Friday, February 29, 2008

English-subtitled trailer for Art of the Devil 3

How can this film be shown in Thailand? I mean, this is the place where Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was censored, because it was deemed to be too gruesome.

Well, I think the 1:22 minutes of this trailer is far more graphic and stomach churning than all the blood-letting (not to mention Johnny Depp's attempts at singing) in Sweeney Todd.

I guess it is all in the editing. Where Tim Burton did not flinch from showing the razor slice a man's neck, and gallons of blood flowing out, Art of the Devil 3's Ronin Team cuts away at the very last microsecond before the scissors slice through a man's tongue, leaving it to sound and stylization techniques to heighten the impact.

I have mixed feelings about the Art of the Devil films, which I am struggling to put together, because, well because I'm a big scaredy cat, and I haven't seen any of them.

I will say I am not enamored by this particular genre of torture porn that seems to be growing more in popularity and becoming more and more explicit. I saw Saw. That was enough for me; haven't seen the sequels. Nor have I seen Hostel. But there are other of these kinds of films I've liked, such as Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, which I think have a broader, less sinister appeal.

Art of the Devil 3 (Llong Kong 2) opens in Thailand cinemas on April 3.

More information:

(Via 24 Frames per Second, Five Star Production)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Review: The 8th Day

  • Directed by Chodchai Yoadsaranee
  • Written by Warisara Puthpavana
  • Starring Watsana Chalakorn, Thanarate Siriwattanagul, Jennie Oprasert
  • An ANA Film Network release produced by Piya Khuntipakorn, Somchai Leenanruk, Ladda Santriratnukul
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on February 28, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5
Though you might perceive some multi-hued nuances in your life, the rest of the world sees things in black and white, which isn’t always right. That’s the message of The 8th Day, a monochrome independent psychological thriller, written by Warisara Puthpavana and directed by Chodchai Yoadsaranee.

While it creates a mysterious atmosphere, the black and white film also allows for a reversal of aesthetics when there are flashback scenes. A film cliche is to run the flashbacks in black and white. Here, they are in living colour.

The 8th Day takes place in a close-knit Bangkok neighbourhood, where everybody thinks they know everybody’s business. So the community comes unglued when a little girl goes missing.

Turns out, Nong Prae (Jennie Oprasert) has been taken inside the home of the local washerwoman, a mentally unstable “auntie” named Choom (Watsana Chalakorn). So fragmented are Choom’s thoughts, she goes off and leaves Prae in a closed-off upstairs room in her dusty old house, and forgets about her. The next morning, when she hears the girl stirring, Choom thinks she is hearing the ghost of her own daughter, who died accidentally years before.

Watching the whole thing transpire is a smug college student, Num (Thanarate Siriwattanagul), who thinks he’s just stumbled on the ultimate thesis for his psychiatry degree. But his actions should provide a case study in medical ethics.

For seven days this goes on, with Choom trying to go about her daily routine, but becoming rattled by the “ghost” girl in her upstairs room. One day, the scatter-brained mommie dearest picks up a wire coat hanger, and the results are not pretty. All the medical student does is peep at the action through his binoculars and compile his research.

However implausible the story might be, The 8th Day is still worth watching for the fact that it dares to break away from the tiresome formula of so many contemporary Thai suspense films, which use sound or musical cues and gross-out effects to create scares. Here, the thrill is all in the sense of dread that falls across the expressive face of lead actress Watsana, with a reward for the look on that face on the first day following her week-long ordeal.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Thai film industry wants to be like South Korea's

Whenever executives from the big Thai movie studios talk to the government, they usually talk about how they want to model the Thai film industry on South Korea's, which they view as a huge commercial success.

In principle, I agree with many of the concepts, which call for government support, rather than government control.

A Bangkok Post story today (cache) outlined the Thai film industry's wish list, as stated to Commerce Minister Mingkwan Sangsuwan by Visute Poolvoralaks, chief executive of Grammy Thai Hub:

  • Deregulation -- Switch from the strict censorship regime to a more audience- and filmmaker-friendly ratings system.
  • Cut import taxes -- Film stock, cameras and other equipment must be imported, and the duties are high, increasing costs for the filmmakers.
  • Suppress counterfeiting -- Piracy eats into the bottom line (never mind that buying and selling dodgy DVDs on the street is viewed as a Thai birthright).

Jina Osothsilp, managing director of GTH, is quoted by the Post, saying a roll of film costs just under US$100 in the US (or 3,000 baht), but by the time it is imported into Thailand, that roll of film more than doubles in price to 8,000 baht. She says:

You can imagine how the import duty is a burden."

Visute and Jina chalk up South Korea's success on the world cinema scene to a combination of marketing and government support. Visute says:

I would say that more than 50 percent of Korean movies are good, while quality Thai movies are so few."

One thing the story does not mention is the quota system that Korea had, which required cinemas to screen Korean films for a higher percentage of days than foreign imports. In theory, the system was designed to improve the commercial quality of Korean films, to make them competitive with Hollywood's product - to make Korean films something that would attract people to the cinemas. The quotas were largely scrapped in recent years, causing some upheaval among Korean filmmakers, who lament they are overshadowed by Hollywood.

The idea of quotas comes up in Thai industry talks from time to time, but I'm not convinced it would be practical, or even necessary. Thai cinemagoers have been on a steady diet of Hollywood films for many decades now. Nonetheless, Thai films are growing increasingly popular, and often top the local box office over Hollywood releases, especially Thai slapstick comedies, ghost stories and weepy romances. Visute says his company, GTH, producer of such films as the original Shutter, Dorm, The Bedside Detective and Handle Me With Care, has just about perfected its formula:

Now we know what the right things are for us after three years of experimenting."

The new film law, passed late last year in the willy-nilly lawmaking by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly is addressed in the story. Here is what it says:

Visute said the new Film Act approved by the previous government to replace the 1973[?] Film Act might introduce impractical regulations like a censorship board.

"The new law could change the landscape of the Thai film industry in a better way or the other way around. If the organic laws set impractical regulations, that would severely hurt the industry," he said.

Under existing legislation, Thai and foreign films would be screened by a strict censorship board dominated by senior police officers who have a reputation for cutting out all explicit sex scenes and anything deemed to be offensive to Buddhism or be politically sensitive.

