Saturday, September 5, 2009

Meet Visute Poolvoralaks, the hitmaker

In contemporary Thai cinema, Visute Poolvoralaks has been a pivotal figure. Hailing from a family long involved in the movie business, Visute was at the forefront of the Thai New Wave or New Thai Cinema movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, producing the first hits of that era. As the studio executive of GTH, he oversaw the 2004 horror hit Shutter, which went on to be remade in Hollywood.

He's kept a firm hand on GTH's slickly produced horror thrillers and teen-oriented romances, but it wasn't until his studio's newest film, the horror omnibus Phobia 2 (Haa Phrang) that he actually sat in the director's chair.

Daily Xpress looks at how it came to be that Visute would be calling the shots on his short, and the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has a more lengthy look back at the man's long and storied career.

Daily Xpress' Parinyaporn Pajee reports that Visute actually became the director on the short called Ward after its original director -- Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, who swore up and down after the the first 4bia he wouldn't direct another horror movie -- was sidelined after being seriously injured in a car crash during the production of his romance Best of Times. Production needed to start on Phobia 2 -- scheduled for release on the numerologically auspicious date of September 9, 2009, so the other GTH directors begged Visute to step in.

When I started, I really wanted to be a director. Now, at 51, that feeling has evaporated so when I was first asked to direct a segment, my first answer was no," he says.


But he admits the experience taught him a valuable lesson about what his directors go through on the set. He says that while directing is not difficult, it is depressing to have to work to a schedule.

"Afterwards I asked my filmmakers if being a director could be described as happy work," he says.

"The truth is exactly as [producer-director Jira Maligool] has told me time and time again: if we want perfection, we need to invest time and money. I don't know whether he had a hidden agenda in making me understand that through this project," says Visute with a laugh.

As the head of Tai Entertainment, Visute produced the first two hits of what Kong Rithdee calls the New Thai Cinema movement of the late 1990s, the 1997 teenage gangster movie Dang Bireley's and the Young Gangsters and 1999's now-classic ghost thriller Nang Nak, both directed by Nonzee Nimibutr and scripted by Wisit Sasanatieng. The two films were huge hits, pulled the Thai film industry out of a slump and led to the start of Thai films being marketed overseas.

His other hits have included Yongyoot's gay volleyball comedy Iron Ladies (Satree Lek), which became an international hit and set the tone for the katoey comedies of today. Then there was 2003's sweet childhood tale Fan Chan, a sleeper Thai box-office hit that was helmed by six young directors -- Vitcha Gojiew, Songyos Sugmakanan, Nithiwat Tharathorn, Witthaya Thongyooyong, Adisorn Trisirikasem, Komgrit Treewimol -- who have all gone on to become bankable names, or at least mainstays, in the business. The movie was a co-production by Tai Entertainment, GMM Pictures and Jira Maligool's Hub-Ho-Hin, and the three companies merged into GTH in 2004 to make more hit movies, including the horror hits Shutter, Dorm, Alone, Body #19 and 4bia.

Kong looks at Visute's marketing acumen in a long profile piece in Friday's Bangkok Post. Here's an excerpt:

It's rumoured he can judge if a movie will become a hit or not by looking at the poster (he said that's an unfounded exaggeration), or from the title (that's more like it). In his career [...] Visute has also cultivated his aura as a strict, confident producer who often ''finalised'' movies for other directors, meaning using his authority to edit a work-in-progress, sometimes to the delight, sometimes not, of his colleagues.

We could say Visute came to the trade with good odds: His is a movie clan. In the pre-multiplex days of the 1960s, the Poolvoraluks family operated a number of cinema houses in downtown Bangkok and Thon Buri, like Sri Talad Plu near Tha Phra, [the old] Century near the Victory Monument, Petchrama and Metro on Phetchaburi Road, and the popular Mackenna near Pathumwan intersection. All of them are now gone, but still the movie bug has proven stubborn. Today, as Visute manages one of Thailand's top studios, his cousin, Wicha Poolvoraluks, is the chairman of Major Cineplex Group Plc, the country's largest cinema chain.

Naturally Visute spent his childhood running around his father's cinemas. ''I could watch a film as many times as I wanted,'' he recalls, not proudly, but rather matter-of-factly.

''I saw all the American films and Thai films. That was the 1970s, and we had films by Thai directors like MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, Piak Poster, Euthana Mukdasanit, Kamthorn Tapkallai.

''Maybe those years formed my basic understanding that Thai audience wanted their movies to be entertain ment and nothing else. That still hasn't changed today.''

Read the whole article for more on the man's long career.

Earlier this year, the Bangkok Critics' Assembly gave Visute the Lifetime Achievement Award. It's a well-deserved honor and good to see it being handed to him while he's still at the top of his game.

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