Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Seattle four

Seeking to update an earlier posting, I finally got the link to the Seattle International Film Festival to work for me. I noticed they are playing four Thai films: Pen-Ek Ratanurang's 6ixtynin9 and Last Life in the Universe, Nonzee Nimibutr's OK Baytong and Oxide Pang's The Tessaract.

I would sacrifice something to see 6ixtynin9 somehow. I'm a big fan of Pen-Ek and need to see all his films. Fun Bar Karaoke is another I've missed.

Last Life, photographed by Christopher Doyle, is always good to see on the big screen. OK Baytong is pretty sweet. Am uncertain about The Tessaract, but I'll give it a chance if I am able.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Effort seeks revision of censorship laws

Government officials and industry players are stepping up efforts to update the 74-year-old laws that govern the movie industry, according to the Bangkok Post.

Officials from four ministries that supervise various aspects of the film industry met last week to discuss amendments to the 1930 censorship law as well as proposals to consolidate regulatory authority under a single agency.

The censorship law, which puts films in the hands of police and other authorities before theatrical release, has been criticized as outdated and a stumbling block to the Thai film industry's growth.

Delegates are seeking a more supportive role from the government, which would include relaxing the censorship rules.

An agreement in principle was made to call for the establishment of a central body, tentatively named the Motion Picture Council, to oversee the industry The new body would both support and regulate the film industry with the aim of improving the quality of Thai films to make them competitive on the international stage.

At the meeting were officials from the ministries of commerce, tourism and sports, foreign affairs and culture, as well as representatives from the private sector.

Prawatsart Kunchorn Na Ayutthaya, RS Film's distribution director, said the government should replace its archaic legislation with a rating system to classify films, and leave the public free to choose.

He said the censorship system hindered industry development because it complicated the budgeting process, forcing producers to rein in their creativity to avoid the risk of having scenes cut.

Ong-Bak lands punch in Korea

For the past several years Korean films and television shows have been a big import in Thailand -- a welcome alternative to the Hollywood fare that fills the multiplex screens. It's payback time, as one of Thailand's hardest-hitting films, Ong-Bak, has opened in Seoul cinemas.

Star Tony Jaa and director Prachya Pinkaew were there to talk about the film.

In an interview with the Korea Times, Ong-Bak star, Muay Thai master Tony Jaa said he does not think he can be a real match for Mike Tyson.

"I think I would be scared before him because he's too big for me," Jaa said.

In Korea, the film's poster boasts "100-percent real action."

"No stuntmen, no wire action, no computer graphics," it says.

Still, many will wonder whether the ad copy is really true while the hero performs his repertoire of incredible acrobatic actions, from jumping through a coil of barbed wire and sliding under a moving truck while doing the splits to somersaulting over a vat of boiling oil and bouncing over automobiles.

Yet Jaa's stunts were so convincing and powerful that the audience ooh-ed and ahh-ed throughout the VIP screening at Megabox Cineplex in Seoul.

"I always fancied making a distinctly Thai flavored action film without any aids from wire, stuntmen and computer graphics," director Prachya said. "And then I met Tony Jaa, who was perfect for my idea."

In a meeting with reporters after the screening, Jaa put on a special demonstration, showing off his Muay Thai fighting skills with the help of several assistants. He also re-enacted one of the most amazing scenes from the film, in which he jumps and makes his way through a crowd of standing people by quickly and lightly stepping on their shoulders, all without touching the floor.

Inspired as a child by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Jaa had already spent 13 years training to learn Muay Thai before he met the director. But he had to spend another five years learning various other martial arts for the character in the movie, including taking acrobat lessons. When asked to compare himself with the three established actors, he described the action style of Bruce Lee as "speedy," Jackie Chan "original" and Jet Li "artistic."

Like his character in the film, Jaa and his staff are devout Buddhists. Upon arriving in Seoul, they paid a visit to Pongun-sa Temple before heading to the film's preview screening.

The paper also had a review of the film, headlined "Stunts Save Superficial Plot." The reviewer took issue with the poster's "100 Percent Real Action" claim.

In truth, the movie does use a smidgeon of computer graphics and editing during its 99 minutes. But for a solid 99.8 percent or so, the film makes good on its promise with a sensory overload of non-stop fights, leaps, somersaults and chases, keeping moviegoers in mouth-gaping disbelief throughout.

In his first leading role, stuntman-turned-actor Tony Jaa makes a definite impression with his astonishing athleticism. Playing Ting, a devout disciple of Buddhism and Muay Thai kickboxing who lives in a rural village, Jaa is like a young Jet Li circa Once Upon a Time in China and Jackie Chan rolled into one, keeping his fists and elbows of fury in check unless absolutely called upon.

With a host of mean-looking martial arts dudes with WWF-names like Mad Dog, Pearl Harbor and Big Bear, the fight scenes are well-shot but somewhat derivative of countless other films about illegal underground martial arts competitions. The two saving graces are Jaa himself, whose kickboxing acrobatics just have to be seen to be believed, and the relative short length of these fights.

Befitting the Buddhist nature of his character, Jaa's physical talents are even better highlighted when he is doing his utmost to avoid a fight. One spectacular chase scene through Bangkok alleys has Jaa somersaulting and flipping through the narrowest nooks, easily jumping over cars and doing a 'walking on water' trick on human shoulders. The action scenes are so nice you have to see it twice, and the director obliges, repeatedly showing every spectacular stunt from different angles and speeds.

Like most action-oriented films, the story is filled with xenophobia and a slew of stereotypes, as well as an overly sentimental portrayal of rural life. But every time Ong-Bak gets too cardboard and falls in danger of completely losing the audience, there's Jaa again casually doing a flip over a boiling vat of oil -- '100 percent real' -- to get everyone back on the edge of their seats.

Pang Brothers talk Eye sequels, other films

According to Hollywood Reporter, the Pang Brothers were in Cannes for a presentation to buyers of their latest film, Re-Cycle, which is in preproduction.

Budgeted at US$5 million, it's the biggest film the Pangs have yet undertaken and starts shooting in Thailand later this year. Based around the concept of the "recycle" bin in a computer, the film is a supernatural thriller about a writer who enters an in-between world of spirits, and it will rely heavily on CGI effects, they said.

The project is set to star Angelica Lee, who won a lot of acclaim for her lead role in the original Eye.

Other films are in the works as well. Danny Pang is working on a thriller called Leave Me Alone while twin brother Oxide has Ab-Normal Beauty. Both are due in November.

"We love horror films but we don't want to get too heavily involved -- one a year is enough," Danny told Hollywood Reporter.

All three films are being distributed by Hong Kong's Universe Films Distribution, which is also the principal backer of each.

Online horror magazine Fangoria recently interviewed Oxide, who talked about The Eye 2 and more possible Eye sequels, as well as his latest solo project, The Tesseract.

The Tesseract, adapted from a book by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later), recently played at the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina. It's also at the Seattle Film Festival. The movie stars Saskia Reeves and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and focuses on three people whose lives collide in a cheap Bangkok hotel; it’s the director’s first project with an international cast.

