Saturday, April 30, 2005

Cambodia seeks Thai film help

Dy Saveth, a Cambodian movie star of the 1970s, says she would like to produce a few films but needs to find a financier.

Dy is best known for her role in 1971's Snake Girl or Ngu Kengkong. An adaptation of a Khmer folk tale, the film was remade in 2001 as a Cambodian-Thai co-production.

But since then, exchanges between Thailand and Cambodia have been prickly. In 2003, anti-Thai mobs, enraged by falsely based newspaper reports that a Thai actress had insulted the Cambodian people, burned the Thai embassy and several businesses in Phnom Penh.

Thai programs are banned from Cambodian TV, but a delegation from Cambodia recently visited Thailand, seeking assistance with film and television projection, the Bangkok Post reported recently.

The ban on Thai films has been lifted, though, allowing Cambodians to see such movies as Ong Bak, Krasue, Asurakai, and Satree Lek (Iron Ladies) 2 [don't know where they would actually see these films -- there's only one cinema in Cambodia].

The 61-year-old Dy Saveth, now a professor of art at Royal Phnom Penh University, said she would be happy if exchanges of Thai and Cambodian films returned to the same level as in the past.

Panupong Unnahalekka, a producer at Kantana Co, said he was moved to hear that Cambodia wanted to work with Thai producers rather than with Americans.

Kantana has held a concession to run TV channel 5 in Cambodia for a decade, and was one of the Thai companies to suffer during the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots two years ago.

Mr Panupong said the Cambodian film and TV production industry needed assistance in all aspects -- technical (lighting, camera angles, sound etc.), financing and script writing.

''They want to revive their film industry. At the moment they have hit-and-run films with cheap production and short shooting times and budgets of only 100,000 baht or so,'' he said.

Related posts:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Thai films in New York

Shutter is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival right now, where it's sure to pick up some attention from the remake crowd, if it hasn't already.

There's also a short film called Enlightenment. It's all I found from Thailand when I did a search under the schedule.

Also in New York, recently, there was the second annual ThaiTakes film festival. From the looks of this article, it had a killer lineup: Tears of the Black Tiger, Nang Nak, The Adventure of Iron Pussy, Sayew, Siam Renaissance, One Night Husband and Fan Chan.

Actually, it's a bit hard to tell from the article what actually played. Not that it matters anymore, because it's over. But it's a good piece, quoting Chalida Uambumrungjit, of the Thai Film Foundation, and director Wisit Sasanatieng.

Thai films face external challenges as well -- audiences have become more attuned to Hollywood rhythms and story arcs than experimental ones, and cinemas often push even mainstream Thai films out of the way to make room for the latest Tinseltown Twinkie.

"Today's films have no creative signature," Weerasethakul told Asian cinema magazine Firecracker. "Thais tolerate so much that we absorb a lot of foreign styles: roman architecture, TV soap opera. So Thailand is increasingly a 'mixing bowl' and consequently I don't think Thai film has a clear identity."

Expect to see more Thai connections in NYC. Thai Airways is unveiling a 17-hour direct flight from the Big Mango to the Big Apple on its new lineup of Airbus A340-500 airliners.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Jan Dara on Region 1 DVD

Nonzee Nimibutr's 2001 film, Jan Dara, is now available on Region 1 DVD, according to Twitch, which found the erotic 1930s-period Thai drama at Kino.

It's available at

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

'Rings' producer wants to make Thai film

Lord of the Rings producer Barrie M Osborne plans make a drama called Round Five, about a Bangkok tuk-tuk driver who falls in love with a foreign tourist, The Nation has reported.

The reporter went as far as checking the Internet Movie Database, where plot spoilers and other bad news might be found. It lists the film's director as Wych Kaosayananda, who is internationally infamous as the director of Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, a film that has a whopping 0 percent rating on the Rotten Tomatoes database.

Kaos, as he prefers to be called, has another film to his credit, a Thai action drama called Fah, not to be confused with Fah Talai Jone or Tears of the Black Tiger. Fah isn't very well regarded by critics, either, but it was enough of a box-office hit in Thailand that it got Kaos the job in Hollywood of directing Ballistic, which was made in those heady years just after Crouching Tiger, when Hollywood was nuts for any Asian director.

