Saturday, January 30, 2010

Upcoming Thai film releases for 2010

Yeah, I know. It's almost February. Sometimes these things take awhile.

The coming year in Thai cinema will finally see the premiere of several long-awaited, highly anticipated projects, among them Ong-Bak 3 from Tony Jaa and director Wisit Sasanatieng's reboot of the classic Red Eagle franchise. And the long-delayed Naresuan series will have its third and fourth installments.

This year will also be a further test of the Culture Ministry's ratings and censorship system.

Here's a look at some of what's coming.

Sahamongkol Film International

Ong-Bak 3, the sequel to 2008's Ong-Bak 2, is expected to be released on April 29. News from the set has been quiet this time around, in contrast to Ong-Bak 2 when financial troubles stressed Jaa out and forced him to retreat to the serenity of a meditation cave. Still set in ancient times, Ong-Bak 3 picks up where the previous film left off so abruptly and has Jaa's ancient warrior confronting his dark side. As one teaser poster tagline says, "the biggest fight of all is with himself".

Once Ong-Bak 3 is released, Jaa will get to work on a project involving him and his female action star counterpart Jija Yanin.

And word is that Sahamongkol Film International boss Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert will allow Jaa to star in foreign films, at least, reports The Nation, Hong Kong films by producers who Sia Jiang has dealings with. So there's the possibilty of Jaa sparring in Donnie Yen, and Jija might appear in a Jackie Chan movie.

Jaa's former director Prachya Pinkaew will be back in action with an English-language film, Elephant White, starring Djimon Hounsou. Production starts next month, and the release will come in 2011. It's among several projects mentioned for Prachya. Others include City of Angels and Ta Bang Marn.

Sahamongkol is distributing a tentpole for the Thai film industry, The Legend of King Naresuan III and IV, about the continued adventures of the the 16th and 17th century ruler of the Ayutthaya kingdom. The movies are scheduled for back-to-back releases in August and September. Directed by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, these sequels have been on the calendar since 2007. Controversially, at least in the eyes of some film-industry observers, Naresuan III and IV have received 480 million baht in funding from the Thai government, which will likely promote watching the movies as a duty for all Thai people.

Meanwhile, Sahamongkol has a few thrillers lined up. These include the intriguing Who Are You?, written by Eakasit Thairatana. It's coming out on February 25. A horror-sounding title is Po Taek Yak Tang Narok (โป๊ะ แตก แยกทาง นรก). And there's 14, the highly anticipated sequel to 13 Beloved by director Chookiat Sakweerakul, which was based on a comic book series by Eakasit.

Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok) will also finally see a release, two years after it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Pawat Panangkasiri's film was shelved over concerns about its story of thieves who ordain as Buddhist monks in order to retrieve hidden loot. Producer Prachya Pinkaew used it as a test case in discussions about what would be permissible under Thailand's new film law. It will be released under the restrictive 20+ rating and will also have warning messages displayed throughout, telling viewers they shouldn't do what the characters on the screen are doing, similar to the "don't do that" warning messages about smoking, drinking, sex and violence found on DVDs distributed in Thailand by Rose Media.

Further down the line for Sahamongkol is Yamada: Samurai of Ayutthaya, a historical action epic about the samurai who served in the court of King Naresuan.

Upcoming Sahamongkol comedies include Saranair Sip Lor (สาระแนสิบล้อ) on April 1, which will have Mario Maurer joining in the shenanigans of the Saranair practical-joke crew. Mum Jokmok will reload his guns for The Bodyguard 3 and there will be Tukky Jao Ying Khoiy Kob (Tukky เจ้าหญิงขายกบ or Tukky: The Princess and the Frog), a star vehicle for popular comedienne Sudarat Butrprom.

Five Star Production

Five Star makes its 2010 bow with the romantic comedy My Valentine (แล้วรัก ...ก็หมุนรอบตัวเรา). Coming out on Thursday (February 4), this is from same team that did last year's Before Valentine. Directors Songsak Mongkolthong, Pornchai "Mr. Pink" Hongrattanaporn and Seree Phongnithi collaborate on a story that stars Academy Fantasia performer Mint Minthita. She's trying to decide which fella is right for her.

More comedy and romance will come in Boonchu 10 (บุญชู 10), which was in pre-production when the series director Bhandit Rittakol died on October 1 at age 58. Actor-screenwriter Kiat Kitjaroen, who's been with the Boonchu series since the beginning, takes the directing helm.

Five Star has a hand in the pan-Asian short-film anthology for the city of Busan, South Korea, Camellia, which includes a segment by Wisit Sasanatieng and Iron Pussy performer Michael Shaowanasai.

But the big project for Five Star and Wisit is, of course, Insee Dang, the reboot of the Red Eagle franchise that starred Mitr Chaibancha, Thailand's biggest movie star of the 1960s. The 150-million-baht effort is a co-production between Five Star and Kantana. Wisit has set the story in 2016 and cast Ananda Everingham in the lead as the masked vigilante crimefighter. It's set for release on October 7, one day before the 40th anniversary of the death of Mitr, who perished in a fall from a rope ladder on a helicopter while making Insee Thong.


GMM Tai Hub so far has only one project due out soon. It's a family comedy directed by Wittaya Thongyooyong, the Fan Chan alumnus who last offered the rock 'n' roll time-travel comedy The Possible (Kao ... Kao) in 2006. Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (บ้าน ฉัน ..ตลก ไว้ ก่อน ( พ่อ สอน ไว้ ), about a clan of comedians. Jaturong Mokjok and Paula Taylor star. It'll be out on March 11.

Banjong Pisanthanakun, half of the Shutter/Alone director duo who helmed the comic segments of 4bia and Phobia 2, will shift gears entirely to direct a romantic drama.

Phranakorn Film

Continuing with the horror thrillers that are more marketable internationally, Phranakorn has started its year with Tai Hong (Die a Violent Death), which opened this week.

But then it returns to more-familiar comedy territory with Gong Pan Kreukkreun Tor Tahan Keukkak (กองพัน ครึกครื้น · ท. ทหาร คึกคัก), a gays-in-the-military romp that opens on March 11. It's directed by comedian Note Chern-yim.

Later in the year, there's the "snakes in an apartment" caper The Intruder (เขี้ยว อาฆาต, Kieow Akaat).

A third entry in Note's Luang Pee Teng (หลวงพี่เท่ง 3) series is planned, and there's Thanit Jitnukul's historical epic sequel, Bang Rajan 2.

Oriental Eyes

A fast-moving relative newcomer in the Thai film industry, Oriental Eyes has two releases planned for this year, the thriller 9 Wat (Secret Sunday) coming out on February 18 and the action thriller starring Princess Ubolratana My Best Bodyguard due later in the year.

Princess Ubolratana also stars in a historical epic, Legend of the Queen, due in 2011.

The indies

Thailand's independent filmmakers are already off to a strong start this year, with two world premieres at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Thunska Pansittivorakul is debuting his controversial experimental gay romantic thriller Reincarnate and Jakrawal Nilthamrong ventures into Africa with Unreal Forest.

Reincarnate likely won't be shown in Thailand, but there's a chance Unreal Forest will be seen here this year. It's produced by the indie label Extra Virgin under Pimpaka Towira and Mei Meksuwan.

Extra Virgin also plans to release last year's eyepopping documentary Agrarian Utopia in Thai cinemas this year. Uruphong Rakasad's feature is also still on the festival circuit, hitting the !f Istanbul AFM International Independent Film Festival.

Also trying for at least a limited theatrical release in Thailand this year is Jao Nok Krajok (Mundane History), the family drama by Anocha Suwichakornpong that debuted last year and is also in Rotterdam this week.

Aditya Assarat and his Pop Pictures crew are hard at work on their sophomore feature, High Society (Hi-So). Starring Ananda Everingham, Cerise Leang and Sajee Apiwong, it's the story of an overseas-schooled Thai man trying to reconcile relationships with two girlfriends -- one from his school days in Australia and the other a young Thai woman. The production has shifted to Bangkok, where the crew are "sniffing around" for locations. It looks like they are aiming for a release toward the end of the year.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has completed shooting his next feature, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and is currently editing.

(Via The Nation and

Shawn Yue joins cast of My Best Bodyguard

Hong Kong actor Shawn Yue will play a businessman working for a drug company in My Best Bodyguard, an action thriller that stars Princess Ubolratana, production company Oriental Eyes announced recently.

Yue has previously starred in such films as the Infernal Affairs trilogy, Initial D, Dragon Tiger Gate and Rule Number 1.

The addition of the Hong Kong star comes as Oriental Eyes enters into an international distribution deal with Media Asia Group. In addition to My Best Bodyguard, Media Asia will distribute the upcoming horror thriller 9 Wat (Secret Sunday).

The deal with Media Asia follows a tie-up with Columbia Tristar Buena Vista (Thailand) to handle local distribution of Oriental Eyes' films.

Directed by Sirippakorn Wongchariyawat, My Best Bodyguard stars Princess Ubolratana in a plot that involves a deadly virus. Shahkrit Yamnarm is a gunman who's protecting her. A trailer is at YouTube. The movie is due out around mid-year.

9 Wat (Secret Sunday), blogged about earlier, stars "Noon" Siriphun Wattanajinda and James Mackie, is due out on February 18.

(Via Asian Media Wiki)

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior coming to Blu-ray

It's the movie that started it all for Tony Jaa and Thai action movies on the international scene.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, the U.S. version of Tony Jaa's original 2003 Muay Thai-stunt extravaganza, is coming to Blu-ray on February 2.

Twentieth Century Fox is distributing Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. It appears this is the "international" version that Fox picked up from Luc Besson's Europa Corp., which had trimmed the Thai version slightly and put a French hip-hop score on it.

Extras on the Blu-ray include:
  • Tony Jaa and stuntman performance at French screening
  • The 8 Movements of Muay Thai
  • French rap music video with Tony Jaa
  • Making of the music video
  • B-roll behind-the-scenes footage of the taxi stunts, legs-ablaze fight and arena fight

The Blu-ray of Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior will be released on the same day as the U.S. DVD and Blu-ray of the 2008 prequel, Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning, distributed by Magnolia. It's be a great day for Tony Jaa fans. And just three days before the Tony Jaa's 34th birthday on February 5, it's an awesome way to celebrate.

(Via High-Def Digest)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Oliver Stone and the continuing legend of Bang Rajan

Despite being in the midst of directing Wall Street 2, Oliver Stone has been trekking across Southeast Asia giving talks as part of the Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace event series.

He was in Bangkok earlier this week, where he looked back and to the left at the Kennedy assassination and got folks riled up by saying Hitler was a scapegoat. He spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and also at the Dusit Thani Hotel Bangkok, where he met with various celebrities, including Mario Maurer, "Jaa" Nattaveeranut Boonmee, Marsha Wattanapanich and "Bie" Sukrit Wisetkaew.

The Nation has an interview and so does the Bangkok Post. The Post's Kong Rithdee got Stone to talk about his favorite Thai movie, Bang Rajan, which he "presented" in a US theatrical run in 2004.

Mr Stone is known to be a staunch champion of the 2001 Thai film Bang Rajan, a blood-soaked historical film about a band of patriotic Ayutthaya villagers who die fighting the Burmese army. The director bought the Thai film for US release, and he confirmed his view again that Bang Rajan is a great film, ''up there with Seven Samurai.''

Upon learning that Thanit Jitnukul, the director of Bang Rajan, is planning a sequel, Mr Stone joked: ''But how many villagers were left alive at the end [of the first film]? You'll keep fighting the Burmese?''

That's the question that others have had since news of Bang Rajan 2 first surfaced last year.

Yeah, everybody did die at the end of Bang Rajan, but nationalism lives on.

New posters are out, which feature tennis star Paradorn Srichapan trading in his racquet for a pair broadswords. And yes, the womenfolk get in on the fighting too.

There's still something missing -- moustaches! Big hairy lip ferrets. The lack of facial hair is woefully pointed out at Film Smash, where one forum member offers revised versions of the teaser posters, putting handsome handlebar 'staches on even the warrior women.

Also, where's the fighting water buffalo?

After Bangkok, Stone headed for Cambodia, where he gave a lecture and received an honorary doctor of humanity certificate in Phnom Penh.

(Via Twitch)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Berlin screening added for Reincarnate

After its premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Thunska Pansittivorakul's experimental gay romantic thriller Reincarnate will go to Berlin.

The screening is at 7pm on February 3 at ICI Berlin (Institute for Cultural Inquiry) along with Thunska's short films, Vous vous Sovien de moi? and Unseen Bangkok.

Gertjan Zuilhof, programmer of the IFFR, further describes Reincarnate.

A gay love story. A story in the form of a quest. Call it experimental, call it a mixture of documentary and fiction. A very personal film too. It is the director himself who shares his life and feelings with us.

Yet it is possibly primarily a political film. The film resists a new law in Thailand that which is going a step further than censorship. Showing certain things (for instance sexual actions) is not only banned, but is also a criminal offence.

For a filmmaker who feels the need to focus on physical passion in his films, there is then a problem. Thunska argues that he would have to give up filmmaking if he could not follow his (artistic and sexual) motivations. A public screening in a cinema in Thailand is out of the question for this film. The filmmaker would be arrested. It's ironic that the filmmaker was given the national Silpathorn Award by a previous government as being an important Thai artist.

More on this later.

Reincarnate, Slice selected for NETPAC competition at Rotterdam

Two edgy Thai films -- Thunska Pansittivorakul's censor-baiting experimental romantic thriller Reincarnate and Kongkiat Komesiri's gritty crime thriller Slice (Cheun) -- are in consideration for the NETPAC Award at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam. The award is given by a panel of Asian filmmakers and film experts from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema.

Here's the competition line-up:

  • To Walk Beside You, Ishii Yuya, Japan
  • Ante, Adolfo Alix Jr, Philippines
  • Refrains Happen Like Revolutions in a Song, John Torres, Philippines
  • Stone is the Earth, Mes de Guzman, Philippines
  • Reincarnate, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Thailand
  • Slice Kongkiat Khomsiri, Thailand
  • elbowroom, Ham Kyoung-Rock, South Korea
  • The Annunciation, Hsu Ronin, China
  • Moscow, Whang Cheol-mean, South Korea
  • Wheat Harvest, Xu Tong, China
  • True Noon, Nosir Saidov, Tajikistan
  • Third Person Singular, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, Bangladesh
  • Tale from Kars, Özcan Alper & Zehra Derya Koç & Ülkü Oktay & Ahu Öztürk & Ömer Emre Akay, Turkey

Programmers have also suggested that the NETPAC panel consider two more films from the festival's Forget Africa Project: Memories of a Burning Tree by Sherman Ong from Singapore and Unreal Forest by Thailand's Jakrawal Nilthamrong.

Thunska's Reincarnate as well as Jakrawal's Unreal Forest are making their world premieres in Rotterdam. The main VPRO Tiger Awards competition has the European premiere of Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History. I had an earlier look at the Thai films in the festival's line-up.

IFFR 2010 started yesterday and runs until February 7.

Film festival bribery scandal 'damaged our reputation'

Time again for an update on the case of Juthamas Siriwan, the former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand who has been indicted in the U.S. for taking bribes from convicted Hollywood producers Gerald and Patricia Green so the husband-and-wife team could run the Bangkok International Film Festival and other projects of the TAT.

Yesterday, The Nation had a report quoting various officials in the tourism industry who say the bribery scandal has damaged Thailand's reputation and makes it harder for Thais to conduct business with overseas tourism promoters.

And why were the corrupt dealings allowed to happen in the first place? That's what Dusit International CEO Chanin Donavanik is wondering:

Chanin questioned why the government had not been aware of the allegation and said if anyone did know, no action had been taken, nor had anyone been arrested.

Chanin said Thailand's problems stemmed completely from its politicians, who always sought benefits and were prepared to remove anyone opposing them. Therefore, officials who do get promoted are often corrupt and have poor attitudes.

"This highlights the inefficiency of the administration, as well as the country's weak law enforcement," he said.

Juthamas was head of the TAT from 2002 to 2006, under the administration of Thaksin Shinawatra. There's a different government in place now, but inefficencies still remain.

By the way, there were several updates to last week's initial blog post about Juthamas' indictment. The indictment document is here and here (PDF download).

Top 10 films of 2009 podcast

For 90 minutes last Sunday evening, I sat in front of a microphone and made the odd grunt every now and then while Changkui host Passakorn Hongsyok and guest Rikker Dokkum from Thai 101 spoke about my list of the top 10 Thai films of the 2009.

The resulting podcast, Changkui in English Episode 8, is now up, and can be downloaded.

While we recorded, Hong's two boys played with Lego blocks and watched the Fantastic Four, which looked like more fun, despite the fine company I had at the table.

Breaking down the top 10 list, five have made it DVD in Thailand since their cinema runs: Meat Grinder, Phobia 2, Wongkumlao, Nymph and Slice. Of those, only Phobia 2 has reached English-friendly DVD. There's still hope for Meat Grinder, Nymph and Slice in the coming year, with more festival screenings possible. I doubt the comedy Wongkumlao will ever be released for non-Thai-speaking audiences to enjoy, which is too bad.

Two others, Mundane History and Agrarian Utopia, were shown in film festivals in Thailand last year, and will likely see at least a limited theatrical release in Bangkok this year. Cross your fingers and wish hard enough, you might get a DVD of those two.

Colors of Our Hearts will be making its way around to screenings organized for refugees, migrant laborers and advocacy groups after screening last year on World Refugee Day in Chiang Mai and at the World Film Festival of Bangkok. Perhaps the Friends Without Borders group will eventually make the movie available on DVD through its magazine.

I still don't know anything about when the made-for-television short-film anthology Sawasdee Bangkok might air or if it has already.

This Area Is Under Quarantine is banned, never to be seen.

Despite our best efforts to confine the topic to my list of the 10 best Thai feature films I saw last year, the conversation went off the rails a bit at the end, with a shout-out for the Southeast Asian Movie Theater Project, which will soon be wrapping its run.

Again, the podcast is can be downloaded for listening on MP3.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: Kru Bannok

  • Directed by Surasee Patham
  • Starring Petthai Wongkumlao, Pichet Kongkarn, Fonfa Patham, Asongkai Saengtam, Panna Rittakrai, Kampanee Wongtongkam
  • Released in Thai cinemas on January 14, 2010; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

I've not had the benefit of seeing the original 1978 version of Kru Bannok. By some accounts I've heard or read, Surasee Patham's film is held in high regard as a fine example of the socially conscious dramas that were made during that era but are sadly virtually non-existent today.

Nonetheless, Surasee felt his film was inadequate, and like George Lucas going in and messing up his original Star Wars trilogy with added CGI and Han Solo shooting second, Surasee wanted to remake Kru Bannok, to take advantage of the technological advances in filmmaking and apply everything he's learned since then in hopes of producing a better film.

Again, not having seen the original, I can't authoritatively say he's succeeded. But I have a feeling that this new Kru Bannok isn't an improvement.

Kru Bannok Ban Nonghi Yai (ครูบ้านนอก บ้านหนองฮีใหญ่, literal title The Country Teacher of Ban Nonghi Yai, international English title To Sir, With Love) is the same story as the 1978 film, about an idealistic young teacher who arrives to work at a ramshackle schoolhouse in a remote impoverished rural village in Northeastern Thailand. Like the original, the story is still set in the 1970s.

It is an old-fashioned tale, told in an old-fashioned way. The acting is wooden, the dialogue creaky and the drama feels lifeless and contrived.

Portrayed by Pichet Kongkarn, the teacher Pichet is an enthusiastic and idealistic young man whose virtuous ways rub off on everyone he comes into contact with.

He magically reforms the school's headmaster Kru Yai Chalee, who is a gambling addict, drunk and wife beater who also visits a brothel when he goes to town to pick up the teachers' salaries. He's played by Petthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao, a natural fit for the role because he's a native Northeasterner. On one hand it's great to see Mum taking on a meaty dramatic role, but on the other hand, his headmaster character is given to quips and wisecracks that are so constant he's somewhat annoying.

Other characters include Kru Chat (Asongkai Saengtam), another new faculty member who is more concerned with trying to bed local beauty Lamduan (Kampanee Wongtongkam) and looking cool in his sunglasses than he is educating the children. There is also Dao, the kind-hearted niece of the headmaster who only intends to teach at the country school until a job opens up in the city. She's played by Fonfa Patham.

Panna Rittikrai has a role as a wise man in the village who puts on a puppet show that depicts how pigeons fought an eagle. It's a proverb about standing united against an overwhelming threat. His methods inspire Kru Pichet, who quickly becomes a beloved and popular figure in the village. Later, Ajarn Panna emerges as the village's chief tactician and martial-arts expert. Indeed, the Ong-Bak stunt guru throws a few Muay Thai kicks when the going gets tough.

The village is so poor that the kids are all wearing old school uniforms, which are faded, torn and ragged. One family can't send its two boys to school at the same time because they can only afford one set of clothes. Pichet and Dao (Fonfa Patham) campaign to get the children new uniforms.

But the chief threat to the village is an illegal logging operation run by a "mafia" figure. With the gunman patrolling the woods, the villagers are unable to forage for plants, roots and mushrooms and they are starving.

Pichet, emboldened by his success in securing new school uniforms, exposes the illegal timber harvest, and risks his own life in doing so.

Released by Sahamongkol Film International and with Prachya Pinkaew among the producers -- though Surasee handled a large part of the financing -- Kru Bannok is unquestionably well-intentioned as it seeks to entertain while addressing serious issues.

More attention is paid to the tableau of old-timey Isaan culture. The soundtrack is in the Isaan language and there are ample scenes of wizened grannies spinning silk, women pounding rice grains and fetching water from the well and villagers foraging for food. The keening sound of the khene reed mouth organ of Isaan and Lao music dominates the film's score. There are even a couple of musical numbers as teacher Pichet takes a guitar in hand and rhapsodizes about the beauty of the countryside and its people.

Ultimately, Kru Bannok carries no weight because of its 1970s setting.

A truly updated Kru Bannok ought to depict what is it like in the Northeast Thailand of twenty-ten, and ask the questions nobody is asking and no one wants to or is able to answer. Are there are corrupt politicians? Are there influential figures encroaching on forests? Are young women still working in brothels? Are men still drinking and gambling their salaries away, and lying and beating their wives? How are people in Isaan eating these days? And what are the children learning?

This new Kru Bannok treats these issues as things of the past. I fear that audiences for the most part will dismiss them and learn nothing from this teacher drama. And that is the real tragedy of Kru Bannok Ban Nonghi Yai.

Related posts:

See also:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Best Supporting Actor (Yaak Dai Yin Wah Rak Kan)

  • Directed by Alongod Uabhaibool
  • Starring Nawapon Lumphoon, Thongpoom Siriphiphat, Rujihas Korkiat, Tul Waitoonkiat
  • Released in Thai cinemas on January 14, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

The best-supporting actor in a triangular romance is actually the star of Best Supporting Actor.

Played by Thongpoom Siriphiphat, Song -- literally "two" if you're counting in Thai -- is a young slacker-dreamer whose rock band has failed. Down on his luck on the mean streets of Bangkok, he's rescued from a beating by motorcycle-taxi drivers by a gang of mods on scooters. The leader of the scooter gang is a childhood friend from Song's hometown, a guy named Gao ("Guy" Nawapon Lumphoon).

Only Song secretly always despised Gao because Gao was more popular, better looking and more successful. Back when they were in school, Gao played the handsome prince in a school play while Song played the rock Gao sat on. Gao also has a nicer place to live. Song finds himself locked out of his dingy little room and Gao generously lets Song become his roommate in the multi-story townhouse.

Another reason to hate the guy. He's too nice. The mod and the rocker are now living together.

Song bumbles around and finds a job in a corner record shop. And it's there he becomes friends with his dream girl, Nhor (Rujihas Korkiat), an artistic sort-of-hippy chick who's heartbroken over her old boyfriend.

What's surprising about Best Supporting Actor (Thai title Yaak Dai Yin Wah Rak Kan, อยากได้ยินว่ารักกัน or literally "I want to hear that you love me") is how long the story is strung out before it is revealed just who that old boyfriend was.

Directed by "Book" Alongod Uabhaibool, who did a feature in 2003 called Koo Tae Patihan (The Whistle) but has mostly made music videos, Best Supporting Actor is energetic yet light. The music-video moments come through in colorful title cards where quotes about love are displayed, and in the stylized techniques that are used to emphasize Song's heartbreak.

Thongpoom and his character Song carry the film as he muses in voiceovers about his sucky life and finds himself in humorous situations as he tries to win Nhor over and make her forget about that old boyfriend. At one point, he borrows his roommate Gao's clothes and tries styling his hair like he's in a Korean boyband. And he looks ridiculous.

More humor comes from singer-songwriter Tul Waitoonkiat, frontman of the indie rock band Apartmentkhunpa. He plays the record store owner and is there to support Song when tragedy strikes and that old boyfriend comes back into Nhor's life.

One funny bit is when the record shop hosts a band. It's Apartmentkhunpa only an actor is filling in as lead singer, prompting Tul's character to wonder, "I bet I can sing better than him". Tul's real-life girlfriend Ploy Horwang, singer of another indie rock band, the Diet Pills (and sis of Cris), makes a cameo.

As Gao, debuting actor Guy Lumphoon -- son of former celebrity couple Marsha Wattanapanich and Amphol Lumphoon -- is an artist who mysteriously broods about whatever young artists brood over. He's not an entirely likeable character.

Played by Rujihas, Nhor is a generally upbeat and independent young woman. At noodle shops, she displays a controlling, obsessive-compulsive trait that runs counter to her free-flowing style -- she will look through an entire box of chopsticks to find a perfectly matched pair and then insist to her dining partner that the soup be slurped loudly in order to get the best flavor.

Perhaps it's because of that O.C. streak that her heart is set on a guy who isn't Song, because Song isn't the perfect match for her.

Heartbreak and misery come from misunderstandings, miscommunication and because of intended surprises that go awry -- the typical kinds of things that happen in romantic comedies like this. Here, it's a tune the musician Song pours his heart into and records on the piano to give to Nhor. But it doesn't work that way for Song's song. For these characters, love is just so damn heavy. They feel like the whole weight of the world is upon them and their life depends on whether that girl or that guy is going to like them or not.

And for that reason, Best Supporting Actor is a youth-oriented romance. Anyone whose hearts have been jaded by the soul-crushing reality of relationships, romance and commitment should not be admitted.

Toward the end there is a fun twist that involves Nhor vomiting, which is Thai movie and TV code for her being pregnant. How did she get knocked up? Have these good Thai girls and boys actually been having sex? Say it ain't so.

The closing credits have a humorous bit involving Song, Gao and Nhor, who are posing for photos or making a video with filmmaker and acting coach Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, adding another light touch to the movie while also enforcing Song's resignation to the fact that he'll always be the best supporting actor in his own life.

Overthinking things for a bit, I wonder if there's a message in there that reinforces Thailand's feudal class-based society? Maybe I'll ponder that as I slurp noodles loudly and looking for matching chopsticks.

Related posts:

A horror omnibus from Phranakorn: Die a Violent Death

Producer-director Poj Arnon gets in on the horror omnibus trend with Die a Violent Death (Tai Hong, ตายโหง), which weaves together four stories that are ripped from today's headlines of the Thai mass-circulation dailies -- the newspapers that generally have bleeding corpses on the front page.

Joining Poj are indie directors Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Chartchai Ketknust and Manus Worrasingha.

Produced by Phranakorn Film, Die a Violent Death follows GTH's successful Phobia anthology franchise and Sahamongkol offered Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities) last year.

I'm told that Die a Violent Death will be a bit different, in that the stories will be linked somehow to form a continuous narrative, rather than taking things segment-by-segment as the others have done.

The stories involve a dead body in an apartment building's water tank, directed by Tanwarin, a ghost in prison, directed by Manus, a New Year's Eve pub fire (mirroring last year's deadly blaze at Bangkok's Santika pub), directed by Chartchai, and a ghost in a motel by Poj.

Stars include Mai Charoenpura, Akara Amarttayakul, Supaksorn Chaimongkol and Wasana Chalakorn (the crazy woman from last year's The 8th Day).

The trailer has been at YouTube for awhile. There it is below if you haven't seen it already.

Die a Violent Death opens in cinemas on Thursday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

20 young Thai directors to watch

Thai cinephile Jit Phokaew, who maintains the Limitless Cinema blog, has written an article for Indian Auteur on "20 Young Independent Thai directors", about filmmakers on the Thai indie scene who are not yet 30 years old.

These are the names to watch in the coming years -- the next generation of Apichatpongs and Pen-eks.

The list is in alphabetical order and starts with Alwa Ritsil, whose bloody and violent films like Mofo Life Size Doll and The Witch make him the "dark lord of Thai cinema".

There are directors I actually know, like Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (Francais, Mr. Mee Wanna Go to Egypt) and Sompot Chidgasornpongse Diseases and a Hundred Year Period), whose works I look forward to now, as well as others like Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke (Bodily Fluid Is So Revolutionary) and Prap Boonpan (The White Short Film/The Candle Light) whose films won rave reviews and awards last year.

You can read the article on the Indian Auteur website or in the e-magazine.

Fireball hits DVD, Netflix in U.S.

Thanakorn Pongsuwan's Fireball has been on the U.K. theater circuit and had a DVD and Blu-ray release there.

The Muay Thai basketball combat drama comes to DVD> and Netflix Instant Watch in the U.S. this week.

It's the story of a young man named Tai ("Bank" Preeti Barameeanat) who gets out of jail to find that his twin brother is in a coma from injuries sustained playing a violent underground bloodsport that mixes Muay Thai and basketball. "Tai risks his life to avenge him on the only court where murder is legal. No rules, no mercy, and only the strongest will survive."

Lionsgate has picked it up for U.S. distribution. I have to say I am disappointed with the tagline on the DVD cover: "Basketball as an Underground Blood Sport".

Ho-hum. The original Thai tagline, "Loose for Die" didn't make sense but at least it had flair.

Kung Fu Cinema's Gazz Ogden offers a few more taglines and DVD cover blurbs in his review.

Here's the part that made me laugh loudest:

[Fireball] reminds me of the time I took a portable DVD player on a roller coaster – everyone said I was being an idiot and that I wouldn’t be able to see what was going on, but I really wanted to see Marley and Me. Sure enough I didn’t have the faintest clue what was going on because the screen was all over the place. The same thing happens in Fireball, as every time there’s an action sequence, director Thanakorn Pongsuwan goes completely insane with his camera, zooming in, cutting shots like nobody’s business and generally just flailing his camera about with a reckless over-energy that ruins the potential for any impressive action. As with the roller coaster incident, I ended up puking all over myself.

The shaky-cam and cropped and zoomed frames were a criticism of mine when I saw Fireball almost a year ago.

But other people liked the effect.

And reviews have been mixed. The Muswell Hill Journal says " the fights and chase scenes are fast, brutal and satisfyingly gory. Action fans will have a ball." But View Edinburgh said "avoid". IndieLondon says "fast-paced martial arts and inventive sports-based action will keep you enthralled throughout". Den of Geek mixes it up, giving high praise for the concept but low marks for the execution. Cinema Blend is generally enthusiastic.

The DVD in wide-screen format offers an English dub track as well as the original Thai. There's also English and Spanish subtitles. Extras are a behind-the-scenes featurette and the trailer.

Meanwhile, Thanakorn is at work on a prequel, Fireball Begins, which delves into the origins of the sport during the Vietnam War era.

(Via Wildgrounds, AFFD)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Phuket Film Festival 2010 call for entries

The Phuket Film Festival 2010 is set for June 4 to 13 on the Andaman Sea resort island, and there's a call for entries of features, shorts or documentaries completed 2008 or later.

The entry form is available on the festival website,

First held in 2007, this year will be the second edition of the Phuket fest after a hiatus in 2008 and a cancellation last year due to Thailand's political situation. But everything is all better now. Fingers crossed.

200 million baht to support moving images under 'creative economy'

Thailand's Ministry of Culture has budgeted 200 million baht under the government's Thai Khem Kaeng (ไทย เข้มแข็ง, Strong Thailand) "creative economy" scheme to fund films, television programs, animation and video games.

The plan has raised eyebrows, says film critic Kong Rithdee, writing in his Bangkok Post Saturday opinion-page column in his "capacity as a part-time filmmaker".

Here's how the 200 million baht will be doled out:

Of the 200 million baht, the National Board of Film and Television decreed last week that 160 million (or 80%) will go to support feature-length films produced by the commercial film industry; 10 million will go to independent and documentary films; 10 million will go to TV and movie series; 10 million will go to animation makers; and 10 million baht will be used to help video game designers.

In short, 80% of this "first-ever financial support from the government" will basically go to commercial, profit-seeking film studios - and likely to the special case of King Naresuan Parts III and IV, which are officially backed by the [prime minister] for their nationalist and historical values.

One condition, however, is that the studios that receive the money will have to treat it as an interest-free loan that must be returned to the state coffers; meanwhile money given to non-commercial projects and film students is a non-committal grant.

Read on for what Kong thinks about that.

(Also via Thai Audience)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Locked away in a room with the trailer for Who Are You

The psychological condition of hikikomori is the major plot point in Who Are You (ใคร ... ในห้อง, Krai … Nai Hong, also ฮู อาร์ ยู, Who R U), the upcoming thriller from writer Eakasit Thairatana (13 Beloved, Body #19) and director Pakphum Wonjinda (VDO Clip, Scared). It's based on a story that Prachya Pinkaew came up with.

Sinjai Plengpanich stars as a mother whose son has withdrawn from social life and locked himself away in his room. Is he still in the room? Who's in there? Pongpit Preechaborisutkhun, Starbucks from last year's Saranair Haao Peng, also stars, along with Kanya Rattapetch.

Now there's a trailer at YouTube and I'm digging Sinjai's look, the color palette and the suspenseful feel.

Who Are You is in Thai cinemas on February 25.

(Thanks to Deknang -- hope you get your website back online soon!)

Wisit at work on Iron Pussy short

Production has begun on the three segments in Camellia, a.k.a. the Busan Project, which was announced at the Pusan International Film Festival last October.

Wisit Sasanatieng (Tears of the Black Tiger, Citizen Dog) joins Japan's Isao Yukisada (Go!) and South Korea's Jang Joon-hwan Save the Green Planet) for the short-film omnibus about romance in Busan.

Wisit's "karaoke musical" segment, as reported by Twitch in October, will revive Iron Pussy, the transvestite secret agent character created by artist Michael Shaowanasai. She's been in a series of short films and a 2004 feature co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Seeing how Iron Pussy's persona is inspired by 1960s screen siren Petchara Chaowarat -- the era of Thai film that most influences Wisit -- it seems like a match made in a very strange and wonderful slice of heaven.

According to Asia Media Wiki, production began on January 15 and is set to conclude in March. Producers hope to get the film shown at the Cannes Film Festival or maybe Venice.

Wisit will then get back to work on Red Eagle, which is due for release later in the year.

(Via Asia Media Wiki)

Full program for 39th Rotterdam fest is online

A Thai film made in Africa, a strong statement about censorship, another film that was almost censored and yet another that tested the limits of Thailand's ratings system, works by world-famous filmmakers and a bevy of short films await audiences at the 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam, which has released its full program online.

Among the world premieres is Unreal Forest, a new feature by art-film director Jakrawal Nilthamrong, who was among the Asian filmmakers commissioned by the IFFR's Forget Africa project to travel to Africa and make movies. Jakrawal went to Zambia, where he worked with three young Zambian directors, having them pitch short-film projects to him. "The whole process -- including the auditions and later production discussions and rehearsals -- was recorded on film", with the documentary and "Magic African" images juxtaposed.

Another world premiere will be Reincarnate by Thunska Pansittivorakul. Screening in the Spectrum program, it was among the selections tipped in a preview listing of the festival. The film is ostensibily described as a story about the relationship of a homosexual teacher and his student, but it's more of a statement about censorship from Thunska, who's still stung over having his previous feature, This Area Is Under Quarantine, banned from screening in Thailand.

In a message on Facebook, Thunska says:
Reincarnate starts with a text: 'Thailand has since August 2009 banned the screening of sexual acts and genitals in films and anything that damages the interests of the country or causes disharmony in the people'. Thunska Pansittivorakul's ... This Area Is Under Quarantine (2009), which was only screened at this festival last year, was the first victim. Images of a violent conflict between the government and Muslim demonstrators did not get past the censor. How can any filmmaker still show what is happening in his country? In view of the fact that anything can fall under this law, in Reincarnate he shows for the first time flowing sperm. In his previous films, homosexual love was always prominently, but not explicitly present. Alongside separate sketches of the relationship between pupil and teacher, the film is made up of several cryptic scenes that comment on the oppressive political situation, in which all parties only defend their own interests.

Provocative as always.

Making its European Premiere and competing in the VPRO Tiger Awards will be Mundane History (there's a trailer there), Anocha Suwichakornpong's debut feature which received support from the IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund. When the family drama about a paralyzed young man was screened in Thailand at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, it was given the 20+ rating, the first for a Thai film under the new ratings system, but was reportedly almost banned because of a bathtub scene featuring full-frontal male nudity.

The Bright Future program has Slice (Cheun), directed by Kongkiat Komesiri and based on a story by Wisit Sasanatieng. It's a gory and violent tale about a convict sprung from prison to search for a serial killer who he thinks was his friend in childhood. Rated 18+ in Thailand, it contained nudity, sexual acts and sexuality and extreme violence, including a murder spree in an orgy club.

Another film with strong images, though it was released before the ratings system was enacted, is Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph (Nang Mai), which is part of the Spectrum program. It opens with a young woman being chased into the forest and raped by two men. Later, a cuckhold husband finds a new love in a forest spirit, and the nymph's naked female form is glimpsed among a bundle of knotty tree roots in the deep woods.

Another big name in the program is Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose short film from the Primitive project in the rural village of Nabua, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, anchors a mini-program of shorts, Letters from Spirits. Chaisiri Jiwarangsan, who is part of Apichatpong's crew, has two works shot on the sidelines of the Primitive project in Nabua, My Mother and Her Portrait and Small Village and Its Remains A fourth film in this Letters lineup is Spirit by Malaysia's Chu-Li Shewring.

And there are several more Thai short films:

  • Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse -- Directed by Wichanon Somumjarn and produced by Anocha's Electric Eel Films, this is a delightful short -- one of my favorites from last year's 13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival -- about young guys hanging around in the countryside trying hard to kill boredom.
  • In Space -- "A small, delicate story about a young Thai monk and his grandparents in New York. They need each other. Grandparents and grandson remain deeply Thai in their New York environment. When the boy enters a monastery, it is only half-heartedly. He does not feel at home there and searches for purpose in his new life. Then, he sees his grandmother again." Screened at last year's World Film Festival of Bangkok, it's by Visra Vichit-Vadakan, a student filmmaker in New York who had a short Fall at IFFR in '09.
  • Rise -- Also by Visra Vichit-Vadakan. "Listen with your eyes shut and you hear a story about parents and their child. Look with your ears shut and you see a street artist. Yet there is a link. A film on two tracks. The visual track shows a young performance artist. On a street in the middle of Bangkok, he paints with his body as a brush and his white clothes as a canvas. The soundtrack is about the relationship between parents and their child. Told intimately."
  • Lumphini 2552 -- Tomonari Nishikawa's experimental photography reduces the flora of Lumpini park to a whooshing blur of patterns.
  • Sink -- Kirsten Tan directs this Singaporean/Thai short, a "stylized black-and-white film about the relationship between a man and a sink in the sea. Playful with the uninhibited boy, reserved towards the violent young man and deteriorating but resigned with the old man, this sink symbolises man’s different life stages and prompts reflection."

The International Film Festival Rotterdam runs from January 27 to February 7.

Lee Chatametikool gets editing nod in 4th Asian Film Awards

No Thai films are nominated for the 4th Asian Film Awards.

Not sure why.

But Thailand is still represented, with film editor Lee Chatametikool nominated for best editing for Karaoke by Malaysian director Chris Chong Chan Fui, who also had Tropical Malady lensman Jarin Pengpanitch as cinematographer and post-production work done at Technicolor Thailand.

The Hong Kong-Chinese martial-arts drama Bodyguards and Assassins and the South Korean thriller Mother lead the AFA nominees with six nods each, including best film. The controversial Chinese drama City of Life and Death has four. Other best-film nominees are Lola by Brillante Mendoza from the Philippines, No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti from Taiwan and Parade from Japan.

Screen Daily has a full write-up. Or get the PDF from the awards website.

The awards will be presented on March 22 in Hong Kong.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ex-TAT governor indicted, Greens' sentencing postponed in Bangkok film fest bribery case

Juthamas Siriwan, the former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, has been indicted by U.S. prosecutors, who say Juthamas and her daughter accepted US$1.8 million in bribes.

The indictment was unsealed in Los Angeles on Tuesday, two days before sentencing was scheduled for Gerald and Patricia Green, the husband-and-wife pair of Hollywood producers who were convicted of paying the bribes in order to land contracts to run the Bangkok International Film Festival and other tourism projects. The Greens were the first in the entertainment industry to be convicted under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which outlaws bribes to foreign officials.

The Nation has more of the story.

Update: Sentencing for the Greens, meanwhile, has been postponed until March 11. The Wrap was at the hearing:

[Judge George Wu] requested some sort of official statement from the Thai government declaring Thailand had been harmed by the Greens’ activities. When AUSA Bruce Searby pointed out the government’s sentencing statement contained such a letter, Wu replied that he didn’t think that Exhibit A was necessarily an official statement – even though the request to Wu to punish the perpetrators by Commissioner Medhi Krongkaew appears on Thai government stationary.

Then Wu seemed to signal a belief that the Greens’ crimes (bribing a foreign official, conspiracy, money laundering and tax fraud) weren’t to be considered all that serious because, allegedly, Thailand may have profited from the Greens’ work on its film festival – and because the Greens had no apparent competitors for the film festival contracts, anyway.

Reacting to the US charges and questions of whether the Siriwans will face charges in Thailand, Tharit Pengdit, the director-general Thailand's Department of Special Investigation, said it is up to the National Anti-Corruption Commission to decide how to proceed.

MCOT English News has more:

Col Piyawat Kingkate, who headed the investigation team probing Mrs Juthamas case in 2007, said the DSI coordinated with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in collecting the evidence.

In its investigation, Col Piyawat said, the DSI concluded that two offences were committed: bid rigging and the malfeasance of state official.

In consequence the department forwarded the case to the NACC in 2008 and the anti-graft commission appointed Commissioner Methee Krongkaew chairman of a committee investigating the alleged bribery scam involving the Bangkok [International] Film Festival.

In the U.S., prosecutors were looking to throw the book at Gerald Green, 78, for his role as ring-leader of the plot.

But The Wrap is citing a Justice Department source that says "prosecutors will seek far less than the roughly two centuries of maximum prison time". There is speculation the Greens may get a more lenient sentence.

Juthamas served as TAT governor from 2002 to 2006, and head of the Bangkok International Film Festival from 2003 to 2006.

Bangkok Pundit wonders whether the U.S. will seek to extradite Juthamas.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post says Juthamas' whereabouts are unknown. "A source at the Immigration Bureau said there was no record of the former TAT chief leaving the country," the Post reports.

On the issue of extradition, it's "possible", The Nation says and the newspaper quotes Sirisak Tiyaphan, director-general of the International Affairs Department under the Office of the Attorney General. "The process will be even shorter and easier if the US offences against her are the same that have been levied by the National Anti-Corruption Commission," said Sirisak.

Update 3: The Bangkok Post cites a source in the National Anti-Corruption Commission who says the NACC will ask the Anti-Money-Laundering Office to find out where the "alleged" bribe money went. The source also reveals that the FBI sent the NACC documents that "will speed up the NACC's investigation".

The Nation has more on Juthamas' possible extradition, and that her whereabouts are unknown.

And Scott Rosenberg posted a link to the indictment (PDF) (also here).

(Via Scott Rosenberg)