"I tried to make the action look real and interesting," Oxide told Fangoria. "I want it to be different than the usual shoot-’em-ups. I like my movies to be unique."

Eye sequels have been talked about since the success of the first film. "Now the wait is over," says Fangoria. “Danny and I are teaming on the new Eye movies, and we’ll start working on the third one as soon as I’m finished with my new film."

The Eye 2 opened in Thailand and other Asian countries a few months ago. The sequel stars Taiwanese actress Shu Qi. She plays a young woman named Joey who discovers that she’s pregnant after a suicide attempt. Right after that, she starts being stalked by a mysterious woman, who might or might not be a ghost.

"It is quite different than the first film. People will be pleasantly surprised, because it’s not your typical horror movie. There will be a number of shocking images just like in the original, but this time we’ll take it one step beyond."

Now they are talking about a third Eye, which "will be something special," Pang told Fangoria. "It will actually be called The Eye 10, and it will be about 10 ways to see a ghost. It will be a pretty funny film."

Oxide said he's excited about the Hollywood remake of The Eye, which is being produced by Tom Cruise. The Pangs are not involved. "Danny and I are truly proud of it, but we don’t know anything about it yet. They’re just writing the script at the moment."

Oxide also talked to Fangoria about Ab-Normal Beauty, Recyle and more.. "I'm currently shooting my new film Ab-Normal Beauty and [it] stars one of Hong Kong’s new faces," he said. "People will be really surprised by it. After that one, we’ll start with [the sequel to] The Eye and, right after that, a big-budget movie called Re-Cycle, which will also be co-directed by Danny. We showed the promotional reel at the Cannes Film Festival this month."

Another film in the works for Oxide is a collaboration with producer Mona Nahm on The Remaker, a paranormal thriller about a man who survives a car accident with the new ability to dream the future, but who also becomes haunted by echoes of a past life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A great day for Thai film

The Bangkok Post continued the onslaught of coverage of the Cannes festival triumph of Apichatwong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady.

Leading the paper's Outlook section today, film critic Kong Rithdee said Tropical Malady "is one of the most powerful, most intellectually challenging films ever made in the history of Thai cinema. Its artistic confidence is so absolute that it's not surprising that the early audience response has been dramatically divided between those who champion it as a contemporary masterpiece, and those who were deeply frustrated by its enigmatic format, presentation and message."

The article delved into the pressure Apichatpong felt in having his film selected for competition in the "world's most important cinematic event ... the Ivy League for film-makers."

More stress stacked up after the press screening when a section of the media came out with sensational headlines that gave the false impression that the Thai film had been booed off the screen. This was an exaggeration. True, a few agitated viewers did boo, but what those newspapers failed to report was the news from the other camp, led by top French critics, which proclaimed over and over again that Tropical Malady was 'the best film in the festival'.

I was prepared to face the reaction. I'm not that worried. Actually I'm more curious to know how the people will respond to it," said 34-year-old Apichatpong. "But I think it was unfair to me [when some newspapers in Thailand] printed one-sided reports, saying that my movie had been booed. Booing is a common practice [at festival screenings] in Cannes, and there were also people who liked the film a lot.

When the film opens in Thailand, I guess the situation will be the same as it was here. It's going to be a love-it-or-hate-it scenario. That's all right with me. As a film-maker, my goal is to present my vision, and that's what I did in this film. I don't differentiate between Thai and international audiences. It's just that some viewers will like it, and some won't."

Kong then veered into a review of the film.

So what's in it to love -- or hate? Tropical Malady is steeped in the profound themes of folkloric mysticism and spiritual quest, plus an element of homosexuality as a force for liberation -- or obliteration.

Like Apichatpong's previous work, Blissfully Yours, this film exudes a sense of anthropological authenticity in its frankly realistic presentation of small-town life. For the first hour it follows two gay lovers, country boy Tong and Keng the soldier, as they initiate a playful romance amid the rough, unpolished setting of a nameless provincial town. They ride around on a motorcycle, visit a cave, have idle chats; Apichatpong's naturalistic style endowing this part of the film with an adorable quality. Then comes the killer mid-point, the point that defies the structural conventions of film-making: Tropical Malady seems to come to an abrupt end. Actually it looks as if the reel has slipped out of the projector. The screen goes blank for about 15 seconds, then, to gasps from perplexed viewers, we see the beginning of what is apparently another film.

This 'second film', totally devoid of dialogue throughout its 60 minutes, has Keng the soldier trekking through a dripping jungle in search of a tiger-ghost who feeds on the memory of its prey (thus the Thai title, Sud Pralad, which literally translates as 'monster'), and who may or may not be his lover, Tong. Keng's journey into the heart of darkness leads him to an encounter with a supernatural force that nurtures, guides and annihilates his physical self and suffering. "

This, the post-narrative, post-structuralist universe of Tropical Malady, is what so baffled Cannes viewers. Clearly, however, these are two halves of the same whole: the tangible and the abstract; the physical and the spiritual; the conscious and the subconscious. More and more the film becomes a state of mind, an intensely cerebral platform filled with the dark mystery of ancient folklore.

"It's free cinema, and it's open to interpretation," Apichatpong told the Post. "For me, the two halves of the film are like two magnetic poles that push against each other but have to co-exist. Both lovers are male, so it's natural that they push against each other, [but the fact that they're lovers] is the cause of the malady, the suffering that they try to overcome.

When the first half ends, it's like I, the film-maker, have erased the memory of the characters and put them into a different world, and in that world they need to search for their identities again. In the second part I wanted to present an in-between-worlds mood. I deliberately didn't present communication in a graphic way, because some communication has to be a discussion between minds. As the soldier makes his way deeper into the jungle, he must learn another language with which to speak to the spirits." Apitchatpong also was feeling pressure because his father had died recently. In accepting his jury prize at Cannes, he dedicated it to his father. "There's also an element of sadness permeating the story. When I was making the film, I was depressed at the loss of my father, and I guess I expressed that sentiment in the film," he told the Post.

He hopes to use his Cannes triumph to champion the cause of art cinema in Thailand. "Cinema is a visual art," he says. "Like the ancient craftsmen who painted murals, Thai films should be honoured and preserved as treasure, too."

Kong provided more commentary on the positive reception of Tropical Malady.

'You should be proud -- Thailand has given us the best film in the Cannes Festival!' I was walking out of a Tropical Malady screening when a critic from Cahier du Cinema, France's most respected cinema journal, rushed over to congratulate me. That was last Tuesday, four days before the announcement of the winners. He added that most in the French press had loved the film, a claim later testified to in countless interviews and reports on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's jungle-fever movie.

On the night of the award ceremony, when it was official that Tropical Malady won the Prix du Jury, Japanese reporters, New York critics and French acquaintances whom I knew kept saying congratulations to me. One of them beamed: "This is a great day for Thai cinema!"

Grapevine gossips had been whispering since the afternoon of Saturday, May 22, that the Thai film, which struck the placid festival like a hammer and divided the audience into two opposing camps, might 'win something'. My guess was that it couldn't possibly win the top award, the Palme d'Or, because of its low-profile presence. So I thought it might be either the Prix du Jury or Best Director (which are both like second runners-up). Quentin Tarantino, chairman of this year's jury, declared that evening that the movie had won the former. I was in the press room at the moment, was virtually the only one who clapped like a demented monkey.

Last week in Bangkok, a few Thai newspapers played up second-hand reports, almost with a malicious intent, that Tropical Malady had been a disgrace, a flop that had been severely booed by critics. They wrote the headlines as if they had witnessed it all for themselves.

I was there, and yes, there were people booing. But there were also people shouting 'Bravo!' I talked to people, and yes, many disliked the movie for numerous reasons (unintelligible, incoherent, weird, crazy). But there were also supporters who enthusiastically sang praises to the film's uncompromising artistic ambition.

Pulp Fiction was also booed (I wasn't there) before the film went on to win the coveted Palme d'Or. Booing is not an indicator that a movie is a disgrace; it just proves that the film has power, either positive or negative, and has provoked a strong reaction.

Even though Tropical Malady won a prize, it doesn't mean that everybody has to like it, or that the film is indisputably 'good'. The ability to stimulate constructive discussion, to arouse diverse subjective opinions, is the magic of cinema -- of any great art. What's more worrying is not whether Apichatpong's movie is brilliant or not, but the widespread narrow-mindedness that could hamper the atmosphere of artistic appreciation in this country.

I've heard more than a few Thai people say, upon learning that the film won an award at Cannes, that they might have to 'climb a ladder to watch it' - a jest to suggest that the film is intellectual 'high art' and unreachable by the majority.

That's a disgraceful thing to say.

It's fair to like or dislike the film -- it's perfectly okay to boo if one hates it. But to erect a barrier, to dismiss a piece of work simply because it's unfamiliar, to dismiss it even before seeing it _ that's not fair, not constructive in the least.

Of course, Tropical Malady is a difficult movie. But appreciating a square metre of mural paintings at the Temple of Emerald Buddha is also difficult, and to genuinely comprehend the complex artistry of traditional dance is also difficult. Should we mock those respected performance arts as incomprehensible 'high art' too?

A great day of Thai cinema? I'd like to correct my foreign friend, who congratulated me. A great day for Thai cinema will come, not because a Thai film won an award at Cannes, but when the audience in Thailand is ready to open itself up to various forms of cultural expression -- and cure the prejudice that is our real tropical malady."

In an editorial, The Nation called the Cannes win "A blessing for Thai cinema."

"Tropical Malady’s strong showing should serve as a beacon for young filmmakers.

The fact that Apichatpong’s movie was selected for Cannes’ main competition, and ultimately won a prize, is a momentous event in Thai cinematic history ...

For directors the world over, taking part in such an international event is already regarded as an honour. That’s why Apichatpong’s triumph means so much to Thailand’s film industry. Even though Tropical Malady did not measure up to other contenders in terms of the standing ovations for 2046 by Chinese director Wong Kar-wai and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, the Thai film won rave reviews from the French and British press. "Tropical Malady," as the [London] Daily Telegraph [sorry, no links] put it, 'will make you rub your eyes in disbelief and scream with confused delight'. Apichatpong’s Jury Award should inspire young Thai filmmakers to produce quality films.

One of the contributing factors to the emergence of Thai film-making talent on the international film circuit is the various film festivals that the Kingdom has hosted. New generations of Thai filmmakers have been exposed to the latest developments and ideas in the world of cinema. Indeed there are many well-educated, talented young filmmakers who have won awards at film festivals from Berlin to Pusan. More Thai students are taking up filmmaking courses at home and abroad. If given proper support, they will one day be able to break into the mainstream international film markets.

Still the authorities do not regard film as an art that needs to be supported. Rather, they see it as entertainment and not part of the country’s cultural heritage. Consequently the authorities do not provide financial backing to cultivate the home-grown film industry, unlike other art-conscious nations in the region, like Japan and Korea. With or without government support, the Thai movie-going public should support directors who share Apichatpong’s ambitions. Commercial success may continue to be the top priority for most filmmakers, who need to make a living. But Thai cinema has for too long been mired in the same old, hackneyed formulas.

The rise of the new home-grown filmmakers should positively influence the mainstream Thai film industry, which panders to the public’s lower appetites by dwelling on cliched themes, plots and dialogue that hardly venture beyond the confines of fads, plagiarism and banality. Even though films made by Apichatpong and other avant-garde filmmakers are still beyond the reach of many regular moviegoers, the gap between art-house and mainstream movies may be narrowing. The box office successes of such well-made mainstream films as Nang Nak, Hom Roang [The Overture] and Ong Bak are a new phenomenon that keeps the hope alive that Thailand’s aspirations of becoming a cultural hot spot in Asia may not be out of reach after all.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Reports still pouring in from Cannes

Cannes may be over, but the news is continuing. The Nation today carried a followup report, expanding on comments about the Thai film, Tropical Malady, made during a news conference with Quentin Tarantino and the Cannes jury.

"This was one film which had the staunchest defenders in the jury," Tarantino said.

The article, written by Nation correspondent Lekha Shankar, offers more color from the awards ceremony as well.

"When the tuxedo-clad director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and actor Sakda Kaewbudee strode onto the stage of the Grand Theatre Lumiere to collect the award, there was as much applause from the celebrity-studded audience in the 2,000-capacity auditorium as there was debate among film journalists watching a large video screen in the press centre."

The movie evoked diverse reactions, with a press screening ellicting boos and walk outs. Trade magazine Screen International referred to it as "not the most accessible competition debut".

Said one critic: "It's the shock film of the festival."

The film was discussed during a press conference held on Sunday by the jury, headed by Tarantino. Other members included actress Kathleen Turner, writer Edwidge Danticat, director Jerry Schatzberg , actress Emmanuelle Beart, Belgian filmmaker Benoit Poelvoorde, actress Tilda Swinton, director Tsui Hark and critic Peter Von Bagh. They gave frank and honest "inside" details about the selection process of the awards.

"Some of us were moved by the film to a staggering degree," Tarantino said. "This jury was passionate about films and were articulate about their passion. The Thai film provoked this passion."

At a press conference after the awards ceremony, Apichatpong said, "People will continue to love or hate the film, the reactions will be black or white."

Monday, May 24, 2004

Tarantino defends jury's choices

Still sifting through the press coverage on Cannes. In a Reuters story, in which jury president Quentin Tarantino defended the choice of Michael Moore's political hot potato Fahrenheit 9/11, he also had some nice things to say about Asian film.

He said that Korean entry Old Boy, directed by Park Chan-Wook, had been a "strong contender" for the main prize.

Meanwhile, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, the first Thai film selected for the competition, which drew a highly polarized response, affected some jury members "profoundly, to a staggering degree", Tarantino told Reuters.

Asked if the strong showing of Asian films at the festival reflected a "flavor of the month" trend, Tarantino said: "You're belittling a very substantial movement [that is creating] some of the most interesting films in the world."

In response to the jury's decision to give the award for best actress to Maggie Cheung (for Clean), Tarantino said: "She is one of the best actresses in the world. In fact that was one of our easier decisions."

The jury also defended its choice of best actor to 14-year-old Yuuya Yagira (Nobody Knows), saying that age shouldn't be a factor in determining the quality of acting.

Thai press follows up on Cannes

With the Cannes awards coming after presstime on Saturday night, it wasn't until Monday morning that the Thailand press was able to publish word about Apichatpong Weerasethakul's jury-prize win for his film Tropical Malady.

Under a headline, "Gay Isaan movie wins hearts, prize at Cannes", The Nation carried a few quotes from the director.

"I was so thrilled when I was standing on stage, saying 'thank you' to everyone," director Apichatpong told the English-language daily.

Tropical Malady
stood out from the other 19 films in competition because of its personal, less-commercial style, critics said.

Apichatpong said that at the gala awards dinner, French actress Emmanuelle Beart, a member of the jury, told him she had never seen anything like the movie before.

"It is the same sort of feedback I received from the audience in Cannes, which showed the movie had more power than I had ever expected it to have," Apichatpong told The Nation.

He said he hoped his success at Cannes will encourage other young Thai filmmakers not to sacrifice their personal style.

"This prize will certainly inspire young filmmakers to go ahead and make personal films on a small budget," Apichatpong said.

He also hoped the jury-prize success will make it easier for him to fund his next project. "The award might not change my life that much since my bank balance is still down to zero, but it makes it easier to get money for the next project," he said.

In addition to Apichatpong, Asians took award in half of the categories under the Golden Palm-winning American political documentary, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Maggie Chung won the Best Actress award for her role as a junkie in Clean and Yagira Yuuya, 14, took the Best Actor award for his role in the Japanese film Nobody Knows. The Grand Prize went to the violent Korean revenge flick, Old Boy.

"It's double the excitement when Asians can win four of the eight awards from the main competition," producer Pantham Thongsang of the Thai Independent Filmmaker Alliance, told The Nation. His group funded a quarter of the 40-million baht (about US$1 million) budget of Tropical Malady.

Pantham wants all four of the prize-winning Asian films to be shown in Thailand soon.

Both of Thailand's English-language newspapers had reporters in attendance at Cannes, Parinyaporn Pajee for The Nation and Kong Rithdee from the Bangkok Post.

"I'm super grateful to the festival because I didn't expect to win a prize at all. There are so many big names in the festival, while I am just a nobody from a small country," Apitchatpong told the Post. "I am not sure how the film relates to an international audience. For me, just to be here is a miracle."

Critics were divided after viewing Tropical Malady, the Post reported. Those who liked it, including French critics, championed it as the best film in the festival, but those disapproving of the film said its structure was unconventional and the story too complicated to follow.

"I think the reactions by Thai audiences will be black and white, like it was here," the director was quoted as saying.

Tropical Malady is a drama, telling the story of a gay man's search for his lover, who is transformed by supernatural forces into a tiger while walking in the forest. The Nation's headline referred to Isaan, the local name for the region of northeast Thailand where the film takes place.

"My first inspiration for the film is the landscape because I like the feeling of being in the jungle," Apichatpong told the Post.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Palm Dog barks

Following up on an earlier posting about the Palm Dog award, there really is such a thing. It's a spoof trophy given by by the British press at Cannes.

"Our winners are two flatulent bulldogs called Edgar and Hoover," Toby Rose, a British journalist who instituted the award four years ago, told Reuters.

The dogs made an explosive appearance in the documentary Mondovino, which traces the trials and tribulations of vineyards around the world.

Cannes heat: Asians bubbling under Fahrenheit 9/11

American director Michael Moore's politically charged documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 took the top prize at the 57th Cannes Film Festival, beating out the favorite, 2046 by Wong Kar-Wai, but Asian talent took other prizes.

Thailand's Apichatpong Weersathakul, whose slow-placed jungle drama Tropical Malady elicited boos at a press screening, won the festival's third-place jury prize.

The grand prize, the festival's second-place honor, went to Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's Old Boy, a blood-soaked thriller about a man out for revenge after years of inexplicable imprisonment - not a surprising choice, considering Quentin Tarantino was president of the jury.

But it was a young boy, 14-year-old Yagura Yuuyi, who received the best actor award. He starred in Nobody Knows, about four children abandoned by their mother in Tokyo to fend for themselves.

Not only was the favored 2046 frozen out of the awards, actress Maggie Cheung was nearly edited out of that film, a followup to the smash In the Mood for Love, in which she starred. But Maggie also starred as a rock star's widow trying to kick a drug habit in Clean, by French director Olivier Assayas (who also happens to be Cheung's ex-husband). She won the best actress award for that role.

For Thailand's Apichatpong, this is his second appearance at Cannes. His first feature, Blissfully Yours, was presented at Cannes in 2002, when it won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard category. Behind Wisit Sasanatieng, whose Tears of the Black Tiger was presented out of competition in 2001, Apichatpong, is only the second director from Thailand to represent the Kingdom at this prestigious film festival.

But he has gained plenty of attention. Writes AO Scott in the New York Times:

It is hard to imagine a filmmaker more idiosyncratic than Apichatpong Weerasethakul ... whose Tropical Malady is the great curiosity of this festival. It is the kind of movie that reveals a great deal about the taste of its viewers. For every person you meet who fell into deep slumber before the end of the first hour, you find another who was utterly hypnotized by its languid rhythms and its haunting lyricism.

For its first half, Tropical Malady has the moody eroticism of a Wong Kar-Wai movie, as a soldier stationed at the edge of the jungle and a young ice-truck driver from the city pursue an apparently chaste but nonetheless passionate love affair. Midway through, this story is abruptly replaced by an animist folk tale in which a different soldier pursues the ghost of a tiger, who assumes the shape of a naked, heavily tattooed man, through the jungle. An allegorical relationship between the two halves is hinted at, but this is the kind of movie that frustrates all analysis. After a while, you give up on trying to understand it and surrender either to fatigue or to its teasing, dreamy ambiance.

(Photo: Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, left, and actor Sakda Kaewbuadee accept the jury prize for Tropical Malady during the awards ceremony at the 57th Cannes Film Festival.)

Tony Jaa will be back

According to Le Film Francais, the Ong-Bak crew -- director Prachya Pinkaew, action star Tony Jaa and funnyman Mum Jokmok -- will be filming the followup, Tom-Yum-Goong, in Australia this summer.

Finally, some news about this film, which has been talked about for the past year but delayed as Ong-Bak continues to gain in popularity in France and other countries.

In Ong-Bak, Tony played a master kickboxer from the country who goes to Bangkok in search of his impoverished village's treasured Buddha head. In the followup, he and some friends head to Australia, looking for some elephants stolen by some Chinese gangsters.

Reportedly, it has one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- budgets of any Thai film this year.

Meanwhile, in a spin-off from his Ong-Bak success, comic-relief co-star Mum Jokmok starred in his own film, The Bodyguard, earlier this year. It's out on VCD now (no DVD release yet) and is featured at all the vendors' stalls. It's got plenty of wire-fu action and lots of laughter with Mum running around naked, but it's nowhere close in hard-hitting intensity to Ong-Bak.

2046: The Bangkok connection

For me, bigger than the drama of Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 showing up late at Cannes was finding out the film was being made in Bangkok.

Of course, I'm not surprised no one was making a big fuss about it beforehand. After all, I can imagine the shitstorm of press that would be around disrupting things for Wong and his stars if the public got wind that they were in Bangkok making a film that was due to be shown at Cannes. Let the guy work.

Tony Leung, star of the film, told AFP he was still shooting scenes just days before its French Riviera screening.

"We were shooting the last scenes in Bangkok on May 12," he said.

Wow. Now I'm super psyched to see this movie, though I doubt any scenes from Bangkok will be recognizable to me. Thinking back, Wong's previous film In the Mood for Love was shot in Bangkok.

In fact, if I read this interview correctly, Wong was scouting locations in Bangkok for 2046 when he had the idea to make In the Mood. So 2046 has actually been in the making for quite a long time.

Cannes winners to be announced

As I write this the awards at Cannes probably are being announced. But what the heck. There's plenty to catch up on.

It looks like Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 might be the Palm d'Or winner, if the Screen International Jury Final Results are anything to go by.

And there's plenty to read over on the Rotten Tomatoes Critic's Discussion forum.

Cannes correspondent Sabu says it doesn't look good for the Thai entry, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady. At 1.4, the film had the lowest rating on the Screen International poll, though he could still come away with a jury prize, Sabu says.

2046 is getting the biggest nod, according to Channel News. "We've worked hard and spent time and effort, and we've deserved everything if it comes to us," director Wong was quoted as saying.

Many reviewers were in raptures over the soft lensing, softer music and complex meanderings, which tells of love stories -- real and fictional -- while zapping between the 1960s and the future.

There were dissenting critics, though. "The employment of voice-overs and pretentious quotes ... only points up how badly the movie gets engulfed in a storytelling fog," Hollywood Reporter opined.

Years in the making and hugely anticipated ... 2046 is a keen disappointment. Because the film arrived 24 hours late for its Cannes debut and one of its star actresses, Maggie Cheung, has been reduced to a 'special appearance by' role, one can only guess that in the chaos of revisions, re-edits and rethinking, the director lost his narrative thread.

Variety was more tolerant, comparing 2046 favorably to Wong's previous film, In the Mood for Love.

If Mood was an over-elaborate hors d'oeuvre, with repeated variations around one couple's affair in '60s Hong Kong, 2046 is more like the main course, a visually seductive reverie on memory and regret refracted through a serial womanizer's experiences with four different women during the same period.

And though Maggie Cheung's role has been cut down for this version (she could still be re-edited back in for the final release), the movie has Zhang Ziyi, Faye Wong and Gong Li ("almost unrecognizable in scarlet lipstick and beehive period hairdo") as well as Mr Cool himself, Tony Leung, that have me wanting to see this.

The Guardian sets the scene further, sending my saliva glands into overtime: "The director and his cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, contrive their familiar close-ups and shabby interiors, often showing an eye for a beautiful female sashaying up stairs. In watching the film we are marooned in a virtual 'present' time of exquisite unhappiness. It is an absorbingly mysterious, richly sensuous film.

Getting back to the Channel News roundup, Cannes jury president Quentin Tarantino, although a fan of Asian cinema, might opt for something harsher and in his own style. That would be Old Boy, a Korean film featuring abduction, torture, much brawling, some bloody amateur dentistry and a self-inflicted tongue excision. Yes!

Outside the competition, Quentin has not been shy about applauding films he liked, according to the Chicago Tribune. When Zhang Yimou's non-competing House of the Flying Daggers finished showing, Quentin led the audience in one of the most sustained, enthusiastic standing ovations of the festival.

"Abandoning the public discretion that is supposed to rule a president's demeanor, famed movie buff Tarantino rose with the rest of the crowd to cheer," Trib movie critic Michael Wilmington wrote. "Then he walked over to embrace Zhang and cast members Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro."

Friday, May 21, 2004

The missing Cannes of film

Wong Kar-Wai's delayed science-fiction romance 2046 finally made it to Cannes and apparently gave the audiences there what they were looking for in a film from Asia, AFP reported.

Parts of the film were missing just hours prior to its scheduled screening, but the director, who had missed a flight and caught another one, showed up with the cans in hand. He had apparently been editing up until the last minute. News to me was one story that said Wong was in Bangkok doing the editing at Kantana's film labs. Why Bangkok, I wonder? Maybe he was getting help from editing whizzes the Pang Bros?

The drama continued as the film was projected, according to Hollywood Reporter.

The story picks up where Wong's last feature, In the Mood for Love, left off, according to a Guardian review, with Tony's lovelorn character living in room 2046 of a sleazy motel and writing a novel set in the future.

Apparently Maggie Cheung has been edited out of the film, with Gong Li taking on a bigger role. But Maggie isn't out of the Cannes picture entirely, as she was was applauded for her role in the French film Clean, in which she plays a junkie.

2046 also stars Zhang Ziyi, who also stars in Zhang Yimou's House of the Flying Daggers, which picked up a good review from The Guardian.

Meanwhile, the fallout is continuing over the poor showing of Tropical Malady at a press screening. However, at the main screening of the film, the audience was more receptive, according to The Nation, which has a reporter, Parinyaporn Pajee, covering Cannes.

"The audience gave me a rather good reaction, and it was just a different feeling from the press screening,'' Apichatpong said.

The Nation's article also highlighted some of the positive reviews Tropical Malady has received, particularly from the French media. Cahiers du Cinema labelled Tropical Malady the best movie at the festival. Two French dailies, Le Monde and Liberation, gave special attention to it.

The Guardian called the film "beautiful and strange" and said the film's "final sequence, semi-dark and all but silent, recalls Apocalypse Now, but with a dark and hallucinatory twist." Wow, is it possible to put "a dark and hallucinatory twist" on a film that is already dark and hallucinatory?

In a bizarre aside to the critical ups and downs of Tropical Malady, the film is also in the running for the Palm Dog trophy, in addition to the coveted Palme d'Or, according to AFP. The prize goes to the film with the best dog performance.

In the film, one of the main character's pet dog is found lying sick on a road and a lot of footage is spent giving it scans and examining it at the vet's, though the significance of this to the plot remains unclear, the article says. There are also cats. In the second half of the film, the main character goes hunting for a mysterious tiger. Ghostly cows and a wise monkey figure into the plot somehow as well.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Looking for the next Crouching Tiger

Critics at Cannes are looking for the next Crouching Tiger from Asian filmmakers, according to an Agence France-Presse article, but have been disappointed so far by the Thai film, Tropical Malady, and the late arrival of Wong Kar Wai's 2046.

But showing out of competition is Zhang Yimou's House of the Flying Daggers, which stars Zhang Ziyi, Takashi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau. It has picked up some good comments from Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

Both the reviews call attention to the fact that Zhang's Hero, with North American distribution rights held by Miramax, has yet to be shown in the US. House of Flying Daggers won't suffer the same fate, as it has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. This is great news, as Sony did a classy job with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Legend of Suriyothai. Miramax, by the way, also has the US distribution rights to Tears of the Black Tiger. It'd be nice if they showed that film as well. I guess they are still trying to figure out how to chop it by 30 minutes.

As an aside to this story, from a BBC article says China is temporarily banning foreign films during the opening month for House of Flying Daggers, so the film won't have any competition from such titles as Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2. I think that's stupid. It'll just increase business for the movie pirates dealing in those titles. I wonder how it will affect the local theater operators?

Getting back to Tropical Malady, I wanted to highlight some helpful comments left on yesterday's posting about Ong-Bak. "I watched the Tropical Malady press conference on TV and was really ashamed about the lack of interest from the international press," the commentator wrote, adding that the "room was quite empty."

The commentator said the French daily Liberation wrote that "a lot of stupid persons left noisily the screening room" during the movie showing and that "he considers the Apichatpong Weerasethakul's film as a masterpiece". Many other critics share his thoughts, according to Le Film Francais, which compiles several ratings.

I can't read French, but if I understand the system at the latter site, it seems the ratings are about 50:50, with five extremely positive reviews, four extremely negative reviews and two mediums.

When Blissfully Yours was released two years ago, a lot of the press I read about it was negative. Friends who saw it were also negative, saying the movie was slow and didn't make sense. Then I actually saw it, and I liked it. So, I'm anxious to see Tropical Malady. I hope it plays somewhere where I can see it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A kick out of Ong-Bak in France

With Tropical Malady getting a rough reception at Cannes, it's nice to know there's another film in France making a good representation for Thailand, lamentable as this situation might seem for fans of "serious" films.

Ong-Bak, the kickboxing action flick, has been playing in commercial theatres in France. In a commentary piece in The Nation, a Thai writer relates the pride he felt in seeing the movie play there.

A picture accompanying the article showed a huge poster for Ong-Bak adorning the front of a French multiplex, where it was playing alongside such other films as Hidalgo, Monster and Starsky & Hutch.

For a Thai person it was thrilling to see billboards of Ong-Bak all over Paris. I got goosebumps as the logo of Sahamongkol Film appeared at the beginning of the film while watching it in a French theatre. Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed when I realised that the film had been dubbed into French. As for the French audience, although they will get the wrong ideas about Muay Thai, maybe they will also learn a bit about our values.

The writer closes by taking a moment to get preachy about ancient artifacts. "I hope this film will cause them some pain of regret when they see all the Buddha heads displayed at the Guimet National Museum of Asian Art, which possesses a large collection of ancient Thai Buddha statues which are mostly just disembodied heads."

Tropical Malady elicits boos and bewilderment

When Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours was shown at Cannes in 2002, half the audience walked out, the other half remained and cheered wildly.

His new movie, Tropical Malady, in competition for the Palm d'Or this year, has received a chillier response, with some critics walking out and others booing the film at the end, according to a story by Reuters.

In a review for Variety, Deborah Young said:

As exceedingly strange as its predecessors Mysterious Object at Noon and cult fave Blissfully Yours but even more incomprehensible, Tropical Malady takes the viewer on a mysterious and sporadically fascinating trip into the darkness of the human heart and Thai legend, but only after an hour of a weakly structured story about two young men who are attracted to each other. Pic will find its admirers chiefly among those who appreciated director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's earlier cinematic experiments. Outside fests, pic's loosely connected scenes will sorely try the patience of most arthouse viewers.

Kirk Honeycutt, for the Hollywood Reporter, was baffled as well:

The film comes in two parts. In the first, a young soldier Keng (Banlop Lomnoi) falls for a country boy named Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee). They sit around with his Tong's mother, listening to the sounds of the night air. Away from his home, Keng kisses and fondles Tong's hand. (Whatever does that mean? one wonders.)

The Reuters reporter attended "a sparsely attended press conference", where the director acknowledged that his movie could be a tough call for some.

"The audience has a confusion about what is reality," he said of the movie, which is told in two contrasting sections. It starts with a gay love affair in a small town and then switches to the hunt for a mystical tiger figure in the jungle.

In an interview with The Nation, given before he jetted off to France, Apichatpong said he thinks local audiences might like his new film.

“Unlike Blissfully, which distanced the audience with its voyeurism and was boring for the general audience, Tropical may be more entertaining and enjoyable for an audience used to conventional storytelling, as related through folktales,” he says.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Film industry strategizes

I was looking for news from Cannes about Apichatpong's Tropical Malady when I came across a Variety article about the Thai film biz.

GMM Pictures, a subsidiary of music mogul GMM Grammy, has formed a joint venture with Tai Entertainment and Hub Ho Hin Films to establish GMM Tai Hub, Variety said. The partnership is the country's biggest integrated film producer.

Tai is best known for its transvestite volleyball comedy Iron Ladies.

Hub Ho Hin got its start in 2002 with Mekong Full Moon Party about the mysterious "Naga fireballs" that rise from the Mekong River. It was co-produced with GMM.

GMM Grammy will be a local and foreign distributor for Tropical Malady, the article said.

Grammy has only recently gotten into films, having made most of its money in Thai pop music, television and radio.

The company's offerings include Pimpaka Towira's thriller, One Night Husband and Yuthlert Sippapak's romantic drama February. Those two weren't so successful at the box office, but Hub Ho Hin's Fan Chan (My Girl) was a huge hit for Grammy in 2003. Fan Chan, which earned 140 million baht (about US$3 million) according to the Bangkok Post, was produced under a loose partnership between Hub Ho Hin, Tai and Grammy.

Grammy was also behind Ai Fak (The Judgment), which did good business, bringing in $1.01 million in ticket sales, Variety said.

Paiboon Damrongchaitham, the chairman and founder of Grammy, will chair the joint-venture company while day-to-day operations will be overseen by Visute Poolvoralaks, the owner of Tai Entertainment, who has been appointed chief executive officer, according to a followup article in the Bangkok Post. Jina Osothsilp, the managing director of Hub Ho Hin, will be GTH's managing director.

"The idea of a joint venture came about after the success of Fan Chan," Visute told the Post. "We think we should combine our strengths to achieve the highest efficiency in the business. GMM is strong in media, Tai Entertainment in marketing, and Hub Ho Hin in production. That becomes a perfect blend of elements for our new firm.

"For the industry, the direction now is to aim for long-term benefits. The number of Thai films will be reduced, but they will be more professionally done. Established studios will develop screenplays, manage distribution and hire staff with a clearer direction."

Meanwhile, BEC Tero is rethinking its film venture after the historical romance drama Siam Renaissance proved to be a critical and commercial flop, earning only $500,000.

Like Grammy, BEC Tero is primarily in the music business, but also has a large stake in television (operating Thailand's Channel 3) and radio. It also runs Thaiticketmaster and has been promoting a lot of concerts. It was the promoter of the failed Rolling Stones gig in Bangkok, but also has been behind successful concerts (successful meaning in my book that the artists actually showed up!) by the likes of Bryan Ferry and the Pretenders. Upcoming will be a show by Black Eyed Peas at the company's own venue, BEC Tero Hall.

As for film, BEC Tero says it will concentrate on the distribution end under its Film Bangkok label.

Several of BEC Tero's films have earned good reputations, including Oxide Pang's Bangkok Dangerous and Tears of the Black Tiger.

Also from Variety was a story about a Thai tourism official at Cannes to promote the Bangkok International Film Festival. They also were promoting Thailand as a location, offering a 30 percent tax break to foreign companies who come make films in the Kingdom.

Among the movies already lined up to film in Thailand is Star Wars III, Variety said. News to me. George Lucas in Thailand? Where? Oliver Stone's Alexander recently wrapped up a shoot in Thailand.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

New arthouse in Bangkok

My current favorite place to watch movies in Bangkok is at the Apex theatres in Siam Square. Actually, they've been my favorite ever since I discovered them in July 1999, when I saw Star Wars I.

Since then, I've seen some much better movies there. They play some off-beat movies that aren't shown in any of the mainstream multiplexes around town. For example, this week, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, starring Audrey Tautou is playing. Films I've seen there in the past include Amelie, Dirty Pretty Things, the experimental Thai film I-san Special and Battle Royale 2. Upcoming will be Audition. Just the preview for that movie creeps me out.

The Apex complex consists of the Lido multiplex (where most of the stuff I consider arthouse is shown) and the Siam and Scala theatres. The latter two are single-screen venues that show mostly first-run, mainstream stuff. They are my first choice when catching a new movie, as they make the movie experience much better than any of the cookie-cutter mall cineplexes with postage-stamp screens, high prices and inconsiderate audiences.

Now, a new arthouse theatre called House is in the works, according to an article by Kong Rithdee in Friday's Bangkok Post (Real.Time, page 1)

A partnership of four young rich Thais plans to turn the older UMG RCA multiplex into an arthouse haven. This move comes at a perfect time, as the Royal City Avenue (RCA) neighborhood of nightclubs will be a hotter spot in the coming months. This is for a couple of reasons. First, a new subway line will be opening there in August, making the area much more accessible. And second RCA is one of the areas that the government has named an "entertainment zone", where presumably nightlife can continue well past the current midnight or 1am or 2am curfew.

The four partners are: Chomsajee Techaratanaprasert, 24, daughter of Somsak Techaratanaprasert of Sahamongkol Film, one of Thailand's biggest distributors of foreign films; "Ted" Yuthana Boon-om, 37, a promoter of the indie music scene, organiser of Bangkok's Fat Festival for indie bands and now with the television producing company Polyplus; Arunee Srisuk, 34, movie publicist, event organiser, all-round freelancer in all chores relating to Thai cinema; and Pongnarin U-lit, 33, Chulalongkorn University film department graduate, host of a cinema talk radio shows and film critic.

"I've had an idea to open a cinema house with a theme, with a clear scope of the films we show, but I just don't have the manpower," Chomsajee told the Post.

"Meanwhile," added Yuthana, "we've long wanted to see a cinema that shows the kind of movies that regular theatres have no interested in showing. But we don't know how to start. My original idea was to rent one of those old, abandoned cinemas and renovate it into a kind of arthouse theatre. But hey, that requires such huge investment that I knew it was impossible."

Now, with the deep pockets of Sahamongkol, it's possible. The group has renovated two 200-seat theatres that will include a coffee bar and later an art gallery and a bookshop.

And despite being a project of Sahamongkol, House will function as an independent theatre that welcomes movies from all film importers (currently only Lido comes close to that status).

Sahamongkol failed in a previous attempt to create an exclusive arthouse at the former World Trade Centre. A problem with non-mainstream films in Bangkok is their short shelf-life. When a movie, for example, The Triplets of Belleville (currently on show at Lido), opens in the first week and the audience's response is not impressive, the theatre will reduce the showtimes and gradually fade the title out after two or three weeks. This puts added pressure on film-buffs to try to attend the screenings. Meanwhile, marketers know that sometimes a good film needs a longer period to build up word-of-mouth and generate interest.

House vows to fix that glitch: It intends to run each title for at least a month or longer regardless of the audience's reception.

To celebrate its grand opening next month, House plans to show 150 films during the first two weeks.

"We've selected 150 movies of the past few years that might have had a short run at Bangkok theatres or that never got a release, from Chinese classic like Zhang Yimou's Story of Qi Ju to City of God and everything in between. All you have to do is pay a membership fee of just 100 baht, then you can watch as many films as you want within these first three weeks."

Well, I'm excited. I've been thinking about the Story of Qi Ju and would like to see that again. Until the subway opens, RCA is hard to get to with the traffic situation in Bangkok, but I might make an effort depending on the movies they're showing.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Tropical Malady director 'shocked'

Thai director Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul says he was shocked to learn that his latest work, Tropical Malady, is in contention for the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He says it is "too simple a film" in an interview with Agence France-Presse.

After reading about it, it doesn't sound so simple, though.

"So simple that it is not really a festival kind of film, which usually has to have some dramatic value," Apichatpong told the French news agency. "I am kind of surprised because nothing much happens (in the film) and I am really curious to know the people's reaction."

"Tropical Malady" is actually two separate stories grafted together, he said. The two halves "are of a completely different style, different colors, different pace," he says, yet the audience should still be able to connect the dots.

The first story revolves around two men in a passionate relationship bordering between intense friendship and love. They are "lovers, but we never show them kiss, just hold hands," he says.

The second focuses on a man who ventures into the jungle in search of a tiger, or more specifically a shaman or man who has been transformed into a tiger. "At the end, the man has the choice of killing the tiger or letting it kill him."

The first, faster-paced half was inspired by classical Thai cinema, while the second resembles the slow-burn pace of the jungle love story, Blissfully Yours, AFP's article states. It adds: "Slow, meditative, and at times coarsely sexual, Blissfully Yours is no longer available in Thailand as even its censored version was banned recently by the government."

Another feature he directed, The Adventure of Iron Pussy, was shown earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival and has yet to be screened in Thailand. Given its gay-themed subject matter, about a transvestite secret agent, it's questionable that it will be shown at all, even though movies featuring transvestites are a major staple of the Thai film industry.

With his latest feature, Apichatpong says he has delivered an essay on the search for the self.

"There is a lot of metaphor on same-sex relationships, on the confusion of finding identity.

"It is unpredictable, it doesn't have a classical structure," and it's "semi-experimental," he adds.

Apichatpong told AFP that the odds are against him in the competition. "I don't think I can win the Palm, my movie is too personal. Tropical Malady is just representing myself, not Thailand."

Yet he says he feels the intense pressure brought by the expectations of a nation that in the past few years has churned out several delightful arthouse films that have the international market paying rapt attention - and expecting more than exotic novelty.

"Many people will not be proud to have this little movie, which is not technically perfect, and whose story is nothing!"

He is optimistic about the future of moviemaking in his country, with the emergence of a new generation of young directors such as Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Monrak Transistor, Last Life in the Universe) and Pimpaka Towira (One Night Husband) whose originality have begun winning prizes at international festivals.

"We are starting to hear more personal views," he says. "We have been opening up in the past years and I am sure we will move on to become more successful."

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Asian films at Cannes

In addition to Apitchapong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady and Wong Kar Wai's 2046 up for the Palm d'Or at Cannes this year, quite a few more Asian films are featured.

One that I'm pretty excited about is House of Flying Daggers, the second martial arts film from Zhang Yimou. Featured out of competition, House of Flying Daggers is about a blind girl (Zhang Ziyi) who falls in love with a policeman (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Andy Lau is also in the cast. Singer-actress Anita Mui died while the movie was in production. Her role was written out of the movie.

More period martial arts action can be found in Sword in the Moon from Korea, which is in the Un Certain Regard category.

Back over in the Palm d'Or competition are two more Korean films: the kidnapping thriller, Old Boy, by JSA director Park Chan Wook, and the romantic comedy Woman is the Future of Man by Hang Sang-Soo.

The first anime feature to be shown at Cannes, Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2) by Oshii Mamoru, is in the main competition, as well as Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows.

Also in the Un Certain Regard category is Passages, the debut film by China's Yang Chao. It's about some twentysomething characters as they cope with China's fast-changing society.

With Quentin Tarantino as jury president, the jury includes Hong Kong producer-director Tsui Hark. I wonder if those two will compare notes?

Friday, May 7, 2004

Suriyothai director visits Rings workshop; planning sequel

In preparing for his next film, veteran Thai director M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol has been visiting the Weta Workshops in New Zealand, according to

Weta was responsible for the special effects in the epic adaptation of the fantasy trilogy, Lord of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson.

Chatrichalerm, who directed the sprawling historical epic, Suriyothai as well as dozens of other films, is looking for new ideas as he plans to make an ambitious follow-up to the biggest movie ever made in Thailand.

According to an article by Kong Rithdee in today's Bangkok Post (Real Time, page 7), the prince is in pre-production for a new historical epic based on the life of King Naraesuan, the 16th century ruler who fought for Siamese independence during a Burmese occupation.

While Suriyothai featured a cast of 3,000 extras, plans are to have 10,000 extras in the followup, the New Zealand-based reported.

In Suriyothai, the actors wore authentic steel armor, which was heavy. Chatrichalerm was checking out the lightweight but authentic-looking armor hand-crafted by the Weta Workshop and used in The Lord of the Rings.

The prince and his crew have been learning how Weta used molds to create landscape features, and build miniature trees and miniature ships, reported, citing statements from Weta manager Jenny Morgan. They also spent time with weapons experts, who with other Weta staff had previously visited the prince's production company in Thailand.

Chatrichalerm first visited Weta seven months ago and met Peter Jackson, who is now in the midst of filming a remake of King Kong. By coincidence, Chatrichalerm, 61, was an intern for producer Merian Cooper, who produced and co-directed the original King Kong in 1933 - the version that Jackson is basing his remake on.

Another project that Chatrichalerm is considering is a fantasy-adventure, Peth Pra Uma, from a novel by Thai author Panom Thien, the Post reported. An epic bigger than Lord of the Rings and Suriyothai put together, Peth Pra Uma is a 50-volume series that narrates the trek of a ranger through a land of humans and monsters.

On Suriyothai, Chatichalerm collaborated with Francis Ford Coppola - a classmate from film school at UCLA - to re-edit a shorter-version of the original three-hour film for international audiences.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Last Life, OK Baytong, the Tessaract at Seattle film fest

For days I've been trying to access the Seattle International Film Festival site to see if any Thai movies are playing, but I haven't figured out how to access the program.

No matter. Some people on the Rotten Tomatoes Critics' Discussion forum have.

Anyway, according to the thread, Pen-Ek Ratanruang's Last Life in the Universe and Nonzee Nimibutr's OK Baytong will be shown at the festival.

Also, Oxide Pang's adaptation of the Alex Garland crime novel, The Tessaract, will be shown. Though filmed in Bangkok, The Tessaract hasn't even been seen in Thailand, for reasons unknown to me. Interest in the film has picked up. But it seems the Thai distributors had reason to shy away from it, writes Sam Adams of the Philadelphia City Paper. He had occasion to see The Tessaract at the recent Philadelphia Film Festival:

Lame attempt at an existential non-genre thriller by director Oxide Pang (The Eye, Bangkok Dangerous), filming in English for the first time. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Saskia Reeves are foreigners doing time in a Bangkok flophouse: He, a drug dealer waiting on a deal; she, a budding filmmaker interviewing street children. The plot twists desperately but only ties itself in knots, and the practically arbitrary insertion of gunplay indicates that Pang isn't yet ready to make the leap.

Hey, that's only one review. I'm still interested in checking it out.

In addition for Seattle festgoers, cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Last Life, Hero, In the Mood for Love, et. al.) will be on hand to give a master class. An appearance by Pen-ek is being mentioned as well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Review: Duel of Fists

  • Directed by Chang Cheh
  • Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Pawana Chanajit, Chan Sing
  • A Shaw Brothers Production, released in 1971, filmed on location in Bangkok; DVD release in 2004 by Celestial
  • Rating: 4/5

Another great Shaw Brothers title has been released on DVD by Celestial. Directed by Chang Cheh, David Chiang and Ti Lung star in this contemporary urban drama, set around the Thai boxing underworld of the 1970s.

Chiang plays an engineer in Hong Kong, who finds out he has a half brother in Thailand, and is implored to go find him by his dying father.

The dapper Chiang then jets off to Bangkok, landing during the water-splashing Thai New Year Songkran holiday. As he begins his search for his half-brother, he meets a helpful Thai woman, played by Thai leading lady Pawana Chanajit.

There is some cool footage of a less-congested, greener Bangkok. Landmarks including the Dusit Thani Hotel and the soon-to-be-demolished Siam Intercontinental Hotel. But Chiang makes up for the pollution by wearing some loud get ups. I'm sure they were styling threads for the times, but wow. A red cowboy hat? Nice scarves, boys.

The best fight scenes are in the boxing ring, with Ti Lung against a guy named Cannon who kills all his oppenents.

This isn't quite Ong-Bak, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Many of Celestial's remastered Shaw Bros titles are now available for around US$5 from United in Thailand. They have Thai and Mandarin soundtracks with Thai and English subtitles. They are missing the special features of the Hong Kong releases, but the picture and sound qualities are excellent, which is all I need to enjoy these kung-fu cult classics.