Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sahamongkol gets to monkeying around with Kapi

The tradition of coconut growers and their trained monkey coconut pickers is harvested for family friendly comedy in Kapi Ling Jor Mai Lork Jao (กะปิ ลิงจ๋อไม่หลอกจ้าว ), yet another tentpole Thai studio release set for this King's Birthday holiday weekend.

The first movie to come out of the 2007 round of the Thailand Script Project, Sahamongkol Film International picked this up, and added comedy vets Thep Po-ngam, Mum Jokmok, Kom Chuanchuen and "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom to the cast – as if a cheeky macaque and a little boy aren't laughs enough already.

The kid Tong (Richard Ghaini) lives with his ailing uncle (Thep Pho-ngam) and mischievous pet monkey on an idyllic coconut plantation by the sea. They put up a fight against a rich developer who wants to build wind turbines.

Nitivat Cholvanichsir directs.

Kapi was picked out of the 2007 Thailand Script Project alongside E-Nang Ei (White Buffalo), about Isaan women who marry foreign men, which has been backed by the Culture Ministry’s Strong Thailand fund, and a third winning script, also in development, called Pee Kanoon, referring to the woman who hang around the outdoors at night, under jackfruit trees.

Kapi opens alongside two other Thai films this holiday weekend, the GTH sci-fi/horror comedy Cool Gel Attacks and the bare-chested historical action epic Yamada: Samurai of Ayothaya.

There's a trailer for Kapi and you can watch it here.

Apichatpong-a-rama: Uncle Boonmee coming to DVD, but see it in the cinema

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives has gotten its first English-friendly DVD release in South Korea. It's out of stock now, but check back later. The UK release is set for March 28, 2011. There's a page on Amazon.com too, for the U.S. DVD due out sometime next year.

But don't wait for it to come out on DVD. Uncle Boonmee is one of those films that should be experienced in the cinema, in the dark, immersive environment, on the big screen.

As Apichatpong himself would say, "film is magic".

If you don't believe me, read what critic Peter Nellhaus has to say. He caught Boonmee at the Starz Denver Film Fest:

I had made a point of seeing Uncle Boonmee theatrically while I had the opportunity. I would recommend the same to others. There are too many shots in the film that need to be seen on the big screen, the bigger, the better, to be understood.

One of the first shots is of a water buffalo, barely visible in the distance. A later shot in this first sequence of the loose water buffalo is of the animal barely visible, walking through the foliage. Throughout the film, Apichatpong uses extreme long shots so that the characters are in a sense, lost within nature. The themes of man, nature and animism are continuations explored in Tropical Malady, although it is more explicit in this film.

I love that scene.

Trouble is, despite the countless film-festival appearances and limited theatrical runs around the world, Uncle Boonmee remains relatively difficult for the average movie-goer to find. In a world where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows remains supreme, Uncle Boonmee is but a glimmer in the eyes of the multiplex crowds.

The Guardian Film Blog had a look at Boonmee's box-office performance in its U.K. release, in which it debuted in 14 cinemas earning £27,500. "It's not an exciting number. On the other hand, given the challenging nature of the film, it's not bad at all."

That tiny number of screens had the BBC's Mark Kermode wondering whether anybody besides critics would be able to see Uncle Boonmee, or would they just wait for the DVD?

There are lots of reviews, meaning it's been showing somewhere, and hopefully some people have gone to the actual cinema to see it:

Unsurprisingly, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is already being tipped as one of the best films of the year, coming in at No. 2 behind The Social Network on the Sight & Sound list.

Interviews? Want interviews with Joei?

Well, there's one in The Guardian, in which he says the answer to everything is: "You don't have to understand everything."

There's also talks with Little White Lies, The Financial Times, and with Metro, in which he breaks the news to us gently:

So, we are going to die right, you and I? One day we are all going to turn to dust. But we will not disappear.

"We just integrate and transform into other things. In classical reincarnation you are reborn into another animal but I believe it’s more like an energy, what Buddhists call a transmigration of souls. The idea we connect with everything: with the sunlight, the Earth, the animals – we are all recycled. That’s what I’m interested in."

There's also a nice picture of Joei at Out.

Recent film festival appearances have included opening the Tokyo FILMex, where Apichatpong served on the fest's first-ever competition jury. It also played at the St. Louis International Film Festival, and is in the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, alongside Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History.

It was in competition at the International Film Festival of India. In fact, the print's being in Goa delayed the screening of Boonmee at the Jakarta International Film Festival, where it's now set for one screening on December 3.

Uncle Boonmee is in Honolulu in the Southeast Asia on Screen series, alongside Who Killed Chea Vichea?, Dear Galileo, Sawasdee Bangkok, Agrarian Utopia, Woman on Fire Looks for Water, Rainbow Troops, In the House of Straw, 15 Malaysia, Talentime, The Forbidden Door and Same Same But Different.

It's in Montreal.

And it's opening in Spain, hence the gorgeous poster of the Catfish Princess at the top of this post. Cineasia has an interview.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

From 6 to 6, Aditya Assarat's short film for the King

The Film Festival in Commemoration of the Celebration on the Auspicious Occasion of His Majesty the King's 83rd Birthday Anniversary begins today at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld in Bangkok.

Commissioned by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture,
Ministry of Culture, the shorts are Six to Six (เพลงชาติไทย, Pleng Chat Thai) by Aditya Assarat, Terribly Happy (สุดสะแนน, Sudsanan) by Pimpaka Towira, Superstitious (เกษตร ...ตะกอน) by Nonzee Nimibutr and The Greatest Love (รักที่ยิ่งใหญ่) by Sirisak Koshpasharin and Pranpaporn Srisumanant.

Here's more about Aditya's Six to Six:

One afternoon, Kaen, Noi, and Pa Nit, employees of an old apartment building, are cleaning the master’s room on the top floor. They eat lunch, chat about this and that, and enjoy the cool breeze from the canal. At six o’clock they wait for the national anthem to mark the passing of another peaceful day in the kingdom.

Director’s Statement

I’m just a normal person. I’ve never met the King, never even seen him, except on TV. I suspect most Thai people are like me. So I wanted to make a film from the perspective of the small people living in this kingdom. As a man we may not know His Majesty, but as a symbol, his presence is felt all around us, like the warm sunlight or the cool breeze of an afternoon, a constant amid the conflicts currently afflicting our nation.

Three of the shorts are from Silpathorn Award laureates – Nonzee, Pimpaka and Aditya. The award is a prestigious contemporary arts honor, given by the OCAC.

There's also a trailer for Pimpaka's Terribly Happy.

The Greatest Love, a melodrama extolling the virtues of His Majesty's "sufficiency economy" theories, is screened in 3D as well as 2D. The 3D version screens by itself at 10.30 daily until Friday. The 2D version is screened with the other three shorts.

There are also two feature films, So the short films aren't screening in all sessions. There's also The Ultimate Dream (ปิดทองหลังพระ ตอน ความฝันอันสูงสุด), about military heroes, starring Maj-Colonel Wanchana Sawatdee (Naresuan) and Sornram Theppituk, and 9 Mahasan-Ong-Rachan-Palang-Pan-Din (๙ มหัศจรรย์ องค์ราชัน พลังแผ่นดิน), which is a compilation of segments about nine miracles.

The screenings are at SFW CentralWorld. Free tickets are at a table in the lobby. You can also check this spreadsheet for the schedule.

The Red Eagle, Camellia at Cinemanila

The 12th annual Cinemanila International Film Festival is running just five days this year, from December 1 to 5, but there's a killer of around 100 movies that includes Wisit Sasarantieng's The Red Eagle and Iron Pussy: A Kimchi Affair, which is part of the Camellia Pan-Asian trilogy of Busan-set romances.

The Red Eagle is part of the World Cinema program that also includes Ekachai Uekrongtham's Singporean romantic comedy The Wedding Game, as well as such films as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Reign of Assassins and A Prophet.

Camellia, also featuring segments by Joon-Hwan Jang and Isao Yukisada, is part of the Mabuay, Mr. Kim!: Focus on Korean Cinema, in tribute to the Pusan International Film Festival's retiring director, Kim Dong-ho. The program also includes such films as Thirst by Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho's Mother and Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid

There's a SEA Cinema line-up that comprises Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria by Remton Siega Zuasola and Halaw Sheron Dayoc from the Philippines, Red Dragonflies by Liao Jiekai from Singapore, Sunday Morning in Victoria Park by Lola Amaria from Indonesia and The Tiger Factory by Woo Ming Jin Year Without A Summer by Tan Chui Mui from Malaysia.

In observance of 20 years of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, NETPAC Award-winning films to be screened are Animal Town by Kyu-hwan Jeon (South Korea), Au Revoir, Taipei by Arvin Chen (Taiwan), Divine Intervention by Elia Suleiman (Palestine), Floating Lives by Nguyen Panh Quang Binh (Vietnam) and Kaleldo by Brillante Mendoza and Pila Balde by Jeffrey Jeturian (Philippines).

The fest opens with the Taiwanese comedy about Filipino migrant workers Pinoy Sunday by Wing Ding Ho and closes with Amigo, veteran U.S. indie director John Sayles' look at the Philippine-American war of 1800-1902.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Insects in the Backyard still bad for morality

Censors crossed out the words "public order" on the official form stating their decision on Wednesday to uphold the ban on Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's sexually and emotionally charged debut feature Insects in the Backyard.

"Do not allow projection," says the form, which you can see at Matichon Online.

Now the authorities rule that the film's content is merely "contrary to morality” but apparently isn't harmful to public order.

They softened their stance somewhat since their initial decision two weeks ago. But the movie is still banned.

"I feel upset my film is still banned," the director is quoted as saying on The Nation website.

While remaining adamant that none of the film's strong depictions of sexual acts be cut, Tanwarin hoped to gain favor with the censors by adding a disclaimer, stating that film is a work of fiction, is not meant to resemble any actual events and that common sense should be used while watching it.

Never mind that Tanwarin herself had stated the film is unsuitable for viewers under the age of 20, making Insects in the Backyard appropriate for Thailand's restrictive 20- motion-picture rating.

The gay transvestite filmmaker, who also stars in the film, hasn't given up hope of being able to screen the family social drama, and has taken the next step of appealing to the Culture Ministry's National Film Board and obtaining the endorsement of the Thai Film Director Association, which is headed by Songyos Sugmakanan, the youthful director of the GTH films Dorm, Hormones and Fan Chan. A new ruling on this third appeal is expected in about a month.

Tanwarin is hoping to release Insects in the Backyard for a limited commercial run in one Bangkok cinema as part of Bioscope magazine’s Indy Spirit Project, which earlier this year supported the successful limited-run screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives at SF cinemas.

Insects in the Backyard premiered in the Dragons and Tigers Competition at the Vancouver International Film Festival and at last month’s World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Meanwhile, there is lots of support for Tanwarin, a veteran director and star of many acclaimed short films and a respected figure in the industry and indie circles.

There's a petition as well as a "We're Insects in the Backyard" avatar, suitable for use on your Facebook or Twitter profile.

Commentator Pravit Rojanaphruk wrote a column in The Nation that was also picked up by Prachatai, blasting the Thai government's "nanny state" mentality.

Never mind that the film might carry a message, or can be interpreted according to the viewer’s discretion. To the board, each and every Thai "not just those below 20" is so immature and vulnerable that they will be seriously corrupted if they watched this film.

Censorship, be it political or otherwise, lies in the hands of a few people who claim to know what’s best for the rest of us.

Four short films for HM the King's 83rd birthday

Three Silpathorn Award laureates are among the directors of four short films will screen at Bangkok's SF World Cinema at CentralWorld next week in a Film Festival in Commemoration of the Celebration on the Auspicious Occasion of His Majesty the King's 83rd Birthday Anniversary.

The films are:
  • Terribly Happy (สุดสะแนน, Sudsanan), directed by Pimpaka Towira
  • Superstitious (เกษตร ...ตะกอน), directed by Nonzee Nimibutr
  • Six to Six, (เพลงชาติไทย, Pleng Chat Thai) by Aditya Assarat
  • The Greatest Love, (รักที่ยิ่งใหญ่) by Sirisak Koshpasharin and Pranpaporn Srisumanant

Nonzee, Pimpaka and Aditya were given the Silpathorn Award in 2008, 2009 and this year, respectively. The prestigious contemporary-arts honor is conferred by Thailand's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture of the Ministry of Culture. Those government agencies are among the organizers of the film-festival project.

In Pimpaka's Terribly Happy, a young soldier stationed in southern Thailand takes his leave to return to his hometown in Udon Thani in the Northeast and finds that his girlfriend has a Westerner for a lover. He's angry as first, but learns forgiveness.

An e-mail from Pimpaka's production company Extra Virgin explains further:

Loosely translated as "terribly happy", Sudsanan is an Isaan expression meaning the state where all the sorrows and miseries end, leaving only the feeling of blissful happiness. Similarly, the main idea behinds this film is that human sufferings can be healed by learning how to give.

In a situation of severe conflict, we always think that there has to be a winner and loser. But the reality is that there is never a real winner. Any battle, big or small, always has a cause in greed, ego and self-centeredness.

The filmmaker is inspired by the speech of His Majesty the King on Compassion, which is one of the Ten Royal Virtues. The filmmaker hopes that this film will help bringing about the importance of compassion and generosity in our society on all levels, no matter what social status or language.

Aditya's Six to Six was completed very quickly, and in fact was only shot earlier this month! The Pop Pictures blog explains how they did it:

If anyone is interested in making a fast film, here is some advice:

1. Few Characters: save time on casting and rehearsals. Not many people know this, but the thing that takes the most time on set is when an actor can’t do the scene. For this film, we worked with three actors, all of whom we’ve worked with in the past.

2. Few Locations: save time on location scouting and traveling during shooting. In the middle of Bangkok, having to move locations from one place to another within one shooting day, is a killer. Shoot in one place, it gets rid of the problem.

3. No Music: nobody really thinks about this when they’re writing a script. But having to hire a composer not only costs money but takes time because they generally can’t start until the editing is complete. No music, no composer.

The Greatest Love,
a melodrama extolling the virtues of His Majesty's "sufficiency economy" theories, is screened in 3D as well as 2D. The 3D version screens by itself at 10.30 daily until Friday. The 2D version is screened with the other three shorts.

There are also two feature films, So the short films aren't screening in all sessions. There's also The Ultimate Dream (ปิดทองหลังพระ ตอน ความฝันอันสูงสุด), about military and police heroes, starring Maj-Colonel Wanchana Sawatdee (Naresuan) and Sornram Teppitak, and 9 Mahasan-Ong-Rachan-Palang-Pan-Din (๙ มหัศจรรย์ องค์ราชัน พลังแผ่นดิน), which is a compilation of segments about nine "miracle" concepts.

The screenings are at SFW CentralWorld. Free tickets are at a table in the lobby. You can also check this spreadsheet for the schedule.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jakarta International Film Festival lives, has Uncle Boonmee, S-Express shorts

The 12th Jakarta International Film Festival begins this week, but almost wasn't held this year because organizers couldn't find the money. They put out a public appeal for donations and got a major boost in sponsorship from Nokia, which agreed to "present" the festival.

The program provides an idea of what this year's Bangkok International Film Festival might have been like, had it actually been held and not fallen by the wayside due to Thailand's political problems and violence this year.

Jiffest's selection includes many marquee titles, opening with Waiting for Superman, the education documentary by An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim. The closer is Biutiful, Alejandro González Iñárritu's drama starring Javier Bardem.

The heart of the festival though, is a big helping of local films making their premieres, documentaries and the Indonesian Feature Film competition. Film Business Asia has a rundown on those.

There's also a strong slate of Southeast Asian programming, which includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It's playing in the View from the SEA selection.

And there are the S-Express shorts packages from Indonesia, Malayasia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and "Chinese" filmmakers.

You can download the schedule PDF at the festival website. Jiffest runs from November 25 to December 5.

Update: Uncle Boonmee's November 26 screening at Jiffest was canceled because the print was still at the International Film Festival of India in Goa. Jiffest now aims to show Boonmee on December 3 to what's sure to be a packed audience.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mundane History wins NETPAC Award at Taipei Golden Horse fest

Anocha Suwichakornpong's social drama Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก, Jao Nok Krajok) won the NETPAC Award at the recent Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.

The jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema said it gave the award "for the director’s vision in crafting such a beautifully layered and delicate film that movingly captures the co-relation of all things and the essence of what cannot be explained."

Mundane History played in the Golden Horse fest's "When You Are a Stranger" line-up in the The Battle for Life section.

The fest closed last Thursday with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. A retrospective tribute to Apichatpong was also held, screening all of his features.

The full list of Golden Horse winners is at the festival website.

The Taipei win for Mundane History adds to awards already received in Mumbai, Wroclaw, Transylvania and Rotterdam.

The film is now playing out of competition at the Festival of 3 Continents in Nantes, France. It was the Nantes fest's Produire au Sud workshop at the World Film Festival of Bangkok back in 2006 that helped give Mundane History its start.

(Via Screen Daily)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thai comedians help with recovery of fetuses at Bangkok temple

What appears to be a still from a Thai comedy film is being used to illustrate CNN's November 17 article about the shocking and grisly discovery of hundreds (now thousands) of aborted fetuses stored at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok.

But it's not a staged photo. These actors and actresses, familiar to fans of Thai comedies, are volunteers with the Poh Teck Tung Foundation, one of the "body snatcher" ambulance services of Thailand.

The abandoned-fetus story has highlighted the issue of abortion and birth control in Thailand, where abortion is illegal except for certain cases, such as the mother's life being endangered by pregnancy or the woman is a rape victim.

Police estimate there are around 4,000 illegal abortion clinics, which are now under close watch.

The fetuses were being stored at Wat Phai Ngern Chotanaram after the temple's crematorium broke down. The undertaker attempted to mask the odor of the rotting fetuses by pouring gasoline around them and burying them, but neighbors complained.

But I have wondered if there is another reason the fetuses were being stored.

Thai movies have depicted supernatural beliefs that fetuses have black-magic powers. A recent film about this was The Snow White (ตายทั้งกลม , Tai Tang Klom), which recently played at the Indonesia International Fantasic Film Festival. That one had a pair of college students steal a fetus from a dead mother's womb in hopes of obtaining powers that would make them excell in their studies and gain sexual prowess with women.

Thanit Jitnukul's 2002 fantasy Kunpan – at least partially based on the epic Khun Chang Khun Phaen, recently translated into English by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit. The movie had the supernatural warlord protagonist steal the living fetus from a young woman's womb and use the fetus to do his bidding in battles in which he wiped out enemie armies.

And Limitless Cinema has his own list of abortion movies, which includes Mai Sin Rai Fai Sawat (ไม่สิ้นไร้ไฟสวาท กับการทำแท้งด้วยไม้แขวนเสื้ออันลือลั่น, 1986), which has a famous scene in which the heroine uses a clothes hanger to perform an abortion on herself.

That reminds me of Jan Dara, which had a similar scene, but no clothes hangers were involved.

(Thanks Moxxxy!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

CamboFest might revive another vintage cinema, presents trophy, seeks support

Last year's third edition of Cambodia's indie film and video festival CamboFest revived the Royal, a French colonial-era cinema that had stood dormant in the southern Cambodia province of Kampot for decades. You can read more about that adventure on the CamboFest blog.

Turns out the Royal is one of the three surviving colonial-era cinemas in Kampot, which was a major destination under French rule, due to its proximity to the Bokor Mountain casino resort and hill station (now a perpetually fogged-in ghost town that's been the setting for such films as Matt Dillon's City of Ghosts and the South Korean war movie Taegukgi). The colonial-era seaside spot of Kep is also nearby.

In addition to the Royal, Kampot has the Maraka and another old cinema, just recently rediscovered by the CamboFest team. Next year's CamboFest, set for March 1 to 9, 2011 in Kampot, Cambodia, might be held in this place, the name of which is as of yet unknown or unrevealed. There's a phone-cam video of the old cinema at YouTube, and embedded below. Maybe turn down the sound a bit before you hit play.

It looks pretty good actually, for what it is and knowing what all Cambodia has gone through.

Also recently, CamboFest presented its Grabay Meas (Golden Water Buffalo) trophy to Cambodian filmmaker Yvon Hem for his Shadow of Darkness, which screened at CamboFest 3.0.

According to the CamboFest blog, the "trophies from last year were delayed, in part, due to the interference by Phnom-Penh based foreign movie pirates".

Yes, part of their adventure last year involved some mean-spirited person who placed a notice on the events page of a Phnom Penh English-language daily newspaper, saying last year's festival had been canceled when in fact it hadn't. It was part of a systematic campaign by rival Westerner-run arts organizations that also included hoax e-mails and blocked usernames on Web bulletin boards.

Yvon Hem has meanwhile been attached as co-writer of Freedom Deal, a Vietnam War drama that's in development by CamboFest producers Camerado and director Jason Rosette. Jason's the guy who also started the bang-up Bangkok IndieFest, held earlier this year.

CamboFest looking for support, by the way. Here's a few facts about CamboFest from a recent e-mail:

  • Is the first international film festival in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge era, now in our 4th year and inspiring new festival efforts to join our mission.
  • Is a rare example of strong IP (Intellectual Property) activism in the movie sector in Cambodia, by seeking and securing written permissions for every single movie.
  • Seeks and restores to basic functional condition vintage cinemas and other venues that can serve as cinemas, in a country which is lacking motion picture infrastructure.
  • Is grass-roots, volunteer driven, and private sector (though with tax-deductible fiscal sponsorship through the US-based Media Alliance).
  • Is an absolutely unique festival event taking place under 'extreme' and challenging conditions in the developing world.

Contributions pay for part-time staffers, office space, utilities and venue rental, van rental for hauling gear. And other things. For example, $25 pays for a staff meal, $10 turns on the generator for one screening session, $5 buys minutes for a phone, $1 buys a serving of mee chaa (fried noodles) for one hungry, hard-working staffer. It goes on ...

Consider checking out the CamboFest Facebook page to find out more.

Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story is a hit in Kolkata

Last year's No. 1 box-office hit Rot Fai Faa ... Maha Na Ter (รถไฟฟ้า...มาหานะเธอ) – Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story – recently played at the Kolkata Film Festival, where it played to a packed audience and was enthusiastically received.

I thought by now there would be an English-friendly DVD release of Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story, but I've come across nothing yet except for reports of a fan-subbed version making the rounds on a popular video-sharing website.

Anyway, Lekha Shankar caught the screening of the movie at the Kolkata fest, and she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

A commercial Thai film that was a surprise hit at a serious Indian film festival, was Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story.

The most successful Thai film of 2009, it was a surprise choice at the Kolkata film festival, which is noted for its serious films and intense film culture.

After all, Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, is the city that produced the legendary Indian directors like Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, the leaders of the great Bengali cinema.

In fact, the Kolkata festival is held at the Nandan Arts Centre, which was inaugurated by the great Ray.

The late director’s never-before-seen documentary Sikkim was the most-talked about movie at the festival, when it was pulled out after a single screening by a court injunction, thanks to not getting the right "permission" to screen it.

Ray’s 88-year-old colleague Mrinal Sen was a prominent figure at this year’s festival, where the opening film was the esoteric Costa Rican film Of Love and Other Demons, based on a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a popular author in this literary-minded city.

Thanks to a severe budget cut this year, the festival focused more on old retrospectives rather than new, contemporary cinema.

These included the retros of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurasawa, whose 100th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year. His scriptwriter Takashi Koizumi attended Mumbai's MAMI festival last month, which also had a retro of the Japanese director. The Kolkata fest also had retros on directors Alain Resnais and Costa Gavras.

Next to these heavy-weight films, Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story seemed a wafer-light drama.

But may be wafer-light dramas do bring about a balance in today’s film festivals, studded as they are with heavy, introspective and experimental cinematic fare.

The Thai film had a jam-packed audience of young people, at the Nandan 3 theatre. They laughed and responded throughout the movie and broke into a loud applause at the end.

Later, several youngsters came up and said they thought the film was "awesome"!

"It was such an unusual love-story," remarked three youngsters, Debojit, Saurodip, and Moupriya, who said that they were doing a Media Studies degree in Kolkata Varsity. Agreeing with them was Sunipa, Sudipta and their friends, who watched the two-hour movie with rapt attention

Considering the movie was a huge hit with the young audiences of Bangkok, it looks like the youths of Asia have the same taste!

Meanwhile, several members of Kolkata's Tollywood film industry (named after the Tollygunge Studios) spoke fondly of the mega Bangla Awards event (Bangla is for Bengali, which is the language spoken in this region, Bengal) held in Bangkok in June with the support of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

In fact, the Bangla Awards seems to have inspired many Bengali producers to shoot films in Thailand.

Well-known producer R.H. Kampani of Nugget Entertainment Co. said he had shared a warm conversation with the governor of the TAT during the Bangla Awards event in Bangkok, thanks to which he now planned to shoot his next film in Bangkok and Pattaya, starting in April, with two beautiful heroines.

The two Bengali beauties, Parichart and Piyas, stated that they were very excited about their film shooting in Bangkok and they had both heard a lot about the vibrant energy of the city.

Well, the TAT ploy worked. It's not just Bollywood that has discovered Thailand, but Tollywood as well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Namtan Daeng 2 (Brown Sugar 2)

  • Directed by Prachya Lampongchat, Surawat Chuphol, Anurak Janlongsilp
  • Starring Anna Ris, Narisara Srisan, Prangthong Changtham, Arthit Amornvej, Rapat Akenithiset, Weerachaisriwanik Wannikkul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on November 4, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Less straightforward than the first trio of erotic-themed indie shorts, Brown Sugar 2 (Namtan Daeng 2, น้ำตาลแดง 2), has a darker, more surreal tone that's full of metaphor and symbolism. The directors of this batch of Brown Sugar reflect on sensual sights, sounds and shadows, leaving more to the imagination that is perhaps less immediately titillating than the first spoonful of shorts.

Like the first film, which was released back in August by Sahamongkol Film International and Baa-Ram-Ewe producers Prachya Pinkaew and Bandit Thongdee, Brown Sugar 2 opens with a 5-minute intro segment. It's about a ladies' man who breaks up with his girlfriend as soon as she starts asking the wrong questions: What are you doing? Where are you? Who are you with? Tired of making up lies, he plans to let his latest fling know the answer to these questions, but then she turns the tables on him, and gets him all hot and bothered.

The action then shifts to the first segment, Trisadee Bon Toh Arharn (ทฤษฎีบนโต๊ะอาหาร) by Prachya Lampongchat.

Featuring a young blind man, who stays rooted to a wooden chair in front of a window, reading from a Braille book in his lap, Trisadee mostly deals with sensual sounds.

The wind blows through the window, making the lace curtains billow and flap. It's an old house with a leaky roof, so there's lots of echoing water drops. And a steam locomotive is heard chugging nearby, though it's explained in the dialog that there's construction going on nearby.

Anna Ris and Narisara Srisant star in this segment. They are best friends who return to their house after a day of shopping and find their blind friend reading poetry.

Anna portrays an actress and model. Her best friend is perhaps more than just a BFF. She stays still for a few frames, gazing lovingly into a photo of Anna, with her face reflected in the glass of the framed picture.

The mood shifts from surreal to mysterious in Lum Prang (หลุมพราง) by Surawat Chuphol, in which a young man is returning to his rural home province after the death of his beloved aunt.

Conveniently and confusingly, he's met by his older cousin, who looks just like the aunt he had the hots for as a boy.

And there's a well-endowed teenage daughter hanging around, and she gets her clothes off at some point, though I'm not really sure why. But then again, hey, why not?

The story, which has an old-timey Jan Dara vibe, toggles back and forth between the present and guy's boyhood days, when he was living with his aunt, who had financial troubles and had a thuggish loanshark coming over to take his interest out in trade.

It looks like maybe the busty teenage girl might be heading down the same path with a group of local hoods.

Back in the past, the jealous boy eventually takes care of the situation with his auntie. Perhaps he'll come to the girl's rescue as well.

There's a slick reference to Sahamongkol's ghost thriller Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities), with a segment from that horror-shorts compilation popping up on the TV. It's the one starring Anna Ris.

The final Brown Sugar segment is Khurak Bon Dao Loke (คู่รักบนดาวโลก) by Anurak Janlongsilp. It's about a busy guy and gal who are always on the go and can never seem to connect.

It's Inception-lite, as the man lives in a dreamy time-fractured slow-motion world all his own.

Everything he touches turns to dust. This allows for interminable scenes of leaves falling in slow motion, and each time he tries to catch a leaf, it bursts into millions of tiny particles. The filmmakers seem to be asking: Did you catch that? Well, we'll show you again. And again. And again.

It's slow and not really suspenseful. Like that snow globe that takes forever to fall and shatter on the floor, what happens with this couple is inevitable. You can see it coming from miles away. No amount of skin moisturizer spread on the woman's toned thighs will prevent it from happening.

Related posts:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WFFBKK 2010: Capsule reviews part 2

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner – Female empowerment is the common thread running through Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, a trio of short films by three Asian female directors. A reference to Pakistan's slain former prime minister Benizir Bhutto is made in each short. China's Wang Jing starts things off with bowls of wonton soup in Nanjing, where a young man meets his girlfriend one fine morning. They have to kill time to wait for his roommate to leave so he can take his girlfriend back to his room. So they grab breakfast and then take a walk in a park. A pushy tour-bus driver adds a bit of humor to this segment. The middle segment, Lunch, is directed by Mundane History helmer Anocha Suwichakornpong. It's about two Bangkok schoolkids who eat noodles, ditch their afternoon classes and hang out in Lumpini Park. This segment is kept light for the most part, but ends a bit sad and ambiguous. Dinner by Kaz Cai is in Singapore, where an elderly woman thinks back to her days as a young nurse. Meanwhile, a young ex-convict has started work in a bakery and finds himself struggling to gain a co-worker's trust. Dinner breaks from the structure of the first two segments in that it takes place over several nights, instead of just one sitting. The project, produced by Bee Pin Tay of Wormwood Films of Singapore, has been in the works for a few years. Anocha had her Lunch ready even before Mundane History, and other directors for segments from Malaysia and Singapore were attached. But now it's ready and it shows there's real potential for more pan-Asian projects like this. Yasmin Lee Arpon has more about Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner in The Nation. (4/5)

Short Wave Programme 2 – Japan-based Thai filmmaker Kong Pahurak's quirky and darkly humorous Shinda Gaijin was part of this wildly varied mixed bag of shorts. The story's about a young Japanese woman who comes home from work night after night to find the same dead white guy in her apartment's bathtub. Each night, she is given mysterious and innovative ways of disposing of the body. (4/5)

SEA Shorts – Indonesian director Yosep Anggi Noen's It's Not Raining Outside is an entertaining comedy about a pair of furniture-store employees who stop for a tryst at a hotel while they are delivering a sofa. Rather than leave the sofa out on their truck, they decide to move it into the hotel, with wryly humorous results. A karaoke-singing clerk adds to the fun. Found, by Canada-based filmmaker Paramita Nath is the story of Toronto poet Souvankham Thammavongsa. It uses an old scrapbook that was almost thrown out to retrace Souvankham's path from war-torn Laos and a Thai refugee camp to Canada. Cages, shot in Hanoi by Keith Halstead, is quite nice. A man is talking about his collection of caged birds, but it's easy to see there's something else he's really talking about. Love Me Love My Dog by Wasunan Hutawach is just plain cute, even when the show-stealing Jack Russell terrier puppy is pooping on the floor. One Day in June is a poetic Singaporean short from Daniel Hui while Mickey, Wesley Leon Aroozoo's study of rats in a maze, goes nuts with experimentation and 1960s Star Trek visual effects. Do Not Look by Pam Miras has children confronting violence in the Philippines. The Boy by Mark Tan is another quintessentially Singaporean look at existence. All That Remains by Wichanon Somumjarn mixes childhood memories and a long motorcycle ride. And finally, there's After the Wind, Tulapop Sanjaroen's hypnotic look at a pair of twin sisters, one of whom leaving Thailand to study overseas. Strong performances. (4/5)

The Night Infinite (Di Natatapos Ang Gab) – Vincent Roman is a corrupt cop who's part of a squad of judge-jury-executioner killers. He goes down a dark, weird path after he strangles a woman named Nympha (Mercedes Cabral) and tries to pin the death on Nympha's lesbian partner Maria. There were parts of this movie I liked a lot. Like the beautifully framed monochrome opening shot, on a mountaintop, where Vincent executes three men. It's so beautiful, director Ato Bautista repeats it throughout The Night Infinite. Another great scene is where Vincent is chasing Maria, in slow motion, through the streets. Romantic music is playing, as if they were lovers running toward one another. Eventually Vincent decides he wants to help Maria, and he wakes up injured with Maria taking care of him, only she says she's not Maria. This was a world premiere for this film-noir drama. (4/5)

High-Rise – First-time-feature director Gabriel Mascaro somehow obtained a book that lists all of Rio de Janeiro's richest people, and used it to track down the all the owners of the city's penthouse apartments. The existence of such a book is curious, as it would seem to be a would-be kidnapper's goldmine. So I guess it's understandable that out of the 120 or so security-conscious penthouse owners, only nine agreed to be interviewed for Mascaro's documentary. He got in by introducing himself in a letter, in which he said he's a "famous director". A little fib. But now he's famous. And so are these pompous, out-of-touch rich folks who talk about how great life is now that they don't have to rub shoulders with the commoners who walk on the ground. Shots of ordinary Brazilians and construction sites serve as counterpoint to the interviews, which had the audience rolling with laughter. (4/5)

Red Dragonflies – Liao Jiekai directs this sort-of Stand By Me childhood drama, done in existentialist Singaporean indie filmmaking style. It's the story of an artist named Rachel, who's back in Singapore for an art exhibition. She reconnects with a guy she was friends with during her high-school years. There's then flashbacks to a hike she and her friend and another guy took, along an abandoned railway track that goes deep into a jungle and ends with a mysterious tragedy. Or does it? Along with a lament about childhood and lost friendships and missed opportunities, Red Dragonflies also documents a slower-paced, wild Singapore of the past that is fast being swallowed up by concrete and development. You can find out more about Red Dragonflies at the 13 Little Pictures blog. (4/5)

WFFBKK 2010: Capsule reviews part 1

At the End of Daybreak
– Blogging about Thai and Southeast Asian movies for fun and having to read movie synopses for a living, it's rare that I come across a film that I know little about. All I knew about At the End of Daybreak was that it was from Malaysia and it was directed by Ho Yuhang. Hey, that's enough for me! A rat was definitely harmed in the making of this motion picture. That right there should have tipped me off that this was no ordinary Malaysian romantic drama. But in the typically slow and dreamy way of these types of Malaysian indie dramas, it lulled me in and snuck up on me. It's a mostly gentle story about a young Chinese-Malaysian guy, living with his mother, working in a grocery and dating a teenage schoolgirl. He gets in trouble and it takes a dark turn to noir-whereland. And that's probably more than enough said. (5/5)

Au Revoir Taipei – Full of quirky characters, this romantic comedy and crime farce by Taiwanese-Californian director Arvin Chen kind of reminded me of Guy Ritchie's movies. Noodle-shop kid Kai (Jack Yao) wants to get to Paris to be with his girlfriend. He studies French in a bookshop, where he meets cute with bookstore girl Susie (Amber Kuo). To get money for his trip to Paris, he agrees to retrieve a package for a sentimental retiring gangster. This gets him and Susie chased by a cop. Meanwhile, Kai's lovable goofball friend Gao (Paul Chiang, a lanky guy Chen says he found on the street) is kidnapped by a hilarious gang of orange-suited real-estate agents, who are aspiring gangsters and looking to make a score. It's a solidly commercial movie and full of fun. (4/5)

Child of the Sun – I've seen joyful celebrations of Pinoy culture like Roxlee's Green Rocking Chair and Kidlat Tahimik's Each Film ... An Island? And then there's tortured laments about Filipino society. And Child of the Sun is one of those. Christopher Gozum directs this experimental drama about the odyssey of a city boy who returns to his native land of Pangasinan, which has its own distinct language apart from the Tagalog of Manila folks. Getting in touch with his heritage seems to involve visits to places like brickworks, pottery kilns, rice farms and a killing floor where they whomp pigs unconscious. Squeal! Fire, blood and mud. It's all so primeval. Fascinating. Really. Everywhere he visits, the protagonist curls up in a fetal ball, purging himself of his post-colonial poison. A muse is there to comfort him. The dude stops and stands on a crowded pedestrian bridge. He's in the way, and the muse looks lovingly on. But the masses keep moving, and they walk around him. (4/5)

To Serve/Woman ITo Serve is a Belgian-produced documentary on Indonesian women migrant laborers who go overseas to work as maids. The action all takes place at a recruiting center and school for the women, who are trained for the rigors of the work, typically involving contracts of seven-day-a-week employment in households in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East. Most of the women interviewed are the breadwinners for their families. They leave their children in order to work overseas and make good money. It's the only chance they see to afford to give their kids a good education and to save money for retirement. One woman's husband blows all the cash, but she stays with him. A voiceover reads letters from a maid who worked in the Middle East, and tells horror stories. Docs like these should be required viewing for anyone who wants to work as a maid or hire a maid. Woman I had projection problems, I think. It was all white and washed out. Doubt that was intentional, but it gave this oddly structured short by Nuntanat Duangtisarn an ethereal effect. It starts with the end credits, and the early parts take place in a bright office where everyone is wearing white. Actor Noppand Boonyai plays a director, and he's surrounded by four fantastic women he's casting in a movie. Among them is Jenjira Pongpas, a regular in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films who also works as a casting director. She actually plays a casting director. Others are Sasithorn Panichnok, Ornanong Thaisriwong and Sumontha Suanpholrat. Eventually the ladies all put on black blouses and the technical problem was lessened. Hope to give Woman I another look with the proper brightness and contrast settings. (4/5)

Grandmother/A Suspended Moment – Here's a pairing of a short- and medium-length film that makes a pretty strong feature that ruminates on death, mourning and possible resurrection. Grandmother by Japanese director Yuki Kawamura captures the last days of his comatose 83-year-old grandmother, her passing and funeral services. The images of juxatposed with scenes of everyday life in the farming and fishing community. A Suspended Moment also takes place in Japan, but it's directed by Thai filmmaker Puttipong Aroonpheng. This highly experimental 58-minute work has several fragmented story threads. One involves a naked man in the forest, who's found by an elderly filmmaker and a little girl. Another thread has a Japanese-American father and son hiring a boat for a journey in which one will not be returning. If you're confused by it all, it helps to know that Suspended Moment is Puttipong's tribute to the passing of his own father, as well as to David Lynch's Eraserhead and Shuji Terayama's Pastoral: To Die in the Country. A mysterious Bigfoot-like figure emerges from the surf of grainy 8mm footage and suddenly, things make total sense. (4/5)

Guts Short Programme 2 – Taiki Sakpisit's I Did Not Dream Last Night/Looking in God's Eyes is a haunting look at laborers at a building site and then a portrait of a Buddhist monk putting on his robes. A at certain point in each segment of this film, the subjects will look straight into the camera, and it totally creeped me out. I felt like I was intruding. That was followed immediately by Chaisri Jiwarangsan's Four Seasons, which has the camera following a woman as she relaxes in a red dress in a woodland stream. Nice colors. Taiki's short was a collaboration with Koichi Shimizu, the composer and sound designer whose ambient soundtracks are an increasing part of Thai films, such as Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Other shorts in this program had a similar hypnotic effect. (4/5)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thai censors order poster, title change for Oh My Ghost! sequel

Seems cinematic kathoeys are in the crosshairs of the public-morality minders at Thailand's Ministry of Culture.

Along with banning the release of transvestite director Tanwarin Sukkahapisit's Insects in the Backyard, the Culture Ministry has also cracked down on controversial director Poj Arnon, ordering him to change the poster and title for the third film in his Hor Taew Taek (หอแต๋วแตก) cross-dressing horror-comedy series.

On the original poster for Hor Taew Taek Waek Chi-Mi (หอแต๋วแตก แหวกชิมิ), lead actor "Tack" Paranyu Rojanavudtitham was pictured in just a pair of skimpy white briefs, surrounded by hefty male comedians who are wearing elaborate wigs and revealing women's bathing suits.

Tack was ordered to put on more clothes by cultural authorities, I guess for the sake of public order and morality.

So now Tack appears shirtless, in a pair of jeans, in a pose that is reminiscent of members of the Wolf Pack in Hollywood's Twilight Saga films. He's still surrounded by the bathing-suit-clad comedy drag queens.

The outspoken Poj had this to say, according to the Bangkok Post's Mae Moo on Sunday:

"I don't understand what's come over Thailand ... what a strange place," he said last week. "A guy appears in a pair of swimming briefs and falls foul of the censor. Yet women can appear in skimpy bikinis and get away with it.

"Seeing a woman in a bikini could motivate a guy to commit a crime. But how many women who see a man in a swimsuit will do bad deeds?"

As for the film's title, it was originally Hor Taew Taek Haek Chi-Mi (หอแต๋วแตก แหกชิมิ), with Mae Moo saying waek is "a more polite version" of haek, meaning to force or spread apart.

The movie's title is actually pretty hard to translate to English, with most pundits I know saying they won't even attempt it.

Apparently, according to the Thai Audience Network, even the change from haek to waek isn't really making the Culture Ministry happy.

Also at issue is the chi-mi tag at the end of the title. That's a slang phrase that's cropped up in colloquial Thai in recent years. It's added to the end of a sentence when someone is trying to get a point across or make sure their facts are straight. It loosely means "is that right?" or "yes or no?"

Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwankhiri recently took issue with the chi-mi phrase and lamented what he sees as the general deterioration of the Thai language.

The Nation's Veena Thoopkrajai covered the issue in her Venus Vision column on Saturday:

[Trairong] says he is worried about the deterioration of Thai culture, especially the language, and he would like the National Film Board to look into language usage in Thai soap operas and movies. During the meeting, the title of a gay-themed comedy, Hor Taew Taek Haek Chi-mi, was raised as an example of improper language usage. (Sorry, the translation of this movie title is beyond me.) To nobody's surprise, the ministry has already disapproved of the title. "Sometimes we don't even know if the word is Thai or English," noted Trairong, who also extended his concern on the threat to the Thai language to music.

The Hor Taew Taek series began in 2007 with a cross-dressing ghost comedy that had the international English title of Haunting Me. Last year's sequel Hor Taew Taek Haek Krajerng (หอ แต๋ว แตก แหก กระเจิง, a.k.a. Oh My Ghosts!), was a big box-office success for Poj and his producers at Phranakorn.

Hor Taew Taek Waek Chi-Mi is due in cinemas on December 30 January 6.

A trailer for Camellia

Wisit Sasanatieng and Michael Shaowanasai are rocking the 1960s and '70s spy-spoof vibe in Iron Pussy: A Kimchi Affair, which is part of the Busan Project of romantic shorts in Camellia.

There's a trailer for it, and it's embedded above.

Love the octopus phone.

The other segments are A Day on the Planet by Japan's Yukisada Isao and Love for Sale, by South Korea's Jang Joon-hwan, all filmed in Busan.

Camellia premiered last month at the Pusan International Film Festival and played at the Tokyo fest.

(Via Five Star Movie at Facebook)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

WFFBKK 2010 review: Insects in the Backyard

  • Directed by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit,
  • Starring Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Suchada Rojmanothum, Nonpavit Dansriboon, Anupong Sakulmongkollap, Steven Fuhrer, Anchalee Saisoontorn
  • Thai premiere at World Film Festival of Bangkok on November 6, 2010
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

Confusion reigns in Insects in the Backyard, which examines mixed-up feelings about sexuality and gender roles. While warmly campy and humorous, this debut feature by gay transvestite filmmaker Tanwarin Sukkhapisit takes a long trip through the dark, depressing parts of the heart before emerging through tears to a tiny glimmer of hope.

Tanwarin, who's been making short films since 2001 – many of them award winners – stars in Insects. She portrays the father of a teenage daughter and son. At some point, possibly when his beloved wife died in childbirth, dear old Dad became big sister Tanya to 17-year-old Jenny and 15-year-old Johnny.

So the main confusion, at least for me, is pronouns.

Kathoey comedy movies go over the top with the characterizations, with rotund, balding comedians donning wigs and dressing themselves in drag while they shriek and mince their way to collecting big box-office earnings.

Indie filmmaker Tanwarin's playing an exaggerated character too, but she plays it naturally, without having to force things, fitting into the role like one of her elbow-length black gloves. She is introduced wearing an exact copy of the iconic outfit Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's – slinky, floor-length black dress, bouffant hairdo and a big choker pearl necklace. There's a picture of it on the bright-green wall of Tanya's home, along with pictures of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood starlets. Appropriately for the Tiffany's outfit, she's making breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausages, toast. And this glamorous maternal figure calls her kids to "have breakfast" – not gin khao as would be said in Thai, but in English.

The schoolkids don't want any part of this big American meal Tanya has cooked up, and they quickly head off to class. So Tanya eats all three plates by herself, which gives her the energy to split into three parts and get the housework done faster. It's a running gag, which has Tanya wolfing down hamburgers and other Western foods her kids don't want to eat.

But when she's not cooking and cleaning, Tanya is lounging by writing table, taking deep, luxurious drags off cigarettes and fortifying herself with big glasses of red wine. She writes erotic stories for magazines, and it's not clear whether the things she's writing about are the product of fantasy or actual experience. Probably fantasy.

One scene has her being thrusted at from the rear by a young man. What actually happens leaves Tanya with a stained dress.

Meanwhile, Jenny and Johnny are seeking escape.

Jenny heads off to the northern mountain town of Pai, to hang out and play guitar. But she's actually meeting her boyfriend, a prostitute who rents himself out to wealthy older gay men. The guy takes Jenny deeper and deeper into the sex trade, until at one point she's wearing a strap-on dildo – possibly a first for legitimate Thai cinema – and pegging her boyfriend in a fetish show for a client.

Johnny gets out of town too. He sets up a meeting on MSN messenger with a person he hopes will be a girl. It's a guy, but they hang out anyway, and eventually Johnny brings his new buddy home, where the kid is captivated by big sister Tanya. And that makes for an awkward situation.

Johnny's uncertainty about his own sexuality leads him to the sex trade as well. Working out of an Internet gaming cafe, he gets messages from potential clients and has them lining up to spend time with a uniformed schoolboy. Johnny seeks comfort in the arms of a transgender client, seeing her as more of a comforting mother figure than his father has turned out to be.

In his dreams, Johnny wants to kill his father. One scene involves a smothering pillow while Tanya is watching porn and fondling herself.

Another scene shows for certain that Tanya, despite her feminine ways, is still indeed male.

Tanya, weighed down by mournful sadness over the death of her wife 15 years before, and probably depressed that her kids don't want anything to do with her, seeks deeper and deeper into alcoholism, putting away so much wine that at the end of the day, she's passed out on the floor.

Sad as it becomes, there is an angelic vision that brought forth an unexpected gusher of tears. I mean, I haven't cried so much since my cat died.

Yet there also a little bit of hope for the future, for the kids at least. As for Tanya, who knows?

Hopefully Thai audiences will someday get their chance to shed a view tears and speculate on things.

The movie premiered in the Dragons and Tigers competition at the Vancouver International Film Festival and made its Thai premiere in the World Film Festival of Bangkok.

In a question-and-answer session after the first Bangkok screening, Tanwarin announced she was working to get a limited commercial release for Insects in the Backyard under Bioscope magazine's Indie Spirit Project, which earlier this year supported Apichatpong Weeasethakul in the limited one-month run of his Cannes-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

While Uncle Boonmee and its potentially controversial disrobing monk was given a 15+ rating that allows anyone to see it, Thailand's censorship board, perhaps feeling the depictions of gay sex are too real, has said it can't allow Insects in the Backyard to be seen, even by people aged 20 and over.

“The film’s content goes against public order or morality,” says the board, which I guess would feel it wasn't doing its job if didn't ban at least one film this year. The ruling is being appealed, so there's hope yet I suppose.

The board is probably making a big deal out of the depictions of masturbation and other sex acts. But it's not like Tanwarin has made a porno. The movies Sin Sisters 2 and Brown Sugar, which were allowed to be shown in cinemas, also depicted sex acts.

Likely, the movie is just too real, and an all-too-bleak a picture of Thai society. It's making statements about things that like the metaphoric title Insects in the Backyard refers to, aren't really seen or even paid attention to. But they do happen.

So the censorship board is just sweeping more stuff under the rug, rather than allowing audiences to decide for themselves whether they want to confront the issue head on.

Related posts:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stories of Thai society in Dog God and Full Water

A Thai indie social drama, Dog God and Full Water (Mah Apiniharn Lae Khuad Mahasamut, (หมาอภินิหารและขวดใส่มหาสมุทร), gets a limited release this week at the Lido cinemas in Bangkok's Siam Square.

Directed by Amorn Harinnitisuk, the movie tells various stories about the stratas of Thai society.

Among the characters are an impoverished mother and child living in the Sanam Luang area of Bangkok. Their lives take a dramatic turn when they find a diamond ring.

Another is a heartbroken man who’s lost faith in humanity and wants to be a dog.

The movie is screening once daily from November 11 to December 10 with a different concept everyday. Check the Apex website for showtimes.

Part of the box-office proceeds will be donated to charities.

There's a trailer at YouTube and you can watch it here.

Censors ban release of Insects in the Backyard

Well, the movie does have possibly the first use of a strap-on dildo in a Thai film intended for legal release. So there's that.

The debut feature of filmmaker Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Insects in the Backyard has been banned from commercial release by Thailand's board of censors.

Tanwarin directs and stars in the comedy and social drama, portraying a transvestite widower father who has an increasingly dysfunctional relationship with his teenage daughter and son. The movie addresses sexuality and gender issues, and has scenes involving masturbation. The teenage characters become prostitutes and, while they are wearing their school uniforms, engage in various sexual acts with a variety of clients.

“The film’s content goes against public order or morality,” the board said.

Insects in the Backyard had its world premiere last month in the Dragons and Tigers Competition at the Vancouver International Film Festival. It screened twice at the ongoing World Film Festival of Bangkok.

At the question-and-answer session after last Saturday's screening, Tanwarin said she hoped to give the movie a local release fairly quickly, but that she would refuse to cut or censor any scenes.

She was working with Bioscope with plans to release it as part of the magazine's Indie Spirit project. Earlier this year, Bioscope and SF cinemas worked with Apichatpong Weerasethakul to release the Cannes Golden Palm winner Uncle Boonmee Who Recalled His Past Lives.

News of the ban was first reported on Bioscope's Facebook page.

Despite the explicit nature of the film, Tanwarin told The Nation that she did not expect the film to be banned. She had applied for the 20- rating, Thailand's most restrictive motion-picture rating, which limits films to audiences aged 20 and older.

“This film is not supposed to be viewed by those younger than that,” said Tanwarin, who has been making short films since 2001, many of them award-winning, and also works extensively in Thailand's film industry as a casting director and acting coach.

She said she would appeal and vowed not to cut any scenes to win approval.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Apichatpong-a-rama: Uncle Boonmee in the U.K., Taipei and elsewhere

Following its appearance in the London Film Festival, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives opens for a general theatrical run in the U.K. and Ireland on November 19.

Supporting the release is Sight & Sound magazine, which has "Extraordinary Joe" on the cover. In the issue, Adrian Martin "probes the syndromes and mysteries of the Thai director’s universe" and Kieron Corless talks to the filmmaker about "Buddhism, Fellini and the joys of working with non-professionals".

New Wave Films has a listing of where you can see Uncle Boonmee.

There's a U.K. trailer too, and it's embedded below.

There's also websites for Germany and Italy (thanks Logboy!).

Uncle Boonmee is closing the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. In fact, the Golden Horse fest has a "A Tribute to Apichatpong Weerasethakul" in its Filmmakers in Focus section, screening all his features: Mysterious Object at Noon, Blissfully Yours, The Adventure of Iron Pussy, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century.

There's also another award-winning Thai indie filmmaker taking part in the Golden Horse fest – Anocha Suwichakornpong, whose Mundane History is in the NETPAC competition and is playing as part of the "When You Are a Stranger" line-up in the The Battle for Life section.

Recent festival appearances for Boonmee include the Vancouver fest, where they added an extra week of screenings to satisfy the demands of hungry filmgoers. It was also in Sitges and the just-wrapped Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.

On Twitter recently, Screen Daily's Jason Gray said: Wife liked Uncle Boonmee – "Cinematography was beautiful. It's his most accessible film ... I want to open his head and look at his brain."

Boonmee was also in the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, an appearance that I believe is crucial to its qualifying for a possible nomination for the Academy Awards.

Among the upcoming appearances for Boonmee will be Tokyo Filmex, where Apichatpong will serve on the jury for the first competition in the fest run by Office Kitano.

Also, he's doing a master class in Buenos Aires on Friday.

Here's what he says about his class, called Delirium:

My films are an extension of my memories. Even attempting to include memories of when I was shooting. I try to capture what I’ve experienced. While I film, I also try to capture some of the uncomfortable moments experienced by actors in front of the camera. Sometimes I put the actors under pressure to get the result I want…

I love mystery. It is related to my childhood. I grew up in a hospital complex (my parents are doctors). Those strange buildings, where there were body parts preserved in jars, were a playground for those of us who were children. The nights were quiet and ghost stories were always told. I love the simplicity of traditional stories and legends. Many legends are so simple that they are like concepts…

I believe in ghosts because of two experiences. It’s a low figure, but they are two real cases. A ghost appears as an image or a scent…

I did not start making films in the Thai industry. So my view is different. Thai cinema is deeply rooted in the theater, in plays that originated in the palace. Until recently, the general rule was acting with exaggerated gestures. As far as my films go, they are influenced by simple old Thai movies (narrative approach, step by step, following the story), the films of Cherd Songsri (veteran Thai director) and many works of foreign directors, especially the experimental Americans.

A few other notes:

  • An accolade slipped by Apichatpong this year, as the Hugo Boss Award went to Hans-Peter Feldmann. Apichatpong was a nominee for the art honor, along with Walid Raad, Cao Fei, Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Roman Ondák. He was present for the November 4 awards ceremony at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
  • Apichatpong presented awards at the 1st Doi Saket International Film Festival, held in his adopted new hometown of Chiang Mai.
  • He was cited from the stage of the World Film Festival of Bangkok's opening ceremony by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, this year's Lotus Award winner at the Bangkok World fest. "You are very lucky to have good filmmakers like Apichatpong," Ceylan said, noting that he didn't know much about Thailand or Thai cinema until he watched "one film", Tropical Malady.