Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Director's Screen series to launch with Wonderful Town, Truth Be Told

Thai indie filmmaking collective Extra Virgin is behind the local release of Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town, making the acclaimed romantic drama the first title in the Director's Screen series, which will run exclusively at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld in Bangkok.

Wonderful Town opens on May 15, followed by the commercial premiere of Pimpaka Towira's documentary, The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong, on May 29.

By now, Wonderful Town should need no introduction here. Winner of several awards, the film has been playing at dozens of film festivals worldwide since its premiere last year at the Pusan International Film Festival.

The politically charged Truth Be Told, covering the lawsuits brought against media activist Supinya Klangnarong by the Shin Corp., premiered in Thailand last year at the inaugural Digital Forum. It has since gone on to screen at Rotterdam, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Greece, Singapore and at Hot Docs in Toronto. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception it receives in Bangkok under the new administration -- political films tend to make the powers-that-be uneasy, no matter who is in power. But now, well, it's hard to understand just what is going in Thai politics right now. Things could change by the time the film starts its run at the end of the month.

Each film in the Director's Screen series will run for four weeks, with nightly showtimes fixed at 7.30. Extra Virgin plans special activities for the screenings, with chances for audiences to meet with the cast and crew of the films. More films are planned for later in the year.

See also:

Bangkok Dangerous in their sights

The Pang Bros.' remake of their own Bangkok Dangerous is the film that the movie pundits love to hate this season. And they haven't even seen it.

They are uneasy with Nicolas Cage, whose most recent outings in National Treasure, Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man and Next haven't won him admirers. They aren't convinced the Pangs can deliver a winner, having been disappointed with their first Hollywood outing, The Messengers. They even blame the Pangs for The Eye remake (finally opening in Bangkok tomorrow), which they didn't have anything to do with.

The Onion AV Club weighs in on how Bangkok Dangerous stacks up among the summer blockbuster line-up, saying:

There's no greater sign of creative desperation than having a foreign film Americanized by its original creators, especially when those creators are as reliably mediocre as the Pang brothers, who have already failed twice in Hollywood with The Messengers and the Jessica Alba redo of their passable film The Eye.

And this is from the same crew that like Face/Off and Con Air. Hey! It's wacky Nic Cage in Bangkok! What's not to like?

Rope of Silicon, opening up a gallery of 45 new stills from Bangkok Dangerous, is nicer. They could use the new photos as ammunition, but Brad Brevet remains somewhat hopeful:

Don't you hate it when a new movie is coming out and you want to say, "Yeah, can't wait to see that one," but there is that one issue that gives you pause? The upcoming Lionsgate release Bangkok Dangerous is an example of a film that does that for me.

I am whole heartedly interested in seeing what Danny and Oxide Pang are going to bring to the table even if I wasn't interested in seeing The Messengers. These brothers have vision and a little crime drama involving a "cold-blooded hitman" sounds like something up my alley. However, there's a catch ... that hitman is being played by one of the most notable over-actors of all-time: Mr. Nic Cage. Yikes, doesn't anyone even try directing this guy?

Siam Sentinel, meanwhile, has posted an interesting review of the trailer. Here's an excerpt of the posting, "Nicolas Cage loves the King":

I see that Cage plays a hitman who comes to Bangkok, befriends a young Thai on the streets, falls in love with a Thai woman, and refuses to assassinate a powerful figure who is loved by all the people and is above politics.

From the trailer, there are clips of this final target as he is riding through the city with soldiers all around him and Thais waving flags and cheering him. Cage's new Thai friend also tells him that all the people love this person who helps poor people and we see doubt in Cage's face as he sets up the kill.

Will anyone ever make a film about Thailand that does not fit into stereotypes and old plots? This is just the story of the farang who comes to Thailand, falls in love with a Thai woman, appreciates the culture, and changes his ways. Add to that some Thai nationalism and pro-monarchy scenes and you have a hit for the Thai theaters. But maybe the censors will not allow the film to be shown if it does not portray the monarchy in a positive enough light.

Still tentatively, Bangkok Dangerous is scheduled to open on August 22.

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Yuthlert returns to romantic drama with The Last Moment

Yuthlert Sippapak is a director who has never been tied down to one genre. Within his films, there are elements of drama, romance, comedy, action and suspense, bouncing all over the place, making them a challenge to keep up with with.

On paper, they appear to be a recipe for disaster, but I have generally loved his films. Behind all the running around and screaming, there's real heart and perhaps even a purpose.

He raised eyebrows with his first film, 1999's Killer Tattoo, casting a crew of well-known comedians -- Thep Po-ngam, Petchatai Wongkamlao and Pongsak Pongsuwan -- in semi-serious roles as bumbling assassins.

He's done horror comedy with the two Buppha Rahtree films (the second of which remains lamentably unaccessible for the English-speaking world). And it was back to madcap comedy-action-drama with Sai Lor Fah (Pattaya Maniac), another overlooked gem that I wish would get an English-friendly release.

Internationally, he hasn't received as much recognition as other Thai directors in his peer group, such as Pen-ek Ratanaruang or Wisit Sasanatieng, though he's been more prolific. His Buppha Rahtree played at a midnight screening at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, and the sequel won the award for best actor (actors actually, for the four comedians who starred) at the 2005 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival.

His Krasue Valentine in 2006 had elements of romantic drama, but was mainly horror (and comedy, of course). Then last year there was the Brokeback Mountain spoof Ghost Station, which I didn't see.

He hasn't down an all-out romantic weeper since his second film, February, back in 2003, which touched on themes of terminal illness and amnesia. Now he's back with The Last Moment (รัก/สาม/เศร้า), a love-triangle drama involving terminal illness. Here's the synopsis:

Does love even matter, if it is going to happen in the last moment of your life?

Payu - a musical lover who is unfortunate in love, he had always been dumped by his girlfriends. He secretly falls in love for his buddy -- Fah so much that he is willing to do about just anything for her. ANYTHING ... even to give his life to her, if that will help Fah to get better from her illness. The only regret he has is that he tells her his true feeling when it’s too late. There is not enough time for her to love him.

Fah -- a beautiful, rich, brutally direct, prom queen, a girl who has it all but somehow always gets hurt over and over again with her boyfriend who has been cheating on her for years. Fah finally is brave enough to let herself goes from this lousy relationship. When she has a very short time of her life left to spend. The only regret she has is that she should have listened to her best friend -- Nam who has tried to tell her that life is too short to waste on love that hurts her.

Nam -- a chic, smart, confident girl who loves and can sacrifice everything for her friend. Nam wants Fah to be as happy as she still can be. So Nam has never let Fah know that she actually has a feeling for Payu. Nam got raped and is pregnant, however, she would rather be a single mom than get help from her best friend -- Payu -- who is trying to help her out. He is willing to be a father of her baby. The only regret she has is she wishes that happiness could happen to their love triangle.

3 Best Friends vs A Love Triangle. What is more important between love and friendships?

The Last Moment is a story about love triangle of 3 best friends. Someone has to sacrifice. Even though this love is not going to last for a long time, yet it is not less beautiful than any other kinds of love. But surely this love will last eternally in their hearts.

Last doesn’t always mean the end, but it could also mean indefinitely.

The Last Moment is being released through GMM Tai Hub and opens in Thailand cinemas on June 25.

See also:

(Via Twitch, with special thanks to Ning!)

