Tuesday, September 30, 2008

BKKIFF '08 review: Citizen Juling (Polamuang Juling)

  • Directed by Ing K, Manit Sriwanichpoom, Kraisak Choonhavan
  • Reviewed on September 26, 2008; Asian Premiere at Bangkok International Film Festival
  • Rating: 5/5

Why was Juling Pongkunmul abducted and severely beaten? Why has there been a resurgence of violence in the South?

These are questions that the nearly four-hour documentary Citizen Juling does not answer satisfactorily. But I think it really tries to. Anyway, I also think nobody honestly knows the answers -- not even the believers in whatever cause they are trying to serve by carrying out the violence.

Directed by Ing K with Manit Sriwanichpoom and Kraisak Choonhavan, what the film does succeed at doing is painting a sympathetic picture of Juling. It also gives a re-airing to forgotten incidents and aspects of the Deep South conflict, including the fatal Krue Se mosque stand-off, the massacre of the Saba Yoi soccer team, an assassination attempt on a senator and prominent community leader and a Guantanamo-like military justice system.

It's an important documentary that will hopefully go a long way towards establishing a stronger culture of documentary filmmaking in Thailand -- a place where hard questions usually go unasked and never answered, where confrontation is avoided until there is the inevitable, yet unpredictable, explosion of anger.

In the documentary, Juling is portrayed as a talented artist. A native of Chiang Rai, Thailand's northernmost province, she voluntarily headed to the country's southernmost province of Narathiwat to be a schoolteacher. She just wanted to be of service where help was most needed, her family and friends say.

One of the early scenes is at an exhibit of Juling's works, which featured many portraits of His Majesty the King -- including the iconic "drop of sweat" picture. A devout Buddhist, she painted murals at a temple in Narathiwat, and taught art at a primary school.

In May 2006, Juling and another teacher, Sirinat Thawornsuk, were dragged from their classrooms, taken to another classroom and severly beaten. Juling took the worst of the abuse and was left in a coma, with her brain stem smashed. Sirinat suffered a much lesser degree of injuries and recovered.

Recorded in 2006, Citizen Juling follows then-Senator Kraisak on a fact-finding tour of the South. With writer, artist and filmmaker Ing K directing, and artist-photographer Manit the primary cameraman, the trio stops at the hospital where Juling is in intensive care, and her parents are there. The emotions are heavy as Juling's mother points to a portrait of her broadly smiling, laughing daughter, and shows where her teeth have been kicked in and her face has been bruised.

The cameras visit the kindergarten classroom where the beating took place, and the floor is still caked with blood.

Kraisak meets with other politicians and community leaders to try and get a better handle on the situation in southern Thailand. One theme is that it wasn't as bad until Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2001 -- that before then there was no separatist struggle -- and it was the Thaksin government's heavy-handed tactics that led to a retaliatory uptick in bombings, drive-by shootings, attacks and ambushes.

One of the figures interviewed is a Senator Fahruddin, a community leader, schoolmaster and anti-drugs crusader. Shortly after he was interviewed, Fahruddin was ambushed by a gunman, and hospitalized with severe injuries. A bright young Muslim man took Fahruddin's senate seat, and he tells about his arrest and harsh treatment under the military's justice system.

There's a look at the civilian-run courthouse in Pattani -- a tiny building that is woefully inadequate for the number of cases it must handle. Outside, Kraisak meets with wives of men who were killed at Krue Sae. Where is justice for them?

Kraisak, Manit and Ing K also trek north, to Chiang Rai, for talks with the "Akha prince", and the conversation drifts to Thaksin's drug war, in which extrajudicial killings were the norm, as well as the marginalized hilltribe people.

The film even hits Bangkok, opening at the beginning with a look at the sea of yellow shirts who came out to the Grand Palace in June 2006 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of accession of His Majesty the King. And that's another thing that's striking about this film -- it captures the ubiquity of the monarchy in people's lives, where other films studiously ignore it.

A documentary that covers Thai politics wouldn't be complete without a look at the September 19, 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin, and so Kraisak is followed by the camera crew into the carnival-like atmosphere in Bangkok, where people are posing for pictures with the army's tanks.

Kraisak is visibly disgusted, noting that in the last coup in 1992 he was "hunted like a dog" and his family's assets were frozen. (His father, Chatichai Choonhavan, was ousted in the '92 coup.) But the 2006 was very nice, and nobody's assets were frozen, at least not for awhile. Kraisak is asked to pose with some folks, and he obliges them, but makes a point of saying that just because he's posing for a picture doesn't mean he's for the coup. And he doesn't smile.

The politics of Citizen Juling might cause this documentary to come under criticism. But the reality is that this documentary would not have been made if Ing K and Manit hadn't had the access the senator's presence granted them.

And, getting back to Juling -- because she's always there, even if she's in a hospital bed, hooked up to tubes -- her former teachers and other family members are interviewed. They talk about how clever Juling is, and how much of a tomboy she could be -- as a girl, she climbed trees, and once rescued a cobra from being killed by villagers. She cried when another snake was beaten. And all Juling's family and friends say the same thing -- that they aren't angry with the people who beat Juling -- they just want the violence to stop.

See also:

Related posts:

Monday, September 29, 2008

BKKIFF '08: Festival notes part three

There will be a next year
  • The awards have been handed out, and the festival is winding down, with one more day left to go. In comments to The Hollywood Reporter's Joel Gershon, Bangkok International Film Festival president Jaruek Kaljaruek says he's received positive indications from the Ministry of Tourism and Sport that government funding would be available for next year's festival.

That's entertainment
  • Also expected to return next year will be the Thailand Entertainment Expo, which was put together by the Department of Export Promotion under the Ministry of Commerce. Though action at this year's inaugural edition was tepid, everyone involved thinks it's a great idea and should be continued.
  • Liz Shackleton of Screen Daily has filed an extensive report on the Expo, saying there were 147 film, TV, music and animation companies and trade associations taking part. Here's a quote from Department of Export Promotion director general Rachane Pojanasuhthorn:

"Next year we'll include Thailand Entertainment Expo in the country's international events calendar and it will be promoted to a greater extent. It's interesting that Indian companies have shown interest in shooting films here. Some Japanese firms are also look for co-production partnerships in Thailand."

  • Participants said not a lot of buyers showed up because a number of embassies had issued travel advisories, due to the anti-government protests.
  • The timing of the event also worked against it - film industry heavyweights are already with busy with Pusan's Asian Film Market and the American Film Market. So next year's Thailand Entertainmet Expo might be held at a different time of year.
  • Variety's Kong Rithdee also mentions the Entertainment Expo in his report.

Love it or hate it
  • Brian of Asian Cinema - While on the Road issues a second installment of reviews from the festival. He found Soi Cowboy smug, thought the Iranian film Those Three was beautiful and Days of Turquoise Sky was tender and sweet. He hated 12 Lotus, Royston Tan's musical followup to his smash hit 881.
  • I'd better get around to writing my own capsule reviews, which will include Days of Turquoise Sky and 12 Lotus, both of which I liked, or at least didn't hate.

World Premiere
  • The Bangkok International Film Festival scored the world premiere of Japanese director Naomi Kawase's Nanayo, which must be the same thing as this on IMDb. It's about a young Japanese woman who heads for Thailand, more or less on a whim. She finds herself at a remote school in the mountains, learning Thai massage. Isn't it interesting how that contrasts with another Japanese film that was supposed to screen at the fest? Nanayo is the closing film, at 8 on Tuesday night (September 30).

(Photo from Thailand Entertainment Expo via Flickr)

BKKIFF '08: PVC-1, Serbis take top Golden Kinnaree Awards

A gritty Colombian drama about a woman who's been fitted with an explosive collar, shot in one continuous take, won the top Golden Kinnaree Award on Sunday at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Directed by Spiros Stathoulopoulos, the Main Competition jury of Singapore's Eric Khoo, Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz and Thai indie director Aditya Assarat, applauded PVC-1 for its "raw, original and relentless vision".

The Best Film in the Southeast Asian competition was Serbis, Brillante Mendoza's drama about a family coming apart at the seams, set inside a decaying Angeles City adult-movie house. Jurors were Thai-film star Ananda Everingham, Korean producer Oh Jungwan and Martial Knaebel, former artistic director of the Fribourg International Film Festival.

In the main competition, a Special Jury Prize went to Those Three by Iranian director Naghi Nemati. Special mentions were awarded to Jay by Filipino director Francis Xavier Pasion and the Chilean drama Alice in the Land by Esteban Larraín.

A Special Jury Prize in the Southeast Asian competition went to Malaysian director Woo Ming Jin's sweet, innocent tale of a schoolboy with a crush on his teacher, Days of Turquoise Sky (Kurus). Special mention went to Filipino director John Torres for Years When I Was a Child Outside.

The festival continues until Tuesday, wrapping up that night with with world premiere of Nanayo, director Naomi Kawase's drama about a Japanese woman travelling in Thailand.

Update: The juries' statements about each of the prize-winning films are detailed on my supplemental blog at The Nation.

(Via Screen Daily, Variety, Hollywood Reporter)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

BKKIFF '08: Festival notes part two

  • At last year's Bangkok International Film Festival, I was tapped at the last minute as a replacement juror for the short-films competition -- of which there was none this year. I got a VIP badge and had to dress up for the gala banquet. I can't say I feel like I'm missing out. I'd rather watch films. Any minute now, they are going to be handing out the Golden Kinaree Awards at the banquet over at the Pullman Hotel. I'm going to go watch a German gay zombie movie -- Otto; or Up with Dead People -- and will catch up on the awards results afterward.

Fug or fabulous?

Who's watching the watcher?

Organisers, however, are putting a brave face on proceedings, saying the "compact" festival aims to showcase first and second-time directors, Thai mainstays and emerging Asian stars.

"I hope I'm not overstepping my borders, but I feel we've really got our act together this year," actor and competition jury member Ananda Everingham said during the opening ceremony on Tuesday.

If the festival is deemed a success this year, artistic director Yongyoot [Thongkongtoon] said, it could mean a little leverage to up the ante for 2009.

"We might be able to ask for the bigger [government] budget or get more sponsors for the film festival," he said.

  • AFP also got a quote from an "industry watcher". Where do they find these guys?

You rock, Rock

(Photos via Image.net by Kristian Dowling/Getty News)

Make time for Citizen Juling

The Bangkok International Film Festival has one more screening of the documentary Citizen Juling on Monday afternoon at 4.10. Friday night's Asian Premiere was pretty well packed, and the film -- all 3.6 hours of it -- was received enthusiastically.

Directors Ing K, Manit Sriwanichpoom and Senator Kraisak Choonhavan were all present for a Q&A session on Friday and they expect to be back again on Monday.

Manit says the film has already been invited to make its European premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, and plans are to show the film on the festival circuit over the next year. No one seems certain when it might be shown again in Thailand.

For Ing K, a writer, painter and filmmaker, the screening of Citizen Juling at the Bangkok International Film Festival is a landmark. Her last film, My Teacher Eats Biscuits, was made 10 years ago and was to open the (just plain old no international) Bangkok Film Festival in 1998 but was pulled at the last minute by the police censorship squad.

"This is the first time one of my films has been shown in a Thai cinema," she said on Friday.

Documentaries of the scope of Citizen Juling are rare in Thailand. The last one I know of that even comes close is The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong. And Citizen Juling complements that film. It was an excellent move by Truth Be Told director Pimpaka Towira, also a programmer of this year's Bangkok Int'l, to make Citizen Juling a part of the fest.

4bia at Toronto After Dark

So far this year's best Thai horror movie, 4bia is part of the Toronto After Dark Festival from October 17 to 24.

It'll be screened once, at 9.45pm on October 20 at Bloor Cinema.

The four-part horror omnibus played at the Bangkok International Film Festival as part of the Thai Panorama, was No 4 last week in cinemas in Taipei and will also play in Pusan.

(Via Dread Central)

BKKIFF '08: Festival notes

My films are not long. They are free.
-- Lav Diaz

Choices, choices

  • I didn't get a chance to see Nonzee Nimibutr's Queens of Langkasuka on Friday night, much as I would have liked to attend the premiere. Anyway, I was shabbily dressed and would not have mixed very well with the crowd of models, film stars and other glitterati. I opted instead to see Citizen Juling. I think I made the right choice, since the second showing of Juling on Monday conflicts with my ordinary job. Hopefully, I will have a chance to see Queens at some point in the next month or so. It will be released in Thai cinemas on October 23.

Eric has left the building
  • Main Competition juror Eric Khoo has already departed the festival, reports The Hollywood Reporter. They makes it sound like Eric was mad or something. But there's been no drama. The reality is that he was called back to Singapore to supervise the rush local release of his latest film, My Magic, which will be Singapore's submission for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He'll finish watching the Bangkok entries on DVD screeners.

Here come the judges
  • Other Main Competition jurors are Filipino director Lav Diaz and Wonderful Town director Aditya Assarat. The Southeast Asian Competition is being adjudicated by film programmer Martial Knaebel, actor Ananda Everingham and Oh Jung-wan, the South Korean producer of Three and Three ... Extremes.

Pinoy style
  • Lav Diaz participated in a discussion on Pinoy Cinema, along with Adolf Alix Jr., John Torres and Raya Martin. The talk was moderated by film critic Kittisak Suwanphokin-daeng and the Thai Film Foundation's Chalida Uabumrungjit. I didn't get to stay for the whole session, but at least I heard the lead-off quote of this post. Later, during the intermission for Citizen Juling I got to sit down with Diaz, Martin and Torres. I must have been gushing like a schoolgirl. But really, seeing Diaz' Heremias Book One changed the way I look at cinema. I'm just glad I got to get that off my chest.

Yes, we have subtitles
  • All foreign films have been subtitled in Thai, except for JCVD, which was an impromptu addition to the schedule. The subs are beamed into an extra bit of screen that has been tacked on below the main screen, and as far as I've seen, it looks flawless. The Thai Film Director Association was responsible for this huge undertaking. Kudos and congratulations to the association's president Yongyoot Thongkongtoon (also festival artistic director) for making that happen. It's a long-overdue development in fostering a true appreciation of cinema among people in Thailand.

Gimme some answers, straight answers
  • Nearly every film I've attended has had a Q&A session afterward with the directors. I've been in sessions with Thomas Clay of Soi Cowboy (along with producer Tom Waller and a couple of the cast, including Pimwalee Thampanyasan), Raya Martin (Now Showing), Nan Triveni Achnas (The Photograph), and the Citizen Juling trio of Ing K, Manit Sriwanichpoom and Kraisak Choonhavan. The sessions are moderated by the likes of Kong Rithdee and Chalida Uabumrungjit, and are conducted in both English and Thai.

No ghosts, no chance
  • Nan Triveni Achnas struggled to make her latest film, The Photograph, because "nobody wants to see a film about a man dying. Everyone wants to see a happy ending." The acclaimed director of Whispering Sands couldn't find local backing for her film because it was neither horror nor comedy -- even if there are elements of both, if folks would give the film a chance. She spent three years obtaining grants from various cinema funds around the world.

Big comfy chairs
  • I've seen the festival's two most challenging films in terms of length -- the 220-minute Citizen Juling and the 280-minute Now Showing. Both had intermissions about halfway through. But sitting through these films was a breeze, because both were interesting, and the seats at SF World Cinema are very comfortable. Raya Martin said his Now Showing was originally around nine hours long, but he ended up cutting it. It's the first in a trilogy, but parts two and three will probably be ordinary feature-length films.

  • Jean-Claude Van Damme is holding court at the fest. He was working the heavy cocktail party and gala premiere on Friday. He had a press conference on Saturday night ahead of the screening of JCVD, and then hung around for the screening, posing for pictures afterward. I managed to practically bump into him on the escalator as he was departing. I didn't hit either event because I chose to see The Photograph (jaw-droppingly beautiful) and then Brillante Mendoza's pretty awesome Serbis.

Ride 'em
  • Soi Cowboy played just once at the festival, instead of the customary two screenings. Thursday night's show was sold out, with eager audience members sitting in the aisles.
  • Producer Tom Waller says he hopes for an arthouse run for the film in Bangkok. Perhaps this will come after Thailand's motion-picture ratings system is in place. Full-frontal male nudity is cause for censorship concerns.
  • Soi Cowboy director Thomas Clay acknowledges he was influenced by Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours in hiring of Blissfully's cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. And he says he's seen three of Apichatpong's films. But that's it. Though Clay's Cowboy shares a two-part structure similar to Apichatpong's Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, Clay says his idea came independently.

No admission

  • For Soi Cowboy and Serbis the cinema staff were observing an age-restriction criteria, with a sign saying the film is "18+", restricted to people over 18. They weren't checking IDs, but my ticket was stamped as I went in to Serbis. It's good to see these signs and the beginnings of Thailand's forthcoming motion-picture ratings system coming into practice. Serbis, by the way, was fully booked out last night for its final screening at the fest.

The Road to Bangkok

King B
  • The King of the B's, Roger Corman is in Bangkok. He spoke at the Producer's Conference along with Seven Years in Tibet producer Iain Smith OBE and Bangkok-based filmmaker Paul Spurrier. Corman also hit the red carpet on Friday night for the premiere of Queens of Langkasuka.

(Top photo via Flickr; bottom photo via Image.net by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fireball sparks the new Bangkok Film Studio

[Note: An earlier posting about Fireball has been deleted because it contained incorrect information about the cast and had links to an incomplete footage reel that has since been taken offline.]

Fake and Opapatika director Thanakorn Pongsuwan's new movie Fireball is not only a new blend of action -- melding Muay Thai with basketball -- it's also the first film from a new Thai studio, albeit one with some familiar names behind it.

They held a press conference yesterday at the Bangkok International Film Festival to introduce some of the cast of the film and to premiere their finished showreel.

Producing Fireball is Adirek Wattaleela, better known by the enigmatic nickname of Uncle, and Sangar Chatchairungruang -- the team behind Film Bangkok, the company that was largely responsible for introducing Thai films to the international market in 2000. They were behind such films as the original Bangkok Dangerous, Tears of the Black Tiger and Bang Rajan.

But the company went out of business in 2005 after an expensive string of movies that included Angulimala, The Siam Renaissance and the cult-favorite zombie comedy SARS Wars, which travelled the festival circuit but didn't perform as expected financially.

Uncle then directed Ghost Variety released by Sahamongkol, a horror comedy that was also a satire of the Thai film industry, and he's made cameo appearances as half the comic duo of policemen in Buppha Rahtree and several other films. Uncle was also behind this year's comedy Theng's Angel.

Sangar went to work at Matching Film, producing Zee Oui and the Steven Seagal vehicle Into the Sun and other films. He also was a producer on Re-Cycle for the Pang Brothers.

Sangar says Bangkok Film Studio isn't exactly the relaunch of Film Bangkok, even if the name's just switched around and the company logo uses the same font as the old studio.

He says the idea behind Bangkok Film Studio is to make Thai movies with the international market in mind. The movies will be developed with funding from various sources, including pre-sales, soft money and sponsorship. It's important that Bangkok Film Studio retain control of the films, though, because having too many financial backers usually proves unwieldy in terms of creative direction.

The new company's first effort, Fireball, will be released in November or December of this year. It will be distributed by Adamas World. Golden Network Asia is handling international sales, and Red Bull is the main sponsor.

Director Thanakorn says he first thought of the concept of Muay Thai baskeball about three years ago, and that it's taken time to develop it. In the meantime, however, there's been the Jay Chou vehicle Kung Fu Dunk blending hoops and kung fu, which a project like Fireball will be compared to, even though Thanakorn insists his idea was independent. Besides, the concept is different, and much grittier.

Production commenced immediately after Thanakorn wrapped up his previous film, the long-in-the-works supernatural action thriller Opapatika, which was released last year. The Fireball cast was put through a year of training and then production took another year, he says. Here's more from a prepared director's note:

When I was planning for Fireball, I wanted it to be a good action movie that could combine great action sequences and good storytelling. So, the goal of this movie is to make a good quality, market-friendly drama-action film.

Fireball is equally balanced between drama and action. And I want to make the drama part as touching as possible.

The theme of this movie is that this world is one big test. There's a lot of cruelty that we have to find a way through, which to me is very interesting.

For this movie, movement of all the action sequences is very complicated, because they're hand-to-hand combat, which is very different from shooting [or gunplay] scenes. We tried to capture the feeling of each scene. I want everyone to understand what the character has to go through, to feel what they felt. And also, the complicated fighting sequences make this movie very challenging.

The story of Fireball involves an underground, no-holds-barred, no-fouls-called style of basketball that is played to the death. Here's the official synopsis:

Tai gets out of jail to find that twin brother Tan had been in a coma for a year. He discovers that his brother had entered the world of Fireball, a violent game based on basketball hosted by an underground criminal gangs, so as to raise the money for Tai's early release. However, he was brutally beaten by another player Tun. Tai agrees to join Dens' team so that he can track down the man who hospitalized his brother.

Tai is befriended by his teammates: Singh, a Thai boxing champion who wants to prove that he is the best; Muk, a Thai-African guy who needs money to support his family; IQ, a cheerful character who only wants to help his mother; and K, an old friend of Tai's, who has a mysterious past. He and his teammates must risk their lives and fight their way to the final round of the deadly Fireball championships so that Tai can avenge his brother on the court.

The star is Preeti Barameanan, better known as Bank, lead singer of the Thai rock group Clash. (Bank was unavailable for yesterday's press conference.)

Other cast members are Nine Million Sam (Singh), a Thai boxer making his film debut; Anuwat "Earth" Jeg (K), a former professional basketball player and current hot model; Kumpanart "Johnny" Ungsoonmern (Muk), a former soccer player who's been in Dynamite Warrior and the Naresuan movies; Karnnut "Bas" Samerjai, a member of Thailand's national basketball team; and Kantura "Aem" Chuchuaysuwan, an actress who's been on TV shows and in music videos.

Hopefully, I'll soon have the completed showreel as well as more material from Fireball to share.

(Photo via Flickr: Thanakorn Pongsuwan, cast members Nine Million Sam, Karnnut "Bas" Samerjai, Anuwat "Earth" Jeg and producer Sangar Chatchairungruang.)

In the shadow of In the Shadow of the Naga

I don't want too much more time to go by before catching up with Shadow of the Naga, the "monks with guns" action drama by Phawat Panangkasiri that made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Because of the subject matter -- three thieves (Somchai Khemklad, Ray MacDonald and Pitisak Yaowananon) hide their loot on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery, and then have to become ordained as monks in order to retrieve their booty -- the film will probably never be released in Thailand. It's sat on the shelf for a year, with Sahamongkol Film International hesitant to release it, fearing a backlash.

This is despite that comedies by Thai studios frequently depict Buddhist monks as buffoons. And the upcoming Holy Man 2 (Luang Phi Teng: Roon Ha Rumruay) has a monk doing a hip-hopper's patter -- it's rapper Joey Boy in the starring role after all. But at least he's not playing guitar.

I was hopeful some good buzz might be generated about In the Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok) at Toronto. And there was some, from the National Post, with it being included among Chris Knight's recommendations:

Sometimes a film's beginning and end can be even more deliberate. In the Shadow of Naga is a Thai film about three thieves who bury their loot on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery and then must be ordained in order to dig it up. (I watched it solely so I could use the phrase "felonious monk" in this column; it was worth it.) Director Phawat Panangkasiri opens and closes his story with an onscreen statement about Buddhist principles; how, even though the film's characters may disregard them, they are nonetheless true.

Knight also got to use his new favorite phrase in the National Post's wrap-up of the fest:


In the Shadow of Naga, a Buddhist-themed film about bad guys who become ordained (felonious monks), which the press and industry audience was told would start 10 minutes late; then another 10 minutes; then another; and then "any minute," which is when it finally began.

Then Kaiju Shakedown's Grady Hendrix weighed in with his final TIFF '08 update:

[This] low-key Thai flick about criminals becoming Buddhist monks [h]as all the strengths and weaknesses of Thailand's mainstream commercial cinema, which means we'll all probably never hear from it again.

There's also a review from They Shoot Actors Don't They. Here's an excerpt:

Parts of the plot of In the Shadow of the Naga are a bit difficult to piece together, but the moral lessons are pretty clear. Shady dealings and shocking secrets are hinted at, but so obscurely that by the dramatic climax it's a bit difficult to know who the good guys and bad guys really are. Interesting, but maybe not actually superior to Blue Streak.

And finally a Variety review by Robert Koehler, was issued yesterday. Here's an excerpt:

In the Shadow of the Naga appears destined to be known as that Thai "monks-with-guns" movie, just as it's sure to enrage stewards of religious tradition in Thailand. Fashioned closer in spirit and substance to a rough B-genre item than an art pic or festival title for export, helmer Phawat Panangkasiri's actioner pits a trio of thieves against the precepts of a Buddhist temple where their stolen stash is hidden, with sometimes risible results. Cautionary opening title note that characters sometimes veer from Buddhist principles won't be enough to avert controversy, which in turn will stoke local demand.

I agree that the demand will be there -- I demand to see it. But even under the forthcoming ratings system, will there be a place for monks with guns -- even if the director has gone to great lenghths to explain the intentions of his work?

Monks running around screaming, diving into human waste or being covered in mud is okay though.

Friday, September 26, 2008

JCVD added to Bangkok International Film Festival

Jean-Claude Van Damme has muscled his way into the Bangkok International Film Festival, with his latest work, the critically heralded, warts-and-all self-parody JCVD added at the last minute.

It will screen at 8 on Saturday night (September 27).

JCVD has been a hit so far at festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest, where it came in third for the audience award behind Chocolate.

Van Damme threw a few kicks on the red carpet for Friday night's "gala opening", and walked in with French actress Claudia Bassol.

Other stars strutting into the Bangkok's CentralWorld shopping center for a heavy cocktail party and the Asian premiere of Queens of Langkasuka included Amande Assante, Korean actor Lee Dong Wook, Vietnamese actress Thi Giang Nguyen, American actress Arielle Kebbel, Hong Kong actress Fann Wong, Singaporean actress Mindee Ong (star of 12 Lotus), British actress Selina Lo as well as local stars like Ananda Everingham (star of Queens of Langkasuka and his girlfriend, Citizen Dog actress "Jeed" Sangthong Ket-U-Tong, plus "Tak" Bongkot Kongmalai and Film Rattapoom.

(Cross-published at Bangkok Cinema Scene; photo via Image.net by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

BKKIFF '08 review: Soi Cowboy

  • Written and directed by Thomas Clay
  • Starring Nicolas Bro, Pimwalee Thampanyasan
  • Reviewed on September 25, 2008, Asian Premiere at Bangkok International Film Festival
  • Rating: 5/5
What's strange about watching the movie Soi Cowboy in Thailand is that it takes a moment to adjust to the background noises.

The first half of the film mainly takes place inside the Bangkok apartment a portly farang is sharing with his tiny Thai girlfriend. It's morning and the whistles are chirping. That's right, the whistles -- the non-stop cacophony of parking-lot guards and traffic policemen tweeting on their noisemakers. When the movie first started, I was thinking I was hearing the noise of the cinema's carpark. I wondered how long the sounds had been there before I noticed, and pretty soon, I guess I forgot they were even there.

Such is life in Bangkok. And that's the point of the opening half of Soi Cowboy. The mismatched couple goes through their morning routine. He wakes up, turns in bed to his girlfriend and looks at her hopefully. Her back is turned toward him and she appears to still be sleeping. He gets out of bed and starts to shuffle around. She gets out of bed and shuffles around. He takes note, and looks at her hopefully. He takes a shower -- with the door open, so we all can see. She makes rice and has breakfast -- doesn't invite him to eat. Then he makes some toast and has some peanut butter on it.

Oh, and by the way, his tiny Thai girlfriend is sporting a big baby bump. But at 5' 2", she probably still weighs 80 pounds soaking wet. It's a study in contrasts -- she is beautiful and dusky skinned. He is perhaps 6' 4", 300 pounds of hellish misery, with pasty, splotchy skin.

It's beautiful and poignant, yet all horrifyingly mundane and infinitely sad. But, it's a note-for-note reproduction of how day-to-day life can be for the average expat resident.

How long can it go on? How long can the guy, Tobias, endure? And how about when that baby comes? What then, Tobias? But he's not thinking that far ahead. The woman is looking to the future, though, even if she really doesn't like this great Dane she's hooked up with.

I could give a blow-by-blow account of what all happens, but to do that takes the fun out of this movie. I will say it involves an iPod, Wagner, a noisy videogame, Sukhumvit Road, Viagra, dodgy arthouse-movie DVDs, MBK, an 18-karat gold bracelet, a train and a trip to Ayutthaya. Oh, and an elderly farang woman with a walker in an elevator.

And then the movie changes. From the dull, monochrome world of Bangkok and an all-mod-cons apartment, the scene shifts to blazing, brightly colors and the wooden shack house of the countryside.

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, the director of photography for Apichatpong Weerasethakul, manages the very low-key lighting beautifully and poetically.

Life is still pretty mundane, as a young man returns home from the city, slogs through the rice paddy and falls in alongside his older brother, tending to the crop as if he'd only stepped away for a moment. But there's something menacing about the younger brother.

And I don't want to say too much about that. Except that it involves a walk in the woods, a duffle bag, a white suit, a boxer-turned-actor playing a kingpin, and the Kentucky Gospel song, "Where We'll Never Grow Old", performed Blue Velvet-style in a strange little nightclub.

In both halves of the film, one common thread is a bizarre-looking Channel 7 soap opera -- something involving a tiny, misshapen, dark-skinned person being beaten. What the heck is that? Is it something to do with the Sangthong story? Or maybe I'm reading too much into it?

When I first heard about this film, which premiered as an Un Certain Regard selection at the Cannes Film Festival this year, I wasn't sure I'd like it. But I found myself captivated from the moment the opening credits rolled over the scratchy sounds of an old-time country-and-western song. I was caught up in the familiar-feeling rhythms of both urban and rural life, as well as the abrupt shift into surrealism. It all fits in there, somehow.

MMA, UFC and TJ (and Mike B.)

The Hollywood Reporter has a big story about mixed-martial arts (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and how their popularity is influencing martial-arts films. It covers the likes of Never Back Down and The Forbidden Kingdom as well as the David Mamet-penned indie Redbelt, plus Donnie Yen and Flash Point.

The Weinstein Company's Bey Logan is invoked as a source, as is Kung Fu Cinema's Mark Pollard. And from there we get to Thailand:

Pollard cites Tony Jaa, a rising Thai action star who's gained attention with such films as Ong-Bak and The Protector, as another performer capturing the MMA spirit. "He's not really doing UFC style," he says. "It's Muay Thai boxing. But I think it appeals a lot to the MMA and UFC fan base."

And the Brave guy:

Art Birzneck, president of Birch Tree Entertainment, plans to fuse the old with the new. An international sales and production company specializing in martial arts films such as Brave, featuring Thai action star Mike B., Birch Tree is teaming up with action star Russell Wong (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) to produce films under the joint venture Urasia.

"You have to mix the styles, start bringing a little bit more Western sensibilities into the films," says Birzneck. "Our primary directive is to fuse the Asian component and MMA component together."

Or an even crazier mix. Like Fireball, perhaps?

If you want to see the kiss in The Love of Siam ...

You won't see it on Thai television. On a recent broadcast of the acclaimed family drama and gay-teen romance The Love of Siam on TrueVision's Film Asia movie channel, the crucial backyard snog between the main characters was cut out.

So reports Bangkok of the Mind. Here's a bit more:

That's the influence of Thai censors at work. Writing at the Pantip webboard, Love of Siam fans say they are upset about the way the movie was treated, and are marshalling support for a joint complaint to TrueVisions.

"You can always watch it on DVD if you don't want to watch a censored version," retort some posters.

Or you can catch the film. It's playing at 1pm today (September 26) at the Bangkok International Film Festival, where it is in the Southeast Asia Competition. Director Chukiat Sakweerakul will be around for a Q&A session.

The Love of Siam is also playing in Taiwan.

Anticipating Queens of Langkasuka

More than three years in the making, Queens of Langkasuka makes its Asian premiere tonight as the "gala opening" of the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Director Nonzee Nimibutr has spent anywhere from 150 million to 200 million baht to make the movie, so a lot is riding on it.

It has all the makings of a blockbuster -- big stars, loads of special effects, lavish costumes and an exotic seaborne setting.

Leading the cast is Jarunee Suksawat, who was a major star back in the 1980s and '90s. This marks her return to the big screen. Prominent leading man Ananda Everingham has a major role as a loin-cloth-clad Aquaman who can communicate with the marine life. Action star Dan Chupong plays a loyal military commander of the queen. There's also veteran star Sorapong Chatree, as well as folks from past Nonzee films, like Jessadaporn Pholdee (Dang Bireley’s and the Young Gangsters), Winai Kributr (Nang Nak) and Suwanit Panjamawat (Jan Dara).

The story has something to do with a really huge cannon that sinks in the sea. Possession of that big gun is key to holding the ancient land of Langkasuka.

Nonzee worked on a script with S.E.A. Write Award-winning writer Win Lyovarin, which is set around 400 years ago in places that today are part of Malaysia and southern Thailand.

Even though there are a lot of fantastical elements -- like a stingray-riding sea sorcerer and a aerial naval bombing strike involving hang-glider-borne warriors -- there is a kernel of historical fact. Says Nonzee, in a recent Daily Xpress article:

It would be easier to make Pirates of the Caribbean because there’s no need to worry about the historical background."

Originally the movie was to be called Queens of Pattani, but Nonzee was urged to steer away from that title because of the separatist violence in the southern Thai provinces of today that include Pattani. Here's more from a recent Bangkok Post article (cache):

It was true that I intended the movie to be more historical than it now is," says Nonzee. "That's what interested me in the beginning - the colourful peoples who lived in and traded with Pattani, and sure, the role of Ayutthaya in those years.

"But during shooting and editing, I had to make a choice, and in the end I chose to focus more on the fantasy than the history. I think that's what the spirit of the story is about."

Queens of Langksuka premiered at the Cannes Film Market, where it got mixed reviews. A special midnight screening at the recent Venice Film Festival brought more of the same.

Originally envisioned as a two-parter, and then cut down into one 140-minute movie, critics have complained it's too long. For its commercial release in Thailand, starting on October 23 it will probably run around 120.

Despite the drubbing from the industry press, Nonzee is hopeful about the film's commercial prospects. He has to be. Here's more from a recent interview in BK Magazine:

Honestly, I really want Queens of Langkasuka to be a blockbuster. The movie company [Sahamongkol Film International] has invested a fortune. Let’s hope, for their sake (and mine), that the film breaks even because if it doesn’t, we might not get to see something this grand again.

After its Thai commercial run, Queens will be the opening film for the Southeast Asian program at the Golden Horse Film Festival in Taipei in November. Screen Daily has more on that. Update: It will also be at the American Film Market.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Children of the Dark director willing to accept censorship, but not ban

Junji Sakamoto, the director of Children of the Dark (Yami no kodomo-tachi) held a press conference yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand to address the banning of his film from the Bangkok International Film Festival. Producers Yukiko Shiii and Masaomi Karasaki also flew to Bangkok to talk to the press.

Sakamoto says he offered to recut the drama about child-sex slavery so it would be more appropriate for Thai sensibilities. He and his producers also clarified that they hadn't shot the film illegaly. And, they're still waiting to hear a more detailed explanation as to why his film was banned from the festival.

Absolutely Bangkok has coverage of the press conference, as does Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Daily Xpress has a followup to its earlier story, but it hasn't been put online. Here's some a quote from Absolutely Bangkok:

We are very sorry that we can’t play this film at this fest - since it’s shot in Thailand,” Sakamoto told the FCCT. “We were very ready to edit the film to cater for the censorship in Thailand. The festival had actually asked us to bring the film without any cuts. Original films can be played at the festival, they said.”

Of course the programmers would want the original version -- they aren't afraid to show the truth. However their decision was overridden by higher authorities in the government, the Thailand Film Office, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism and Sport.

When the ban was initially reported, the reason stated was that the filmmakers didn't have or weren't granted the proper permission to make their movie in Thailand. Here's more from the press conference, via Absolutely Bangkok:

The semi-official uninvite came from the Ministry of Tourism, says director Sakamoto: “In August we were invited, on September 17th we were uninvited. They used a tricky way. Said we didn’t have the proper permissions. Said that “we’d filmed something that is hidden. We just tried to open up the issues,” says directer Sakamoto. “We got all the visas and permissions needed. There is nothing unlawful.”

Producer Masaomi Karasaki wants to cry, but politely laughs off the Thai powers that be politely: “Every foreign film producer must get an approval from the Thai authorities to shoot here. Our first request was denied. We then proposed it to be a joint production between Thailand and Japan. Many foreign movies do that. So we got the permissions of all the authorities. And the film became a huge success in Japan. We didn’t expect this.”

There have been implications that by reapplying as a Thai co-production, the filmmakers went around people's backs to get their permit -- that they were being sneaky. It's true, though, that co-productions don't have to have their scripts vetted as foreign productions do. Here's more from Kong Rithdee's Variety story:

Sakamoto and his producers, Yukiko Shii and Masaomi Karasaki, flew to Bangkok with an obvious intention to clarify some reports in Thai newspapers that the film Children of the Dark was shot illegally in Thailand.

"We strongly stress that we shot the movie by entering a co-production with a Thai company, and we got working visas for the crew," said Sakamoto. "We didn't shoot the film unlawfully."

Since the initial report of the film's ban, festival officials have said the issue with Children of the Dark is its sensitive content.

In earlier stories, festival president Jaruek Kaljaruek, also head of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand and managing director at Kantana Group, said the film had "inappropriate content" and festival artistic director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, a producer at GMM Tai Hub, stated that "it's a sensitive issue".

Those two men have higher authorities to answer to. They are being made to carry water.

The film premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic in July and was released in Japan in August. It stars Yôsuke Eguchi and Aoi Miyazaki Aoi as a Japanese journalist and social worker in Thailand who are trying to rescue children from a ring of foreign pedophiles.

Here's more from the press conference, via Absolutely Bangkok, on just how strong the film's content is, and how it was rated in Japan:

Explains producer Yukiko Shiii, ironically: “The film is that bad, in Japan it first got a R-15 rating for children older than 15. Then it was rated as a PG-12. Under parents’ guidance children older than twelve are allowed to see it in Japan.”

In short: What kids in Japan are legally allowed to see is to hard to swallow for grown up Thais.

Shiii: “You’ll find more sensational images everywhere on the Internet, they’re that widespread. The film is nothing in comparison to that. We just wanted to show people how reality really looks.”


Sakamoto, Shiii, Karasaki, they again and again emphasize how sorry they are that the film is rejected in Thailand. Director Sakamoto: “I wanted to see the reactions of the Thai people when they see the movie. How they feel. I’m very sorry not to see those reactions.”

“This film must be shown to all of the world,“ reads an earlier statement, especially in Thailand for the children’s future. To stop this film is the same as shutting children’s futures, also shutting the future in the country.”

Producer Karasaki: “We expected an open Thailand. But this film is not just about Thailand. It’s about the whole region, helping people on the outside to understand the problem.”

Thing is, as one of nearly 80 films in a festival, Children of the Dark was barely on my radar, even if I'd heard about it months ago. Now that it's been banned, everyone wants to see it. It's interesting how that works.

See also:

Chocolate, hot on the festival circuit, finally finds a U.S. home at Magnet

Back when Chocolate was first released in Thailand, word was that The Weinstein Company had already bought the film for a presumptive place in its Dragon Dynasty line. The presence of TWC exec Bey Logan at the film's world premiere in Bangkok seemed to indicate a deal was clinched.

But things fell apart. The Weinstein tie-up with Sahamongkol Film International was off the table. The film made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where screenings were packed for both its matinee showing and as the closing Midnight Madness flick, and it wowed the audience.

It went on to Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, picking up more rave reviews, and winning the runner-up prize in the Audience Awards -- second to The Good, The Bad, The Weird, ahead of JCVD. Chocolate, though a huge hit, had no distributor in Hollywoodland.

Now Magnolia Pictures' Magnet Releasing has stepped in. The company will release Chocolate in a theatrical run next year and follow that up with a DVD. Here's the press release:

Magnet announced today that it has acquired North American rights to Prachya Pinkaew’s martial arts actioner Chocolate. Fresh from its successful Toronto Midnight Madness world premiere, the film rolled into Austin’s Fantastic Fest this past weekend andnabbed the Audience Award runner-up prize.

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior helmer Prachya Pinkaew’s latest pairs him with newcomer Jeeja Vismistananda, in training for five years to play the lead in Chocolate. Jeeja’s performance as an autistic girl who learns Muay Thai via a marathon screening of Tony Jaa and Bruce Lee films announces the addition of a major new talent to the martial arts canon. Featuring death-defying stunts, and a charming newcomer, Chocolate represents Prachya’s proper follow-up to the smash success of Ong Bak.

“Magnet has had a long tradition of debuting action stars like Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong, David Belle, Marko Zaror, and now we’re fortunate enough to launch our first female action star: Jeeja Vismistananda. Chocolate proves Jeeja is as hard hitting as the big boys and fans will be delighted by Prachya’s (Ong Bak’s creator) return to kick ass action,” said Magnolia Senior Vice President Tom Quinn.

The deal was negotiated by Magnolia’s Quinn with Gilbert Lim representing Sahamongkolfilm International. Magnet will release the film theatrically in 2009.

Magnolia shocked everyone back in 2005 by coming out of the gates and picking up Ong Bak for North American distribution. They announced themselves a force to be reckoned with. They also distribute Dynamite Warrior (with Dan Chupong) and recently released Mum Jokmok's The Bodyguard and The Bodyguard 2 (with cameos by Tony Jaa). Another good move by Magnolia was rescuing Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger from the old Miramax vaults.

Chocolate was also at the Helsinki fest and at Bite the Mango in the UK, it's at the Bangkok International Film Festival and the film market. It's also going to be at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and at Sitges. A theatrical run in October and DVD and Blu-ray release in November are set for the U.K. (Blu-ray buyers might hold off until region coding on the U.K. disc is made known and to see what Magnet's plans are.) And it's opening in cinemas in Taiwan this week.

(Via Twitch, IndieWire, Screen Daily; photo of Prachya at TIFF '08 via Tuna Flix)

A visit to Day 1 of the Thailand Entertainment Expo 2008

The Thailand Entertainment Expo opened yesterday at Royal Paragon Hall, hosting 78 exhibitors from the fields of music, film, television, animation, software and multimedia.

It's running alongside the Bangkok International Film Festival, which is taking place down the street at CentralWorld.

At the Expo, Thailand's major film production companies were grouped under the umbrella of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, which has organized the following market screenings:
  • The Last Moment (Rak/Sam/Sao) - 1pm Wednesday.
  • Sabaidee Luang Prabang - 3pm Wednesday.
  • Valentine (Chris Kub ja Ba Sud Sud) - 1pm Thursday
  • Chocolate - 3.20pm Thursday
  • Hormones - 12.50pm Friday
  • The Coffin - 15.20pm Friday
  • First Flight - 1pm Saturday
  • Where the Miracle Happens - 3pm Saturday
  • Art of the Devil III - 12.50pm Sunday
  • King Naresuan Part I - 2.50pm Sunday

Aside from GMM Grammy, which had a booth mainly devoted to its music and radio business, none of the major film companies like Sahamongkol or Five Star had booths -- they were letting FNFAT do the talking for them.

The FNFAT team provided a helpful catalog of nearly every film made in the past year, as well as some upcoming productions. It'll be an excellent reference.

The National Film Archive and the Thai Film Foundation also had a major presence, and have helped organize the market screenings.

And there's a booths for the National Film Office, which handles permits for foreign shoots, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and the excellent, honestly supportive folks at the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture.

Significantly, Prommitr Production, the company of Naresuan director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol has a booth. They have some of the nifty-looking polyurethane prop swords, armour and rifles that they have made, thanks to technology from New Zealand's WETA Workshop. All that clanging you hear in the movies is the work of foley artists.

Prommitr also has its film studio - a sprawling 700-acre location in Kanchanaburi Province that was built to make the Naresuan movies. With old-timey Siamese palaces and villages, the place doubles as a theme park, where folks can dress up in period costumes and have their pictures taken. There's even a dungeon.

A handful of other production companies had booths.

I visited the Right Beyond display, picking up a showreel disc and booklet from deputy managing director Jean.

This is the company that produced the teen romance Friendship, with Mario Maurer from The Love of Siam and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk from Ploy. The DVD has English subs, Jean tells me.

An upcoming Right Beyond effort is the Thai-Taiwanese horror, The Fatality by director Tiwa Moeithaisong. It's due out in Thailand in early 2009, Jean says.

The company has been doing a lot of direct-to-video releases, like The Legend of Snake, The Killer Snake, The Passion Python -- hmm, I'm detecting a theme here. You may also remember Cursed Hair? That's one of Right Beyond's too.

Another company I passed by was 20th June Entertainment and Toranong Studio, which has such titles as 2022 Tsunami, The Baby: Secret of the World and Amphetamine War. I didn't ask how those were coming along. The Bangkok Post had a story about Mr. Toranong back in June (cache).

I also ducked inside Work Point Entertainment's booth. They had an elaborate touch-screen set-up to navigate, with lots of pictures of their production facilities. Who knew such hi-technology went into the making of Ching Roi, Ching Lan?

There was a demonstration of motion-capture technique. It was early in the day yet -- I think a permanent secretary of commerce was making a speech outside, so attendance in the exhibition hall was sparse. So the mo-cap show didn't last long. I think it was just a warm-up.

I also checked out the animation display of the Software Industry Promotion Agency, a public organization that is promoting the "content industry, including animation, games [and] edutainment". They had a colorful exhibit that included the likes of Nak and Khan Kluay plus a bunch of Thai animated TV series and videos I'm not familiar with, plus Bloody Bunny.

This is the first year for the Thailand Entertainment Expo, organized by the Department of Export Promotion of the Ministry of Commerce. It runs until Sunday, September 28, with Saturday and Sunday open to the public.

Update: Kong Rithdee files for Variety.

Originally, the expo was aimed to be the film market for the festival. But many studios don't have booths, and those who do don't expect any major deals. This is a good event "to make contact with our existing as well as new customers, though it's more like an exhibition than a real marketplace," said an executive at a major Thai studio. "But the organization is up to the standard, and hopefully, it will have more impact in the following years."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pinoy Cinema in spotlight at Bangkok Int'l Film Fest

One thing you'll notice by looking at the schedule of the Bangkok International Film Festival (PDF), and hanging around and listening is a distinctly Filipino flavor.

Besides Thailand, I don't think there's another country with a heavier presence in the festival schedule than the Philippines. There are six Filipino films:

  • Jay - The lone Southeast Asian entry in the Main Competition is directed Francis Xavier E Pasion. In it, a gay schoolteacher named Jay is murdered and suddenly a reality-TV producer also named Jay is filming the teacher's grieving family. Pasion's debut feature, it won Best Film, Best Actor and Best Editing awards in the 2008 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It's showing at 3pm on Saturday, September 27, and 1:10pm on Sunday, September 28, both with Q&A sessions.
  • Now Showing - Raya Martin's four-hour family drama about a young woman who works at her aunt's pirate DVD stall is in the Southeast Asia Competition. The first part in a planned trilogy, it premiered at this year's Directors' Fortnight. Showing at 1.30pm on Thursday, September 26 and 10.45am on Saturday, September 27, both with Q&A sessions.
  • Serbis - One of two films in the fest by Brillante Mendoza, this drama is about a family that runs an X-rated cinema in Angeles City. It was a nominee for the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year - the first Filipino film in the main Cannes competition since Lino Brocka's The Jaguar in 1984. I think Serbis is going to be one of the Bangkok fest's hot tickets. Showing at 7.15 tonight (September 24) with a Q&A afterward and 8.30pm on Saturday, September 27.
  • Years When I Was a Child Outside - Director John Torres takes an autobiographical look at childhood, depicting the relationship of a son and father, who, as it turned out, led a double life and had another entire family. Showing at 4pm on Thursday, September 25 and 6pm on Saturday, September 27, both with Q&A sessions.
  • Drumbeat (Tambolista) - Prolific young director Adolfo Alix Jr. directs this indie drama about a teenage boy who dreams about having is own drum kit but probably won't ever realize that dream because he's just another kid living in the slums of Manila. It premiered in Rotterdam. Showing at 11.30am on Thursday, September 25 and 10.30am on Saturday, September 27, both with Q&A sessions.
  • Slingshot (Tirador) - Mendoza's other film in the program, playing out of competition in the Southeast Asia Panorama, follows the life of a gang of petty thieves in the slums of Manila. Critically well received, Slingshot premiered in Toronto last year and has since been a fixture on festival circuit. Showing at 5pm today (September 24) with a Q&A and at 4.30pm on Friday.

With all the directors present for Q&A sessions after their films, the opportunity presented itself to organize a seminar on Pinoy cinema. (Well, Mendoza won't be around. After the screenings of Serbis and Slingshot today, he'll be jetting out.)

They'll talk about the Pinoy New Wave, which has been exemplified by the movement's unofficial leader, Lav Diaz, who is a Main Competition juror at this year's Bangkok International Film Festival. Diaz broke away from commercial filmmaking in 2002 when he made Batang West Side which set the tone for the movement, using digital cameras, experimental techniques and boundless running times. Diaz' other films include the nine-hour-long Evolution of a Filipino Family, which took 11 years to make, the mind-blowing Heremias Book One (also nine hours) and the 11-hour Death in the Land of Encantos. His latest film, the seven-hour-long Melancholia, won the Orizzonti Grand Prize at the the recent Venice Film Festival.

The seminar will be held from 4 to 6pm on Friday (September 26) in the First Class Lounge at SF World Cinema.

(Cross-published at Bangkok Cinema Scene/The Nation Weblog)

4bia, Love of Siam score T$2.6 million in Taipei

Two Thai films opened over the weekend in Taiwan - 4bia and The Love of Siam.

GMM Tai Hub's four-part horror anthology 4bia scored T$2,295,644 over three days on 14 screens.

The Love of Siam, Sahamongkol Film International's gay teen romantic drama, earned T$363,160 over the same period on just three screens.

Those figures are from Taipei only.

For 4bia, they add to good box-office showings in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Coming this week in Taiwan is the commercial release of another Thai film, which could be a blockbuster: Chocolate.

Update: Bangkok of the Mind has more about The Love of Siam being broadcast on Thai TV and the good reception the film has been getting from fans across Asia. He also links to the Yahoo Taiwan box-office chart, which shows 4bia in fourth place and The Love of Siam at No. 12.

(Thanks Stephen!)

Children of the Dark ban mars start of Bangkok International Film Festival

The Bangkok International Film Festival got under way yesterday with a casual "soft opening" with Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

A few local celebrities paraded through and paused for a few moments to be snapped by shutterbugs -- Pen-ek Ratanaruang posed brieftly alongside fellow Thai director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, the festival's artistic director -- before scurrying off to catch the movie.

It was a great way to start in a new, less ostentatious direction for the festival, which has come under new management this year after being run by a crew that was more concerned with appearances and glamour than the action of showing great movies.

But the old ways still cling. While the festival may be programmed by some hip indie filmmakers who'd like to shake things up, Thailand's establishment is still predominantly conservative with leanings toward authoritarianism.

Which is why they felt they had to ban a film like Children of the Dark.

When will they learn that when they ban or censor a film, the ensuing stink that's raised causes more problems than if the film had been allowed to quietly unspool? Perhaps if people had seen it, they might criticize it, but they'd also talk about the problems in society that allow children to be exploited.

As Lyn from Lakorn Central commented on my initial post about the film's ban:

[The authorities] clearly have problem. Why are they denying it? Forget about saving face, face the reality.

  • Prostitution is rampant.
  • Child prostitution is rampant.
  • Sex-trade out of control.
  • Yaba issue rampant.

Thailand has a social problem, censoring it is not going to solve the issue. Grr!

Children of the Dark director Junji Sakamoto, who struggled to make his film in the first place -- he was initially denied a permit by the Thailand Film Office and then got a permit when he reapplied as a Japanese-Thai co-production -- issued a statement. Hollywood Reporter's Joel Gershon has that:

This film must be shown (to) all of the world, especially in Thailand for the children's future. To stop this film is the same as shutting children's futures, also shutting the future in the country."

A press conference has been called for 2pm today with Sakamoto and his producers at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand has more on that.

Earlier, Kong Rithdee covered the story for Variety. He quotes Jaruek Kaljaruek, chairman of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, and president of the Bangkok International Film Festival:

Even though the bad guys in the movie are foreigners, the movie contains inappropriate content about child prostitution that does not fit with Thai society."

The movie depicts a child-sex trafficking ring that supplies children to foreign pedophiles. Aoi Miyazaki stars as a Japanese social worker trying to help the kids.

Kong also wrote about the ban of Children of the Dark in an article in Saturday's Bangkok Post (cache). Be sure to scroll down for readers' comments.

Yesterday, festival artistic director Yongyoot was kept before the bright lights for three hours yesterday, answering questions. He said the ban was more about the subject matter and the image problem it represents for Thailand. Here's more from The Hollywood Reporter:

It was hard to make the decision. I think the film was well-made and it's complicated. It's a very sensitive issue, and I think we as a society need to have more time to have a discussion about it. We need to educate people more about it first."

Yongyoot made similiar statements to Agence France-Presse. Daily Xpress also has a story.