Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New images from Apichatpong's Uncle Boonmee

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new feature film Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives (Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chaat) is in its final editing stages in Bangkok.

We'll all likely be hearing more about it in the next month or so.

Meanwhile, Animate Projects has a gallery of stills from the film, courtesy of Apichatpong's Kick the Machine and U.K.-based producers Illuminations Films.

Go have a look.

Here's the synopsis from Animate Projects:

Uncle Boonmee is suffering from kidney failure. As an avid practitioner of Yoga, he is well aware of his body. He knows that he will die in 48 hours. He feels his illness must be related with his bad karma. He has killed too many communists, he says. Boonmee calls his distant relatives to take him back from hospital to die at home, a longan farm. There, they are greeted by the ghost of his deceased wife who has re-appeared to take care of him. His lost son also returns from the jungle in an ape-like form. The son has mated with a creature known as a ‘monkey ghost’ and has lived in the trees with her for the past 15 years. On the first night, Boonmee talks about his past lives that he remembers. On a second night, while the ghost wife is doing his kidney dialysis, Boonmee has a sudden urge to visit a place she has mentioned. So the group takes a journey into the jungle at night. It is full of animals and spirits. They finally reach a cave on top of the hill. Boonmee realizes that this is the cave in which he was born in the first life that he can remember. Then he passes away, taking with him tales that span hundreds of years.

Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives is the feature film element of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Primitive project, which deals with ideas of extinction and the recollection of past lives.

In addition to Kick the Machine and Illuminations, other producers are Anna Sanders Films with Eddie Saeta (SA), GFF Film-und Fernsehproduktion KG and The Match Factory. The project's development was also assisted by funds from Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund and Berlin's World Cinema Fund.

Meanwhile, other elements of the Primitive project continue to make their way around the world.

The short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, which is a look at the village of Nabua, Nakhom Phanom, is part of Festival Bo:m in Seoul, which is running until May 4. Letter will be shown this Saturday and Sunday, April 3 and 4. Letter is also at the Hong Kong International Film Festival as part of Avant Garde Programme II, with one more screening scheduled for Monday, April 5. It also screened in last weekend's Flatpack Festival in Birmingham, England.

And the online short, Phantoms of Nabua, is the core part of Apichatpong's solo exhibition Native Land at Scai the Bathhouse in Tokyo. The installation runs until April 17.

Via Animate Projects)

Nymph set for 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival

The San Francisco International Film Festival has revealed its complete lineup and playing in the World Cinema program is Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph (Nang Mai), last seen in Miami.

"An adulterous wife takes a working trip with her photographer husband into the woods, where he mysteriously disappears and later, back home, reappears subtly changed in this quietly eerie, sultry and suspenseful drama from one of Thailand’s leading 'new wave' filmmakers," says the description.

SFIFF runs from April 22 to May 6.

(Via Hell on Frisco Bay, SF360)

Thai directors create waves at Indian film festivals

Back in November and December of last year, Thai filmmakers took India by storm. Pen-ek Ratanaruang had a retrospective at the International Film Festival Kerala. Nonzee Nimibutr was the subject of a retrospective of Goa's International Film Fesival of India. He attended along with actress May Pathavarin Timkul and GTH's Yongyoot Thongkongtoon.

Finally re-emerging in Bangkok from the sub-continent, Lekha Shankar returns with a report that's late, but better late than never.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar in Goa & Trivandrum

While a bunch of top Thai movie stars created waves at India’s top festival, the International Film Festival of India in 2008, it was the turn of some top Thai directors to do the same in 2009.

Nonzee Nimbutr had a retrospective of his films at the IFFI and the movies created waves in the beach-town of Goa.

The 1950s-action drama Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters was a hit, as were the tender tale of a former Buddhist monk in Muslim southern Thailand in OK Baytong and the spooky historical ghost romance of Nang Nak. Indian audiences, with their penchant for exaggerated Bollywood dramas, loved Queens of Langkasuka, with its fantasy and loud action. But the erotically charged dysfunctional family drama Jan Dara was a definite no-no and sent shockwaves among the old and the young.

However, Jan Dara actress "May" Patrawarin, daughter of Thai theatre icon Patravadi Mejudhon, took the festival by storm, with her easy charm and exuberance. She walked down the red carpet with poise, danced at the beach parties with wild abandon, translated for the team at the press conference, swam, sang and sizzled with spirit.

Also joining the team was Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, whose drama Best of Times, about the romance of an older couple, won many admirers at the festival. Yongyoot, the artistic director of the Bangkok International Film Festival, studied every aspect of the IFFI, and said he was most impressed at the way the state and the central governments collaborated for the country’s biggest film festival.

He also enjoyed watching the new-age Bollywood films, in particular the cult-film Dev D whose DVD he bought immediately after the screening.

The fourth member of the Thai film team in Goa was Benjarat Vittayathep of Pacific Island Films, representing director Thanit Jitnukul’s Samchuk, about high-school boys hooked on drugs and the principal who helps them kick the habit. She combed the shops of Goa but didn’t complete her endless shopping list.

Meanwhile, Pen-ek Ratanaruang hit the Kerala International Film Festival, where a retrospective of his films was held.

Monrak Transistor, with its songs and romantic tale, appealed greatly to the Indian audiences.

But Pen-ek’s weird brand of humor took the movie-mad Keralites by surprise.

They were taken aback when he said publicly that his films never drew such large audiences in his own country!

Asked what he would have become if not a film director, he retorted that he would have become a football player or a magician!

At a Q&A session with veteran journalist Jerry Pinto, the latter had to beg him to be serious. Pen-ek said at the session, that he had been on the festival circuit for 12 years, and often wondered if he was “just a lucky guy”.

When asked what was the most important quality for a "good" film, the director answered seriously, for a change, “a good script”.

Pen-ek said he's been working with the same film crew over his 12 years of making moveis. “They often do things better than me, but I get the credit!”

Pen-ek managed to find time for a short canal ride, which Kerala is famous for, and opted for private parties, over the public events, thanks to a movie-mad female groupie-team who followed him everywhere and made sure he was never bored.

The director found find time to see films and enjoyed wacky ones like The Love Life of a Gentle Coward, which thrilled lively Croatian director Pavo Marinković. He wanted Pen-ek to recommend it to the Bangkok International Film Festival so Marinković could visit Thailand.

Fresh from the Black Nights Film Festival at Talinn, Estonia, where Pen-ek was on the jury, the Thai director could not stop raving over the fun-filled European film event, where the high spirits of the vibrant festival were only matched by the high spirits of the endless bottles at night. He said he was definitely going back to Black Nights.

The Kerala festival set right Pen-ek’s Estonian hangover. But he still looked like he had not been exorcised of Nymph, judging by the many questions he got about that film from the Kerala audiences. They seemed to have been spooked out by the film, but could not fathom who the spook was.

One heard that audiences at other festivals, like Dubai, had the same spooky problem.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In memoriam: Boonthin Thuaykaew and John Islam

A line in the credits at the end of Bang Rajan 2 made me sad.

The film was dedicated to the memory of Boonthin Thuaykaew (บุญถิ่น ทวยแก้ว) and John Islam (จอห์น อิสรัมย์).

Boonthin worked as a costume and production designer and storyboard artist in the Thai film industry. He won the art direction prize at the 2000 Asia-Pacific Film Festival for Bang Rajan and was also a Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards nominee for art direction that year. His other films include 7 Prajanban (Heaven's Seven). He served as production designer on Bang Rajan 2.

He is perhaps more widely known for his appearances as half of the duo of comic-relief cops who appeared in several Thai films.

With movie producer Adirek "Uncle" Watleela as his senior lieutenant, Boonthin's skinny police sergeant first appeared in director Yuthlert Sippapak's 2003 ghost comedy Buppah Rahtree. The pair then reprised their roles in several more movies, include the Buppah Rahtree sequels. He appeared in Buppah Rahtree 3.2 but still has upcoming filmed appearances in The Scrollmaster and Yuthlert's Friday Killer.

Boonthin died on February 7, 2010 at a hospital in Kanchanaburi. It was revealed after his death that he'd had lung cancer. He was 52.

Actor John Islam was a motocross-racing champion in the early 1980s and later starred in action films and TV series. His other films include Chatrichalerm Yukol's The Elephant Keeper (Khon Liang Chang). He appears in Bang Rajan 2 as a Burmese warlord, having shot his scenes shortly before his death from a heart attack on November 21, 2009. He was 54.

Big Boy busts a move with Setha Sirichaya

Veteran entertainer Setha Sirichaya (เศรษฐา ศิระฉายา) returns to the big screen next week in the breakdancing comedy-drama Big Boy (บิ๊กบอย ).

"Toy" Setha, former lead singer of the 1970s rock band The Impossibles, made a cameo in 2006's The Possible (Kao ... Kao). His long list of acting credits includes playing the villain in the classic Cherd Songsri drama Plae Kao (The Scar). He remains an ever-present personality, regularly staging concerts and hosting TV variety series. He's also married to actress Aranya Namwong, a screen siren of the 1970s.

In Big Boy he's the old-smoothie grandfather of an awkward teenager (Toni Rakkaen), who comes to Bangkok from Chiang Mai to learn more about breakdancing. Turns out granddad is a dancer himself, though it's the ballroom style of Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. It's the kind of part a classy entertainer like Setha can play with ease.

What follows looks to be a sort Karate Kid for the Thai b-boy scene, with the young kid getting schooled by the grandpa and a young woman dancer.

The second feature from new production house M39 Pictures, it's directed by Monthon Arayangkoon, who's making big shift away from the kaiju thrills of 2004's Garuda (Paksa Wayu) and the horror of The Victim and The House.

The trailer is at YouTube, but head over to Asian Media Wiki for a look at a subtitled version.

Big Boy opens in cinemas next Tuesday, April 6, the Chakri Day holiday.

Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse won award in Finland

Wichanon Somumjarn's short Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse (เถียงนาน้อยคอยรัก, Tiang Naa Noi Koi Rak) won the Best Fiction Award "Kiss" statuette at the Tampere Film Festival in Finland earlier this month. There it's known as Neljä Poikaa, Vaaleaa Viskiä Ja Grillattua Hiirtä.

The jury, comprised of Philip Cheah from Singapore, Pablo Lamar from Paraguay,
Karen Rais-Nordentoft of Denmark, Selma Vilhunen of Finland and Wu Wenguang from China, awarded the short "for its stark depiction of village poverty and urban-rural inequality, told through the metaphors of food and mass media."

The short, about four boys hanging out in a shack in the countryside, previously won a Special Mention award at last year's 13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival and was screened in Rotterdam as well.

Expect to see it at more festivals in the coming months.

(Via Electric Eel Films)

Monday, March 29, 2010

No fooling, there really is a movie called Saranae Siblor

Set for release on April 1 -- no joke -- is Saranae Siblor (สาระแนสิบล้อ), the sophomore feature-film effort by the team from the Saranae TV series.

This time out, instead of adapting the reality-TV prank skits to the big screen as they did in last year's Saranae Hao Peng, the comedy team of "Ple" Nakorn Silachai, "Sena Hoi" Kiattisak Udomnak and Ruengrit "Willy" McIntosh, have crafted a fictional road-trip comedy adventure.

Along for the ride is Love of Siam heartthrob Mario Maurer. He plays a young man whose father suspects he's gay. He's sent packing on a road trip to learn how to become a man.

He gets a ride from the Che Guevara-styled driver (Ple) of an old 10-wheel truck (the siplor of the title). Sena Hoi and Kotee Aramboy (sufficiently recovered from being pranked in last year's movie) are Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee slapstick goofballs. Along the way they meet a prosthetic-legged woman who's trapped in a brothel ("Chompoo" Araya A. Hartgett) and are chased by her pimp (Willy). Patheera Sarutipongpokim also stars.

I don't know what more there is to it than that. It seems like the perfect April Fool's joke for Thai moviegoers.

The trailer is at YouTube and is pasted below.

Rise, The Right Hand in competition in Oberhausen

Out of a total of 5,418 works submitted, 145 entries from 40 countries have been selected for the four competitions at the 56th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. Among them are Rise by Visra Vichit-Vadakan and The Right Hand by Nitiz Wongthed.

Rise, an experimental visual art work, was featured at the International Film Festival Rotterdam along with In Space, which has been making its way around the festival circuit, most recently in the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Rise is in the international competition at Oberhausen.

The Right Hand was in competition last year at the 13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film was a selected project of AdFest's "Fabulous Four" last year. The story of a boy who hides something different and overcomes his shyness, The Right Hand is in the Children's and Youth Film Competition at Oberhausen. It's available for online viewing on Nitiz's Vimeo page, and I've taken the liberty of embedding it below. Enjoy.

The International Short Film Festival Oberhausen runs from April 29 to May 4.

(Via IFTN)

Scream Happy New Year with 9 Wat

Gosh, has it really been since December that I posted anything about the upcoming horror thriller 9 Wat?


Well, 9 Wat (9 วัด), English title Secret Sunday, opens on April 13. That day is Songkran, the Thai New Year, which is one of the biggest holidays in the Kingdom. So in addition to giving holiday movie crowds a reason to scream, the release day is auspicious, because many adherents do just what they are doing in the film -- visit nine Buddhist temples in a bid to erase bad karma and clear the way for good luck.

That isn't the way it's working out for "Noon" Siriphan Wattanajinda, a beauty columnist who is being haunted for some reason. Maybe because she dyed her hair a bleach blond. Or wears thick eye makeup. And dresses fashionably. And swims in a bikini. The spirits can't take it. They are angered by non-traditional Thai looks.

So she takes a trip with her architect boyfriend (James Alexander Mackie), who's been tasked with undertaking the nine-wat ritual by his mother. The couple are accompanied by a young monk.

Trouble is, instead of clearing up their bad karma, the temple trek seems to bring them more rotten luck. And bleeding cows. And headless dogs. And a hand that needs washing.

The trailer has crowds jumping in cinemas now and it's on YouTube. And now it's here too.

ActionFest has Raging Phoenix, Power Kids, Born to Fight

A trio of fierce Thai action titles from Sahamongkol Film International is among the early entries announced for the inaugural ActionFest, which is set for April 15 to 18 in Asheville, North Carolina.

Raging Phoenix (จีจ้า ดื้อสวยดุ, Jija Deu Suay Du), the sophomore effort from action-girl Jija Yanin, will make its North American premiere. Power Kids, which shows that Thai children can fight just as hard as their elders Jija, Tony Jaa and Dan Chupong, will make its U.S. premiere after having screened at Montreal's Fantasia fest last year. And in a retrospective program, there's 2004's Born to Fight, stunt guru's Panna Rittikrai's directorial effort about a cop (Dan Chupong) and a team of Thai national athletes (among them female fighters Nui Kessarin from Dangerous Flowers and "Kat" Sasisa Jindamanee from Power Kids) taking on missile-armed narco-terrorists in a tiny upcountry village.

The fest opens with Centurion by Neil Marshall.

Chuck Norris is the festival's special guest. Or rather the festival is a special guest of Chuck Norris. Norris' Code of Silence and Braddock: Missing in Action III will screen.

He'll also serve on the competition jury with a crew of online film experts and programmers: Colin Geddes, head of programming for Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival, Todd Brown, founder and editor of, Drew McWeeney, screenwriter and chief film writer for and Devin Faraci, chief film critic for

ActionFest is created by Carolina Cinemas founder and Magnolia Pictures co-founder Bill Banowsky and action director and producer Aaron Norris. Banowsky’s colleague at Magnolia, Tom Quinn, is head programmer, while Matthew Kiernan is festival director.

What a blast they're going to have in Asheville. Wish I could be there.

Check the rest of the lineup at the festival website.

(Via IndieWire)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Singapore fest has Mundane History in competition and Driving Miss Daisy in retrospective

Though the there are fewer Asian films in this year's Singapore International Film Festival, the region's cinema remains in focus in the Silver Screen Awards Asian Feature Film Competition, which includes Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History. It was among the early titles mentioned before the 23rd edition of the fest unveiled its full schedule.

Among the special programs in this year's festival is a Director's Focus on Australian director Bruce Beresford, with three of his films showing: Breaker Morant, Paradise Road and Driving Miss Daisy. That's prompted the Straits Times story, "Film fest losing its edge?":

Gone are the edgy arthouse films of last year's edition. The festival organisers appear to be playing it safe this year with tried-and-tested fare.

The oddball choice that has caught many people's eyes: The 1989 film, Driving Miss Daisy, which stars American actor Morgan Freeman and the late English actress Jessica Tandy.

Long-time festival fan Alvin Wong, 34, who is in the publishing business, says: 'It's strange to see this title in the fest. It would've been better to replace it to cater to those who expect to see newer films."

Festival Director Kirpal Singh has said the fest is aiming for a "broad appeal" that will reach out to the general viewership but still please fans of niche films.

There's a few edgy films in the Asian Feature Film Competition, among them Mundane History, a family drama about a young paralyzed man in a wealthy family and his tentative friendship with his male nurse. It's full of symbolism and commentary on class conflict that might resonate with Singaporean audiences.

Here's the competition line-up:

  • 40-ci qapi (The 40th Door), Elcin Musaoglu (Azerbaijan)
  • Akasa Kusum (Flowers of the Sky), Prasanna Vithanage (Sri Lanka)
  • Dooman River, Zhang Lu (South Korea/France)
  • Güneşi Gördüm (I Saw the Sun), Mahsun Kırmızıgül (Turkey) / 2009 / TBA / 101
  • Ira Handa Yata (Under the Sun and Moon), Bennett Rathnayake (Sri Lanka)
  • Jao Nok Krajok (Mundane History), Anocha Suwichakornpong (Thailand)
  • Memories of a Burning Tree, Sherman Ong (Tanzania/Netherlands/Singapore/Malaysia)
  • Mukhaputa (The Cover Page), Roopa Iyer (India)
  • Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer), Riri Riza (Indonesia)
  • Sanglaan (The Pawnshop), Milo Sogueco (Philippines)
  • Sex Volunteer, Cho Kyeong-Duk (South Korea)
  • Yan Lei (Tears), Cheng Wen-Tang (Taiwan)

They will compete for Best Film, Best Director, Best Performance, Best Cinematography and the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Critics Award. The jury comprises Singaporean filmmaker Cheek Cheah, Straits Times film correspondent John Lui, film expert Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, Filipino filmmaker Nick Deocampo, and Cambodian documentarian Roshane Saidnattar.

I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. That would be the censorship rulings for the festival.

Though Mundane History is rated R21, the most restrictive on Singapore's film-ratings scale, the censors still might not like the bathtub scene, even though it was allowed in Thailand. Another one that is censorship bait just for the title alone is South Korea's Sex Volunteer.

Meri News reports that most titles have passed "while some are still in consideration".

Other regional films of interest include Factory Shorts: Looking at Cambodia's Garment Sector, a documentary by Nico Mesterharm and Mark Hammond, and Saidnattar's L'important c'est de rester vivant (Survive: In the Heart of the Khmer Rouge Madness), in which she returns to Cambodia with her mother and daughter to interview the Khmer Rouge's Khieu Samphan.

There will be another Director's Focus on US actor-director Tom Gilroy, with Mr. Sycamore and Spring Forward. There's also the New York Avant Cinema Series, featuring shorts and features from New York avant-garde filmmakers, a new section, Dance: Movement in Film, and a Women in Film section that includes To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey, about The World of Suzie Wong actress Nancy Kwan.

The opener is Mao's Last Dancer, a biographical drama directed by Beresford about Li Cunxin, a dancer from China who defected to the US and became a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet. There's around 200 films in all.

The fest runs from April 15 to 24.

Snakes under your skin in The Intruder trailer

An apartment building built on a den of venomous snakes is the setting for the psychological thriller The Intruder (เขี้ยว อาฆาต, เขี้ยวอาฆาต Kieow Akaat), directed by "James" Thanadol Nualsuth and "Ping" Thammanoon Sakulbunthanom and produced by Poj Arnon at Phranakorn Film.

Surrounded by serpents and trapped in the apartment building, the residents are at each other's throats while snakes crawl inside.

The cast is headed by Akara Amarttayakul and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk. Last year when the film was in production, Golf Akara and an actor named BellBell were actually bitten by the snakes.

It's set for release on April 29, and the trailer is at YouTube. It's embedded below.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How does Tony Jaa get out of this?

Tony Jaa is put in the stocks and chained up.

He tries to explain his predicament at NangDee, which has a few gory images, including a shot of guys in armor with staffs and chains all ganging up on Tony at once and backing him into a spike-covered fence.

We'll see how he survived the ordeal when Ong-Bak 3 (องค์บาก 3) is released in Thai cinemas on May 5.

Monks with guns, Little Comedian top Alice

The controversial "monks-with-guns" crime drama Nak Prok (นาคปรก, Shadow of the Naga) was the top film in Thailand last weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Shown on 90 screens, it earned $483,889, about 15 million baht.

Not bad for a movie that has been sitting on a the shelf for more than three years at Sahamongkol Film International because producers were afraid it would anger Buddhist groups. Which it did. But no matter. The film was rated 18+, the highest advisory rating, and has additional Thai-only "pop-up" warnings on two scenes.

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee comments about the Buddhist group's call for the film to be banned and the pop-up warnings:

The rating system is enough, and then if a movie upsets you or your profession or your ethnic group, you can protest, make a noise, state your cause and your belief, because as we all know, to protest is one of our rights. It's check and balance, and if filmmakers wish to make films on sensitive issues, they also have the right to do that, but they have to think hard, because they'll have to answer questions. And the rating committee: they let the film pass without cutting, and despite the stupid warnings, they show that they're learning, or at least I hope that they're learning.

Read the whole thing. It's a good one.

Might Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century have been allowed to be screened uncensored under the ratings system as it's now being practiced?

Back to the box-office report. At No. 2 is the previous weekend's top film, Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (บ้านฉัน...ตลกไว้ก่อน (พ่อสอนไว้), The Little Comedian), which was on 94 screens.

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was holding firm in third, followed by Matt Damon in Green Zone (down from second place) and the Hollywood rom-com When in Rome.

This weekend sees the release of Bang Rajan 2, a reboot of Thanit Jitnukul's 2000 nationalist historical epic. With the red-shirt political protests going on, I have to wonder: Is a blood-strewn battle drama the thing people are going to want to see?

More light-hearted escapist fare can be found in the 3D animated How to Train Your Dragon or the Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin comedy It's Complicated. Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson is all brooding and dramatic in Remember Me and there's another Thai film, the romance With Love (Duay Rak, ด้วยรัก).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bacon sizzling in Bangkok

Prachya Pinkaew's and Bangkok's Bacon Rating just skyrocketed.

Kevin Bacon -- Bacon Number Zero -- is in Bangkok, shooting his scenes for Elephant White, the action film starring Djimon Hounsou that the Ong-Bak and Chocolate helmer is directing as his English-language debut.

They were filming on Thursday night near Bangkok's Chinatown.

The Footloose and Tremors star plays an untrustworthy old acquaintance of Hounsou's character, Curtie Church, a mercenary in Bangkok. Photos posted on NationPhoto's Facebook group show Bacon and Hounsou running around in the dark. Prachya is shown standing next to Bacon in another shot.

Written by Kevin Bernhardt and produced by Millennium Films with production services by DeWarrenne Pictures, Elephant White is planned for release next year.

(Via Veen_NT)

Red shirts push Subhanahongsa Awards to next month

Seeing how Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre, the venue for Sunday's Subhanahongsa Awards (รางวัลภาพยนตร์แห่งชาติ สุพรรณหงส์) by the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, is in the general neighborhood of a mass demonstration by shaven-headed red-shirted anti-government protesters, well it just wouldn't do to have young stars and starlets in their limos and gowns and tuxedos traipsing around and getting stuck in traffic.

So Sunday's presentation of the Thai film industry 's most prestigious awards has been postponed until sometime in April, says Film Business Asia, which got the news from Suvannee Chinchiewchan, FNFAT's vice president of international affairs.

No other venue for the awards could be found on short notice, she says.

I'm not sure what the rescheduled date is.

(Via Film Business Asia - nice scoop Stephen!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New HD English-subtitled trailer for The Edge of the Empire

There's a hot new trailer for Kantana's historical epic Kon Tai Ting Pandin (คนไท ทิ้งแผ่นดิน), a.k.a. The Edge of the Empire.

Posted at YouTube in high-def with English subtitles, the new reel shows off the work of filmmaker Paul Spurrier. The director of the bargirl witchcraft thriller P served as director of photography on The Edge of the Empire.

Directed by Nirattisai Kaljareuk, it's been in production for four years -- much of it in post-production, giving it the "most extensive CG background work of any Thai film yet produced," says the YouTube description.

It's based on the legends of the heroic struggles and sacrifices of the ancient ethnic Tai people.

Among the cast is songs-for-life icon Ad Carabao, who stars as the leader of a Tai group. He also wrote and sings the movie’s title track.

"I feel passionate about a story that urges Thais to love each other and unite," Ad was quoted as saying by Soopsip in The Nation recently. "This is a very timely film."

According to Ad, Nirattisai "really studied the background of the Tai and every bit of the history to get everything perfect."

Kon Tai Ting Pandin is set for release on April 10. The trailer is embedded below.

There's also more posters.

(Via @scott_cos)

Review: Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok)

  • Directed by Phawit Panangkasiri
  • Starring Ray MacDonald, Somchai Kemklad, Pitisak Yaowanan, Sa-ad Piampongsan, Inthira Charoenpura
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 18, 2010; rated 18+, with warnings
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Shot in 2007 and shelved at the movie studio until last week out of fears it was too controversial, the Buddhist-theme crime drama Nak Prok (นาคปรก, Shadow of the Naga) feels older than three years.

Uniformly fine performances by a cast of now-veteran actors who all got their start in the Thai New Wave of the late 1990s and early 2000s make Nak Prok seem like a forgotten classic of that era.

And the setting – an ancient, down-at-the-heels temple – makes the movie even more timeless.

The style is firmly film noir and, as in the black-and-white Hollywood crime dramas of the 1940s and ’50s, shadows, driving rain and smoke from cigarettes contribute to the atmosphere.

There’s the hard-boiled plot, too.

The protagonists are murderous thieves dressed as monks, hiding out at the temple while they retrieve loot hidden there months before. But, as in most film noir, at least some of the characters are essentially good people, dragged by circumstances into a bad situation.

Leadership in the trio of thieves wavers between the angry and violent Singh (played by Ray MacDonald from 1999’s Khon Jorn) and his more quietly brooding partner Parn (Somchai Kemklad from 2001’s Killer Tattoo).

The trio is completed by Parn’s gentle brother Por (Pitisak Yaowanan from 2004’s Ai-Fak).

On the run from police after the killing of a couple of officers, the three are trying to retrieve cash they stole from an armored truck.

The money – it’s another old movie device, being the plot-driving MacGuffin, like the Maltese Falcon or the Lost Ark – was buried somewhere by the fearful Por. And now, with the police closing in, they’re stumbling around in the rain, in the dark, trying to find the cache. A temple bell tolls and clues Por in to the location.

Eventually the men determine that a sanctuary has been built over the hole where the money is hidden, and that they can’t just go in and start ripping up floorboards in the middle of the night.

“What are you going to do, take the whole place hostage while we dig?” Parn asks Singh, and Parn hastily comes up with the plan – they’ll have their heads shaved and pose as monks while hiding out and digging.

An elderly monk, Luang Chuen (Sa-ad Piampongsan, unrecognizable with his hair and mustache shaved), is forced at gunpoint to help the thieves with their plan. Singh and Parn will pose as monks while Por – the most devout of the three, refusing to go through a sham ordination – will be their temple boy. Their story for the other monks is that they’re on a pilgrimage.

The wayfaring strangers’ ruse is virtually doomed from the start. While Parn and Por obviously have some experience with Buddhism and temple protocol, the hot-headed Singh has no clue how to act like a monk and isn’t about to start learning.

He’s given the job of tolling the bell each morning to wake everyone, but he doesn’t so much toll it as beat it out of frustration. His language remains foul and his actions anything but sanctified as he kicks a dog and swears at a novice monk. And he cannot keep his primal urges in check.

This leads to him calling his wife, the prostitute Pueng (Inthira Charoenpura from 1999’s Nang Nak). She’s duplicitous to her core. A deliciously edited scene shows her in bed with various customers – among them a corrupt police captain played by Pasin Ruengwut from 2000’s Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger) – spilling the details of the heist.

As for Parn and Por, the brothers are motivated by their mother’s blindness and the hope that they can use their share of the cash to pay for an eye operation. The boys take to temple life more naturally than Singh.

The role of Parn is particularly redemptive for the actor Somchai, who since he completed filming this movie has faced legal problems due to his hot-headedness in real life. He has since married and sworn off his wild ways.

Pitisak's Por -- the soul of the film -- seeks spiritual enlightenment from the old monk Luang Chuen, who dispenses inspirational talk while he gives a traditional tattoo.

One moment of humor comes when a local buffoon receives one of Luang Chuan’s painful tattoos and immediately has a friend test the ink’s protective power by striking him with a board. It still hurts.

It’s devout director Phawit Panangkasiri’s comment on the superstitious beliefs that have sprung up around contemporary Thai Buddhism.

The images – of men robed as monks pointing guns, touching women, swearing, fighting and digging for money – are strong – too strong for the producers at Sahamongkol Film International.

They feared a backlash from Buddhist groups and it looked as though the movie would never unspool. But after Shadow of the Naga premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, there was a glimmer of hope.

The introduction of Thailand’s motion-picture ratings offered a way to advise audiences about the film’s violent content. And never mind about Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, which in 2008 had scenes of a monk playing guitar and monks playing with a remote-control flying saucer, censored for Thai audiences.

A plan to offer a two-tiered release for Nak Prok was reported in The Nation, with an uncensored 20+ version – the most restrictive rating with ID checks – and an 18+ version with “pop-up” warnings. Ultimately, only the 18+ version is playing, and the “pop-ups” – there are two – come at times when it seems there is nothing wrong with what the characters are doing.

Buddhist groups have protested the film anyway, but it’s still playing. So anyone can see this is a redemptive tale about the strength of faith and that dishonesty, greed and general blackheartedness all have clear and negative consequences. No one is innocent in Nak Prok.

Related posts:

(Cross-published in The Nation, Page 3B, March 25, 2010)

Somkiat Vituranich and his 10-year struggle to make October Sonata

I served with writer-director Somkiat Vituranich (สมเกียรติ วิทุรานิช) on the short-film competition jury at the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival. I was pretty thrilled to meet the man who had penned the screenplay to Ai-Fak (The Judgement), an engaging and compelling social drama.

Based on the book by Chart Korbjitti, it's one of my all-time favorites. Just wish it were available on English-subtitled DVD so I could watch it again. And so does Somkiat, who lamented the moves by the Thai studios to leave the English subs off their DVDs, meaning a serious and good movie like Ai-Fak simply won't be seen by many people outside Thailand because it isn't horror or martial-arts action.

Back in 2007, Somkiat had just finished co-directing the talking-dog comedy-drama Ma-Mha 4 Ka Krub (Mid-Road Gang) and told me he was working on a romantic drama.

"No talking dogs?"

"No talking dogs," he said.

I had no idea at the time he'd been working on the romantic drama that was to be October Sonata (Ruk Tee Ror Koi) for 10 years.

But he finally got to make it. Released in December by NGR and M Pictures, the tale of star-crossed romance and bitter class conflict in 1970s Thailand performed modestly at the box office, but it's been the toast of this year's movie-awards season, with Somkiet picking up screenwriter and/or director honors from the Starpics Awards and the Bangkok Critics Assembly. It is one of the leading nominees for the industry's top honor, the Subhanahongsa Awards, which will be given out on Sunday.

Ahead of the awards ceremony, CNNGo Bangkok continues its contributions to Asian Film Week with a profile of Somkiat. Here's a snip:

I submitted the script for 'October Sonata' to almost every major production company but they all rejected it because it was too serious,” says Somkiat. “I spent the next 10 years struggling to be a filmmaker, or you could say it was 10 years of begging for a second chance to direct a film, but every door was closed to me.”

Now go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Poy Treechada in With Love ... Duay Rak

A circle of six friends develop crushes on each other in the romance With Love (Duay Rak, ด้วยรัก ), being released tomorrow (on Wednesday, a day earlier than most other films) by 96 Film Co.

The cast includes young idols Wanthongchai “Tol AF” Intharawat and Pheechaya Wattanamontri along with "Poy" Treechada Marnyaporn, the actress and former Miss Tiffany pageant queen who made her feature-film debut last year in the ghost comedy Ja-Ae ... Goi Laew Jaa (จ๊ะเอ๋ ... โกยแล้วจ้า).

It's directed by Saijai Pimthong with a script by Saranya Noithai.

I guess they are releasing it a day earlier than all the other movies this week to try and improve its box-office showing against the nationalistic favorite, Bang Rajan 2, which opens on Thursday.

There's a trailer for With Love at YouTube and it's embedded below.

(Via Asian Media Wiki)

CNNGo's 'best films and greatest actors from Thai cinema'

It's Asia Film Week at CNNGo, and with the Subhanahongsa Awards, aka the "Thai Oscars" coming up on Sunday, the travel website's Bangkok bureau has a new list to peruse: "The best films and greatest actors from Thai cinema."

It includes the likes of screen icons Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat and their 1970 musical, Monrak Luktung (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง). "It is our Star Wars, our Wizard of Oz, the birth of modern Thai cinema," writes Cod Satrusayang, better known as @fishmyman.

I like that 1970's Tone (โทน) is included on the list.

Have a look yourself and see if there's any movies or actors you think have been left out.

Monday, March 22, 2010

4th Asian Film Awards: Lee Chatametikool wins Best Editor for Karaoke

A Malaysian drama that features karaoke-video interludes and sweeping vistas of a palm-oil plantation won the Best Editor honors at the 4th Asian Film Awards, given out tonight in Hong Kong.

Lee Chatametikool won the award for Karaoke, a film by Malaysian-Canadian director Chris Chong. It's about a young man's return to find his old hometown much changed and his presence in a karaoke parlor run by his mother not so much welcomed. The movie was shot in Malaysia with a Thai crew that included cinematographer Charin Pengpanich, and had post-production work done in Bangkok.

Here's the 4th AFA winners:

  • Best Film: Mother (South Korea)
  • Best Director: Lu Chuan, City of Life and Death (China)
  • Best Actor: Wang Xueqi, Bodyguards and Assassins (Hong Kong/China)
  • Best Actress: Kim Hye-ja, Mother (South Korea)
  • Best Newcomer: Ng Meng Hui, At the End of Daybreak (Malaysia/Hong Kong/South Korea)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Nicholas Tse, Bodyguards and Assassins (Hong Kong/China)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Wai Ying-hung, At the End of Daybreak (Malaysia/Hong Kong/South Korea)
  • Best Screenwriter: Park Eun-kyo and Bong Joon-ho, Mother (South Korea)
  • Best Cinematographer: Cao Yu, City of Life and Death (China)
  • Best Production Design: Patrick Dechesne, Alain-Pascal Housiaux, Le Tian-Jue, Face (Taiwan)
  • Best Composer: Lo Ta-Yu, Vengeance (Hong Kong)
  • Best Editor: Lee Chatametikool, Karaoke (Malaysia)
  • Best Visual Effects: Yi Zeonhyoung, Thirst (South Korea)
  • Best Costume Designer: Christian Lacroix, Anne Dunsford, Wang Chia-Hui, Face (Taiwan)
  • Asian Film Award for Lifetime Achievement: Amitabh Bachchan
  • Asian Film Award for Outstanding Contribution to Asian Cinema: Zhang Yimou
  • Asian Film Award for 2009's Top-Grossing Film Director: John Woo

The Hollywood Reporter has the breakdown.

Lee was the only Thai nominee this year. No Thai films were nominated. It's the second time Lee has won the award. He also won at the first AFA in 2007 for Syndromes and a Century by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

But with the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) and FilMart going on, it's a busy time for the Thai industry and indie filmmakers.

The festival, which runs until April 6, has Kongkiat Komesiri's Slice, Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Tomonari Nishikawa's Lumphini 2552.

HAF has two Thai projects vying for funding: Ekachai Uekrongtham's's Chang & Eng and Lee Chatametikool's Past Love. Also, Technicolor Thailand gives an award.

And at FilMart, Princess Ubolratana will be on hand at the Thai Pavilion, promoting the Thai film industry as well as her own films, My Best Bodyguard and The Legend of the Queen.

(Info via Twitter; photo via Anocha on Facebook)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fan Chan re-released on DVD, with English subtitles

In a welcome move by GTH, the 2003 mega-hit childhood comedy-drama Fan Chan (แฟนฉัน, My Girl) has been re-released on DVD in Thailand, with, get this, English subtitles.

Could this be the first in a trend by Thailand's major studios, to re-release their older films with English subs?

Probably not. After all, Five Star Production, Sahamongkol and GTH are all releasing their older classics for home video in bare bones packages, with no English subs.

So the English-friendly Fan Chan is probably just a fluke.
Fan Chan was released on DVD in Thailand in 2003, which despite an elaborate package that resembled the typical Thai schoolbag, had no English subs.

An English-friendly release came from Hong Kong.

Fan Chan was the movie that laid the foundations for the GTH studio, which was formed from the 2004 merger of the movie's three production companies, GMM Pictures, Tai Entertainment and Hub Ho Hin.

It was also the debut for six rookie filmmakers: Songyos Sugmakanan (Dorm, Hormones, Phobia 2), Nithiwat Tharathorn (Seasons Change, Dear Galileo), Witthaya Thongyooyong (The Little Comedian, The Possible), Adisorn Trisirikasem (Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story), Komgrit Triwimol (Dear Dakanda, Bedside Detective, Noo Hin: The Movie) and Vitcha Gojiew (film editor on many GTH movies).

It's still one of my favorite movies. Set during the 1980s in a small Thai town, and when I watch it, it still makes me nostalgic for that time, even though I didn't grow up in 1980s Thailand.

Special features, none of which are subtitled but all are fun to watch, include video footage of the cast and crew's travels to film festivals in Berlin and Tokyo. There's a layer of confusing advertising screens that have to navigated through before the main menu comes up. But it’s bargain priced, in shops for around 109 baht.

It's at for $10.

Little Comedian braves the red shirts and Green Zone

Sweet comedy is proving to be the salve to soothe the bleeding eardrums of Bangkokians besieged by the anti-government red-shirt rallies that have taken over parts of the Thai capital for the past week.

The top film at the box office last weekend was GTH’s Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (บ้านฉัน...ตลกไว้ก่อน (พ่อสอนไว้), The Little Comedian), which earned $425,221 (about 13.7 million baht).

Shown on 117 screens, according to Box Office Mojo, the story of the one unfunny boy in a family of comedians outmuscled Matt Damon in director Paul Greengrass's gritty Iraq War follow-cam drama Green Zone.

The previous week's No. 1, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, dropped to third, with the pretty cool Ethan Hawke vampire thriller Daybreakers in fourth place.

The top five is rounded out by another Thai comedy, Kongphan Kruekkruen Tor Tahan Kuekkuk (Jolly Rangers), a slapstick army boot-camp farce from Phranakorn. The Jolly Rangers have been tenacious since their release on February 25-28, when the comedy was in second place to Sahamongkol's moody horror Who Are You. While Who Are You plummeted to fifth place in its second week of release, Kongphan Kruekkruen Tor Tahan Kuekkuk hung on in third under Alice and Daybreakers.

This week sees the release of the "monks-with-guns" crime drama Nak Prok (Shadow of the Naga) from Sahamongkol. Buddhist groups have demanded the film be banned, which might actually make people want to watch it, but the blood-letting stunts and other plans to stir shit by the red-shirt demonstrators might cause disruptions and make folks want to stay at home.

Update: Kong Rithdee has his review of The Little Comedian in today's Bangkok Post, which sums up: "Released against a backdrop of bloody unrest, GTH's latest bit of bland escapism seems more inconsequential than ever."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Buddhist groups call for ban of Shadow of the Naga

Released in cinemas today, the "monks-with-guns" crime drama The Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok, นาคปรก),has predictably drawn a protest from Buddhist organizations which are calling on the Ministry of Culture to ban the film.

The story involves three thieves, Singha (Ray MacDonald), Parn (Somchai Khemklad) and Por (Pitisak Yaowananon), who hide their loot in the grounds of a temple but when they return to collect the money, they find it’s been buried under a new chapel. Their solution is to force head monk Luangta Chuen (Sa-ad Piampongsan) at gunpoint to conduct an ordination ceremony for them so that they can stay in the monastery while they dig for their ill-gotten booty. Inthira Charoenpura also stars.

Directed by Phawat Panangkasiri, Shadow of the Naga was actually completed in 2007, but its strong subject matter -- the idea of guns being pointed at an abbot and men posing as monks and acting violently -- made producers at Sahamongkol Film International too skittish to release it. The director organized private screenings for friends and monks, and the response was favorable. "They understand my intention,” Pawat said in 2008.

It premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and then sat back on the shelf at Sahamongkol while producers mulled over what do with it.

Eventually, Thailand got a movie-ratings system, and it's been classified 18+, the highest unrestricted advisory rating. The studio has also taken the unusual step of placing "pop-up" warnings on certain scenes that show inappropriate behavior.

But that's not enough for Adisak Wannasin, president of the Buddhism Relations Association, who says his association and the Network of Buddhist Organisations want Nak Prok banned.

Rather than viewing Nak Prok as a tale of redemption and affirmation of faith, Adisak says the movie is full of harmful images and it will destroy the two-and-a-half millenia religion of Buddhism.

I better go see it before it's pulled from theaters.

(Via The Nation, also at Thai Audience)

Review: Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (The Little Comedian)

  • Directed by Witthaya Thongyooyong and Mez Tharatorn
  • Starring Chawin likitjareonpong, Paula Taylor, Jaturong Mokjok, Nichapat Jaruratnawaree
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 11, 2010; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

After the blood-spilling stunts by the red-shirt demonstrators in Bangkok, the gory twist in GTH’s Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (บ้านฉัน...ตลกไว้ก่อน (พ่อสอนไว้), The Little Comedian) won’t seem all that shocking to Thai moviegoers, except perhaps to fans of squeaky-clean actress Paula Taylor.

The twist comes at the midway point of this mostly wild-eyed and innocent comedy by Witthaya Thongyooyong, who’s looking to rekindle the spirit of the childhood romance Fan Chan, his 2003 debut feature, co-directed with five other young filmmakers.

Co-scripted and co-directed with Mez Tharatorn, Little Comedian is about the one unfunny boy in a family of comedians.

While Fan Chan made stars of child actors Charlie Trairat, Focus Jirakul and Chaleumpol “Jack” Tikumpornteerawong (who has a cameo here), Little Comedian puts the spotlight on Chawin likitjareonpong, who plays the scion of the Plern family in Lop Buri.

His father is a comedian, like his grandfather before him. Everyone in the family is funny.
Mom has a way of chatting on the phone that keeps the callers guessing. Granny can run off an epic list of her ailments that will put you in stitches – just don’t ask her what’s wrong with the car.

And little sister Salmon (Nichapat Jaruratnawaree) has such precision comedic timing you’d think she was crafted by Swiss watchmakers. The sharp-witted six-year-old has showbiz instincts built in as well – when she loans her brother some pocket change from her piggy bank, she demands that she be allowed to tag along, plus 5 per cent interest a day.

Named Tock, after Thailand’s most revered comedian Lor Tock, the boy has big shoes to fill, which makes his situation all the more woeful. Trouble is he tries too hard. His jokes, elaborately sketched out in his school notebook, look hilarious on paper but fall flat on execution.

Boys will be boys, and when Tock follows his pimply faced classmate to an appointment at the dermatologist, he’s captivated by the woman doctor, Nam Kan. Played by Paula, this Dr Ice is hot, with a big bright smile that melts Tock’s heart. So he puts all his effort into making his prepubescent face break out, just so he can have his pimples lanced by the cool dermatologist. After the prescribed chocolate bars and days without washing, sure enough, a big blackhead pops up on his nose. Money in hand from his sister, Tock trots along to the skin clinic. There he finds another reason to fall in love with the doc – he can make her laugh.

Scenes then follow of Tock trying to ask the doctor for a date, and actually succeeding, but it’s all pretty awkward because she’s twice his age and literally stands head and shoulders higher than him.

Meanwhile there are more serious matters at hand with Tock’s father, Pa Plern, who is hoping for a break that will land his comedy troupe on TV.

Tock actually has the dual challenges of starting a relationship with his doctor, trying to please his father and living in the shadow of his funnier little sister. The father-son scene is one of tension-filled brinkmanship. A music score more fitting to a spaghetti-western gunfight sets the mood as Tock struggles to not let on that he doesn’t think he’s cut out to be a comedian. It’s too much strain for a 12-year-old, and eventually the secrets and suppressed emotions come gushing out.

There are troubling moments with regards to what constitutes a proper doctor-patient relationship, especially between a boy and an adult, as well as boundaries that are crossed in terms of when that professional relationship becomes friendly. And, as friends, how far can you go in sticking your nose in someone else’s personal life? So far that you devise an elaborate comedy skit to steal your friend’s phone so you can look at her numbers? Too far? It’s the kind of situation that can only happen in a movie. Or maybe just in a small town like Lop Buri.

Overall, the tone of Baan Chan is uneven. It succeeds in the smaller moments, especially when it becomes apparent that Pa Plern, the consummate yukster portrayed by comedian Jaturong Mokjok, has his serious side (as well as a maternal one), and that he loves his son no matter what.

Another scene involving a duck is pretty funny.

One touching moment comes when Dad is daubing rouge on his son’s cheeks, preparing for his debut as a drag queen – a rite of passage in all family comedy troupes. “Put on more makeup, Dad. Make me look slutty!” the boy says.

The movie also gets points for its attention to Thailand’s culture of cafe comics, a struggling art form in which the troupes – telling the same jokes for generations – have been relegated from the nightclubs to discount barbecue restaurants.

A major quibble is about studio GTH’s Westernised dumbing-down of the English subtitles, or in this case “dubtitles”. The comedy troupe does impressions of such popular comedians as Kohtee Aramboy and Mum Jokmok and Thai singers like Ad Carabao, but the words on the screen say Jack Black, Jim Carrey and Willie Nelson, which is utterly confusing because the impressions don’t match. It would have been better to put the Thai names in the subtitles, and then non-Thai viewers could match what they see with what they hear. Perhaps they’d learn something rather than thinking, “Wow, that was a dumb joke – that guy didn’t sound anything like Willie Nelson!”

Related posts:

(Cross-published in The Nation, Page 3B, March 18, 2010)