Saturday, June 19, 2010

Apichatong-a-rama: Uncle Boonmee comes home

It's happened so fast.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Palme d'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat) will open in Bangkok on Friday, June 25, in a limited, month-long release at SFX the Emporium cinema. It's passed censors and is rated 15+.

Showtimes will be nightly at 7 with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 as part of Bioscope magazine's Independent Spirit series.

"It's not like my other films," Apichatpong said, making a statement that speaks volumes. His previous features haven't been seen in Thailand until after they've been on the festival circuit for a year or more.

But interest in the top prize winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival is intense, and when Apichatpong's Kick the Machine crew saw the chance to show the film, they took it.

The Thailand premiere screening was held on Friday night, with Uncle Boonmee unspooling for two packed halls of press and VIP cinephiles.

Before the screening, the theater lobby was jammed tight, and it was impossible to turn around without bumping into a filmmaking celebrity. Among the crowd were Nonzee Nimibutr, Yuthlert Sippapak, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Chookiat Sakveerakul, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Somkiat Vituranich, Michael Shaowanasai, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Pimpaka Towira, Lee Chatametikool, Zoe Popham, Sukie and Noi Sukosol Clapp, Ping Lumprapleung, "Pop" Areeya Chumsai and some of the Fan Chan directors.

Before the screening, Apichatpong remarked that seeing so many people packed in for Uncle Boonmee was proof enough that Thai people do go to see movies by him, disproving the dismissive statements in Time magazine three years ago by Cultural Surveillance chief Ladda Tangsupachai that Thai moviegoers are "not intellecturals" and only want to watch comedies.

Apichatpong's remarks to the audience last night echoed statements he made in an interview issued earlier in the day by Agence France-Presse, in which he referred to Ladda's statements. The key excerpt:

Back in 2007, a top official at the Ministry of Culture was more blunt. "Nobody goes to see films by Apichatpong," Ladda Tangsupachai told Time magazine. "Thai people want to see comedy. We like a laugh."

Defending a controversial draft film law that passed later that year – despite opposition from filmmakers including Apichatpong for its wide-ranging censorship powers – she said Thai film fans were "not intellectuals".

The softly-spoken director recalls being upset by Ladda's "very strong" comments about his work, coming as they did from a public figure: "I don't think she has a right to say that."

A Nation op-ed piece today recalls Apichatpong's past struggles with censors, which saw his highly personal Syndromes and a Century eviscerated in 2008, after it been critically acclaimed at festivals overseas.

That was before the ratings system was enacted.

And last year, the then-new Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch swore "never again" would a Thai film that had been lauded internationally be subjected to harsh censorship at home.

So perhaps the authorities are loosening up their grip on culture, and letting some things slide? Perhaps they've finally learned that blocking information usually backfires?

Or maybe they're just worried about other things?

A renewed crackdown has been announced on anti-monarchy websites by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, which is increasing its focus on censorship.

And Teera, who couldn't correctly remember the title of Apichatpong's new movie, is no longer culture minister.

It's Niphit Intharasombat's job now. Niphit, a lawyer and Democrat MP from Phatthalung Province, has promised he'll do his best.

The Culture Ministry, along with MICT (and new freedom-loving minister Juti Krairerk) and the Justice Ministry, have agreed to work together on the Web crackdown, and a new agency has been formed to stamp out criticism of the monarchy.

Anyway, enough about all that. How about the film?

My initial thoughts were: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ... absurdly fantastic, dryly comic, haunting. Won't soon forget. Want to see again."

Then a little bit later: "Now thinking about Uncle Boonmee I'm feeling very melancholy. Kind of want to cry and don't know why."

In a way, it's like science fiction, or an altered state, much like the other films of Thailand's David Lynch.

I'm still formulating thoughts.

Update: Bangkok Pundit has more on fear and the political situation.


  1. Does the released version have English subtitles?

    Thanks a lot.

  2. Yes, it'll have both Thai and English subtitles. The dialogue is Isaan.


Please, no questions or comments about where to download movies or subtitle files.

Please read the FAQ about Thai films on DVD before asking about where to find a Thai movie on DVD with English subtitles.

Make your comments pertinent to the post you are commenting on. For off-topic comments, general observations or news tips, consider sending an e-mail to me at wisekwai [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m.

All comments are moderated. Spam comments will be deleted.