted documentary, the story clicks along as if everyone is reading from one of Kongdej's weird but higlyh compelling screenplays.

It also helps that one of the stars is a celebrity, William, a half-Thai 7-year-old boy, went viral on social networks when he appeared on the TrueVisions reality series Samanean Pruk Panya, which followed boys as they become novice monks.

The other boy is Bundit, 10-year-old son of a Karen family. His family is poor and they sent him to live at Wat Sa Kaeo, a well-known Buddhist temple and boarding school in central Thailand's Ang Thong province.

Parallels are drawn to the stories of these two different boys with help from a Buddhist parable that's related in intertext titles, about Sakka and Pura, monks who each struggled with attaining enlightenment. Sakka seeks to hunt for answers outside the temple, while Pura remains inside, yet whatever peace he's looking for is elusive.

In the TrueVisions series, William is shown at first being bratty, impatient and hot-tempered, spoiling for a fight with another novice who taunts him. But as the spiritual practices of meditation and mindfulness take hold, William's demeanor changes, and he becomes genuinely interested in learning more about Buddhism, and thinks he might want to be a monk when he grows up. Back at school, he's chosen to lead the Buddhism club. With the kind support of his Thai mother and American father, he takes a trip to the rural northern temple of prominent monk Phra Sanan Titameto, who was featured on the TV series. William spends time as a temple boy and watching the monk's every move.


Bundit, who is introduced while he's in a classroom watching the TV show with William, is also bratty and hot-tempered, yet there's nothing anyone can do to control him. A rebellious little gangster who has issues with authority figures, Bundit skips classes, ducks off campus to go swimming in the river and sneaks out of the dormitory at night to sleep elsewhere. He is not the least interested in learning about Buddhism. For him, monkhood is a punishment.

While William makes morning alms rounds with the uncle-like Phra Sanan, Bundit is granted leave by his temple's abbot to visit his home, accompanied by an older relative boy. The angry little Bundit seems happier at the rustic wooden homestead, where the family hand-raises corn and chickens. But, overburdened with other mouths to feed, they can't afford to keep William there. So he must go back to school. And that anger, manifested by a scary look in Bundit's eyes, returns.

And like the monks in the Sakka and Pura tale, enlightment doesn't come easily for the devout and ever-curious William, and his time as a temple boy seems to have raised more questions than answers.

A documentary, So Be It might seem like an odd fit alongside Kongdej's other work, which includes commercial screenplays like Tony Jaa's lost-elephant tale Tom-Yum-Goong or the amnesiac transgender tale Me Myself, and the three-armed romance Handle Me With Care. It's closer in tone to Kongdej's more recent ventures into independent filmmaking, which he and producer Soros Sukhum kicked off with the weird P-047, about two guys – spirituality seekers of a sort – who break into people's apartments and "borrow" their lives while they are away. So Be It is also an examination of contemporary Thai culture, such as Kongdej's most recent narrative feature, Tang Wong, which had bratty teenage schoolboys struggling to learn a traditional Thai dance.

With So Be It, which was produced in part by cable-television company TrueVisions and intended for broadcast, Kongdej finds another angle for examination and reflection.


Related posts:

Y/Our Music is coming to Bangkok


The unusual documentary Y/Our Music attracted positive buzz when it screened at the Busan International Film Festival this year, and it's set for a Bangkok screening this Saturday.

The venue, also a bit unsual, is The Space Bangkok, above the 7-Eleven at Klong San Plaza, next to Hilton Millenium Bangkok. Should be ferries and hotel boats that cross the river to take you there. It runs from 7 to 11.45pm. A "laid back" evening is promised, with Isaan music to follow by Mahidolwatit khaen band.

Directed by David Reeve and Waraluck Hiransrettawat, the documentary covers a diverse array of musicians all around Thailand, from "leftfield to rice field".

With post-production funds from the Busan fest's Asian Network of Documentary and the Asian Cinema Fund, the film was made on a shoestring budget, with begged and borrowed equipment.

Check out the trailer.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

So Be It, The Eyes Diary, The Couple open in Thai cinemas


It's a big week for new Thai films in Bangkok cinemas, with the release of three movies.

Among the crop is the latest from Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, his documentary So Be It. And, owing to Halloween, there's two horror films, The Eyes Diary, which sees Chookiat Sakveerakul returning to his horror roots, and The Couple, the sophomore release of the indie-film shingle Talent 1.

