Tuesday, June 23, 2009

French and Thai stars turn out for Largo Winch; sequel to be shot in Thailand

The sixth annual French Film Festival is running at Bangkok’s SF World Cinemas at CentralWorld until July 1. The invitation-only opening was last Thursday night, and Lekha J Shankar was there. She sent the following report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

Bangkok’s month of film festivals wraps up with French Film Festival, following the Italian Film Festival and then the World Comedy Film Festival.

Hopefully, this will lead to more movie audiences in a city that boasts of some of best movie theatres in the world – but simply not enough moviegoers to fully enjoy and appreciate them.

The opening film Largo Winch at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, was a well-attended affair, the chief attraction of the evening being the presence of the film’s director Jérôme Salle and star Tomer Sisley. Among the Thai stars at the event were actor Sakda Kaewbuadee (a regular in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films) and commercial names like Sonia Couling, Dom Hetrakul and Akara Amarttayakul.

Akara was seen interviewing the French actor and director for Sahamongkol Film's satellite Mongkol Channel, presented by Parichart Borisute.

Also present at the opening were the chief programmers of the upcoming Bangkok International Film Festival (September 24 to 30) -- artistic director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon as well as programmers Pimpaka Towira and Mai Meksawan. They said they picked up good films at the Cannes Film Festival, and were working hard to provide a strong package like last year. Also present, was Victor Silakong of the "rival" World Film Festival of Bangkok (November 6 to 15). It’s obvious that both festivals have a strong interest in French cinema.

Largo Winch, a breezy action-drama that globetrots across Brazil, Croatia and finally plays out in Hong Kong, is based on a popular Belgian comic book by Philippe Francq and Jean Van Hamme.

After its festival run, it will get a limited general release at SF World Cinemas, starting on Thursday, June 26. A second film from the French festival, the epic gangster drama L'ennemi public n° 1) (Public Enemy #1, parts one and two), starring Vincent Cassel, will also be released, with part one on July 1 and part two on July 30, at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square. Both films have been picked up by distributor M Pictures.

Most interesting to learn was that the sequel to Largo Winch will be shot in Thailand, early next year. In fact, the whole production team of the film, led by producer Jean-Yves Asselin, were present at the opening and said they came to Bangkok to scout for locations.

Director Salle said during a meeting with the media next day that most of the three-month shoot will be in Chiang Mai, with certain sequences in Bangkok. He said he was looking for Thai stars, and asked for suggestions from the press.

While most of the cast would be the same as the first Largo Winch, he said they would be looking for a new actress for the second part.

Salle said he opted to shoot the film in Asian countries like Hong Kong and Thailand, not because these were the settings in the original comic series, but because “Asia is now the centre of the world. ”

Actor Sisley, better known as a stand-up comedian and TV personality, said the role was a dream come true for him, and he had "prepared hard" for it, as he had dreamt of acting in movies ever since he was 7 years old.

The actor is charismatic as Largo Winch, the young adventuring head of a global empire, and director Salle said he had auditioned numerous actors in many countries for the role before zeroing in on Sisley .

“He just had it within him!"

Sisley, who is of Jewish origin -- his family came to Israel by way of Lithuania and Yemen -- said that his comedy acts enabled him to joke about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and drive many points home. “When people laugh more, they also think more."

The French Film Festival is part of La Fête, the annual French cultural festival in Thailand.

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