Wednesday, December 30, 2009

32 December opens on December 30

Singer Dan Worrawech continues building on his acting career with a new romantic comedy, 32 Thunwa. He's reteaming with director Rerkchai Paungpetch, who directed Dan's hit 2006 comedy Noodle Boxer (Sab Sanit Sit Sai Nar).

Opened in Bangkok cinemas today, it's the first production from M39 Pictures, a new company formed by former crew from RS Film's Avant marque, which has undergone restructuring.

Dan, formerly a singer with the boyband trio D2B and then the duo Dan+Beam, is continuing his solo singing career but is also acting in more films. He appeared in the segment Ward in Phobia 2 earlier this year. He made his film debut in 2003's Pang Bros.-produced Omen (Sung horn) with D2B bandmates "Beam" Kavee Tanjararak and "Big" Panrawat Kittikorncharoen (who died in 2007 after four years in a coma caused by a car wreck).

In 32 Thunwa (32 ธันวา, 32 December Love Error), Dan has amnesia and has forgotten which of the three women in his life he truly loves. He gets help in figuring things out from a fellow clinic patient, played by "Nong" Choosak Eamsuk. Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Ramida Mahapreukpong and "Pai" Sitang Punnapob also star. It's rated 15+.

There's a trailer at YouTube and it's embedded below. It appears amusing enough.

The most popular Thai films of 2009

While I am still grinding away on my own list of top Thai films of 2009 -- the year isn't over yet, and there are still films being released -- that hasn't stopped sharp-pencil folks from compiling their own lists.

Lyn's Lakorns has a couple of posts that indicate the most popular Thai films of 2009, one by box-office rankings, and by ranking in a popularity poll.

First, the top five grossing Thai films:

  1. Rot Fai Fah Ma Ha Na Ter (Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story), 145.4 million baht
  2. 5 Phrang (Phobia 2), 113.5 million baht
  3. Wongkumlao, 97 million baht
  4. Saranair Haao Peng, 96 million baht
  5. Yam Yasothon 2, 88 million baht

GTH is raking it in, with the top two movies being record breakers. The horror-shorts anthology Phobia 2 had a record first-day opening of 15 million baht, only to be surpassed by BT(L)S with 15.1 million. And BT(L)S is the biggest earner for GTH so far, topping 2003's Fan Chan.

The rest are all efforts from Sahamongkol, and their success is a sign of things to come from that studio -- more comedies, less action. There will likely be sequels for all three. The comedies are more profitable, having lower production costs than the action films like Jija: Raging Phoenix, which tanked, and Ong-Bak 2, which ... well, I don't need to rehash what happened with that one, do I? The action films look spectacular for the most part, but are costly for the studio.

Finally, there is the poll by the ABAC Poll Research Center at Assumption International University.

No surprise that BT(L)S actor Ken Theeradej is voted most popular male celebrity of 2009. That's mainly for his starring role in a popular soap, Soot Sanaeha (Recipe for Love), which he plays alongside Anne Thongprasom, the most popular female celebrity.

Here's ABAC's popular movies:

  1. Yam Yasothon 2, 36.7%
  2. Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story, 27.2%
  3. Phobia 2, 10%
  4. Hor Taew Taek Haek Krajerng (Oh My Ghosts!), 5.7%
  5. Wongkumlao, 4.3%

Poj Arnon's and Phranakorn's ghosts-and-gays comedy Hor Taew Taek Haek Krajerng also did pretty well at the box office.

My list of favorites is going to be a bit different.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In Memoriam: Ruj Ronnapop

Singer, actor, screenwriter, director and producer Surin Charoenpura, better known by his stage name Ruj Ronnapop (รุจน์ รณภพ), died on Sunday at age 78.

He was the father of three actresses: Mai Charoenpura, "Sai" Inthira Charoenpura and Vipvadee Charoenpura.

Born in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ruj Ronnapop's career spanned five decades. His directorial efforts included 1987's enduring class-conflict and romantic drama Ban Sai Thong and the 1988 version of the wartime romance Koo Kam (Destiny), which starred Waruth Woratum and Jintara Sukkapat.

The cremation ceremony will be at Wat Pra Sri Mahathat, where bathing rites were held Sunday afternoon.

The Bangkok Post and The Nation reported that he died of a stroke. The Nation said he'd been suffering diabetes and Parkinsons.

Phobia 2 on DVD

One of Thailand's best films this year, the horror anthology Phobia 2 is out on DVD.

The Thai version has all kinds of extras including an attractive steelbook edition that has cast and crew commentary, outtakes and extended and deleted scenes. But of course there are no English subtitles. So who cares, right?

But, despite the dogged efforts by Thai studios to crack down on consumers outside Thailand who who buy their films, some Thai movies are still leaking through to DVD with English subtitles.

So get them while you still can.

Phobia 2 has already been released in Singapore, where MovieXclusive has it, and the Hong Kong release is coming up on New Year's Eve.

A followup to GTH's 2008 hit four-part anthology 4bia, Phobia 2 has five segments from GTH exec Visute Poolvoralaks, Paween Purijitpunya (Body #19), Songyos Sugmaknan (Dorm), Parkpoom Wongpoom and Bunjong Pisunthanakul (Shutter, Alone).

Consider it a belated Christmas present or New Year's gift from the purveyors of Thai horror at GTH.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top 10 Thai films of the 2000s

Thai cinema in the first decade of the 21st century continued building on its resurgent commercial strength and the increased international recognition and critical acclaim that had begun in the late 1990s. For many movie buffs around the world, this was the decade they discovered Thai cinema. Here are 10 Thai films that were worth watching or were important in some way to the Thai film industry.

10. Shutter

Studio GMM Tai Hub (GTH) was built on the hit 2003 childhood drama Fan Chan, but its international reputation was cinched with this taut and spooky 2004 thriller about a photographer, played by Ananda Everingham, who starts seeing frightening images in his pictures. Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, Shutter gave Thailand a place in the Asian horror pantheon alongside Japan, and just like Ju-on and Ringu, Shutter was remade by Hollywood – the first Thai movie to get that treatment.

9. Khan Kluay

Until 2006’s Khan Kluay – about King Naresuan the Great’s war elephant – the only Thai animated feature had been 1979’s The Adventure of Sudsakorn by Payut Ngaokrachang.
Khan Kluay, directed by Disney and Blue Sky Studios animator Kompin Kemgumnird, was not only the first Thai animated feature in more than 30 years, it was also Thailand’s first computer-animated feature. A sequel was released this year and improved on the techniques of the original. Khan Kluay II won an award at the recent Asia-Pacific Film Festival.

8. Love of Siam

Actually, two dramas were commercially released in 2007 by Sahamongkol Film International that treated gays as something other than the shrieking, mincing butt of jokes – Poj Arnon’s Bangkok Love Story and Chookiat Sakveerakul’s Rak Haeng Siam (Love of Siam).
But it was the family drama Love of Siam and its tender, sprawling story of teenage boys in puppy love that met with greater critical acclaim and became a worldwide cult favorite.

7. Yam Yasothon

Naysayers scoffed when comedian Phettai Wongkumlao, aka Mum Jokmok, made his directorial debut in 2004 with The Bodyguard, in which he played a stoic gunman. But it was Mum who had the last laugh when the action comedy topped the box office and gave him the clout to direct more movies. His 2005 follow-up Yam Yasothon was a colorful country comedy that paid homage to the musicals of the 1960s. It was also the first commercially released Thai movie to have an Isaan-language soundtrack. To get the jokes, Bangkokians had to read subtitles.
A sequel was released earlier this month, and brought more box-office success to Mum.

6. Wonderful Town

Aditya Assarat’s quiet and haunting romantic drama achieved the mainstream critical acclaim that had so far eluded other indie filmmakers. After winning the New Currents Prize at the 2007 Pusan International Film Festival and playing to acclaim around the world, Wonderful Town came home to Thailand for a limited theatrical release in 2008. It was the biggest winner at this year’s Subhanahongsa Awards – the Thai movie industry’s main kudos fest. Watch for Aditya’s next feature, High Society, starring Ananda Everingham.

5. Ong-Bak

Stuntman Tatchakorn “Tony Jaa” Yeerum and director-choreographer Panna Rittikrai had been making low-budget action flicks since the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until they showed a sample reel to producer Prachya Pinkaew that they broke out of the direct-to-video circuit and hit the big time with 2003’s Ong-Bak. It put all of Jaa’s acrobatic “no CGI, no stunt doubles, no wires” Muay Thai moves on display. The movie was a sensation, with martial-arts fans hailing Jaa as the next Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. It was followed by 2005’s Tom Yum Goong and last year’s Ong-Bak 2, and Ong-Bak 3 is due next year. An entire industry has sprung from Ong-Bak, with Prachya’s Baa Ram Ewe studio backing other hard-hitting actioners, including Panna's Kerd Ma Lui (Born to Fight) with Dan Chupong and Chocolate with action actress Jija Yanin.

4. Last Life in the Universe

Director Nonzee Nimibutr and his Cinemasia producing partner Duangkamol Limcharoen, who died in 2003, sought to make Thailand a destination for the region’s film industry by cultivating pan-Asian productions with funding and talent from Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. Results of that partnership included Nonzee’s pan-Asian horror anthology Three and his erotic drama Jan Dara. But it was Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe (Ruang Rak Noi Nid Mahasan) that became an arthouse darling. Co-scripted by writer Prabda Yoon, it was a potent and weird mix that included Japanese leading man Tadanobu Asano as a suicide-obsessed yakuza hiding out in Thailand, dreamily lensed by Hong Kong-based cinematographer Christopher Doyle and a surprise cameo from cult Japanese director Takeshi Miike.

3. Citizen Juling

Relatively few people in Thailand attempt to make documentaries, and even fewer will bother to see them. So it was remarkable when filmmakers Ing K, Manit Sriwanichpoom and Democrat MP Kraisak Choonhavan took a long look at southern Thailand and the 2006 mob beating of schoolteacher Juling Pongkunmul in Narathiwat. And even more remarkable was that, after Citizen Juling premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, it was actually shown in Thailand, without cuts from censors, who are ordinarily squeamish about political content. It was screened last year at the Bangkok International Film Festival, and this year at the Berlin festival and then had a limited run at Bangkok’s House cinema. It’s an exhaustive effort. “We had to show everything and tell nothing, explain nothing,” says Ing K, when asked about the movie’s four-hour running time.

2. Syndromes and a Century

Apichatpong Weerasethakul could potentially have four movies on this list. His 2000 debut feature Dokfa Nai Meuman (Mysterious Object at Noon), 2003’s Cannes Un Certain Regard winner Sud Sanaeha (Blissfully Yours) and 2004’s Cannes jury prize winner Sud Pralad (Tropical Malady) were all groundbreaking efforts. But 2006’s Sang Sattawat (Syndromes and a Century) was the toast of film critics almost everywhere in 2007, except in Thailand, where the film had yet to be released. Censors objected to scenes that included a Buddhist monk playing a guitar and doctors drinking whisky in the hospital. Apichatpong made two attempts to have the movie passed without cuts, but eventually released Thailand’s Edition in 2008, with black, scratched frames in place of the scenes deemed objectionable. Thailand may have a film-ratings system enacted this year, but the Culture Ministry’s censors still have the prerogative to cut or ban new releases if they wish.

1. Tears of the Black Tiger

This is a personal choice. Wisit Sasanatieng’s 2000 debut was the first Thai film I saw. The idea of cowboys in Thailand and the jaw-dropping colours captured my imagination. I wanted to find out more about Thai films. Now almost a decade later, I feel like I know even less. I keep watching Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger) and other Thai films, looking for answers. Maybe they’ll come in the next 10 years.

(Cross published in The Nation xp, page B1, December 25, 2009)

Website, teaser for 9 Wat (Secret Sunday)

The official website has been updated with a teaser for the thriller Secret Sunday (9 Wat, 9 วัด), which stars a newly blond "Noon" Siriphun Wattanajinda and James Mackie.

Directed by Saranyoo Jiralak and produced by the Oriental Eyes company, it's set for release on February 18 -- the first release under a distribution deal with Columbia Tristar Buena Vista.

You can take a peek at the teaser on the film's website or Shock 'Til You Drop has it, as well as synopsis:

At his mother's request, Nat, a young architect, unwillingly takes a journey to visit nine different temples in order to clean up his bad karma. He is accompanied by Poon, his beauty columnist girlfriend and Sujitto, a young monk who takes care of the Tripitaka house and is responsible for the chant to chase away the bad karma.

All three characters have different purposes for taking this trip, but later on they discover that they are put together in this trip for an unforeseeable reason. A karma committed by one person could relate to karma of others. Horrifying acts done in their previous lives reveal themselves as the journey go by. The more they try to clean up Nat's bad karmas by making a merit, the closer they get to "THEM."

Nine is a numerologically auspicious number, and it's common for Thai Buddhists to visit nine temples during the January 1 New Year or April's Thai New Year for good luck.

Update: The teaser is at YouTube and is embedded below.

(Via Deknang/Popcornmag, Shock 'Til You Drop)

Happiness of Kati, Sawasdee Bangkok to make premieres in Palm Springs

The childhood drama The Happiness of Kati and the short version of the short-film anthology Sawasdee Bangkok will premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Kati, which is based on a SEA Write Award-winning novel by Jane Vejjajiva, makes its North American premiere. Directed by Genwaii Thongdeenok, it's among the 66 entries eligible for the festival's John Schlesinger Award for Outstanding First Feature or Documentary.

Sawasdee Bangkok makes its US premiere in Palm Springs. This is the four segment version with shorts by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Wisit Sasanatieng, Aditya Assarat and Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, which premiered at the Toronto fest and also screened in Pusan. The full nine-segment version was shown at the Bangkok International Film Festival and is supposed to be broadcast on TV Thai at some point. I don't know when. I don't watch Thai television as a habit.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival runs from January 5 to 18.

(Via IndieWire)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Avatar outguns, but Yam Yasothon 2 has a popcorn set

James Cameron's beautiful/ugly eco-military sci-fi adventure Avatar was the top movie in Thailand last weekend. Which I suppose is not surprising, given that it was the only movie that was released.

According to the chart at Nang Dee, Avatar earned 53 million baht, which chips in toward the film's US$285 million worldwide gross.

Yam Yasothon 2, which had topped the box office the previous two weekends, was a distant second, followed by the romance omnibus Pai in Love, the Milla Jovovich alien-abduction thriller The Fourth Kind, in, appropriately, fourth place, and China's 60th anniversary epic The Founding of a Republic in fifth.

But Yam Yasothon 2 is still tops in one category -- it has a cool popcorn set at Major Cineplex. For 159 baht, you get a big movie-logo festooned bucket o' corn and giant cup of fizzy sugar liquid, topped by a bobblehead mustachioed, gun-totin', safari-helmet-clad Mum Jokmok. He looks a bit spooky actually. Though no weirder I suppose than a 10-foot-tall blue-skinned alien with a braid of hair that can electrically plug in to beasts of burden.

Same Same But Different premieres in Cambodia

German director Detlev Buck's romantic drama Same Same But Different premiered in Cambodia last weekend. It was screened at the Cinelux in Phnom Penh, "a splendid Art Deco building from the 1930s".

The Southeast Asian Film Studies Institute has a photo of the movie's banner, draping the cinema.

The fact-based drama is about a young German backpacker -- portrayed by David Kross from The Reader -- who falls in love with an HIV-positive Cambodian bargirl. She's played by Thai actress "Saipan" Apinya Sakuljaroensuk.

It had its world premiere in Locarno, where it won a critics' prize, and was also shown in Toronto.

The Phnom Penh Post as a review from the Cambodian premiere. A snip:

With the current anti-Thai fervour swirling about Cambodia, Buck defended his choice of Thai actress Apinya to play Sreykeo, pointing out that Tom Cruise played a German national hero in the recent film Valkyrie.

“The future here in Asia has to be global, not national,” said Buck.

Same Same But Different is currently in international release, however it will not screen in Cambodia owing to piracy issues and the lack of a suitable venue.

There will always be grumbling about a Thai being chosen to play a Cambodian woman, no matter how wonderful Apinya's performance is, how vigorously Buck defends his choice of leading lady or how warm or frosty Thai-Cambodian relations might be.

As for giving Same Same But Different a general release in Cambodia, it has been nearly 10 years since I've been in Phnom Penh and there have been many changes. I thought that in the intervening years, a multiplex cinema had been built, in addition to the Cinelux, which I never visited. I don't know why those venues aren't "suitable" or what that even means. But as the article says, "piracy issues".

Official push for Thai animation and character design

As part Thai government's "creative economy" initiative, the Commerce Ministry will take a delegation of government officials to the U.S. in January as part of an effort to bring Thai cartoon characters to international audiences.

According to the Bangkok Post, the officials hope to talk to American producers about "the possibility of developing world-class features on par with Finding Nemo or The Lion King."

The push to promote cartoon characters is leading up to the Character and Licensing Expo Asia (CLEA 2010), which is set for May 6 to 9 at Siam Paragon.

Toys R Evil has more about the trade fair, which also has a Facebook page.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have a good cry with Koy and October Sonata

Opening tomorrow, October Sonata is a weepy romantic drama that is set in the 1970s.

The star is "Koy" Ratchawin Wongviriya, the short-haired actress who gained notice from 2008's love-triangle drama Rak/Sam/Sao (The Last Moment), in which she co-starred with "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri. The two became an item, but have hit a rocky patch of late, and last week while promoting October Sonata, Koy broke down in tears in front of the press when she was questioned about the relationship.

Lyn's Lakorns has more about the "break", which seems to be due to the busy schedules kept by both stars.

Pe, a guitarist with the alternative rock band Slur, starred in two movies this year -- Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's romantic dramedy The Best Times and Kongkiat Komesiri's harrowing crime thriller Slice. He's also a pitchman for Mazda cars. And there was the gaffe a few months ago when Pe was set to star in the Laotian-Thai co-production of Sabaidee Luang Prabang 2 until he made a disaparging remark about the physical attractiveness of Laotian women.

Koy has kept busy too, starring in Bhandit Rittakol's A-Nueng Kidthueng Pen Yang Ying.

October Sonata (รักที่รอคอย, Rak Nee Thee Rorkoy) is directed by veteran screenwriter Somkiet Vituranich and is set in the 1970s, with a couple meeting at the October 8, 1970, funeral of actor Mitr Chaibancha. They set a date to meet again two years later, but tumultuous historical events and a love triangle intercede. Thanawat Wattanaphuti and Phisanu Nimsakul also star.

The trailer is at YouTube and it's embedded below.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Khan Kluay II wins best animation award at 53rd Asia-Pacific Film Festival

On hiatus because of financial problems for the past two editions, the 53rd Asia-Pacific Film Festival was held over the weekend in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, screening 58 films from 14 countries.

The lone Thai entry was the animated feature Khan Kluay II: Story of the Noble Warrior. Kantana Animation's feature won the best animation award in the festival.

Indonesian director Riri Riza's The Rainbow Troops won best film, and Taiwan was the big winner, with five awards, including best director for Leon Dai's No Peudo Vivir Sin Ti.

Here's the list of awards:

  • Best Film: The Rainbow Troops, Indonesia
  • Best Director: Leon Dai, No Peudo Vivir Sin Ti, Taiwan
  • Best Actor: Nick Cheung, The Beast Stalker, Hong Kong
  • Best Actress: Sandrine Pinna, Yang Yang, Taiwan
  • Best Supporting Actor: Cheng Xu Hui, Money No Enough II, Singapore
  • Best Supporting Actress: Widyawati Sophiaan, Woman with a Turban, Indonesia Best Screenplay: Accident, Hong Kong
  • Best Cinematography: No Peudo Vivir Sin Ti, Taiwan
  • Best Editing: Dev.D, India
  • Best Music: Adrift, Vietnam
  • Best Sound: Jamila and the President, Indonesia
  • Best Documentary: Baseball Boys, Taiwan
  • Best Animation: Khan Kluay II: Story of the Noble Warrior, Thailand
  • Best Short Film: Hopscotch, Taiwan
  • Outstanding Achievement: John Woo, Hong Kong
  • Special Contribution: Raam Punjabi, Indonesia

Among the Singaporean entries was Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham's The Wedding Game

(Via Anak Wayang, DPA/Monsters & Critics)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sentencing postponed in Bangkok film fest bribery case, life sentence sought

Sentencing was scheduled for yesterday in federal court in Los Angeles for Gerald and Patricia Green, the Hollywood producers who were convicted in the Bangkok International Film Festival bribery case.

The FCPA Blog reports that the hearing is postponed until January 21. The real news is in the pre-sentence report, which reveals the U.S. Justice Department intends to run wild on the 76-year-old Gerald Green, and they want to see him behind bars for life. A snip from the FCPA Blog:

The Justice Department wants Gerald Green sentenced to life in prison. In a December 14 court filing, prosecutors said although the pre-sentence report recommends a downward departure under the federal sentencing guidelines and a sentence of about 20 to 25 years, Green's sentence should instead be enhanced. He was the ring leader of the bribery plot, the DOJ said, and he "repeatedly and blatantly perjured himself" at his trial.

The FCPA Blog has a link to the pre-sentencing report.

At this point you're probably wondering what's happening with the Thai end of the case. The Greens were convicted to paying bribes to a Thai government official in exchange for contracts to manage the Bangkok International Film Festival, the Thai Privilege Card (now for sale) and various other tourism-related projects. That government official has been identified as Juthamas Siriwan, the former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Around the time of the Greens' trial and in August and September, there was a flurry of noise in the Thai media about an investigation of Juthamas and her dealings. But it's been quiet since then. Maybe news of the sentencing will stir things up again.

(Hat tip to Scott Rosenberg)

A look at the past and future of Thai film in the first decade of the 21st century

Kong Rithdee has a broad overview in today's Bangkok Post of the Thai film industry in the first decade of the 21st century, reviewing all the major developments. Much of it is taken from a report by the Thai Film Foundation's Sanchai Chotiros, The Future of Thai Cinema.

For all the triumphs of independent filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Aditya Assarat and Anocha Suwichakornpong in winning audiences and accolades overseas with their low-budget, socially conscious works, the Thai industry remains focused on making big-ticket action epics. To be sure, the 2000s saw big gains in international recognition for the Thai film industry, thanks in large part to Tony Jaa and his Ong-Bak films, which have attracted a huge cult following among martial-arts fans.

A chart showing the top Thai films of all time is dominated by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's lavish, institutionally sponsored nationalist historical epics, with Suriyothai a titanic at No 1 and a staggering 324.5 million baht in earnings. Then there are the usual horror films, country comedies and romantic dramas.

But the gains of both the independents and industry are threatened by the new film law, enacted this year. Behind the smiley-face ratings symbols, there remains the threat of censorship and banning, with even more restrictive regulation at hand for filmmakers who want to send their work to festivals overseas, and film-festival organizers who must now submit each and every film for vetting by a board of bureaucrats. What a headache for everyone involved with the Thai Short Film & Video Festival, which is dealing with around 600 titles.

In the constant and tiresome parade of contradictions and doublespeak that are the stock in trade for the Thai government, the law is at odds with new initiatives by the current administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Kong explains:

As the government is pushing for the cool-sounding "creative economy" with a five-billion-baht budget, the time is ripe for reviewing a list of factors, positive and negative, that have influenced the local filmmaking practice of the past 10 years. If anything, the experience of the recent decade demonstrated that Thai movies have developed many personalities, some commercial and others not, and that for the policy-makers to encourage the rush of homegrown creativity a lot of understanding and open-mindedness are urgently required.

But that open-mindedness is in short supply. Under the current regime of censorship and fear mongering, what kind of future is there for Thai cinema? Read on.

Mum's the word at the box office

Yam Yasothon 2 has been the top film at the Thai box office for the past two weeks, topping such Hollywood behemoths as 2012 and New Moon.

Its opening weekend from December 3-6, Yam Yasothon 2 earned a not-too-shabby 38.5 million baht, dwarfing that week's take by 2012, which earned 6.9 million baht in its fourth week of release. That's according to the chart on

Mum Jokmok's colorful country comedy remained on top last weekend, earning 14.5 million baht for a 69 million baht overall take.

At No. 2 in December 10's crop was another Thai film, the romance anthology Pai in Love, earning 7.9 million baht.

Aside from 2012, New Moon and Disney's A Christmas Carol, the Hollywood and foreign releases haven't made much of a showing. Ninja Assassin debuted in third place on November 26 and dropped to fifth the following week. The low-budget viral horror sensation Paranormal Activity, also released on November 26, debuted in fifth place.

Other releases, such as The Road, Whip It and Julie and Julia, might have made a bigger impact if they had been given a wider release than just the handful of screens they are on.

This weekend, of course, belongs solely to James Cameron's Avatar. It's the only film being released. Will it knock off Yam Yasothon 2?

Now that negative reviews are rolling in, saying that Yam Yasothon 2 isn't actually all that funny, maybe crowds will go for the color blue. Then again, it's not like they have much of a choice.

Review: Pai in Love

  • Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, Thanit Jitnukul, Sakchai Deenan, Dunyasit Niyomkul, Bandit Tongdee, Tittipong Chaisatìdee, Bongkot Kongmalai
  • Starring Leo Putt, Kanya Rattapetch, Ray MacDonald, Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Pakorn Chadborirak, Achiraya Peerapatkunchaya, Pawalit Mongkolpisit, Natthamonkarn Srinikornchot,Noppan Boonyai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 10, 2009; Rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

I have lost any interest I might have had in visiting Pai. And the tourism authorities can blame the movie Pai in Love (ปายอินเลิฟ) for putting me off wanting to check out the idyllic tiny northern Thailand village.

Nestled in a mountain-ringed valley, several hours over winding, hilly, vomit-inducing roads from Chiang Mai, there doesn't appear to be much to do once you reach Pai. Take a spin around town. Walk across the old iron-truss, wooden-floored bridge over the Pai River. Look moon-eyed at the person you're with -- if you're lucky enough to be with someone. Or maybe sit and have a coffee at one of the rustic-looking coffeehouses (actually it's a Black Canyon chain cafe, dolled up to look like it's run by hippies). Or go to one of the little bars and sit and get drunk. And then go back to your guesthouse and sleep it off. Buy a postcard to remind you of the lovely scenery, but it might remind you of how boring the town was.

A compilation of six short films, about half of them blend together more or less seamlessly and indistinguishably to form a meandering romantic comedy about a young film crew that comes to Pai and is searching for a story to film.

Two of the stories, directed by Thanit Jitnukul and Sakchai Deenan, involve postcards. One has a young woman living in a Bangkok apartment building who is snooping through the mail of a previous tenant. There are stacks of postcards from an old boyfriend who's gone to Pai and still pines for the woman. Up in Pai, the boyfriend is presumably Pawalit Mongkolpisit, who is running a bar/coffeeshop. He doesn't know what to write though. He gets help from a rather pushy postcard vendor, who hauls out a thick binder she's compiled that shows him how to compose a postcard.

The film crew, meanwhile, continues to search for its story. The big-ego director comically orders his poor father around like a slave while the leading man and the main actress try to figure out if they like each other. An orchestra plays a cloying score that swells at all the wrong moments and never lets up.

Some of the segments don't fit. They are explained away as the loud-mouth director says, "I heard this story ...," and there's a dissolve to white.

One of these stories that doesn't fit -- but not in a bad way -- is by actress "Tak" Bongkot Kongmalai, making her directorial debut. 3 Wan Kong Ter 3 Wan Kong Kao Lae 3 Wan Kong Ray is what I take to be a typical Pai experience. Two lonely people, bored, drinking, meet at a late-night watering hole. The woman, played by "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol, is too drunk to remember where her guesthouse is. Lucky for her Ray MacDonald is a gentleman who lets her sleep in his bed and doesn't mess with her. The two strike up a friendship during their time in Pai. They hang out, drink some more and release a floating lantern to the heavens. And while Ray doesn't take advantage, Tak lets her camera spy on her friend Kratae, catching the actress lolling about in her underwear. It's different from all the rest, with Tak going for natural lighting while the other segments apparently had a budget and are thus brightly lit, even in the mist-filled meadows around the town.

Bandit Thongdee directs another cheesecake segment, Pee Sao Khrap, starring actor "Boy" Pakorn Chadborirak and "Noo Jaa" Achiraya Peerapatkunchaya. They also meet by chance, but they share a connection that isn't made apparent until they reach their destination. She breaks his arm and nurses him back to health. They then hit the road for Pai in Boy's old Volkswagen van, stopping along the way so Noo Jaa can twirl about in mountain streams in her flowing hippy wardrobe.

Another one that's different is Prachya Pinkaew's Rak Ter Tee Soon, starring Leo Putt as a mostly mute Chaplinesque character who's hanging out by the side of the road. Kanya Rattapetch is dumped out of car and she parks her carcass on the side of the road opposite to Leo. He tries to get her attention, but she takes no notice. She's too busy pouting and getting drunk on wine coolers. It's like he's not a real person. A CGI ladybug and butterflies also pay Leo no mind. The segment, involving a landmark zero mileage marker, is full of Prachya's playful sense of humor.

That was the highlight of Pai in Love for me. If I go, which is doubtful, I hope to find that mileage marker and snap a postcard photo of it.

A finishing flourish shows the young film crew actually making the film, finally. And another crew is filming them. And a crew is filming the crew that's filming the crew.

It's a circle jerk that seems to indicate there is no end to these short-film romance anthologies.

Related posts:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quentin Tarantino loves the taste of Chocolate

Watch out Jija, Quentin Tarantino has his eyes on you.

"The Thai film Chocolate" is No. 5 on the Inglourious Basterds director's Top 8 films of 2009, as listed to The Hollywood Reporter in a video clip.

Chocolate, the 2008 debut for Jija, got a limited theatrical run and DVD/Blu-ray release in the U.S. early this year,

Here's Tarantino's list:

  1. Star Trek
  2. Drag Me to Hell
  3. Funny People
  4. Up in the Air
  5. Chocolate
  6. Observe and Report
  7. Precious
  8. An Education

That's it so far. He's leaving room for Avatar, Invictus and The Lovely Bones and maybe some others.

(Via Wildgrounds, Row Three)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I love the smell of Fireball Begins in the morning

The horror! The horror!

Teaser art has cropped up for Fireball Begins, Thanakorn Pongsuwan's prequel to his Muay Thai basketball action drama.

"In the anarchy of war, a new form of combat is born."

Fireball Begins will trace the origins of this hybrid bloodsport back to the Vietnam War era. Back then the game was called Dog Tank. And I suppose it'll lay the blame wholly on U.S. servicemen for dirtying up the pure culture of Thailand with yet another vice.

24framespersecond offers this:

Reading through the synopsis, it does rather sound like they will be angling for the opportunity to drop some Western martial arts experts ... into the mix. On that, we shall see. Still in pre-production Fireball Begins starts filming in the new year.

And yeah, just a reminder, Fireball is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.K.

(Via 24framespersecond, The Film Catalogue)

Pen-ek Ratanaruang, the amateur filmmaker

Pen-ek Ratanaruang is the subject of retrospective in the Contemporary Masters program of the 14th International Film Festival Kerala.

On Sunday, he took part in the Meet the Directors discussion, sharing a table with Amit Rai and Malayalam filmmaker Ranjith as the Indian press peppered them with questions.

The Hindu says Pen-ek just makes films for fun. Here's more:

I am an accidental filmmaker. Film is not my career. I have not studied filmmaking and I have not made any money from my films. So you can say that I am actually an amateur."

Five of his films are being shown, 2001's Monrak Transistor, 2003's Last Life in the Universe, Invisible Waves from 2006, Ploy from 2007 and his latest, Nymph.

As with the recent International Film Festival of India, where veteran filmmakers Nonzee Nimibutr and Yongyoot Thongkongtoon were quoted with their rather frank and dire assessments of the state of the Thai film industry, Pen-ek had this to say:

Mr. Ratanaruang said that in Thailand, films were not considered as part of the culture or as an art but only as entertainment.

“We have an independent film scene mostly confined to short films. Short filmmakers have more freedom. But overall the Thai film industry is quite healthy in terms of yearly financial turnover. The audience have started watching more and more local films, the production is also much better now,” he said.

Apart from stating the fact that film isn't considered culture or art in Thailand, he's pretty upbeat for a filmmaker who has not made any money from his films.

The IFFK runs until Friday.

Update: Here's another write-up on Pen-ek at IFFK.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thailand's official ratings symbols

The official symbols for Thailand's motion picture ratings system enacted this year are starting to come into use. They are being used on movie posters, ads, cinema websites and are flashed on a title card before the start of the main feature.

The symbols are roughly as follows:

  • Category 1: Promote (Rated P) – For educational films that the government encourages everyone to see. Symbolized by a smiley face.
  • Category 2: General (Rated G) – Appropriate for viewers of any age. Symbolized by a house.
  • Category 3: 13+ – Suggested for viewers aged 13 and older.
  • Category 4: 15+ – Suggested for viewers aged 15 and older.
  • Category 5: 18+ – Suggested for viewers aged 18 and older.
  • Category 6: 20- – Restricted, viewers under age 20 not admitted. ID checks mandatory.

There is also the hidden seventh category, for films that are banned. No symbol has been created for those films because under the law they will never be seen – at least to the knowledge of the authorities. Maybe there should be a symbol for that one – a winking smiley face.

The new symbols replace ones that were earlier drafted but were sent back to the drawing board.

Since the ratings came into effect in August, I've noticed that Thai films tend to be rated more harshly than Hollywood films. Most Thai films have been rated 15+ and higher, while Hollywood films are tending to be more liberally rated than they are in the US. In particular, Thailand's G rating offers more leniency than Hollywood's.

For example, in the U.S., The Road is rated R, restricted to viewers 17 and over "for some violence, disturbing images and language". In Thailand, John Hillcoat's cannibalism-laced adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bleak post-apocalyptic novel is rated 13+. Disney's A Christmas Carol is rated PG (parental guidance) in the U.S. for "for scary sequences and images", but in Thailand Robert Zemeckis' creepily unsettling hybrid animation of Charles Dickens' novel was rated G. The Rebound, a Catherine Zeta-Jones romantic comedy Rated R "for language, some sexual content and brief drug use" was also passed as Rated G.

Exceptions to this trend include Couples Retreat, rated PG-13 in the States and rated 13+ in Thailand.

Ninja Assassin, rated R in the U.S. "for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language", was rated 18+ in Thailand. Under the old censorship system, those sprays of blood would surely have been pixellated or cut altogether.

Friday, December 11, 2009

For all your Cultural Monitoring needs

Call 1765. In Thailand that's the number to dial if you see or hear anything that might be deemed inappropriate -- beauty queens in non-Thai costume, nipple slips, offensive love songs or a film -- anything you think hinders social development, the Nation and "fine Thai culture".

The phone number comes at the end of an apology letter from Mr. Samphan Ruksa, a staff member in the Culture Ministry's Cultural Monitoring Office. Samphan took it upon himself to start discussion threads at and other forums, seeking feedback about the Cultural Monitoring Office's activities.

Seems his superiors, among them his boss Ladda Tansupachai, didn't like what people had to say.

So Samphan asked that all the forum posts be deleted and he's issued the apology, which is posted at and has been translated.

Out of this dust-up, a Facebook group, We're Sick of Ministry of Culture in Thailand, has formed. At last count it had 238 fans -- all of whom are now surely being closely watched.

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has more about this on his blog.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Anocha's By the Time it Gets Dark selected for Cinemart

By the Time it Gets Dark, the sophomore feature project by Mundane History director Anocha Suwichakornpong, has been selected for CineMart 2010 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

It's among 33 projects chosen from 440 submissions vying for presentation to some 800 possible co-financiers.

Mundane History, meanwhile, will be in competition for IFFR's VPRO Tiger Awards.

Also participating in CineMart will be Indonesian filmmaker Edwin, who brings his second feature project Postcards from the Zoo, a year after competing in the Tiger Awards Competition 2009 with Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly.

The full list is at the IFFR website.

CineMart runs from January 31 to February 3, during IFFR, January 27 to February 7.

(Via e-mail)

Tukky: 'I don't think looks matter that much in showbiz nowadays'

I'm familiar with comic actress "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom's work in movies. She had a great role in Mum Jokmok's hi-so satire Wongkumlao earlier this year, and she has a disappointingly brief cameo as a Bang Fai Festival beauty queen in Yam Yasothon 2.

Tukky (also Tukkie or Tookie) is also a regular in Poj Arnon's movies. She helped me survive the gay-teenage-soccer comedy Sassy Players and she was also in Poj's cross-dressing ghost comedy Hor Taew Taek Haek Krajerng. I couldn't bring myself to see that one. I can only do one of those movies a year, and I had already bagged my limit. Sorry.

But Tukky's real bread and butter comes from TV, where she appears on several programs produced by Workpoint Entertainment. She started out there as a costume mistress and worked her way onto the shows. These include the long-running variety-game show Ching Roi Ching Lan with Mum, Teng Terdterng and "Nong" Choosak Eamsuk; the Emmy-nominated children's variety game show Lharn Phoo Koo E-Joo; Mum Jokmok's sitcom, Love Factory and even her own variety series Ugly Tukky.

She's profiled in today's Bangkok Post. Here's a snip:

''I've been very busy this year. But my job is not serious in nature. I just have to be funny, and I'd like to think that I'm a funny person anyway so it's not really a job, is it? For me, I can turn it on naturally. Just count 'Three, two, one, action!' and I am at it. Even when I have problems in my personal life, I leave them all behind when the cameras are on,'' says Tukkie.

Of medium build, Tukkie carries a much larger persona. She often slips into self deprecation and mockery. Tukkie is regularly the butt of many jokes due to her Isan origin and country girl looks. It might sound degrading, but that is how Thai comedy, which relies heavily on physical put-downs and classism, works, and this loveable comedian says she plays on it to increase her marketability -- nothing is off-limits when she performs, even when the usual jokes often brand her as unbecoming and not pretty. But Tukkie sans crazy costumes and over-the-top make-up is actually an exotic kind who pays a lot of attention to fashion and accessories. She is in no way the country bumpkin she is often portrayed as.

''I actually like it when people compliment me and say I am not so ugly in real life and that I'm much prettier than what they usually see. I know I'm not butt ugly and that I look regular, but when I'm on TV or in a movie, I go all out, and don't care about my appearance. I can do anything and wear absolutely anything since I cannot do that in real life, right? But, honestly speaking, I don't think looks matter that much in showbiz nowadays. Your capability is much more important.''

Probably her best role yet was in Wongkumlao, playing a social-climbing leopard-skin-clad hi-so woman. I'd like to see her take on more roles like that, maybe even something in a drama. But I doubt she'll get the chance as long as she's doing game shows for Workpoint.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pai in Love, a short-film anthology

Thai filmmakers have taken Paris, je t'aime and New York, I Love You to heart it seems.

Now there's Pai in Love (ปาย อิน เลิฟ), an anthology of six short films set in Pai, a tiny town in the mountains of northern Thailand that is a draw for foreign backpackers and Thai hipsters.

The directors are Prachya Pinkaew, Thanit Jitnukul and Sakchai Deenan (Sabaidee Luang Prabang), plus Dunyasit Niyomkul (Cadaver), Bandit Tongdee (Mercury Man), Tittipong Chaisatìdee and actress Bongkot Kongmalai, making her directorial debut.

Leo Putt and Kanya Rattapetch star in Prachya's segment, Rak Ter Tee Soon.

Thanit directs Pai Postcard with "Guitar" Chayanun Ardpru and Suttírak Putsoonrot.

Tak Bongkot directs Ray MacDonald and "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol in 3 Days of Hers, 3 Days of His, 3 Days for Us (3 วัน ของเธอ 3 วัน ของ เขา และ 3 วัน ของ เรา).

Bandit's is Pee Sao Khrap starring "Boy" Pakorn Chadborirak and "Noo Jaa" Achiraya Peerapatkunchaya.

Love Sick by Dunyasit Niyomkul stars the original Bangkok Dangerous man Pawalit Mongkolpisit and "Niew" Patìda Atyatomwittayaa

Sakchai's is Postcard from Pai with men's magazine model "Run" Natthamonkarn Srinikornchot.

And Tittipong's is Secret (Kwaam Lap Kong Kwam Rak) with Noppan Boonyai, Pongam Panatju and Chalohton Prirat.

Pai in Love opens in Thai cinemas on Thursday, December 10.

Deknang has more details.

The trailer is at YouTube and it's embedded below.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tony Jaa in Hong Kong, Bollywood and a lawsuit

Three items involving Tony Jaa:

  • Twitch has more on Vanguard (急先锋) the dream project by Hong Kong producer Raymond Wong that would see a match-up between Jaa and Donnie Yen. More speculative casting mentions South Korean soap-opera starlet Song Hye-kyo and English-born, Brooklyn-raised actor Wentworth Miller from Prison Break. The report is via the Chinese-language
  • Along with Hollywood hopes, Jaa says in an interview with the Indian press that he "would love to do a Bollywood project". That would probably be better than anything Hollywood could come up with. Doing a bit of my own speculative casting, I'd love to see Jaa star in an action movie with Akshay Kumar.
  • Lastly, let the Ong-Bak 2 lawsuits begin. Trouble on the set of Ong-Bak 2 last year was mainly rooted in financial troubles the martial-arts star was having. Now the fallout begins. According to a brief in The Nation today ("Ong-Bak star hit with lawsuit", page 15A), "Thatchakorn Yeerum [that's Tony] was sued by a South Korean woman who claims the actor and director failed to repay a 1 million baht loan after the launch of Ong-Bak 2." The plaintiff, Park Aun-hee (also stated as Oon Hee Park) is in the business of buying and selling film copyrights. The item goes on to say "the dispute was more complicated, and more lawsuits might be filed". There's also a story in the Bangkok Post.

Tony was said to be taking a break from work on Ong-Bak 3 to spend the King's birthday holiday with his parents in Buriram.

Update: The Bangkok Post's Mae Moo gossip column recaps last year's meltdown. Here's a taste:

Jaa went back to work on [Ong-Bak 2], which was released in December. A third instalment is now planned, with Jaa again directing, though Sia Jiang [Sahamongkol head honcho Somsak Techaratanaprasert] said he does not want Jaa directing the fourth part.

During his troubles last year, Jaa's lawyer was Jarupol Reuangkeht -- the same man who has now emerged to represent Ms Park, who is in Korea. Mr Jaruporn said he is a lawyer for hire, and his new client is Ms Park.

Jaa's elder brother admits Jaa took out the loan, but said he had sent a lawyer to negotiate. Jaa was still waiting for his share of the proceeds from Ong-Bak 2. As soon as he received the money, he would repay the loan.

Kung Fu Cinema also has a piece on this.

Review: Yam Yasothon 2

  • Directed by Phettai Wongkumlao
  • Starring Janet Khiaw, Busarakam Wongkumlao, Harin Suthamjaras, Phethay Wongkumlao, Anuwat Tarapan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 3, 2009. Rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Just as much fun as the original and perhaps twice as colorful, Yam Yasothon 2 is another heaping helping of spicy Isaan humour mixed with ’60s-style fashions from comedian Phettai Wongkumlao, better known as Mum Jokmok, who writes, directs, produces and stars as Yam.

The results are still spectacular, but are perhaps less fresh than 2005’s first installment because Mum and his company of country comedians settle into the same formula as before. It’s the timeworn story of young lovers and a parental figure who is determined to keep them apart. The jokes are leavened with beautifully composed displays of Isaan handicrafts, dancing and folksongs -– reflecting Mum’s determination to promote and preserve his Northeastern heritage. Also, the movie is in Isaan dialect, with central Thai and English subtitles in most cinemas.

Though it’s only been four years since we last laid eyes on Yam, somehow 20 years have passed, and yet the story is still set in the late 1960s. In this paisley time warp, simple country bumpkin Yam is now a respected and morally upstanding headman of a village in Yasothon province. When Kamnan Yam is not rousting gamblers, pot smokers and transvestite prostitutes out of the local temple, the grey-haired, shotgun-toting father is yelling at his wife Juei. She has borne him a prodigious brood of children, and all have left the nest except for one daughter and one son, Ware and Kampan.

Yam Yasothon 2 is very much a family affair. The daughter is played by Mum’s actual daughter, Busarakam “Em” Wongkumlao. The smart-mouthed son –- a chip off the old block -– is Mum’s boy Phethay “Mick” Wongkumlao. Nephew John Wongkumlao plays an Agriculture Ministry official.

Returnees from the first Yam Yasothon include Janet Khiaw, again playing Yam’s wife, who for some reason loves her irascible hubby even though he subjects her to endless torrent of verbal abuse.

Anuwat Tarapan is back as Yodchai, the village sheriff’s son, who if you remember the end of the first movie, was ordained as a monk. Twenty years in the saffron robes have transformed the foppish idiot into a beacon of serene wisdom. He has a pair of temple boys to finish his sentences and mimic his comic goofball flourishes.

Mum’s brother Anupong Wongkumlao is back in drag as the ladyboy Chang Yim, and she has Yodchai’s former yes men Rak and Yom (Kamsai Chernyim and Kamayn Lookyee) now finishing her salty sentences. They are also her comic enforcers because the former maid Chang Yim has assumed her mistress’ role and become the village’s stereotypical evil money lender.

Yam himself assumes the role of the bad guy keeping the lovers apart. He doesn’t want his beloved daughter hooking up with the smooth-talking deputy agriculture minister who has come to the village.

Deputy Minister Thanoo is smitten with the beauty Ware. Her classic Isaan features are accentuated by a beehive hairdo, dollops of eye shadow and elaborate eyelashes, which always seem to be fluttering demurely and in slow motion.

Thanoo, played by another newcomer, Harin “Dim” Suthamjaras from the rock group Tattoo Color, tries to woo Ware, telling her such things as he wishes he were the crust in her eye, that way he’d always be in her sight. Harin gets the biggest laughs from the outlandishly colourful outfits he wears, plus a rooster-like mating dance he performs during ceremonies for the Bang Fai rocket festival.

Fate eventually does drive the lovers apart, and then the folk-song serenaders join the fun, with morlam rockers jamming in the rice paddy, singing mournful ballads to the water buffalo.

The story culminates in a riot of surprisingly good and bloody action –- just like a Thai shoot-’em-up film of the 1960s. Bandits storm the village and steal the temple’s Buddha statue, which is named “Ong Bak”. But there is no martial artist named Tony Jaa to save the village – just moustachioed Yam and his trusty shotgun, plus a couple of surprise six-gun-toting heroes to help save the day.

Mum is in his comfort zone, with his family and the family-like cast and crew he regularly works with in his other movies, including the high-society satire Wongkumlao earlier this year, and his TV shows.

Through the corny jokes, there's a heartfelt message from Mum, mainly to his children, but also to the Isaan migrant workers who come to Bangkok to work in factories, drive taxis and do other jobs -- be proud of your heritage and don't forget your language or where you came from. He says this to the son Kampan who speaks Bangkok Thai and listens to rock music (and is played by overseas-educated Mick).

Related posts:
(Cross-published in The Nation 'xp', December 3, 2009, Page 1B)