Thursday, July 28, 2005

Behind-the-scenes Invisible Waves photos

Some behind-the-scenes photos from the set of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves have turned up at Twitch.

The film stars Tadanobu Asano, Old Boy's Gang Hye-Jang and veteran Hong Kong comic actor Eric Tsang.According to, Invisible Waves has wrapped up shooting and is now in post production.

Here's the photos:

Pen-Ek Ratanraruang on the set with British film critic and Asian film specialist Tony Rayns.

Christopher Doyle works on the location in Phuket.

Asano and Christopher Doyle with Maria Cordero.

(Via Kaiju Shakedown, cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Apichatpong and Amadeus

Tropical Malady director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's next project will be called Intimacy and Turbulence.

It's kind of confusing. The film is co-financed by the New Crowned Hope Project, which has commissioned six movies about the life of Mozart, to be screened in Vienna next year to celebrate Mozart's 250th Birthday, but the films themselves, apparently, needn't have anything to do with Mozart at all.

(Via Kaiju Shakedown and, cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sars Wars panned at Hong Kong

Senses of Cinema's report on the Hong Kong film festival pans a guilty pleasure film of mine -- the zombie horror spoof, Sars Wars.

Charles Leary, a Ph.D. candidate in Cinema Studies at New York University, must've been in a bad mood when he saw it:

The worst film I saw at the festival was the ridiculous SARS War (Taweewat Wanta, 2004), the premise of which sounded very promising: a zombie movie within the context of SARS. However, there is nothing about SARS in the film, and the zombies are instead miscellaneous annoying punks attacking the sexually-immature martial-arts hero.

Leary goes on to report that Taweewat was in attendance at the screening and "announced his next project would depict a giant sperm wreaking havoc in Bangkok.

While I hesitate to dismiss such trash film projects, the excessive tongue-in-cheek attitude of SARS War, with characters constantly making generic remarks to the camera, was a bit too much.

Too much for overly serious film scholars like Leary perhaps, but perfect for regular filmgoers looking for a little fun.

(Thanks Sebu! Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Citizen Dog at Locarno, prizes for Buppha Rahtree 2 in Puchan

Got a couple of film festival updates from Sebu:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tony Jaa takes it on the chin

As the August 11 release date for Tom Yum Goong nears, and Tony Jaa's face is plastered on movie posters all over Bangkok, word on the streets is that Tony had some plastic surgery done on his jaw.

It looks more defined, like maybe some baby fat was removed, compared to his look in Ong-Bak.

In The Nation's English-language SmartLife supplement today, Tony denied he'd had plastic surgery, saying he had worn braces for awhile after filming Ong-Bak and the orthopedic work narrowed his jawline.

However, like Tata Young's denial that she'd had work done to increase her breast size (she said she'd simply put on weight, which made her boobs bigger), most folks aren't buying Tony's explanation, nor do they really care. People just want something to talk about.

In other Tony Jaa news, the martial-arts sensation has been appointed an official government spokesman to promote longans, a fruit that Thailand is seeking to export to China. A television spot has been produced and I saw it shown as part of the previews before a recent screening at House cinema.

The clip features Tony taking on a foreigner and several other bad guys in a shophouse district. At the end, Ong-Bak sidekick Mom Jok Mok appears, and is munching on a bunch of longans, but won't share any with Tony.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Review: Crying Tigers (Suea Rong Hai)

  • Directed by Santi Taepanich
  • Starring Pornsak Songsang, Lua-fua Mokjok, Nate Insee Lek, Oay Sing-nukkub, Man Haupla
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on July 21, 2005

It took me a couple of times to appreciate this film. The first time I saw it, at a press screening, it lacked English subtitles, though I still came away with a better understanding of the hardships faced by migrant workers from Isaan, as well as showbusiness people in Thailand.

The second time I saw it, was with subtitles, so I could understand what was actually being said.

Northeast Thailand, or Isaan, is a largely rural and somewhat impoverished area of Thailand. Ask about any taxi driver, maid, massuese or bargirl working in Bangkok where they are from and they will likely mention a province from that section of the country -- Roi Et, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Sakon Nakon, etc.

Looking to investigate how the sons and daughters of Isaan are faring in Bangkok, director Santi Taepanich put together this documentary, which according to Kong Rithdee of the Bangkok Post, is the first Thai documentary to recieve a wide commercial release in cinemas.

Santi initially wanted it to be an indie production, but the project ended up attracting Ong-Bak backers Baa Ram Eew productions and Sahamongkol Film, which backed the film to the tune of 30 million baht (about US$700,000 - so by Hollywood terms it still is an indie film).

After seeing the subjects he chose, it's easy to see why Baa Ram Eew and Sahamongkol got all excited about it. And I'm sure they had some influence on the subject matter as well.

After filming more than 100 subjects, the documentary has boiled down to five people, all natives of Isaan: a folksinger, a member of a nightclub comedy troupe, a tout for a seafood restaurant, a stuntman and a taxi driver.

Of the five, at least one has aspirations that connect him to Sahamongkol talent -- stuntman Neth Insee Lek (or Neth Iron Eagle) worked on Born to Fight and aspires to follow in the footsteps of another son of Isaan -- Tony Jaa of Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong. Indeed, the stuntman, Ned, receives a thrashing in a scene with Tony, which is from Tom Yum Goong. He's a thug in a barroom scene, and Tony pins him against the bar and wails on him.

Pornsak Songsang is the famous folksinger, actually morlam, the infectiously energetic form of country music that is popular in Isaan, especially close to the Lao border. He achieved great fame, even "going inter", touring the world -- one of the first Thai singing stars to do so.

But he's a down to earth guy. He's interviewed in his room at a rundown shortime hotel, with tattered curtains and worn-out furniture. I figured maybe he's washed up, but he's been living in this short-time room for 20 years. Turns out, this is where he and his singing troupe ended up when they first hit Bangkok, and they've stayed there. It keeps them real. And, since it's only temporary -- he longs to move back to his farm and live with his wife and kids -- why spend money on a big, nice house?

There's some cool old footage of him, probably from the early 90s. He talks about outdrawing Thongchai Bird McIntyre, currently Thailand's reigning king of pop.

Man, the tout for the seafood restaurant -- he dresses up as a fish and tries to lure passing cars into the place -- aspires to be a nightclub comedian. Aside from the stuntman, most of the screentime deals with Man's quitting his job as a fish and going to work for Luer Fluer Mok Jok's nightclub comedy troupe.

Man starts out as a roadie, sitting backstage or off to the side, keeping track of how long the act has been on and how long they have to go. Eventually, he's given some bit part, where he dresses up in a short skirt and heavy makeup and simply packs up the set in that costume. Then he gets his break, by becoming a regular part of the act, singing a song.

But his life is a mess. There's family problems back up in Isaan, then he's called up to report for the military draft lottery, and his mother dies.

By the end of the film, he's joined the comedy troupe with the other comedian featured in the film.

Oay, the taxi driver, loves to drive. She's been driving a cab but dreams of driving a big rig. So she learnes how to jam them gears and signs on with trucking firm, driving an 18-wheeler hauling shipping containers. Eventually, she makes the trip she's been longing to make.

Stuntman Neth was the most interesting guy for me. In fact, I think fans of stuntmen, Ong-Bak and Born to Fight, will want to check this film out just for his segment alone. They show some punishing stuff -- hard falls and throws, getting set on fire, and getting smashed over the head with a clay pot. Ouch! That's got to hurt! And it does. He's got the cuts and bruises to prove it.

He starts out working for the Iron Eagle stuntman team, doing some direct-to-VCD productions -- the kind of low-budget stuff that Ong-Bak choreographer Panna Ritthakai started out doing. It's amateur stuff -- the kinds of stunts you might do in your backyard if you didn't have any sense and/or parental guidance. At one point, they go to pick up a real pane of glass, just so Neth can smash through it.

In another scene, he's set on fire. And in yet another -- a stuntman show on a parking lot -- another stuntman is severly burned in a stunt gone awry. He blames Neth and another stuntman for not helping douse the flames quickly enough.

Neth also works on soaps and does on-the-set catering part-time as well.

I think with the help of some liquor, Neth and Man both tearfully pour their hearts out.

Nate is especially bitter in one scene, bemoaning the life of the stuntman. "I do backflips, and he becomes famous", he says, though it's never clear who he's talking about. "My knees, my elbows, they hurt," he says, sobbing.

All profess their love for Isaan, which under the best of circumstances is a lovely, rural area with an easygoing lifestyle. But drought, isolation and a lack of jobs, education and other opportunities leads Isaan folks to seek better fortunes in Bangkok. But eventually, for one reason or another, all most make the return trip.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Bodyguard, Born to Fight on DVD with subs

The Bodyguard has been released on Region 2 DVD with English subtitles, according to Twitch. And Born to Fight is due out soon.