The industry has lobbied for the current censorship system to be replaced by film ratings, such as 'R' for films restricted to adults. But some are already worried that the amended law may worsen the environment for artistic freedom rather than improve it.

Indeed, the film law, as passed by the junta's rubber-stamp legislature, is very restrictive, with provisions that still include censorship and banning as part of the formula. Films could be censored or banned if they are determined to be a threat to national security -- whatever that means. There is a proposed ratings system, which has a closely tiered grouping of age restrictions, with Under 20 being the highest.

As passed, the new film act still needs another law or ministerial regulation that details the mechanisms of the ratings system and how it would be administered. But so far, I've heard nothing about that. Except they are still censoring films.

Meanwhile, several of the laws passed by the National Legislative Assembly are being called into question, since they were often passed without a quorum, or were counter to the Constitution. The Film Law hasn't been mentioned yet as being among those. Bangkok Pundit has more on the "law factory".

More information:

Lullaby Before I Wake in Australia

Remember Lullaby Before I Wake? This is the indie Thai-American hybrid that played in a limited run late last year at the Lido cinemas in Bangkok.

It is an existential teen-oriented romantic drama starring Dean Shelton as a mopey college student who falls in love with the staggeringly beautiful campus queen (Maiara Walsh).

I resisted seeing it until the director, Nate Pantumsinchai, made some comments chewing me out for being dismissive, and running criticism about the film without even bothering to see it for myself.

So I went and saw it. Enough said.

Except that the film is growing some legs, and has been selected for Australia's Byron Bay International Film Festival, which runs from February 29 to March 8. Lullaby Before I Wake in the competition as a nominee for Best Dramatic Feature.

Of Pan-Asian interest at Byron Bay is the Malaysian-Indian co-production, Laya Project, a musical documentary that surveys the traditional sounds of cultures affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Laya Project is in competition for the Southern Cross University Best Film Award and Best Cinematography.

More information:
(Via the Northern Rivers Echo)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Also in Hong Kong: Handle Me With Care

One thing about the schedule for the Hong Kong International Film Festival is that there are so many films, and there's no way to do a "country" search on the schedule, well, I knew I was bound to miss a film or two.

And I did. But thanks to, it's been pointed out that a fifth Thai film will screen in Hong Kong: The newly released Handle Me With Care, making its world premiere outside Thailand. It joins Ploy,The Love of Siam, Opapatika and Wonderful Town.

The new romantic comedy by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Handle Me With Care is screening in the Global Vision section at Hong Kong. According to the festival website, there are seats available for both screenings.

Anyway, I'm glad I missed it in my earlier roundup of Thai films at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, because now I have a chance to put together a few more thoughts about Handle Me With Care. For one thing, I'd hoped the film would generate more of a reaction. But things have been pretty quiet.

According to Box Office Mojo, Handle Me With Care came in fourth at the box office, behind Jumper (no surprise here), Chocolate (the top-grossing Thai film so far this year) and the transsexual/lesbian body-switching comedy Valentine.

Chiang Mai Mail movie correspondent Mark Gernpy was underwhelmed by Handle Me With Care, saying:

Some nice scenery and photography, but I found it very slow and dull.

Gernpy is trying to build up some excitement for Handle Me With Care by starting a limerick contest, starting with the first line, “A three-armed man from Lampang ..."

Funny. I ain't playin', though. I do appreciate Nanoguy's comments on my review:

Even [though] it still has some 'feel-good' things ... I think this is the most 'pessimistic' film of GTH too far, including Body #19.

I really like the English title, Handle Me With Care, a lot. This is one of the brightest English titles for a Thai movie I've ever seen.

It's really touching me that everybody is 'fragile' and need[s] a 'handle with care' [label], but nowadays people don't care about this point any more ... [not only do people] handle it without care, [they] drop it repeatedly and intentionally.

Nanoguy also says Thai critic Film Sick loves Handle Me With Care, and says there is tons of symbolism about Thai political issues that won't be apparent to most viewers.

I also got to thinking about the film's social commentary, which used to be a common subtext in Thai films of the past, from the likes of M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol, Euthana Mukdasanit or Cherd Songsri. There's not so much of that anymore, though Kongdej managed to work in some in Handle Me With Care. But not as much as he would have liked, he told The Nation recently:

Some people saw the points I was trying to make and others didn't. It's not important. The film is about a man with three arms, which should say something about how we regard other people in this day and age. But I've cut a lot of the footage because it was dragging the story off track," he says.

Kongdej admits that he'd love to make a movie with a truly social theme "rather like M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol's old films". But he's well aware that the current market doesn't have room for features with heavy topics. "The best I can hope for is to use individual characters to observe society," he says.

Oh, just a stray point about Handle Me With Care: Fans of the funny duo of policemen who first turned up in Yuthlet Sippapak's Buppha Rahtree make a cameo appearance in Handle Me With Care. The pair are former Film Bangkok producer Adirek "Uncle" Wattaleela and a comedian whose name I can never catch.

And another thing: Not only does Kongdej write scripts and direct films, he sings, too! He showed off his vocal skills at the press preview of Handle Me With Care, singing the film's romantic theme as part of a threesome with stars Kiatkamol Latha and Supaksorn Chaimongkol.

More information:


Chuwit now a real soapy star

The big news in Thailand might be about the impending return of a certain ousted former prime minister, but the politician who journalists really want to cover is Chuwit Kamolvisit.

Yes, Chuwit. Former soapy massage parlour tycoon. Owner of a controversial plot of land. Mayoral candidate. Former parliamentarian. Former deputy party leader. Outspoken critic of the ruling elite. Now, he's a soap opera star, according to The Nation's Soop Sip column.

His colorful personality is perfect for a Thai soap opera, and he'll appear in Phra Chan Son Dao on Channel 3.

The move into television is the latest episode in the infamous life of Chuwit.

Previously, he headed the Davis empire of naughty massage parlours in Bangkok. He also held a lucrative plot of land on Bangkok's Sukhumvit Road that was involved in a lease dispute that culminated in sledgehammer-wielding, backhoe-driving thugs smashing up a group of low-rent bars and shops.

He has since built a park on the Sukhumvit location, and he sold his interest in his massage parlour empire to enter politics. He first ran for mayor of Bangkok in 2004, and was then elected to Parliament, though he was disqualified due to a technicality.

