Friday, October 31, 2008

Review: Coming Soon (Programme Na Winyarn Arkhad)

  • Written and directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit
  • Starring Worakan Rojanawat, Chantavit Dhanasevi
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 30, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

Movie pirates all deserve to meet a gruesome end. And, in what appears to be an ironic bit of self-loathing, filmmakers should not escape lightly either.

And no matter what happens, the sheeple in the audience, staring at the screen with their big saucer eyes and their mouths agape, will watch -- anything -- because they've been drawn to the cinemas by eye-catching posters and clever advertising displays.

Full of glorious pessimism, Coming Soon offers a sharp critique on society -- along with a few scares and sometimes gory visuals.

Coming Soon (Programme Na Winyarn Arkhad) is a movie about a movie. Set mostly in a Bangkok multiplex cinema, it's also a reminder of how unsettling those big places can be late at night, especially when you're directed to make your exit out the back staircase into a carpark where there is no escape from the exhaust fumes.

And as I watched the movie, I couldn't help but wonder what the employees of the theater were thinking when they were unfurling the huge banners and setting up the lobby standees for Coming Soon. The posters for the movie are in the movie, as are the realistically creepy standees of a woman hanging in a noose.

The movie within the movie is Vengeful Spirit (Winyarn Arkhad), about an insane old woman who kidnaps children and gouges their eyes out. A little girl's father leads villagers on a rescue mission, but he is too late. The villagers, enraged, lynch the woman.

Offscreen, in the cinema, we learn that the story is based on actual events. At the test screening, the director is sitting in the corridor, pensively chain smoking, wondering if he should re-edit the hanging scene.

The projectionist Shane, meanwhile, has been tasked by his boss Yod to swap out the reels and keep them for later, when they plan to videotape the movie and sell pirated copies of it before its release. Shane, it seems, has a gambling problem, and he needs money. He's not much of a hero. He used to be on drugs, and beat his ex-girlfriend Som (Worakan Rojanawat) -- a theater usher -- and pawned her watch. Somehow though, "Ter" Chantavit Dhanasevi plays a sympathetic character.

During the videotaping, Yod disappears. Shane finds the camera, and what he sees in the captured footage is darned peculiar and downright chilling. He keeps seeing things in the shadows. He tells Som he thinks the old woman from the movie might be a real ghost and she's haunting him. From there, Som forgives her abusive ex-boyfriend and pitches in with her computer skills to Google up more about the old woman and the hanging.

There aren't really many big scares -- they are mostly anti-climactic jumps of the don't-open-that-closet nature. The scraping of the high strings in the orchestral score work overtime, and it gets to be stomach churning.

But I loved Coming Soon for how it transcends the worlds of the cinema and the screen, both in the movie and in our world. I'm not sure it will work the same when it comes out on DVD. There's just something pretty special and weird about sitting in a big multiplex cinema, munching on popcorn, and watching people on the big screen do the same.

Coming Soon even goes behind the scenes of the movie within the movie, in a remarkable bit of self-reflection by first-time director Sophon Sakdaphisit. Could it be the co-writer of the GMM Tai Hub horror hits Shutter and Alone is having misgivings about his line of work? Hope not. Because audiences are depending on him.

See also:

Related posts:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Coffin fills with Singapore dollars

The pan-Asian horror thriller The Coffin grossed over S$235,000 during last weekend's sneak previews in Singapore. MX News Bites reports that it's the first Thai horror film to hit that mark in the Merlion City. The film had been promoted with a contest, in which 100 people got to "sleep" in a mock-up coffin for three seconds and then attend the film's gala opening.

The Coffin is also opening in Malaysia, where it has received a positive review from the New Straits Times (cache). NST caught up with star Karen Mok, who recollected her time on the set as "fun and amusing". She also talked to The Star. Blogger Lim Chang Moh has a mixed review.

The movie was released in Thailand in August, and did good business despite political protests in Bangkok.

The Coffin is set for competition next month at the International Film Festival of India in Goa. It's also among the early titles tipped for the Hungry Ghosts program at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Another Thai horror, 4bia, will also play in Rotterdram.

Set in Thailand, the ensemble cast of The Coffin is led by Hong Kong's Mok and Thailand's Ananda Everingham, who separately try to change their bad luck and prolong life by partaking in a ritual of lying in coffins. It's inspired by an actual Thai practice. Napakapapa Nakaprasitte, Andrew Lim, Florence Vanida and Aki Shibuya co-star.

The Thai-HK-Singapore co-production is written and directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham (Beautiful Boxer, Pleasure Factory), who's recently announced he'll direct The Wedding of the Year, a romantic comedy starring real-life celebrity couple Christopher Lee and Fann Wong.

(Via MovieXclusive's MX News Bites)

A Moment in June added to Goa fest; short-film platform unveiled

Indie director O Nathapon's debut feature, A Moment in June, will make its India debut at the 39th International Film Festival of India, which runs from November 23 to December 1 in Goa.

It joins four other previously announced Thai titles: The Coffin, which is in the festival's main competition, the historical drama First Flight, and the martial-arts hits Muay Thai Chaiya and Chocolate.

A Moment in June had its world premiere in the New Currents competition at the Pusan International Film Festival. It was the opening film of the 6th World Film Festival of Bangkok, where two more screenings are scheduled, at 7pm on Friday (October 31) and 1pm on Saturday (November 1).

O Nathapon said after last Friday's gala screening that he's waiting to hear about other possible festival appearances for his time-spanning romantic drama. He also hopes for a release in Thailand around Valentine's Day.

The Goa festival has also announced it will have a market for short films and documentaries. The Short Film Center will give space to up to 500 shorts for filmmakers to pitch their work to buyers and funds. The festival will also unveil an International Competition for shorts and documentaries under 30 minutes and a another competition for shorts and documentaries under 30 minutes with an environmental theme.

