Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's cooking? Thai and Southeast Asia Panorama at the Bangkok Int'l Film Festival

Yes, yes, yes, YES! The Bangkok International Film Festival is still on, despite all the problems with the government and the continuing, sometimes violent, protests.

But tourist numbers are way off, and there's fears as high-tourism season approaches the visitors will stay away. Thailand's embattled prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, has been court-ordered to leave the premiership because he accepted money for hosting a TV cooking show while in office. The anti-government protesters are holding their ground until things are the way they want them.

But for most ordinary tourists, Thailand is perfectly safe. And yes. Yes! There are film festivals going on. In fact the upcoming Bangkok International Film Festival is still sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. And they want people to see all the Thai, Southeast Asian and world films they have on offer.

From Thailand, Queens of Langkasuka is the "gala opening" film. (The "soft opening" is on September 23 with Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.) Last year's acclaimed family and romantic drama The Love of Siam is competing in the Southeast Asia Competition. Let's take a look now at the other offerings from Thailand and the region at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Thai Panorama

Aiming to be a "best-of" of Thai films from the past year, here's a cross-section of genres, though a bit heavy on horror, from the industry's main production companies as well as some prominent indie titles.
  • 4Bia - One of my favorite films of the year, this four-part anthology on fear comes from GMM Tai Hub and is led by veteran producer-director (and the festival's creative director) Yongyooth Thongkongtoon with the Shutter/Alone pair of Banjong Pisanthanakul and Parkpoom Wongpoom along with Paween Puritpanya each contributing segments. 4bia won in Montreal and next heads to Pusan.
  • Body # 19 - Also from GMM Tai Hub and young director Paween Puritpanya, this thriller involving the severing of many body parts has some neat visuals.
  • Chocolate - More insane martial-arts action from the same team at Sahamongkol Film International that brought us Ong-Bak and Born to Fight, only instead of a male hero, the protagonist is a diminuitive young woman who is portrayed as autistic. Chocolate is just now starting to hit the festival circuit, including a Midnight Madness slot at Toronto, and is due out on DVD in the U.K. in the coming months. A U.S. release shouldn't be too far off.
  • Dream Team - RS Film's sports comedy is full of cute kids preparing for a national kindergarten tug-of-war match, urged on by their controlling parents and an irascible coach.
  • Handle Me with Care - Did you hear the story about the three-armed man from Lampang and the woman with large breasts? This is the first effort by writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee for GMM Tai Hub, and it's a gentle, sometimes loopy romantic comedy and drama. It's been featured in Hong Kong, Udine, Montreal's Fantasia Festival, Munich and is in competition at the Chungmoro fest in Seoul.
  • Nak - Sahamongkol distributed this animated feature that refashions Thailand's famous female ghost as a kid-friendly superheroine fighting evil foreign spirits. It's also being featured at Pusan
  • Opapatika - This dark, dreary karmic action-fantasy from Sahamongkol has been featured in Germany, Puchon, Deauville and Hong Kong.
  • Orahun Summer - Phawat Panangkasiri's sophomore feature effort is about bratty schoolboys being packed off to the monastery to serve as novices under a stern new monk.
  • Ponglang Amazing Theater - Thai people want to see comedy. RS Film brought in the hit folksinging comedy act Ponglang Sa-on to star in this farce about a haunted theater. It could have done with less Ponglang and more Sa-on.
  • The 8th Day - This is a black-and-white indie psychological drama. I haven't heard much about it since it had a somewhat limited theatrical run earlier this year in Thailand. It's been released on DVD/VCD in Thailand, but of course has no English subtitles.
  • The Screen at Kamchanod - Another haunted theater story, or rather a drama about a haunted reel of film. From Five Star, The Screen is pretty mysterious. It was featured at Udine and Puchon and has been released on English-friendly DVD in Singapore.
  • Wonderful Town - Well, heck, this quiet yet tense indie romantic drama has been playing at nearly every film festival this year, tearing up the circuit and winning praises from Pusan last year to Armenia and all points in between and beyond. It screened in Thailand in a limited commercial run earlier this year and it would be silly if programmers didn't include it in the Bangkok International.
  • Where the Miracle Happens - Princess Ubolratana stars in this uplifting drama about a real-estate tycoon who tries to atone for the death of her daughter by taking her daughter's place as a volunteer at an impoverished rural school.

Made in Thailand

These are films made in Thailand, featuring Thai characters and telling Thai stories but are made by directors who are not Thai.

Southeast Asia Panorama

These are in addition to a fine selection of Southeast Asian films in competition. I'm a little disappointed, however, that the other of the two Kala films isn't playing. I missed Joko Anwar's Kala (Dead Time) from Indonesia in last year's fest, but was still hoping to see Mamat Khalid's Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang from Malaysia.

  • Drumbeat (Tambolista) - 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 and has been recently reviewed in the Philippines.
  • Histeria - Malaysian director James Lee, known for the slow-moving films of his Love Trilogy and other often-abstract romantic dramas (his Breathing in Mud is in the SE Asia Competition), takes his first stab at blood-soaked horror. Histeria premiered at this year's Singapore International Film Festival. I missed it there, but hope to catch it here.
  • Invisible Children - Pleasure Factory cinematographer (and multimedia artist) Brian Gothong Tan makes his debut as a feature-film director with this drama about runaways living in storm drains in Singapore. The film is making its world premiere in Bangkok.
  • Kantata Takwa - This survey of Indonesian music, art and culture is directed by Eros Djarot, Gotot Prakosa and Slamet Rahardjo Djarot. It was screened in Singapore and at the Jojja NETPAC Asian Film Festival.
  • Lucky 7 - Seven Singaporean filmmakers - Sun Koh, K Rajagopal, Boo Junfeng, Brian Gothong Tan, Chew Tze Chuan, Ho Tzu Nyen, Tania Sng - play a game of exquisite corpse, taking the same actor (Sunny Pang) through seven segments. Each director picked up on the previous segment after seeing just the final 60 seconds. The results are at times pretty weird.
  • Money No Enough 2 - Singaporean funnyman Jack Neo makes a followup to his 1998 smash-hit about the never-ending, all-consuming pursuit of money. Released last month in Singapore, this one's been a huge hit too, even if critically it's just okay.
  • Slingshot (Tirador) - Filipino director Brillante Mendoza (his Serbis is in the international competition) 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.

The Documentary Showcase has two four films from Thailand the region: The Convert, which premiered at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, and Paper Cannot Wrap Up Embers, a grim docudrama about prostitutes in Phnom Penh by French-Cambodian auteur Rithy Panh. Update: Citizen Juling and The Betrayal have been added to the program.

There's also supposed to be a Thai Classic screening of the newly restored 1962 musical action drama Ruen Pae (The Boat House), but it's not listed on the website at the moment. I want to write more about that later anyway.


  1. Wow wisekwai, Invisible Children making its debut in Bangkok before Singapore! Do let me know what you think of it! If I'm not wrong, it should be making its premiere here in October

  2. Film festival PR reminds me that Joko Anwar's Kala actually played at last year's fest. So I missed seeing it. Also, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona is being termed the "soft opening" film on September 23. The "official" opening will be on September 24 with Queens of Langkasuka.

  3. Orahun Summer has been added to the Thai Panorama on the festival website, so I've updated this entry. Will keep checking back to see if they have any other additions.


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