In the latest election, he dropped out (or was possibly kicked out) of the Chart Thai party after he disagreed with his party's move to align itself with the now-ruling People Power Party of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

He's taken to voicing his displeasure with the country's leaders in a series of colorful billboards, which lovingly keeps track of.

(Photo via

Sick Nurses, Train of the Dead for Taiwan, Bangkok Love Story to Singapore

Following the trail of Body #19, last year's loopy slasher-ghost comedy Sick Nurses and the Phranakorn horror Train of the Dead, will be released in Taiwan.

Sick Nurses, about a ghost nurse seeking revenge on the sexy, naughty, bitchy former co-workers and the doctor boyfriend who killed her, opens in Taiwan on April 18. I saw this film last year and hated it so vehemently, I want to see it again. Isn't it weird how that works?

I have less strong feelings about Train of the Dead because I didn't see it. So here's the link to the MovieSeer synopsis.

Meanwhile, the homosexual romantic crime thriller, Bangkok Love Story (recent winner of the Suphanahongsa Award for Best Screenplay), will open on March 6 in Singapore. It's rated R21, the highest age restriction for films in the city-state. Ratings. What a concept.

With all these, I would guess that English subtitled DVDs follow the theatrical release within a few months, so there's a few things to watch for, if you're interested.

More information:

(Via Deknang/Popcorn)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Full house for Thai films in Hong Kong

Tickets for the Hong Kong International Film Festival are on sale, and the first screenings of Ploy, The Love of Siam and Opapatika, are among those already marked "full house".

There are still seats for both screenings of the fourth Thai film in Hong Kong's program, Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town, but that will surely change, since this film won at Rotterdam, was shown in Berlin and will also screen in New York.

Ploy, The Love of Siam and Opapatika are also nominees at the second Asian Film Awards, which will be given out on March 17 in conjunction with the Hong Kong fest.

Opapatika, a dark, karmic action thriller, still has some seats left for its second screening during the Midnight Heat program. Tickets to second screenings of Chukiat Sakweerakul's acclaimed, award-winning gay teen romantic drama Love of Siam and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy are also available -- for now.

The Hong Kong International Film Festival runs from March 17 to April 6.

(Via International Herald Tribune)

Three more Jeeja clips

I feel like I've just emerged from the rabbit hole after finding several more video clips featuring Jeeja and her promotional efforts for Chocolate on YouTube.

First up is a clip from the Thailand Game Show 2008, which features Jeeja in a live show that acts as a dual promotion for Chocolate and Street Fighter II. It purports to pit Jeeja against some of the characters from Street Fighter.

The video was shot by a fan in the crowd, and the quality is not so good. Be forewarned: Turn your volume down, because the sound levels are at the only setting available in Thailand -- LOUD!

By the way, a new film adaptation of Street Fighter is in the works, with Bangkok mentioned as a location, and Come Drink With Me's Cheng Pei Pei mentioned among the cast. Twitch had more on that.

Next is a clip from the Chaibadin show on Thailand's ModernNine television. It is similar to the clips from the Jorjai show, but is shorter.

Humorously, Jeeja throws a quick kick at the hands of comic actor Pongsak "Teng" Pongsuwan, who co-hosts the show with comedy co-hort Choosak "Nong" Eamsuk and ubiquitous Thai TV hostess Mayura Sawettanun.

Last up is a short clip from a live show that Jeeja put on to promote Chocolate at The Mall Bang Kapi in suburban Bangkok.

And there are several more, including Jeeja (nattily turned out in a white jacket) just sitting and talking on a typical Thai yak show. She's chatting about the injury she received to her right eye, and the hard fall that hospitalized a stuntman, which are seen in the now-famous trailer. If you still haven't got enough of Jeeja, there's a photo montage-Valentine and a noisy remix of some various Jeeja clips.

More information:

(Via Shooting Pink)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Website for Good Morning, Luang Prabang

The website for the Laotian-Thai road movie romance,
Sabaidee Luang Prabang, or Good Morning, Luang Prabang, has gone live.

Set for release on April 10, just ahead of the April 13 New Year's holiday that is celebrated across Southeast Asia (Songkran in Thailand, Pi Mai Lao in Laos), Sabaidee Luang Prabang stars Ananda Everingham as a Lao-Australian photographer who returns to his father's home country of Laos and gets in touch with his heritage during a trip that takes him the length of the country. Along the way, he bonds and falls in love with his female guide, played by Laotian beauty queen Khamlek Pallawong.

The first Laotian feature film in nearly 20 years, it is a Laotian-Thai co-production, co-directed by Kiev-educated Laotian Anusorn Sirisakda and Thai filmmaker Sakchai Deena.

More information:
(Via Deknang)

Thai agency wraps up festival bribery probe

In the continuing saga of the Bangkok International Film Festival bribery scandal, the Bangkok Post reports today that Thailand's Department of Special Investigation has completed its probe, and it will forward its case to the National Counter Corruption Commission.

Here is more from the story (cache):

It was unclear what that will mean to the pending case against former Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Juthamas Siriwan. She has been accused of receiving $1.7 million in bribes from Americans Gerald Green and his wife Patricia in return for permission to run the festival.

The US couple established a company to bid for the management contract for the Bangkok festival, held annually, and allegedly conspired with others to bribe Mrs Juthamas.

She threatened to sue the US Justice Department if it linked her to the case against the Greens - but it did, and she didn't. Instead, it filed a number of documents accusing Mrs Juthamas' daughter and others of laundering the bribe money for Mrs Juthamas.

Col Piyawat [Kingket] said that by turning the case over to the NCCC, the anti-graft agency can file charges and proceed with a case, presumably against Mrs Juthamas.

But it is likely the NCCC will have to "follow up" on the DSI's investigation with a probe of its own.

The Department of Special Investigation, or DSI, is essentially the equivalent of America's FBI. The National Counter Corruption Commission is the government's main agency for investigating graft by officials; however, the NCCC is not immune from political influence. At the moment, it is stacked with officials appointed by the junta that ran the Thai government in 2006-07, but maybe that will change? There is still a chance that the Thai end of this investigation could be swept under the rug.

Either way, though, the probe will be used a political tool, rather than serving justice, and putting an end to future acts of corruption that taint Thailand's image.

More information:

Frequently asked questions about Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal

What is your blog about?

Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal is a regularly updated weblog on news and reviews of the cinema of Thailand and Southeast Asia, as well as Thai art, entertainment and culture.

Why Thai film?

It's a matter of time and place. I'm most interested in where I am, and I'm interested in film. I live in Thailand, so being interested in Thai film seems natural.

How did you get into Thai films?

In 1999 I moved from the U.S. to Southeast Asia to start a new job. Before then, I really hadn't been exposed very much to Asian cinema, although I had always been interested in films of any kind from anywhere. While living in Cambodia, I developed friendships with co-workers who were very keenly interested in Asian films and cultures. Those connections pointed me in the direction I've been heading since then.

On a visit to Bangkok in 2000, I had a chance to see two films that really cemented things for me: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tears of the Black Tiger. I saw them back-to-back in the same cinema on the same day. I thought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was really beautiful and was a revolutionary way of presenting martial arts, which of course I found out later wasn't really that revolutionary at all. But it nonetheless inspired me to seek out more Chinese and Hong Kong martial arts films, particularly the old Shaw Brothers films. However, it was the Thai film, Tears of the Black Tiger, that really put the hook in me. Why would someone in Thailand make a western? Why was it so colorful? What the heck was going on? I wanted to find out more, and most of all, see more Thai films.

When did you start writing about Thai film?

After I moved to Bangkok in 2001, I found I was in the midst of the Thai New Wave, so it was really a perfect time to find out more about Thai films. There wasn't that much information, though. Being a journalist helped, and I was able to devour anything having to do with Thai film that would come out in the local newspapers. At the same time, I had gained access to the Internet and became better acquainted with it. There still wasn't enough information in English. So around the end of 2003, I started writing a journal about Thai films on Rotten Tomatoes, as a means of compiling and keeping track of what little was available. Gradually, other people around the world started to take interest in Thai films, too. Once Ong-Bak became a huge hit, and films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul won prizes at Cannes, and other directors like Tears of the Black Tiger's Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Monrak Transistor, Last Life in the Universe) became known worldwide, everything just kind of snowballed.

Do you speak Thai?

Not really, no. Definitely not enough to follow dialogue in films without any subtitles. Not being able to understand the Thai language is a big drawback if you love Thai films. I suppose if I took time off from writing about Thai film, as well as my regular "day job" and spent that time taking Thai lessons, I could probably learn.

How do you find out about Thai films?

I have a few sources, but mainly I just read the newspapers and scan the Internet and pay attention to what films others are writing about. A lot more English-language sources have become available since I started. Worldwide, even the mainstream media are covering the cinema of Thailand more frequently.

Mainly, though, I just go see the films when they are playing in the cinemas, and try to write down my thoughts about them. Once I've seen a film, I can reference back to it, and I try to follow its reception if it goes to film festivals.

Do Thai films have distinguishing characteristics apart from films from other Asian countries?

Thai films are just like films from anywhere in the world: They tell a story. But Thai films are imbued with aspects of Thai culture, the language, as well as Buddhism and belief in ghosts, which makes them different from films from other Asian countries.

Some of the most entertaining Thai films take things to extremes: bone-jarring violence, scream-out-loud scares, gut-wrenching heartbreaks, debilitating sadness and just plain craziness. It's hard to define, but there's a certain loopy quality about Thai films that I love.

What if I don't live in Thailand? How can I see Thai films?

Watch for film festivals near where you live, and pay attention to special screenings at local arthouse cinemas, cinema clubs, community centers, club meetings, colleges or universities. There are also DVDs, but that raises a whole other set of frequently asked questions.

Are you affiliated with Rotten Tomatoes?

No. When I started out my Thai film blog on Rotten Tomatoes at the end of 2003, it seemed like a good place to be. I was already keeping an online film journal there, and I was enjoying the then-new experience of social networking with others who kept journals there. Originally, the Thai Film Journal started out as a fan page on Rotten Tomatoes for Tears of the Black Tiger, but I soon expanded my journal entries to include other Thai films. The journal was on a part of Rotten Tomatoes called The Vine. Rotten Tomatoes was just a host for my journal. I was not affiliated with them in anyway.

Why did you start a blog on Blogger?

Well, there was a lot of confusion with my having a blog on Rotten Tomatoes. People thought I was professionally affiliated with Rotten Tomatoes or was representing Rotten Tomatoes. I wasn't. Other bloggers and websites would take my stuff and just say it came from Rotten Tomatoes without acknowledging me as the writer or source. So the move to a unique URL on Blogger was a bid to alleviate that confusion and raise my profile. I finally made the move at the end of 2007.

Now, with the setup on Blogger, it's possible to have a URL that can be memorized, repeated and more easily written down -- I have access to RSS feeds and other tools so it's easier for readers to subscribe and share the blog. I have much more flexibility in terms of site design, a better handle on visitors, and it's easier for people to make comments.

I am also slowly working on mirroring my old entries from Rotten Tomatoes on the new site. It will make them easier to search for and reference back to.

What's the deal with the ads?

I have set up an Amazon store, and I have an associations with Yesasia. Theoretically, if you click on the ads from this site, and follow all the way through and actually buy something, I'm supposed to get a little bit of money. I haven't actually received a check from anywhere yet. When possible, I have tried to customize the ads in order to create direct links to the coolest, most unique and most popular DVDs of Thai films that are available. I view the ads as a service. So take advantage of them.

Why is your name Wise Kwai?

I thought it would be cool to have a pseudonym. Kwai in Thai language means water buffalo. Since moving to Southeast Asia, I'd always admired the water buffalo for its strength, serenity and steadfastness. But I was shocked to learn that "kwai" is an insult in Thai slang, meaning "stupid". I thought I was being pretty cheeky when I chose my pen name. With Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, based on the book Wiseguy in mind, I sought to turn the slang meaning on its head and have fun with word play. But after a few more years of living in Thailand, I came to realize I probably wouldn't choose that name if I had to do it all over again. But now I'm stuck with it.

Can you write something for my blog/website/newspaper/magazine/academic paper?

No. I have a demanding full-time day job already. This blog is a hobby and I barely have time to keep it up and see movies. In the past I have had guest posts on other websites, but I am increasingly reluctant to accept assignments or fulfill requests for articles.

Can I interview you for a documentary or news article?