The 2006 project is listed as "in production" and has no details on the cast.

Osborne woudn't identity the leading actor or actress but said the hero would be Thai and the heroine a foreigner, The Nation said. Most of the cast would be hired in Thailand.

Round Five is budgeted at 400 million baht, or about US$10 million. According to The Nation, Osborne told Tourism Minister Somsak Thepsuthin that he would invest the money through Mullis Capital (Thailand) Co, a Bangkok-based film production house.

Osborne, also executive producer of The Matrix and many other hit films, said the film would depict local lifestyles as well as showcase the scenery of Phuket, Bangkok and surrounding areas.

Shooting would start in October and last six weeks. The film’s North American premiere is scheduled for next summer.

"The film will tell the story of a Buddhist Thai guy who has completed the monkhood and is now a tuk-tuk driver in the capital. Then he falls in love with a young beautiful tourist. But the two of them are from different backgrounds. The story will showcase Thai ways of life in various aspects including boxing, religion, fighting and narcotics issues," Osborne was quoted as saying.

See also:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Quiet year at Cannes

Sebu has resurfaced with some disappointing news about this year's lineup at the Cannes Film Festival.

"Not a single film from Southeast Asia among the two competitive sections (official selection and un certain regard)," Sebu notes.

Cambodia's Rithy Panh will have his latest film, The Artists of the Theatre Brule, screened in the major section, but "out of competition".

The new showcase, Tous les Cinemas du Monde, will present some Filipino cinema and Som Ock Southiphonh, a Laotian filmaker, was picked by Cinefondation, a Paris-based Cannes film academy, in "l'atelier du festival" program, to help him finding financial support for his project, Sebu says.

"Anyway," writes Sebu, "the Tom Yum Goong gang is probably about to invade the Croisette and may make huge deal in the film market and the La Quinzaine des Realisateurs (Cannes off-section) line-up will be unveiled next Tuesday."

Indeed, after last year, with Tropical Malady and Old Boy winning major prizes, this year's lineup seems to have shifted away from Asia.

This year will feature the directorial debut of Tommy Lee Jones, the second part of a trilogy by Lars von Trier and the first entry by Wim Wenders in eight years. Not to mention Star Wars Episode III being screened out of competition.

In addition to von Trier's Manderlay'; Jones's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada; there will be Sin City (which has yet to open in Thailand), David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, Broken Flowers by Jim Jarmusch and starring Bill Murray and Sharon Stone and Last Days, a Gus Van Sant film about a Kurt Cobain-like rock star holed up in his house during his final 72 hours.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Indy 500

What will folks in Indiana make of Asian films like Tropical Malady, The Beautiful Washing Machine or Old Boy? The Indianapolis International Film Festival is bringing these films in. Having been there, done that, I would say it could a breath of fresh air for folks isolated amongst soybean and cornfields and hog farms. The Indy Star has a lineup of the films and a bit more about the fest.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Report from the set of Invisible Waves

Twitch has a Southeast Asian correspondent, who was in Phuket for the filming of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves:

Having a day visit to the set of Pen-ek's Invisible Waves starring Gang Hye Jung from Old Boy, Asano Tadanobu (Ichi the Killer, Zatoichi and the upcoming Tokyo Zombies) and the [director of photograpy] is Chris Doyle. Right now we are shooting in Patong, in the gay bar district. It is 10am, so things are still quiet, but lots of lady boys and neon signs advertising "Bar for Men". When the extras stripped down to their underwear, you could tell you were on a Pen-ek film!

While Asano was taking a break we were talking film and the subject of the great Rock and Roll zombie film, Wild Zero came up as it was also shot in Thailand (with Thai military and their familes playing the gut munchers).

The Thai New Agency has a report. Seems the government hopes to derive some tourism value from the film. The Bangkok Post has a huge report. And Monkey Peaches has a report, too.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Singapore film fest

Tropical Malady is in competition at the Singapore International Film Festival from April 14 to 30. It's the lone feature film from Thailand. The fest also has several Thai short films.

