Monday, May 31, 2010

October Sonata tops Subhanahongsa Awards

Postponed from March because of the red-shirt political protests in Bangkok, the 19th Subhanahongsa Awards (สุพรรณหงส์), the industry's "Thai Oscars" honoring films in 2009, were finally held on Sunday night at the Chalermkrung Royal Theater, with the weepy romance October Sonata winning the most honors.

Other big winners were the blood-soaked Slice and the thriller Nymph with three wins each.

October Sonata, a drama of star-crossed social-class romance, won Best Picture for producers at NGR, best screenplay for veteran writer-director Somkiet Vituranich and supporting actor for "Boy" Pitsanu Nimsakul, who was actually a co-lead, portraying a Chinese immigrant merchant who weds the illiterate seamstress heroine (Ratchawin Wongviriya) in a loveless marriage. The drama, about a young couple who meets on October 8, 1970, at the funeral of superstar actor Mitr Chaibancha and have an annual rendezvous at a seaside bungalow during Thailand's politically turbulent 1970s, also won for best costumes.

Kongkiat Komesiri won best director for Slice. Co-scripted by Wisit Sasanatieng and produced by Five Star Production, the homosexual-themed serial-killer thriller was Kongkiat's sophomore solo feature after 2007's Muay Thai Chaiya and his collaborative efforts with the Ronin Team on the second and third Art of the Devil slasher flicks. Slice also won for score and make up. Slice had been the top nominee, with nods in 14 of the 16 categories.

Best actor went to veteran Paramej Noi-um for Pacific Film's Samchuk, director Thanit Jitnukul's fact-based drama about a small-town school principal who struggles to help a group of schoolboys kick their drug habits.

Sirin "Cris" Horwang secured her place as Thailand's sweetheart, completing a sweep of the country's major film awards, winning best actress for GTH's Bangkok Traffic (Traffic) Love Story (Rot Fai Faa ... Maha Na Ter), in which she portrayed a thirtysomething Chinese-Thai spinster who sees a chance for love with a railway maintenance engineer on Bangkok's skytrain. She previously won at the Star Entertainment Awards, the Starpics Awards, the Bangkok Critics Assembly and the Kom Chad Luek Awards.

Supporting actress went to veteran Sunsanee Wattananukul for her widow in love with an Alzheimer's-stricken gent in Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's and GTH's Best of Times. The romantic comedy-drama also won for best song.

Winning three awards was director Pen-ek Ratanaruang's dysfunctional-marriage-in-a-jungle head-trip Nymph, which took honors in cinematography and editor for Pen-ek's frequent collaborators, lensman Chankit Chamnivikaipong and cutter MR Pattamanada Yukol. It also won for sound.

Here's the list of winners:

  • Best picture: October Sonata (Ruk Tee Ror Koi, รักที่รอคอย (2009)), NGR
  • Director: Kongkiat Komesiri, Slice (Chuen,เฉือน ฆาตกรรมรำลึก )
  • Actor: Paramej Noi-um, Samchuk (สามชุก (ขอเพียงโอกาสอีกสักครั้ง) )
  • Actress: Sirin "Cris" Horwang, Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story (Rot Fai Faa ... Maha Na Ter,รถไฟฟ้า..มาหานะเธอ)
  • Supporting actor: Pitsanu Nimsakul, October Sonata
  • Supporting actress: Sunsanee Wattananukul, Best of Times (Kwaam Jam San Dtae Rak Chan Yaao, ความจำสั้น แต่รักฉันยา)
  • Best screenplay: October Sonata, Somkiat Vituranich
  • Cinematography: Chankit Chamnivikaipong, Nymph (Nang Mai, นางไม้)
  • Editing: MR Pattamanada Yukol, Nymph
  • Art direction: Polek Sangkakul, A Moment in June (ณ ขณะรัก)
  • Score: Wild at Heart, Slice
  • Song: Seefah, "Ja Dai Mai Luem Kan", Best of Times
  • Recording and sound mixing: Ramintra Recording Studio, Nymph
  • Costume design: Noppadon Techo, October Sonata
  • Make-up: Narudee Sakulpongchai, Slice
  • Visual effects: Phakpoom R Suwatpanitch, The Scout (บิดพิภพทะลุโลก)
  • Lifetime achievement award: Kecha Plianvithee

More coverage is at Thai Rath, Daily News, INN News and MThai.

Update: Lyn's Lakorn Blog has a look at the scene.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference set for Ho Chi Minh City

Scholars and film practitioners will gather for the sixth Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference from July 1 to 4 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

They'll present papers, hold panel discussions and even have film screenings.

It's a pretty intense four days showcasing the deep thoughts by deep thinkers who are given time to do nothing but think about Southeast Asian cinema.

Co-sponsored by the Southeast Asian Studies Program at University of California Riverside, the conference opens on July 1 with the keynote by Associate Professor Adam Knee from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He'll talk on In(Qualified) Defense of "Southeast Asian Cinema".

Benjamin McKay from Monash University (Malaysia) moderates The Representation of History in Cinema with presentations by Liew Kai Khiun from National University of Singapore on Coping with the Past: History in Contemporary Thai Films, Delfin Tolentino Jr. from the University of the Philippines (Baguio) on The Narrative of Nation as a Tale of Prolonged Sorrow: The Historical Films of Raya Martin and Dr. David Teh from NUS on Pale Moons: Hauntology and the Ethnographic Surreal 1 and J Paul Manzanilla from the University of Philippines (Manila) with Multo, Kaluluwa, Espiritu: The Specter in Philippine Cinema.

Films in Southeast Asian History> is moderated by Katinka Van Heeren with Ekky Imanjaya from on Wayang Kulit Performance and History of Pre‐Cinema: Inquiring Archaeology of Projection, Nadi Tofighian from Stockholm University on From Circus to Cinema: Early Travelling Entertainments in Southeast Asia, Charles Leary of the Asia Research Institute, Singapore, with Cooperation and Containment: A Brief Account of the Federation of Motion Picture Producers in Southeast Asia, and Thomas Barker from NUS on Trash or Cultural Treasure? Indonesia’s International Co‐Productions of the 1980s.

There will be Conversations with Film Producers modereated by Paolo Bertolin and Merv Espina with producers Khue Nguyen (SK Films) and Irene Trinh (Ho Chi Minh City), Meiske Dede Taurisia (Indonesia) and others to be confirmed.

Cinema and the Southeast Asian Diaspora is moderated by Sophia Siddique Harvey from Vassar College with Cherish Aileen A. Brillon from Far Eastern University and Edgardo A. Brillon, Jr from the University of the Philippines (Diliman) on In the Service of the Filipino Worldwide: The Filipino Overseas Worker in the Transnational Cinematic Space, Katrina Ross A. Tan from the University of the Philippines (Los Baños) on Constructing Philippine Modernity: An Analysis of Mainstream Diaspora Films and Emily Bullock, Macquarie University, Emotional Cartographies: Vietnam‐Australia Cinematic Journeys.

Alternative Pathways: Digital Screens and Cinephilia moderated by Christina Schwenkel from UC-Riverside has Jasmine Nadua Trice of Indiana University with Paths of Cinephilia in Philippine Cinema, Richard Lowell MacDonald from Goldsmiths, University of London, on Reflections of a Cursed Land: Screening Lav Diaz in Thailand, Eloisa May P. Hernandez, University of the Philippines (Diliman), The Role of ICT on Digital Cinema in the Philippines 3, and Davide Cazzaro, Goldsmiths, University of London, with From city to city, from screen to screen: toward a “self‐circulating cinema”? Kuala Lumpur alternative screen culture beyond Kuala Lumpur.

The Subjects of New Media: Revisioning Thailand, Cambodia, and Viet Nam is moderated by Mariam B. Lam of UC-Riverside. Catherine H. Nguyen from UCLA has Framing Portraitures: Tran An Hung’s Vietnamese Cinematic Subjectivity, Dredge Byung'chu Käng of Emory University and Nguyn Tan Hoang at Bryn Mawr College present Surfing the Korean Wave: Wonder Gay as Thai National Pride / Thai National Shame, Lan Duong from UC-Riverside with A Forgotten Cinema: Star Power and the Films from Pre‐1975 Sài Gòn, and Viet Lê from the University of Southern California on What Remains: Returns, Confrontations, Representation, and Traumatic Memory in S‐21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Refugee.

Genre and Theory moderated by Thu‐Huong Nguyen‐Vo from UCLA has Tito ImandaBinus International, Binus Business School, with Kiddie Cinema in Indonesia: Profit, Entertainment, and Pedagogy, Felizer Louie M. Lazada,
University of the Philippines, on The Temporal Turn: Deleuze and Asian Horror 4 (Visayas) and Katarzyna Ancuta of Assumption University (Bangkok)
with Global Spectrologies: Contemporary Thai Horror Film and the Globalization of the Supernatural.

Sexuality and Gender in Southeast Asian Cinema, moderated by Rolando Tolentino of the University of Philippines has Brett Farmer from Chulalongkorn University on Loves of Siam: Contemporary Thai Cinema and Vernacular Queerness, Laura Coppens from the University of Zurich with Queer Epistemologies in Indonesia: The (re)presentation of Queer Knowledge and Experience in Films, Ferdinand M. Lopez, University of Santo Tomas‐Manila on Decadent Desire and Darkness: Mapping Gay Manila of the 70s in Ishmael Bernal’s City After Dark, Sheryl Rose M. Andes from the University of the Philippines on A Peak at the Winners of the Most Gender Sensitive Film Award of the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Film Practices and the Law with moderator Hung Thai of Pomona College
has Wan Aida Wan Yahay of Monash University, Australia, on The Representation of Women in Southeast Asian Historical Films Reflecting Feudal Times, Intan Paramaditha, New York University, Protectors and Provocateurs: Reading the New Film Law as Cultural Performance in Indonesia 5, Andrew Ng, Nanyang Technological University, The Culture of Self‐Censorship in Singapore Films and Ramon Lobato, Swinburne University of Technology, Geographies of Film Piracy in the Asia‐Pacific Region,

Jack Yaeger from Louisiana State University takes a look at Religion with Hatib Abdul Kadir from teh Center for Religion and Cross Cultural Studies on Filming the Indonesian Muslim Piety after Post The New Order Regime, Eva F. Amrullah, Department of Anthropology, Australian National University, The Impact of the Representation of Face‐veiled Woman in Indonesian Ayat Ayat Cinta, Lito B. Zulueta, University of Santo Tomas‐Manila, Third Cinema and Brown Theophany: Criss Crossings between Contemporary Philippine Cinema and Contemporary Catholic Theology, Erin Cabanawan, University of the Philippines (Diliman), Dios Ina, Inang Pilipinas: Women and Nation in Filipino Religion‐themed Films.

Professor John A. Lent from Temple University moderates Filmic Perceptions of Southeast Asia with Daniel C. Tsang, University of California (Irvine), Vietnamese and Chinese Vietnamese Depictions in Colonial Hong Kong Cinema and Jennifer Verraes, University Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle, Remapping Admixtures: the Barbarian and the Neighbour, who is the Other (with)in Contemporary Southeast Asian Cinemas?

Space, Globalisation, and Nation moderated by Wan Zawawi, UiTM,
has Badrul Hassan of Monash University with Malaysian Cinema and the Public Sphere: A Vantage View, Natalie Boehler, University of Zurich, On Theorizing Thai Cinema, Veronika Kusumaryati, Jakarta Arts Institute, A New Urban Geography: The Case of OK Video Festival, William M. Owens independent scholar, Projecting Thailand: Strategies of Interpretation in the Films of Pen‐ek Ratanaruang.

And: Time, Space and the Works of Apichatpong Weeresethakul, moderated by May A. Ingawanij, University of Westminster, with Philippa Lovatt, University of Glasgow, Here Lies Memory: the Haunted Landscape of Nabua in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Primitive, Dianne Daley, RMIT University, Melbourne, An Empathetic Analysis of Time and Space in Films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul 7, Tony Day, Wesleyan University, Time and Freedom in Asian Film, and Ray Langenbach & Azmyl Md. Yusof, Sunway University College, Cinematic Vagrancy.

Finally there's Conversations with Filmmakers moderated by Tan Bee Thiam of the Asian Film Archive and Chuong‐Dai Vo, University of California, San Diego, with Sherman Ong, Pepe Diokno and others to be confirmed.

The venue for all this is IDECAF in Ho Chi Minh City. The full program and other details can be found on the SEACC website.

Tony Jaa enters the monkhood

Tony Jaa was ordained in a ceremony in Surin on Friday. Like a scene out of one of his movies, he rode atop an elephant to the ceremony, as depicted at the end of Ong-Bak.

Thai Rath has the story and photos.

His monastic name is Kitiposano, according to Urisara_NT, which means "elegant celebrity".

I am uncertain how long he will stay ordained. Thai Buddhist men routinely enter the monkhood at various auspicious times in their lives for short durations.

His mother told Korat Daily she hopes her 34-year-old son, real name Tatchakorn Yeerum (ทัชชกร ยีรัมย์) , formerly Panom Yeerum (พนม ยีรัมย์), finds a nice woman to marry afterward.

Update: Cinematical is in a tizzy over this latest move and Twitch lays a smackdown.

Friday, May 28, 2010

In memoriam: Payut Ngaokrachang

Pioneering Thai animator Payut Ngaokrachang (ปยุต เงากระจ่าง), hailed as the "Walt Disney of Thailand", died yesterday. He was 81 years old.

Payut made the first Thai animated feature, The Adventure of Sudsakorn (สุดสาคร), which was released in 1979. The fantasy tale is adapted from Phra Aphai Mani, a 30,000-line epic poem by Sunthorn Phu (1786–1855).

Production of Sudsakorn took three years, with Payut doing much of the work himself and nearly going blind in the process. He related his struggles in an interview with Professor John A. Lent in 1997 at the Animation World Network:

I made a lot of my equipment from pieces I got from junk of World War II military surplus. I'd find a screw here, a crank there, etc. I used a combat camera and adapted it. I pulled together pieces of wood, aluminum, whatever I could find."

"I did all the key drawings myself, even the layout and design ... I was almost blind from doing that film and now I wear contacts. My right eye is long, my left is short, crooked because of all that detailed work."

According to Wikipedia, Payut was born on April 1, 1929 in Klong Warl village, Warkoe in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. As a child, he was interested in nang yai (หนังใหญ่) shadow-puppet plays and Felix the Cat.

He studied art by corresponding with illustrator Hem Vejakorn, whose work was seen on the covers of 10-satang pulp novels.

The artist and self-trained animator started out making short films. His first was Haed Mahasajan (เหตุมหัศจรรย์) in 1955, about a distracted traffic cop and the resulting pile-up of cars.

The "Hollywood like" animation caught the attention of the United States Information Service, which put him to work making anti-communist propaganda posters. He made one short for USIS that had the Ramayana's white monkey god Hanuman battling a red communist monkey.

Payut collaborated with pioneering filmmaker Ratana Pestonji after Ratana had stopped making films in the mid-1960s and was making commercials for a living.

One of their works was an ad for a brand of patent medicine or whisky (not sure which) that was racy and politically incorrect by today's standards. Ratana actually made Payut a camera to use for the animation, and the equipment is on display at the Film Archive Museum in Nakhon Pathom.

With Japanese funding, he made an educational short for girls in 1992 called My Way.

Pressed to explain his influences – was his animation Japanese-style or American-style? – he said he had his own style, Payut style.

Payut never made another feature after Sudsakorn. The animation process was too labor-intensive and took too long; Thai studios preferred to make live-action films, quickly and inexpensively.

But Sudsakorn is a historic achievement. It's often screened at film festivals, though I have yet to actually see it.

I met Payut a couple of times, and though hard of hearing and unable to see clearly, he was still enthusiastic and sharp.

The first was in 2007 at the Thai Film Foundation's Cherd Songsri Retrospective. He appeared for the screening of Cherd's landmark drama Plao Kao (The Old Scar), which starred his daughter, actress Nantana Ngaograjang, as half of a star-crossed couple in a tragic romance.

He was at the Film Archive in 2008 to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Ratana Pestonji. There, he was showing off an elaborate art book, chronicling his works. That night, in the rain, he put his hand and footprints in the concrete outside the Archive's Sri Salaya Cinema.

Last year's inaugural Bangkok International Animation Film Festival paid tribute to him with a "Payut Night" and a gala screening of The Adventure of Sudsakorn.

Payut's name also touches new generations of Thai animators through the Payut Ngaokrachang Prize for animation given by the annual Thai Short Film & Video Festival. The award is a medallion, designed by Payut.

According to Matichon, bathing rites are set for 4pm on May 31 at Wat Chonprathan Rangsarit, Bang Talat, Pak Kret, Nonthaburi, where the cremation ceremony will be held on June 5 at 4.30.

(Via Veen_NT)

In memoriam: The Siam Theatre

CNNGo Bangkok today has a last look at the Siam Theatre, which was gutted in the May 19 arson attacks that spread during the military crackdown on the red-shirt political protests.

The article includes valuable remembrances and photos by The Projectionist of the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project, as well as a teary-eyed confession from taxicab-blogger Dale Konstanz of Still Life in Moving Vehicles.

And some other dude adds his thoughts as well.

The burning of the Siam is a great loss to the Bangkok cinema scene, but thankfully Siam Square's ornate Scala remains as the last first-run single-screen theater in the city.

The Nation had a piece in Thursday's paper. It's behind the website's experimental paywall now, but I was able to grab a choice nugget to share here:

The theatre nourished and reared the aesthetics of cinematic arts for audiences of several generations,” says movie critic Manotham Theamtheabrat.

“I was shocked to the point of tears when I realized that firefighters couldn’t go to Siam Square to extinguish the flames,” says GMM Tai Hub (GTH) president Visute Poolvoralaks.

Manotham’s first visit to the cinema was in 1976 to see the teen movie Wai Onlawon.

And Wai Onlawon was screened there again during the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival.

At the time, I was unaware of the strong connection the Siam had to the Thai film industry. As The Nation article points out, back in the Siam's heyday in the 1970s, it was the place to premiere Thai films.

Today, most of the Thai movie premieres are at the glitzy Paragon Cineplex, which has reopened after being closed during the red-shirt protests, or at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, which was also burnt in the May 19 attacks. But unlike the Siam – slated to become a shopping mall anyway – developers can rebuild the CentralWorld mall and its multiplex.

Even during the 1980s, Visute premiered his first production with his first company, Tai Entertainment, Suem Noi Noi Kalon Mak Noi, at the Siam.

GTH producer-director Jira Maligool recalls growing up hoping he'd one day see his name in lights at the Siam – a dream that came true in 2005 when his Maha'lai Muang Rae (มหา’ลัย เหมืองแร่ , The Tin Mine) played there.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady also played at the Siam after their award-winning runs at the Cannes Film Festival. Though it should be noted that Blissfully was heavily censored.

In recent years, the Siam had mainly become the place to watch movies from Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, with the original soundtracks and English and Thai subtitles.

The Apex chain's surviving Lido multiplex and House cinema on RCA will carry on that welcome tradition, but it won't be the same as seeing them on the big screen of the Siam.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Culture Ministry's funding for Naresuan sequels cut in half

Parts three and four of The Legend of King Naresuan historical epic by director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol will get 46 million baht instead of 100 million baht from the Culture Ministry, according to news reports today.

The level of funding had been protested by independent filmmakers, among them recent Cannes Palme d'Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul but Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch said after a House meeting that the cut came after he learned the Commerce Ministry was giving Naresuan 3 and 4 Bt330 million.

The remaining 54 million baht will be plowed back into the Culture Ministry's budget for the Thai Khem Kaeng (Strong Thailand) "creative economy" stimulus plan for moving images.

The fund totalled 200 million baht, with half of it going to Naresuan. Indie filmmakers, led by Apichatpong and Manit Sriwanichpoom, protested that level of funding, saying the money would be better spent by spreading it out among more smaller projects.

The funds taken back from Naresuan might go to some of the 246 submitted projects that went unfunded, or more money might be given to some of the 48 other chosen projects, among them films by Apichatpong, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Anocha Suwichakornpong.

Update: The Bangkok Post quotes Minister Teera: "This is not aimed at ending the allegation of special treatment. But there is an overlap between the funds from the two ministries. So the budget should be cut." And Pimpaka Towira chimes in to say there's nothing personal against Naresuan in the protest.

(Via Thai Rath, The Nation and thanks to Rikker)

Bad girls dressed that way in Sin Sisters 2

After finally seeing the release of his studio-banned 2003 katoey sports horror-comedy Phee Tum Tim (ผีตุ๋มติ๋ม) last year, Sukij Narin now follows up his controversial cult-hit 2002 sex comedy Sin Sisters (ผู้หญิง 5 บาป, Phu Ying Ha Bap) with Sin Sisters 2.

No longer hindered by police censorship, Sukij seeks to take full advantage of Thailand's new motion-picture ratings system and make the movie he presumably wanted to make eight years ago.

Opening in Thai cinemas today, Sin Sisters 2 has the rather dubious distinction of being the first commercially released Thai film to receive the 20- (unofficially stated as 20+) rating. This is the only restricted rating in the system, with I.D. checks at the theater supposed to be mandatory.

Previous 20- releases include Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (the first) and Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (yet to be commercially released in Thailand -- it had a festival screening only).

The premise of Phu Ying Ha Bap 2 is roughly the same as the first -- five saucy women confess the sexual secrets they are least proud of. Only here, instead of sitting around in an apartment as in the first film, there are five women being held captive under torturous conditions by a mysterious person. It all looks rather exploitive, in a "Women in Prison" sort of way.

With the censorship panel being beefed up, it's anybody's guess whether more films like this will be allowed.

There's an English-subtitled trailer at YouTube and it's embedded below.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Censorship panel beefed up

Little news item on Page 15A of today's Nation could have big implications for movie viewers in Thailand. It says:

The Culture Ministry will provide an office with 99 officials to help the Film Censor Committee, Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch said.

The censor panel screens films for rent, distribution and public screening in Thailand. Without its approval, local films cannot be exported either.

Teera said the Cabinet had already approved the establishment of the Film Censor Office, and had also given the green light to the plan to upgrade the Culture Watch Group under the ministry’s Office of Policies and Strategies.

The Culture Watch Group usually has just eight officials, but now it would have 28 officials, Teera said.

Why is it still called "censor panel" and not "ratings panel"? The old censorship habit is a hard one to kick.

Prachya and bands brave bullets to make music video

Entertainers are turning out in force to bring peace and cheerfulness back to Thailand after the clashes between the red-shirt anti-government protesters and the military left 85 dead and 1,378 injured in Bangkok.

Among the efforts is a song, "Khor Khwam Suk Khuen Klub Ma" ("May Happiness Come Back"), written in around two hours by tunesmith "Dee" Nitipong Hornak.

Quickly, a "We Are the World"-style chorus of 301 entertainers from all walks of show business and studio and label affiliations formed to record the number on a soundstage at MCOT.

And with the looming threat of whizzing sniper bullets, in the smoldering wreckage of charred buildings in the aftermath of the May 19 military crackdown and arson attacks, Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew and his film crew hit the streets to make a music video to go with the song.

Their efforts are chronicled in The Nation today:

The director shows scenes of the damage caused by the arson and grenade attacks with Slur's guitarist Arak "Pe" Amornsupsiri in front of CentralWorld, the Richman Toy's singer Veeranat "Jap" Tippayamonthon on Rama IV, Thaitanium at Din Daeng and actor Nattawut “Por” Sakidjai at the Siam Theatre.

It was risky making the video.

"When I was filming Thaitanium, three military trucks drove very fast into the area, apparently after reports of a sniper hiding nearby. I had less than 10 minutes to finish the take as we had to leave then and there," Prachya says.

"I felt a little strange because I'd heard on the news that the Din Daeng area had not been completely secured. But we followed the production team and when we arrived, we were shocked to see how the road had been transformed into a black desert. After finishing the take, the military escorted us through the area," recalls Khan [of Thaitanium].

"It was the quickest way of learning the hook of the song," jokes Day.

Way merely shakes his dead, saying he thought he'd faced the most dreadful day in his life when he witnessed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre while living in New York. "The Bangkok riots," he says, "were almost as bad."

The music video will be launched at 5pm on Thursday in front of Siam Paragon and will be broadcast on all Thai TV channels.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cannes 2010: Hero's welcome promised for Apichatpong

Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his win of the Palme d'Or for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives at the Cannes Film Festival was on the front page of most daily newspapers in Bangkok today.

The response to the win in Apichatpong's native land is further gauged in an article by Agence France-Presse, which quotes Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch:

It's brilliant. I deeply hoped that his film would win," said Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch, promising the avant-garde filmmaker a hero's welcome when he returns to Thailand. "This kind of victory is what we really need at this time of crisis."

At the festival, Apichatpong had strong words about the Culture Ministry's censorship. But Teera praised Uncle Boonmee, saying "The film's content is very good, it's about Thai belief and traditions."

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee notes that "Uncle Boonmee contains a scene showing a monk engaged in an activity to which the authorities might object. However, the film's credits show that it has received support from the Culture Ministry."

In fact, the Culture Ministry wants to give Apichatpong 3.5 million baht under the Strong Thailand "creative economy" film fund -- money that Apichatpong has said he'll refuse unless the mechanisms of the film fund are reformed and made transparent.

Anyway, Apichatpong's point about censorship wasn't necessarily about his films -- even though his 2006 feature Syndromes and a Century had six scenes snipped by censors, which included a guitar-strumming monk -- it's about filmmakers making movies about Thailand's current political troubles, which the film law might prohibit by invoking the vague and overly broad reasons of "national security".

The AFP article also has "man-on-the-street" interviews with people who never heard of Apichatpong.

And it quotes Songyos Sugmakanan, the director for the GTH studio who's made such mainstream Thai films as the boarding-school thriller Dorm, the teen romance Hormones and the zombie segment of the Phobia 2 horror anthology. He's also chairman of the Thai Film Director Association.

Songyos says the Cannes win won't mean much for the Thai film industry, because Apichatpong doesn't have a big following.

Besides, Apichatpong isn't part of the local film industry.

And with a Cannes win under his belt, he doesn't need to be. Everyone is going to want a piece of Apichatpong now, and he can make a movie just about anywhere he wants, except maybe Thailand.

The Chicago press, where Apichatpong graduated from the city's Art Institute, was full of news from Cannes.

NBC Chicago quoted Cannes jury president Tim Burton about Uncle Boonmee:

I felt it was a beautiful, strange dream you don't see very often. It's the type of cinema I don't usually see and again, that's what this festival is all about. ... You always want to be surprised by films and it did that for most of us."

Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert, who's covered the Cannes festival for decades, writes about Uncle Boonmee in his Cannes post-mortem:

I await a second viewing of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's winner of the Palme d'Or, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. I felt affection and respect for it, but no passion. But reflect that when you see a subdued and challenging film late in the festival, you come to it dazed with movie overload. I know myself well enough to suspect it will play much better first thing on a Monday morning at a press screening here in Chicago.

Weerasethakul, who says we can call him Joe, has made a film about a man who moves through planes of existence that involve humans, animals, spirits, memories, dreams and fantasies. The man is in the last stages of kidney failure, being cared for by a male nurse in an unexplained house that seems to be surrounded by jungle. His dead wife and son come to visit. Mystical characters materialize and interact with nature. The voices are mostly muted. The forest is enveloping.

There are many theories about the film. I have one that may be completely off the wall. If the dying man is on pain medication, this may be a literal transcription of his hallucinatory dreams. At stages of my own surgeries, I was on a good deal of pain med, and had dreams or fantasies that remain, to this moment, more vivid than many of my actual memories. Even without drugs, he could be moving toward a mental reconciliation of death and nature. Then nothing needs to be explained, not even when his son appears as an ape with glowing red eyes. It is all his mind sorting through available images. The key, I think, is to declare the film to be entirely from his point of view, and not an objective one.

Maybe Ebert could take advice from one of his fellow Stateside critics, The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. In her coverage of Cannes, she writes:

Yet even as it feeds the art houses along with the red-carpet monster (or tries to), Cannes continues to make room for films that fall outside the commercial mainstream. The greatest proof of this is unequivocally Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the single most adventurous film in the competition. It opens with a mysterious and lovely scene of a buffalo shaking loose its tether and roaming deep into the forest, an image that might be from one of Uncle Boonmee’s past lives. It is also a metaphor for how to watch Mr. Weerasethakul’s films: You need to shake loose all your preconceived ideas about how and why movies make meaning and just plunge in.

Or, "Relax!" as Apichatpong advises in an interview with Indie Movies Online:

Open your mind up and just let the images flow. Every film [that I make] I encounter a different, interesting interpretation, and I'm looking forward to it. People are different, you cannot force them, and there's gonna be people who shut off and there's gonna be people who share the sentiment. And for me too, sometimes when I watch a commercial movie, I don't understand.

It's an eclectic, wide-ranging interview, touching on Apichatpong's in-development art project Utopia, which involved putting Brigitte Bardot on the Starship Enterprise as well as the director's own thoughts on reincarnation and the clashes in Bangkok.

Actually lots of interviews with Apichatpong. Too much to digest in one sitting. But to start, here's another one at Huffington Post.

Update: Nanoguy has the text of Apichatpong's thank-you speech.

Update 2: The Nation has an editorial on Apichatpong's Cannes win: "But before the Thai Culture Ministry starts waving the flag in celebration, it should take a minute to recall Apichatpong's comments on the issue of film censorship. After all, strict censorship is obstructive to directors like Apichatpong, discouraging them from exploring innovative themes."

Update 3: The Bangkok Post has a Reuters piece on their editorial page today, quoting Monday's headline in Le Figaro: "'Uncle Boonmee', Palm of Boredom". There's also a nice round-up about Uncle Boonmee at the Arab Times website, "Thai festival winner steeped in spiritualism".

(Reuters photo via Yahoo! News)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cannes 2010: Apichatpong and his Uncle Boonmee win the Palme d'Or

A drama that involves a monkey ghost with glowing red eyes, an uncle who's dying of kidney disease and a princess having sex with a talking catfish, won the Palme d'Or at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat) was the second win for director Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the main competition at Cannes. He won the jury prize in 2004 for Tropical Malady and won Cannes' second-tier Un Certain Regard competition in 2002 with Blissfully Yours. Uncle Boonmee is the first Thai film to win the top prize at what's arguably the planet's most prestigious film event.

"This is like another world for me, coming off the set [that is] full of jungle. So this is surreal," Apichatpong said.

"I would like to kiss all of you ... especially Tim Burton. I really like your hair style," he said, thanking the jury president and the panel. Burton totally blushed, according to film journalist Eric Kohn. Apichatpong himself served on the Cannes jury in 2008.

"And I would like to send message back home: The prize is for you," he said. "And also I'd like to thank all the spirits and the ghosts in Thailand. They make it possible for me to be here."

He also thanked his parents for taking him to his first movie. "I was so young, I didn't know what is on the screen ... With this award, I think I know a little more what cinema is but still it remains a mystery. And I think this mystery [is what keeps] us coming back here to share our world. And it'll be a long time [before] we discover the real power to crack the code."

Asked about the jury’s choice, Burton initially cut the discussion short, saying, “We’ve been talking about it all day, so we really don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he's quoted as saying by IndieWire. Pressed further, he added: “It’s like a beautiful, strange dream that you don’t see very often.”

The Cannes jury this year was headed by Burton with the panel comprised of film expert Alberto Barbera, actress Kate Beckinsale, writer Emmanuel Carrere, actor Benicio Del Toro, composer Alexandre Desplat, director Victor Erice, director Shekhar Kapur and actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno. A chair was kept open for a 10th panel member – jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

The Grand Prix went to Des Hommes et Ds Dieux (Of Gods and Men) by Xavier Beauvois. Another film that garnered positive buzz was A Screaming Man (Un Homme Qui Crie) by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun from Chad. Giving a nod to Africa, the film won the jury prize. Check Mubi for the full list of winners.

Screening on Friday, Uncle Boonmee emerged as a darkhorse favorite for the Palme d'Or in a year that was widely seen as lackluster. Buzz about the Boonmee was overwhelmingly favorable, with mainstream reviews ranging from praiseworthy to not-so-excited. Press-room wags dubbed it Uncle Bonghit, according to Salon. Generally, Uncle Boonmee has been noted as the director's most accessible, most narrative work to date.

The director arrived in Cannes for Friday's screening after being delayed in Bangkok, where his passport had been trapped, awaiting stamps in the British Embassy, which had been closed because of the political protests. Issued a special passport, he was heading to the airport last Wednesday as the red-shirt anti-government protests culminated in a deadly crackdown by the Thai military that led to rioting and arson attacks in parts of the city. Ironically, one of the buildings that burned down was the Siam Theatre, which in the past had screened Apichatpong's Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady.

The events in Bangkok heavily weighed on Apichatpong's statements to the press in Cannes, and he also had sharp words against the Thai government for its censorship of films. His previous film, 2006's Syndromes and a Century (which premiered at the Venice fest), had six seemingly innocuous scenes cut by censors who deemed them offensive to various institutions in Thailand, including the Thai medical establishment (both of Apichatpong's parents are physicians) and Buddhism.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is inspired by a sermon book by Phra Sripariyattiweti, a Buddhist monk in Apichatpong's hometown of Khon Kaen. The director made it the feature-film component of his Primitive art project, which explores the concepts of memory and transformation in Thailand's rural northeast. The art project also includes a massive seven-channel video installation that has been shown in Munich, Liverpool and Paris, as well as two other stand-alone short films, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms of Nabua, which won the first Asia Art Award.

The feature was shot on Super 16mm and is imbued with Apichatpong's nostalgia for the movies of his childhood. "The film became more of a memory of old cinema ... very antique. The acting, the lighting, is in a very old style," he told The Nation in an interview last month.

After Cannes, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives next heads to the Sydney Film Festival, and many, many other festival screenings will likely follow around the globe over the next year or more. It's uncertain when and where it will be screened in Thailand.

Update: His entire thank-you speech is at Nanoguy's blog.

(Reuters photos via Yahoo! News)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cannes 2010: GTH presells Shutter director's solo bow

Banjong Pisanthanakun (บรรจง ปิสัญธนะกูล), half of the duo of directors who made studio GTH's hit horror thrillers Shutter (ชัตเตอร์ กดติดวิญญาณ) and Alone (แฝด), has completed filming his solo feature debut.

The movie is called Knowing Me, Knowing You, and is a travel romance shot in South Korea. It marks a new direction for Banjong, who co-directed the thrillers Shutter and Alone with Parkpoom Wongpoom and helmed the horror-comedy segments of the Phobia and Phobia 2 horror-short anthologies.

Screen Daily's Liz Shackleton is reporting from the Cannes Film Market that Knowing Me, Knowing You had a distribution pre-sale to Queen Film in Indonesia.

The movie comes out at the end of July or early August, says Screen Daily.

Also in the works for studio GTH: a Hindi remake to Alone, the story of a woman haunted by her twin sister, and a Mandarin remake of BTS: Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story, about a single 30-year-old woman's fleeting romance with a skytrain maintenance engineer.

Cannes 2010: What are Uncle Boonmee's chances?

The Cannes Film Festival is over. Except for the awards in the main Palme d'Or competition, which are given out tonight.

According to pundits, a strong contender for the Palme d'Or emerged with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat).

Pundits also say there's no strong winner as there was last year when Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon took the Palme d'Or. Which films will the jury headed by Tim Burton like?

Movieline has a cheeky look at the odds.

The Thai filmmaker ... is a critics’ darling, in the same camp as Hou Hsiao-Hsien. In fact, the more pretentious the critic, the more he or she will usually champion Joe’s films. That aside, this film is by far his most coherent and accessible — though not coherent enough for me to even begin to plot it out successfully. Amid some excellent scenes — Monkey Ghosts with piercing red laser eyes; a catfish who performs cunnilingus on a princess swimming in a creek — the film (kind of) tells the tale of a dying man living in a remote forest who’s visited by a series of ghosts. Weerasethakul probably had Tim Burton at Monkey Ghosts. That mixed with critical adulation is looking like gold.
ODDS: 3 to 2.

If Twitter buzz is anything to go by, then Uncle Boonmee seems like a good bet.

Says Cédric Succivalli as On The Croisette:

And for the record my Palme d'or goes to Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. I was flabbergasted by it.

Critical reception is mixed though. Adding to the two earlier roundups of reviews, here's one more from Film Business Asia's Derek Elley:

Compared with many films connected to art projects or installations, Boonmee is relatively accessible, though with Weerasethakul "accessible" is a relative term. For general viewers and the unconverted, Boonmee is fractionally less jejeune and less borderline silly than Tropical Malady and actually more abstruse than his last movie, Syndromes and a Century. It deserves to be seen on screens rather than hung in art galleries but will not convince those outside Weerasethakul's tiny international fan club that he is in any way a major filmmaker, however many prizes he wins at festivals.

What time are the awards handed out? I'll check back later.

(AFP photo by Yahoo! News)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cannes 2010: Joei hits red carpet for Uncle Boonmee premiere

Apichatpong Weerasethakul hit the red carpet at the Lumière Cinema in Cannes last night for the world premiere of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat).

With actress Wallapa Mongolprasert on his arm, Joei (or Joe as he's known in West) cut a dashing figure in a white tuxedo jacket and black trousers. The actress, who stars in Uncle Boonmee was dressed in, a strapless, floor length evening gown. I guess you call it lavender? Anyway, she looked nice too and was obviously thrilled to be there.

Continuing from my earlier round of updates about the film, more reviews and reactions are pouring in, tipping the Palme d'Or competition entry for a possible award on Sunday night.

France 24 reports:

A late-competition dark horse emerged Friday with Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ... Weerasethakul's new film is, like his previous Cannes entry Tropical Malady (which took home the third-place Jury Prize in 2004), a work of voluptuous imagination and teasing humour. Uncle Boonmee infuses its examination of love, loss and spirituality with strong supernatural currents as well as cheeky, vaguely Lynchian touches of horror and science fiction.

The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu:

At last, in what has been a rather tepid Competition year at Cannes, a film to inspire: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ... is a fabulous weave of magic. It’s barely a film; more a floating world. To watch it is to feel many things – balmed, seduced, amused, mystified. It’s to feel that one is encountering a distinctive metaphysics far removed from that on display in most contemporary cinema. Weerasethakul has not only drawn on the themes, landscapes and mood-states he tapped in Blissfully Yours, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, films that extended the imaginative and emotional grammar of arthouse cinema over the last decade; he has refined them to create his most accessible and most enchanted film to date.

TimeOut's Geoff Andrew takes it down a notch:

Many sequences have a brooding lyrical beauty, the film’s rhythms are at once elastic and mesmerising, and the narrative features disconcerting shifts that may mystify viewers unfamiliar with his earlier work. But at the same time one does perhaps wonder why so many admirers of Joe’s work are quite so unbridled in their enthusiasm. I myself see no reason to be any more indulgent towards a Buddhist belief in reincarnation than I am towards similar Western superstitions, so my interest in monkey ghosts and talking catfish is constrained by my feelings that such characters are simply implausible, especially when the former – black hairy things with gleaming red eyes – look as if they’ve strayed in from a Star Wars picture.

The talking catfish has Digital Spy's Simon Reynolds in a mood. He uses words like "beguiling, frequently baffling and frustrating", "slow-moving and lethargic" and "challenging watch".

Meanwhile, there is negative press for Thailand, from statements made by the director during the press conference, in which he slammed the Thai government's censorship of films and reflected on the deadly political violence of the past week in Bangkok. AFP quotes him as saying: "Thailand is a violent country. It's controlled by a group of mafia."

Reuters has more, with Apichatpong reflecting on the unpredictability of the situation and the fact He said:

I hope for the best. Personally I think this kind of thing was bound to happen because of the gap between the poor and underprivileged and the rich. Our governments, present and past have been such a mess."

There's also a round-up at Awards Daily.

(Reuters photo via Yahoo! News)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cannes 2010: Apichatpong makes it

Look who turned up at the Cannes Film Festival.

After worried speculation earlier in the week that he wouldn't be able to travel to France because his passport was trapped in a closed British Embassy and surrounded by red-shirt political protesters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul made it to Cannes to promote his film in the Palme d'Or competition, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat)

He appears relaxed and happy in an afternoon photocall. Joining him were actress Wallapa Mongkolprasert, producers Michael Weber, Keith Griffith, Simon Field, Charles de Meaux and Luis Minarro.

There was a press screening on Friday morning and the official premiere is on Friday night at the Lumière Cinema.

Reviews are starting to trickle in. Here's one from Screen Daily chief film critic Mark Adams, who writes:

The film is a beautifully assembled affair, with certain scenes staged with painterly composure, and also increasingly moving as the subtle story develops. Apichatpong Weerasethakul is not afraid of adding in moments of surreal humour – often laugh-out-loud moments for that – which helps the pacing of the film.

On Facebook and in the media, Uncle Boonmee is gaining buzz as a strong contender for the top Palme d’Or prize when the awards are announced on Sunday.

France 24 has an English-language video report from Eve Jackson, who say: "Only in Cannes could a director whose name is completely unpronouncable be the director with most of the buzz."

It's not that hard: Aphicha-tpong Wi-ra-setha-kun.

I will probably update this entry throughout the evening and into the early hours as I find more material.

Update 1: Sight & Sound tweets: Uncle Boonmee a gorgeous, funny and mysterious meditation on how death is received by a shaman in a jungle —NJ."

Update 2: Artforum has Apichatpong's thoughts on Phantoms of Nabua (at BFI Southbank London until July 3) and the political unrest in Thailand. There will be "Apichatpong Weerasethakul in Conversation" on Tuesday, May 25, at the BFI Southbank. So he gets to go to the UK too!

Update 3: Matthew Noller writes on Slant: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is not just the best film of the festival; it makes everything else in competition—even the good stuff—look slapdash, lazy, hollow." Earlier he tweeted: "The more I think about it, the more convinced I am UNCLE BOONMEE is a masterpiece. Really hoping to see it again tomorrow." And earlier it was: "Uncle Boonmee (Weerasethakul A): Holy. Fucking. Shit. Will need another viewing (or several) to fully grasp, but: Holy. Fucking. Shit."

Update 4: IndieWire's Eric Kohn:

Weerasethakul’s titular character is a middle-aged man living in the forest and dying from an illness. One evening, during a visit from his nephew, Boonmee also gets met by the ghost of his long-dead wife and missing son, that aforementioned monkey man. They discuss the sense of displacement that death brings them, marrying the strange tone to seriously lyrical observations of mortality. But Weerasethakul doesn’t take the scene any more seriously than we do: Another living person joins the table and takes in the eclectic group, concluding, "I feel like I’m the strange one here."

The magic of Uncle Boonmee is that it makes all viewers feel like the strange ones.

Update 5: PictureHouse tweets: "Uncle Boonmee is exquisite, odd, fairytale on death/life with man-monkies, ghosts and was that catfish sex?"

Update 6: Explosive stuff in the Cannes press conference with Apichatpong:

I almost couldn’t come here because my passport was in the city centre and it was too dangerous to go to get it, so I had a special passport issued. Before leaving I could see the smoke coming up the streets. I had the impression of being in a film; it’s very sad. It is the most extreme and violent situation we have had in our history. I think that it had to happen; there is such a gap between the rich and the poor. I hope that these events will end up by bringing the country together. But the worst thing is, you cannot make a film about it because it would be forbidden by the censorship. They block any film that “threatens national security” but they can put just about anything under this heading.
Update 7: A video interview at Cannes (12:17).

Update 8: Wildgrounds rounds up more reviews, including one from the Onion AV Club.

Update 9: Mubi (formerly The Auteurs) has another roundup. It links to AV Club critic Mike D'Angelo, who as Gemko tweets: "Guys, I'm gonna need some time (and a 2nd viewing) to decide whether UNCLE BOONMEE is just sort of awesome or totally mindblowingly awesome." And then: "This solidifies [Joe] as the greatest director in the world right now" -- Robert Koehler (who thankfully doesn't know what I look like)."

Update 10: Kong Rithdee, posting on Facebook through a friend because the Bangkok Post's blogs are apparently down, says in part: "Round the last corner of Cannes Film Festival, or in other words, after nine days of crap, we saw the film of the festival: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. My friends, finally something that opens our eyes and makes us believe in cinema (again)."

(Reuters photo via Yahoo! News)

3 comedy yarns in Sam Yan

The first project from RS Promotion's new film-production shingle Film R Us is a comedy collaboration by three directors: Yuthlert Sippapak, Ping Lumprapleung and Jaroenporn “Kotee Aramboy” Onlamai.

Sam Yan (สามย่าน) is one of at least six projects the busy and prolific filmmaker Yuthlert has going like spinning plates on poles. Comedian Ping has previously directed Dreamaholic and Loveaholic and the ubiquitous comic Kohtee previously helmed his own picture, the 2008 horror comedy Headless Family.

Opened yesterday, the three stories of Sam Yan, take place the Sam Yan neighborhood of Bangkok.

One has comedian Kom Chuanchuen as a bus driver who finds a dead body on his coach and tries to dispose of it. Another is about two hapless thieves (Kiatisak Udomnak and Thongphoom Siripipat) on the run from a hitman after a failed robbery.

And the third has Kotee has a director making a film with a famous but troubled actor, portrayed by Sompong Kunaprathom, better known as Eed from the Ponglang Sa-on folk-music-and-comedy troupe. His bandmates Lulu and Lala are there for support.

Other supporting actors include Adirek "Uncle" Wattleela, again playing a policeman as he's done in many movies, but this time, sadly, he's a solo act.

"Giftza" Piya Pongkulapa also stars, following her Girly Berry bandmate Gybzy into the film world.

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

Power Kids, Raging Phoenix in New York Asian Film Festival

Thai action is back at the New York Asian Film Festival, with pint-sized warriors dishing up big servings of elbow blows and flying double knee drops in Power Kids and Raging Phoenix.

In a press release, Grady Hendrix and the Subway Cinema crew describe Power Kids thusly:

Do you like to see children thrown face-first through plate glass windows? We do! Johnny Nguyen (The Rebel) plays a terrorist who takes over a hospital. The only people who can stop him? A team of tykes with killer Muay Thai skills. Like a Hong Kong movie from 1988, it's totally reckless, the action is breathless and child labor laws are completely ignored.

Presented as part of the Midnights @ IFC line-up, Power Kids (5 หัวใจฮีโร่, Haa Huajai Heroes), is directed by Krissanapong Rachata with action supervision by Panna Rittikrai. It features young fighters Nantawooti Boonrapsap and "Kat" Sasisa Jindamanee along with young comedian Paytaai Wongkumlao (son of Mum Jokmok) and Narawan Techaratanaprasert.

On to Raging Phoenix:

Jeeja Yanin, Thailand's only female action star, burst onto the scene with Chocolate and now she's back in this flick where she learns how to combine Muay Thai beatdowns with sick B-boy moves. Truly jaw-dropping, it's full of high impact kicks, lethal breakdancing and the discovery that the greatest martial art of all is "Drunken Muay Thai." Come drunk!

It's the New York premiere for Jeeja/Jija's sophomore action effort. Raging Phoenix (จีจ้า ดื้อสวยดุ, Jija Deu Suay Du) earlier premiered alongside Power Kids at the inaugural ActionFest.

Other highlights at NYAFF include the Star Asia Awards, which will be given out to Chinese actor Huang Bo, whose latest Crazy Racer will be shown; Sim Yam with Echoes of the Rainbow, Storm Warriors and Bodyguards & Assassins; and a lifetime achievement award for Sammo Hung, with two of his classics, Kung Fu Chefs and possibly the greatest Vietnam war movie ever made, Eastern Condors.

The opening film is IP MAN 2 featuring a great fight scene with Donnie Yen and Sammo, but both are SEVERELY BEATEN BY AN OBNOXIOUS YELLING BRITISH BOXER NAMED TWISTER. Simon Yam reprises his role from the first Ip Man, which is also showing. You'll get why I'm shouting when you see the movie.

The fest runs from June 25 to July 8 at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, July 1 to 4 at the Japan Society and midnights on June 25-26 and July 2-3 at the IFC Center.

The Siam Theatre is burned

With Wednesday's crackdown on the red-shirt political protest and the subsequent deaths, mayhem and arson that took place afterward, I'm saddened by the loss of the Siam Theatre in Siam Square. But I am also happy to report that the sister cinemas, the Lido and the crown jewel of Siam Square, the Scala, are apparently unharmed, according to man-on-the-scene Richard Barrow.

The Siam, a 44-year-old 800-seat single-screen cinema of the Apex chain, was torched by arsonists in fires that erupted around Bangkok after an army crackdown forced the collapse of the red-shirt anti-government protests. For more than a month, the red-shirts had occupied central Bangkok's Rajprasong intersection and shut down the area's shopping malls and hotels.

The burning down of the old movie theater is insignificant in comparison to the loss of life -- the Erawan Emergency Medical Center reported seven killed and 81 injured on May 19, with a total of 52 deaths and 399 injured in clashes between protesters and troops since May 14.

And as BobThailand pointed out on Twitter, building new shopping malls and movie theaters will be much easier than trying to rebuild Thai society. There are wide divisions that became even greater with Wednesday's violence.

But the Siam Theatre contributed greatly to the culture of Bangkok movie-going and will be missed. Along with the Lido and the Scala, the Siam played an eclectic mix of first-run Hollywood movies as well as independent features that couldn't be found anywhere else. The Siam was a particularly good place to catch the latest hit movie from Japan, as well as Korean, Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese movies. I especially appreciate the Apex cinemas for running "foreign language" movies with the original soundtrack and English and Thai subtitles.

So many good memories. I think the last movie I saw at the Siam was Bodyguards and Assassins -- Hong Kong martial-arts and drama. A great memory of a grand theater.

Also lost is the SF World multiplex at the CentralWorld shopping center, which was also torched by arsonists in Wednesday's mayhem. Film Business Asia talked to SF Cinema City boss Suvannee Chinchiewchan about what it means for Thailand's film industry and the Bangkok International Film Fetival.

Bangkok's biggest multiplex with 15 screens, the loss of the SFW will be inconvenient, but it can be rebuilt.

However, the Siam is an irreplaceable loss. Cinemas like that one are no longer built.

More photos and thoughts about the Siam are at the Southeast Asian Movie Theater Project.

Update: The Nation says farewell to "our beloved Siam Theatre" and notes the area was "up for demolition next year ... according to the master plan ... to be replaced by a modern shopping complex."

Update 2: Film critic Kong Rithdee comes to bury the Siam in the obituary in the Bangkok Post, remembering the theater for its "cavernous foyer, manual ticketing, dank concession stand and heavy, possibly unwashed curtains guarded by yellow-jacketed ushers as ancient as the place itself."

(Cross-published at Bangkok Cinema Scene; photo cross-published at the Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cannes 2010: Derek Elley reviews Ong-Bak 3

Asian-film expert Derek Elley, among the critics told by Variety bosses to take their way or the highway, has recently started his new gig: Chief movie reviewer at Film Business Asia, a fledgling enterprise built by ex-Variety Asia honcho Patrick Frater with Stephen Cremin and Gurjeet Chima. The whole crew is at Cannes, covering the Asian cinema scene like it's never been covered before.

Elley already has a bunch of reviews posted at FilmBiz.Asia. For his latest, he caught a market screening of Ong-Bak 3 (องค์บาก 3), Tony Jaa's much-anticipated follow-up to the cliff-hanger ending of Ong-Bak 2. Here's a bit of what Elley has to say:

Following directly on from the ending of Ong-Bak 2, Ong-Bak 3 is more of an extended finale than a real movie in its own right. (Both 97-minute films could easily be cut together into a single 2 1/2-hour picture.) More than half of Ong-Bak 3 is taken up simply with our hero's gruelling physical torture and agonisingly slow recovery - shown with a blend of masochism and narcissism extreme even by actor Tony Jaa's standards.

Read the rest. It's a to-the-point assessment.

Cannes 2010: Van Damme promotes Muay Thai bout, takes beating over Eagle Path

The Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme, is at the Cannes Film Festival, promoting his latest film, The Eagle Path, as well as his upcoming kickboxing match with Somluck Kamsing and talking about his reality-TV series.

The boxing match, originally announced back in January, will see JCVD get in the ring with Somluck, Thailand's first Olympic gold medalist. The fight is set for October, in either Las Vegas or Dallas.

Somluck won the gold in the 1996 Summer Olympics in the men's featherweight category. Since then, he has appeared in movies and even made a pop album. He co-starred in Panna Rittikrai's Born to Fight, in which a village of national athletes from various sports take on a Burmese druglord's army. Somluck also appeared in Jet Li's Fearless in a scene that was originally omitted from the international release but restored for the director's cut. And he's in Soi Cowboy, playing a gangster.

He's also run a barbecue restaurant that left him with "only burnt ribs", The Nation's Soopsip gossip column says today.

According the Somluck, there'll be no elbows thrown.

“They don’t want [Van Damme's] face to get bruised,” he told Siam Sports, according to Soopsip.

In Cannes, Van Damme appeared at the Marché du Film to push The Eagle Path, an action drama he filmed a year or more ago in Bangkok. The story is set in a seedy non-descript east Asian city that isn't Bangkok. Van Damme plays a taxi driver haunted by his past.

The Wrap has a look at what happened at the Cannes Film Market screening, which had "programmers and buyers scratching their heads". Anyone who wanted to leave before it was over couldn't, because Van Damme blocked the doors. Pundits say Van Damme has wasted the goodwill and critical acclaim he built up with his self-deprecating action drama JCVD.

(Photo via Canoe)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cannes 2010: Will Apichatpong be there?

By now Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new feature Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat) has had its first screening in Cannes.

It was actually an invitation-only, no-press-allowed market screening. Another is set for Thursday morning. The press gets their first look on Thursday night at 7 and 10. There's one for the public at noon at the Lumière and then the official premiere is on Friday night at 10.30.

Unfortunately, it appears Apichatpong likely won't be in attendance.

The Nation's Soopsip column today says the filmmaker had also hoped to visit England after attending the Cannes Film Festival. His passport is at the British Embassy in Bangkok, which is closed because of the deadly violence that has broken out between the red-shirt political protesters and the Thai military.

The embassy is right on the edge of the war zone. Bullets, grenades and Molotov cocktails are flying and smoke from burning tires fills the air.

Meanwhile, there's a poster for Uncle Boonmee to feast your eyes on. It's drawn by an artist named Phim Umari. I hope to someday see the poster (and the film) in the wild, up close and huge.

Update: A bit more coverage here. Says Apichatpong about his main character: "I was thinking he must be a masochist because he always reborn in the northeast, where it’s arid and politically unstable."

Update 2: Jonathan Landreth interviews Apichatpong for The Hollywood Reporter. It's a wide-ranging piece, addressing the film, Bangkok's troubles, the media crackdown, film funding and his personal life.