Both are films that fans of Ong-Bak will want to check out. The Bodyguard, primarily a starring/directing vehicle for Petchtai Wongkamklao, or Mum Jokmok (or Dirty Balls, if you insist!), features Tony Jaa in a small but high-profile role.

Born to Fight is a gritty actioner directed by Ong-Bak choreographer Panna Rittikrai.

Neither have been available on legal DVD with English subs.

Here's the story on The Bodyguard, not that it really matters:

Chaichol is both devastated and furious when his father, Chot -- the richest man in Thailand -- is assassinated. He fires Wongkom, his late father's bodyguard, for failing to do his job and the situation worsens when Chaichol finds out that he himself is now a taregt for snipers. It doesn't take him long to realize that the only person who can save his life is Wongkom, the devoted bodyguard he recently tossed aside.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, July 1, 2005

Wisit Sasanatieng's third film: Namprix

Wisit Sasanatieng's third film will be a historical yarn, Namprix, with a US$3 million budget as part of a deal with Luc Besson's EuropaCorp and Thailand's iconic film studio, Five Star Production. Anchalee Chaiworapon's reports on it, as does Parinyaporn Payee in The Nation.

EuropaCorp is developing the film with an eye toward marketing it at arthouses and film festivals, a smart move, since intelligent films made by the likes of Wisit, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul seem to have no market in Thailand, though you can blame those directors for trying.

Namprix has been in development for quite awhile. "This project began seven years ago as a one-page brief," Wisit was quoted as saying by "It had been shelved due to financial difficulties since it needed a huge budget for the production."

Namprix (literally Hot Chilli Sauce, the former project title) was developed into a pilot treatment, and selected to participate in Fifth Pusan Promotion Plan. It was one of the two selected Thai projects, aside Apichatphong's Ecstasy Garden.

Namprix will combine an ancient folklore that's full of fun and magic with a famous Thai dish that shows art and culture.

Set in ancient Siam, it tells the story of a man who has a gift for telling one spicy sauce from another and is hailed the "king of nam prik" but ends up as a swashbuckling pirate sailing the Thai seas.

Asked to compare the styles between this new film and earlier, director Wisit concluded: "They all still focus on the visuals. Tears of the Black Tiger portrays those in an old Thai film style, Citizen Dog is the visuals corresponding to modern Thai. Namprix will go back [further] than that."

"It will be an antique Thai legend, with very traditional Thai picture like the old wall painting [in the Thai Buddhist temples]. But we will animate them," Wisit said. "We will make them move. It is not an epic, but a folklore in order to tell our roots, our culture."

The director said the film will convey the Thai root in the aspect of "arts", when asked to in which aspects the film belongs to between culture, arts, and society.

Food-based titles are hot this year, with the Ong-Bak followup named after the sweet-and-sour shrimp soup, Tom Yum Goong. Namprix also recalls another Luc Besson project, the French-Japanese hybrid, Wasabi.

Namprix is EuropaCorp's first co-production film in Asia. Before that, the company co-produced two English-speaking movies and another one with Brazil.

However, despite gaining more success overseas than he has at home, Wisit insists that Thai audiences are his primary objective. "The other is only a bonus."

EuropaCorp also formally announced that it has purchased the European and North American distribution rights to Citizen Dog, with an aim toward distributing it to film festivals and arthouses. This is good news, too, as it seems Besson's company has no intention of re-editing the film, as they did for Ong-Bak -- though re-editing a Wisit film and re-editing Ong-Bak wouldn't really be the same crime. Touching one frame of a Wisit film is a crime deserving capital punishment, or at least life in solitary, whereas editing Ong-Bak was unnecessary, but pardonable.

Anyway, EuropaCorp was badly burned when it lost the battle for the rights to the Ong-Bak followup, Tom Yum Goong, after it takes responsibility for introducing Ong-Bak and its star Tony Jaa to the world.

Hopefully EuropaCorp can create the same kind of buzz for Wisit. They also have the European rights to Wisit's first film, Tears of the Black Tiger, and as long as Miramax has the North American rights, with that film locked away in a vault, Europe is where you'll find it on DVD (the Thai-distributed version has gone out of print).

See also:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)