Saturday, February 28, 2009

New culture minister on film ratings, National Film Archive's status

With a Thai government that looks like it might take hold and last longer than just a few months, there's a new culture minister, Teera Slukpetch, a Democrat from Trat. He's had a chance to get down to work, approving two measures that could well prove historic for Thai cinema.

Kong Rithdee in Friday's Bangkok Post relays the news that not only is Teera overseeing the implementation of Thailand's forthcoming motion-picture ratings system, replacing the 1930 censorship law, he's also signed off on a measure that raises the National Film Archive to the level of a public organization.

Here's more from the article (cache):

He didn't hesitate to disapprove of censorship "as it was practised before", yet he acknowledged the fact that the new Film Act contains a clause that still gives the state the power to ban films from showing in Thailand if they are considered offensive.

"In the old system, the committee could order filmmakers to cut scenes from their movies, and to me that's not the right way. It wasn't good to the creative people," said the minister. "In the new law ... the rating system serves as a guideline, so filmmakers can apply for permission by sticking to one of the ratings. The new law also deems that the rating committee be made up of representatives from the industry, so it's not just the officers making the decision."


"The ban order is in place, yes, but there are many other steps before that," said Mr Teera. "And if the filmmaker believes the verdict is not fair, he can appeal to the national film board, chaired by the Prime Minister himself, or he can go all the way to put the case before the court. I insist that the idea is to give more freedom to artists. I followed the recent case of the Thai film [Syndromes and a Century] that had problems with the censors in Thailand even though it was famous abroad, and I don't wish to see that happen again."

It may not be easy to shake loose the popular perception that the ministry's priority is restricting and not encouraging. "Our job is not to find fault, but to monitor," he said.

His statement about Syndromes and a Century could be taken two ways -- does it mean that all Thai films will have to be submitted to censors before they are shipped to overseas fests, and then cut or banned if there's anything objectionable -- the "Thailand cut" would be the only version -- or will filmmakers be able to show what they want, as long as it's within the restrictions of the ratings system?

There's still a lot of confusion about how the film ratings will work in practice -- the rules about what can be in a film and what can't are quite complex.

Still, Teera sounds like a perfectly level-headed and fair kind of guy. Is he for real? Even his dislike for Thais who dye their hair blond comes across as reasonable. Maybe he'll stick around for a bit and get some real work done and actually promote Thai culture rather than try to control it. I just hope he steers clear of measures that make his ministry a laughing stock.

Teera's endorsement of the new structure for the National Film Archive is encouraging. It means the Archive will have fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through as it seeks to increase its budget and get down to the important work of preserving Thai films -- and Thai culture.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wonderful Town in limited re-release; Pop Pictures gets a new website

After Wonderful Town's haul of five trophies at the Subhanahongsa Awards -- the equivalent of Slumdog Millionaire winning the Oscars -- Aditya Assarat's indie romantic drama has been re-released in a limited two-week run in Bangkok.

It's playing at 2.15 and 7.45pm daily until March 11 at SFW CentralWorld, and will probably also play at SF Cinema's outlets in Pattaya and Phuket after that.

Also in celebration, Wonderful Town's production company, Pop Pictures, has unveiled a new website, featuring photos from the Subhanahongsa ceremony, a page on their next project, High Society, past projects like Dreamchaser and Motorcycle, pages on filmmakers and links to other Thai film websites.

Wonderful Town, by the way, is due out on DVD in the U.S. on Tuesday (March 3).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: Before Valentine

  • Directed by Songsak Mongkolthong, Pornchai Hongrattanaporn, Seree Phongnithi
  • Starring Tanachut Tunlayachat, Klaokaew Sinteppadon, Thanakrit Panichwid, Diana Chungjingtanakarn, Jaturong Mokjok, Warapun Nguitragool Saptanaudom, Prem Busarakamwong, Sita Thanunchotikan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on February 5, 2009 (sneak previews from January 29, 2009)
  • Rating: 3/5

Three couples in different stages of life -- teenage years, 30s and 40s -- try to work out the kinks in their relationships on the day before Valentine's Day.

Three directors handle the intertwining segments of Before Valentine (ก่อนรัก...หมุนรอบตัวเรา, Konrak Mun Rob Tua Rao), an ensemble romance from Five Star Production.

Songsak Mongkolthong directs the teenage love story of 14-year-old schoolkids Joke (Boonchu 9's Tanachut Tunlayachat) and Jib (Klaokaew Sinteppadon). The awkward boy Joke can't seem to find a way to tell the neighbor girl Jib that he loves her, possibly because he's not even sure what love is.

Pornchai Hongrattanaporn takes the 30-year-old courting lovers Sutee ("Wan" Thanakrit Panichwid) and Chidchanok (Diana Chungjingtanakarn). Sutee is finally ready to ask Chidchanok to marry him, while she wants to break up.

And Seree Phongnithi focuses on the 40-year-old bickering married couple of Hia (Jaturong Mokjok, credited as Jaturaong Plaboon) and Jae (Warapun Nguitragool Saptanaudom), who run a flower shop.

The story with the most emotional resonance and comedy is that of the married couple, which has a younger fourth couple of Jack (Prem Busarakamwong) and Mam (Sita Thanunchotikan) to bounce off of. Here are the usual tropes of romantic comedy, of secrets and planned surprises breeding misunderstandings and jealousy, leading to Mam downing a bottle of expensive whisky and ending up in bed with Hia, and then Jack punching Hia, laying the older man out on the floor.

The 30-somethings, meanwhile, break up over lunch. They utter their words, "I want to marry you" and "I want to break up" at the same time. They go their separate ways, but somewhat confusingly at first, they continue to talk to one another in their own minds. Chidchanok, with a lopsided short haircut, imagines her on-again, off-again boyfriend in various guises. And Wan is pretty funny as he appears as a police officer, and later as a bathroom attendant, comforting her and questioning her decision. Sutee, whose version of Chidchanok still has long hair, tortures himself about whether he's ready for commitment.

The stylish flights of fancy of director Pornchai, aka Mr. Pink, are somewhat in evidence, from the clever opening title sequence in which the credits appear on actual items in the floral shop -- on ribbons, the sign on the window, on items in the cooler, on a greeting card, etc. -- to the super-saturated colors and herky jerky humor. Though he's just credited with directing the 30-year-old couple, it appears he had an influence on the entire proceedings.

Highlights include a dance routine by the teenyboppers and a war of the roses between the older couple.

But it's nowhere near as crazy as the drum battle of Mr. Pink's Bangkok Loco.

The comedy of Before Valentine is rather uneven and fitful. Emotionally, it failed to make a real connection for me, except for moments in the story arc of the older couple, who shared probably the best chemistry.

There is a connection between the three couples, but it isn't made evident until the very end, though there are clues throughout -- roses being a common theme, and goldfish.

Related posts:

(Thanks to Todd Brown at for shaming me into writing this belated review)

New haircut, new name for Tony Jaa

Action star Tony Jaa has changed his formal Thai name to Thatchakorn Yeerum (ทัชชกร ยีรัมย์). According to an item by Soopsip in today's Daily Xpress, it means “the great inventor”.

The new name goes with the spiky, short haircut he was sporting at Sunday's Subhanahongsa Awards, where he was up for his first best-actor nomination.

His stage name Tony Jaa will remain.

Name changes are common in Thai culture, where people will adopt an auspicious new moniker to change their luck.

According to a forum thread at this isn't the first time Tony has changed his name.

Before he starred in Ong-Bak, he went by the name Worawit Yeerum.

Update: Lyn's Lakorns has more on this.

(Via Daily Xpress; Daily Xpress photo by Warisara Wuthikul)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Liverpool's FACT previews Primitive

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's multi-screen video installation Primitive has opened at Haus der Kunst in Munich, where it will run until May 17. The exhibit then moves to the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool, where it runs from September 25 to November 29.

Ahead of Primitive's arrival in Liverpool, representatives from FACT went to the premiere in Munich to have a look at what they'll be getting.

From the FACT blog:

Primitive is without a doubt Apichatpong’s most political work so far. In fact many people get lost in Apichatpong’s sublime and mysterious images and fail to spot the more serious messages that often lurk underneath. Death, reincarnation, ghosts and soldiers feature in his work and Primitive is no exception. He made this work in Nabua, North East Thailand, which has a violent history of clashes between farmer communists and a totalitarian government-driven military who heavily occupied the region from the 1960s to the 1980s. People accused of being communists were brutally tortured, raped, murdered and driven from their homes, which has echoes with the current political turmoil in Thailand where freedom of speech is still limited, at a time where the Human Rights Watch World Report (published just this January '09) declares that “Thai security forces still faced little or no consequences for extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests of suspected insurgents” …and that… “after a sharp decline in 2007, new cases of enforced disappearances emerged again in 2008” (2009 Human Rights Watch Report (Events of 2008), published by the Human Rights Watch, January 2009, United States of America).

Primitive is about reimagining Nabua, a place where memories and ideologies have been extinguished. Apichatpong went to live in the village for three months during which time he asked local boys, the direct descendents of the farmer communists, to make new dreams in building a spaceship together in the ricefields. The video installation shows the boys constructing the spaceship on one screen, while they hang out and sleep inside the spaceship on another screen, awashed with a red glow (red being a highly significant colour for the artist that carries an abundance of associations). Narration describes a time machine, and in a way the spaceship acts as a time machine as it takes us between remembering the past and imagining the future of this new generation. On another screen you can see the young men dressed as soldiers, practicing firing a gun out of a window which shoots a passing boy in the fields, while on another screen explosions that hit the ground like lightening strikes, and a still portrait of a soldier set to the soundtrack of a boy playing a guitar and singing a song that almost had me in tears. Apichatpong has constructed a seating area at Haus der Kunst in the middle of the installation, covered in red carpet and strewn with cushions. This will be reconfigured at FACT (he wants to build a red mountain in the middle of the gallery – so watch this space!)

As part of Primitive, the short film Phantoms of Nabua is online at the Animate Projects website, where it will remain for anyone and everyone to watch over and over as many times as they like for as long as they can stay connected to the Internet -- the work was commissioned by Animate Projects, and they plan to keep Phantoms running online.

(Via the FACT blog)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

National Film Archive of Thailand going to the Singapore International Film Festival

Significant holdings of Thailand's National Film Archive will be on display at this year's Singapore International Film Festival. The website for the 22nd annual edition of SIFF has gone live and it's chock full of connections to Thai cinema.

Under special programs is 25 Years of the National Film Archive of Thailand, which features recently restored classic features, works by Ratana Pestonji and Vichit Kounavudhi and historical footage.

The two projects of the restoration work sponsored by the Thomson Foundation and Technicolor Thailand, The Boat House and King of the White Elephant will be shown.

From 1961, the restored version of The Boat House was unveiled last year in a one-off screening in Bangkok for VIPs. The general public had their chance to see the new print at the Bangkok International Film Festival. I had heard of plans to use The Boat House for a series of screenings to benefit the National Film Archive. I am not sure why those plans have not yet materialized (will they ever?), but perhaps the Singapore fest is a higher-profile venue for this highly entertaining cavalcade of music and action involving three roommates -- a policeman, a boxer-turned-bandit and an alcoholic singer -- who all fall for the daughter of their landlord.

King of the White Elephant was the first project of the Thai Technicolor restoration effort, and it was unveiled at 2007's inaugural Phuket Film Festival. The 1941 black-and-white historical-action epic is an important film for a number of reasons -- it's Thailand's oldest surviving complete feature film, it's an English-language film, and it was produced by statesman Pridi Banomyong for purposes of anti-war propaganda.

From pioneer director Ratana Pestonji, there will be a rare screening of Diamond Finger (Niew Phetr), a short documentary of a khon (masked dance) episode from the Ramayana. I'm not sure many people are aware of this work, which I first glimpsed snippets of last year in Chalida Uabumrungjit's documentary Signature: The Life and R.D. Pestonji, which will be shown alongside Diamond Finger in Singapore.

Recently released on DVD by the Thai Film Foundation, Pestonji's final feature, 1965's provocative romantic comedy Sugar Is Not Sweet, will also be shown. (It's also being shown at the Fringe Festival.)

And there's Son of the Northeast (Look Isan), from Vichet Kounavudhi, a contemporary of Pestonji's. A nature-filled 1982 drama that follows a family of subsistence farmers in 1930s northeast Thailand, it's probably Vichet's best film and is an enduring classic of Thai cinema.

Gems from the Thai Film Archive is a 63-minute compilation of historic footage, ranging from a one-minute clip of King Chulalongkorn's 1897 visit to Berne, Switzerland, to a 30-minute 1929 short by King Prajadhipok called The Magic Ring. Other works in Gems are a one-minute clip of the arrival of King Chulalongkorn by ship in Stockholm in 1897, 10 minutes of the coronation ceremony of King Rama VII from 1926, the surviving one minute of film from 1927's Double Luck, which is believed to be the first Thai-produced feature film, and 20 minutes of the Australsasian tour by Prince Purachatr of Kambangpetch.

This is great international exposure for Thailand's National Film Archive, which is trying to raise 10 million baht to fund the building of another climate-controlled vault.

By the way, the archive's director, Dome Sukwong, was honored for lifetime achievement at this year's Subahanahongsa Awards. I wonder if the Thai film industry will back that honor with generous financial assistance for the Archive? Perhaps instead of spending money on anti-piracy efforts that aren't really stopping piracy, Thailand's film industry group could direct resources to preserving Thai film?

More Thai films are featured in other sections of the Singapore festival.

The Cinema Today section has The Convert (Muallaf), last year's documentary by Panu Aree, Kaweeipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee on a Buddhist Thai woman's marriage and conversion into Islam.

And there's A Moment in June, O Nathapon's lush romantic drama that looks like a 1960s or '70s Thai film. It premiered last year and is playing in Thai cinemas now.

There's a new management team for the Singapore fest -- Wahyuni A. Hadi and Zhang Wenjie were appointed directors after last year's festival, with founding festival directors Philip Cheah, Lesley Ho and Teo Swee Leng stepping aside. (Cheah remains a board member.) And there's a new section called In Focus, which looks to "reflect and examine the state of the world today, going behind the headlines to reveal the stories that need to be hear".

Part of that new section is Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia, which premiered at the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam. Disappointingly, it will be screened in the less-than-ideal classroom-style setup at Singapore's Goethe Institut -- that's why it's free. Lav Diaz's 450-minute Melancholia is showing at that venue too. But I'll hold out hope that it comes to Bangkok and shows in a proper cinema.

Lastly, there's the opening film, Sincerely Yours (Qilu Tianang), which is also part of the Asian Feature Film Competition for the Silver Screen Awards. By Singaporean director Rich Lee, Sincerely Yours stars Banlop Lomnoi from Tropical Malady as a Thai migrant named Supawong who's working illegally in Taiwan. He strikes up a relationship with another illegal worker, a Javanese woman named Setia (Lola Amaria).

Also, Ananda Everingham is a juror for the Asian Feature Film Competition.

The 22nd Singapore International Film Festival runs from April 14 to 25.

(Thanks Stefan!)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wonderful Town wins five Subanahongsa Awards

The indie romantic drama Wonderful Town was the biggest winner at Sunday night's Subhanahongsa Awards (รางวัลภาพยนตร์แห่งชาติ สุพรรณหงส์), the Thai film industry's biggest awards bash.

Written and directed by Aditya Assarat and produced by his Pop Pictures, Wonderful Town won best picture, best director and best screenplay, as well as best art direction and best cinematography. A haunting love story set in a small town in Phuket Province after the 2004 tsunami, Wonderful Town had been nominated for eight awards in all. The independent film won accolades at several festivals in 2007 and 2008 and finally played in Thailand in a limited release last year.

The best actor prize went to Ananda Everingham for his role in the romantic comedy-drama Happy Birthday as the obsessive caretaker boyfriend of a comatose woman.

Best actress was Ratchawin Wongviriya. She starred in the love-triangle drama Rak/Sam/Sao as part of a trio of best friends who keeps her true feelings under wraps.

The best supporting actor trophy went to veteran actor Sorapong Chatree for his role as the leader of a group of bandits and mentor to Tony Jaa's character in Ong-Bak 2. Sorapong, earlier this year named a National Artist, was a double nominee in the category, having also been noted for his part as a hermit sorcerer in Queens of Langkasuka. Ong-Bak 2 had been nominated for seven awards, including best actor for Jaa.

The best supporting actress was Focus Jirakul for playing a pop-idol obsessive teenager in the ensemble romance Hormones.

Nonzee Nimbutr's lavish historical pirate fantasy Queens of Langkasuka scored three awards in the technical categories, winning best sound, best costumes and best visual effects.

Another indie film, the psychological thriller The 8th Day was a top nominee as well, and it won for best score and best costumes.

Here's the list of winners:

  • Best picture -- Wonderful Town
  • Best director -- Wonderful Town
  • Best actor -- Ananda Everingham, Happy Birthday
  • Best actress -- Ratchawin Wongviriya (Rak/Sam/Sao)
  • Best supporting actor -- Sorapong Chatree (Ong-Bak 2)
  • Best supporting actress -- Focus Jeerakul (Hormones)
  • Best screenplay -- Wonderful Town
  • Best visual effects -- Queens of Langkasuka
  • Best editing -- 4Bia
  • Best cinematography -- Wonderful Town
  • Best song -- "Jab Mue Chan" by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee (Handle Me With Care)
  • Best original score -- The 8th Day
  • Best sound -- Queens of Langkasuka
  • Best art direction -- Wonderful Town
  • Best costume design -- Queens of Langkasuka
  • Best make up -- The 8th Day
  • Lifetime Achievement Award -- Dome Sukwong, Thailand National Film Archive

The ceremony was on Sunday night at the Thailand Cultural Center in front of an audience of around 1,000. The Subhanahongsa Awards are handed out by the industry organization, the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, and are generally touted as the "Thai Oscars".

Update: Lyn's Lakorns has lots of photos. MThai has an interesting gallery too.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has a report. (cache)

(Via Daily Xpress, Deknang/Popcornmag, Dara Daily)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Teaser for Buppha Rahtree 3 (Rahtree Reborn)

One of 2009's many sequels, Buppha Rahtree 3 (บุปผาราตรี 3, also Rahtree Reborn) is due in cinemas on April 9.

The third installment in Yuthlert Sippapak's cult ghost franchise returns to the haunted Room 609, with the same wild mix of gore and comedy and "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak for another turn as the vengeful co-ed. But this time she has a new boyfriend -- it's Mario Maurer her "brother" from The Love of Siam.

The movie follows the 2003 original and the 2005 sequel.

Lyn's Lakorn Blog has a batch of images, and Deknang has a thread on Popcorn Mag.

The teaser is on YouTube and it's embedded below.

(Via Deknang)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Love of Siam at San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

Chukiat Sakweerakul's The Love of Siam will be featured at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which runs from March 12 to 22. It's scheduled for March 14 at the Castro and March 22 at Camera Cinemas.

Here's the festival synopsis:

A groundbreaking teen love story, The Love of Siam is a moving gay romance that took Thailand by storm. Mew and Tong are childhood neighbors and become good friends after Tong protects Mew from bullies. Tragedy strikes when Tong's sister disappears, however, and soon Tong's grief-stricken family moves away. Years later, the two boys are reunited in Siam Square, a trendy teenage hangout in Bangkok, where Mew often performs with a now-popular boy band. Rekindling their affections after all these years, the two must decide if their feelings for one another are as friends, or something more. When they discover that Mew's manager looks exactly like Tong's long-lost sister, a different kind of decision is made, one that may create other problems, or a novel solution to Tong's father's grief.

Dealing with both the complexities of family life and teen love, The Love of Siam pushes cultural boundaries further by dealing with sexuality in an honest manner rarely seen in Thai commercial film. Despite its controversial subject matter, it managed to win over both audiences and critics at home, winning all major awards and achieving huge box-office success. It also ignited websites, message boards and a slew of online fan fiction that continued the story of Tong and Mew. Chosen to represent Thailand at the 2009 Academy Awards [but not nominated], The Love of Siam is a well-crafted, affecting drama that captures the vibrancy of Thai pop culture and its modern capitol.

It's the 158-minute commercial cut. Good to see this movie still having legs on the festival circuit, two years on.

Meanwhile, the English-subtitled DVD, including the three-hour director's cut, is available from Taiwan.

Twitch, The Evening Class, film-415)

1,000-to-1 shot at Oscar for Laotian filmmaker

While wagering on the top-tier categories at the Academy Awards is nothing new, it never occurred to me that oddsmakers would take bets on every category and nuance of the awards. But people will bet on anything.

And for best documentary feature, Salon offers its picks, with the no-brainer favorite (2-1 odds) being Man on Wire.

Among the nominees is The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), which Salon gives a 1,000-1 chance of winning.

It's co-directed by Thavisouk Phrasavath, and even if he doesn't win, this Laotian-American filmmaker still joins a pretty exclusive fraternity of Southeast Asians to get an Oscar nomination. According to Bisean, the others so far are Dr. Haing S. Ngor, the late Cambodian actor who won for his supporting role in 1984's The Killing Fields, and French-Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran, whose The Scent of the Green Papaya was nominated for best foreign language film in 1994.

Screened last year at the Bangkok International Film Festival (sadly, I didn't have time to see it), The Betrayal is co-directed by Thavisouk and cinematographer Ellen Kuras, and tells the story of Thavisouk's flight from Laos as a 12-year-old, swimming the Mekong to Thailand and eventually ending up in Brooklyn, where his mother and seven of his nine siblings joined him. It's an epic tale, taking in the Secret War in Laos, the disappearance of Thavisouk's father, who fought against the communist Pathet Lao, and the Phrasavath family's disillusionment at the ugly reality of urban America.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Film ratings draft law approved by cabinet

A film-ratings system to replace the 1930 Censorship Act is expected to be in place by May after the draft regulations were approved on Tuesday by the Cabinet.

Daily Xpress has a story.

According to the article, the ratings system is divided into seven categories:

  • General Audiences -- No sex, abusive language or violence.
  • Promote -- Films that should be promoted on the basis of cultural or artistic merit.
  • 13 -- No violence, brutality, inhumanity, bad language or indecent gestures.
  • 15 -- Some violence, brutality, inhumanity, bad language or indecent gestures will be allowed.
  • 18 -- No exposed genitalia, crime or drugs.
  • 20 -- Sex scenes are allowed but no exposed genitalia.
  • Ban -- Films that offend the monarchy, threaten national security, hamper national unity, insult faiths, disrespect honourable figures, challenge morals or contain explicit sex scenes.

I am uncertain about the wording of the "18" classification. No "crime"? Really? None at all? That means that just about every movie that comes out can only be seen by viewers over 20, because just about every movie has some form of crime happening.

The "exposed genitalia" ban is also going to be problematic, so maybe they will still be doing pixellation censorship?

What about film festivals? Do all films shown by all the film festivals have to be submitted to the ratings board?

I wonder if there will be an official English translation of the draft law?

Prachya Pinkaew was among the directors sitting on the board that drafted the ratings regulations. The new rules govern the operation of the Film Act of 2007, which was approved in a flurry of lawmaking by the National Legislative Assembly in December 2007.

By the way, anybody want to guess what movie that image is from?

Update: Good comments coming in on this. Daily Xpress has a followup story on plans by the Film Directors Association to hold seminars to try and explain things and assure everyone that everything is going to be okay. Also, Red and White has thoughts. And Variety has an article, but it's just a rewrite of yesterday's Daily Xpress/Nation story.

(Via Daily Xpress, AsiaOne)

Ong-Bak 2 to make international festival premiere at midnight at SXSW

Fear not Tony Jaa fans in North America -- it looks like you won't have to wait as long as you thought to see Ong-Bak 2. It makes its international festival premiere at South by Southwest next month in Austin, Texas.

When I learned recently that Austin's Fantastic Fest had joined with SXSW to program a lineup of midnight movies, I thought that Ong-Bak 2 would be a perfect midnight feature. Then U.S. distributor Magnolia swooped in and bought the rights, giving the well-connected programmers some friendly people to deal with. Ong-Bak 2 is the opening film in the Fantastic Fest at Midnight shows.

SXSW runs from March 13 to 22.

This is only the beginning of festival appearances for Ong-Bak 2, which is also scheduled for the Far East Film Festival in Italy. Now, how about a summer release for that DVD in the U.S., instead of waiting for Christmas?

(Via @rodneydp, Twitch)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Marsha starring in 'top secret' GTH project

Alone star Marsha Wattanapanich is at work on a "top secret" project with GMM Tai Hub, according to an item in today's Soopsip column in Daily Xpress.

Filming starts in a couple of months, Soopsip says.

“I can’t say anything, except that it’s a real surprise role for me,” the singer-actress is quoted as saying. “I think moviegoers will be in tears.”

The Soopsip item also dwelled on Marsha's divorce from "Nui" Amphol Lampoon. The couple had one son together.

Marsha won the best actress award at last year's Subhanahongse Awards for her role in Alone, playing Siamese twin sisters who are separated, and then one dies and comes back to haunt the survivor.

Off the page, talk around the office centered on Marsha's appearance in the photo. I wasn't sure it was Marsha, and sought confirmation from my co-workers. One thought she'd lost too much weight. Also, why a turtleneck? And what's up with those bangs?

(Photo via Daily Xpress by Warisara Wuthikul)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Apichatpong's Phantoms of Nabua to premiere online

Phantoms of Nabua, a short film that is part of the multi-platform Primitive project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, will premiere online on Wednesday, February 18, at the Animate Projects website:

Here is more about the short, in Apichatpong's own words, from the Animate Projects website:

The film’s setting is a rear projection of Nabua (from the Primitive installation) and a recreation of a fluorescent light pole back in my hometown. I used this setting as a playground for the teens who emerged from the dark with a football raging with fire. They took turns kicking the ball that left illuminated trails on the grass. Finally they burned the screen which revealed behind it a ghostly white beam of a projector.

Like A Letter To Uncle Boonmee, Phantoms of Nabua is a portrait of home. The film portrays a communication of lights, the lights that exude, on the one hand, the comfort of home and, on the other, of destruction.

Nabua is a village in northeast Thailand that the filmmaker visited as part of research for his next film project. It had been at the center of the Thai government's fight to wipe out communist insurgents back in the day.

Phantoms of Nabua accompanies another short film, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, which will have its world premiere on February 20 at the Film Museum in Munich. On the same day, Apichatpong's much-anticipated Primitive installation opens at Haus der Kunst in Munich, where it runs until May 17. Primitive then moves to FACT in Liverpool from September 25 to November 29.

As part of "the Year of Apichatpong Weerasethakul", there will be a 200-page monograph edited by James Quandt from Wallflower Press. There will also be a Primitive book, due later in the year from by Edizioni Zero in Milan.

And plans are in the works for a feature film component to all this Uncle Boonmee: A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

More on this massive project is at Electric Sheep.

(Via Electric Sheep)

Children of the Dark to see the light in Bangkok

Pulled from last year's Bangkok International Film Festival because higher-ups decided it was "inappropriate", the Thailand-set Japanese drama Children of the Dark will be shown next week at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

Part of the FCCT's Contemporary World Cinema series, the screening will be followed by a panel discussion with director Junji Sakamoto, Bangkok-based Japanese producer Masaomi Karasaki and members of the Thai cast, including actor Praptpadol Suwanbang. Last year, Sakamoto flew into Bangkok and used the FCCT as his forum to protest the banning of his film.

Children of the Dark is a drama about a Japanese reporter in Bangkok who finds out that the heart donated to an ailing Japanese child was harvested from a Thai child prostitute. The discovery draws him into the dark world of child-sex slavery, pedophilia and black-market organ trafficking. Here's more from the FCCT bulletin:

Based on the book Blood and Bones by Japan-based Korean author Sogil Yan, acclaimed Japanese director Sakamoto, noted for his insightful and intense human dramas, creates a film that deeply moves and disturbs.

The film has undergone three minor "cuts" at our request, but that does not detract from the impact of the explicit scenes.

Children of the Dark premiered at the prestigious Karlovy Vary festival (held annually in the Czech Republic) and was also screened at the Hawaii International Film Festival. It was to be shown at the 2008 Bangkok International Film Festival, but was dropped at the last moment because it was considered "inappropriate."

However, the controversy helped ticket sales in Japan, and from an original seven theatres, the film was released at more than 100 cinemas, with a PG-12 rating.

The much-respected Japanese director has several top stars of his country acting in the film, including Yosuke Eguchi (reporter), Aoi Miyazaki (NGO worker), Satoshi Tsumabuki (photographer), and veteran Koichi Sato (father of the stricken Japanese child).

But it's the young, unprofessional children of the film who almost steal the limelight from the big stars. Director Sakamoto auditioned more than 300 children for the roles. Also in the film, is Thai actor Praptpadol Suwanbang as the abused child prostitute-turned-pimp. (His previous movie was the well-known historical drama Naresuan).

Even the hardened members of the FCCT can't stomach the film uncut.

The showtime is at 7:30pm on Thursday, February 19. I'm not sure if reservations are accepted, so it's best to arrive plenty early if you want to try and get a seat, because if you show up at the last minute, you'll be left standing in the back of the bar.

Update: Asia Media Forum has coverage from the screening, with FCCT officials saying the cuts involved some obscenities and that no visuals were cut.

Related posts:

Nymph for Cannes?

A speculative Screen Daily article lists Pen-ek Ratanaruang's jungle-bound thriller Nymph as a possibility for the Palme d'Or lineup at the Cannes Film Festival.

Here's more (cache):

[S]electors at the Cannes Film Festival are facing such a deluge of films from the world's greatest auteurs that many will no doubt be rejected from official selection.

The lineup of titles ready for the May 13-24 festival is daunting, and many of the filmmakers involved are accustomed to competition slots.


2009 offers a particularly strong lineup of films from Asia led by Park Chan-wook's vampire drama Thirst (Korea), Tsai Ming-Liang's France-set Face (Taiwan), Hirokazu Kore-eda's Air Doll (Japan), Johnnie To's Vengeance (Hong Kong/France) starring French legend Johnny Hallyday, Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Warrior and the Wolf (China), Pen-ek Ratanaruang's supernatural drama Nymph (Thailand), Bong Joon Ho's Mother (Korea) and Hong Sang-Soo's latest (Korea) which has yet to be titled in English.

Sounds great, and the main lineup of Cannes is overdue for a title by a Thai auteur. I'm just not sure Nymph, which is currently in production, will be ready in time.

The Cannes lineup will be announced on April 23.

(Via CHUD, The Playlist)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Good reception for Citizen Juling in Berlin; Mammoth wooly

Citizen Juling, the sprawling documentary on southern Thailand, was the lone Thai film selected for the Berlin Film Festival this year, playing in the Forum section.

Kong Rithdee had a report on the film's reception in Friday's Bangkok Post, saying that a lot of people stuck it out through the documentary's 222 minutes -- unusual for a festival where audience members tend to vote with their feet and leave a screening if they don't like what they're seeing.

Here's more (cache):

One question from German viewers was whether the movie had been seen by Thais. To which Ing K, one of the directors, replied that Citizen Juling was shown, unofficially, at two schools in the South, as well as at the Bangkok International Film Festival last year. "When we go back," she continued, "we will submit the film to the censors, and hopefully we'll get the permission to release it in theatres."

Ing K is a cagey one. I can't recall what in Citizen Juling would have to be censored, though in the current political environment when there are many sensitive issues causing a lot of anxiety, it's best to be cautious I suppose.

By the way, all three of Citizen Juling's directors -- Ing K, Manit Sriwanichpoom and Kraisak Choonhavan -- have works in the Bangkok 226 exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. The show actually closes tomorrow (February 15). Apologies for not mentioning this sooner. The center has had two remarkable exhibitions already, both with relevance to Thai cinema, and I need to make a better effort at writing about them in this space.

Back to Berlin. Kong also mentions a movie with Thai ties -- Mammoth, which was in the main competition for the Golden Bear. The first English-language feature by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, it stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams as a pair of young career-focused parents. Their little girl is cared for by a Filipina nanny, whose own children back home miss her very much. Bernal's character ends up in Thailand, where he "has encounters with, guess what, Thai prostitutes, and also with, guess again, an elephant." A globe-spanning drama that sounds very similar to Babel -- though Moodysson brushes off those concerns -- the title actually refers to a $3,000 ballpoint pen that Bernal's character is shown by his boss, played by Thomas McCarthy.

Mammoth (trailer at YouTube) was pretty well trashed by critics according to Kong, and an Agence France-Presse story says the reaction at a press screening was "hostile ... with many viewers calling the ending unsatisfying and trite."

Hanging around the set of Agrarian Utopia

In his latest "Programmers Chronicles", the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Gertjan Zuilhof writes about being among the "hangers-on" on a film set, contrasting his experience with being in bustling Jakarta, where Garin Nugroho was filming his Blue Generation with the rock band Slank to his visit to the rural, remote Chiang Rai set of Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia, which won a NETPEC special mention at Rotterdam this year.

I've been anxious to see Agrarian Utopia since I saw Uruphong's earlier work Stories from the North, and I'm even more interested now that Zuilhof reveals a bit about how Uruphong works. Here's more:

Under the title Agrarian Utopia, [Uruphong] wanted to portray a community of rice farmers through the cycle of seasons. A community that still works with traditional tools, without machines or electricity. The unusual thing about the plan is that it is actually fiction. He rented a paddy field ... and asked several local farmers and their wives to work it for him. Then I would say you have a set, a location and a cast. It looks no different from the rice fields around it where everyone was also hard at work. Uruphong says the difference is in the story. He follows his performers like real farmers and also interviews them. He also introduced me to a neighbour who fitted in well with his story. The man had once worked at the university (as a sociologist, I think) and had withdrawn to a cottage in the rice paddies. He defended an even less cultivated way of growing rice. Instead of planting the typical sprigs in the mud, he just threw seeds on his land. The result was thought-provoking. You didn’t need to be a rice farmer for that.

His location is more an idea and a story. Maybe even a belief that man could live closer to nature. You can’t see or feel that the film will be special from his rice paddies (he asked me to stand in it with bare feet and that did awaken the nature man in me). It can however be deduced from the commitment of the filmmaker and the patience he displays in portraying what he always knew ... but what is inevitably disappearing.

Read his whole piece.

Zuilhof, who put together IFFR's Hungry Ghosts program this year, also has nice things to say about Uruphong's producer, Pimpaka Towira.

Update: The Jakarta Post has an overview of IFFR (cache).

See also:

Friday, February 13, 2009

The hungry horror of Asia

Filipino critic Noel Vera has written an essay on the Hungry Ghosts program at the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam, which fed audiences a slew of horror films from across Asia.

Among the Thai films in the Hungry Ghosts show was 4Bia, the four-segment omnibus from directors at GMM Tai Hub. In his essay, Vera, of the Critic After Dark blog, uses 4Bia as a jumping-off point to survey the current state of Asian horror cinema. Here's an excerpt from his article (say it with me in a Marlon Brando stage whisper), "The Horror! The Horror!":

Take for example 4Bia (Youngyooth Thongkonthun, Banjong Pisan-thanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom, Paween Purijitpanya, 2008). It's an omnibus with four short segments on four wildly differing subjects (a girl with a broken leg and her phone-texting stalker; a curse scribbled on a piece of paper; a quartet of friends on a fatal boating trip; a stewardess on a special flight delivering a dead passenger), told through four wildly differing approaches. If one can't observe common ground within a single film, how much more difficult is it to categorize the cinema of an entire continent?

That said, is there anything to be said about the current crop of Asian horror? A few cautious observations -- Asian filmmakers generally have lower budgets, are usually quicker to resort to low-tech gimmicks like extreme camera angles, trick editing, prosthetics, on-camera effects (with the additional benefit that said effects, not having undergone the unmistakable fading that results from being processed through computer software, seems sharper, altogether more real). They are thanks to the aforementioned lack of a large production budget less eager and more modest about displaying their monsters, wraiths, what-have-yous (with the additional benefit of generating more terror (thanks to the build-up) at the sudden entrance of a latex-and-corn-syrup creation than said creation has any right to expect).

They are on the whole (and I love this, the word being entirely appropriate to the theme of this portion of the festival) hungrier. What with smaller budgets, smaller audiences, and no guarantee that they'll see any of their money back, Asian filmmakers tend to take more chances, try more tricks, pour more energy and intensity and sheer unnerving fear into their films than their better braced Hollywood brothers. They believe in their projects, and no wonder -- they have little else (certainly not money!) they can pour into them.

I've noted that much of the source material often isn't new. 4Bia's four storylines are inspired by, respectively, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), James Wong's Final Destination (2000), Alejandro Amenabar's The Others (2001), and George Miller's segment [Nightmare at 20,000 Feet] in The Twilight Zone (1983) ...

In order, the segments are Yongyooth's suspenseful Happiness, Paween's gory Tit for Tat, Banjong's hilarious In the Middle (which directly referenced The Others, as well as Titanic and many, many other films) and Parkpoom's airborne thriller, Last Fright.

Of the four movies each segment references, the only one I've not seen is Final Destination, though, admittedly, it's been decades since I've seen Twilight Zone: The Movie.

I'm still a novice when it comes to viewing Asian horror and, I guess, horror in general. So I'm still figuring how to view horror films with a critical eye. The article makes me think that I need to lighten up, perhaps not be so damn critical and try to enjoy myself.

(Via Critic After Dark)

Another moment for A Moment in June

After an appearance on the festival circuit last year, the indie romantic drama A Moment in June has opened in wide release in Thai cinemas -- the obligatory Valentine's Day love story -- after being picked up for distribution by Sahamongkol Film International. Its Thai title is Na Khanarak (ณ ขณะรัก, or literally, "in the meantime, love"), but I think it is still listed as A Moment in June at the multiplexes.

It's a different version than the one that premiered in the New Currents competition at the Pusan International Film Festival, opened the World Film Festival of Bangkok and was part of the package of Thai films at the International Film Festival of India last year.

Director "O" Nathapon Wongtreenatrkoon has trimmed the movie by 6 minutes and 30 seconds and added a couple of new songs.

Daily Xpress has a story in which English-schooled O explains “I’ll do anything I can to make it work as a Thai film.” He also addresses the criticisms that the movie is slavish to Wong Kar-wai, and that his script -- written in English and translated into Thai -- has dialogue that seems unnatural.

“[Wong Kar-wai] has greatly influenced my thinking, as has my other favourite filmmaker, David Lean, so yes, his movies have inspired my film. But that doesn’t mean I have copied him. On the contrary, some scenes are meant as a tribute to his work.


Nathapon wrote the script in English and then let his actors translate their lines into Thai by themselves, resulting in some unnatural conversations, which local filmgoers may find a little offputting.

But the director isn’t worried, pointing out that the responses of local and foreign audiences are totally opposed, even toward the same character.

“It’s interesting to hear both sides. I’m surprised that my film can make people think so differently,” he says.

As a theatre and film graduate, O rather focuses on the characters’ ability to put across their feelings through emotions rather than lines.

“I’d rather concentrate on the emotional communication rather than dialogue, which sometimes has little meaning to the story. If I wanted to communicate just through dialogue, I’d rather make a radio drama than movie.”

A Moment in June stars Shahkrit Yamnarm, Krissada Sukosol, Sinitta Boonyasak, Deuntem Salitul, Suchao Pongvilai, Napaskorn Mit-Aim and Hiro Sano. Set in 1999, it focuses on a theater director (Shahkrit) who's staging play about a love triangle that's set in 1972 in Bangkok. He's going through a breakup with his boyfriend (Napaskorn). At the same time, an older couple (Suchao and Deuntem) is reunited after many years apart. Reality and the stage play, and the time between the decades, artfully fold into each other. The period setting and costuming is enhanced by an old song, "Tha Charom" by Charoen Nathanakorn, which is a refrain.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On DVD in Taiwan: Love of Siam Director's Cut

I never imagined that the day would come that I could write here that The Love of Siam: Director's Cut is available on DVD with English subtitles. I wasn't even sure that the commercial version of The Love of Siam would hit English-friendly DVD.

But after a great run in Taipei cinemas, where it remained for at least two and half months, Chukiat Sakveerakul's acclaimed gay teen romance and family drama has been released on DVD in Taiwan, with English subtitles.

The three-disc edition includes the three-hour Director's Cut (the commercial release was 2.5 hours), a Taiwan Meet and Greet, deleted scenes, a music video, making of, a concert by the cast and a photo gallery. It comes with a 2009 calender (while supplies last).

It's at YesAsia.

(Thanks Stephen!)

Plugging into Power Kids

Produced by Prachya Pinkaew and directed by Krissanapong Rachata, Power Kids (5 หัวใจฮีโร่ or Haa huajai heeroh, literally "five heart heroes") has been in the works for a couple of around four years, and follows a couple of other kids-in-action films from Sahamongkol, the pirate flick Salad Ta Diaw (Pirate of the Lost Sea) and Somtum, which starred Nathan Jones.

The cast of Power Kids includes "Grace" Narawan Techaratanaprasert and girlfighter Sasisa Jindamanee from Somtum. Young Sasisa made her debut in stunt maestro Panna Rittikrai's very violent Born to Fight, and so she's been trained from an early age in the art of being thrown around and landing a flying double-knee kick into the chest of a stuntman.

And if those kneecaps don't crush your chest, her killer dimples will swallow you whole.

There's also young male fighter, Nantawooti Boonrapsap, and Paytaai Wongkamlao -- son of Petchtai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao, and another female fighter, Pimchanok Leuwisetpaiboon.

And yes, that's Tom Yum Goong and The Rebel star Johnny Nguyen on the poster there, but according to a report by Todd Brown on, for overseas sales, Sahamongkol is playing down Nguyen's involvement in Power Kids because they want to focus on the young stars.

Todd has seen a promo reel at the European Film Market. Here's what he has to say:

Any fear that the level of action would be lower because of the age of the performers is completely unfounded. This thing is going to have child welfare activists in a tizzy. The double flying knee -- one of the young stars drives a knee into the side of a villain’s head, pushing him into another flying knee from another of the stars coming in the other direction -- and the closing shot of one of the kids smashing face first through a pane of glass were particular favorites.

Power Kids will be released on Thai cinemas on March 5.

Meanwhile, Somtum has just been reviewed by Nekoneko. Head on over to find out what she has to say about it.

Update: Conan Stevens (the other 7-foot-tall guy in Somtum) comments: "Finally it is coming out, over four years after we filmed in the movie. In fact, this is the movie that got me to move to Thailand in the first place." He has more on his blog. And now Twitch has a follow-up posting, including a trailer (embedded below).

Update 2: Deknang has a page and a Popcorn forum string.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ong-Bak 2 picked up by Magnolia

Once again, the good folks at Magnolia have come to the rescue, making a deal for the U.S. rights to Ong-Bak 2. The deal was announced yesterday at the European Film Market in Berlin.

Here's the press release:

The Wagner/Cuban Companies’ Magnolia Pictures announced today that it has acquired U.S. rights to the Thai martial arts epic Ong-Bak 2. The highly anticipated sequel to Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, a big success for Magnolia and one the most exciting new action properties of the last decade, Ong-Bak 2 is directed by star Tony Jaa, and delivers even more impressive martial arts wizardry that its predecessor. The film was originally released in Thailand in December of 2008, and will be released theatrically by Magnet (Magnolia’s genre label) later this year.

“When we first saw the original Ong-Bak, after picking our jaws off the floor, we knew we wanted to be in the Tony Jaa business. It put us on the map as a home for the best in genre fare, and helped make our genre label Magnet possible,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles. “We’re beyond thrilled to be able to carry the franchise forward and continue our relationship with Tony, Sahamongkol, and the entire creative team involved.”

“We are exceptionally happy with the deal with Magnolia,” said Gilbert Lim, executive vice president of Sahamongkol Film International. “They did a wonderful job with the release of the original Ong-Bak, and it feels great to be back in business again with Ong-Bak 2. I am certain that the movie is in great hands.”

The deal was negotiated by Tom Quinn, senior vice President of Magnolia, with Gilbert Lim of Sahamongkol Film International. Ong-Bak 3 is currently in production, and is slated for a December 2009 opening in Thailand.

Magnolia acquired EuropaCorp's version of the original Ong-Bak, which had been trimmed a bit and rescored. But other than that blip, the company has been releasing Thai movies uncut. They rescued Tears of the Black Tiger from the vaults of Miramax, which under Harvey Weinstein had changed the ending and then dumped the movie. Other releases on Magnolia/Magnet include Mum Jokmok's The Bodyguard (1 and 2), Dynamite Warrior, Sick Nurses, Mercury Man and just this week, Chocolate.

I think fans, and Sahamongkol, are extremely lucky to have a company like Magnolia around. With the economy in turmoil and less spending happening, deals like this are going to become increasingly rare. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Also, I guess you can forgot about the Hong Kong DVD having English subtitles. Just wait a little longer.

Update: Magnolia outbid several other companies to acquire the film, according to Screen Daily.

(Via, Kung Fu Cinema, 24 Frames per Second)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: Phrae Dum (Black Silk)

  • Directed by Ratana Pestonji
  • Starring Ratanavadi Ratanabhand, Tom Wisawachart, Seni Wisaneesarn
  • Released in 1961; available on DVD from the Thai Film Foundation
  • Rating: 5/5

Made in 1961, Ratana Pestonji's Phrae Dum (Black Silk or แพรดำ), is film noir -- Thailand's first -- with a Buddhist perspective.

The main characters cannot escape their karma.

Phrae is a young widowed woman who lives in a traditional-style Thai wooden house along a canal. She weaves silk and tends to her fields. She still wears black, long after her husband has died. She has a boyfriend, Tom, and it's through him that Phrae becomes caught in a web of deception and murder. Phrae repents for her part in what happened by becoming a Buddhist nun.

Ratana cast his own daughter, Ratanavadi Ratanabhand, as Phrae, who wears the black clothes of a mourning widow heavily. And when the time comes for her to shave her head, there's no skin wig -- it's the actress' real locks who fall under the razor. Such sacrifice for art.

To go into the elaborate scheming by Tom's greedy boss, the nightclub owner Seni, would be to spoil the fun of this drama. Briefly though, the plot involves a dead twin brother, a murder, a faked death, a kidnapping, another faked death and ultimately betrayal, prison and execution. Oh sure, there's a hole or two in that plot, but I still couldn't help but look on with amazement as the events breathlessly unfold.

Bleak as all that sounds, Black Silk is enlivened by music and dance -- a trademark of Pestonji -- and it's unabashedly colorful. Also, the sights and sounds of Bangkok of the early 1960s are captured, with streets scenes of the old tram, the Grand Palace and life along the canals.

It remains an influential and amazing film, with shades of Phrae Dum cropping up in the works of contemporary filmmakers Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng.

I'm thankful that the film has survived the years, and has been released on DVD by the Thai Film Foundation for everyone to enjoy.

Sahamongkol at EFM, screening Ong-Bak 2, talking up Ong-Bak 3 and selling Queens of Langkasuka

Aside from Fireball, there's another Thai action film screening at the European Film Market -- Ong-Bak 2.

Sahamongkol is in talks to sell Tony Jaa's magnum opus to the U.S., France, Italy and Japan, according to Screen Daily.

The sequel Ong-Bak 3, meanwhile, has begun production and is due for release on December 5, 2009, says its star and director, Tony Jaa.

An oblation ceremony to mark the beginning of production was held last week in Surin, and video of the event -- with Tony sporting a new haircut for his birthday (he turned 33 on February 5) -- is on YouTube. The forum has more details of the ceremony, which involved not only a meal for the Buddhist monks taking part in the ritual, but also dinner for 65 elephants.

Another historical epic is also in Berlin -- Sahamongkol sold Nonzee Nimibutr's Queens of Langkasuka to distributors in France, Germany and Turkey. It would be nice to see it picked up in an English-speaking territory, and get a DVD release -- but maybe that's hoping for too much.

EFM wraps up on February 15.

(Via Screen Daily)