(Thanks Lekha!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Apichatpong scores cash for Primitive in Berlin

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been awarded US$75,000 from the Berlin Film Festival's World Cinema Fund for his next feature project, Primitive: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Two other projects from Southeast Asia also received funds: $63,000 to Filipino director Raya Martin for Independencia and another $63,000 for Vietnamese director Di Phan Dang's Bi, Don't Be Afraid.

According to Variety, the awards reflect the World Cinema Fund's new focus on Southeast Asia. The fund was started in 2004, and spread its largess to filmmakers from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia. Last year, Southeast Asia and the Caucasus came under the fund's purview.

(Via Variety, Criterion Forum)

The Convert at Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival

The Convert, the documentary about a Buddhist woman's conversion and marriage into Islam by Panu Aree, Kaweenipon Ketprasith and Kong Rithdee, is in the Asian Network of Documentary program at the 2008 Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival, which runs from October 31 to November 9 in Taipei Taichung.

The Convert was a recipient of funds from the Asian Network of Documentary (AND), a project of the Pusan International Film Festival that funds 10 Asian documentary productions each year.

Other documentaries in the AND program include Tan Pin Pin's Invisible City, about the fast-disappearing relatively recent historical artifacts of Singapore. There'also The Old Fool Who Moved the Mountains by Filipina filmmaker Joanna Vasquez Arong, about a Chinese musician named Gouzi, and his support of the Beijing music scene through his bar, Yugong Yishan.

The Convert premiered at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, was featured in the documentary program at the Bangkok International Film Festival (read Nick Palevsky's review for The Auteurs) and was in the Dragons and Tigers section at the Vancouver International Film Festival. In Taipei, it will screen on Friday (October 31) and on Monday (November 3).

Update: A limited release in Bangkok, at the Lido cinemas in Siam Square, starts on November 13.

A trailer for The Convert has been posted on YouTube, and it's embedded below.

(Poster and trailer via Deknang/Popcornmag)

On DVD with English subs: Hanuman the White Monkey Warrior

Rarely do I pay attention when a DVD of Thai film is released in Thailand. Hardly ever, when browsing in the shops, do I bother to even pick up a DVD box to note whether it has English subtitles. Because they almost ever do. And I've grown weary of the soul-crushing disappointment.

And why is it the movies I don't really want to watch again have the subtitles?

One of these is Hanuman the White Monkey Warrior, released by Phranakorn Film. It has English subtitles.

So, if you're into a dose of surprisingly violent, overly melodramatic action and fantasy, then Hanuman the White Monkey Warrior is for you. The rather loopy, long-winded tale has to do with ancient magical tattoos that confer superpowers on their wearers. Actor Sornram Theppitak stars as the hero who has the powers of Hanuman, the monkey god. He's up against a trio of sneering, cannibalistic foreigners played by Damian Mavis, Dean Alexandrou and Anton Kalin.

eThaiCD has it, if you want it.

Related posts:
(Thanks Logboy!)

6th World Film Festival of Bangkok: Capsule reviews

In addition to the opening film, A Moment in June, I've seen six other movies so far at the 6th World Film Festival of Bangkok. Here are some capsule reviews.

Manus Chanyong: One Night at Talaenggaeng Road

Previously seen at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, a repeat viewing of this short film by Paisit Panpruegsachart was rewarding. Saranyoo Wonggrajan narrates a classical piece of Thai literature, set in Ayutthaya of old. A mercenary for a nobleman, the character bides his time between battles drinking copious amounts of red, red whisky, talking to a plant and pining over a palace maiden. The narration is a voiceover for images from present-day Ayutthaya -- street scenes, the market, a rice barge on the river and ruined palaces and temples. This viewing, I saw the character as not really brave -- his courage comes from the bottle -- but simply a pawn who is being manipulated by his master. (4/5)

A Paralyzed Circus

Here's another repeat view, of sorts, from the 12th Thai Short Flm & Video Festival. For the world premiere of A Paralyzed Circus, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit took the 40 minutes of his experimental Penguins and expanded it into a whole menagerie. The action still takes place far away from the camera, with people lost in a park, either trying to find the way out or have a look at the penguins. Two women talk about their boyfriends and muse over the shell of a building that is thought to have once contained ostriches. Giraffes have disappeared, heralding the apocalypse. The dialogue, making sometimes satiric observations, is frequently hilarious. (4/5)

Quickie Express

Directed by Dimas Djayadiningrat, with a script by Joko Anwar, this Indonesian film looks and feels like it was made in the 1970s. Tora Sudiro stars as a tattooed, mullet-haired, sideburned lug. I could imagine Will Smith playing the character in a Hollywood remake, though I think Tora could carry it just fine. He's Jojo, who is fired from one menial, hard-luck job after another until he's recruited to work for a male escort agency that has a cover as a pizzeria. Underneath the restaurant, in a vast bunker, is the Quickie Express male escort academy, where students carry around inflatable sex dolls to practice on, and Jojo is taught how to be sexy by an effeminate man in sac-revealing shorts. He's teamed with the diminutive, expert lover Piktor and the stick-thin, dreadlocked Marley. There are the obligatory bonding scenes as the three guys move into a swinging pad together, as well as the typical montage of them hard at work. Romance blooms for Jojo, and the pace slows a bit before rushing back to the beginning of the madcap tale, which had Jojo about to be dropped from the top of a carnival ride. (4/5)


Indian director Shyam Benegal is this year's recipient of the World Film Festival of Bangkok's Lotus Award, and five of his movies are being shown. From 1983, Mandi was the first on the program, and goodness gracious it was a lot take in. I mean, wow! Music, dancing, beautiful, colorful costumes, exposed midriffs and big, expressive eyes fill the screen in this 168-minute drama set in the bordello of a small town. Shabana Azmi stars as the strong madame who vigorously believes in the tradition of the bordello as not necessarily a place of prostitution, but as a haven for arts and culture. She is ever so protective of the house's jewel, the talented and virginal young singer and musician Zeenat (Smita Patil). However, a scheming local businessman (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) connives to turn the town against the brothel so it will move to a patch of land he's purchased. A crush on Zeenat by the mayor's son complicates matters. Comic relief comes from various characters, including the shiftless town constable, a sneaky photographer and my favorite, Tengrus (Naseeruddin Shah), the brothel's poor, downtrodden serving boy. (5/5)

The Headless Woman

I'm still feeling disoriented after watching this on Saturday night, the fifth film that day. This psychological thriller by Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel is all very matter of fact as it follows a middle-aged woman through her life, which turns traumatic when she's driving and takes her eyes off the road to answer her telephone and hits something. Shaken up, she eventually drives on, and all we see on the side of the road is a dead dog. Earlier, we'd been shown the dog and three boys playing. Was the dog all she hit? The answer does not come easy. There are probably a lot of observations and metaphors that went over my head on Saturday evening. I guess what struck me was the class differences being portrayed. The woman -- light-skinned, of European descent -- is of the professional class, working as a dentist, being a member of a country club, having cars and houses and servants -- who are all dark skinned, of an indigenous background. Filmsick and Limitless Cinema really really liked this one, and The Auteurs Notebook has a review and interview with the director. (4/5)

Wings of a Blue Angel

This 30-minute ensemble romance, the debut film from Tongpong "Ong" Chantarangkul, features some major stars. There are of two loosely intertwining storylines. In one, "Noon" Sinitta Boonyasak is a young woman named Nuam whose husband is in the hospital. She's always hanging around with a male co-worker named Maess (Thiti Vechabul), and the two grow closer than they should. Tying the stories together is a Family Mart convenience store where a young woman named Farr (Dolloros Dechapratumwan) works. It's near a market area where a blind lottery ticket vendor is stationed. The blind man is played in a smashingly great turn by Ananda Everingham. Farr has a sideline as a prostitute, and it's that job that brings her a surprise customer. What I got the biggest kick out of was Farr's asking every customer if they "want a Family Burger with that", even if the customer is just buying a pack of cigarettes. Maess actually takes her up on the offer, and only then it's revealed that "oh sorry, we're out of Family Burgers today". Classic Thailand. (4/5)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Queens rule box office

Queens of Langkasuka (Puen Yai Jom Salad, literally Big Guns Pirates) was the No. 1 movie over the weekend in Thailand, earning 39.7 million baht over its first four days, according to a report by Kong Rithdee for Variety. It took in 12 million baht on its opening day last Thursday, which was Chulalongkorn Memorial Day, a public holiday.

Update: Screen Daily's Stephen Cremin reports a lower figure of 34.2 million baht for the first five days, though he optimistically forecasts the film will be the first local production to top 100 million baht.

Released by Sahamongkol Film International, Queens of Langkasuka is a seaborne historical action fantasy by Nonzee Nimibutr, one of the leading filmmakers of Thailand's New Wave resurgence in the late 1990s. He's better known for slightly smaller-scale period dramas like the ghost story Nang Nak or the erotic family drama Jan Dara, though he also had a hand in producing the big historical action drama Bang Rajan in 2000.

In production for three years and costing 200 million baht, Queens is Nonzee's most ambitious directorial effort to date. It had earlier been called Queens of Pattani, but the title was changed because of the ongoing separatist violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, one of which is Pattani. The film had earlier screened to tepid reviews at the Cannes Film Market and at Venice. It had been planned as a two-parter and a roughly 140-minute version had been shown internationally. The version playing in Thai cinemas clocks in at a brisk 120 minutes or so. It was "gala opening" of last month's Bangkok International Film Festival and is due for a gala screening at next month's Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.

Audiences were likely drawn by the big-name cast, including Ananda Everingham, "Diaw" Chupong Changprung, Jarunee Suksawat and Sorapong Chatree, as well as special-effects-driven action. The screenplay was written by Win Lyovarin, a SeaWrite Award-winning author.

On the Major Cineplex chart, Queens of Langkasuka outgunned the Mark Wahlberg video-game adaptation Max Payne, which was No. 1 at Thailand's biggest cinema chain the week before. The family-friendly adventure thriller City of Ember, also in its second week, was No. 3. Making its Thailand debut at No. 4 was Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller's war-movie parody, also starring Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr.

The Phranakorn comedy Luang Phee Teng 2 (The Holy Man 2), in its fourth week in cinemas, was hanging in at No. 5. It has so far earned US$2.35 million, around 79.9 million baht, according to Variety. Screen Daily says The Holy Man 2 is one of the two top-grossing Thai films of the year, the other being GTH's omnibus horror 4Bia. So far this year, the biggest grossing film in Thailand has been The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which earned 123 million baht, according to Screen Daily.

Dropping out of the Top 5 on Major Cineplex's current chart was Nose Udom's E-Tim Tay Nae, the previous week's No. 2, and the Leonardo diCaprio-Russell Crowe spy thriller Body of Lies, which was at No. 5 the week before.

Major Cineplex lists its top five films on its showtimes page, but it does not state any revenue figures or the number of screens for each film.

DVD roundup: Hard Gun with Tony Jaa and Panna, plus Chocolate, Mercury Man, Re-cycle

Hard Gun is another pre-Ong Bak Panna Rittikrai/Tony Jaa effort due out from Brentwood/BCI Eclipse, which earlier released Spirited Killer. Set for release in January, Hard Gun will be issued on both DVD and Blu-ray. It features Tony Jaa in a rare role as a villain, with Panna as the cop chasing him. HK Flix has the DVD and the Blu-ray available for pre-order.

Tasty Thai action choreographed by Panna and his stunt team can be seen in Chocolate, which has hit cinemas in the U.K. in a limited run for before the DVD and Blu-ray release on November 3. Reviews of Chocolate are rolling in, and there have been some advance looks at the DVD. But most importantly for Blu-ray folks is that the Chocolate Blu-ray release is zone-free, according to the DVD Talk forum. Stateside, Chocolate has been picked up by Magnolia, which plans to release the movie next year. So folks in the U.S. without region-free DVD players, who just say no to pirated movies and torrent downloads, will have to wait awhile longer to catch Jeeja Yanin and her chocolate-fueled martial-arts moves.

And from more or less the same action team is Mercury Man, which apparently has been picked up for release in the U.S. by Magnolia -- the new go-to company for Thai action from Sahamongkol. According to Amazon, the Magnolia/Magnet DVD will be released on January 27 and have an optional English dubtrack as well as the original soundtrack and English and Spanish subs. Made in 2006, Mercury Man, has been the subject of new attention after it was screened earlier this month at the Pusan International Film Festival as part of the Superheroes in Asia programme. It had previously been released in the West on a region-free "uncut & unedited" DVD by Bonzai Media, but that now appears to be out of print.

And finally, the Pang Bros.' thriller Re-Cycle, was released on Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray in September. I spotted a review of the disc sometime back on DVD Verdict, which praised the thriller for its loads of eye candy and compelling, tension-filled story. The Blu-ray and regular DVD releases are available at Amazon.

(Thanks Logboy! Chocolate screenshot via DVD Times)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coming Soon is coming sooner

I was mightly confused when I saw that GMM Tai Hub's upcoming new thriller Coming Soon was getting a "world premiere" at the American Film Market on November 7. Compounding this confusion was a Thai movie poster that listed a November 13 release date.

But then other posters were listing an October 30 release, which made a hell of a lot more sense, since Halloween weekend would be a prime time for this very scary looking horror film to be released, and with no other local horror films set to open that day, well, it would be silly if GTH didn't release Coming Soon then.

So Coming Soon is being released in Thailand on October 30 -- this Thursday. It's still making its "world premiere" at the American Film Market, but that's just a marketing gimmick, producer Yongyoot Thongkongtoon told me on Friday night at the opening of the World Film Festival of Bangkok.

The hotly anticipated directorial debut by Shutter and Alone co-writer Sophon Sakdaphisit, Coming Soon stars "Ter" Chantavit Dhanasevi from Hormones.

He's a down-on-his-luck guy named Shane who sees a movie that leaves him unsettled. There's a girl who hangs herself in the film, and Shane then starts seeing that girl's ghost around. Pressure is put on him by some threatening sorts who want Shane to steal the movie from the theater. And Shane's girlfriend gets mixed up in the plot somehow. Great visuals include the hanging ghost girl ripping off her jaw. Yikes!

The international English-subtitled trailer is at YouTube and I've embedded it above.

See also:

'Thais, as a whole, don't care ...'

The Asia Media Forum follows up on the banning of the Japanese drama Children of the Dark at the Bangkok International Film Festival, with comments from Thai documentarian Pipope Panitchpakdi, who says the ban was unfortunate in light of the new Film Act -- due to be enacted any day now -- in which a ratings system, rather than censorship, is supposed to be the rule.

Authorities always think that viewers need to be protected and shielded from real issues. They still have that kind of sentiment that the media should function as a gatekeeper. That is, let the good stories in and the bad ones out. It's okay in certain circumstances but not when talking about real, serious issues," Thai documentary filmmaker Pipope Panitchpakdi told AMF in a phone interview.


"This country has no problem with hypocrisy; we don't see anything wrong with double standards. We have sex workers in corners of the city, but we can't watch people kissing," said Pipope. "If you do a film about Cambodia now, it's most likely to be banned. It is all about relativism to the extreme," he added, referring to the volatile situation that Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia are in now due to the disputed Preah Vihear temple at their border.

Pipope noted that while there are indeed movies that, instead of pushing important issues, are self-serving and merely highlight the skills of the director, censorship still has no place in the industry. "I am all for film ratings and not censorship, and this includes all kinds of films, yes, even the self-serving ones," he said.

"If they (audience) don't like it, they can picket in front of theatres or boycott the film," he added.

Unfortunately, he noted, the Thai public are not as involved as he would like to expect. "Thais, as a whole, don't care because they don't feel it's tampering with their rights. There's not enough public debate going on about this."

Also unfortunately, the new Film Act still contains provisions for banning films for national security reasons -- whatever those are -- and I suppose there's still the possibility that censors will still wield their scissors, Vaseline, and pixellation software even on films rated for audiences 20 years and over.

The whole article is well worth a read, and not just for the comments by some "Bangkok-based journalist".

(Via Mindanao Examiner, Prachatai, FACT,

Ekachai Uekrongtham to direct The Wedding of the Year

With The Coffin in Singapore and Malaysia cinemas now, the horror film's director Ekachai Uekrongtham has been tapped by MediaCorp Raintree Pictures and Scorpio East Pictures to direct a romantic comedy, The Wedding of the Year.

According to MX News Bites, it's the story of "two celebrated artists as they publicly announce their marriage, much to the delight of audiences and fans who have been following and rooting for their much publicized romance. However, as the story unfolds, what goes behind the camera seems to differ from what the public witnesses."

The producers are in talks with real-life celebrity couple Christopher Lee and Fann Wong to star. It is slated to open in Singapore during Chinese New Year in 2009.

Update: Variety has a story, with quotes from Ekachai:

There are four main characters, the couple and their managers, plus a number of cameo appearance. We are just finishing the paperwork for our two stars and are looking at some regional casting too. As we've done all the location scouting and their talent availability is set we should be good to go from mid-November."

(Via MovieXclusive's MX News Bites)

The Elephant King has come

Two years after being made, The Elephant King, about young American males indulging in hedonism in Chiang Mai, has received a limited theatrical run in the U.S. It premiered in 2006 at the Tribeca Film Festival and played at a few other fests.

Produced by Thailand-based De Warrenne Pictures and distributed in the U.S. by Unison, The Elephant King is written and directed by Seth Grossman and stars Jonno Roberts as a partyboy who's enjoying the nightlife in Thailand too much, whooping it up in bars and brothels and getting knocked down in the Muay Thai ring. He urges his brother, played by Tate Ellington, to join him. This shy, quiet, more responsible guy comes over and falls for the charms of a Thai woman -- his brother's girlfriend -- played by Florence Faivre.

Featured bigger than anyone else on The Elephant King poster, the French-Thai actress made her debut in 2004's Tawipop adaptation The Siam Renaissance and since then her other roles have included the French-Thai boxing drama Chok Dee, and, just recently, co-starring in The Coffin, playing the best friend of Karen Mok's character.

Ellen Burstyn also stars in The Elephant King, playing the worried mother of the two men.

Back in 2006, the movie sparked a series of letters in The Nation, starting with one from Scott Rosenberg that decried the film and its depiction of drugs, booze and general unThainess -- not to mention the mistreatment of an elephant -- and warned that such depictions would spell ruin for Thailand's industry as a foreign-film location. Replies included one calling for Hollywood to police itself and another saying efforts to rein things in would simply be censorship.

The trailer on YouTube, embedded below, features plenty of the sort of Thai exoticism that can be seen in such films as Butterfly Man, The Beach, Nic Cage's Bangkok Dangerous, and Naomi Kawasi's Nanayo and if anything, The Elephant Man can serve as an instructional video for the Thai tourism industry, showing the stupid things farangs do when they come to Thailand.

Stateside, the movie has a viral marketing campaign in which special screenings are arranged for Asian, Thai, drug and alcohol groups, and university film schools, with the various special-interest groups inviting their members to watch the movie and then stay afterward for question-and-answer sessions in which their concerns are addressed.

Update: Hollywood Reporter/Reuters reports The Elephant King had the highest opening per-screen gross in the U.S.

(Via Asian Sweetheart)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review: A Moment in June

  • Written, directed and produced by O Nathapon
  • Starring Shakrit Yamnarm, Krissada Sukosol, Sinitta Boonyasak, Deuntem Salitul, Suchao Pongvilai, Napaskorn Mit-Aim, Hiro Sano
  • Reviewed as opening film of the 6th World Film Festival of Bangkok, October 24, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

Thailand, in the world of A Moment in June, is timeless, it seems, whether it's 1999 or 1972. And in either time period, the immemorial concept of true love remains as idealistic and elusive as ever.

An astonishing debut feature by 28-year-old British-schooled director O Nathapon, this ensemble romantic drama looks and feels like it has come from a different time -- like it's been locked away in a vault for 10 or 30 years and finally sprung on the world.

The stories, which intertwine and embrace ever so tightly as the film progresses, involve a young man and woman in a play, the play's director and his boyfriend, and an older man and woman.

Starting in Bangkok of May 1999, Pakorn (Shakrit Yamnarm) is at the train station saying farewell to his lover Phung (Napaskorn Mit-Aim), who's heading north to Chiang Mai to take a break. Pakorn has been busy getting ready to stage a play -- so his concentration on his work has thrown a damper in his relationship with Phung. But Phung's leaving unsettles Pakorn, and it's hard for him to maintain his focus.

The play involves two couples -- a Japanese man (Hiro Sano) is marrying his longtime sweetheart (Sinitta Boonyasak) and he asks his good friend ("Noi" Krissada Sukosol Clapp) to be his best man. But something lingers between The Best Man and The Bride, even though the Best Man is already married.

Meanwhile, also in May 1999, an older woman, Arunya (Deuntem Salitul), has arrived in the northern city of Lampang, where she has looked up Krung (Suchao Pongvilai) after 30 years. He's not exactly overjoyed to see her, despite the fondness she has for him.

Earlier, on the train -- yes, they shot this film on an actual State Railways of Thailand train -- Arunya meets Phong when he sits with her by chance in the dining car. When the train breaks down and is halted for awhile, the two strike up a conversation. She senses what is going on in Phong's life, and urges him not to stay away from his true love for 30 years like she did.

The story then cuts back to 1972, and from that point, the lines between the play in 1999 and the "real" action taking place 27 years before become blurry, though with screen wipes that move under beds or through the stage floors, or having a backdrop that falls away into nothingness, the transitions are dreamily seamless.

The metaphors are thick. Is life the performance or a rehearsal? If the train stops, do we continue on our journey? Where does the river ferry really take us?

The whole picture is a slow-moving dream, especially the 1970s scenes, which are infused with genuine nostalgia, through period clothing and beehive hairstyles, and a color palette and lighting that evoke the Thai films of the period.

And then there's a song -- "Tha Charom" by Charoen Nathanakorn -- a popular song from the era, with a lilting melody that is similar to another movie soundtrack hit by Charoen -- the well-remembered title track from 1962's Ruen Pae (The Boathouse), one of Thai cinema's most beloved romances. "Tha Charom" and its lyrics of overpowering love is a major refrain throughout A Moment in June.

The original orchestral score by Robert Walker tugs at the heartstrings as well.

Further tips of the hat to classic Thai cinema is in one of the story's settings, at an old-time cinema, where posters from Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat films are displayed.

But it's the performances that really drive A Moment in June. A fantastic, all-star cast has been assembled for this indie drama, and all are in top form.

Especially strong is Shahkrit Yamnarm, who has to bear a lot of emotional weight as the heartbroken theatre director who is central to the story.

Noi Sukosol from 13 Beloved is note perfect as the conflicted Best Man. Sinitta Boonyasak (Last Life in the Universe) reminds us just how darn good she can be.

In a short appearance, scene-stealing specialist Panissara Phimpru adds a comic touch when she buttonholes Sinitta's character to babble on about boyfriends and the latest gossip of Petchara's eyesight.

But it's the older couple who really shines. Suchao Pongvilai is a wonder to behold as the elderly Krung, who despite running a carnival rides in Lampang has been visibly saddened by a decision he made years before. Veteran actress Deuntem Salitul is fearless and regal.

Usually the more senior thespians in Thailand are relegated to stock supporting roles as grandparents, parents or villains, so it's refreshing to see what they can do when they are given a chance to take on meaty, meaningful roles that that are rarely, if ever, offered to them.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Southeast Asian films at the 6th World Film Festival of Bangkok

The World Film Festival of Bangkok has always been a great showcase for independent films from other Southeast Asian countries besides Thailand. Many of the films that have played at the World fest in past years have gone on to be fixtures on the festival circuit for the following year. This year's edition, which stocks the Asian Contemporary and short-film programs full of regional films, has quite a few that will likely be getting a look in the months to come.

Fiksi (Fiction)

The debut feature by Mouly Surya, Fiksi is already gaining notice from the likes of and Quiet Earth because of the involvement of Indonesia's celebrated young director Joko Anwar, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mouly. The protagonist in this slow-burning thriller is a young woman (Ladya Cheryl) from a wealthy family who is hungry to leave the mansion and experience the real world. The sombre, cello-playing Alisha becomes obsessed with a young man named Bari (Donny Alamsyah) who cleans the family's swimming pool and steals bunny rabbit figurines from a cabinet in the house. Alisha devises a plan to run away, and move in to the apartment next door to where the man lives. When she finds out that Bari is a struggling writer, who bases his stories on his other neighbors in the apartment block, Alisha takes it upon herself to hasten those characters' stories along, with tragic results.

Quickie Express

Joko Anwar also wrote the screenplay for this comedy. It's about a guy named Jojo who has been fired from job after job after job. But his luck changes when he lands employment with a male escort service. They dress as pizza deliverymen, serving up piping hot love to wealthy female clients. Okay, this sounds like somewhat of an Indonesian remake of Deuce Bigolo, but with Joko Anwar involved, I can't help but think it'll be better.

Chants Of Lotus

Another Indonesian feature is this four-segment anthology by four female directors, Upi Avianto, Nia Di Nata, Fatimah Rony and Lasja F. Susatyo. They tackle stories about marginalised women: a midwife sacrifices her health to rescue a mentally challenged woman; a high-school student jumps headlong into promiscuity, damn the consequences; a single mother is forced to see her daughter and her best friend fall victims to sex traffickers; and a middle-class Chinese woman is about to be separated from her only daughter because of HIV.

Sell Out!

This debut feature by Yeo Joon Han was featured in the Dragons and Tigers Competition earlier this year at the Vancover International Film Festival. Billed as “Malaysia’s first Manglish so-called musical,” Sell Out! skewers Malaysian society and pop culture with its two main characters: a struggling engineer for FONY Electronics and a woman named Rafflesia Pong (Jerrica Lai), who finds her way to fame by hosting a reality TV show that records people's dying words. "Yeo has made an only-in-Malaysia pan-Asian spoof of a movie. His targets include systems of all kinds: Malaysian art films, film festival prizes, corporate rationalizations. His tools are sharp parody and genre manipulation. His characters are profusely articulate and prone to bursting into song: the film comes complete with several fully mounted musical numbers, Sondheimian in inspiration, witty and silly and very pop and even occasionally a little bit magical," writes the Vancouver fest's Shelly Kraicer. It won the Young Cinema Award for Alternative Vision at the Venice Film Festival.


Singaporean director Sherman Ong heads to Japan fro this drama about three women from three age groups - fiftyish Shino, thirtysomething Junko and 20-year-old Momo. Their lives and romances "cross and diverge in oblique and tangential ways", says the synopsis.

Adults Only

Sell Out! director Yeo Joon Han also has a short film in the World fest. The 10-minute work, shot on 35mm, follows several old Malay-Chinese men and women performing their daily tasks - and three children silently suffering their weekly piano lessons. "A metaphor is spun and a vicious cycle exposed," says the festival's synopsis.


This is another Malaysian short, directed by Saw Tiong Guan. It's about Kid, a 16-year-old boy who returns home from boarding school after finding out that his mother is terminally-ill. Here's more from the synopsis: "Wanting to make her happy, Kid struggles to arrange a special screening in an old abandoned cinema where his mother used to frequent when she was young. A particular film was tracked down with the help of the alcoholic cinema owner for the screening."

Four Dishes

From Singapore, Leon Cheo directs this 8-minute, food-based drama. It was featured earlier this year at the Frameline San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. Indie Express has an interview with the director and A Nutshell Review has a review. Four Dishes was also featured at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival.

The Bracelet

By Singaporean indie director Daniel Hui, this 23-minute drama is about Karen, a thirtysomething woman. Here's more from the synopsis: "After the grandmother she has been taking care of dies, Karen needs to look for a new job and pick up the pieces of her life. ... She has to look for a second chance that will allow her to continue leading a seemingly normal and stable life. However, this strength will be tested when her grandmother's will is read and she faces an act of betrayal from the ones she loved most." The Bracelet has been featured at the Hawaii International Film Festival, and was in the competition at the Pacific-Meridian Vladivostok International Film Festival of Asian-Pacific Countries last year.


Australian filmmaker Aaron Wilson's 8-minute drama is set in Singapore and Australia. It has no dialogue. The synopsis: "Two people from two countries who once shared a common experience." Made in 2007, it's been featured at dozens of festivals. The Rome International Film Festival offers a bit more detail: "Two individuals with seemingly separate lives in different countries are bonded by a common past. This poetic piece spans the landscape of Australia and Singapore, exploring the current lives of two people who shared an experience of living during World War II."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Red Eagle goes nuclear

Red Eagle is the much anticipated reboot of the 1960s Thai action series that starred Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat.

Wisit Sasanatieng announced back in December that he was going to re-imagine the series. Ananda Everingham is attached to star, stepping into the shoes of one of Thailand's most revered leading men.

And after watching Ananda take on a healthy dose of action in Queens of Langkasuka, I now have no doubts he can handle the role.

In the original series, Mitr played Rome Rittikrai, a hard-drinking, fun-loving, sloppy-drunk lush of a lawyer. But it was all just a cover for his masked alter-ego, the crime-fighting vigilante Red Eagle.

The new Red Eagle will probably be different. And there's a bit more to the story. I posted a synopsis for Red Eagle a week ago, which came from the American Film Market catalog. Now the darn thing has changed, but is still pretty enticing:

A nuclear power plant is about to be commissioned upon the signing of corrupt and power hungry politicians. The citizens are in frenzy, as they oppose this plan but they cannot do a thing about it. And so, a hero was born, chasing down the criminals and the corrupt, killing of whatever threatens the city's well being. He leaves a card with his name simply as "THE RED EAGLE". However, the hero becomes the hunted, when the politicians send out their best defense, known as THE BLACK DEMON.

The business card angle of the plot has been cleverly played up by Five Star from the outset. At the press conference back in December, all the press who signed in had a set of personalized business cards delivered to them, featuring the Red Eagle logo. Now I know what I'm supposed to do with them.

Wisit and Five Star have been pretty tight-lipped about this project since the initial press conference last year. Word was that Wisit wanted to make it a two-parter, but his producers at Five Star Production were reluctant to commit to that. So it'll be structured for satisfaction in one part, and if that goes well, they'll make another.

Wisit has since been attached as a writer collaborating with Kongkiat Khomsiri on the thriller Slice, but Red Eagle is still happening. Production is set to get under way next year.

(Via Twitch)

Review: Queens of Langkasuka (Puen Yai Jome Salad)

  • Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr
  • Written by Win Lyovarin
  • Starring Jarunee Suksawat, Ananda Everingham, Dan Chupong, Anna Ris, Jacqueline Apithananon, Jakkrit Phanichphatikram, Winai Kraibutr, Ek Oree, Sorapong Chatree, Jesdaporn Pholdee
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 23, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

There are some big guns firing in Queens of Langkasuka and they are loaded with popcorn.

As entertaining as a performing whale at SeaWorld, Queens of Langkasuka is an ambitious historical fantasy by director Nonzee Nimibutr. A heady mix of Pirates of the Caribbean fantasy and Southeast Asian history, it’s an action-packed tale, with martial arts, sword fights, gorgeous costumes, revenge, sorcery and dive-bombing hang-gliders.

For all the palace intrigue and flaring nostrils, the story is pretty simple. The 17th century kingdom of Langkasuka, ruled by Queen Hijau (veteran actress Jarunee Suksawat in a comeback role), is surrounded by enemies.

The queen’s only hope of holding on are some really big cannon. But the ship carrying the guns is intercepted by the enemy Prince Rawai (Eak Oree) and the sorcerer pirate captain Black Raven (Winai Kraibutr from Nang Nak). The cannons’ Dutch inventor blows himself up and the pieces fall to the ocean floor, where they are guarded by tonnes of giant jellyfish. With the Dutchman dead, the warring parties want to pick the brains of Lim Kium (Jakkrit Phanichphatikram), the clever Chinese inventor who was the Dutchman’s assistant.

A fantastic ensemble cast makes Queens a delight. Ubiquitous leading man Ananda Everingham plays a pivotal role as Pari, a sea-gypsy sorcerer who is gifted in the ways of Du Lum – basically the Force of the ocean. He communes with sea creatures and can let go a yell powerful enough to make a mini tsunami. Clad in a loincloth and biceps-baring vest, he acquits himself well in action scenes.

But there’s even better action from Dynamite Warrior star Chupong “Diaw” Chungprung, who plays Lord Jarang, the chief of the Queen’s military forces. In an opening scene, Jarang fights with a fierce female warrior who spits acid at him. Jarang recovers, but spends the rest of movie with a mask covering one side of his face. This being a fantasy, it’s okay if he leaps up in the air and flies around a bit. Sword fights mix with muay thai under the coordination of action supervisor Panna Rittikrai.

With an attack on Langkasuka imminent, Jarang is dispatched to find Lim Kium and take Queen Hijau’s daughters to safety. They are Princess Biru (Jacqueline Apithananon) and the feisty archer Princess Ungu (Anna Ris). Despite her sharp tongue, Ungu is to marry a neighbouring royal, the pistol-toting Prince Pahung (Jesdaporn Pholdee), an important ally of the queen.

In a thrilling fight, Lim Kium ends up captured by Black Raven and Prince Rawai, who are also holding Lim Kium’s sister hostage. Ungu is believed to have been killed, but actually she has been rescued by Pari, who gave her a lifesaving underwater kiss – setting up a gentle, fleeting romance that can never reach fruition. Pari has many issues, which are covered in an extensive backstory of his life early in the film. The princess has her royal duties to think of. With the monsoon making travel impossible, Pari holes up with the princess at the cave-island stronghold of the Du Lum master White Ray (Sorapong Chatree).

Queens of Langkasuka was originally intended as a two-part tale, but commercial considerations forced Nonzee to condense it into one 120-minute movie. The massive original screenplay, by SeaWrite Award-winning author Win Lyovarin, has been adapted into a thick book. In the movie, flashbacks and narration cover a lot of ground – including revealing the dark side of Du Lum and White Ray’s evil alter-ego, Black Ray, who has paternal ties that echo Star Wars.

Queens of Langksuka emerges as a fast-paced, fun-filled adventure that culminates in an armada of pirate ships shelling the queen's fortress, Ananda riding a manta ray, a sea-gypsy air force and a leaping humpback whale. And despite a preponderance of computer graphics, the entire affair has the old-timey quality of a 1930s seafaring epic.

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(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog and at Daily Xpress)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thai films at the 6th World Film Festival of Bangkok

The 6th World Festival of Bangkok features a broad selection of Thai independent features, shorts and documentaries, with the highlight being A Moment in June, O Nathapon's romantic drama that received its initial boost in funding from the festival's Produire au Sud Bangkok workshop. A Moment in June is the opening film and is also scheduled for two more screenings during the festival, which runs from October 24 to November 2 at Paragon Cineplex.

Here's a look at the other Thai films in the festival.

Wings Of Blue Angels

For this 32-minute tale of two women leading very different lives who find love in very different places, director Tongpong Chantarangkul landed a star-studded cast. How's this for names: Sinitta Boonyasak (Last Life in the Universe, A Moment in June), Dolloros Dechapratumwan (Sick Nurses), Ananda Everingham (Queens of Langkasuka, Shutter and many, many other films). Here's more from the synopsis: "In their questions about love and all of its complexities, lives intertwine and experiences are shared among strangers in Bangkok – a city of millions where paths cross each day and the chance of finding a connection with someone happens in ways you least expect." Shot on 35mm, Wings of Blue Angels was also featured at this year's Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, the Heart of England International Film Festival and the Taipei Film Festival.

Lost and Found

Noth Thongsriphong directs this highly-polished 47-minute drama on 35mm about two sisters who have the same father but different mothers and how they came together through what they have lost. Again, some top-flight acting talent, including veteran actress Apasiri Nitibhon, with Khemupsorn Sirisukha, Kriangkrai Unhanadana and Attaporn Theemakorn. ML Pattamanadda Yukol is the film editor.

A Paralyzed Circus

For this 60-minute experimental digital feature, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit expands on themes from his 40-minute short Penguins, which played in the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival's Digital Forum. The synopsis: "Penguins are in the park, an ostrich has disappeared, giraffes will become extinct, and humans are building something ..." More about the film is at Nawapol's blog.

Manus Chanyong One Night At Talaenggaeng Road

Adapted from a piece of classic Thai literature, actor Saranyoo Wonggrajang dramatically narrates the swashbuckling feats of derring-do by a palace guard and oarsman in the Ayutthaya period. This 38-minute experimental digital nature documentary was previously featured in the Digital Forum at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival.

Me and Mine

Santi Taepanich (Crying Tigers, Bangkok Time) directs this digital documentary on the Thai arts scene in which he interviews filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang, photographer Tada Varich, dancer-choreographer Pichet Klunchun, rock band Modern Dog and his older brother, comedian Udom "Nose" Taepanich. I'm told this world-premiere screening won't have English subtitles because Santi "didn't want to make a big deal out of it".

Chang program

Three short films are in this package. The Elephant (Chang Chang Chang) is an abstract animation inspired by the traditional story of the six blind men trying to describe an elephant. The Mahout is a documentary, interviewing three Karen mahouts who talk about the changes now facing them and the elephants in Thailand. The Wife (Mere Wife) is an animated adaptation of a traditional Karen folktale about the love triangle between an elephant, a mahout and his wife.

Short films by Joel Gershon

Bangkok-based American journalist and photographer Joel Gershon will screen four of his short documentaries. Wasteland goes into the trash heaps of the Nonthaburi Landfill, following the people who eke out a living there. After the Wave focuses on recovery efforts in Phang Nga after the 2004 tsunami. Everything Has Its Time - The Akha Hill Tribe In Modern Thailand is a look into the traditions and evolving existence of one of Thailand's hill tribes. And Crystal Power focuses on Crystal, a transvestite and brand manager for a French cosmetics company who became an activist for transgender rights after she was denied entry into a Siam Square hotel nightclub because she looked like a woman but her ID card said she was a "Mr." The links to the film titles all lead to the actual clips on the Current video site.

Disability Short Film Festival & Seminar

Seven shorts are featured in this two-hour program put together by Bioscope Magazine. Hidden Smile by Sopol Chimchinda is the director's own story of the problems he faces after accident left him unable to walk. Along the Way by Monsak Chaiveeradech is about a deaf table-tennis player. A Kid in the Field by Suthee Rainthavornjit is about a disabled boy who dreamt of being a football player and has made up his own rules so he can play in the same league with other kids. In the Music Box by Phanit Ngamniyom is about a man who gives his girlfriend a music box - knowing that she is deaf. The Meaning of Boy by Ketsuda Suankeaw is a documentary about child called Boy who is nearly blind. Nirvana by Sivadol Rathee is about a man who wants to ordain as a Buddhist monk, but his biggest obstacle is his blindness. And The Goal by Seree Lachonabot is about handicapped boy who never quits no matter how hard his life is.

See also: