Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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)

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