Thursday, September 10, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Behind the Painting, No Escape, SPL 2

Time to get out of the cinema and into the art gallery, as the interesting and talented video artist and filmmaker Chulayarnnon Siriphol offers his interpretation of the classic Thai story Behind the Painting.

Set in Japan, the tragic romance involves a young Thai student who has been employed by an elderly Japanese man to look after his young blue-blooded Thai wife. Written in 1937 by popular author Sri Burapha, the novel has been adapted for film, television and stage many times, including a 2001 film version that was the last feature by the revered Thai auteur Cherd Songsri.

In an homage to Cherd, his film is woven into the multi-layered fabric of Chulayarnnon's entertaining experimental work, which has him portraying both the young man and, in the grand tradition of theatrical cross-dressing, the young woman.

I've actually seen this, in a Film Virus retrospective last year, and I told Chulayarnnon afterward that I don't feel I need to see any other version.

It was created last year during Chulayarnnon's participation in the artist-in-residence program at the Aomori Contemporary Art Center in Japan.

Organized by the Japan Foundation and curated by the Aomori center's Hiroyuki Hattori, Behind the Painting is at the Silpakorn University Art Center, opening tomorrow night (invitation only) and running until October 10. Directions to the gallery are available online.

Meanwhile, Thai distributors are dumping a load of movies into cinemas this week, clearing the books ahead of the next blockbuster season.

Among the eight or nine titles is No Escape. Owen Wilson stars as a water engineer who has moved with his family to an anonymous, strife-torn Southeast Asian country. There, wherever that is, a rebellion breaks out and the family become targets as anti-foreigner sentiments boil over. Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan also star.

There have been at least a couple controversies over this production, which had the working title of The Coup when it was being made in northern Thailand a year or so ago. One was when Wilson posed for a photo with whistle-blowing anti-government protesters. There was also a fuss over the signage in the film, which in a desperate move by the country's film minders to strip any Thai identity out of the picture, so as to not harm tourism, was written in Khmer and turned upside down. That has led to No Escape being banned in the newly emerging cinema market of Cambodia, amid rumors that it would be banned in Thailand as well. No such luck.

Critical reception has been, uh, mixed. It's by the writer-director pair of John Erick and Drew Dowdle, who previously did the found-footage thrillers Quarantine and As Above, So Below.

Thai martial-arts star Tony Jaa makes his much-anticipated debut in a Hong Kong action film with SPL 2: A Time for Consequences.

He's a tough Thai cop who has taken a job as a prison guard while he tries to raise money to pay for his sick daughter's treatment. On the job, he's assigned to watch over a prisoner (Wu Jing) who is actually a Hong Kong police officer who has gone way undercover in a relentless bid to bring down the head of a human-trafficking ring.

Louis Koo and Simon Yam also star. Cheang Pou-soi (Dog Bite Dog, Motorway) directs. This is a sequel-in-name-only to the terrific 2005 Hong Kong crime thriller SPL: Sha Po Leng, which had Donnie Yen throwing down with the formidable Sammo Hung. Wu Jing and Simon Yam were in that one too, but played different characters.

A box-office success in China, critical reception ;for SPL 2 has been fairly positive – much better than for Jaa's English-language debut Skin Trade, which I actually kinda likedSPL 2 is Thai-dubbed only with English subtitles, but still looks like fun.

Also of note in Thai cinemas this week is cult director Bruce LaBruce's offbeat romantic comedy Gerontophilia, the first release from a newly established indie distribution shingle Doo Nang Took Wan, run by Ken Thapanan Wichitrattakarn. He's a movie-loving public-relations professional who got into showbiz a few months ago when he single-handedly brought the Brazilian coming-of-age gay drama The Way He Looks to the Bangkok big screen.

But perhaps the most noteworthy release this week is The Assassin, Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-Hsien's first martial-arts film. After making a buzzworthy premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the best director prize, it comes to Bangkok in a prestige-focused release, screening in Mandarin with English and Thai subtitles at Apex, House, Major Ratchayothin, Major Rama III, Paragon, Quartier CineArt and SFW CentralWorld.

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