But what really caught my attention at the fest is an Asian Anime category. Steam Boy is part of this and is the opening film. There's also Ghost in the Shell 2, Appleseed, Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers and a Korean anime, Wonderful Days.

From Cambodia, Rithy Panh's latest film, The People of Angkor, will be screened. And there are many more. The Malaysia Star has a roundup of some of the Asian entries.

In addition to Tropical Malady, there are nine other films up for the Silver Screen Awards:
  • 1st Time, Lyle Nemenzo Sacris, Philippines
  • A Time Far Past, Ho Quang Minh, Vietnam
  • Bow Barracks Forever,Anjan Dutt, India
  • Of Love and Eggs, Garin Nugroho, Indonesia
  • Stray Dogs, Marziyeh Meshkini, Iran
  • The Green Hat, Liu Fendou, Hong Kong
  • The Hunter, Serik Aprymov, Japan/Kazakhstan
  • This Charming Girl, Lee Yoon-Ki, Korea
  • Underexposure,Odey Rasheed, Germany/Iraq
The program of Thai shorts is being shown as part of the sidebar Fringe Festival, which begins on April 8. It includes:
  • War by Niyom Khongchay
  • Mr Weirdo & Anomalous Space by Arnont Nongyaow
  • The Wall by Doongta Patummasoot, Baramee Smathipunya, Sahaporn Noiyu and Anocha Pisaipan
  • Full Moon by Pongpol Wonsawat, Seri Lachonnabot and Narongrit Prathum
  • The Night Of Freedom by Areewan Wattaranon, Sittipon Chankomol, Sek Sakunasingh, Worachat Suwan and Patchara Eaimtrakul

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Review: SARS Wars

  • Directed by Taweewat Wantha
  • Starring Thep Pho-Ngam, Suppakorn Kitsuwan, Phinlusuda Tunphairso, Lena Christensen, Somlek Sakdikul.
  • Released in Thailand in 2004, reviewed on Region 3 Thailand DVD with with English subtitles from Mangpong
  • Rating: 5/5

Zombies! Thai zombies! I'm all in favor of this. SARS Wars is over the top and silly, but for some reason, I really enjoyed it for its excellent performances and self-referential deprecation.

The story plays on the 2003 health scare that gripped Asia -- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. By the time the film came out, SARS had been eclipsed by bird flu, but that didn't detract from its entertainment value.

Somehow, a virus-infected insect from Africa lands in Thailand and transmits Sars, which turns people into sharp-toothed, frothing-at-the mouth zombies. Now I'm still pretty much a neophyte when it comes to zombies. I've seen the Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days, Versus and the trailer for the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Out of all that, I have to say that the zombies created in SARS Wars were among the most terrifying and brutal. The sound effects accompanying them as they gnawed on their victims skulls was especially sickening. Crunch, crunch, crunch ...

The film opens with an animated sequence, showing the adventures of a super-hero swordfighting crimebuster, Master Thep, and his student. It's meant to be sort of a prologue, showing the hero getting his leg smashed by his student's motorcycle.

Cut to present: A Catholic girls school. Okay, for the guys, we have some fetishes running wild here -- not only are the girls Asian, they are wearing short checkered Catholic girls' school skirts. One of the girls, Liu (Phinlusuda Tunphairso), is picked up by her driver. Along the way, he is distracted by a beautiful woman in a bikini by the side of the road. Then a guy in a bear suit (another fetish, if you can believe it, but not mine) is standing in the road and is struck by the car. It's all a ruse. The girl is kidnapped. And the girl in the bikini turns out to be a man (Somlek Sakdikul).

So the hero, Master Thep, is talked back into action to rescue the girl, on the condition he can give the mission to his new student, Krabi (Suppakorn Kitsuwan).

Meanwhile, the Sars fly has landed in Bangkok and has bitten prominent local television personality Andrew Biggs, who turns into a zombie and starts biting other people. This is occurring in the apartment building where the schoolgirl is being held hostage, so the two story threads meet here.

Add a dance club full of zombies, a zombie Persian kitty that is eaten by a python named Albert that turns into a giant CGI zombie snake (think Anacondas) as well as a flying baby zombie to the mix and it gets pretty crazy.

In addition, there's a nod to Star Wars with Master Thep's Green Tea super-sword (also possibly a reference to the Destiny Sword of Crouching Tiger) that is more of a light sabre (until the batteries die out).

The performances are excellent. First, there's the star Thep Po-Ngam, the bald-headed veteran comedian who's also directed a few comedy films. Though he's been in many films, this is the first I've seen him in (outside of Killer Tattoo) and I thoroughly enjoyed his characterisations. I'm now a fan.

Then there's the No 2 hero, Supakorn Kitsuwan, whom I'm already a big fan of because he was the No 2 in Tears of the Black Tiger and the star of Monrak Transistor, two of my favorite films. Here, he's using his exaggerated, deep voice, like he did in Black Tiger. He's very much the hero.

Somlek Sakdikul, who is apparently in every Thai comedy film being made last year and this year, portrays the villain in SARS Wars. Memorably, he portrayed the sleazy music promoter Daddy in Monrak Transistor, so he gets to interact again with Supakorn. And because Somlek's character has bisexual leanings, just like Daddy, the interaction between the two actors definitely brings Monrak to mind.

There's a couple of cool self-referential moments. Early in the film, the father of the schoolgirl, Liu is trying to tempt Master Thep out of retirement by having a couple of bikini-clad women give him a lap dance. They start to remove their skimpy clothes and Thep tells them to hold on.

"Why, don't you like these girls?"

"Oh, I like them, but I don't think the censors will."

Later on, a TV remote is used to freeze some of the action. Thep says with much glee: "This is the most exaggerated part of the movie!"

"Well, they've watched it this far," says Krabi.

They then high-five each other and do a little victory dance.

In addition to the Catholic schoolgirl getting covered in blood and swinging away a zombies with a fire ax, there's more eye candy for the guys in the way of a Thai doctor who of course is a sexy woman (Lena Christensen). She wears pleather short-shorts, bustier and fishnet stockings underneath her white isolation suit. She's also the romantic relief for Thep's character.

And, in a bid to get around the censors, as well as being a nod to Kill Bill, there's an animated flashback sequence involving Liu and some interaction she has with Somlek Sakdikul's twisted cross-dressing villain. It's pretty bloody, as well as more risque than the Thai Censorship Board would probably allow. Which makes it lots of fun to watch.

There's also some satire involving the stern health minister character who embodies the image-conscious Thai government. She wants to contain the zombies at all costs and is willing to blow up the entire building to protect Thailand's reputation. Her appearance clearly references the bespectacled health minister in Prime Minister Thaksin's first government, Sudarat Keyuraphan, who is now agriculture minister.

The DVD is loaded with extras. Though the menus are all in Thai, it's a no-brainer to navigate -- just select items and see what they are.

Among them is a deleted scene in which Andrew Biggs' character was a scientist looking for a vaccine to the Sars virus and them somehow became infected. This storyline was dropped and Biggs ended up portraying himself. An Australian journalist, Biggs has worked in the Thai media for years, first for Nation Multimedia, and now for BEC-Tero (the producer of SARS Wars), which runs Thai TV Channel 3. He speaks fluent Thai, having earned a degree in Thai language from Ramkamheang University, and is a popular presenter, host and English-language educator. He's also taken his acting cues from Thai television. His acting in character was a bit wooden and overexaggerated -- characteristic of a lot of Thai television actors -- so it was a wise choice to change the storyline and just let Andrew be Andrew the Zombie.

(Cross-posted at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, April 1, 2005

AB-Normal Beauty nominated

Narin Visitsak was among the nominees for best visual effects for his work on the Pang's AB-Normal Beauty at the 24th Hong Kong Film Awards. He was up against some heavy hitters -- 2046 and Kung Fu Hustle (which won).

A recap of the awards is here.

As an aside, I wonder what the criteria are for the the HK Film Awards' "Best Asian Film" category? Old Boy got the award, which is cool. But I wonder why the awards seem to favor Japanese films (there were two) and seem to exclude anything else but Chinese (and Taiwanese?), Korean and Japanese movies. What about Thai films? Has a Thai film ever been nominated? Have to do some research.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)