The Rebel team back together for Monk on Fire

Vietnamese-American director Charlie Nguyen, his brother, actor-stuntman Johnny Nguyen and an unrelated Nguyen -- Little Fish actor Dustin -- had so much fun making The Rebel in Vietnam that they are doing another big action film in their homeland.

Lua Phat (Monk on Fire) is being described as a mix of wild-west action and martial arts, similar to Dynamite Warrior, but perhaps even crazier.

The film is being made by The Rebel team, but instead of Charlie directing, Dustin is the writer, director and star, with Johnny in a supporting role as well as singer-model-actress Ngo Thanh Van in the cast.

Twitch has an interview with Charlie Nguyen, which addresses more specifics about the plot, plus a rumor that Tony Jaa will have a cameo -- perhaps not too far-fetched since Johnny co-starred as one of the leading villains against Tony in Tom Yum Goong -- but Charlie denies the rumor and says it's unlikely, as he's trying to build a brand, or identity for Vietnamese action cinema. Here's an excerpt from the interview by Dang Ngoc Quang:

So what’s Lua Phat?

It’s a fantasy movie, a fable story in a tradition of a cowboy film crosses with martial arts genre in a Vietnamese content. Let’s think of a movie that contains elements from a movie about Chor Lau Heung and a Clint Eastwood movie. Of course it’s an action movie but it doesn’t have a very fast pace comparing with Hollywood action movies or even Dong Mau Anh Hung [The Rebel]. It will focus on the characters, their fates, and their relationships.

How about the story? And how did you get the idea?

Once upon an unknown time, in an unknown place, the country was being invaded. The King ordered everybody to go to the battle. There were many eminent monks living in the mountain that had to join the battle as well. In the war, they had killed so many enemies and their hands were soaked of blood. When peace comes again, these monks don’t have tranquil souls anymore. They are being haunted by the violence of the war and cannot go back to their monastery. And so begin their journey to find the inner peace they once had. So the main character (Dustin Tri Nguyen) is one of these eminent monks. Once he encounters a village by the river and he doesn’t know that this is the place will change his fate. He meets another eminent monk (Johnny Tri Nguyen) with whom he had many old scores in the past. Also, there is a mystery girl (Ngo Thanh Van) in the village. Love, hatred, fate, conflicts will lead these three people to an unexpected ending. At this moment, I cannot reveal much about the girl character and her connection with the other two because it might spoil the surprise of the audience in the future. But there is one interesting thing I can tell. Although the movie is half wuxia, half Western like I just said, these eminent monks don’t walk or ride horses. They ride motorbikes!!! (laugh) This is not my original idea. It’s actually from Dustin Nguyen and I don’t know how he ended up with such an idea. Please concern that I’m the executive producer of Lua Phat and the director is Dustin, not me.

Recently, there was a rumor that Tony Jaa will play a cameo in Lua Phat. Is it true?

No, it isn’t. In fact, we haven’t done the casting yet except for the three main characters. Dustin Tri Nguyen, Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van, they’re all familiar with the audiences after Dong Mau Anh Hung. I want them to become trademarks of Vietnamese cinema all over the world. One of the reason makes Chinese cinema famous is by people like Jet Li or Jackie Chan. I think Vietnamese cinema can approach the world this way. After two, three or four times, people will recognize Dustin, Johnny or Van. There’re many rumors about our plans. Recently I read somewhere that Lua Phat has one-million-dollar budget. It’s funny because we don’t really know the exact number yet. What we do know is that we’ll never have enough to do everything Dustin wanted. At least, Lua Phat is an action movie. Dong Mau Anh Hung is purely action.

The Rebel was one of the highlights of last year's Bangkok International Film Festival, playing twice and boosted by a visit from the cast and crew. Chatting with Charlie and Dustin at last year's fest was a personal highlight. They are both friendly, warm and patient professionals who love cinema, and it's great to see them be able to use their experience from Hollywood to boost the cinema of Vietnam, perhaps one day elevating it to the level of Thailand's or China's.

(Photo via the Thai Film Journal photostream on Flickr)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pleasure Factory on the DVD assembly line

Pleasure Factory, Ekachai Uekrongtham's docudrama look at Singapore's Geylang red-light district, has been picked up by Strand Releasing. It's coming out on Region 1 DVD on July 8, and is available for pre-order from

The sophomore feature film from the Beautiful Boxer director, Pleasure Factory has an ensemble cast that includes Ananda Everingham and Taiwanese actress Yang Kuei-mei and a bunch of newcomers, many whom were recruited off the street. Sometimes mysterious, sometimes heartbreaking, the film follows three loosely intertwining storylines: A girl going to meet an older prostitute (Yang), and being followed by a mysterious young man (Ananda); a guy taking his virgin army buddy around to the brothels; and a woman in a red dress buying a song from a busker. Lit by Brian Gothon Tan, Geylang never looked so good.

Pleasure Factory premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and had a limited release in Thailand and in Singapore.

Ekachai, meanwhile, is at work on a thriller, The Coffin, a Hong Kong-Thai co-production that will star Ananda, Karen Mok, Andrew Lin and Napakapa "Mamee" Nakprasit.

See also:

(Thanks Logboy!)

Coming in June: Film ratings

The Film Act of 2007 provided for Thailand's first-ever motion picture ratings, and a ministerial regulation to implement the film classifications is currently being written and will be rolled out in June.

Just to recap, the Thai motion-picture ratings will be:

  • P - Film should be promoted for all audiences.
  • G - Approved for general audiences.
  • 13+ - Restricted to viewers aged 13 and above.
  • 15+ - Restricted to viewers aged 15 and above.
  • 18+ - Restricted to viewers aged 18 and above.
  • 20+ - Restricted to viewers aged 20 and above.

There are a number of problems with this.

Skipping the "P" category for a moment, why the big gap between G and what is essentially the PG-13 rating that is used in the US? Why no "PG"? Very few films any more ever fit that "G" rating, with the lowest most studios aim for being PG. I guess in practice under the Thai system, G and PG films would be combined, and most films made in Thailand would aim for this broad classification, or at the most 13+.

Next, you'll see the the tightly tiered age restrictions, which have been variously stated as U-13, U-15, etc., or PG-13, PG-15 or R-13, R-15, etc. It'll be fun to see what the ratings are officially translated as in English, and what cute graphics are going to be supplied to go with them.

But what criteria make a film a 15+ versus a 13+? What's the difference between an 18+ and a 20+? Why is 20+ even needed? If you're old enough to get married, be drafted into the military and vote, why can't you watch a film in the cinema? Again, what are the criteria, and will they be transparent?

Now getting back to that problematic "P" category, which has been stated to mean "promotion". "P" could also mean "propaganda", and is presumably for films that fan nationalistic fervor such as Suriyothai, Naresuan and The Overture, but it could also be applied to a film that enshrines religion, like The Life of Buddha, or the monarchy, like The Seed.

In his Saturday column on the Bangkok Post's editorial pages, Kong Rithdee offered his view of the "P" rating (cache):

I tentatively call [the rating] "P" -- for Promotion, not Prude -- an awkward, unusual label designed for films that deserve to be promoted to the society because of its content. For instance, a historical Thai movie that shows a lot of grisly beheadings and senseless murders of national enemies in the 16th century could get the "P" rating, and everyone including young children should be encouraged to see it because of its historical and patriotic values.