I am also reluctant to do that. I have granted interviews and been quoted in the past, but I am uncomfortable with that type of attention. I don't consider myself an expert or an authority. I am just a fan who watches a lot of movies and keeps a blog. I might, however, be able to refer you to to a real "expert".

Do you know where I can download a film?

I'm a graduate student working on a thesis about Thai film. Can you help me?

I get a lot of these types of requests, and they are usually so broad I don't don't where to even start. So my usual answer is to do a search of my blog – what I have to say is said there already. If you still need help looking for answers, please ask me something specific and I'll try to narrow things down for you.

Can you help me contact a certain film company or obtain a certain film for distribution in my country?

Web links to most of the film companies are listed in the sidebar to the blog. Please have a look there and try to contact the companies yourself.

Frequently asked questions about Thai films on DVD

There's a film playing in Thailand right now that I want to see, but I don't live there. When will it be released on DVD?

Thai films are usually released on DVD within a few months after their theatrical run in Thailand, but even though the films in the cinemas are subtitled, the DVDs of Thai films released in Thailand usually do not include English subtitles.

What? No subtitles? Since when?

Never assume a Thai film is going to be released on DVD with English subtitles. Around 2002 or 2003, it became common practice for the Thai DVD publishers to omit the English subtitles. The movie that heralded this trend to the world was Ong-Bak, the wildly popular martial arts film starring Tony Jaa. There were some fan-subbed pirated versions, and a pretty poor subtitled Chinese VCD, but fans who wanted a legal, English subtitled version had to wait a couple of years for it to be released.

Why don't the DVDs of Thai films have English subtitles?

I've heard various reasons. One is because the studios and DVD distributors don't want to pay royalties to the subtitle writers.

Another reason, probably the main reason, is that leaving the subtitles off gives the studios control over foreign sales and distribution. They have effectively shut down the grey market of mail-order sales of Thai DVDs to English-speaking countries. This exclusivity is a selling point when the Thai studios are promoting their films to overseas sales agents and distributors.

But wouldn't the Thai studios stand to make a lot of money by offering subtitled DVDs of their films?

Apparently not. At some point, the major players in the industry did some accounting and decided they could maximize profits by leaving off the English subs. First and foremost, the Thai studios are marketing their DVDs for sale in Thailand, to Thai people. It is apparently not worth their effort to include English subtitles for the relative handful of non-Thais in Thailand who are Thai film fans and haven't bothered to learn the Thai language. The studios stand to make more money through lucrative sales deals with foreign distributors.

So I can get a Thai film on DVD with English subtitles, if it has been distributed outside Thailand?

Yes, but not all Thai films. The problem is that not all Thai films are picked up or promoted for overseas distribution. This is where the entertaining "extremes" of Thai cinema can come back and bite the film. If it's not "extreme" enough, namely not martial arts or horror, it likely won't be picked up for overseas distribution.

This situation means that many meaningful dramas, genuinely funny romantic comedies and sharply satiric films won't ever been seen by overseas audiences outside of film festivals. And this is a lamentable situation.

There are exceptions to this, of course. Most of the feature films by acclaimed arthouse director Apichatpong Weerasethakul have been picked up for release on DVD outside Thailand, as have films by other well-known, well-regarded directors, like Wisit Sasanatieng, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Nonzee Nimibutr.

But mainly, the Thai films that end up being released on DVD outside Thailand are limited to the martial arts and horror genres. If you're waiting for a Thai romantic drama to be released on DVD with English subtitles, you'd better be prepared for a long, futile wait, or start learning to speak Thai -- you'll have mastered the language before your favorite Thai romantic drama ever comes out on DVD with English subs.

What about censorship of Thai DVDs?

Some DVDs are censored, and some are not. There is no consistency. But, one company that seems to be pretty consistent about censorship is Mono Film the distributor Rose Media, which is notable for the fact that they are about the only Thai company still including English subtitles on their DVDs. But the censorship is atrocious! They do this "foggy blurring" pixellation of guns, drugs and smoking. On Mono Film's 2005 action film, The Tiger Blade, which had a lot of guns, drugs and smoking, there was so much pixellation censorship, it was difficult watch the DVD.

Some releases of foreign films in Thailand by Thai DVD distributors are censored, too. So approach those releases with caution, even if they seem like bargains.

Where can I find Thai film DVDs with English subtitles?

In Thailand, the Mangpong (Scorpion) shops and other DVD retailers in shopping malls have back-stock of some of the older, Thailand-released titles that had subtitles. These include the older films by M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol, which are all worth picking up. They are generally along the bottom shelf in the Thai section at the back of the store. Five Star released a bunch of classics in its Legends series but really missed an opportunity by not including English subs. What a waste. The Triple X company released a lot of 1960s and '70s Thai action cinema on DVD, some with subtitles, some without. The quality of the DVDs depends on the original prints, and many from that era are in horrible shape. A lot of the old Thai DVDs with English subs are making their way into the discount bins and are going out of print.

The mail-order website eThaiCD as a full catalog of whatever DVDs, VCDs and music CDs are being sold in Thailand. Yesasia is a good place to look. Often, the first places a Thai film will be released on English-friendly DVD will be in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore or Malaysia, though increasingly those are without English subs as well.

Beyond that, there are a few specialty labels in the U.S. and U.K. that release Thai films. Tartan released a few Thai titles under their Asia Extreme line. Magnolia (and its Magnet label), Palm Pictures, Kino International and Strand Releasing have a variety of Thai titles, including arthouse, action, suspense and drama. The Weinstein Company's Dragon Dynasty line has several Thai martial arts titles, and their Dimension Extreme label is getting in on the Thai horror and suspense action. You can find these by browsing the Thai Film Journal Store at Amazon.

Also, check the foreign films section of your local library, DVD rental shop or mail-rental house. You'd be surprised at the number of Thai films you'll find.

Do you know where I can download a film?

Well okay then. How about fan subs?
I don't have any experience dealing with fan subs, though I am curious to try. I'm aware that they exist, but I don't know yet where they come from or how they work. However, I understand there are programs that allow fan-created subtitles to be imported into a movie while the DVD of that movie is playing.

See also:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Body #19 heads to Taiwan, other parts

Last year's slick Thai horror thriller Body #19 will be released soon in Taiwan, according to 24 Frames Per Second. The Nation's Soop Sip also hints at releases in Malaysia and South Korea. It played in Singapore back in January. Surely, an English-subtitled DVD release can't be too far behind?

The film is directed by Paween Purijitpanya, a former assistant to the Pang Brothers. The Subhanahongsa Award-nominated script was written by the 13 Beloved duo of Chukiat Sakweerakul and Ekasit Thairat , and was produced by Grammy Tai Hub, the same production company that did Shutter and Alone. It won the Subhanahongsa for Best Visual Effects -- a richly deserved accolade, because the visuals were one of Body #19's strongest aspects.

The film stars Arak Amornsupasiri of the Thai rock band Slur, as a guy who's having bad dreams about a grisly murder and dismemberment that took place in his house. The horrible visions are steadily becoming more real. They involve a corpsified woman with her guts hanging out and, following the conventions of Asian horror, long, greasy black hair. Various other shocks and horrors await. Aside from the special effects, I enjoyed the performance by the always-intense Thai actress Patharawarin Timkul, who plays a university lecturer with black-magic powers.

More information:
(Via 24 Frames Per Second. The Nation)

Deep Throat screening tonight in Chiang Mai

The 1972 cult-classic porn film, Deep Throat, is showing at 7 tonight (Saturday, February 23) at Film Space at Chiang Mai University Art Museum.

Now, I know, porn is supposed to be illegal in Thailand. But because this is a university museum-organized screening, they can screen it in the name of art. And, Deep Throat actually gained a bit of mainstream following in the U.S. back the 1970s. So, it's a cultural icon.

But, I wonder what would happen if Film Space ever programmed Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century?

Anyway, here is what Chiang Mai-based movie correspondent Mark Gernpy has to say about Deep Throat:

The granddaddy of porn films, probably the most famous in the world. Helped to bring down Richard Nixon. (That’s an inside joke.) Of course, I saw this . . . way back when.

This one is just out-and-out pornography, without any redeeming social value (except of course for the aforementioned impeachment of a U.S. President). Yet, it became immensely popular around the world, and somehow was acceptable in regular cinemas for a brief period in the 1970s in the U.S. Made a star and celebrity out of Linda Lovelace. (Her lifetime income from her performance in this film: $1,250.) Its plot consists of one simple arc of action: foreplay (very brief), fellatio, and climax. Repeated 76 times. (Just joking!) Of historical interest now, and for its camp value.

Film Space organizes weekly screenings on Saturdays, with each month's schedule having some sort of theme. I've never attended them, but they always have something interesting. This month's theme, I guess, has something to do with love, in honor of Valentine's Day.

The venue is the Media Arts and Design building, on the 2nd floor. Says Mark Gernpy:

A very small but very nice place to view movies. Or sometimes it’s on the roof. It’s all very disorganized. Take their schedules with a grain of salt. In the past, theirs has been an excellent exercise in film programming, but what was actually shown in 90 per cent of the cases was an entirely different film. “A” for planning; “F” for execution, organization, and managerial ability.

Coincidentally, Deep Throat is also getting a screening on Dutch public television, which is what prompted me to mention tonight's Chiang Mai screening. More about that is on Twitch.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nak postponed until April 3

The release of Nak, the animated feature film adaptation of Thailand's famous Mae Nak ghost legend, has been put off until April 3.

It had been promoted for a March 20 release. I don't know the reason for the move, but the April 3 release date makes Nak a family-friendly counterbalance to the gory torture porn of Five Star Production's Art of the Devil 3 (Llong Kong 2), which will also be released on April 3.

Instead of being a scary, vengeful ghost, Nak is recast in this story as a very cute, pink-hued young woman, though still a ghost. She and some wacky ghost friends get up to some adventures with some children in contemporary Bangkok. The CG cartoon is being produced by pop singer-songwriter Boyd Kosiyabong and Sahamongkol Film International. Nak herself is being voiced by Sasikan Apichataworasin. Voice talents from the Sahamongkol stable include Mum Jokmok and Narawan Techratanaprasert.

In the ghost legend, Nak was a young woman in 19th century Phra Khanong, today part of Bangkok but back then a rural village along a canal. Her husband was called off to fight the war against the Burmese, and in his absence, the pregnant Nak died while giving birth. When her husband returned from war, he thinks everything at home is normal, but he doesn't realize his wife and child are ghosts, and Nak goes to scary lengths to keep neighbors from shattering the illusion.

The story was most memorably adapted by Wisit Sasanatieng for Nonzee Nimibutr's 1999 film, Nang Nak. More recently, British director Mark Duffield put a contemporary horror spin on the story with 2005's Ghost of Mae Nak. Over the years, the legend of Mae Nak has been depicted in dozens of Thai films and TV series. There's even an opera. Now there's a cartoon.

More information:

Wonderful Town at New York's New Directors/New Films

New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center have announced the program for this year's New Directors/New Films, and among the 26 titles is Wonderful Town by Aditya Assarat, which was recently picked up for U.S. distribution by Kino International.

The romantic drama set in post-tsunami Phuket was a winner of the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, screened at the recent Berlin International Film Festival, and won the New Currents Award at last year's Pusan International Film Festival. It is the first solo feature film by Aditya, a hard-working young, U.S.-schooled Thai director who's known for his short films, like Motorcycle, and the colloborative effort on the experimental reality drama, 3 Friends.

Here is the synopsis for Wonderful Town, via Ioncinema:

With an unerring feeling for lives on hold, director Aditya Assarat creates an atmosphere of guardedness, uneasiness, and mystery to highlight the story of two lonely people attempting a fragile emotional connection. The film's saturated colors reinforce the lifelessness of a location that suffered immensely during the tsunami three years ago. An architect from Bangkok pulls up to a motel in a near-ghost town of deserted streets and beaches. His obscured past finds symmetry in the repressed history of the girl he meets and pursues. Each is trying to discover how to give way and function in the present. This quiet narrative of suggestion and hushed emotions has an unexpected denouement that is as shocking as it is earned.

Chocolate star on the talk show circuit: The clips

Awhile back I posted about Chocolate star Jeeja appearing on Channel 5's Jorjai variety talk show, and I figured that clips from the show wouldn't be long in showing up on YouTube.

