Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mid-year woes for Thai cinema

Mid-year finds the local press looking at the state of the Thai film industry and lamenting on the poor box-office showing of The Tin Mine, which was much anticipated by critics and fans of Thai cinema, and the overwhelmingly dominant showing of the low-budget comedy, The Holy Man.

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee must be livid, as he writes:

It's interesting to compare notes between The Tin Mine and another movie "with a message", The Overture. That movie, about a traditional Thai musician released last year, initially suffered a trifling box office receipt but orchestrated a stunning turnaround when the theme of nationalism, finding its metaphor in the dying art of traditional music, was pushed to the fore. The Ministry of Culture even came out to endorse it. Thus cinema may generally be a liberal art, but it seems that in Thailand it's often a tool of conservatism -- and nationalism, often blind and shallow, is now a trump card when a Thai movie labours to find a valid "message". In their last bid, the backers of The Tin Mine tried to rally support in the similar vein of The Overture, but without the goosebump-inducing sensation of "Thai culture" the audience didn't buy it.

The Tin Mine's poor reception will affect the course of Thai movies of the next 12 months in a significant way. Hard as it already is for directors to pitch their content-based projects, the situation will get even more sticky for them. We'll definitely see more ghost movies and comedies, surefire formulas for quick cash -- and though that's not a bad thing in itself it means the industry will have to forfeit the merit of variety. Much effort will be spent on creating the "image" of movies rather than on the movies themselves. And even if studio bigshots maintain an inkling of faith that a well-meaning film, perhaps with a subject matter that's not entire appealing to the masses, is still worth making, The Tin Mine's flop has heavily eroded that belief.

Playing into that hand is the fact that the top-grossing movie of the year so far is the B-grade slapstick Luang Pee Teng [The Holy Man]. An OK movie in its own fashion, the film's now beaming in the top-5 list of the country's all-time highest earners, and that confirms the truth that in Thailand the function of art is still purely to entertain. For artists who believe otherwise, they'll have to bite their lips and go back to toil hard labour in their own creative tin mine. Perhaps idealism has stopped working both on and off the silver screen.

The Nation's Parinyaporn Pajee writes further, about about The Tin Mine vs The Holy Man, interviewing producer Visute Poolvoralak (Fan Chan, Shutter), who says the failure of The Tin Mine has made him realize that Thai audiences are not all that hungry for well-made productions with a social or moral message. They prefer simply, easy-to-digest entertainment.

"It's a good movie and appeals to a small group of people, but that's too small to cover the expenses. We can't change the opinion of the majority. It's more logical to go for mainstream movies with improved quality than for art movies without an audience."

The romantic comedy-drama, Cherm (Midnight, My Love) surprised naysayers by generating Bt35.6 million, more than anyone thought it would make. Traditionally, Thai romances fare poorly at the local box office.

"The superstars [comedian "Mum Jokmok" Phetchthai Wongkumlao and TV soap actress Worranuch Wongsawan] attracted a much larger audience to this slow-paced movie," Visute told the Nation.

Meanwhile, directors Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng, are seeking greener pastures by obtaining foreign backing for their films and aiming them for the international market.

Pen-ek is working on Invisible Waves, in which he reteams with his Last Life in the Universe team of star Tadanobu Asano and cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Korean actress Kang Hye-Yang and Hong Kong funnyman Eric Tsang co-star.

Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog's Wisit is due to announce a new project that will be backed by Thailand's Five Star Productions and Luc Besson's Europa studio.

Top 10 Thai Films at the Box Office - Mid-year 2005
  1. Luang Phee Theng (The Holy Man) Bt141 million
  2. Buppha Rahtree Phase 2 (Rahtree Returns) Bt72 million
  3. Jom Khamungwej (Necromancer) Bt40 million
  4. Prajanban 2 (Seven Street Fighters) Bt36.5 million
  5. Cherm (Midnight My Love) Bt35.6 million
  6. Er Rer (Beautiful, Wonderful, Perfect) Bt31 million
  7. Jee (Andaman Girl) Bt27 million
  8. Muang Rae (The Tin Mine) Bt25 million
  9. The Mia (The Bullet Wives) Bt11.2 million
  10. Sum Mue Peun (Hitman File) Bt9.5 million
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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