I've heard there is a lot of confusion over the "P" rating, with the academics who are drafting the regulation having some strange ideas about just what should be promoted. Seems they think the ratings board might have some subjective ideas of what films might be deemed classics or groundbreaking, meaning a foreign film like The Matrix could get the "P" code. Weird. It's not just a content rating -- it's a critical rating, like "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

There's also a lot of confusion over how the ratings system will work at the cinemas. Kong has more on that in his column:

What's not clear right now is how the ratings and filtering will be enforced. As it is understood, theatre staff at the box office will check the IDs of customers before letting them buy tickets, like at night clubs. But since nobody has seen the Ministry Regulations, it's not certain whether the age classifications are simply a guideline for parents and multiplexes, or are actual legal restrictions with punishment clauses. Will there be policemen standing guard or making rounds inside the cinema to surprise under-age law-breakers? It's rumoured that the ID check will be carried out only with the 18- and 20-plus movies. But if, say, a 19-year-old wants to see Rambo 4 with his father, will he be allowed to go in? And if not, why? Because when he goes to an election booth, a process more detrimental to his mental health, he doesn't have to bring his dad in there with him to tell him which box to tick or which politician is a thief.

I feel itchy about the 20-plus rating -- itchier and sadder still that the new Film Act still has the cutting and banning provisions. Hardly any country in the world restricts access to cinema for its 20-year-old people -- except, well, Singapore. What's very funny in the Thai law is that the 20-plus rating will not be applied to those who have reached their legal age of consent by marriage. So if you're a 17-year-old girl who's already married, you can breeze into the theatre to see a 20-plus film, supposedly because since you've already had sex, nothing else can shock you. Just remember to carry your wedding certificate as proof.

This is all very frustrating to watch unfold, because the Thai authorities could have been learning from the mistakes made in other ratings laws, such as the U.S., where the Motion Picture Association of America operates in secret as a quasi-government authority that doesn't make clear its criteria, and, being an industry-supported body, tends to be harsher on independent films than ones from the big studios.

But that appears to be the model that has been embraced by Thailand's authorities, perhaps even with encouragement from the MPAA. It's as if the regulation's drafters sat down to watch Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, and instead of seeing it as a cautionary tale, decided that the way the MPAA does things seem like a pretty good idea.

Additionally, I've been shown at least one Thai media report -- I can't remember what newspaper it was -- that is hailing the new ratings law, saying "no more censorship", which is quite untrue -- censorship and banning of films by the government remain part of the formula, so even with a ratings guideline in place, the censors will still be wielding their scissors, ready to cut scenes they deem harmful to Thailand's image or the sensibilities of viewers.

(Photo: A film projector at the National Film Archive from the Thai Film Journal Flickrstream)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trailer for Somtum, starring Nathan Jones

At the office, I checked out the trailer for the latest food-themed Thai action flick, Somtum, and had some co-workers hovering over my shoulders as I watched it, and what a blast it is.

Following up on Tom Yum Goong and Chocolate, Somtam stars towering Australian professional wrestler and strongman Nathan Jones, who has played a big brute in such films as Troy with Brad Pitt, Fearless with Jet Li and Tom Yum Goong with Tony Jaa. In Somtum, Nathan gets to stretch his dramatic and comedic chops, playing against type as a meek homeless foreigner living on the streets of Bangkok.

Frightened by the backfiring of a tuk-tuk, he ends up getting beat on by a bunch of thugs, only to be rescued by a pair of little girls -- one of them the pint-sized Muay Thai fighter from Born to Fight. I don't know her name, but she will soon become a household word as she is obviously being groomed to be the No. 2 female action star in the Sahamongkol stable -- like Dan Chupong is to Tony Jaa, this ferocious little girl will be a relief hitter to Chocolate's Jeeja.

Sahamongkol scion Narawan "Grace" Techaratanaprasert also stars. And, in what will prove to be something to be seen on the big screen, another 7-foot-tall stunt actor, Conan Stevens, will be sparring with Nathan, once the secret ingredient is provided to rid Nahtan's character of his meekness. You see, despite his height and strength, he is as peaceful as a lamb. After the girls take him in, he serves as a temple boy for a Buddhist monk, and helps haul fish from the docks to the market. But when the girls feed him some super spicy somtum (papaya salad), he becomes full of rage -- sort of a Hulk-like figure, but instead of green he turns red.

Somtum opens in Thailand cinemas on May 29.

(Via Twitch and

More Boonchu on the way

Not only has Five Star Production recently released the popular 1990s Boonchu film series on DVD, it is also making a seventh film in the series.

Put all Boonchu hoopla down to timing -- this year is the 20th anniversary of the series' first film. It spawned five sequels. Interestingly, and confusingly, the subsequent films are numbered Boonchu 2, Boonchu 5, Boonchu 6, Boonchu 7 and Boonchu 8. What happened to Boonchu 3 and 4? Well, they were never made! As a marketing gimmick, Five Star fast-forwarded from Boonchu 2 to Boonchu 5, skipping parts 3 and 4.

Perhaps someday they'll make Boonchu: The Missing Years, but not right now.

Boonchu 9 focuses on some new blood, the teenage children of Boonchu (Santisuk Promsiri) and his long-time sweetheart, Mo (Jintara Sukapat). Ploy's Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, currently starring in the Tit for Tat segment of See Phrang, plays a daughter and a fresh-faced young actor, Thanachart Tulyachat, plays the son, Boonchoke. The movie will follow the adventures of Boonchoke as he moves from upcountry to attend university in Bangkok, which was the premise of the original film.

Thanachart, a native of Khon Kaen, just like in the movie, is being tipped to be this year's teen heart-throb. The Daily Xpress has more:

"Thanachart looks naive and sincere, just like an upcountry lad," says producer Apiradee Iampungporn.

Director Bhandit Rittakol had initially approached teen idol Mario Maurer from The Love of Siam, but the young actor was tied up with other projects.

Bhandit, apparently recovered from a health scare, is back at work on the film, as are the classic screen couple of Jintara and Santisuk. Bhandit was the original director of the first films. Here's more from them:

"Comedy is timeless, and anyway, the scriptwriters will ensure we connect with the new generation," says the director.

"Unlike today's movies, 'Boonchu' is a clean comedy without rude words and bad behaviour. Audiences will leave theatres feeling good," says Jintara.

Boonchu 9 is due for release sometime in August.

(Photos courtesy of Five Star Production: Top, from left, Bhandit, Jintara and Santisuk; Thanachart is inset.)

Reviews roundup: Sick Nurses, Body #19, 4bia

Thai horror films are scaring up reviews all over the globe, with a recent screening of three, count them, three Thai horror flicks on "Horror Day" at the recently wrapped-up Far East Film Festival in Udine Italy. There, Sick Nurses, The Screen and Kamchanond and Body #19 had the crowds screaming alongside such other films as Hideo Nakata's Kaidan and The Guard Post from Korea's Kong Su-chang.

Peter Nellhaus at Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee, has seen the new Sick Nurses DVD that's out in the U.S. Like me, he can't understand why this film was allowed to be made in Thailand, when it paints a far more brutal and corrupt picture of the proud Thai medical profession than did Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, which offended cultural minders with scenes of doctors drinking whisky and a doc with a woody in his trousers. In Sick Nurses, a doctor and some nurses involved in some unspeakably corrupt practices, kill one of their own colleagues. Peter writes:

Sick Nurses is crap. Undeniably well made crap, but crap just the same. ... Adding to the absurdity that the cultural gatekeepers of Thailand felt the need to gang up on a gentle film by a filmmaker who other countries would cherish simply for bringing prestige to their country, is that none of these people seemed to regard it in any way as contradictory that Sick Nurses would be given a pass for a more questionable presentation of the medical profession ...