So here they are, featuring Yanin "Jeeja" Wismitanant, with her charming smile and patient demeanor, showing her stuff - breaking boards, kicking stuff off the tops of her fellow stunt actors' heads and putting on a live sparring session. Surely, when Chocolate starts to make its way to screenings overseas, Jeeja will go on a promotional tour, similar to what Tony Jaa did with Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong? Unless it interferes with her university studies, of course. But I can't think of a cultural ambassador who would be more beguiling or effective. Say, for example, somebody says something bad about Thailand, maybe she could administer a gentle kick upside the head?

Chocolate topped the Thai box office for the second weekend in a row last weekend. Will it hold on for a third, or will it be topped by Jumper, the Hollywood flick that is the biggest release this week? Or maybe Handle Me With Care will draw audiences, wanting to glimpse the freak show of a man with three arms?

More information:

(Via Rocketfuel)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Free Apichatpong in Toronto

The package of short films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which was recently shown at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, and had people lined up around the block, has moved on to Toronto, where the shorts will be screened over two nights on February 27 and 28 by the Cinematheque Ontario at Jackman Hall.

The screenings will be free. For Torontonians, this is a rare chance to see the collected short works of the acclaimed Thai director who is more simply known as Joe. The works range from his earliest works in the 1990s to a brand-new Canadian premiere.

Both programs will start with Anthem, his "audio-visual purification service". Featuring some techno music on a CD that his been blessed by a Buddhist monk, introduced by some of Apichatpong's ubiquitous "aunties" and culminating in a three-ring circus-like atmosphere of activity, Anthem is meant to be shown before all film screenings, similar to the function of Thailand's Royal Anthem, which is played ahead of all films, concerts and other public functions in Thailand. The 5-minute short was made in 2006.

Program 1 consists of his work from the 1990s, including the 30-minute
Like the Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves from 1995. Others are Windows, Malee and the Boy, and Thirdworld.

Program 2 is more recent works, with the exception of 1994's 116643225059. There's Ghost of Asia, which was commissioned for the Thailand Office of Contemporary Art and Culture's Tsunami Digital Short Films in 2005; My Mother's Garden from 2007; Worldly Desires, which was one of the Digital Short Films by Three Directors for the 2005 Jeonju International Film Festival; and Emerald, a brand-new work that makes its Canadian premiere.

More information:
(Via The Star)

Review: Handle Me With Care (Kod)

  • Written and directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
  • Starring Kiatkamol Latha, Supaksorn Chaimongkol
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on February 21, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

What is the sound of three hands clapping? Well, it might sound a little discordant. It might sound a little like Handle Me With Care.

The story of a three-armed man and his relationship with a large-breasted woman, Handle Me With Care starts off swinging all three of those arms, with a powerful, yet wryly funny beginning and ample folksy humor.

By the time the second act is nursed along, the momentum of the swings has slackened, the jokes less impactful. The third act loses its punch entirely, though it ends satisfyingly sweet and sentimentally, because, after all, this is a GTH film, and they all must have happy endings.

Handle Me With Care, or Kod (literally Hug), stars singer Kiatkamol Latha, or Tui AF3 from the Academy Fantasia talent-search TV series, in his first feature role. He plays the three-armed man. Curvy actress Supaksorn "Kratae" Chaimongkol is cast in a role where she gets to make some self-effacing jokes about her busty appearance, and stretch her dramatic and comedic chops with understated subtlety.

The film is written and directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, who's better known for his work as a hired-gun screenwriter for a variety of films, from the weepy romance The Letter and the comic-book adaptation Noo Hin: The Movie to the Tony Jaa missing-elephant martial arts caper, Tom Yum Goong and Nonzee Nimibutr's upcoming historical fantasy, Queen of Langkasuka. His previous directorial effort, 2005's Midnight My Love (Cherm) was also a sweet romance (between a taciturn taxi driver played by Mum Jokmok and a soapy massage girl portrayed by Woranut Wongsuwan), but it lept wildly off its rails in the second half, and took an intriguing dark, surreal turn.

Produced by Grammy Tai Hub, Handle Me Care is kept more firmly on the line, so that it fits in the "feel good" GTH formula.

Still, Kongdej manages to explore the seedy side of Thai culture, featuring a hairy-derriered would-be rapist cop, and a bus driver who flees the scene because of his gambling debts.

And, the film has some things to say about how we perceive other people and judge their appearances, condemning them if they look like freaks, or assume a woman is easy because she has large breasts.

Tui portrays Kwan, a guy with two left arms who views his extra appendage as an encumbrance. Though it makes it easy for him to hang up the laundry on windy days, zip his luggage shut and earns him Employee of the Month at the post office, where he sorts letters, Kwan is glum. He is unlucky in love, having been dumped by his popular and pretty high-school sweetheart, and now by his horse-faced co-worker. His doting mother is long since dead, and now the tailor who makes his three-armed shirts has choked to death (in a hilariously sad opening scene that establishes the small northern city of Lampang's idyllic setting). Kwan is tired of people around Lampang always staring and talking about him. Not having access to any more tailored shirts is the last straw.

Kwan decides to head to Bangkok, where a hospital has offered to cut his arm off for free, in the name of medical research.

He's not even a block from home when his old car breaks down, and he is offered a ride to the capital on a garishly painted bus by his friend, the gambling-addicted Lorlee. It is at a stop along the way that Kwan and Lorlee notice a young woman fighting off a man. They come to her aid, and then all three turn on her assailant, kicking him and gouging him, only to find out he's cop. They run away, but not before the resourceful woman, Na, uses her beloved cellphone to snap a photo of the cop's untrousered lower regions.

More trouble awaits down the road at a gambling den. In a daring, dramatic escape from some hoodlums, Kwan holds on to the fleeing bus with one hand and reaches out with his two others to grab Na, who is running to catch the bus. But the chivalrous act is soon dashed when Kwan and Na are left without money or a ride to Bangkok. Na is able to easily flag down a ride for the pair once the driver gets a peek at her melons down the neck of her T-shirt. Kwan and Na strike up an easygoing relationship as they suffer through one setback after another. But Kwan, his heart already broken, is wary of Na, who has said she's going to Bangkok to track down her estranged husband, who ran off to join a magician's troupe.

The most striking thing about the film is the effect of Kwan's third arm. It's all done with camera angles and perspective. Another actor is credited with "hand talent", and what one hell of a job he's done, especially in the scenes that require intricate manipulations, such as sorting postcards, hanging laundry or rescuing a toddler, a cat and a dog - all at the same time - from being flattened by a speeding car. Kudos also to the casting director, for finding a left hand that looks just like Tui's.

