Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Phuket Film Festival 2010: Capsule reviews, part 1

The Mountain Lion (เสือภูเขา, Sua Poo Khao), Kom Akadej, 1979 – Before Jija Yanin, Nui Kessarin and young Kat Sasisa burst onto the Thai action-movie scene, there was Jarunee Suksawat, the action queen of Thai films in the 1970s and '80s. She co-stars in The Mountain Lion, portraying a young Hmong girl who becomes a love interest for the hero. He's played by Sorapong Chatree in one of his dozens of ethnic roles. When Jarunee isn't romping through grassy mountain meadows like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, she's somersaulting and flip-flopping around, mowing down bad guys. In fact she does little else than kick butt, and keeps her dignity intact even though she's wearing a chic tribal skirt. Sorapong has double-plaited pigtails and looks more like the Native Americans that Thais might see in big-screen westerns. He favors a crossbow, not a bow and arrow. It's non-stop action, with the characters running over hill and dale, fighting bad guys, for I don't know what reason. Okay, well, they did rape and kill Sorapong's wife. A comic pair of villains marches wherever they go, and are always accompanied by a snare-drum motif. Lek Apichart plays the brother of Jarunee's character, who at first is helping the bad guys. Part of the Phuket Film Festival's Tribute to Khun Kom Akadej – one of seven of Kom's films – The Mountain Lion was the only one subtitled in English. All were screened on poorly mastered DVDs. The 35mm prints have been lost long ago. Kom himself, owner of the Coliseum Paradise Cineplex where the festival is staged, was among the audience of four or five people and regaled his seat neighbors with tales of making this rousing action-adventure. (4/5)

The Prince & Me 4: The Elephant Adventure, Catherine Cyran, 2009 – The fourth in the franchise that started in 2004 with Julia Stiles as a Wisconsin farmgirl medical student who captures the heart of a Danish prince, now has the young royal couple as king and queen. North Dakotan Kam Heskin has played the now-Queen Paige since the second entry. Celebrating their first wedding anniversary, they head off to the tiny fictional Southeast Asian jungle country of Sangyoo to attend another royal wedding. They find the princess bride-to-be (Ase Wang, looking every bit the watery-eyed Disney princess) less-than-enthused with her arranged marriage to a power-hungry industrialist (played with thuggish menace by Thaitanium rapper "Way" Prinya Intachai). Soon King Edvard, Queen Paige and their comic foil Soren (Jonathan Firth) are in the jungle, looking for a lost royal elephant meant to bless the ceremony. They need to retrieve the elephant, help the oppressed Red Ming rebel tribe and stop the royal wedding so the princess can marry her true love, a stable boy. This is a made-for-video production for the U.S. and U.K. markets, an ABC After-School Special intended for princess-obsessed pre-teen girls. The plot contrivances are only meant to make for as much kissing as possible. Not my cup of tea, but I still enjoyed it, thanks to lively action involving Selina Lo as a palace aide named Rayen who tracks elephants, hangs off the front of a moving Jeep, uses martial-arts moves on soldiers and has a degree in psychology from Oxford (with the clipped British accent to match). She's a no-nonsense kind of gal, so of course she falls in love with the uptight Danish royal protocol droid Soren. The audience for this Made-in-Thailand Thai premiere screening in the Green Man pub's Egyptian-themed banquet hall, gasped at the similarities to Thai current events, which had the Red Ming rebel movement burning down a factory. But it's all fictional and any similarities are clearly unintended, right? Production values are top notch, with all the shooting handled by De Warrenne Pictures. Most of the locations, including the grand Sangyoo palace, surrounding jungle and rented elephant, chickens and water buffalo, are on or near the Promittr Productions lot built in Kanchanaburi by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol for the Naresuan movies. (3/5)

Do Elephants Pray?, Paul Hills, 2009 – Here, the elephants are metaphorical meanings only, wrapped up in the poetry of this indie comedy-romance – a rare British film that doesn't involve gangsters or ancient costumes. Johnnie Hurn, who co-scripted and produced, is an uptight London ad agency's idea man. Addicted to coffee and cigarettes, Callum does have his metaphysical side with tai chi lessons. A secretive, mysterious, free-spirited Frenchwoman (Julie Dray) pops in and out of his life. She eventually drags the chap into the French woods, where he goes AWOL from his ad agency in the midst of a campaign to come up with a slogan to sell a cranberry cocktail to men. A snake-like co-worker (Marc Warren) is keen to take over Callum's position. Stuck in the woods as he's led to the Lake of No Return, Callum is forced to discover new meaning in his life. At times I couldn't help but think of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's forest-based romantic thriller Nymph (Nang Mai), which shares similar themes of transformation and loss, and a naked person running through the woods. An energetic soundtrack keeps things bouncing along. Do Elephants Pray? was reviewed on a screener DVD. The movie will show as part of the Phuket Film Festival at 7 on Saturday at the Green Man pub. (4/5)

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