There are a couple of good points to Sick Nurses. The nurses are cute. And the film runs for less than 80 minutes.

Similar things could be written in criticising last year's Body #19 (alternatively Body Sop #19, just Body or The Body), which offered a bloody and violent look at some grisly murders surrounding a Thai teaching hospital. The basis of the film's story is in a true-crime case in which a Thai physician was convicted in the dismemberment death of his estranged wife, also a physician. Twitch's Todd Brown saw the film in Udine, and gave it a mixed review:

The Body is not a good film. It’s big and messy and hugely over reliant on CGI, showing all signs of a young director being a bad match to the script, director Paween Purijitpanya playing all the subtleties of a script by 13 Beloved director Chookiat Sakwirakul – one of Thailand’s brightest young talents – with the grace of a construction worker wielding a jackhammer. It’s big and noisy, saddled with mediocre performances and largely deficient when it comes to character work. That said, when it hits a sequence that works it REALLY works and there are more than enough of those moments to make the film a very compelling failure, a solidly entertaining ride that brings a little something new to the hair-ghost genre.

Meanwhile, See Phrang (or 4bia if you so choose), a new four-segment horror anthology featuring the work of Body's Paween, with Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom of Shutter and Alone and veteran director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, has been reviewed by the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee. I had not read Kong's review before I wrote my own, something I consciously have to make an effort to do, so I was surprised at the similar things we had to say about it, agreeing that, hey, See Phrang is good and you should go see it. Kong's review (cache):

The four shorts ... rely on a deft visual rhythm and a good sense of foreboding; in fact, the four filmmakers seem to have been in better form cooking up these bite-sized scares than when they have laboured to orchestrate their feature-length films.

The running theme is death; preferably grisly, photogenic death. Surprisingly, 4bia comes from studio GTH, which is known for its life-is-so-so-so-beautiful flicks that tend to shy away from the darker shades of humanity. But here, the four short movies revel in manufacturing a spree of inventive, bizarre doom and murders as the dead return to wreak havoc against the living.

(Photo from 4bia)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

More on the history and rules of standing for the Royal Anthem

Prachatai has expanded on the historians' view of how the Royal Anthem came to be played in Thailand's cinemas.

Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian and former Rector of Thammasat University, traces it back to Britain, where in the 1910s, the image of King George VI was be shown at the end of the films while "God Save the King" was played.

Here's more from Prachatai:

The practice was strictly observed in Britain, and was forced in the British colonies worldwide, including India, Malaya, and Burma.

The practice was continued until the early reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was dropped in late 1950s and early 1960s when students of Oxford and Cambridge did not comply and protested. They walked out the cinemas after the movies finished. Authorities and cinema owners tried moving the anthem before movies, but to no avail.

The practice was adopted in Siam, now Thailand, by the British-educated Thais and cinema owners. Initially, the anthem was played after movies, while adverts preceded the movies. In 1970s, the anthem was moved to precede movies as it still does today.

Charnvit understood that nowadays the practice had been dropped in all European countries, as well as former colonies.

Somsak Jeamtheerasakul, also a historian from Thammasat University, argued in the Same Sky web-board that the practice in Siam did not begin with movies, but traditional entertainments, especially Likay or musical folk dramas. When movies, a new kind of entertainment, came in, the practice was applied to them as well.

Also in Prachatai, columnist Harrison George humorously recalls when he "slunk" off at the end of a screening of Far from the Maddening Crowd in 1960s London, and a time in 1970s Bangkok when the an ultra-nationalist government demanded "stock-still attention" from Thai citizens nationwide when the Royal Anthem was played at 8 in the morning and 6 at night.

George explains a bit more about Britain's anthem falling out of favor in Here I Stand. Or Not.

So they gave up. The National Anthem is no longer de rigueur at British cinemas, it's disappeared from the end of TV transmission for the day (well, it's 24 hours now, so there never is an end). It still gets played at those ‘non-political' events like the Olympics, but not often since Britain doesn't win that many gold medals ...

Prachatai also details some more laws that govern standing for the Royal Anthem:

The laws and penalties related to paying respect to the Royal Anthem can be listed as follows;

The National Culture Act B.E. 2485 (1942)

Article 6: The culture that individuals must practice, apart from that specified in this Act, is specified by the Royal Decree in the following cases;

1. Orderliness of dress, ethics, and etiquette when individuals are in public places or exposed to the general public

2. Orderliness in conducting oneself and in one’s conduct in one’s residence

3. Orderliness of one’s behaviour that has a bearing on the Thai nation and Buddhism

4. Capability and etiquette with respect to how one earns living

Article 15*: Those who violate Article 6 of the Royal Decree may face a fine of no more than 100 baht or a term of imprisonment of no more than one month, or both.

*[Article 15 was amended by virtue of the Act (version 2) B.E. 2486 (1943)]

Royal Decree on National Culture B.E. 2485 (1942)

Article 6: All individuals must show respect according to uniform rules and customs comprising:

1. Collectively to pay respect to the national anthem at 08.00 am every day

2. To pay respect to the national flag, the army flag, the naval flag, the Military Youth Division flag, or the Boy Scout flag, when it is raised or lowered on the site of a government office, when it is raised by a government office, or when it is raised in front of a formation or unit of the military, military youth or boy scouts.

3. To pay respect to the national anthem, the royal anthem, and other anthems played at an official service, social ceremony or entertainment venue.

The laws were enacted during the nationalist regime of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram.

During the military's reign last year, there was a call to revive the practice of people on the street stopping and standing at 8am and 6pm daily, with archly conservative General Preecha Rojsem proposing a "patriotism bill" that would have required drivers to stop their cars and get out and stand. I don't think the National Legislative Assembly passed it, though in light of the 1942 laws cited by Prachatai, there are probably laws on the books that require it. Like many laws in Thailand, there is selective enforcement, and often there are contradictory laws.

See also:

(Photo from the 1953 Viewmaster set, "The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II", from Flickrstream of Olivander)

Apichatpong: 'I don't have any reason to feel that way any more'

The Daily Xpress yesterday published some statements from director Apichatpong Weerasethakul about his appointment to the jury of this year's Cannes Film Festival.

The first Thai person to win an award at Cannes -- he's won two, the Un Certain Regard in 2002 for Blissfully Yours and a jury prize in the main Palm d'Or competition in 2004 for Tropical Malady -- he is now also the first Thai person to be appointed to the Cannes jury.

He'll serve under jury president, American actor-director Sean Penn, along with Israeli actress Natalie Portman, Italian director-screenwriter Sergio Castellitto, German actress Alexandra Maria Lara, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and French director Rachid Bouchareb.

It's a great honor, says Apichatpong, but he doubts that anyone in authority in Thailand really cares. Here's more from the The Daily Xpress article:

Cannes is a kind of surreal film festival with a lot of formal procedures. It is a pretentious event but very charming to get involved in," Apichatpong says.

However, he doesn't think that he has been given a position in the jury to represent the Kingdom as such.

"This invitation will make me grow personally, but won't necessarily bring fame to the country. I was proud to represent Thailand when my film Sud Pralad won the Cannes Jury Prize, but now that I have seen the lack of government support for the film industry, I don't have any reason to feel that way any more," he says.

Though he has been continuously welcomed in prominent film festivals, Thai bureaucrats and the local censorship board have refused to allow the general release of his films. Apichatpong's controversial Sang Satawat (Syndromes and a Century), which was selected to compete in the Venice International Film Festival, was released in Thailand with certain scenes blacked out.

Syndromes and a Century: Thailand's Edition ended its two-week run at the Paragon Cineplex this past Wednesday, leaving some audience members baffled as to why the film was shown at at all.

Tropical Malady was polarizing at Cannes, and though it won the jury prize in 2004, there wasn't any congratulations from Thai officialdom. That same year, while the Tourism Authority of Thailand was putting on a big dog-and-pony show in Cannes, and had flown a planeload of officials and celebrities to attend it, Apichatpong wasn't among them. He flew to Cannes at this own expense.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Storm Riders II, Street Fighter shooting it out in Bangkok

At least two major foreign martial arts-fantasy film productions are under way in Thailand, The Storm Riders II, directed by the Pang Brothers, and the video-game adaptation, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, starring Robin Shou.

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has visited the set of The Storm Riders II. Budgeted at around US$9 million, the film is being entirely shot in a set of riverside warehouses in Bangkok's Pakkred district. The martial arts fantasy stars Ekin Cheng as Wind and Aaron Kwok as Cloud, reprising their roles from the 1998 original film, which was directed by Andrew Lau and was one of the highest-grossing films of its day.

Here is more from the Bangkok Post article (cache), with the Pang Brothers explaining why they are shooting it in Thailand:

"We feel comfortable working with the Thai crew," says the long-haired Danny Pang.

Then the short-haired Oxide chipped in: "Eighty percent of the crew are Thai. We wanted to shoot the whole film here because we trust them, and because it's probably cheaper than shooting in Hong Kong, even though we have to fly in some of the props and costumes."

"We have seven or eight major fight sequences in the film," says Danny. "And we will build them all in these warehouses. There's no location shooting involved; it's a fantastic film anyway."

The brothers - Asia's modest answer to the Coens, perhaps - have shot most of their Hong Kong films in Thailand, including the Eye franchise; the supernatural thriller Re-Cycle, which premiered at Cannes in 2006; the little-known Abnormal Beauty; and The Detective. The stories in these films are not necessarily about Thailand or Thai characters.

Over 523 foreign productions -- from documentaries and TV commercials to feature films and music videos -- chose to shoot in Thailand in 2007, according to the Thailand Film Office, the agency which oversees such activities. Japan leads the pack with 154 shoots in the Kingdom, followed by 102 from Europe and 92 from India. Only 22 US productions came here last year. One of them, though, was the remake of Bangkok Dangerous.

Kong goes on to mention that film production on a closed, indoor set is unusual in Thailand, because of the lack of large soundstages in in the country. There are only two that would be appropriate for a film the size of The Storm Riders II -- WorkPoint Entertainment, which is used to make TV shows, and Moonstar, which is always heavily booked.

Mostly, foreign productions come to Thailand for the exotic outdoor settings -- beaches, jungles, rice paddies, elephants, etc. -- but with a few more soundstages, film productions could come to Thailand and be set anywhere in the universe while taking advantage of the Kingdom's relatively low labor costs and the generous experience of the local industry's film crews. It could really become that "hub" that government officials are always banging on about.

The Storm Riders II will continue shooting until July, with the film due out sometime in 2009.

On location in Thailand is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. An adaptation of the long-running videogame series, the film is being directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die) and stars Kristen Kreuk in the title role and Robin Shou as the character Gen. Neil McDonough, Michael Clarke Duncan, Chris Klein and Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas also star.

Cinematical has been following the production and has posts about it here and here.

The production also has its own blog, which appears to be updated weekly.

See also:

(Photos: Top, from left, Oxide Pang, Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng and Danny Pang at the traditional Buddhist pre-production prayer ceremony for Storm Riders II; Ekin Cheng as Wind and Aaron Kwok as Cloud, via - thanks to Twitch; Robin Shou as Gen via

Order some Malaysian indie films on May Day

Malaysian independent film collective Da Huang Pictures -- home of James Lee, Amir Muhammad, Liew Seng Tat and Tan Chui Mui -- will open an online store on May 1, hawking their DVDs.

Want Flower in the Pocket, Liew Seng Tat's award-winning tale of bratty boys and their troubled dad (played by James Lee)? This is the first release on DVD, and they have it. Flower has been all over the festival circuit this year with Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town, with the two films sharing prizes at Pusan, Rotterdam and Deauville.

James Lee's "Love Trilogy" is available, too, so you can watch his ponderously named, slow-paced dramas in the comfort of your own home. These are Things We Do When We Fall in Love, Before We Fall in Love Again and Waiting for Love.

In the same vein is Love Conquers All, the atmospheric debut film by Tan Chui Mui.

They even have Amir Muhammad's banned Village People Radio Show, the followup to his banned The Last Communist.

More information:

Animating the Ramayana

Wired has an interview with American animator Nina Paley, whose Sita Sings the Blues is a musical adaptation of the epic Ramayana.

In Thai culture, the ancient Hindu epic has been adapted as the Ramakien.

Paley's story is told in parallel with the breakup of her own marriage. She rendered the feature-length, animated story in Flash animation, watercolor paints and rotoscoping, all by herself in her home office. The film is making its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, which started on Wednesday and runs until May 4.

Here's is an excerpt from the Wired article:

Wired: What is your movie about?

Nina Paley: Sita Sings the Blues is a musical, animated personal interpretation of the Indian epic the Ramayana. The aspect of the story that I focus on is the relationship between Sita and Rama, who are gods incarnated as human beings, and even they can't make their marriage work [laughs].

Wired: And that ties in with the film's second narrative.

Paley: Right, and then there's my story. I'm just an ordinary human, who also can't make her marriage work. And the way that it fails is uncannily similar to the way Rama and Sita's [relationship fails]. Inexplicable yet so familiar. And the question that I asked and the question people still ask is, "Why"? Why did Rama reject Sita? Why did my husband reject me? We don't know why, and we didn't know 3,000 years ago. I like that there's really no way to answer the question, that you have to accept that this is something that happens to a lot of humans.

While being able to apply the ancient story as a parable for contemporary problems is great, quite simply, I like the animation style. It reminds me of Genndy Tartakovsky's work on Samurai Jack or Star Wars: Clone Wars. And I wonder if there are any Thai animators who would dare to take on the Ramakien, and not be afraid to make it an edgy, thrill-packed adventure that would appeal to adults, as well as kids.

Thai animation so far, at least in the recent cases The Life of Buddha and Nak, has been aimed squarely at kids, and as a result, is a little too self-consciously cutesy, polite and dull for my taste.

Review: See Phrang (4bia)

  • Directed by Yongyoot Thongkontoon, Paween Purijitpanya, Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
  • Starring Maneerat Kham-uan, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Nuttapong Chatpong, Chermarn Boonyasak
  • Rating: 4/5

Iron Ladies yukster Yongyoot Thongkontoon should do more suspense, and Shutter/Alone horror helmer Banjong Pisanthanakun should do more comedy. On his own, Banjong's directing partner Parkpoom Wongpoom has a flair for the dramatic. And Paween Purijitpanya who did Body #19, well, he should just keep on keepin' on.

In See Phrang, also known as 4bia (or Phobia if you refuse to acknowledge the clumsy pun), four 25-minute horror segments work together to create a package that proves the gathered talent from GMM Tai Hub can actually make movie that doesn't have a nice, neat, tied-up-with-a-bow happy ending like all the GTH movies do.

That was what I was hoping for with See Phrang, and they gave it to me -- four times.

What surprised me though, was just how entertaining a horror film can be, and how much fun the good-sized audience on opening day at Major Cineplex Ekamai was having with it. And how funny it was.

What I found refreshing was how Western models of horror and suspense were referenced, though the stories were set in a Thai context. In a Daily Xpress article, Parkpoom cited Twilight Zone as an influence, but I also was reminded of Benicio Del Toro, Hitchcock and even the Hammer horror films through a filter of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.

Unlike other horror anthologies, such as Three, which was initiated by Nonzee Nimibutr, with vastly different parts that compete against each other, the four segments of See Phrang (literally "four crossroads") work together as a package, and even reference one another, with the princess of Last Fright mentioned briefly in Happiness, and characters from In the Middle invoked in Last Fright.

Here's a breakdown of the segments:

Happiness, directed by Yongyuth Thongkontoon

In this bafflingly named segment, a young woman, Pin, has a broken leg and is left alone in her apartment on the top floor of a dingy shophouse building. Unable to move around, and with no friends nearby, she clings tightly to her pink Motorola flip phone and relies on SMS to communicate with the one apparent friend she has.

The sense of dread for poor Pin starts to ratchet up when there is a horrible racket at her door -- someone pounding the hell out of it. Pin doesn't want to answer and finally the pounding stops and an envelope is slid under. Seems it was just the landlady, demanding several months back rent. Pin is an unlucky girl. A broken leg, no friends and no money.

She then receives an SMS from a stranger, who persists in sending her messages even though she at first ignores them. Lonely, she gives in to temptation and strikes up an SMS chat session with the person, who turns out to be a guy, to her everlasting glee.

By the end of the story, Pin is mewling like a wounded cat -- causing nervous laughter from the audience -- with her back to the door as the identity of the mystery is slowly revealed through a series of increasingly menacing messages.

This small type of character study -- just one actress in one room -- is something not often seen in Thai cinema, and both the actress Manerat and her director should be applauded for pulling off a grand experiment that serves as a great beginning to the foursome of fear.

The Thai title is Ngao, which I understand to mean "loneliness". Seems more apt.

Tit for Tat, directed by Paween Purijitpanya, written by Ekasit Thairath

Paween continues with the type of production design he did with Body #19, with a story that looks lifted right out of the pages of a comic book. And indeed, the writer Ekasit wrote the comic that Chukiat Sakweerakul's 13 Beloved was based on and co-wrote Body #19.

This is the story of a clique of schoolkids who have been busted for smoking pot, and they blame a little kid for snitching on them. Some of the boys then bundle the kid and his bicycle into the back of their pickup and beat on him while they are going down the road. The violence escalates with horrible consequences. Only one of the kids, one of the two girls (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), voices any concern.

Turns out the little kid is into black magic, and he has some books, or death notebooks if you will, that if people read them, they will meet whatever grisly end is spelled out for them.

There are a couple of moments that I think are homages to Hot Fuzz, specifically some blood on the ice cream. But in another instance, similar to the steeple fall in Hot Fuzz, when Paween should have kept the camera on the subject, he pulls back as if gun shy, or maybe just shy of the censors. It's too bad, because I wanted to see it. I wanted to jump up and shout, "Show it to me!"

Like his frustrating Body #19, Tit for Tat has its moments -- for every cool pay-off there are some annoyances -- making this the weakest segment, and the one that doesn't seem to fit with the others. Towards the end there are some fantastic CGI monsters from the comic pages, and young Apinya's expressive eyes trying so hard not to look at what's written on the page.

In the Middle, directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun

Four young guys are out camping, and are bedded down for the night in their tent telling ghost stories. Their banter is self-referential, with one of the guys revealing himself to be a serial spoiler of movies (he even has that movie-spoiler T-shirt), and right there he gives away the ending to Shutter. He also decries the horror films that all have female ghost with long black hair. "Can't they do something new?" he asks.

But they tell a story, about a guy out camping who slept by the tent door and woke up to find a female ghost sitting at his feet. Naturally, this makes the guy sleeping by the door, Ter, nervous, and he's a nervous sort anyway.

To shut them up, the guy sleeping furthest away, Aye, says “If I die, I’ll come back and haunt who ever sleeps in the middle first."

Well, what do you know, the next day, while whitewater rafting, the boat overturns and Aye is the one who doesn't make it. Or does he?

Despite the boys all being afraid, the playful, self-effacing banter keeps up. Just as hilarious are the T-shirts they are wearing, with Aye turning up with one that says simply "Bullshit", and it's a message that should not be heeded lightly.

Last Fright, directed by Parkpoom Wongpoom

Here's case of the highlights from the trailer making this story a surprise. If you've watched the trailer, or read any of the synopses, you know that Chermarn Boonyasak plays a flight attendant who has to fly solo on an empty jumbo jet with the only passenger being the body of a South Asian princess, and the wrapped-up corpse seems to come alive and terrifies the poor crew member.

So the story is infinitely more interesting when it starts as a slick soap-opera melodrama. The stewardess Pim doesn't want to be on the flight, but she's been requested. The princess turns out to be a Goth queen dressed in black with a delicious accent that places her somewhere between Romania and the Maldives.

Why Pim is on the flight, and how the princess dies are plot points that are better off finding out by watching the film.

And you should, to watch another quiet character study, of mainly one actress, on one set, gradually unraveling, from the cool, calm, carefully composed veneer of a flight attendant, to an axe-wielding crazy woman, hell bent on bringing down an airplane.

See also:

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Aditya Assarat retrospective tomorrow night

Indie director Aditya Assarat, whose debut solo feature Wonderful Town has been burning up the international festival circuit, will have a retrospective of his four short films tomorrow night at the Bioscope Theatre in Bangkok.

The four shorts are his master's thesis project, Motorcycle, which has won many awards, Waiting, Boy Genius and Boy Genius 2: The Sign.

The show starts at 7pm. Admission is free. The grandly named Bioscope Theatre (named after one of the first movie theatres in Bangkok) is basically a small screening room in the Bioscope magazine offices on Ratchadaphisek Soi 22. Get there early to get a seat. For more details, call (02) 541 5318-9.

Motorcycle is about a father grieving over his son, who was killed in a motorcycle wreck. The film won many awards from festivals, including the Chicago International Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and the Shorts International Film Festival in New York City.

Waiting is a 23-minute short about an old man traveling to Surat Thani to find a former lover.

The Boy Genius series is about two filmmakers making a home movie. One of Aditya's upcoming projects is I Love U, a third film in the Boy Genius series.

Aditya's first feature was 3 Friends, which he co-directed with Pumin Chinaradee and ML Mingmongkol Sonakul. Starring Art of the Devil star Napakpapha "Mamee" Nakprasit, it is a parody of reality TV series and the bikini babe VCDs featuring Thai actresses and models that are sold in 7-Eleven stores.

In 2006 he started Pop Pictures with friends Soros Sukhum and Jetnipith Teerakulchanyut to produce Wonderful Town. Shooting was completed with a production grant from Rolex SA, a program that saw Aditya be mentored as a "protege" under Indian director Mira Nair. He also received backing for Wonderful Town from Thailand's Ministry of Culture.

Another proposed project is a feature, High Society, which he recently tried to get funding for at the Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum.

His debut solo feature, Wonderful Town won the cash-heavy New Currents Award at the 2007 Pusan International Film Festival. It then picked up a Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, a top prize at the Deauville Asian Film Festival and the Fipresci award at Hong Kong. It has screened at festivals worldwide, including Berlin, Buenos Aires, Lisbon and New York. It will be playing in the San Francisco International Film Festival, which starts today. It has been picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Kino, and will be screening theatrically in France.

Wonderful Town will finally will have its Thailand premiere on May 15 at CentralWorld.

(Via Daily Xpress, Deknang; cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Cannes jury

The Cannes Film Festival has unveiled its lineup and for the first time in a few years, there are no Thai films in the program, neither in competition nor the non-competitive sections.

But there will still be a Thai presence: Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been chosen for the jury, which will be headed by Sean Penn and also include Natalie Portman, Italian director-screenwriter Sergio Castellitto, German actress Alexandra Maria Lara, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and French director Rachid Bouchareb.

Apichatpong has had two films featured at Cannes. In 2002, his Blissfully Yours took the Un Certain Regard prize, and in 2004 he was awarded a jury prize for Tropical Malady, which was in competition for the main Palm d'Or prize. His latest feature, Syndromes and a Century premiered at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival and traveled the festival and arthouse circuit to universal acclaim around the world before finally coming back to Thailand, where it was ordered to be censored by Thai cultural minders.

Thailand has had a regular presence at the festival since 2001, when Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger was the first Thai film to be programmed there. It screened in the Un Certain Regard competition. The Pang Brothers' Hong Kong co-production Re-Cycle screened in the Un Certain Regard in 2006, and Anocha Suwichakornpong's short film Graceland was in the Cinefondation program.

Last year, Pleasure Factory screened in Un Certain Regard, and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy premiered in the sidebar Directors' Fortnight. By the way, Ploy has just been released in France.

This year, Southeast Asia will be represented in the competition by My Magic by Eric Khoo from Singapore and Serbis by Brillante Mendoza from the Philippines. Also of note from Asia in the competition is 24 City by China's Jia Zhangke. Out of competition, there is the Korean western, The Good, The Bad, The Weird by Kim Ji-Woon and Na Hong-Jin's The Chaser is among the midnight screenings.

See also:

(Via, Hollywood Reporter)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Five Star opens its vaults

One of Thailand's oldest film studios, Five Star Production, has started a new DVD line, Five Star Remastered, under which it is reissuing its older films. The Nation business daily has a story about it today in its print editions. (I can't seem to find the story on The Nation's website.)

English subtitles likely will not be offered on these DVDs and VCDs, but the quality of the films will be pristine, says Five Star executive director Aphiradee "Amy" Iamphungphorn.

The first issue is Boonchu (บุญชู orBoonchoo), the start of an eight-film teen romantic comedy series directed by Bhandit Rittakol in the 1980s and early '90s. The Boonchu DVD went on sale over the weekend, and 2,000 copies have already been sold even though the disc has not been distributed in all shops, according to The Nation. Rentals will start next month. Also, pre-orders are being taken for a box set of the existing films in the Boonchu series through Five Star's Thai Movies Wiki.

By next month, Boonchu 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 will be ready for sale, Amy says. Boonchu 3 and 4 seem to be missing in action from the six-disc box set.

Five Star has a back catalog of around 250 films, stretching back to the 1970s, when the company was founded. It plans to issue 20 of them in the Five Star Remastered line.

Here is more from The Nation article:

To remaster the movies, Aphiradee said the company had hired two companies – Kantana and The Post – to remove all flaws in the old films and record a perfect version in digital format for further recording onto DVD and VCD copies. The two companies started the process two years ago.

Aphiradee said the new business plan created added value for all its films and helped the company once again make money from the old movies after they have been sitting quietly for a very long time.

“We know that these old movies have their fans. We have already seen the high demand with the first movie that we started selling last Saturday. Buyers were people of various ages, from grandmothers to working people,” Aphiradee said.

The company has a special department to run the new business. Aphiradee said the sales should account for 20 per cent of Five Star’s revenue this year, which would be 500 million baht.

Five Star’s core business is producing Thai movies for show in local theatres and for further sales to international broadcast operators. This year it has allocated Bt300 million to produce movies.

She estimated the whole Thai movie industry this year would not see obvious growth from last year due to the current economic uncertainty.

Five Star is mining more nostalgia with Red Eagle, a 1950s and '60s action film series that starred Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat. Tears of the Black Tiger director Wisit Sasanatieng, a devotee of the old Thai films, is directing a reboot of the series, with Ananda Everingham cast in the lead. If the first film does well, it will be continued with a second part already written by Wisit.

Five Star is also behind the hit Art of the Devil series, with the third film still raking in receipts in local cinemas. I'm too scared to go see it.

Meanwhile, the veteran director Bhandit is at work on Boonchu 9, which reunites the classic screen couple of Santisuk Promsiri and Jintara Sukapat. Apinya "Saiparn" Sakuljaroensuk from Ploy will be featured in the new film, due to open sometime this August. Apinya, by the way, has had her hair straightened back out since her appearance as the Afro-haired title character in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy (a Five Star production). She appears in rival studio GTH's horror anthology, 4bia, which opens tomorrow.

Review: Voodoo Girls, In Between, Happy Berry

Thunska Pansittivorakul and Panu Aree were both born in 1973, and they both started making movies in 2000. And, from what I saw of their work over last weekend in their joint retrospective, Inside Out, Outside In at Ver Gallery, they have sort of the same documentary approach to filmmaking.

The differences are that Thunska is more participatory and personally involved, while Panu is more detached and impartial. But both take on subject matter that is refreshingly heartfelt and earnest.

Thunska says as much in a quote for the Daily Xpress:

I and Panu have something in common. We like the same styles of films - shorts, experimental and documentaries - however, our films are different. I approach film from inside human beings to reflect the outside, while Panu portrays things from the outside in order to look inside."

On Friday, running late from work and getting lost in a taxi, I caught part of Panu's Once Upon a Time. It is actually an old family home movie, shot at the now-defunct Dan Narimit amusement park in Bangkok some 30 years ago by Panu's father. Panu has laid in some narration over the top of it. Another of his works simply follows the daily routine of a manager or owner of a convenience store, following him from opening in the morning until closing time.

Saturday, I had the chance to see Panu's newest work, In Between, which is a profile of four Muslim men who live in Bangkok. A school teacher, a software writer, a news translator and a professional musician, he follows them through their daily lives as they talk about the struggles of growing up in Bangkok, where Muslims are a minority, the "pork pranks" they faced when they attended non-Muslim schools and the prejudices they still face in a country where usually the only thing people hear about Muslims regards the violent and deadly separatism that is occurring in Thailand's three southernmost, Muslim-majority provinces.

Most of Saturday's program was devoted to Thunska, and his two features, 2002's Voodoo Girls and 2004's award-winning documentary, Happy Berry. Both take a similar approach, with Thunska, or Poon as he's called in the films, embedding himself in the lives of his subjects.

Voodoo Girls follows three young woman as they get ready to embark on new stages in their lives. Close friends of the director, they are shy on camera at first -- they are self conscious about smoking and drinking for their parents' sake, but they go ahead and do it anyway -- they talk about their boyfriends, or lack thereof. The action mainly takes place in the girls' apartments, where they hang out with their boyfriends, talking, smoking and drinking. When one of the trio has to go away to England for schooling, they all say goodbye to her at the airport. The title is explained in a poem at toward the end, saying love and heartbreak had pierced each of their hearts, like stick pins in a voodoo doll.

Happy Berry (not to be confused with Girly Berry) feels more epic and sprawling. Even if it is centered mostly on the clothing boutique in Siam Square where the film's four subjects work, with frequent forays to a karaoke parlour, the film covers more ground and gets more intimate with the characters.

There's Gack, who has a magnificent mane of curled blond tresses that dominate her tiny figure. All four of the Happy Berry figures are striking, but Gack is easily the most eye catching. There's Koi, also with bleached blond hair, who has a boyfriend, a famous model-singer named Nicky 99 Degrees. Nicky creates some drama of his own, as he poses nude for a magazine layout. And there's Joe, a big lug of guy and an enthusiastic partner in the business. Finally, there's the somewhat quiet Third.

Following the rise in fame of the Happy Berry boutique, the film gets into the lives and loves of its subjects, with some sexually explicit dialogue that wouldn't fly if the film were to be mass released in Bangkok's multiplexes. The film is refreshing in that it doesn't shy away from the topic of sex and sexuality -- it takes it on with a matter-of-frankness and bawdy gusto, illustrated by cameraman Poon reaching into the frame to grab onto the waistband of a young guy's shorts, and give a firm downward tug.

The film takes a bit of crazy turn when Happy Berry's celebrity threatens to alter the fashion line, as Joe, Noi and Third are briefly signed by RS Music as a boy-girl band act. They are the whole package, with fashion, music and "the look" all in one, rapping away in bouncey music videos as they wear their fluorescent, Barbie-doll-inspired outfits. Gack didn't take part in that brief flirtation with superstardom, holding down the boutique for the other three to return to when their record contract didn't pan out.

Happy Berry won the Grand Prize at the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival in 2004 and the film had a limited run at House cinema in Bangkok in 2005, for which Thunska made a short-film sequel, Happy Berry: Oops I Did It Again. It catches up with the foursome two years after the first documentary had been shot. Nicky is still hanging around, still causing Noi and the others to groan. Gack has found a farang boyfriend, Jesse, and the shop was getting ready to move to the CentrePoint area of Siam Square -- which is now closed for redevelopment. I don't know where Happy Berry is now.

Thunska, meanwhile, is working on a feature film, Stranger's Paradise, and he's still got another feature to do, Heartbreak Pavilion, a collaboration with Sompot Chidgasornpongse (currently away studying at CalArts), produced by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which won a cash award from the Pusan Promotion Plan in 2005.

See also:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jackie and Jet reign at Thailand box office

That a movie starring Jackie Chan, or Chéng Lóng as he is more widely known in Thailand, would be the No. 1 film in Thailand is hardly surprising. His films regularly top the box offices here. Add in Jet Li, for his first filmed appearance with Jackie Chan, and you've got box-office gold.

In Thailand, according to Box Office Mojo, The Forbidden Kingdom earned US$776,004 in its opening weekend, clobbering Superhero Movie, which opened in Thailand at $223,365. The Forbidden Kingdom is the No. 1 film in the U.S., too. More analysis on the box-office performance of The Forbidden Kingdom can be found at Kaiju Shakedown and at MovieXclusive.

Even more impressive is that Forbidden Kingdom for some strange reason opened on Friday, instead of Thursday as is customary in Thailand cinemas, so it had to catch up a day to pulverize Superhero. I wonder what kind of bank it would have made if it had opened a day earlier?

The No. 3 film in Thailand was Orahun Summer, which was the top film when it opened the previous week as part of a trio of Thai comedies. No other Thai films were released this week, so Orahun and another kid comedy, the three-week-old Dream Team, battled against the two new Hollywood releases. The kids got some help from the gory black-magic thriller Art of the Devil 3, which was clinging by its bloody fingernails at No. 5 after taking the top slot on its opening three weeks ago.

Orahun, a tale of bratty boys being shipped off to the Buddhist temple as novice monks for the summer, has earned $635,575, according to Box Office Mojo -- a good start for the film from A.G. Entertainment, a fairly new company whose other releases are last year's critically well-received comedy Seven Days to Leave My Wife and the upcoming thriller, The Memory, starring busy leading man Ananda Everingham and singer-actress Mae Charoenpura from Suriyothai.

A quibble about Orahun Summer: I tried to go see it, but couldn't find a subtitled version anywhere in Bangkok, which is rare for Thai films these days. Most Thai films released in Bangkok cinemas will be subtitled. I hope A.G. Entertainment springs for subtitles for The Memory.

I checked out The Forbidden Kingdom on Sunday, seeing it in a fairly packed cinema at Grand EGV Seacon. I was thrilled by the first-time cinematic meeting of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and the fluid fight choreography of Yuen Woo-ping. I marveled at how much fun Jet Li appeared to be having -- I don't think he's had this much fun making a movie since the 1980s -- perhaps not since his very first film, Shaolin Temple. Both Jet Li and Jackie get to play dual roles -- Jackie as an elderly pawn shop owner and as the Immortal Drunkard (harking back to his Drunken Master films) and Jet Li as the mischievous Monkey King (a storied role he was clearly revelling in) and as the Silent Monk.

My excitement was tempered by the simplistic story, which dumbed down Chinese myth for American audiences by adding the character of a geeky Boston teenager who appears to be a refugee extra from Staying Alive or some other crappy Hollywood flick from the '80s. It's an English language movie, though the characters switch into Chinese for dramatic or comedic effect.

I was also perturbed by the young couple who sat next to me, and chatted idly during the whole film. They seemed so bored. Why is it that movie audiences in Thailand do not pay any attention to films when they are watching them in the cinema? There are exceptions of course -- Thai horror and comedy films will generally have very animated crowds, but though they may scream their lungs out or bust a gut laughing, they still don't seem to be enraptured. Most often, films in Thailand cinemas fail to elicit any type of emotional response from the audience. It's chilling. And the full-blast air conditioners don't help matters.

Here's something else: If you are checking the showtimes at one of the big Major or EGV multiplexes that offer Gold Class or Emperor Class seating, be prepared for sticker shock when you reach the box-office window. I've encountered this before, but I was just reminded about it this past weekend. At places like Central Bangna and Grand EGV Seacon, the most ideal showtimes of the evening, generally around 7pm, for the most-popular films, will be in these overpriced screening rooms, usually marked Cinema 1 on the schedule board. Sure, the luxury reclining seats are comfortable -- sleep-inducing even -- but for 300 baht a pop, it costs twice as much or more than the regular knee-crunchers. It's a bait-and-switch tactic, pure and simple. The Gold/Emperor class is not worth it to me to watch standard fare like The Forbidden Kingdom. As it was, I had missed the start of the 6.30 show by 30 minutes, and wanted to catch the 7.30, but it was in the overpriced Gold Class. I was left cooling my heels and hanging around the noisy shopping center for 90 minutes, waiting for the 8.30 show. Well, I did have some shopping to do, so instead of giving up a couple of hundred baht to EGV, my money went to one of the other shops in the mall -- I spent the money anyway.

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)