In So Be It (A-Wangเอวัง), two very different boys – a poor hilltribe youngster and a half-Thai reality-TV star – ordain as novice Buddhist monks. The half-Thai, half-farang kid William was featured on the TrueVisions’ reality series Plook Panya Dharma Novice, which followed the daily lives of novice monks. After his stint on the series, he returns to the temple on his own to continue his studies into the Buddhist faith. Meanwhile, there's Bundit, a Karen boy whose family is too poor to afford schooling. So he's sent to the Buddhist boarding school, but is uncomfortable and tries to leave.

The third indie-film effort by Kongdej, So Be It premiered at the recent Busan International Film Festival, which had supported the project through the Asian Cinema Fund. Variety gave it a good review. The Nation has more about it today. It's at House on RCA. Check out the trailer below.





The Eyes Diary (คนเห็นผีKon Hen Pee), directed by Chukiat, stars Parama Im-anothai as a young guy whose girlfriend (Focus Jeerakul) dies in a motorbike wreck after they had a fight. He’s desperate to communicate with her "on the other side", so he seeks help from a young woman (Chonnikarn Natejui) who's had a similar experience.

Not to be confused with the Pang brothers' Eye franchise, The Eyes Diary marks a return to horror by Chookiat, who has garnered much acclaim for his sprawling family and friendship dramas like The Love of Siam and last year's Grean Fictions. But he got his start with thrillers, such as his 2004 horror Pisaj and the twisting 2006 thriller 13 Game Sayong, which was recently remade by Hollywood as 13 Sins.
There's an English-subtitled trailer already.




In The Couple (รัก ลวง หลอนRak Luang Lon), a newlywed bride is possessed by the evil spirit of her sister-in-law. Sucha Manaying, Pitchaya Nithipisarnkul and Mali Coates star.

This is the second feature from Talent 1, which made its bow last year with the well-received thriller Last Summer. The indie film label is run by producer Ladawan Ratanadilokchai, who takes a different approach to her films. She had a hand in the script, with help from indie filmmaking talents Kongdej Jaturanrasmee (who also has So Be It opening at House this week), Pimpaka Towira and Sivaroj Kongsakul.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WFFBKK 2014 review: Somboon


  • Directed by Krisda Tipchaimeta
  • Starring Somboon Ruekkhumyee, Lamaid Ruekkhumyee
  • Opening film of 12th World Film Festival of Bangkok, October 24, 2014
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

A bittersweet and gentle documentary, Somboon (ปู่สมบรูณ์ , Poo Somboon), is a portrait of a couple in their winter years, with the husband devoted to caring for his chronically ailing wife.

The debut feature of 28-year-old film-school graduate Krisda Tipchaimeta, Somboon was filmed over the course of four years, and follows the daily routine of the elderly Somboon as he tends to the needs of Miad, his wife of more than 45 years. Suffering from kidney disease, among many other ailments, Miad undergoes dialysis treatments at home. It's a laborious process for Somboon, who administers the kidney flush every four hours, in addition to bathing his wife and tending to her other needs. It's unflinching, warts and all, as the nude woman is gently and patiently washed on her front doorstep.

There's a visit to the hospital, a 30-mile trip that Somboon and Miad must complete each month. They leave their rustic riverside home in Ayutthaya and go by tuk-tuk, the three-wheel motorized rickshaw that's common on Thai roads. And it's quite a process to get the heavy-set wheelchair-bound woman in and out of the vehicle.

The medical treatments are interspersed with solo interviews with Somboon, a wiry, terrier-like gentleman, still sharply handsome. With a gleam in his eye, he recalls his early life and the arranged marriage with Miad.

On its face, Somboon does not appear to be political, nor does it offer any overt commentary on Thai society. Nonetheless, there probably is a message in there somewhere about the rickety state of Thai public health policies, but the documentary also speaks volumes about the strength and closeness of the family unit.

Politics do come up eventually, courtesy of the 2011 flood that inundated the Central Plains and suburban Bangkok. Ayutthaya bore much of the brunt of the flooding, as authorities sought to spare Bangkok from the deluge. So we see news footage Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (ousted earlier this year and eventually replaced by a military coup) touring the floods. Especially revealing is a daughter's epic journey through the floods, hiring boats herself to bring much-needed medical supplies to Somboon.

With Ayutthaya largely cut off, it was up to Somboon's family to keep the documentary going, so footage shot during this time was done with a consumer-grade camera, and the resulting images are grainy. So when the footage switches back to the director's own high-resolution camera, it's dramatic, but also somber because circumstances for Somboon have changed, and a new stage of life for him has begun.