More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reviews: Birth of the Seanama, Sea the SEA Part II

  • Directed by Sasithorn Ariyavicha
  • Produced in 2004; screened at the 2004 Thai Short Film & Video Festival, 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival, 2005 International Film Festival Rotterdam and 2005 Hong Kong International Film Festival; reviewed at Bangkok Fringe Festival 2008, February 16, 2008
  • Rating: 5/5

Birth of the Seanama is a cinematic language all its own. Literally. A special alphabet was invented, just to tell the strange, fantastic story of a city that rose up out of the primordial ooze and then was swallowed back up again.

In this totally silent (no music, no dialogue), black-and-white, 70-minute feature, Bangkok is seen in a unique context. The modern city, with its fancy new cars, ribbons of highway, skyscrapers and Skytrain, is primeval. These stark images are sometimes shot from viewpoints on high, from the observation deck of a skyscraper, or perhaps out the window of a commercial airline flight. The perspective also hones in on the mundane - the view out a taxicab window, or from the backseat, of the driver's shifter hand. At one point, the camera freezes on the rubber handrail of a down escalator, with hands riding past in slow motion.

These urban scenes are juxtaposed with natural settings - the beach, and ocean waves lapping in, some birds perched on branches (probably the migratory swifts that roost in trees along Bangkok's Silom Road for a few months each year), bare tree branches, and the sky. The effect is mesmerizing.

The story set down in the Seanama alphabet is a strange, hypnotic one, talking about a girl who changed into a kite, and a man whose tears became the sky's. The Seanama text is superimposed over the scenes. Helpfully, English subtitles were included. Combined with the trance-inducing images, it's a lot to take in.

Also viewed
The Bangkok Fringe Festival 2008 hosted Sea the SEA, a program by the Thai Film Foundation of short films and independent features from Southeast Asia and Taiwan over two weeks. Here is a look of the rest of program from the second weekend on February 16-17, 2008:

S-Express Malaysia - Four shorts: Pool by Chris Chong Chan Fui; Qalam by Hadi Koh; Westbound by Kubhaer T. Jethwani and A Day in the Life by Syed Omar. Pool is an artful documentary about a concrete reservoir built after the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia with funds by USAID. Local kids swim in the tank, and some of the traumatized ones are taught to regain their confidence in the water. Next, the powerful Qalam is about a Buddhist monk who is meditating, but can't concentrate because the name "Allah!" keeps popping into his head. He then goes on a pilgrimage in search of Allah, first to a Hindu temple where he is thrown out. Then to a Catholic Church, where he runs away when confronted by the severe priest, and finally to a mosque, where they lock him outside the gate. Perhaps the monk is Allah, reincarnated. Westbound is the whimsical tale of an ethnic Indian actor whose truck runs out of gas while driving to Kuala Lumpur. He is rescued from his predicament by a mysterious little man who lives in the forest, and after the man pours less than a liter of fuel into the actor's tank, the truck need never stop at a filling station again. But the perpetual energy only works as long as the gas cap is never removed. I'm sorry to say I can't remember anything about the last film in the S-Express Malaysia program, A Day in the Life. If anybody could comment and jog my memory - something specific, not just the program synopsis - I'd be grateful. Rating: 5/5 (on the strength of Qalam alone)

Tuli - Directed by Auraeus Solito, this gorgeous drama, set in an isolated rural Philippines village, mixes a lesbian love affair with Christian mysticism. The story is about luminous young woman named Daisy (the captivating Desiree Del Valle), who grew up helping her father circumsize all the boys in the village. She's seen everything there is to know about them. In the flower of her womanhood, she is facing the prospect of an arranged marriage with one of these boys, but isn't too keen on the idea, which makes her drunken, abusive father all the more frustrated. She is more interested in the abused wife of another man, and the two become lovers, scandalising the whole village. Strange Christian rituals, like self flagellation and crucifixion play a part in the proceedings. Ultimately, Daisy's quest for true love, and to break the cycle of violence, brings her to the one man in the village who was never circumsized. Rating: 4/5

S-Express Taiwan - Three shorts: Shopping Cart Boy by Hou Chi-Jan; Street Survivor by Lin Jing-Jie and Waterfront Villa Bonita by Lou Yi-An. This was a very strong package of films from 2007, all with cool stories. Shopping Cart Boy followed the life of a trolley boy in a supermarket, and his daily routine of rounding up the shopping carts from the parking lot and surrounding neighborhood, as well as his contemplative breaks on the store's rooftop. Street Survivor is about a prostitute who is entrapped in a police sting. The craziest of the bunch was Waterfront Villa Bonita, which involved a bank robbery, a shop-lifting incident, a Christian activist and a weird, underground cult. Rating: 5/5

The Last Communist - Director Amir Muhammad revisits the historic stomping grounds of Chin Peng, the leader of the Malaysia Communist Party, from his childhood, through World War II, the post-war years, Malaysian independence and his exile in Thailand. It is a very unusual documentary, in that the subject is not interviewed, rather it visits present-day locations where Chin Peng had been in the past, and interviews people who were around at the time. The documentary covers the length and breadth of Malaysia, and encompasses the country's diverse population. Quite entertaining are the musical interludes, which play like karaoke videos. Who knew that a song about the "malaria massacre" could be so catchy? Seemingly unthreatening, fair and gentle, the film has been banned in Malaysia, as has its sequel, The Village People Radio Show. Rating: 5/5

A Short Film About the Indio Nacional - Directed by Raya Martin, this 2006 Filipino docu-drama is an appropriate bookend to Birth of the Seanama, and is likely just as polarizing. It is also black-and-white, and also silent, though it does have a color sound segment, and there is musicial accompaniment. The film seeks to recreate historical footage of the "Indio Nacional", the common man during Spanish colonial times. The short vignettes follow the Indio's life, from his childhood as a bell ringer, to adulthood and his joining the revolution. There are also other scenes from rural Filipino life, which play like anthropological studies of primitive cultures. Adding to the retro atmosphere of this silent film is the piano accompaniment, which sounds like it is being played right there in the theater, on a rickety, out-of-tune upright, which has the sustain pedal permanently depressed, by a slightly drunk pianist with a strong right hand who pounds the highest notes with reckless abandon. Rating: 4/5

More information: