Saturday, January 31, 2009

Special NETPAC mention for Agrarian Utopia in Rotterdam

Agrarian Utopia, the new feature by Uruphong Raksasad, was given a special mention by the NETPAC jury at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema jury comprised producer Shan Donbing from China, journalist Okubo Ken’ichi from Japan and filmmaker Sun Koh from Singapore. Here's the jury's statement:

The jury would like to commend the maker of Agrarian Utopia for his bravery, his folly and his determination in showing us his little piece of heaven."

Interesting. Makes me want to see this film even more. Agrarian Utopia has received support from IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund. It was shot around the filmmaker's village in Chiang Rai.

Among the Thai lineup at Rotterdam, one short film, Man and Gravity by Jakrawal Nilthamrong, was in the VRPO Tiger Awards competition, but it wasn't among the three winners.

The complete report on the IFFR awards is on on the IFFR website.

(From IFFR press release via e-mail subscription)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Before Valentine comes early

Before Valentine (ก่อนรัก...หมุนรอบตัวเรา), an ensemble romantic comedy from Five Star Production, has opened in Bangkok cinemas for a sneak preview run, a week ahead of its planned February 5 release.

It's directed by Songsak Mongkoltong, who previously directed 2007's rather enigmatic psychological ghost thriller, The Screen at Kamchanod.

Mainly teen oriented, though there's an older married couple involved as well, the stories deal with four different couples, each trying to sort out their feelings and problems in the weeks leading up to on the day before Valentine's Day.

The cast includes Thanachat Tulayachat from Boonchu 9 as well as Tanakrit Panitchwit, Diana Jongjintanakarn, Klaokaew Sintepdol, Sita Thanunchotikan, and Tata Young's former fiance, Prem Busarakhamwon.

MovieSeer has a synopsis. And there's a trailer on YouTube, which is embedded below. Deknang has a page and forum thread. Oh, and there's an official website too.

Update: It's actually be three directors. In addition to Songsak, Bangkok Loco's Pornchai "Mr. Pink" Hongrattanaporn and Seree Phongnithi have directed segments of this ensemble romance.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fireball, burnt by airport closure, finally opens

Fireball (Tarchon) opened in Thailand's cinemas today, offering a unique blend of hard-hitting Muay Thai kicks and bloody, no-fouls-called basketball.

Directed by Thanakorn Pongsuwan, who previously helmed Opapatika and Fake, Fireball is the first production by Bangkok Film Studio, a reboot of the old Film Bangkok run by producers Sa-ngar Chatchairungruang and "Uncle" Adirek Wattaleela. They backed some of the first Thai films to make it big on the international scene, like the original Bangkok Dangerous, Tears of the Black Tiger and Bang Rajan.

When I talked to the filmmakers last September, they said the idea behind the company was to make films with the international market in mind with sponsorship from companies not normally associated with the movie business. Red Bull is among the backers of Fireball, so you can expect to see product placement for the energy drink.

Initially, Fireball was to be distributed by a company called Adamas World, a Thailand-based concert promoter that brought the Korean acts Rain and Super Junior to Bangkok.

Fireball was planned for release in November or December, but the months came and went and there was no Muay Thai basketball.

What happened? Well, for around 10 days at the end of November, a mob of anti-government protesters blockaded both of Bangkok's airports, playing havoc with travelers (like me) and causing a major disruption in the Kingdom's commerce. Adamas had planned a "super concert" of Korean bands in Bangkok around that time, and with the airports shut down, the bands couldn't fly in. Adamas canceled the concert, lost a ton of money and had to pull out of Fireball.

However, the ever-resourceful Uncle and Sa-ngar were able to broker a deal with none other than Phranakorn Film, which will handle the Thai distribution rights.

Fireball also introduces a tough new face to international audiences -- Preeti Barameeanan, better known as Bank, tattooed frontman for the Thai rock band Clash. His cheekbones alone look like they'll devastate an opponent.

Rounding out the cast are some athletes: a boxer known as Nine Million Sam, model and former basketball player "Earth" Anuwat Jeg, former soccer player "Johnny" Kumpanart Ungsoonmern and basketball player "Bas" Karnnut Samerjai.

The lead actress is "Aem" Kantura Chuchuaysuwan, who's been on TV shows and in music videos.

The story involves Bank as a guy named Tai who gets out of prison and finds his twin brother Tan laid up in a coma. To find out who put the hurt on Tan, Tai joins the Fireball, a team playing in an underworld bloodsport.

There's a trailer on Phranakorn Film's YouTube channel, and it's embedded below.

See also:

(Via Daily Xpress)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nak reviewed in Rotterdam's man in Rotterdam, Ard Vin, reviews Nak, one of the selections in the Hungry Ghosts program at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Released in Thailand last year, Nak turns Thailand's most famous ghost Mae Nak into a kid-friendly heroine who teams up with other famous Thai ghosts to save a little boy's soul from an evil Korean movie ghost.

Ard Vin gives good marks to Nak, praising the colorful if uneven cel-shaded 3D computer animation and the decent-enough story.

Head on over and check it out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Classic films and shorts at Fringe Festival No. 9

Bangkok's annual Fringe Festival is so far on the fringes this year it's not even in Bangkok.

Patravadi Theater's showcase of contemporary and traditional arts this year is being held in Ratchaburi, about two hours outside the capital.

It's being held in an old market town called Chet Samian. It has a railway station, and it's on the banks of the Mae Klong River.

Fringe Festival No. 9 got under way over the weekend, but the film portion of the program, put together by the Thai Film Foundation, starts next weekend, January 30 to February 1. Remaining programs will be on February 20-22 and February 27 to March 1. The programs start at around 5pm.

The lineup is a mix of classics from the 1950s and '60s, including most of Ratana Pestonji's features, plus recent independent short films, shown in an old-timey, open-air screening.

Here's the film lineup:

Friday, January 30
  • True Nature -- A short film by Thawatpong Tangsajjapoj (6 min.)
  • Paradise Island (Koh Sawad Had Sawan) -- Sombat Metanee and Aranya Namwong star in this musical love story set on Koh Samui. Directed by Prince AnusornmongkolganIt, it was made in 1969, long before the island had been paved over by developers. Sombat plays the playboy son of one family, while Aranya is the business-minded daughter of a rival family. They make a bet on who can make their family's coconut plantation more successful. If the guy wins, the girl must marry him. If he loses, he has to give his business to her.

Saturday, January 31
  • Nongharn -- Directed by Panus Boonnun (14 min.)
  • Parallel Journey -- Directed by Jakrawal Nilthamrong (8 min.)
  • Blind -- Directed by Kanjana Akasin (30 min.)
  • Run -- Directed by Watthanadech Ketsuan (15 min.)
  • A Day in a Posit+ive Life -- Directed by Volunteers of AIDS Access, Chiang Rai (17 min.)

Sunday, February 1
  • Country Hotel -- This Ratana Pestonji's insane cavalcade of comedy, music and film-noir drama from 1957.

Friday, February 20
  • Finale Fantasie -- Directed by Teerapon Panyayuttakarn (31 min.)
  • The Laundry Room -- Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya (9 min.)
  • Our Monument -- Directed by Phuttiphong Aroonpheng ( 10 min.)
  • Love…Time -- Directed by Knidtha Khuwyou (28 min.)
  • I Wanna Be A Red Fish -- Directed by Boonsri Tangtrongsin (11 min.)

Saturday, February 21
  • Memoir of the old Bangkok -- A short films collection by National Artist filmmaker Thae Prakas-vudhisarn (22 min.)
  • Black Silk (Prae Dum) -- Ratana Pestonji's 1961 classic is regarded as Thailand's first film noir. It was also one of the earliest Thai films to play overseas. It was selected for the Berlin Film Festival.

Sunday, February 22
  • Forever Yours -- This 1955 tragic love story by Tawee Na Bangchang (with Ratana Pestonji as cinematographer) is iconic for its image of a young couple chained together after they are caught having an affair by the woman's husband.

Friday, February 27
  • The Invisible City -- Directed by Boonsri Tangtrongsin (12 min.)
  • Tadpole -- Directed by Pittaya Jankotr, Sumantana Jenjitman and Pannapa Saewong (15 min.)
  • You Never Know -- Directed by Parinya Pornsuksawadd (20 min.)
  • Shan at the Dawn -- Directed by Nattachai Jaitita (30 min.)
  • I’m Fine Sa-bai-dee-kah -- Directed by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (4 min.)

Saturday, February 28
  • Home Video -- Directed by Yanin Pongsuwan (14 min.)
  • Sugar Is Not Sweet (Nam Tan Mai Wan) -- Ratana Pestonji's last feature film, made in 1965, was envisioned by him as his most commercial film yet. Gobsmackingly colorful, it's about a star-crossed romance.

Sunday, March 1
  • Dark Heaven -- Ratana Pestonji's second feature, made in 1958, is an adaptation of a stage drama about a young homeless woman falling in love with a trash collector (Chalee Intharawijit). He's then drafted to fight in a war, and the woman is taken in by a rich lady. He returns from the fighting, blinded by an explosion, leaving the young woman conflicted.

By the way, Country Hotel, Dark Heaven and Forever Yours have been available on DVD from the Thai Film Foundation for quite sometime now.

Update: And in celebration of the Pestonji centennial, the remaining two surviving features in his filmography -- Black Silk and Sugar Is Not Sweet -- are available on DVD from the Foundation. (Any other Firefox users having problems accessing that page?)

Also, the Dance and Theatre blog at The Nation has more on the festival's offerings.

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

Sorapong Chatree named National Artist

Veteran actor Sorapong Chatree is among the seven honorees being given the title of National Artist of Thailand for 2008.

The others honored for performing arts are singer and musician MR Thanadsri Sawadiwat, Prasit Pinkaew and Rear Admiral Viraphan Voklang. Ithipol Thang-chalok was named National Artist in fine arts while Adul Jantrasak was named for literature.

According to a recent Daily Xpress article, they'll be awarded the honor on February 21 in a gala ceremony to open an exhibition at the Thailand Cultural Center.

For the 58-year-old Sorapong, these past couple years have been busy, with high-profile, meaty roles in major films. He plays an mentoring monk in King Naresuan, a hermit sorcerer with a split personality in Queens of Langkasuka and a father-figure king of thieves in Ong-Bak 2.

Sorapong got his start acting in MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's Out of the Darkness in 1971 and he remained an in-demand leading man well into the 1990s. His other roles have included Cherd Songsri's Plae Kao (The Scar) and Peun Pang, as well as Sompote Sands' Krai-Tong and dozens upon dozens of other films.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blue Sky of Love so bad it's 'almost a crime'

I've not seen the comedy-romance Blue Sky of Love (Fah Sai Huajai Chuenbaab). The trailer gave me a bad enough headache, that I don't think I have the stamina to sit through the entire film. And though I've learned that Thai films cannot necessarily be judged on the strength or weakness of their trailers, I fear that going to watch Blue Sky of Love would make my head implode. And I just don't need that kind of pain right now.

The movie takes place after the deadly October 6, 1976 crackdown on demonstrations led by democracy activists at Thammasat University, and follows a group of students into the forest, where they join up with a comical band of communist rebels.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Kong Rithdee has actually gone to see this movie, and he had a review in Friday's Bangkok Post. Here's a bit (cache):

The incident of Oct 6 remains a wound that is felt even by those who weren't there at the time; it is especially felt in the current climate when the country is divided by hatred and imagined differences, like it was 33 years ago. To have a movie like this is like a mockery of tragic history. It could even be interpreted as an insult.

I had a bad feeling when I saw the film's poster, but I decided to see it to give it a fair chance. And I decided to write about it on this page to officially register the existence of its foolishness.

It says a lot about our film industry that a film like Blue Sky of Love has been granted a wide release when many other projects -- actually, most student films are more worthwhile than this -- struggle to get made or to get into the cinema. Most of all, the existence of this film says a lot about our flawed education on the subject of history. When the dust has never been cleared (so, how many deaths really occurred on that day?), when the truth remains obscure, the young generation will never understand the real burden of history, and we can hardly obtain a moral reason from it. Blue Sky of Love is a product of ignorance. In a time like this, it is almost a crime.

Read the whole thing.

A sensitive, strong and dramatic film that depicts that turbulent period in Thailand's history would probably be a worthy endeavor. And something with even a bit of comedy and satire -- if tastefully and smartly done -- would be welcome. But Blue Sky of Love ain't it by a long shot.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wisit's haunted house in Rotterdam

Embedded above is a short clip of the haunted house Wisit Sasanatieng created at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

It was scarier the second time I watched.

(Via ThaiIndie's YouTube Channel)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mr. Bean, Stephen Chow to bring tourists back to Thailand

Reeling from the global financial crisis and the political protests that shut down Thailand's airports last year, the Thai government is working on ways to burnish the Kingdom's image and get tourists flocking back.

According to a story in The Nation yesterday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has promised an additional 100 million baht to the Tourism Authority of Thailand to finance overseas marketing.

TAT chairman Weerasak Kowsurat says the money will be used in the first quarter.

Among the plans -- a comedy film festival, scheduled to be held in Bangkok in late April. From the story:

The TAT is working with partners to bring in world-famous comedy actors, including Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) and Hong Kong's Stephen Chow. The presence of such stars is expected to attract more visitors.

Sounds like business as usual for the TAT -- the main sponsor of the Bangkok International Film Festival, which has been tainted by a bribery scandal. The criticism of the festival has been that a lot of taxpayers' money was spent to fly in movie stars for red-carpet galas and create the illusion of Bangkok as some sort of Hollywood of Asia. But it did little to really bring in tourists.

The organizers of last year's Bangkok International Film Festival went a long way to dispel the criticisms by making films and programming the primary focus, and making sure there were Thai subtitles on every film. Sure, there was still red-carpet glamor and a few Hollywood stars -- it creates publicity for the festival, after all.

Hopefully the TAT will keep the criticism of the BKKIFF in mind as they organize their comedy film fest.

And actually, bringing in the googly-eyed, rubber-faced Mr. Bean is not such a bad idea -- the videos of his pantomime TV skits are popular entertainment at DVD booths in suburban Bangkok shopping malls. Even better is Stephen Chow, writer, director and star of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, which are also pretty popular. Great choices for the locals -- but because the festival is being proposed as a tourism initiative to attract foreigners, will Thai people be invited to the party?

Update: The World Comedy Film Festival is set for June 10 to 16. Check the website.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

BCI Eclipse, not quite dead, releases Hard Gun and more Thai action

Despite news last month that cult-film DVD purveyors BCI Eclipse would be closing, apparently some titles that were in the pipeline for release will still be issued.

Among the new DVDs is Hard Gun, a 1996 crime drama starring Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa. The DVD and the Blu-ray are available from HK Flix as well as Amazon (Blu-ray).

The Thai title is Mue Prab Puen Hode (literally, "the cop with [the] hard gun”). The forum has more details:

Tony Jaa plays Panna Rittikrai's right-hand man in this and they are both criminals looking to avenge the death of Panna's brother. The movie is pretty boring until the last 15 minutes when Jaa gets to show off his skills. Panna doesn't have a single fight scene, instead he runs around shooting guns all the time.

The disc offers an English dub or the original Thai soundtrack, with English subs. There's a clip of Tony Jaa working the staff at YouTube.

Also in the BCI Eclipse pipeline is a three-film Thai Action Pack set for release on January 27. It's available for order from HK Flix and Amazon. The set bundles Tony Jaa's Spirited Killer, the 1986 version of Born to Fight and another Panna crime drama, Thai Police Story.

Spirited Killer, first released by BCI Eclipse in 2006, is about a forest dweller who kills anyone who steps into his jungle. "Leading the pack to help stop this madman is Tony Jaa, making his film debut."

The Amazon page for the Thai Action Pack lists the synopsis for the 2003 version of Born to Fight starring Dan Chupong. Not at all a remake of the '86 version, it is a completely different film, with an entirely different story, and the rights for it were acquired by The Weinstein Company, which released it on the Dragon Dynasty label.

BCI Eclipse has the rights to the 1986 version of Born to Fight starring Panna Rittikrai, and first released it in 2007. So that's got to be what's in the Thai Action Pack. Panna plays a policeman hired to find a lawyer who is in trouble. Amazon reviewer Morgoth further comments:

The only reason to watch this movie is for the amazing stunts and full contact fights. Maybe Panna was just mad at these guys in real life, but he seriously beats them down hard in the movie. And look out for one of the craziest motorcycle stunts you will ever see."

Thai Police Story stars Panna "as a man caught between corrupt police officers and vicious drug gangs [and] features non-stop action and crazy stunts including a fight with Panna taking on four guys on top of a moving truck."

It was initially released last year in a twin-pack with the 1986 version of Born to Fight. The multiple issues and confusing litany of packaging is typical of BCI Eclipse. I can't find just Thai Police Story as a single disc, so if you really really want it, you'll have to either get the new three-pack or last year's two-pack.

Also, a couple of the Shaw Brothers' titles that BCI Eclipse acquired from Miramax are leaking out. There's Life Gamble with Alexander Fu Sheng and Opium and Kung Fu Master with Ti Lung.

Plans to shutter BCI Eclipse are still under way as the label's parent company, Navarre Corporation undergoes restructuring. Recently, Navarre laid off 50 employees including its chief operations officer. Among them are 20 workers in the Funimation anime division, according to Home Media Magazine.


Jeeja among nominees for 3rd Asian Film Awards

Continuing with the Jeeja-related news, in a new category for the Asian Film Awards, the Chocolate star is nominated for "best newcomer".

She's the only Thai among the nominees announced yesterday for the third edition of the Hong Kong-based kudosfest, which is part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

The top nominee is the South Korean western The Good, the Bad, the Weird by Kim Jee-woon, which is up for seven awards: best film, best director, best actor (Song Kang-ho), best supporting actor (two nominees -- Jung Woo-sung and Lee Byung-hun), best cinematographer, best composer and best visual effects.

Other best film nominees are Chen Kaige's Forever Enthralled, Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo on the Cliff, John Woo's Red Cliff, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata and The Rainbow Troops by Indonesia's Riri Riza.

The Rainbow Troops (Laskar pelangi) also got a nod for best editing by Waluyo Ichwandiardono. Set on the Sumatran island of Belitong, the film chronicles the ups and downs of a close-knit group of schoolchildren in a small town. Released in October in Indonesia, the movie was a huge hit, according to the Jakarta Post (cache). It's among the early titles mentioned for the Panorama program at the Berlin Film Festival.

Best director nominees at the 3rd Asian Film Awards include Brillante Mendoza for Serbis, a gritty and sometimes erotic drama about a dysfunctional family that runs an X-rated cinema in Angeles City. Up for best supporting actress from Serbis are veteran actress Gina Pareno as the embattled grandmother and Jaclyn Jose as the strong-willed mother.

Best newcomer is a new category for the awards. In addition to Jeeja, other nominees are Shota Matsuda for Boys Over Flowers: The Movie, Sandrine Pinna for Miao Miao, So Ji-sub for Rough Cut, Xu Jiao for CJ7 and Yu Shaoqun for Forever Enthralled. The supporting actor and actress categories were added last year.

The Associated Press has the complete list of nominees, and Variety has a story as well. The awards ceremony is on March 23 in Hong Kong.

Update: Screen Daily has a story too (via Jason Gray).

(Via International Herald Tribune)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rumors of leading man for Jeeja Project

That the next movie for Chocolate star Jeeja Yanin Vismistananda would have a romantic angle was mentioned awhile back, and as the film, for now tentatively titled simply Jeeja Project, is being readied for release this year (probably around mid-year), more details are emerging.

Rashane Limtrakul, who directed the highly stylized Joop (Kiss) segment of the recent 4 Romances omnibus, is helming Jeeja Project, with Prachya Pinkaew as producer. Jeeja will play an ordinary young woman and display a fuller range of dramatic emotions than she did as the autistic Zen in Chocolate. Heck, she'll even get to speak!

That much is confirmed.

But rumors have it that the leading man in the movie will be French-Vietnamese martial-arts stuntman Kazu from the French martial-arts trio Tri-X, which have been working with stunt guru Panna Rittikrai for several years now.

In an interview on TV station Modernine (here's a subtitled clip on YouTube), Rashane is asked about the rumor, which he neither confirms nor denies.

Kung Fu Cinema has more about Tri-X and the Jeeja Project rumor. Head on over and have a look.

Update: Twitch weighs in as well.

(Via Kung Fu Cinema and Kung Fu Cinema forum)

38 Years of Mitr Chaibancha concert rescheduled

Originally planned for November, the "38 Years of Mitr Chaibancha" concert has been rescheduled for February 8 at Siam Niramit theater.

Paying tribute to the action star who died 38 years ago on October 8 of last year, the matinee show will feature songs from Mitr's movies performed by such artists as Jintana Suksathit, Chinakorn Krailas, Umaporn Buapueng, Charam Thepchai, Suwajchai Suthima, Jirapa Panyasil, Linjong Bunnakarin, Pornthep Theprat, Aranya Namwong, Pakorn Pornpisut, Su Bunlieng, Sweet Nuch, Surachai Sombatcharoen and his son Surabodin, Chantra Therawan and Bomb AF4.

Part of the proceeds will benefit the Thai Film Foundation. Tickets cost Bt2,500 fromThaiticketmajor.

(Via Daily Xpress; image via Obamicon.Me, thanks to Thomas Crampton)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chandni Chowk to China, but really it's Thailand

Chandni Chowk to China is billed as the first Bollywood movie shot on location in China, but the majority of the film was actually made in Thailand.

Bangkok's skyline stands in for Shanghai's, and Suvarnabhumi International Airport is dressed up as the Chinese city's airport. A sign for Nok Air - a budget domestic airline in Thailand - gives it away. There are also Bangkok's characteristic jellybean-colored Toyota Corolla taxicabs, though care was taken to fit them with Chinese license plates.

Other scenes were shot on a set built in Ratchaburi Province.

According to a Bangkok Post story, which I blogged about last week, the production only filmed about 15 days in China, basically making use of the Great Wall, which plays a crucial backdrop in the film.

Most of the rest of the movie was made in Thailand.

"We started filming in China, and then realized how much easier it would be to make the movie in Thailand," actor Conan Stevens told me after the movie's screening on Saturday night in Bangkok.

But a highlight of the production, Stevens says, was getting to work with martial-arts coordinator Ku Huan-Chiu, who's had a hand in such films as Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Romeo Must Die and Lethal Weapon 4.

Stevens, a 7-foot-tall Australian stunt actor and wrestler, is based in Bangkok. In the film, he wears a white wig and eyebrows to play the role of Joey, the hulking albino right-hand man of the villain, Hojo, played by Hong Kong martial-arts film legend Gordon Liu. It's Stevens' most prominent role yet, this being a Hollywood (Warner Bros.) and Bollywood co-production -- and higher profile than supporting roles in such Thai films as Hanuman: The White Monkey Warrior, E-Tim Tay Nae and Somtum. Stevens is a blast to watch as he growls and stomps his way around, and actually punches a chunk out of what's supposed to be the Great Wall.

Playing on the same weekend it premiered in India and the U.S., Chandi Chowk to China was brought to Bangkok for a series of special screenings by

The movie stars Akshay Kumar as a humble cook on the streets of Delhi who is dissatisfied with his lot in life. Sidhu finds a potato that contains an icon of Lord Ganesh and takes it as a sign of better things to come. So, when a pair of Chinese villagers show up and say he's the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese warrior, he believes them (with encouragement of his shady friend the fortuneteller Chopstick, played by Ranvir Shorey).

More confusion ensues when Sidhu crosses paths with Sakhi (Deepika Padukone), the glamorous half-Indian, half-Chinese model and TV presenter of hi-tech Chinese crapgadgets. She is going to China to look for her long-lost twin sister, who it turns out is a breathtakingly fiesty diamond thief in the employ of the bowler-hatted villain Hojo.

The story gets even crazier with the long-lost amnesiac Chinese father of the twin girls (Roger Yuan) getting his memory back, and as a high-ranking cop and martial-arts master, he goes after Hojo and trains the bumbling Sihdu.

All the tropes of martial-arts films are adhered to, and so are those of Bollywood. So along with the kung-fu training sequence and heroic bloodshed, you also get song-and-dance numbers and romance that comes ever so close but not quite to a kiss.

Criticizing Chandni Chowk to China for being overly long is insane, because it's a Bollywood flick, and at around 2.5 hours isn't really that long at all - it's just more time for more slapstick, songs, dancing and crazy action.

At the box office, the film scored US$6.8 million, according to Variety, which notes that CC2C is the widest worldwide day-and-date release ever for a Bollywood movie.

Reviews are mixed. The Golden Rock points to reviews at Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Singapore's A Nutshell Review chimes in as well.

And The Storyboard Daily points to a couple CC2C items, including critics and audiences in India not digging the movie.

Nonetheless, a sequel is planned, though it's uncertain whether it will really be Chandni Chowk to Africa like the last joke in the movie, which had Thai dwarves in blackface, clicking their tongues. They were supposed to be Pygmies I suppose.

Utopia, Quarantine, ghosts and more at Rotterdam

As usual at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Thailand has a huge presence among the Asian films in the lineup.

Among the world premieres is Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Baan Na), which looks at rice farming in northern Thailand. Playing in the Bright Future section for up-and-coming filmmakers, Agrarian Utopia is the much-anticipated new feature by Uruphong Raksasad. Shot around his home village in rural Chiang Rai, it's a look at farming families who still cultivate rice without machines, using their own hands, with occasional help from a water buffalo. It is being produced by Bangkok-based indie collective Extra Virgin, and they hope to show the film in Thailand at some point during the coming year.

If horror is what you want, then there are seven Thai films in the Spectrum: Hungry Ghosts program curated by Gertjan Zuilhof. GTH contributes the four-director anthology 4Bia and 2007's Body #19. Five Star has Art of the Devil 3 and The Screen at Kamchanod. Singapore-based director Ekachai Uekrongtham offers The Coffin, and there's the kid-friendly animation Nak from Sahamongkol and producer Boyd Kosiyabong. The Fatality, a Thai-Taiwanese co-production by Tiwa Moeithaisong that just opened in Thailand last week, is also showing.

As part of the Hungry Ghosts, Wisit Sasanatieng, writer of 1999's ghost legend Nang Nak and director of The Unseeable, has been asked to build a haunted house exhibit, along with several other Southeast Asian filmmakers: Lav Diaz from the Philippines, Amir Muhammad from Malaysia, Nguyen Vinh Son from Vietnam and Garin Nugroho and Riri Riza from Indonesia.

No stranger to Rotterdam, Thunska Pansittivorakul brings his latest feature, This Area Is Under Quarantine, which also makes its world premiere. In this controversial documentary, the maverick director interviews two young gays about their sex lives. He then interposes a look back at 2004's Tak Bai incident in which 85 Muslim prisoners suffocated in Thai army trucks. He also offers his views on the 2005 hanging of two teenagers in Iran. The films ends with the two interview subjects having sex.

There are nearly a dozen short films, including the competition film, Man and Gravity by Jakrawal Nilthamrong.

Nine shorts have been combined into a package, Thailand is Fine. All of them are thematically linked by politics. Here's the lineup, with the synopsis from the festival website:

  • "Action!" - The "Action!" that is called to start shooting. Here the unedited shots of an actor. Above all the actor. Thunska Pansittivorakul, Thailand, 2008, 5 min.
  • Burmese Man Dancing - Many film makers try to remain as clear as possible. This filmmaker subtitles his images in an imaginary language. Yet you can still follow it. Nok Paksnavin, Thailand, 2008, 8 min.
  • Diseases and a Hundred Year Period - Short essay film about the censorship of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century. Censored scenes are paraphrased here. Sompot Chidgasornpongse, Thailand, 2008, 20 min.
  • Fall - She lives between Thailand and the USA. She lives between art and martial arts. They live between black-and-white and eroticism. Those who see the film will... Visra Vichit-Vadakan, Thailand, USA, 2008, 5 min.
  • I Am Fine - In Democracy Square - countries that have a problem with democracy have a square for it - someone is sitting in a cage. He's doing very well. Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Thailand, 2008, 3 min.
  • Loneliness Is Everywhere - One of two films about an elderly mother. See also My Mother and Her Darkness. Here it is light, but just as lonely. Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, Thailand, 2008, 10 min.
  • Man and Gravity - A man with a colorful tricycle tries to raise an impossible freight in inaccessible surroundings. Gravity, but also karma. Jakrawal Nilthamrong, Thailand, 2009, 10 min.
  • My Image Observes Your Image if it Is Possible to Observe it - A Thai filmmaker in Ireland. He can't take his eyes off it. Like a cloud, he floats past the buildings. A cloud passes literally. An observation cloud. Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, Thailand, 2008, 6 min.
  • My Mother and Her Darkness - One of two films about an old mother. See also Loneliness Is Everywhere. There's loneliness everywhere, especially here with the mother on a dark. Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, Thailand, 2009, 7 min.
  • Orchestra - An artist undertakes an attempt to make a documentary. He looks with admiration at workers in a silk factory but doesn't forget to create art. Jakrawal Nilthamrong, Thailand, 2008, 24 min.

An additional short, You Have to Wait, Anyway, by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, is part of the six-film Inescapable Inevitability program of experimental environmental films.

The festival starts today and runs until February 1. I wish I could be there, if only just to see the haunted houses.

(Cross-published at Daily Xpress)

Primitive tops Raymond Phathanavirangoon's arthouse picks for 2009

Over on Twitch, festival programmer Raymond Phathanavirangoon has issued his list of arthouse films to watch for in 2009.

At the top is Primitive, the ambitious multimedia work by Apichatpong Weerasethakul that involves a widow ghost, reincarnation, transformation and an apeman. Initially it will be a five-screen video installation, but a feature-length component is planned. Check Animate Projects for more details.

A couple of Raymond's runners-up are Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph, which is being filmed now at Khao Yai National Park, and Wisit Sasanatieng's masked crimefighter story Red Eagle. Both are actually pretty commercial compared to other items on his list.

Formerly with Fortissimo, Raymond is now a programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival and Toronto After Dark.

One of his picks for last year's Toronto International was Citizen Juling, and giving the film such a prominent international platform to launch from made it hard to ignore. It went on to play at the Bangkok International Film Festival, and has been selected for Berlin this year.

In the Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok) remains unreleased in Thailand due to sensitivities about the depiction of bank robbers turned Buddhist monks. But now producers at Sahamongkol are giving thought about putting it out there for more people to see -- if it hadn't have played in Toronto, we probably would not be hearing about it at all.

So Raymond Phathanavirangoon is a guy worth paying attention to.

Check out Twitch for the rest of his insider's look at the best of arthouse in 2009.

(Via Twitch)

Citizen Juling in Berlinale's Forum

The sprawling documentary Citizen Juling will make its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, screening in the 48-film Forum section, which was unveiled yesterday.

Directed by Kraisak Choonhavan, Manit Sriwanichpoom and Ing K, Citizen Juling (Polamuang Juling) covers Southern Thailand's violence and the Kingdom's fractious politics. Here's a bit more from the festival press release:

The ignominious role of the state as aggravator of conflicts forms the backdrop of the Thai documentary Citizen Juling ... After a fanatical mob brutally attacked two school teachers in the spring of 2006, filmmaker Ing K and politician and human rights activist Kraisak Choonhavan set out on a journey across Thailand, a country divided by violence and prejudice. Citizen Juling is the attempt to use film as a tool of reconciliation ...

Citizen Juling premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, and played at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

The filmmakers are hoping for further screenings in Thailand sometime this year.

The full lineup at Berlinale will be announced on January 27. The festival runs from February 5 to 15.

(Via Hollywood Reporter)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ong-Bak 2 part of Thai Film Miracles in L.A.

Ong-Bak 2 is part of Thai Film Miracles, a special screening of Thai movies in Los Angeles on January 25 and 26 at the Arclight Cinemas on West Sunset Boulevard.

The program of six films is mainly from the past year or so, but includes the historic 1941 black-and-white palace epic, The King of the White Elephant.

Here's the complete lineup: has more details about this event, which is organized by Thailand's Ministry of Culture and will have Princess Ubol Ratana as a special guest.

Tickets are free, but seating is limited, with just 220 seats.

And, after glancing over the forum at, I'm uncertain whether it's even possible for the general public to register for tickets.

So for lots of anxious Tony Jaa fans in North America, this might not be the most ideal situation, but it's a start.


Nothing to Say on YouTube

Last October, more than 50 silent videos about Thai society and politics by Thai indie filmmakers were presented in Nothing to Say, staged at an art fair on Halloween at the Pridi Banomyong Institute.

I didn't attend, but the films are now immortalized on the Nothing to Say YouTube Channel. They have 10 videos uploaded so far, and plan to add three a week each week. A trailer, embedded above, offers a sample. There's already plenty of viewing to last awhile, as well as tons of related videos to get lost in.

(Via ThaiIndie)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thanks and acknowledgments are due

Here's a few things I need to pass along:

  • My Top 10 Thai films 2008 can be viewed as a videocast, thanks to Hong Kong-based journalist Thomas Crampton. The recording was made on New Year's Day in Bangkok at a Twitter meet up (or Tweetup) organized by Bangkok-based journalist Newley Purnell. We were joined by the mind-blowing wandering guru Gregory Lent (he was also interviewed by Thomas on how "Web 2.0 Turns Us All Into Yogis") and Singapore resident @zzkj. I was reluctant to appear on camera for Thomas, but after much arm-twisting by all the guys, I succumbed to peer pressure, and agreed to run down my Top 10 on camera. But then once he was rolling, Thomas doubled-dipped on me, and got me to talk a bit more about "Why You Should Watch Thai Films". I'm not sure I made a convincing case, but it was fun anyway, even if it was all very intimidating, humbling and flattering at the same time. So now my talking head appears on Thomas Crampton's YouTube Channel alongside such other figures as Thaksin Shinawatra, Chris Patten and Shawn Crispin. Really, it was just great to get out in the wild and have some face-to-face social interaction with other bloggers and Twitterers.
  • One of my favorite film blogs, House of Self Indulgence, is up for voting in the Total Film Movie Blog Awards 2009. I first started reading Yum-Yum's reviews on the Vine at Rotten Tomatoes, and I was happy to see HoSI reach out to a broader audience by moving to a Blogspot domain. The cult movie blog has helped increase my appreciation of David Cronenberg, '80s and '90s trash cinema, and movies like D.E.B.S. (especially Devon Aoki).
  • Also up for voting at Total Film in the Majors category is one of my favorite websites, Todd Brown and the folks who write for Twitch have been a great source of information and inspiration in the years since I started writing this blog. I appreciate the way they tend to veer away from the day-in-day-out reporting of Hollywood and celeb news -- unless it's something really Earth-shattering, like Keanu Reeves making a live-action Cowboy Bebop. (No, for the love of all that's holy, no! But maybe it'll be good.) They're big supporters of Thai and Southeast Asian cinema and deserve much kudos.
  • Guo Shao-Hua, the writer of another blog I enjoy, The Storyboard out of Malaysia, has recently started a supplemental blog called The Storyboard Daily, which is brief links on news in the world of Asian cinema. I've found it helpful. So head on over and bookmark and subscribe.
  • Finally, a belated thanks to another of my favorite blogs, Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill, which bestowed me with kudos an embarrassingly long time ago. Kind of like being on video, I feel flattered, intimidated and humbled all at once. The deal is, I'm supposed to pass along similar kudos to eight more bloggers, kind of like a chain letter, but in a good way. It's a daunting responsibility that I'm not sure I can handle. I mean, how can I single out just eight? But I appreciate the kind thoughts. Check out 4DK for Thai-style Kaiju: The Films of Sompote Sands part IX, the latest in an epic series of reviews that constitute a very weird chapter in the history of Thai cinema.
  • Last, if you're a blogger and have me on your linkroll, but I don't have you on mine, please give me a shout. Occasionally I'll see inbound traffic from blogs that are new to me, and if I see I'm on their linkroll, I'll add them here. There's probably more out there that I don't know about yet. I read a lot of websites in RSS readers, so I don't often read blogs in their native environment, which means I won't see your linkroll. If you are friendly to me, I will make an effort to be friendly to you.

Review: The Elephant King

  • Written and directed by Seth Grossman
  • Starring Tate Ellington, Jonno Roberts, Ellen Burstyn, Florence Faivre, Pawalit Mongkolpisit
  • Limited release in Thai cinemas on January 15, 2009
  • Rating: 3/5

Fine performances and top-notch technical specs make The Elephant King a pleasure to watch, even if the characters are less than savory.

A cautionary tale about delusional expats overindulging in the Thai nightlife frames this portrait of family dysfunction.

Tate Ellington stars as Oliver, a depressed bookish wannabe writer who's working as a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant in New York City. His older brother Jake (Jonno Roberts), meanwhile, has fled the States for Thailand. He's taken an educational grant and blown it on booze, drugs and women while living in the historic northern city of Chiang Mai. The men's mother, rather shrilly played by Ellen Burstyn, wants Jake to come home and face charges for defrauding the university. So at both Jake's and their control-freak mom's urging, Oliver heads to Thailand. Jake wants somebody to party with, but Oliver is supposed to convince Jake to come back.

The light and space of Thailand really put the zap on the boy -- along with the massive quantities of alcohol and pills the domineering, bullying brother Jake pours down Oliver's throat. Jake sets Oliver up with pretty bartender Lek, and meek little Oliver, who's never had a girlfriend before, falls hard for the exotic Thai-American beauty. She's played boldly by French-Thai actress Florence Faivre.

Thai girls in cheerleading outfits aside, the drama is quite heavy.

Nihilistic Jake is more depressed than he lets on, and to keep from sinking into the abyss of self loathing, he keeps himself on a strict drug regimen. To earn money, he stages fixed boxing matches with a transvestite boxer who's in love with him. After a night of partying, Jake buys an elephant from its mahout, and takes it for an early morning ride. The Thais look on at the crazy farang with disgust and pity. He keeps it at poolside at his apartment building -- much to the chagrin of the landlady, who has a "no elephants" policy.

Oliver is hopelessly naive, and clueless about inappropriate displays of affection. He buys a truckload of flowers for Lek that just embarrasses the girl.

Lek, meanwhile, has a Thai boyfriend, the bar's musician Daeng, and he's so jealous of seeing Lek with Oliver that he's forgotten the words to America's "Sister Golden Hair" (and really, who can blame him?). Daeng, by the way, is played by Pawalit Mongkolpisit, the real gunman from the real Bangkok Dangerous, and gosh it's great to see him again.

Back at home in New York, mom is worried sick, and just wants both her boys to come home. And their reprobate dad (Josef Summer), well he just wants to know how the "Thai stick" and the girls are.

What a family. No wonder Jake moved halfway around the world from them.

The movie is highlighted by scenes from around Chiang Mai, not just of the nightlife culture, but the historic temples, the city walls and nature sites as well.

And it's all lit beautifully by Spanish cameraman Diego Quemada-Diez. Editing, partly supervised by Thai ace Lee Chatametikool, is fluid.

It's hard not to pass up a chance to cut back and forth from Oliver and Lek making love to Jake and his ladyboy boxer trading blows in the ring.

The film is produced by DeWarrenne Pictures, and because it's a Thai company, they were able to a shoot a gritty, down-and-dirty tale that likely wouldn't pass muster if it were to have been made by a foreign-owned company that must have scripts reviewed by the Film Office. If it were a Thai director, there would be self censorship or glamorization. But this is not the case with the script by American writer-director Seth Grossman.

One remarkable scene takes place in a "fish bowl" brothel, where prostitutes wearing identical yellow evening gowns and numbered badges sit in rows on benches behind a window and wait for their number to be called.

"They look like zombies," the jetlagged Oliver says, shocked. It's the first place in Thailand his brother has taken him.

"They're watching TV," Jake explains.

But the scene of aged, baggy-eyed hookers, with their thick blue eye shadow, heavy rouge and grim, resigned expressions, is haunting. Oliver can't handle it and he leaves. Jake stays and calls out for the prettiest one -- No. 49 (none other than Ghost of Mae Nak's Pornthip Papanai) -- and with a small, barely perceptible grimace, she rises to go meet her customer.

None of the characters garner much sympathy, except for the elephant, played by a soulful-eyed pachyderm named Som. The elephant serves a metaphor for something, I suppose, which is left up to interpretation.

For me, it's that elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Yet it's there, and it needs a sackful of bananas to even make a dent in the huge appetite it has. Feed it, I say.

Related posts:

Review: The Fatality (Tok Tra Phee)

  • Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong
  • Starring Kenji Wu, Pitchanart Sakhakorn, Matt Wu, Somlek Sakdikul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on January 15, 2009
  • Rating: 2/5

Thai officialdom's obsession with stamps and forms manifests itself vividly in The Fatality, a rather odd psychological ghost thriller .

Somehow, a mentally disturbed 30-year-old man from Taipei finds himself waking up out of a coma in a hospital in a small coastal town in Thailand.

A woman is at his bedside, calling him Assanee. But that's not his name. His name is Her Sue Yong. And besides, he can't speak Thai. He leaps from his bed and runs, and the nurses give chase.

In Taiwan, he was a bedraggled, long-haired scavenger. He had a disfigured face. But in Thailand, the skin on his face is smooth and his hair is short. He's a clean-cut young man with a beautiful wife. And he has a job as a civil servant in a government office. His inability to speak Thai is no problem at work. Heck, there's even a deaf-mute on the staff. All Assanee has to do is wait for people to hand him forms, and he stamps them. Seems easy enough.

But things that aren't quite right. For one thing, the woman named Nakul (Pitchanart Sakhakorn) - Assanee's wife - doesn't seem very happy to have Assanee out of his coma. And this new Assanee has some pretty disturbing habits, like yanking on the steering wheel when she's driving to avoid hitting an imaginary oncoming car. Plus, she had another guy that started coming around while Assanee was in a coma. So her feelings are divided.

Gradually though, Assanee, or Her Sue Yong, starts to come around. He learns to speak Thai and gets back into the groove at work, with counselling from Dr. Stanley (Matt Wu). The doctor didn't want to accept Assanee as a case, but being the only one one on staff who can speak Mandarin, the duty fell to him. And it turns out that Dr. Stanley has quite an important role to play.

But Assanee is seeing dead people. They are around every corner. They fill the tunnel he has to drive through to get to work. He can't get them to leave him alone. They keep presenting papers to him.

The papers are death certificates, and Assanee learns that it's his duty to stamp them. He's the only civil servant who dead people in Thailand can come to, to have their certificates duly stamped so they can get out of limbo. And what a stamp it is - not your typical little rubber thing with an ink pad - it's a huge iron press with gears and a lever, and it's in a passage underneath a trap door in the floor behind his desk at work. It leaves a big, bloody, slimy mark of a wheel on the paper -- the same mark Assanee/Her Sue Yong has on one of his arms. So Assanee spends his nights catching up on stamping those certificates. At dawn, he's still at the office, sleeping on the floor where the trap door appears.

His wife wakes him up in the morning, and it turns out that Assanee was doing this before he slipped into a coma. She tries to have the bad spirits exorcised by monks, but the ceremony doesn't work out as planned.

It's unclear how Assanee went into a coma in the first place, but Assanee's soul and the soul of the suicidal, depressed Her Sue Yong are clearly linked. Lines that shouldn't be crossed are. Assanee's malevolent personality emerges and there is a confusing and complex battle between souls.

The Fatality starts off well enough with small, creepy little jump scares. But when ghosts are popping out of every nook and cranny, well, it just gets old quick and it's not scary anymore.

Still, the atmosphere is unsettling, mostly at the creeky old Victorian-age wooden office building Kenji works in.

There's game comic relief from Somlek Sakdikul, as Assanee's gregarious boss, and comic actress Pajaree na Nakorn as a chirpy co-worker. Character actor Ampon Rattanawong is hanging around in the scenery, helping to set Assanee up for a fall. And Wiyada Umarin, classic film actress of the 1970s, is in there somewhere.

The psychological drama is more palpable than the attempts at horror, and Kenji Wu is extremely watchable as the conflicted personality of Assanee/Her Sue Yong.

And there's the conflicting logic and motivation of Pitchanart's character Nakul, who can't make up her mind whether she wants Assanee back or whether she loves Her Sue Yong or maybe she'll run off with that other guy who was hanging around.

That's where the movie runs into frustrating trouble, and ultimately ends up being a disappointment - it fails to come to any kind of logical conclusion and never makes up its mind about what kind of movie it wants to be.

Related posts:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The 'Village Escapist Cinema' of Phranakorn

In an article in yesterday's Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee introduces the term "Village Escapist Cinema" to describe the movies put out by Phranakorn Film, the makers of such contemporary classics as Headless Hero (Phii hau khaat, Headless Hero 2, Headless Family, The Holy Man (Luang Phee Teng), Holy Man 2, Three Cripples and Black Family.

The company's mind-numbing comedies and horror comedies feature generally the same cast of TV and cafe comics, doing the same schtick, running and screaming from the same non-scary ghosts in movie after movie. The plots are usually nonsense to begin with, and by the end are pretty much jettisoned, so all that is left is a loosely strung-together collection of double entendres, idiotic puns and scatological sight gags that are so bad they actually smell.

Decry Phranakorn all you want for contributing to the dumbing down of society, but neither the studio nor its target audience cares about such criticism.

Phranakorn Film was set up in 2001 by the Thanarungroj family, owners of the Thana chain of cinemas in rural central and northern Thailand. The film company's general manager is Thawatchai Phanpakdee. Here's a bit of what he had to say in yesterday's article (cache):

They call us 'the hillbilly hotshot', 'the backwoods producer', but we don't mind that," says Thawatchai, a lively man in stylish glasses. "It's true that we know what the viewers in the provinces want to see, because we've known them for 30 years. In the old days I would travel to temple fairs and school fairs in a remote district to supervise the screenings of outdoor films; I would tour the backwoods for months to show movies and collect the share. That's why we can see things from the ground level, as the viewers do, and that's why we can make films that fit with their taste. If we're a hillbilly, well, that's who we are!

"Movies by Phranakorn Film don't make much money in central Bangkok," continues Thawatchai. "We collect very little from, say, cineplexes around Siam Square and Ratchaprasong, because the audience prefers other stuff. But our movies do extremely well in Bang Kae, Bang Phli, Rama II, Ngam Wong Wan, Rangsit, all the way to Pathum Thani and Nakhon Pathom and further up - in those areas we are very, very strong. Our audience is [made up of] factory workers, vendors, guards, taxi drivers, and also office workers looking for something simple and fun."

The entire article is well worth a read for a further appreciation of the state of Thailand's movie industry.

The types of movies that Phranakorn makes have always been around. It's just that the New Thai Cinema movement (or Thai New Wave) that internationalized Thai film in the late 1990s and early 2000s was part of a resurgence of the domestic industry, which had fell into the doldrums in the late '80s and early '90s. Along with the films by the likes of Nonzee Nimibutr and Prachya Pinkaew pulling urban Thais back to the cinemas, there were also movies by Phranakorn drawing the rural and suburban crowds.

And other studios like Sahamongkol and especially RS Film are guilty of making "those kinds of movies" as well. They even use largely the same cast as the Phranakorn movies, so often I'll mistake one of the other companies' crappy-looking comedies for being from Phranakorn.

I am sometimes deluded enough to think I have an open mind when it comes to movies. But not really. Most of those movies I do not bother going to see because I know they are not made for discerning hipster-snobs like me. When I see a poster or watch a preview for a Phranakorn film, and I have no clue as to what it's about, it's humbling, and it kind of hurts -- the notion that there's movies like that, which I will never "get".

Ironically, or perhaps not, whenever Phranakorn has tried to make something to appeal to the international market, it's failed miserably. One example was last year's Hanuman: The White Monkey Warrior, which was barely watchable. Their most recent, the action-fantasy Deep in the Jungle, I thought, was probably their best film yet, which still isn't really saying much. Tellingly, it failed to catch fire with audiences in Thailand.