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."

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