Somboon follows a trend in Thai cinema, with indie filmmakers getting increasingly bold with their depictions of family life. Other examples have included Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul's Mother, the films of Sivaroj Kongsakul and the early shorts of Chulayarnnon Siriphol, who courageously put their own families on the screen. Krisda, on the other hand, was turned onto Somboon by a film professor, but with the family helping out and giving consent, his film has the same intimate feel as those others. Perhaps Krisda and his producers can find a way to engage Somboon and include him in their next project?

See also:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: Fin Sugoi


  • Directed by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit
  • Starring Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Makoto Koshinaka, Settapong Piangpor, Supanart Jittaleela, Nawapol Lampoon
  • Released in Thai cinemas on September 25, 2014; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any cases where directors and their lead actresses might have shared the same shade of lipstick. But if there have been any such cinematic cosmetic collaborations, it's unlikely they were as fruitful as Love Sud Fin Sugoi (ฟินสุโค่ย), an eye-poppingly slick romantic comedy by Tanwarin Sukkahpisit and starring Apinya Sakuljaroensuk.

"Saipan" Apinya, who memorably made her debut in 2007 with an Afro hairstyle in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy, has long been a favorite actress of Thailand's indie directors, turning in solidly dramatic performances in such films as I Carried You Home and most recently in Concrete Clouds. She's had supporting roles in a dozen or so Thai mainstream comedies and romances, but none have allowed her to stretch her talents like she does in Fin Sugoi.

Working for the first time with popular director "Golf" Tanwarin, Saipan and the transgender director seem to have inspired each other.

With bright red lipstick, long straight black hair and a goth-rock wardrobe possibly borrowed from Golf, Saipan gives a force-of-nature performance as Noona, a domineering young Thai woman who is obsessed with Japanese rock star Makoto. But when her screaming-schoolgirl devotion to the hair-metal singer goes too far, her long-time boyfriend, the jealous judo-practicing Khrong (Tao Settapong) calls it quits. Noona then wins a chance to star in a music video with Makato, but she's torn by her feelings for Khrong and misgivings when romance with her rock idol becomes all too real.


Meanwhile, everyone in Noona's close circle of friends is looking for love in all the wrong places. Noona's best friend, the tomboy folksinger and pub owner Ham (Yes or No star Tina Suppanart) has attracted the attention of platonic guy pal Tong (Guy Nawapol), but lesbian Ham has long held a hidden torch for the glamorous Noona. And the hot-headed Khrong is tentatively crushed on by stepbrother Noi, who is still unsure about his sexuality, even as his best friend Toh good-naturedly flirts with him. And an orange-haired girl (Chicha Ammartyakun) who's always hanging around Ham's music pub is on the sidelines, waiting to scoop up whatever guy is left broken-hearted by Noona and Ham.

Fans of the cult-hit lesbian romance Yes or No get a scene made just for them, with a dream sequence involving Tina Suppanart that demonstrates just how sexually flexible Noona and her friends might be.

Fin Sugoi touches on several trends and issues in contemporary Thai culture. The backdrop is Thai society's continuing fascination with Japanese culture, especially J-rock, the '90s-style hair metal that's been popular in Thailand a lot longer and seems way cooler than the more-recent South Korean pop imports.

The romance is also a relaxed look at sexuality and the fluid nature of relationships with family and friends. And there's a look at how the media are manipulated into reporting on scandals by unscrupulous managers hoping to drum up publicity for their celebrities.


The film hooks audiences in with a fast and furious first half, punctuated by tasty licks of Japanese rock. The soundtrack then turns to quiet piano and guitar ballads for a slower second half that has Khong trying to win back Noona's heart and Noona feeling conflicted about her romance with the much-older Makoto. Portrayed by the actual musician, the frontman for Lucifer and now the Trick Band, Makoto turns out to be a bit creepy even if he seems geniunely sweet. The pace slackens a bit too much toward the end, leaving me to wonder if a bit of tightening here and there could have trimmed the 110-minute running time. But that's my only quibble.

It's an attractive production, offering a glimpse of the colorful cos-play scene in Bangkok's Siam Square, lounging for drinks and music in one of the city's trendy Thai pubs (the kind with antiques and weird stuff on the walls) and taking in the energy of a J-rock show, where the screaming fans are as big a part as what's onstage. There's even a beautifully framed dream journey or flashback to Japan, where Noona and Khong first fell in love.

A music-video shoot offers more chances for Saipan to don different costumes and wigs, each a jaw-dropping revelation. As a humorous aside, the music video's grumpy director is actual music-video director Alongod "Book" Uabhaibool.

At the local box office, Fin Sugoi hasn't performed all that strong, earning just around 5 million baht at last count. However, the film had its world premiere in Japan, back in March at the Osaka Film Festival, and it's at fests like that where Fin Sugoi will likely be most appreciated.


See also:


Bangkok Cinema Scene special: World Film Festival of Bangkok, October 17-26


The 12th World Film Festival of Bangkok opens this Friday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld with Somboon, a documentary by young Thai director Krisda Tipchaimeta that follows the lives of Grandpa Somboon and Granny Miad, a couple married for 45 years. With Miad suffering from acute kidney disease, Somboon stays by her side, providing constant care.

Among the highlights of the festival are entries from this year's Cannes Film Festival, including Jean Luc-Godard's latest, Goodbye to Language, an experimental 3D drama, and Mommy, by French-Canadian badboy Xavier Dolan. Both films were jury prize winners at Cannes. Also from Cannes is The Blue Room, a fresh adaptation of the Georges Simenon crime novel by Mathieu Almaric, about childhood friends reunited as adulterous lovers.

Two French classics will unspool, Godard's 1965 comedy, Pierrot le Fou and from 1980, Francois Truffaut's World War II drama The Last Metro. The fest will also screen the newly restored version of Metropolis, with footage rediscovered a few years ago.

There's a block of French animation in a festival sidebar, the French-Thai Animation Rendezvous, which offers five recent French animated features in various styles – A Cat in Paris, The Congress, the 3D Minuscule, Valley of the Lost Ants, Ernest and Celestine and Tales of the Night.

Another festival sidebar groups together Israel films, going back as far as 1988's Aviya's Summer up to 2013's Cupcakes. Others are The Band's Visit, A Matter of Size, Noodle and Footnote.

There's the Cine Latino and Cinema Beat programs, which feature entries from across Latin America, the US, Canada and beyond. The selection includes the Sundance winner Whiplash, which will also get a general release in Thai cinemas.

Other festival sections include Doc Feast, Asian Contemporary and Short Wave.

The fest closes on October 26 with The Tale of Princess Kaguya, a new anime feature from Japan's Studio Ghibli.

Tickets cost Bt120. There are 500 special packages offering five movies for Bt500.

This year, for the first time, the World Film Festival of Bangkok will have many films with both Thai and English subtitles, which will travel to the provinces, taking a selection of movies on Blu-ray to SF cinemas in Khon Kaen from November 7 to 9, Pattaya from November 14 to 16 and Chiang Mai from November 20 to 23.

Find out more at www.WorldFilmBkk.com.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fan Chan, Nang Nak, Monrak Transistor, Mysterious Object, Santi-Veena added to Registry

The Culture Ministry and the Thai Film Archive have added another 25 films to the National Film Heritage Registry, running from 1897's visit to Stockholm by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to 2003's smash-hit childhood drama Fan Chan and including 1953's Santi-Veena, which was thought for years to be lost.

The oldest entry, King Rama V visits Stockholm, is footage that was found last year. According to Film Archive director Dome Sukwong it is one of the two oldest surviving filmed records of Thais. The other, a 2011 Registry entry, is Rama V's visit to Berne, Switzerland, also in 1897, by Francois-Henri Lavancy-Clarke. In Sweden, pioneering cinematographer Ernest Florman captured Chulalongkorn and King Oscar II greeting each other with kisses.

Established in 2011, the film registry now numbers 100 entries. The latest additions were announced by Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat on October 4 at the Archive.

This year's listing also includes Apichatpong Weerasekthakul's debut Mysterious Object at Noon, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Monrak Transistor and Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak, Oscar-submitted social-issue dramas by M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol and Bhandit Rittakol and two films with cinematography by pioneering auteur R.D. Pestonji.

Among Pestonji's films is the 1953 drama Santi-Veena, which had been feared lost.

Sanchai Chotirosseranee, deputy archive director, said that copies of Santi-Veena were recently discovered at Gosfilmofond in Russia and at the China Film Archive. "We are now trying to do digital restoration," Sanchai says.

A romantic drama, Santi-Veena was the first Thai film to win awards overseas, grabbing four prizes at the 1954 Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo, including best cinematography for Pestonji, who was awarded a Mitchell camera. In a quirk of history, he was charged $5,000 tax for the $16,000 camera. Also, the filmmakers were fined 1,000 baht by Thai authorities for failing to clear the film with censors before exhibiting it overseas. The camera is now the centerpiece of an exhibit with a wax figure of Pestonji at the archive's Thai Film Museum.

In the following list, Sanchai adds information about some of the lesser-known entries.


2014 Registry of Films as National Heritage

  1. King Rama V visits Stockholm, (ร. ๕ เสด็จประพาสกรุงสต็อกโฮล์ม ), 1897 – Cinematographer Ernest Florman filmed the meeting of Chulalongkorn and Sweden's King Oscar II. 
  2. Siamese Society, 1920 – A record of Siamese tradition and culture by noted travelogue maker Burton Holmes. 
  3. King Rama VII Visits Indochine (เสด็จอินโดจีน พ.ศ. ๒๔๗๓ ), 1930 – The film is also the first football match between the Siamese national side and Saigon's team.
  4. Sound Patch Work, 1930 – Introduces the first Thai radio station in Phaya Thai Palace.
  5. Past Pattani (ปัตตานีในอดีต ), 1936 – Depicts tourist attractions, the constitution ceremony and a boxing match between famous fighters Saman and Sompong. 
  6. Handful of Rice (ข้าวกํามือเดียว), 1940 – A Swedish filmmaking team was invited by high-society northerners. Shot in Chiang Mai, it shows the importance of Thai rice.
  7. Pry Ta Khean (พรายตะเคียน ), 1940 – The oldest surviving Thai ghost film includes many comic gags that are used in Thai horror comedies to this day.
  8. The Birthday Ceremony of Major General Luang Piboon Songkarm, the Prime Minister at The Parliament at Suan Kulap Palace (งานวันชาตะ นายพลตรีหลวงพิบูลสงคราม นายกรัฐมนตรี ณ ทําเนียบ วังสวนกุหลาบ ), 1941 
  9. Brother (พี่ชาย ), 1951 – Adapted from a stage play, the film starred many important Thai actors.
  10. Jumruen–Jimmy (จําเริญ -จิมมี่ , 1953 – World-champion boxer Jimmy arrives in Bangkok to face his opponent Jumruen.
  11. Santi–Veena (สันติ -วีณา , 1953 – Directed by Tawee "Kru Marut" na Bangchang with a screenplay by Vichit Kounavudhi and cinematography by R.D. Pestonji, it won three prizes at the 1954 Asia Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo, the first Thai film to be awarded overseas.
  12. Forever Yours (ชั่วฟ้าดินสลาย, Chua Fah Din Salai), 1954 – Kru Marut with cinematographer R.D. Pestonji directed this adaptation of Malai Choopiniji's novel about adulterous young lovers chained together. 
  13. Poor Millionaire (เศรษฐีอนาถา ), 1956 – The winning Best Thai Film of the first national film awards in 1957.
  14. Envy Love (รักริษยา, Rak Ritsaya), 1957 – A romantic drama starring 1954 Miss Thailand Universe Ammara Assawanon, a.k.a. "the Thai Elizabeth Taylor".
  15. Rice Carriage, Threshing Rice, Rice Mill, Wedding in Southern Thailand, (หาบข้าว นวดข้าว สีข้าว แต่งงานภาคใต้ ), 1968-69 – A record of many interesting Thai rice customs.
  16. Virginity Market (ตลาดพรหมจารีย์ , Talad Prom Charee, 1973 – Veteran director Sakka Charuchinda's drama criticizes male hegemony in Thai society with a story about a fisherman who sells his stepdaughter to buy a new motor. 
  17. Chinatown Montage (สําเพ็ง, Sampeng), 1982 – Surapong Pinijkhar directs this pioneering experimental look at Bangkok's Chinatown, from morning to night.
  18. Silhouette of God (คนทรงเจ้า , Kon Song Jao), 1989 – Jazz Siam's social-issue drama for Five Star Production takes a critical view of black-magic beliefs in Thai society. Classic screen couple Santisuk Promsiri and Chintara Sukapatana star.
  19. The Elephant Keeper (คนเลี้ยงช้าง , Kon Liang Chang), 1990 – M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol addresses environmental issues in this gritty action-drama about a mahout (Sorapong Chatree) who takes his elephant to work in the illegal timber trade. It was a submission to the Academy Awards.
  20. Rolling Stones, กลิ้งไว้ก่อนพ่อสอนไว้ , Gling Wai Kon Por Son Wai, 1991 – A famous teen film by director "King" Somching Srisuparp.
  21. Once Upon a Time ... In the Morning (กาลครั้งหนึ่งเมื่อเช้านี้ , Kalla Khrung Nueng ... Muea Chao Nee), 1994 – Another Oscar submission, Bhandit Rittakol's social-issue drama deals with children who run away from their divorcee mother (Chintara Sukapatana). They fall in with gangsters as they travel cross-country to find their father (Santisuk Promsiri).
  22. Nang Nak (นางนาก ), 1999 – Nonzee Nimibutr's adaptation of the famous ghost story of Mae Nak of Phra Khanong was a box-office hit and swept up most of the National Film Association Awards, the Netpac Award at Rotterdam and several prizes at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival.
  23. Mysterious Object at Noon (ดอกฟ้าในมือมาร, Dokfa Nai Meuman), 2000 – Winner of awards in Fribourg, Yamagata and Vancouver, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's debut feature is an experimental documentary in which a film crew travels the length of Thailand, getting various folks to take part in an "exquisite corpse" storytelling exercise.
  24. Monrak Transistor (มนต์รักทรานซิสเตอร์), 2001 – An Oscar submission and winner at festivals and the National Film Association Awards, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's sprawling musical-comedy-drama pays tribute to singer Suraphol Sombatcharoen with a story about a young man who goes AWOL from the army and leaves his wife in order to be a big luk thung star.
  25. Fan Chan (แฟนฉัน, a.k.a. My Girl), 2003 – The smash-hit childhood drama launched the careers of six young directors and led to the formation of the GTH studio.

Related posts:



Monday, October 6, 2014

Busan 2014: White Light, VS Service join for Open Sea Fund

Two Bangkok-based film-services companies, film editor Lee Chatametikool's White Light post-production house and the venerable VS Service, have joined to start the Open Sea Fund, which is touted as Southeast Asia's first regional film fund.

Here's more from a press released issued today:

Open Sea Fund is Southeast Asia’s first regional film fund. A pioneering collaboration between White Light and VS Service, Open Sea Fund will initially support two feature film projects per year – one in production and one in post-production.

VS Service will provide a full camera, lighting and grip package for a feature film to be shot in Thailand. White Light will offer a color grading and DCP package for a feature. The deadline for submissions is the end of November 2014, with the aim for projects to be completed in 2015.

“Thailand has profited immensely from being the post-production center of Southeast Asia,” says White Light’s Lee Chatametikool. “With the Open Sea Fund, we want to give back to the region by opening up funding opportunities for both unknown and established Southeast Asian filmmakers.”

“VS has already been active in funding local films, but we were looking for a more comprehensive way for filmmakers to take its projects from production all the way to post,” says VS Service’s Pete Smithsuth. “Our collaboration with White Light is the perfect answer – projects with some funding in place would benefit from our production support and become good candidates for further post-production support.”

Representatives from Open Sea fund will be present at the Busan Film Festival’s Asian Film Market.

For more information contact openseafund@gmail.com.

White Light is a maverick post-house founded five years ago by five leading Thai cinematographers, film editors and post-production supervisors. Recent projects include Hollow by Vietnam's Ham Tran, Men Who Save the World by Malaysia's Liew Seng Tat, The Second Life of Thieves by Malaysia's Woo Ming Jin, Taksu by Japan's Kiki Sugino, Riverof Exploding Durians by Malaysia's Edmund Yeo and As You Were by Singapore's Jiekai Liao, as well as Concrete Clouds, Lee's own directorial debut. He's also a partner in Mosquito Films Distribution, which has added Thieves and Durians to its slate of titles.

VS Service was founded in 1985 and is mostly known for supporting foreign productions, including The Beach, The Hangover Part II, American Gangster and The Rocket. But in the past year or so, VS Service has raised its profile among the indie-film community in Thailand through several initiatives, including a new award at this year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival. It's now headed by second-generation owner Pete Pithai Smithsuth.

Update: The Open Sea Fund has a Facebook page.

Busan 2014: Mosquito puts Thieves, Exploding Durians, So Be It and W on autumn slate

River of Exploding Durians premieres at the Tokyo film fest.

Mosquito Films Distribution, the indie film shingle launched earlier this year by several prominent Thai filmmakers, is expanding its reach in Southeast Asia, announcing the addition of two Malaysian entries to its slate of titles being promoted at autumn film festivals.

At Busan, the Mosquitos are touting The Second Life of Thieves by Malaysia's Woo Ming Jin, along with two new Thai features, W by Chonlasit Upanigkit and So Be It by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee. They'll also be at the Tokyo International Film Festival with River of Exploding Durians, the debut feature of Malaysia's Edmund Yeo.

Here's more from a press release yesterday:

Says Woo, “Edmund and I are excited to work with Mosquito. We are in good hands and look forward to a long-term relationship with them. I believe this is a collaboration that will serve not just Malaysian and Thai cinema, but also Southeast Asian cinema in general. Together, we can share more of our films with the rest of the world”.

The Second Life of Thieves is Woo’s highly-anticipated fifth feature while River of Exploding Durians is Yeo’s debut after many award-winning shorts. The two filmmakers collaborate closely on all their films with each taking the producing role while the other is directing.

Says Mosquito’s Aditya Assarat, “All of us Southeast Asians are making films under the same circumstances. Because of this, we share the same DIY spirit that is behind Mosquito Films to begin with. After launching the company in January with our own titles, we’re proud to take our first step towards representing regional films by partnering with the prolific Greenlight Pictures.”

In addition to Aditya, other partners in Mosquito Films Distribution are Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pimpaka Towira, Soros Sukhum, Anocha Suwichakornpong and Lee Chatametikool.

The Second Life of Thieves has intertwining relationships of one man who discovers his wife has disappeared with his friend – a man he had a secret relationship for decades. He in turn forms an unlikely friendship with his friend's daughter. "They embark on an emotional journey that will open old and new wounds alike. Juxtaposing between present day and 30 years in the past, The Second Life of Thieves is a meditation on love, loss, and regret."

River of Exploding Durians, the first Malaysian film selected for the main competition of the Tokyo International Film Festival, is set in a coastal town is turned upside down by the construction of a radioactive rare earth plant. An idealistic teacher and a group of high school students find themselves battling for the soul of their hometown. "Based on real-life events, River of Exploding Durians is a sweeping tale of Malaysian history and its youth, where people are enveloped by politics and sadness while searching for love."

So Be It, meanwhile, is Kongdej's followup to his award-winning teen social drama Tang Wong. Here, he looks at two young boys, a seven-year-old city kid who is the star of a reality show and an 11-year-old hilltribe boy who become novice monks. "A documentary fiction hybrid film that uses as its starting point a popular TV show and ends up becoming a coming-of-age story of two boys from vastly different backgrounds."

And W, the debut feature of 24-year-old film editor Chonlasit Upanigkit, focuses on a young woman struggling with her first year of college as she and her new friends say goodbye to their youth and get ready to embrace an uncertain future. "The film is an epic of Thai college life made as the thesis project of the director at his university in the outskirts of Bangkok."

More about W and another Busan entry That Day of the Month, can be found at the Bangkok Post.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Filmvirus puts Chulayarnnon Siriphol in spotlight

Chulayarnnon Siriphol is a perennial award winner at the Thai Short Film and Video Festival, where his films, usually satiric views on Thai society, are a highlight. They include documentaries, spoof documentaries and experimental films.

This Saturday, Filmvirus and the Reading Room offer a chance to see a bunch of them all at once with Wildtype Masterclass 001: Fuck Alligator.

The selection goes back as far as 2005 with Golden Sand House, and includes his 2008 winning student film Danger (Director's Cut)2011's award winners Mrs. Nuan Who Can Recall Her Past Lives and A Brief History of Memory and this year's award-winner Myth of Modernity.

There are two programs, at 1 and 3.30pm, followed at 6 by a masterclass and talk by Chulayarnnon.

The venue is the Reading Room, a fourth-floor walk-up gallery on Silom Soi 19, opposite Silom Center.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Teacher's Diary chalked up for the Oscars

The sweet, sentimental romance The Teacher's Diary
(คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya) has been submitted as Thailand's entry to the 87th Academy Awards, the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand has announced.

Directed by Nithiwat Tharatorn, the comedy-drama follows the slowly intertwining stories of two lonely teachers, a young woman and a young man, who are posted to the same rural school a year apart. Sukrit "Bie" Wisetkaew is a bumbling-but-enthusiastic ex-jock who is assigned to the remote floating schoolhouse. Cut off from such modern conveniences as electricity and telephone service, Song takes to reading an illustrated diary left by his predecessor Ann, and he slowly falls in love with her. Song later moves on, and when the headstrong and opinionated Ann (Chermarn "Ploy" Boonyasak) returns to her old post, she finds the battered diary has been expanded upon, and she develops feelings for Song, even though the two have never met.

Released in March by the GTH studio, The Teacher's Diary was a hit at the box office, and was the No. 1 film for two weeks with earnings of more than $3 million.

The 21st Thai entry into the Oscars' foreign-language division, The Teacher's Diary follows last year's submission, the thriller Countdown, which was also from GTH. Other Oscar submissions from GTH include 2009's Best of Times by Youngyooth Thongkonthun and 2005's The Tin Mine by Jira Maligool.

Thailand began submitting Oscar hopefuls in 1985, intermittingly at first, but annually from 1997, with entries by such names as MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, Bhandit Rittakol, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. So far, none have made the final short list of nominees.

Update: The Nation's Soopsip column has more background on the choice. Tang Wong would have been the first choice, but it was released just two days too early for next year's Oscars (it should have been chosen last year, I think). Other contenders were Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy and The Last Executioner. They garnered votes of 4-3, while Teacher's Diary got a 5-2 vote from the Federation committee.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Concrete Clouds


  • Directed by Lee Chatametikool
  • Starring Ananda Everingham, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Janesuda Parnto, Prawith Hansten
  • Limited release in Thai cinemas on September 18, 2014; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Like its English title, Concrete Clouds, the movie Phawang Rak (ภวังค์รัก)0 is full of contradictions. It’s breezy, but deals with heavy emotions. It’s a romance, but there’s little real love. It feels unstructured, even though the minds behind it have very specific ideas about what they want to say and how they want to say it.

The much-anticipated directorial debut by long-time film editor Lee Chatametikool, Concrete Clouds is set during the complex and uncertain days of the 1997 financial crisis. It feels newer, yet is somehow still timeless.

Ananda Everingham stars as Mutt, a currency trader in New York who must suddenly return to Bangkok when his father takes a shortcut to the ground floor from the roof of his four-storey shophouse. After the funeral, Mutt tries to reconnect with Sai (Janesuda Parnto), his old girlfriend from high school. Meanwhile his younger brother Nic (Prawith Hansten) has struck up a relationship with Poupee (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), a teenager who lives in a low-income flat behind their shophouse.


They are all conflicted characters. Mutt, who quite possibly enriched himself and his New York firm by betting on the Thai economy’s downfall, has a Westerner girlfriend back in the Big Apple. Yet he’s pursuing Sai, an actress and model in the midst of remaking herself as a businesswoman. But she’s not as happy nor as successful as she appears to be, and her pricey riverfront condo sits mostly empty.

Nic is too young to know what he wants out of life. Much younger than Mutt, he has little in common with his brother. Mutt, sitting at this father’s old desk, lectures the boy, in English, basically telling him it’s time to get out of Thailand. Mutt, who wants rid of the rundown family home, seeks to uproot Nic.

Poupee, meanwhile, is introduced while inhaling the vapours of a pink ya ba pill, which she quickly puts away when cops show up on the roof of the house across from hers. It seems likely she’ll follow her sister into the bar industry, but is content for the moment in her burgeoning romance with Nic.


As the couples pair off, the movie falls into a rhythm. Static scenes of the characters staring off in sadness are filled with silence that is stifling. But they are interchanged with livelier activities, such as Mutt visiting a Bangkok gentleman’s club with his old pals, or Sai doing a modelling gig and reconnecting with her friends.

Nic and Poupee are the characters in fantasy karaoke-video segments, which are complete with the lyrics for singing along. The karaoke dreams are vividly presented in the super-saturated colours of 1990s videos, making for eye-popping images that also recall Thai films of the time.

It’s a stuttering, shattered reflection on 1997 by Lee, who returned to Bangkok that year after being schooled overseas. In the years since, he’s gone on to be a major figure in the Thai movie business. As an editor, he’s helped shape such films as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cannes prize-winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Mundane History, as well as various mainstream Thai movies.

Both Apichatpong and Anocha are producers on Concrete Clouds, along with veteran Thai independent-film hand Soros Sukhum and Taiwanese actress-director Sylvia Chang. It’s been supported along the way by various cinema funds and project markets, including Visions Sud East from Switzerland, the Busan film fest’s Asian Cinema Fund and the Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Concrete Clouds is a tribute to Lee’s stunning resume and it shows just how big an influence he’s been on Thai indie cinema, even if it’s hard to tell just whose hand is on the tiller. Really, it’s a dizzying blend of all the usual elements of Thai indie films. There is the stillness and silences that punctuate Apichatpong’s offerings, and the jittering, jazz-like narrative structure reminded me of the chopped-and-diced timeline of Mundane History.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s 1997 debut Fun Bar Karaoke is specifically referenced, with a poster on Nic’s wall, but also in the dream-like karaoke sequences.


The presence of Ananda, well suited for the role of Mutt, recalls another project Lee edited and Ananda starred in, Aditya Assarat’s Hi-So, which dealt with the cross-cultural conflict of a Thai-American actor.

Spirited young actress Saipan Apinya again spreads her magic pixie dust, enlivening yet another film in much the same way she did in her debut in Pen-ek’s Ploy in 2007. And her character here feels like an extension of the one she played in Tongpong Chantarangkul’s 2011 road-trip drama I Carried You Home. Not only does she smoke ya ba (the main reason for the movie’s 18+ rating), she strips down do her knickers for a daring sex scene. Deft lighting, editing and probably makeup ensure that outspoken Saipan’s very un-’90s tattoos stay hidden.

And, like most indie films, there are startling discoveries of new talent, like the lovely brooding Janesuda and Prawith, making his screen debut as the angst-filled teen.



See also: