Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Review: Super Hap Sap Sabud (Superstars)

  • Directed by Pisut Praesaeng-Iam
  • Starring Film Rattapoom Tokongsub, Kietisak "Sena Hoy" Udomnak, Noawarat Yuktanund
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 25, 2008
  • Rating: 2/5

Like its lip-synching protagonist, Super Hap Sab Sabud (Superstars), puts on a good front. It starts off promising, generating plenty of laughs. At first, the characters are endearing. But the longer it goes on, it's apparent that something is not quite right. Probe beneath the surface, and there's nothing of substance there.

It's too bad, because Super Hap might have had a few things to say about the vapidity of pop culture, the price of fame and how wrong it is to deny people opportunities because of their appearance. But it doesn't. Super Hap has about as much cultural value as a Milli Vanilli album.

Film Rattapoom stars as a young man who has skated by his whole life on just his good looks. A stocking-cap-clad hipster, he can dance and choreograph. He's demonstrating his latest creation, "Kung Fu Hiphop", at an audition. But it doesn't go so well - one of his sneakers flies off and hits one of the judges in the face. But worst of all, Film's character Tom has to speak, and it's an atrociously grating high-pitched, hoarse squeak that can barely be understood. And it's devastatingly funny to watch the superstar singer-actor Film carry on in such a way, playing for laughs.

Tom is best friends with Teung, who has just lost his job as a telemarketer. Teung is pretty much the opposite of Tom, being, in the words of another of the film's characters, "short, dark, fat and smelly." But Teung has a great voice and is a talented composer.

In another hilarious opening scene, Teung is at the call center, selling a digital music package. He offers his mark a song called "Touch My Heart", which hasn't even been released. He then sings the infectious bit of sugar-coated pop over the phone with the other call center workers all singing backup. Teung has a hit on his hands, but the bosses aren't buying it.

Tom and Teung have been friends since childhood, and it was Teung who always lurked around behind Tom, providing the voice when Tom "talked" to girls. Tom developed a sense for being able to move his lips to match whatever words would come out of Teung's mouth.

Getting drunk one night to forget their poor fortunes, and with Teung passed out on the bed, Tom makes a webcam video of himself dancing and singing to Teung's unsold hit single. The video becomes a viral sensation.

Tom, without Teung knowing, then submits a CD of the track to a record label. The company is just about bankrupt, and its head, Miss Ngeg (the always reliable character actress Noawarat Yuktanund), is having suicidal thoughts. But she is sure that "Touch My Heart" will save the company. They just need to sign the singer before anyone else.

Because everyone is so desperate - Tom and Teung are out of work and Miss Ngeg's company is on its last legs - they have no choice but to put Tom on stage as a superstar named Tong Lee Hei - his pan-Asian good looks appeal to Korean-pop obsessed Thai teenyboppers - with Teung broadcasting his voice from a secure and undisclosed location.

Once all that is out of the way, the movie devolves into a sloppy, dull mess.

Supporting characters - such as a gang of rotund rapping loansharks and a gay mafia godfather - are good for a few laughs but are quickly forgotten. Other supporting characters who have bigger parts to play seemingly have bits left on the cutting room floor.

Achita Sikkamana plays a fan club webmaster who meets Teung by accident and the pair hit it off, but their relationship goes nowhere. What little dialogue they have together is repetitive and redundant.

Tom, meanwhile, hooks up with the apparently insane goth girl ("Mod" Kunacha Chaiyarat of pop group Four Mod) who works at the record company.

Apaporn Nakhonsawan has a mildly funny role as Lucy Laserjet, the Tata Young-type female pop singer who is the most popular act in the Kingdom. She's jealous of Tom usurping her spotlight, and at an impromptu club appearance, she challenges Tom to a sing-off. Tom manages to get one word out with his squeaky voice, which Lucy hears. But he's then prevented from speaking further by the goth girl, who steps in to give Tom a big kiss. I'm not sure what else her character is supposed to do, why she was insane and why she decided to stop wearing so much black eye makeup.

Film and TV comic Sena Hoy share better chemistry as best friends Tom and Teung, but then they spend most of the movie apart, after Tom finds he has a genuine singing voice and Teung mopes around in a new house that he and Tom supposedly share.

Noawarat, after a strong start for her character, is left with not much to do than nod her head to the beat of the songs Tom is singing for the screaming hordes of teen fans, who at the end of it, are still clueless to the lip-synching charade that is being perpetrated.

Related posts:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Posters, English-subtitled trailer for Happiness of Kati

A beloved work of contemporary Thai literature is coming to the big screen on January 8 -- The Happiness of Kati (Khwamsuk Khong Kati, ความสุขของกะทิ)-- based on the S.E.A. Write Award-winning book by "Jane" Ngarmpun Vejjajiva. The youth novel has been translated into eight languages, including English. It is indeed heartwarming, and well worth a read.

It's the story of a 9-year-old girl who lives with her grandparents in an idyllic house along a rural canal. Her days of nature-filled reverie only make her miss her mother more, and it's about halfway through the slim novel that the girl is taken to a seaside home to visit her mom, who is dying of ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease.

Set for release by Sahamongkol Film International, this highly anticipated film adaptation is directed by Genwaii Thongdeenok, with cinematography by Tanon Sattarujawong.

Author Ngarmpun -- the sister of Thailand's new prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva -- collaborated on the screenplay with the director. She talks about that and her writing style in an interview with BK magazine.

The movie features young actress Patsorn Kongmeesook as Kati, alongside a couple of stars of 1970s Thai cinema -- Jaruwan Panyopas as Kati's rarely smiling grandmother and Sa-aad Peampongsan as the kindly and wise grandfather. Kati's mother is played by Ratchanok Sangchuto, with Aunt Da played by Kemaupsorn Sirisukka. Nitich Kowsakul is the neighbor boy Tong.

Bangkok Loco and 13 Beloved star Krissada "Noi" Sukosol Clapp is one of Kati's uncles, and another uncle is played by performance artist and Iron Pussy actor/actress Michael Shaowanasai. He plays Kati's flower-arranging Uncle Tong.

There's a subtitled trailer at YouTube, and it's embedded below.

Also, Deknang has a gallery of posters and images from The Happiness of Kati, as well as supplemental material on its Popcornmag forum.

(Via Deknang, MovieSeer)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ong-Bak 2 opens on New Year's Day in Hong Kong

Edko has Ong-Bak 2 set for release on New Year's Day in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong trailer (embedded below) brings plenty of the "real fight", with the "tiger-taming staff" and "turn left Muay Thai fist into kung fu right claw", along with "samurai slasher", "single cut with sword" and "flick of the sabre".

There's speculation at 24 Frames per Second that without a pending North American distribution deal, there's a possibility for an English-subtitled DVD out of Hong Kong around March. But maybe a a deal will be locked in before then? Action fans who were eager for Chocolate earlier this year had to wait a little longer when the emergence of an American deal killed the subtitles in Hong Kong. And subtitled discs of Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong were hard to come by until their release outside of Asia. But the divisive Ong-Bak 2 might slip through.

(Via 24 Frames per Second)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Review: 4 Romances (Fun Waan Aai Joop)

  • Directed by Rashane Limtrakul, Bandit Thongdee, Prachya Pinkaew and Chukiat Sakveerakul
  • Starring Mario Maurer, Kanya Rattanaphet, Pakorn Chadborirak, Shahrit Yamnarm, Suthida Kasemsan na Ayutthaya, Witwisit Hiranyawongkul, Jenjira Jamniansri
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 25, 2008
  • Rating: 3/5

Melodrama, comedy, action, time-shifting psychological mystery and even cartoon fantasy all figure into 4 Romances (Fun Waan Aai Joop, ฝัน-หวาน-อาย-จูบ), an omnibus of four shorts by four filmmakers for Sahamongkol Film International: Prachya Pinkaew, Chukiat Sakveerakul, Bandit Thongdee and Rashane Limtrakul.

It comes out of the corner swinging with Joop (Kiss), a fast-paced comedy about a teen lothario who steals kisses. He's narrating the tale, saying that the sweetest kiss is from a friend's girlfriend, and he's set his eyes on Gaga ( Apisara Tatti), the girlfriend of his friend Beaver. Yeah, that's right, the guy's name is Beaver. He's played by Mario Maurer. Making a raunchy, double-entendre use of Beaver's name, Ped the bandit drives a wedge between Gaga and her sweet Beaver. Beaver can't leave it though. He confronts Ped at a boxing gym, where there's a big beatdown.

Kiss is directed by Rashane Limtrakul, who at RS Film produced a couple of Thailand's most colorful films in recent years, Bangkok Loco and Ahimsa: Stop to Run. Rashane also edited Chocolate with fellow 4 Romances director Prachya Pinkaew. So suffice to say that Kiss has a real kinetic flair. A soundtrack pretty well lifted from Guy Ritchie's Snatch adds even more pugilistic energy.

Kiss is most purely entertaining of the four shorts. It's also the shortest, making everything that comes after it feel dragged out.

The next segment, Aai (Shy), is still mercifully light. And it helps that there are two handsome young stars hiking around the stunning scenery of a remote tropical island. "Tan" Kanya Rattanaphet, glamor-shotted up from her rather plain girl-next-door role in Love of Siam, stars as rich girl Tong. She goes to a deserted island with an eye toward building a spa and resort there. Left stranded by a shyster boatman, she's surprised to find that her tour guide on the island is none other Durian ("Boy" Pakorn Chadborirak), her old boyfriend.

Immediately the two start bickering, revealing more of their past together. It's the typical soap opera of a girl from a wealthy family and a young man from a more modest upbringing falling in love. Durian, it turns out, broke off the relationship because he felt embarrassment about his background when in the presence of Tong's hi-so friends and family. Embarrassment (aai), not shyness, is the main theme, but I guess embarrassment would have been too much of a mouthful as the segment's title.

But after a night of drinking a deranged Moken fisherman's whisky, and some vomit in the hair, well, who's more embarrassed?

The next segment, Waan (Sweet), takes things to an entirely different time and place. Shahkrit Yamnarm and Suthida Kasemsan na Ayutthaya star as a middle-aged couple in 1980s or early '90s Bangkok, where Shahkrit's character Shane is a hard-working architect. He's about to go on an emergency business trip, which his wife Waan is vehemently opposed to, telling him he'd better not come back if he goes. Well, Shane goes anyway, leaving Waan alone. Gradually it becomes clear that all is not well with Waan. And when Shane returns home, he finds Waan just isn't the same anymore.

What the heck is going on? Time confusingly jumps around, leaping from decade to decade with Shahkrit and Suthida being put through the paces of rapid aging by the makeup artists. The Thai film industry's current darling young actress "Saipan" Apinya Sakuljaroensuk is featured as a sparkling Waan in her teenage years.

The short is directed by Prachya Pinkaew, who's better known for his action films like Ong-Bak and Chocolate. But he actually cut his teeth on romantic dramas back in the 1990s with Rashane at RS Film. He takes the psychological drama of Sweet to some mighty dark and mysterious times and places. It's so dark and mysterious in fact, that it's hard to tell what is happening. Nor is it certain just what state of mind Shane and Waan are actually in, or where and when they are existing, if at all.

The realm of fantasy goes even further afield in the final short, Chukiat Sakveerakul's Fun (Dream), a dizzying blend of Thai pop music and cartoon fantasy. The story involves a little girl, Ton Kheaw (Jenjira Jamniansri), who is so obsessed with the boyband August, that she becomes lost in a vivid dream world, where she takes part in a magical adventure with the band.

Now, August is a real band. It was formed for Chukiat's acclaimed teen romantic drama Love of Siam as the backing group for the character played by "Pitch" Witwisit Hiranyawongkul. August made promotional appearances for the movie and grew so popular that it took on a life of its own, playing shows, recording albums and making music videos. Singer Pitch is just one of the strong personalities in the band, and perhaps another movie could be made that explores them more fully.

In Dream, August has made a deal with the Devil Black Cat. Like Robert Johnson at the Crossroads, they sold their souls. In human form, the Black Cat is named "Mr. Bird", and, hilariously, the character is patterned after real-life superstar Bird Thongchai McIntyre, and the actor playing him even looks like Bird a bit.

August wants out of the deal, and somehow the lines between fantasy and reality start to fade away, and the girl Tong Khaew holds the key to survival. The band members transform into cartoon animal beings, and Tong Khaew becomes a wide-eyed anime little girl.

And though the animation is rather crude and unfinished looking, the candy-colored setting and the idea of August being a bunch of anime teddy bears and reindeer is still quite trippy. It reminded me a bit of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine animated feature.

But it goes on a bit too long, as Tong Khaew and the August animals fly from one narrow escape to another with the marauding Devil Black Cat hard on their tails. It became headache inducing, and I just wished the little girl would wake up already. But will she?


See also:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Phangan Film Festival set for February 20-22

The second Phangan Film Festival is set for February 20-22 at Holiday Beach Resort on Koh Pha Ngan, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. The festival line-up hasn't yet been announced, but much like the first edition last year, festivalgoers can likely expect independent films about spirituality and nature.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ong-Bak 2: A dissenting view

While I enjoyed Ong-Bak 2, and have come across other positive reviews, I have read rumblings of dissent in such places as the comments thread on Twitch and in the feedback at Enjoy Thai Movies.

Among co-workers who have seen the movie, the response has been stunned disbelief. Most people I've talked to are angry about the abrupt, WTF ending. One thing they complain about is the extended dance sequences. The ancient setting of the story, rather than contemporary times like in the original Ong-Bak, throws viewers off, leaving them to wonder -- how can it be a sequel if it's taking place in the past? Shaky cam, saturated colors and other stylistic choices made by director Tony Jaa are also criticized.

Twitch has now posted a negative review of Ong-Bak 2, coming from "a regular reader" named James Marsh. Here's an excerpt:

Beyond the casting of its lead character, the film has nothing whatsoever to do with the original Ong-Bak, and is in fact set 600 years previous to the events of that film. In truth it does feature a plethora of fighting styles and numerous opportunities for Jaa to show them off, but the film lacks an assured directorial hand to confidently stage the arrogant, crowd-stopping set-pieces that made Jaa’s previous efforts so spectacular. Acclaimed action-director Panna Rittikrai, who choreographed those earlier outings, is credited as co-director alongside Jaa, but his artistry is lost amid the mud and blood, the choppy camera work and saturated visuals, making Ong-Bak 2 feel like Rambo without guns.

It is not giving anything away to state that the film is open-ended, hinting at a possible sequel as much as it betrays a panicked editing process without the full cooperation of its star/director. Sadly, however, the film fails to inspire any sense of excitement in its audience, nor curiosity to know what will happen next. In fact, the only real question left in the balance is whether Tony Jaa will ever be allowed to direct another film again – and for the greater good of all involved, especially Jaa himself, one can only hope the answer is a resounding no.

Brutal stuff indeed. It seems Ong-Bak 2 is a love-it-or-hate-it type of movie. And I love those kinds of films!

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Birthday takes the cake

Happy Birthday, Mono Film's new romantic drama by director Pongpat Wachirabunjong with stars Ananda Everingham and Chayanan Manomaisantiphap, was the No. 1 movie in Thailand over the weekend.

Box Office Mojo has the numbers.

It earned around 19.98 million baht, about double the earnings of the second-place finisher, Luc Besson's Transporter 3.

Both Happy Birthday and Transporter 3 were released in Thai cinemas for a sneak preview run the week before, so the gross-to-date earnings likely reflect that.

The previous week's top two films, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Ong-Bak 2 were at No. 3 and 4 respectively. Pale, sharp-toothed teenagers in Twilight remain in the top 5.

I have reviewed Happy Birthday (I actually liked it, I think) and there is feedback coming in now at Enjoy Thai Movies.

4 Romances for Christmas

A Christmas-time movie might be becoming something of a tradition for director Chukiat Sakweerakul. Last year around holiday time, his Love of Siam was released in cinemas, and indeed Christmas was an integral part of the film.

This Christmas, Chukiat will see the release of 4 Romances (Fun Waan Aai Joop, ฝัน-หวาน-อาย-จูบ), a four-segment omnibus in which he participates along with Prachya Pinkaew, Bhandit Thongdee and Rachen Limtrakul. With romance as the overarching main theme, the film also seeks to explore four different genres - comedy, action, musical and drama.

Set for release on Christmas Day by Sahamongkol Film International, 4 Romances looks to be following the successful formula laid out by rival studio GTH with the horror omnibus 4bia, and to a certain extent GTH's ensemble romance Hormones. It will also be facing competition on Christmas from the teen-oriented musical comedy Super Hap, and will be contending with the sheer spectacle of Baz Luhrmann's Australia as well as the animated Madagascar 2.

But 4 Romances has the solid success of the critically acclaimed Love of Siam to build on, and it features the stars of Love of Siam, among them Mario Maurer and "Pitch" Witwisit Hiranyawongkul. They are just a small part of the sprawling ensemble cast.

Chukiat is directing the musical segment called Dream (Fun), which features Pitch and the August band. There's also a music video for the band's song, "Kwam Rak" ("Love").

Mario is featured in Joop (Kiss), which is directed by Rashane, a producer at RS Film, but he also edited Chocolate. I guess this is the action segment, seeing how much of the trailer for 4 Romances (embedded below) is taken up by Mario and his mug, which has been beaten and bloodied. Turns out all he was trying to do was keep his girlfriend's first kiss stolen by another guy.

Prachya directs Waan (Sweet), starring the versatile Shahkrit Yamnarm and Suthida Kasemsan na Ayutthaya as a couple whose romance has seen better times. "Saipan" Apinya Sakuljaroensuk figures into this segment somehow.

Shy (Aai), directed by Bhandit, stars actress "Tan" Kanya Rattanaphet (girl-next-door Ling from Love of Siam), and a new face actor, "Boy" Pakorn Chadborirak. I can't quite make out what the segment is all about, except that involves the couple at the beach, giving each other significant glances from a distance.

And there's lots more about 4 Romances at Bangkok of the Mind, which despite a threat of going on hiatus also has been dishing up the latest on the impressionable young Mario and his new manager.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: Happy Birthday

  • Directed by Pongpat Wachirabunjong
  • Story by Pongpat Wachirabunjong; screenplay Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
  • Starring Ananda Everingham and Chayanan Manomaisantiphap
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 18, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

Breezy, entertaining romantic comedy and right-to-die issues mix deliriously in Happy Birthday (แฮปปี้ เบิร์ดเดย์).

Veteran actor Pongpat Wachirabunjong, making his sophomore directorial effort for Mono Film, assembles much the same team from his 2007 debut, Me ... Myself, with leading man Ananda Everingham again paired with actress Chayanan Manomaisantiphap. The story is by Pongpat, with seasoned pro Kongdej Jaturanrasamee again providing the screenplay. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Apichatpong Weerasethakul's go-to lensman) is back to capture everything from jawdropping vistas to intimate close ups that are equally awe inspiring.

The story is about a travel photographer named Then (Ananda), who tries to buy an old travel book but finds that it has been written in. He then arranges to have it left on the shelf, and writes his own note on a page, chiding the vandal. The note finds its mark - a pen-flipping young woman - who writes a note back to Then. They trade barbs at first, but the back-and-forth notes ("updates", she calls them) become friendlier and more helpful. Then tries staking out the shelf, hoping to catch his penpal red-handed, but has no luck. Then, while eating at a little-known backroads eatery that he had suggested in the travel book, he overhears a pretty female tour guide (Chayanan) talking about how she found the restaurant by trading notes in travel guide. Her name is Pao, and from that point on, Then works hard at wooing her.

Their relationship is sweet and innocent, and fun to watch. It's a very different Ananda Everingham from what has been seen in the horror films and thrillers. For once, he gets to be a regular guy, playing it cool and smooth as he tries to get a girl - though later on Ananda gets to switch into his usual mode of being a wide-eyed man under duress. Chayanan is smart, confident and just a little bit haughty, playing the typical hard-to-get good girl. They travel the countryside in Then's old orange Volkswagen Beetle.

Then tragedy strikes. One Then's birthday, Pao is coming to meet him. She gives a phone call to let him know she is on her way. Then can see her car out the window of the restaurant he is sitting in. But as her car moves into the intersection, one of Bangkok's notorious green minibuses plows into it, crushing the driver's side. A musical birthday card is left open, playing a music-box version of "Happy Birthday". Pao is in a coma.

Pao's parents at first aren't willing to let their brain-dead daughter go, so they leave her on life support. When their money starts running short, Then volunteers to take responsibility, and the girl's mom and dad let him. The comatose Pao is moved into Then's house. What follows is a psychological drama, as Then becomes increasingly obsessive about caring for Pao -- trying to prove he is worthy of her love. But when Pao's parents witness Then taking care of their daughter's feminine hygiene needs -- as well as dressing her up and parading her around the city, taking her to department stores and the movies -- well, enough is enough.

There are still a few twists and turns as the story follows Then and his plight. There are flashbacks to their brief, but happy courtship, as well as a futuristic flash forward.

And, even if it is prettified and idealized with good-looking stars and glossy photography, Happy Birthday is a sensitive primer on the right-to die-issue, which has started to get a public airing in Thailand in the last couple of years.

See also:

Related posts:

Friday, December 19, 2008

National Film Archive needs cash

Thailand's National Film Archive needs to build another climate-controlled vault to make space to preserve more Thai cinema classics. In all, 10 million baht is needed to complete the project.

The Archive has put together more than 500 master copies of classic films and now needs a place to put them.

The current vault holds about 1,000 films, and there's only space for 20 more. Films needs to be kept at a temperature of around 4 degrees Celsius and at a humidity level of around 30 percent - hardly the natural conditions in Thailand. Without climate control, the films literally burn up in their cans.

The Thai Film Foundation is working to help raise money by putting on an event from 2 to 10pm on Saturday (December 20) at the Archive in Salaya, Nakhom Pathom. Ruam Hua Chuay Hor Nang On will feature a market, music by Phumijit, the Bang Lamphoo Band and Sunday Morning, and screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short films, Luminous People and Morakot.

If you can't make it Saturday, there will hopefully be other fund-raising events in the coming weeks.

Also, donations can be made at Kasikorn bank, Mungkorn Road sub-branch, savings account "Kongtoon Sang Hong Yen Keb Nang Thai by Moon Nithi Nang Thai," 605-2-01111-4.

(Via Daily Xpress and Bangkok News & Reviews; cross-published at Bangkok Cinema Scene)

BCI Eclipse falls under the gun

Just as it was starting to come into its own, the DVD label BCI Eclipse has been shut down by parent company Navarre Corporation.

The sad news comes from Mark Pollard at Kung Fu Cinema.

BCI Eclipse had acquired the rights to some of Tony Jaa's pre-Ong-Bak efforts with Panna Rittikrai. A forthcoming release, Hard Gun, was planned for January 6, but now it's uncertain what will become of that.

Previous BCI Eclipse releases have included Tony's and Panna's Spirited Killer as well DVDs and Blu-rays of the Mono Film action-fantasies, The Tiger Blade and Vengeance.

Navarre said BCI Eclipse had not been profitable for the past two years. The company is being shut down as part of a restructuring effort by Navarre in an effort “to deal with the effect of the recession", Navarre CEO Cary Deacon is quoted as saying in a press release.

BCI Eclipse was purchased by Navarre in 2003. The label had previously been known as Brentwood and was notorious for its box-set releases of public-domain works and unlicensed films. But as BCI Eclipse, the company had big plans, acquiring the rights to release some of Celestial's Shaw Brothers films, some Rarescope titles and springing some old kung-fu classics from the Miramax vaults.

Pollard has the last word:

What will become of these titles as well as BCI’s other unreleased martial arts films is up for speculation at this point. Navarre may let this most recent round of releases through and sift through the remaining library in order to decide which titles to keep or discard/sell off. We’ll have to wait and see.

Update: Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow, Jason Gray and Outcast Cinema also weigh in on BCI Eclipse's closure, and have details about more of the company's planned releases.

(Via Kung Fu Cinema)

Apichatpong's Primitive emerging

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's next project, Primitive, is well under way as it is being prepared for its debut next year.

Not just merely a short film, it's a multi-platform piece of art that is being touted as "his most ambitious project to date". It will be shown and exhibited in a variety of venues during what is being described by producer Keith Griffiths as "The year of Apichatpong Weerasethakul". Here's more details about the project from an article by Griffiths' for Illuminations Media:

This extended multi-platform project has the working title of Primitive and is inspired by Joe’s researches in the north-east of Thailand, focussing on the village of Nabua. It takes further his pre-occupations with memory and re-incarnation while exploring the hidden history of oppression of the people of the region and in particular the current teenage generation.

An ambitious multi-screen installation will be the centrepiece of the Primitive project. It includes a music video and features the teens of Nabua and an interview with a monkey ghost. The installation will be presented at Munich's Haus der Kunst from 20 February to 17 May and then at FACT in Liverpool from 25 September to 29 November, followed by other international presentations in 2010. This multi-platform work has been commissioned by the Haus der Kunst, FACT and Animate Projects, London, and is being produced by Apichatpong’s Thai company, Kick the Machine, with Illuminations Films, London.

As well as the installation there will be a short film entitled Primitive: A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, which will be presented in two versions, one for cinema or television, the other to be on-line on the website of Animate Projects. And both versions will premiere to coincide with the opening of the installation in Munich in February. The film is in the form of a letter from a man who can recall his past lives and who will also be a central character in the forthcoming feature by Apichatpong, which Illuminations Films is preparing for production in 2009.

Throughout March and April, substantial retrospective screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s feature films, short films and other single screen works will be presented at the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna, the Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art in Berlin and the Munich Film Museum. To accompany these screenings, the Austrian Film Museum, will be publishing the first monograph in English on his work, edited by James Quandt. It will include contributions by Quandt, Benjamin Anderson, Mark Cousins, Tony Rayns, Kong Rithdee and Tilda Swinton with additional writings by Apichatpong himself. Wallflower Press will distribute the monograph internationally.

Another unique part of this complex project will be, Primitive, an artist’s book, with an extensive selection of interviews that Apichatpong has gathered with the people of the north-east region of Thailand, around their memories and experiences. These will be combined with a photo-documentation of the teens of Nabua. The book will be published in English by Edizioni Zero in Milan and also to coincide with the Munich opening of the Primitive installation in February.

The Animate Projects website is loaded with photos and facts about Primitive. And Animate Projects co-director Jacqui Davies has written about a set visit to Nabua in November.

Apichatpong has received funding for Primitive from Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund and from Berlin's World Cinema Fund.

(Via Animate Projects)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sia Jiang: There will be an Ong-Bak 3

Talk about a sequel to Ong-Bak 2 has been dismissed as rumor and nothing more. This is despite the abrupt ending of Ong-Bak 2 and an epilogue that pretty much states there will be a sequel.

Now Sahamongkol Film International head honcho Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert is saying there will most definitely be an Ong-Bak 3, and that it will start filming "before the end of the year", according to a story in today's Daily Xpress.

And, it won't take too much time to make, because there's a lot of footage shot for Ong-Bak 2 that can be used.

The Daily Xpress' Parinyaporn Pajee caught up with Sia Jiang last week at a party to celebrate the box-office success of Ong-Bak 2 - it's topped 100 million baht, the first Thai film to hit that mark this year.

The party saw star and director Tony Jaa celebrating with producers Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai and Sia Jiang.

Anyway, check out the Daily Xpress article for more about what Sia Jiang says and his thoughts about casting for Ong-Bak 4.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

K-pop-style lip-synching for Christmas

The influence of Korean pop culture has been evident on the streets of Bangkok for the past several years, as seen from the mashed-up, bedhead hair styles worn by boys.

There's even been concerts in the past year or so by such K-pop artists as superstar Rain and the 13-member boyband Super Junior, who were greeted by overwhelming crowds of squealing teenyboppers.

The trend is finally making its way into Thai film with Super Hap (Super แหบ-แสบ-สะบัด), set for release in Thai cinemas on Christmas Day.

Film Rattapoom stars as a pretty boy named Teung who is friends with songwriter Tom (Kittisak Udomnak), and they dream of making it big as singing stars. The problem is that Teung can't sing, while Tom has tons of talent but his chubby body and dark skin aren't the image the record companies are looking for.

In a set-up that echoes the plot of 200 Pounds Beauty, Teung is made the star who lip-synches while Tom is backstage singing - a scheme that is bound to unravel.

It's directed by Pisut Praesangeam and is being produced by Avant/RS Film.

The always-watchable character actress Noawarat Yuktanund also stars as a record company exec.

A subtitled trailer from YouTube is embedded below.

See also:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ong-Bak 2 banished by aliens, but gets positive reviews

The non-stop action of Tony Jaa's martial-arts magnum opus Ong-Bak 2 could not withstand the force of an alien invasion.

In its second week in Thai cinemas, Ong-Bak 2 dropped to second place at the box office, topped by The Day the Earth Stood Still, which stars Keanu Reeves as an alien who's come to tell Earthlings their time is at an end.

Box Office Mojo has the figures.

Rounding out the top five are the teen vampire romance Twilight in third and Beverly Hills Chihuahua in fourth.

Fifth place was held by Transporter 3, which opened for a sneak preview run before a wider release this week.

Transporter 3's move was echoed by the sneak preview run of a Thai film - the romantic weeper Happy Birthday, which is also scheduled for a wider opening this week. Starring Ananda Everingham and Chayanan Manomaisantiphap, and directed by Pongpat Wachirabunjong, the Mono Film release was in sixth place.

Meanwhile, Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak 2 has attracted the eyes of a couple of prominent Asian cinema bloggers: Subway Cinema's Brian of Asian Cinema - While on the Road, and Tokyo-based film writer and translator Jason Gray.

Here is an excerpt from Brian's review:

This is manna for action junkies – continuous injections of eye opening ferocious poundings that will keep you hard and happy. Other than a throwaway cameo from Jaa’s good-luck charm Mum Jokmok, there isn’t a light moment in the film – it is surly, mean and angry. Jaa appears to be discharging whatever inner demons he had with set pieces of brutal physical violence that never pauses for mercy. Yet the physical artistry on display is so breathtakingly astonishing and imaginative that the film never feels exploitive but instead almost becomes a beautiful hymn to the human form, its grace, its lack of fear, its agility and what it is capable of doing.

Jason, meanwhile, is vacationing in Thailand, taking in the sights, exploring sacred caves and royal palaces, and trying to take pictures of monkeys. He took time out to see Ong-Bak 2, and here's a bit of what he had to say:

Ong-Bak 2 surprisingly avoids coming off as a stunt and fight showreel -- it's a full-blooded movie. The story may be simplistic but it effectively sets up the revenge that burns in Tony Jaa's character of Tien since childhood, enhanced by the well-edited time jumping structure. Tony Jaa proves he can direct more than just action but smartly sticks to drama that springs from action.

Midnight movie audiences around the world will cry tears of worship. To all my friends and acquaintances who program films at fantastic fests in Europe and North America -- disregard all rules about premieres and proximity and just show it.

Comments at other websites and forums have different takes on Ong-Bak 2. Check out the feedback at Enjoy Thai Movies and at Twitch.

Update: Andy's Cambodia airs concerns that Ong-Bak 2 could renew a longstanding cultural and political beef between Thailand and Cambodia, because of the Khmer imagery being used as a backdrop in the film.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Birthday comes early

In an apparent move to grab the eyes of holiday-season shoppers, Happy Birthday opened over the weekend for a nightly sneak-preview run in Bangkok cinemas before its planned wide release on Thursday (December 18). Perhaps studio Mono Film is hoping to get a jump on the popular Jason Statham action series Transporter 3, which also opens this week.

The romantic melodrama is the sophomore directorial effort by Pongpat Wachirabunjong, the action film tough guy who gets into warm-fuzzy mode when he goes to work as a writer-director for Mono. A follow up to 2007's acclaimed Me ... Myself, Pongpat is again working with Ananda Everingham.

Instead of playing a gay transvestite cabaret dancer, Ananda is again playing a photographer -- his third turn as a shutterbug after Shutter and Sabaidee Luang Prabang. Working on a travel book, he becomes close to writer Pao. She's played by Chayanan Manomaisantiphap, Ananda's co-star from Me ... Myself.

The pair travel the Thai countryside in probably the coolest-looking Volkswagen Beetle on film since Herbie the Love Bug. The two vow to stay together until do them part. But then Pao's car is totalled by one of Bangkok's notorious green buses. With Pao in a coma, Ten proves he is a man of his word.

The trailer from YouTube, is embedded below.

In memoriam: Sayan Doksadao

Sayan Doksadao Muangcharoen (สายัณห์ ดอกสะเดา ม่วงเจริญ), a comedian and actor with Down syndrome, has died.

A popular comic character actor in Thai TV series, variety shows and films, Sayan was reputed to be one of the world's few working actors with Down syndrome.

Sayan, whose real name was Sayan Muangcharoen, was admitted to Rangsit Hospital in Pathum Thani in October after suffering from a severe brain hemorrhage. He was later transferred to Chulalongkorn Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of cerebral meningitis at 6:08pm on Sunday (December 14, 2008).

Sayan was featured in several films, including Woak Wak, The Groan, Rohng tiam , Ghost Variety, Headless Hero 2 and The Holy Man.

He and his adoptive father and comic partner Der Doksadao (Somjai Sukjai), were at the center of a controversy in 2004 when Der planned to make a political satire movie called Yodchai Nai Oakark (Oakark the Great Guy) about a family closely patterned after that of then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Sayan was to have played Oakark, the wealthy family's son. Authorities put pressure on Der to halt production on the film. But, after making some changes, the project was greenlighted. However, I don't recall if the movie was ever released in cinemas or broadcast on TV. Maybe it morphed into Woak Wak?

Both Sayan and Der were featured in Yuthlert Sippapak's horror-comedy Buppha Rahtree.

For me, Sayan's best performance was in Mum Jokmok's The Bodyguard, in which he was often portrayed as the slickest, smartest and toughest bad guy in the room. In the movie's closing climactic fight scenes, with the help of a stunt double, Sayan held his own against Mum's no-nonsense bodyguard character, only to be waylaid by a swinging crane.

Sayan was 48. Funeral rites are set for the next seven days at Wat Arun Ratchawararam.

(Via HaPPi like a HiPPo)

Criticine No. 5 is up

The latest issue of the Southeast Asian film journal, Criticine is up -- has been up for awhile now.

Edited by Filipino film scholar Alexis A. Tioseco, the latest issue has a review of Syndromes and a Century by Kong Rithdee, and survey questions put to filmmakers and critics: Why and for Whom Do You Film Today? and Why and for Whom Do You Write/Work Today?

Among those answering are filmmakers Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Uruphong Raksasad, and scholars/critics Chalida Uabumrungjit, Kong Rithdee, May Ingawanij and Vipavinee Artpradid.

There's also part two of an interview with Sasithorn Ariyavicha, maker of the mind-blowing Birth of the Seanama, which is translated from a 2004 issue of Bioscope.

(Via Critic After Dark)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Go go gadget Prachya

Producer-director Prachya Pinkaew, the man behind Ong-Bak, Tom Yum Goong and a great many other hits from Sahamongkol Film International, is a gadget hound.

Daily Xpress' Parinyaporn Pajee recently profiled Prachya and his love for all kinds of gizmos, including the Mini Sounder (turns any hard surface into a speaker) and his Bluetooth mobile phone speaker, which is actually an old classic Bell-style handset. There's also the wireless Sony Location Free LCD TV, which works great on movie sets.

And there's something even better:

For the set [he] uses modified Sony Glastron TV glasses as a mobile monitor when he wants to look at the footage he’s just shot.

“My crew laughed at me at first but they soon realised that it was useful.”

Of course, he's also a proud user of the iPhone -- seems like every article I read about every celebrity in Thailand mentions the iPhone, and it's not even officially for sale in Thailand yet.

(Thanks Orn!)

Limitless Cinema lists favorite Thai female performances

Following up on the list of 20 favorite actresses (a meme that was started by also featured on Coffee Coffee and More Coffee), Limitless Cinema's CelineJulie lists his "Favorite Thai Female Performances in Films/TV Series".

At the top of the list is Benjawan Boonyakerd's performance as a serial killer in Muang Nai Mork (A Town in Fog), directed by Permpol Choei-arun. It's so nice to finally put some names and faces with this film. I've had the poster hanging on my wall and could never get anyone to tell me what film it was or who was in it.

The whole list is well worth a read. But just for my own edification, I'll break it down here, Digg style.

Favorite Thai Female Performances in Films/TV Series
  1. Benjawan Boonyakard -- Muang Nai Mork (A Town in Fog), 1978, Permpol Choei-arun
  2. Chanutporn Wisitsopon -- Ploy Talay (The Gem from the Deep), 1987, Cherd Songsri
  3. Janjira Jujang -- Mai Sin Rai Fai Swat (The Flame of Love Never Dies), 1994, Adul Dulyarut (TV series)
  4. Jariya Saranakom -- Soi Prartana 2500 (An Alley Named Desire, B.E. 2500), 1998, M.L. Bhandevanop Devakul (TV series)
  5. Jintara Sukhapat -- Yue (Victims), 1987, Chana Kraprayoon
  6. Mayura Thanaboot -- That Woman's Name is Boonrawd, 1983, Supan Buranapim (TV series)
  7. Mayrachat Muenprasitthivet -- Prasart (Insane, 1975, Piak Poster
  8. Nattaya Dangbu-nga -- Tang Sai Tard (The Path of Slavery, 1989, Suprawat Patamasoot (TV series)
  9. Sinjai Hongthai (Plengpanich) -- Lar (Hunt, 1994, Supol Wichienchai (TV series)
  10. Supan Buranapim Muang Nai Mork (A Town in Fog), 1978, Permpol Choei-arun

Favorite Female Performances in Recent Thai Films
  1. Bongkoj Khongmalai -- The Judgement (Ai Fak, 2004, Pantham Thongsangl
  2. Focus Jirakul -- Pidtermyai Huajai Wawoon (Hormones) 2008, Songyos Sugmakanan
  3. Intira Jaroenpura -- The House, 2007, Monthon Arayangkoon
  4. Janet Khiew -- Yam Yasothon, 2005, Petchtai Wongkamlao
  5. Naowarat Yuktanan -- Ghost in Law, 2008, Seree Phongnithi and Tanit Jitnukul
  6. Napakpapha Nakprasitte -- Long Khong (Art of the Devil 2, 2005, Ronin Team
  7. Patharawarin Timkul -- Body #19, 2007, Paween Purijitpanya
  8. Pichanart Sakakorn -- The Victim, 2006, Monthon Arayangkoon
  9. Pimpan Chalaikupp -- Colic: Dek Hen Pee, 2006, Patchanon Thammajira
  10. Vasana Chalakorn -- The 8th Day, 2008, Chatchai Yodsaranee
Update: In the comments and and on his blog, CelineJulie offers a fascinating detailed synopsis of A Town in Fog. It is the Psycho of Thai cinema.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On DVD in Hong Kong: 4bia

Quite likely the best Thai horror film of the year -- 4bia -- is due out on DVD in Hong Kong on December 19.

With the needed subtitles indicated, it's the first English-friendly release that I'm aware of.

GMM Tai Hub's four-segment anthology -- each part deals with a different fear -- is directed by veteran producer-director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon and three younger proteges -- the Shutter/Alone duo of Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, and Body #19 helmer Paween Purijitpanya.

The cast includes young talents Maneerat Kham-uan and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, as well as veteran actress Ploy Chermarn Boonyasak.

4bia has been a crowd pleaser at the Fantasia Festival and Toronto After Dark, scoring third-place audience awards at both fests. It was also featured at fests in Pusan and Bangkok, and had general releases in Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore. It's also been mentioned for the Hungry Ghosts program at next year's International Film Festival Rotterdam.

DDD House has the DVD of 4bia available for pre-order. Now excuse me, while I place my order. Update: YesAsia now has it.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Khan Kluay is Jumbo in India for Christmas

Thailand's plucky animated blue elephant Khan Kluay has received the Bollywood treatment. Under the title Jumbo, he gets the voice of Bollywood leading man Akshay Kumar and an additional "60-odd scenes and sequences ... with a love angle and all the other jazz". Set for release on December 19, it's being marketed as a Christmas movie.

Originally directed by Kompin Kemgumnird, it's the story of a wild young pachyderm who wanders away from his mother in the jungle, becomes a work elephant in a village, and eventually is claimed as the prized war elephant of King Naresuan the Great. Thailand's first computer-animated feature, it took three years to make and was released in Thailand in 2006. It won several awards, including Best Picture at the Subhanahongsa Awards.

In addition to Akshay, other Bollywood stars lending their voices to Jumbo are Lara Dutta, Dimple Kapadia, Mithun Chakraborty, Paresh Rawal and Asrani lending their voices to the characters.

The Indian press is rife with reports about Jumbo. Here's Akshay quoted by Kerala Online:

“It’s a very simple story. I am playing the blue elephant and I fall in love with the pink elephant,” says he.

The film is about the connection that the baby elephant is unable to have with his father, and how his father sacrifices everything for his country. It’s also about the love and support a mother gives her child.

“The reason for me doing this animation film is purely because how it made me feel. Watching it, brought back so many emotions. Children don’t just need humour or action in their lives, they also need lessons, love and understanding. This film made me think so much about my son that I was ready to be part of it. Like my father used to say, ‘It’s not just about doing the big and best things all the time. Life is about doing what is important and what is right.’ This is exactly how I felt.”

Jumbo is an emotional story of an elephant and also stresses on family values and relationships.

Akshay Kumar has been paid a whopping Rs. 9 crores [90 million rupees, or about US$1.8 million!] for dubbing the dialogues and participating in the picturisations of two promotional songs for Percept Picture Company’s animation film, Jumbo

A report at Midday details the work that went into making Jumbo a big-budget affair, as well as why they are paying Akshay so much to do the dub.

Jumbo producers, Percept Picture Company, have been telling anyone willing to listen that they spent a lot of time and money making the animated feature.

The truth is that the original movie is easily available through the film's co-producer Eagle Home Entertainment's office.

A source in the industry reveals, "Jumbo is clearly lifted from Khan Kluay, a Thai animation flick that was bought by Eagle at a paltry Rs 20 lakh.

They planned to dub the movie and release it on DVD in India. But when Percept got a whiff of the film, they got Eagle on board and planned a huge release and promised it would be dubbed by A-list stars."

The source further adds, "Khan Kluay was already in Indian markets before Percept came in the picture. The DVD of the film was being sold at Rs 300."

But with a big Bolly flick on the line, Eagle took the DVD's entire stock off shelves nationwide.

Akshay Kumar is already doing Percept's next, 8X10 being directed by Nagesh Kukunoor.

They offered the actor a huge sum to dub for Jumbo.

Percept wants to remain in Akki's good books as they plan on making several films with the star.

Their film 8X10 has been in the making for a while.

"They wanted to pamper him with some extra cash. Besides, they know that Akki's popular streak will ensure that the film has a decent run at the BO," adds the source.

Shailendra Singh, Percept Picture Company's head honcho says, "The original flick was made by a company called Kantana Animation in Bangkok.

"Eagle made us meet them, we overtook the project from them and developed it for over two years putting in Indian sentiments and remaking it for the Indian consumer.

"We have added some 60-odd scenes and sequences to the original with a love angle and all the other jazz to make the movie more appealing to every age. We did something similar with the first Hanuman in 2005."

A music video, "Everything Is Gonna Be Alright", has been shot to promote the film.

Another report accuses Percept of trying to cover up the Thai origins of Jumbo, while still another says Akshay is all wrong for voiceover work.

Earlier this year, Khan Kluay received the Hollywood treatment for its U.S. release on DVD as The Blue Elephant. With the Thai-language track entirely dumped, the version released by The Jim Henson Company features the voice work of Martin Short, Carl Reiner and Miranda Cosgrove.

CineAsia honors Thai studio exec for anti-piracy efforts

CineAsia, the convention for the movie-exhibition business in the Asia-Pacific, began on Tuesday in Macau. Among the hot topics at the three-day confab is piracy, particularly the illegal camcording of movies.

Being honored for his efforts to combat movie piracy in Thailand is Jareuk Kaljareuk, the president of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand and the managing director of Kantana Group, which is a major hub of post-production in Asia. As head of the FNFAT, he also was president of the Bangkok International Film Festival this year.

He is being honored with the Asia-Pacific Copyright Enforcer Award at CineAsia. Kong Rithdee has written a short profile of Jareuk for Variety. A more lengthy profile of Jareuk ran in the Bangkok Post back in August.

His anti-piracy efforts have included the establishment of a joint fund by the multiplexes and studios that is used to make a uniform, concerted effort to stop movie piracy.

A visit to a multiplex in Thailand is now like the security theater at the airport, with metal detectors and bag checks. For major film premieres, cellphones and cameras - even those that don't shoot video - must be left outside the auditorium.

But even as the security measures have been stepped up, piracy is increasing, says Mike Ellis, president and managing director of the Motion Picture Association in the Asia-Pacific. The MPA traced 96 illegal camcorder movies to Asia-Pacific theaters in 2008, a jump of 336% from 2007 when 25 incidents were recorded. Ellis is quoted by Variety:

Our region has close to 40% of the world's movie screens, and it produced half of the nearly 5,000 films created last year. With the rise of day-and-date releases and world premieres in Asia-Pacific, unauthorized recordings in the region have risen exponentially."

Thailand and the Philippines were singled out as hotbeds of movie piracy, according to Variety. A new program, Operation ZoomOut, will help cinema operators work with law enforcement to catch the camcorders.

Cinema operators also got to watch a training video, Make a Difference 2, which provides guidelines to cinema staff on how to prevent illegal recordings. Business of Cinema has more on that.

Update: Business of Cinema has a followup on Jaruek's award, with quotes:

Presenting Kaljareuk with the Award, Motion Picture Association presidentand managing director Asia-Pacific Mike Ellis said, "Despite the challenges faced in Thailand, Kaljareuk has worked tirelessly with the MPA on several fronts. In particular, he led the local industry to support anti-camcording efforts and is promoting the establishment of a local coalition to support enforcement, PR and outreach efforts to fight piracy. Kaljareuk's tremendous leadership, generosity and enthusiasm set a good example for many of us in the industry. We wish the industry had a partner like him in every market in the Asia-Pacific region."


Speaking after receiving the Award, Kaljareuk said: "I feel very honored to receive this award. I would like to thank the Motion Picture Association for their unstinting support of the Thai film industry in this important fight against pirates who don't care for the creative efforts of others."

(Via Screen Daily, Variety, Hollywood Reporter)