Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: Hi-So

  • Directed by Aditya Assarat
  • Starring Ananda Everingham, Cerise Leang, Sajee Apiwong
  • Limited release in SF cinemas, Thailand, on October 13, 2011; re-release on December 29, 2011 at House, Bangkok. Rated 13+.
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Why's Ananda so sad? He's got a great life as an actor in Thailand, and his hot girlfriend from the States has come to visit him at the beachside location of the movie he's making. Later, he gets a cute Thai girlfriend, and he's got cool friends to hang out with and a whole apartment building to call his own.

But, for whatever reason, Ananda is sad. He's uncomfortable with the American woman's visit and her uncomfortableness with the photo-snapping quirks of Thai culture. He maybe likes the Thai lady better but she's uncomfortable with the casual traits of Western culture that Ananda picked up while he when to school in the U.S.

The cultural confusion has ripped away part of Ananda's soul, possibly symbolized by the decaying beach resort, destroyed by the tsunami, and by the deteroirating condition of his Bangkok apartment building, which has had an entire wing clawed away to supposedly make room for new development.

This is Hi-So (ไฮโซ), the second feature from Wonderful Town director Aditya Assarat, and like his first film, Hi-So – Thai slang for blue-haired high-society types that's usually said with a snear – is ironically titled. Like the town that wasn't so wonderful after all, here's a society that's well-off enough but not really all that high.

Hi-So is a partially autobiographical story by the Thai-born filmmaker who was shipped to the U.S. for education while in his teens. The story also reflects the changes Thailand has gone through in this age of globalized culture, in which a Thai actor drinks Tennessee bourbon, talks like an American hip-hop singer, dresses like a New Yorker and adopts a stray dog that turns out to be Japanese.

Ananda Everingham's really the only guy who could have pulled off the role of this actor named Ananda, and there's probably more than a little of himself in the character. He's refreshingly cool and casual but has a melancholy side that comes out when he's alone.

Hi-So is a movie of two halves, each pairing Ananda up with a different girlfriend. Even some of the dialogue and situations are the same in both parts.

Cerise Leang is the American girlfriend Zoe, who Ananda is still with after he's returned to Thailand. She's come for a visit while he's on a film location. While he's off working, she's left alone at a five-star resort, which is virtually empty because it's low season. Zoe has some Lost in Translation moments, only because there's no Bill Murray hanging around, she becomes pals with the hotel bartender (Pison Suwanpakdee) and other members of the staff. The platonic interactions only serve to make things sadder and further emphasize the cultural divide.

Zoe eventually visits the film set, but doesn't understand what Ananda is doing, why she has to be quiet, even when the cameras are not rolling (a scene that reminded me of 24 Hour Party People and "recording silence"), and why Thai people have to take so many pictures.

Cut to some months later, and Ananda has taken up with a Thai woman, May, who works for the film company. Yet, for some reason, she's left to wander the halls of Ananda's Bangkok apartment building alone.

She adopts a stray dog, who she names Ananda, but it's not enough to fill her heart. A night out in a pub with Ananda's internationally schooled pals only serves to widen the gap between them.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: The Kick

  • Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
  • Starring Jo Jae-Hyeon, Ye Ji-Won, Na Tae-Joo, Kim Kyong-Suk, Petthai Wongkumlao, Yanin Vismitananda
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 22, 2011; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Koreans play nice and rough with Thais in the bi-national co-production The Kick (วอนโดนเตะ!!), in which cultural icons of both countries are trotted out for display. There's a dancing elephant, Thai and Korean food, Korean and Thai music, national costumes and plenty of demonstrations of the respective martial arts, taekwondo and Muay Thai.

Co-produced by South Korea's CJ Venture Investment and veteran Thai producer Sa-nga Chatchairungruang's Bangkokfilm Studio, The Kick aims to capture in movie form the feel of the South Korean stage shows like Jump and Cookin' Nanta, cultural tableaux that have proven popular with Thai tourists. Cookin' Nanta has even established itself in its own theater in Bangkok.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew with the screenplay and action choreography by Panna Rittikrai, The Kick is about a South Korean couple, both former national taekwondo competitors. They have moved to Bangkok, where dad (Jo Jae-Hyun) runs a martial-arts dojo and the strong-willed, domineering mother (Ye Ji-won) operates a Korean restaurant. They have three children, a teenage boy (Na Tae-Joo), a teen daughter (Kim Kyong-Suk) and a little boy.

And, of course, everything they do is done with taekwondo flair. Mom cooks with martial-arts moves and rips a live octopus in half. And the elder son waits on tables with dramatic sweeping motions. Later, he does some dance moves, incorporating taekwondo kicks and flips. Daughter does a 360-degree somersault to kick a soccer ball.

Together, they also do taekwondo demonstrations at Bangkok shopping malls.

As is usual for action movies from the pair of writer-directors who brought us such movies as Ong-Bak and Chocolate, the plot involves something being stolen. In this case, the MacGuffin is an old dagger that once belonged to a Siamese king.

The Korean family, in their rattletrap little Daihatsu van, get in the way of black-suited gangsters who are stealing the dagger. There's a little car chase involving the tiny van and a big black Mercedes, and then the teenage son and daughter fight the thugs in the Airport Link train station. The head bad guy (Lee Gwan Hoon) comes away with his face scarred, giving him another reason to sneer wickedly.

Having retrieved the artifact knife, the Koreans are hailed as heroes and it's arranged that they will perform at the official unveiling of a museum exhibition.

Meanwhile, masked thugs come calling at the family restaurant, and mom and dad decide they should send the kids away. So they call their oldest Thai friend, a comic-relief zookeeper named Mum, played by Petthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao. Mum takes the kids out to his place in the countryside, where he has an elephant, a pet monitor lizard and some monkeys.

Here, finally, is where they meet Mum's niece, Wahwah, played by none other than Chocolate heroine Jeeja Yanin. She's introduced while practicing Muay Thai moves in a rippling stream and is spied on by the teenage guy. Later, she spars with the guy and his sister, beating the guy and calling it a draw with the girl. Turns out she's a national Muay Thai champion.

There's a subplot involving the father and the elder son. Dad suffered an emasculating defeat in his Olympics days and he's pressuring the boy to train hard in taekwondo and redeem the family's honor. But the son really wants to be a back-up dancer for K-pop bands, and he's kept that a secret from his parents. Another family dynamic is that the mother and the daughter are actually portrayed as stronger martial artists than the men. So the henpecked hubby has another reason to push No. 1 son to try harder.

Eventually, the gangsters find the kids. They put up a good fight, but the little boy ends up kidnapped.

The older brother and Jeeja go on the run, with Jeeja helping the guy with his dance tryout or something. Junior passes the audition with flying colors, not only doing taekwondo with K-pop moves, but, inspired by Jeeja, adds a few Muay Thai elbow thrusts as well.

Meanwhile, to get the little boy back, the family will have to steal the dagger during their demonstration at the museum. This involves teaching Mum a few martial-arts moves so he can join the taekwondo troupe.

There's a fight in a riverside warehouse, and eventually the action moves to Mum's zoo where each character gets their moment to fight, even the little boy.

The mother goes to the kitchen, where she uses pots and pans as weapons. Later, she stumbles into a pit of CGI crocodiles.

In a nifty innovation by Panna, the elder son jumps on top of some empty animal cages where some low-hanging ceiling fans are going around and around. There's an endless parade of masked henchmen, and they all get knocked to the straw-covered floor by the spinning fan blades. The guy even grabs one from the ceiling and wields it as a weapon.

Jeeja grabs a tree branch and uses it to wallop bad guys. Later, she and the girl team up to take on a long-legged female gangster (Kim Yi-Roo), and their fight takes them to the glass roof of a greenhouse.

And dad somehow ends up wired with a bomb that someone will have to defuse.

A niggling problem with pan-Asian productions involving a cast of different nationalities is language. In Thailand, the Korean actors lines are dubbed, with the same voiceover artists that dub all the movies. I guess when the movie showed in Korea, the Thai actors were dubbed, and if this movie is ever picked up for the English-speaking world, everyone will be dubbed in the grand tradition of grindhouse kung-fu flicks.

The story is okay, but as is the case with these types of movies, the plot is secondary to the action, and there's plenty of it. Action that is.

Since Oldboy, it's become a cliche in Thai movies involving Koreans that a live octopus get involved. Don't worry though, unlike Oldboy, the octopus is CGI. No cephalopods were harmed in the making of this movie.

Some stuntmen, however, were harmed.

The obligatory blooper reel accompanies the end credits, and shows several stunt guys being injured by hard strikes by the Korean actors. One is taken away in an ambulance.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hua Hin International Film Festival set for January 26 to 29

Thailand's film-festival calendar for the end of next month just got even more crowded with the announcement today for the Hua Hin International Film Festival, which will take place January 26 to 29.

The newly announced fest overlaps with the rescheduled 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok, which was postponed because of the floods from November to January 20 to 27.

Also in Bangkok, there will be the 6th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival on January 28 and 29 and February 4 and 5 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. And in Chiang Mai, there is Payap University's Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival from February 2 to 5.

The Hua Hin International Film Festival is organized by the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand in conjunction with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Hua Hin municipality. FNFAT and the TAT previously co-organized the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009. The BKKIFF has been on hiatus since being cancelled in 2010 after the main festival venue was burned in an arson attack that followed the crackdown on the red-shirt political protests.

The Hua Hin fest is chaired by Suwat Liptapanlop (สุวัจน์ ลิปตพัลลภ), a political figure and businessman whose InterContinental Hua Hin Resort and Centennial Park will host several festival activities. Most movies will be screened at the Major Cineplex in Hua Hin. Other activities are planned at the Vic Hua Hin theater.

More than 50 films are being programmed, including Hollywood, European and Asian titles. There will also be an emphasis on Southeast Asian films.

The fest has a YouTube Channel, where a few trailers are posted. Films include South Korea's Always, Hong Kong's Magic to Win, Taiwan's Warriors of the Rainbow (Seediq Bale), Vietnam's Fool for Love and The Lady, Luc Besson's biopic of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, starring Michelle Yeoh, which was filmed in Thailand.

There will be a retrospective of films starring theater doyenne Patravadi Mejudhon, who has established her stage troupe and arts school in Hua Hin at the Vic Hua Hin theater. And there will be outdoor screenings of classic Thai movies starring the likes of Petchara Chaowarat and Mitr Chaibancha.

Seminars and workshops will include ASEAN Movies for ASEAN Community, country reports from nine Southeast Asian film industries, Can Government Help? on film funds and the DIY Movie workshop for the general public conducted by Thai directors.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Carried You Home picks up French distributor, competes in Marrakech

I Carried You Home, the debut feature by Tongpong Chantarangkul, has been acquired by French distributor Pretty Pictures, which will hold the rights for the film in France, Germany and Benelux. The film also was in competition at the recent Marrakech International Film Festival.

Starring Apinya Sakuljaroensuk and Akhamsiri Suwannasuk, I Carried You Home follows a pair of estranged sisters who have an awkward reunion during a long ride in an ambulance as they escort their dead mother's ashes from Bangkok to their home in southern Thailand.

Here's what Pretty Pictures head of acquisitions Aranka Matits had to say about it:

“When we saw I Carried You Home we instantly fell in love with this equally light-hearted and pensive film. It takes audiences on a deeply emotional journey, taking up the universal themes of homecoming, loss and gain. The film’s elegance and precision in both story-telling and style are remarkable; they establish Chantarangkul as a strong new voice.”

I Carried You Home was recently featured in competition at the Marrakech International Film Festival, where the jury included actresses Jessica Chastain and Aparna Sen and Filipino director Brillante Mendoza and was headed by director Emir Kusturica. You can check the list of winners at the festival website.

Check out the movie's Facebook page for photos from the festival, which have Tongpong wearing a cast on one leg and being pushed around in a wheelchair.

I Carried You Home, a.k.a. Padang Besar (ปาดังเบซาร์), had its world premiere in the New Currents Competition at this year's Busan International Film Festival. It was set to open this year's World Film Festival of Bangkok, which was postponed to January 20-27 because of the flooding. Hopefully, it'll still be the opening film.

(Via Film Business Asia, Screen Daily)

Good deeds done in Thang Yak Wad Jai

Each year around this time, the Thai film industry offers special films called "pappayon chalerm prakiat", which honor the achievements of his Majesty the King, whose 84th birthday was celebrated on December 5.

This year's offering is Thang Yak Wad Jai (ทางแยกวัดใจ), which is produced by the telecom corporation True and features directorial talents from the GTH studio.

It's a trio of shorts, all starring actor Pitisak Yaowanon from such films as Ai-Fak and Shadow of the Naga. He's a man who affects the lives of others with his good deeds.

The segments are directed Chayanop Boonprakob (SuckSeed), Sophon Sakdapisit (Laddaland) and Nithiwat Tharatorn (Dear Galileo).

The movie opened today at Major Cineplex theaters. You can get a pair of free tickets if you can figure out how to register your good deeds at the website,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Headshot (Fon Tok Kuen Fah)

  • Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang
  • Starring Nopachai Jayanama, Cris Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoung, Apisit Opasaimlikit
  • Released in Thai cinemas (SF cinemas only) on November 24, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Pen-ek Ratanaruang has created a weirdly fractured and inverted world in his latest thriller Headshot, a.k.a. Fon Tok Kuen Fah (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), literally "rain falling up to the sky".

"Peter" Nopachai Jayanama stars as Tul, a hitman whose world is literally turned upside-down after he's shot in the head - karmic hell for him because he was posing as a Buddhist monk when he did the hit.

He wakes up from a coma only to see everything flipped. He copes by upending his TV and watching nature shows, only the guy doesn't have much time to get soft on the couch. He's soon cowering from snipers who are shooting up his apartment, shattering his aquarium and leaving his goldfish gasping on the floor.

The narrative skitters and shuffles, going back and forth in time, to keep you as confused and off balance as the main character.

Tul wasn't always a hitman. But even when he was a cop, he was trapped in a web of deceit - a mere pawn in the games of the wealthy and powerful.

After refusing a briefcase full of cash to drop charges against a government minister's drug-dealing brother - an arrest that got Tul's police partner killed - he finds himself framed for the murder of a prostitute and sent to prison.

But things are not what they seem.

While locked away, he corresponds with the shadowy "Demon" (Krerkkiat Punpiputt), a pamphleteer doctor who rails against corruption. He is one of Tul's visitors in prison, and it turns out he heads a secret society of hitmen. "We prefer the term 'assassination experts'," the Demon says.

Tul refuses to join at first, but later feels he has nowhere else to turn.

It's a bleak existence for Tul, who is desperate for redemption and enlightenment. He finds it at one point, and the world feels right again, but it's fleeting.

Adapted from the short "film-noir novel" by SEA Write and Silpathorn Award laureate author Win Lyovarin, Headshot is Pen-ek's return to the hitman genre, which he previously tapped in his debut Fun Bar Karaoke and his pair of mood-drenched pan-Asian productions Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves.

Headshot continues the dark turn Pen-ek's been exploring in his recent films: the claustrophobic marriage drama Ploy and his forest-ghost thriller Nymph.

And it is indeed dark. The drug bust at night in a warehouse establishes that Tul has trained himself to operate in the black. His skill is put to use in a convenience store fracas. There's more action during a nighttime shootout in a rubber plantation. And, of course, it's raining.

With much of the action taking place in dimness, it's up to cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong to shed a little light on the subject, and he and his supporting team of Red camera technicians are more than up to the task.

The real brightness in Headshot comes from the cast, especially leading man Nopachai, who also starred in Nymph. Here the actor is given a chance to show the lean-yet-musclebound, action-hero side he's displayed in the Naresuan movies, but with a sensitive, cerebral edge who carries his torment on the sleeve of his torn shirt.

Similar to the character in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, Tul undergoes a transformation to become a superhero of sorts, and he somehow learns to use his upside-down outlook to his advantage.

The supporting cast adds more color, particularly model and fashion blogger Chanokporn "Dream" Sayoung, making her screen debut as Tul's artistic prostitute girlfriend. The femme fatale first turns up in a revealing pink mini-dress and Tul doesn't need much convincing to take her to a short-time hotel.

Apisit Opasaimlikit, the rapper-actor who's better known as Joey Boy, gives an oddly subdued turn as a gangster who would probably be more menacing if he wasn't dressed in tennis whites and bouncing a tennis ball. In another scene, he calmly pedals a bicycle around a warehouse, taking a break to torture Tul by dripping candle wax in a sensitive spot.

Then there's Tul's rescuing angel, Rin, played by Cris Horwang. He hijacks her car after the candlewax episode, but she remains cool while he's waving a pistol in her face, tossing off a sharp retort or two and offering a towel to wipe up his blood. Helpfully, she keeps a stash of pork rinds in her back seat, as if she knew Tul would be hungry after being tortured. She's always in the right place at the right time.

But again, things are not as they seem.

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(Cross-published in The Nation)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Get ready for The Kick

While Tom-Yum-Goong 2 with Tony Jaa, Jeeja Yanin, Dan Chupong and a host of other martial artists may be apparently delayed because of the flooding in Thailand, there's still the Thai-South Korean co-production The Kick with Jeeja kicking around.

Originally slated to open in Thailand last month but postponed over flood fears, The Kick (วอนโดนเตะ) is now set for release on December 22. It premiered at the Busan Film Festival and was released theatrically in South Korea already.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, this is a joint effort by CJ Venture and Bangkok Filmstudio, which Sahamongkolfilm is distributing.

The plot, via, goes something like this:

Couple and former Taekwondo champs Moon (Jo Jae-hyeon) and Yun (Ye Ji-won) settle down in Thailand and open a Korean restaurant and Taekwando school. Their three kids are interested in different things; the teenage boy is crazy about K-pop, the girl loves football and Thai dance and only the youngest boy shows any interest in Taekwando. There, the family made friends with Mum and his niece Wah Wah (Jeeja Yanin), a talented Muay Thai boxer. Their life changes when the family and their friends become involved with Korean mobsters who've stolen some ancient daggers.

The Thai trailer's now available for viewing (embedded below). It's a bit different than the Korean trailer.

By the way, there's more Jeeja action in a review of Jakkalan, a.k.a. This Girl Is Bad-Ass at, with loads of screenshots. Fun to look at, but the opinion of the movie itself isn't much different from mine. The trailer's got most of the best bits.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tony Jaa and Jeeja take time out for flood relief

The floods in Central Thailand have delayed filming on Tom-Yum-Goong 2, but director Prachya Pinkaew and stars Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin aren't just sitting around waiting for the waters to recede.

Along with execs from Sahamongkolfilm International, they've been doing a roadshow, handing out relief supplies and putting on movie screenings, complete with popcorn and cotton candy, in the flood-hit areas.

The photos here are from November 25 in Nakhon Chaisri, Nakhon Pathom, northwest of central Bangkok.

There's a couple more shots from reader Alex in comments to a previous post.

According to an item in The Nation's Soopsip column today, the 3D Tom-Yum-Goong 2 – a sequel to Tony Jaa's 2005 missing-elephant drama – has indeed been stalled by the flooding. The column gives no details on when filming might resume.

And, no, I don't know anything about the plot of the sequel, whether it's set in ancient or contemporary times or even if it's really a sequel at all.

Apichatpong-a-rama: Primitive in Bangkok, For Tomorrow, For Tonight in Beijing, In the Woods in Japan

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's multi-platform art exhibition Primitive finally makes its way to Bangkok after touring the world for the past couple of years or so.

It opens today at the Jim Thompson Art Center and runs until February 29.

Part of the same project as the acclaimed feature Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the video installation Primitive is an intimate look at the village of Nabua, Nakhon Phanom, along the Mekong in northeastern Thailand. It was there in 1965 that the Royal Thai Army staged a massacre during an anti-communist offensive.

Primitive deals with ghosts of that violent past. The seven-channel video installation also offers a slice-of-life look at the young men of Nabua and includes a music video by Moderndog and a behind-the-scenes film of the building of a spaceship – just one of the art projects Apichatpong came up with as a way of engaging the villagers in his project.

Commissioned by Haus Der Kunst, Munich, with FACT Liverpool and Animate Projects and produced by Illuminations Films, London, Primitive has previously shown in Munich, Liverpool, Paris, New York and the Yokohama Triennale. I checked it out at New York's New Museum earlier this year and am glad I'll be able to see how it fits into Bangkok. The Jim Thompson Art Center is on Kasemsan Soi 2, near the National Stadium skytrain station. It's open daily from 9 to 5.

Meanwhile, Apichatpong's been in Beijing, where his latest art installation For Tomorrow, Tonight has been showing at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. There's more about this new project at the Wall Street Journal Scene Asia blog.

Apichatpong himself has been in Beijing to screen a retrospective of 20 of his features and shorts and give talks. The retrospective program runs until December 11.

Coverage of the Beijing event includes an interview with City Weekend, in which Apichatpong says he's still hoping to make Utopia ("set in the snow plains in Canada with a giant spaceship") and he offers a list of other Thai filmmakers to watch.

They also bring up the Japanese earthquake short Apichatpong did as part of 3.11 A Sense of Home. It was screened at last month's Asiana International Short Film Festival in Seoul, and features works by 21 filmmakers, including South Korea's Bong Joon-ho, China's Jia Zhang-ke and Japan's Naomi Kawasi. There's also an animation by Japan-based Wisut Ponnimit. Apichatpong's quake short is called Monsoon. All the shorts are 3 minutes and 11 seconds.

There's more coverage of Apichatpong in Beijing in the China Daily, headlined "Sleep-watching Weerasethakul". And People's Daily Online has a photo gallery.

Coming up, there will be a four-film retrospective, Apichatpong in the Woods, at the Baust Theater in Tokyo from January 28 to February 10. They'll screen Mysterious Object of Noon, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours.

(Thanks Logboy!)