Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: Dark Flight 407

  • Directed by Isara Nadee
  • Starring Marsha Vadhanapanich, Peter Knight, Poramet Noi-um, Anchalee Hassadivichit, X Thiti, Namo Tongkumnerd
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 22, 2012; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

The cliches of airline disaster movies – so hilariously parodied in Airplane!, which holds up to repeated viewings – are trotted out for the horror genre in Dark Flight 407 (407 เที่ยวบินผี, 407 Tiawbin Phee), which you'd probably only want to watch once.

Touted as the first Thai film to actually be filmed in stereoscopic 3D, Dark Flight 407, a.k.a. Dark Flight 3D, suffers from uneven pacing and non-scary moments like frightened characters shrieking annoyingly to booming noises offscreen. When will filmmakers ever realize that seeing people scared onscreen doesn't necessarily mean audiences are going to feel the fright?

Released by Five Star Production, it's directed by Isara Nadee, one of the "Ronin Team" from Art of the Devil 2. Another "Ronin Team" member, Kongkiat Khomsiri, is one of the screenwriters. But there are actually three or four writers credited, which points to a possible reason for the tonal shifts and lack of cohesion.

Marsha Vadhanapanich, who memorably played twins in the GTH ghost thriller Alone a few years back, stars in Dark Flight. She's a flight attendant with a troubled past who's back on the job after a mysterious incident years before. Unfortunately, she isn't given much to do, other than rock a flight attendant's uniform and weird hair braid wrapped around her forehead. She mostly alternates between being freaked out and quiet pensiveness. But mainly, she's simply upstaged by a parade of screaming passengers and various CGI special effects.

The supporting cast are the usual folks you'll see on airline flights in Thailand. There's the effeminate male flight attendant (singer X Thiti), a dreadlocked backpacker Thai dude (Namo Tongkumnerd), a scantily dressed, culturally clueless young Hong Kong woman (Sisangian Siharat), an old lady who's scared of flying, a pot-bellied foreigner sex tourist, a foreign couple and a well-to-do Thai family – a bossy, complaining wife (Anchalee Hassadivichit) and her henpecked husband (Poramet Noi-um). Their teenage daughter (Patree Taptong) is obsessed with her iPad's flight-simulator game – how convenient. Oh, there's also a Buddhist monk who comes in handy.

And a member of the ground crew (Peter Knight) is trapped in the baggage compartment when the plane takes off. It just so happens he has a past with Marsha's character, which is supposed to create instant chemistry between the two.

They are travelling on a Boeing 737, which even after a new paint job looks pretty worn. Inside is the kind of 737 layout you'll only find on an earthbound airplane movie set – an aisle wide enough to roll two drinks carts down, two, not three, rows of seats on each side with tons of elbow room and two, curtained-off compartments. Also, the huge galley looks like it's been transplanted from a 747.

The flight attendants do their safety demonstration as a dance to pumping techno music that puts most of the passengers in a good mood. It's one bright spot of the movie.

Finally, with the new livery of Sunshine Airways (how ironic), Flight SA 407 takes off from Suvarnabhumi Airport under ominously inky-black skies.

The flight starts out fairly routine, with the Hong Kong girl popping open her laptop to watch Monrak Transistor – nice of Five Star to remind us of the good films they produced.

But then weird stuff starts happening. A little kid rolls a ball down that wide aisle at the teenager. Passengers see other passengers who aren't really there. Bloody footsteps are left behind by a stewardess and then disappear. The farang sex tourist acts like he's been possessed by the devil.

Pretty soon it becomes obvious that the plane is haunted. The exterior of the craft looks like it's been through Hell and the wiring and instruments appear as if they've been rotting in the jungle for several years.

After much running around and screaming by the passengers and flight crew, the killing begins, and here's where Anchalee Hassadivichit, playing the bitchy rich mother, steals the movie as a woman gone mad. Decent gore effects, splatter and scary make-up jobs on the ghost flight crew are also highlights during this act.

But any feeling of tension or suspense instead turns to frustration amid all the shrieking, confusion and 3D gimmickry. That moment when the passengers and crew need to yell "Let's roll!" and storm the cockpit becomes a long, dragged-out slog.

And, a bit confusingly, the emergency landing sequence is milked for laughs – perhaps some unintentional – with the eventual stand-in pilot wildly yanking on levers and smashing panels. On the ground, the head of Phuket's airport bureaucratically introduces himself with his long rank and title and demands the same from the person calling him before he'll offer any assistance.

It seems that plane never will land safely, and perhaps it shouldn't, because that would mean it might take off again on another wild, ghostly ride through the skies.

Related posts:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Salaya Doc 2012: More thoughts on Golden Slumbers

Chou Davy at the post-screening Q&A of Golden Slumbers with Kong Rithdee at Salaya Doc, March 25, 2012.

I saw Golden Slumbers, a documentary on the lost films of Cambodia's golden age of cinema, for the second time at Salaya Doc over the weekend, and I was glad I did.

The experience was enriched this time by the presence of director Chou Davy, who I missed seeing at the Lifescapes festival in Chiang Mai. A switched-on and articulate young man, he gave a post-screening Q&A that increased my appreciation of the film.

One viewer brought up the parallels Golden Slumbers has with Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Although one is fiction and the other is documentary, both deal with lost cinema and the magic of film.

And Golden Slumbers is perhaps more magical than Hugo because it doesn't rely on CGI or swooping virtual-camera trickery to dazzle the eye.

Take the interview with the avuncular but cagey director Ly Bun Yim – representing the playful, trickster side of Scorsese's Georges Méliès. He disappears from the screen as his disembodied voice continues to describe his special effects. And then multiple versions of him pop back up in the same frame. In the epilogue, a special effect that Ly Bun Yim earlier described but didn't show is actually shown. And, hilariously, Ly Bun Yim keeps telling a story even after he says he's going to stop.

As a coincidence, Davy says his first film was a remake of one of Scorsese's early shorts, 1967's The Big Shave, in which man keeps shaving his face until it's a bloody mess.

Another interview in Golden Slumbers represents the sad, embittered side of Méliès, with Ly You Sreang, who tearfully pours out his life story after he fled from Cambodia after the fall of Phnom Penh. It's a moving tale that could well form the basis for an entire biopic, as could many of the Khmer Rouge survivor stories.

Davy actually had more footage of the other figures in the film telling their stories of survival – screen siren Dy Saveth for example, who worked as a nanny in France – but those weren't included out of consideration for the film's running time. So it was Ly You Sreang's story that was chosen to represent them all.

Another audience member wondered why there weren't more clips of the old films, and Davy said the reason for that is because at the time he made Golden Slumbers, the films were indeed lost. But just like in Hugo, once interest in the old films was revitalized, then clips and videotapes began to resurface. Anyway, Golden Slumbers works the way it does because it doesn't show things directly, just like a magic trick or illusion.

Golden Slumbers screens again on Saturday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. Check the Salaya Doc blog for the schedule.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Salaya Doc 2012 review: The Cheer Ambassadors

Assistant cheerleading coach and production manager Tae Phithakrattanayothin and director Luke Cassady-Dorian at the Salaya Doc post-screening Q&A with Thai Film Archive programmer Sanchai Chotirosseranee.

  • Directed by Luke Cassady-Dorian
  • Screened at 2nd Salaya International Documentary Festival, March 25, 2012; unrated
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

It's the type of uplifting, inspirational story I usually run screaming from. But The Cheer Ambassadors, about plucky Thai cheerleaders who beat the odds to be ranked among the best squads in the world, won me over with boundless enthusiasm and a side trip into the darker aspects of human nature.

At the center of the film is Sarawut "Toey" Samniangdee, coach of the Bangkok University cheerleading squad. A dancer by vocation, he was inspired to get into cheerleading by two things – late-night ESPN showings of the World Cheerleading Championships and YouTube clips of cheerleading stunts and the renowned limitless energy of Thai singer "Bird" Thongchai McIntyre.

The slickly produced doc traces the origins of cheerleading and the rise of the sport (yeah, that's right, sport) in Thailand, which became popular thanks to annual sanctioned cheerleading competitions at Seacon Square, a huge mall in suburban eastern Bangkok.

Toey, known for his interest in cheerleading, became coach of the Bangkok University squad, and with the help of other key figures profiled in the film, he made it their goal to compete in the World Cheerleading Championships in Orlando, Florida. He pushed them into a rigorous regimen that had them training at night, so they wouldn't be jet-lagged when they arrived for competition in the States.

So cue the footage of training. Strength and flexibility work-outs were key, because the Thais were disadvantaged for a couple of reasons: gymnastics training is almost unheard of at young ages, unlike the U.S. and other Western countries; and Thai men are about half the size of their hulking American counterparts, who are lifting women about half their size; Thai men and women are similar in size, so the Thai guys (and gals) had to bulk up their muscles in order to provide a steady base for the elaborate pyramids.

It's those pyramids that are key to the Thai team's success, and Toey's diagrams of his pyramids from his colorfully illustrated cheerleading notebook form the basis of a motion-graphic presentation that only adds to the documentary's slickness and energy. An interesting mix of grainy archival footage is offset by newer, high-definition video. And a soundtrack of contemporary Thai and foreign pop music keeps things pumping.

Sports movies rely on those elements as told in the old ABC "Wide World of Sports introduction, "the thrill of victory ... the agony of defeat". And The Cheer Ambassadors has them.

For Toey, his crashing moment comes amid an interview in which he's talking about his drive for perfection and he's complaining about his team's weaknesses. Ominously, he's wearing a T-shirt of the evil emperor from Star Wars. "Now, young Skywalker ... you must die."

The screen goes black, and ambulance sounds are heard. Toey's dark side is his obsessive-compulsive behavior. And the story of how he and team bounced back from that is the key to what makes The Cheer Ambassadors an inspiring, uplifting movie that's worth giving a chance to.

As a plus, there's also an interview with the team's astrologist – I bet none of the other cheerleading teams in the world have one of those.

Two years or more in the works, The Cheer Ambassadors premiered at the 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok in January (after it was postponed from November because of the floods), and was screened at the 2nd Salaya International Documentary Film Festival. The European premiere will be at the 60°N Os International Film Festival in Norway, April 21-28. There's also a possible theatrical release in the works for Thailand.

See also:

Related posts:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Salaya Doc 2012: Vietnam and Malaysia are the winners

A scene from Hard Rails Across a Gentle River.

Documentaries from Vietnam and Malaysia were chosen as the winners in the first Asean Competition at the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival.

The special jury prize went to World Without Shadow by Khoo Eng Yow. It's a look at the wayang kulit shadow play of Malaysia's Kelantan state, which has come under threat by conservative state policies and Islamic puritanical influences.

And the Best Asean Documentary prize went to Hard Rails Across a Gentle River by Tran Thi Anh Phuong, Do Van Hoang, Pham Thu Hang and Tran Thanh Hie. Produced by the Hanoi Doc Lab, it chronicles the people who live, work and play around a railroad bridge, among them a group of nude swimmers.

Now in its second year, Salaya Doc introduced the Asean Documentary competition this year. There were seven entries in all, both feature-length and shorts, coming also from Burma, Indonesia and Thailand.

Some of the Salaya Doc films will be shown again on Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1, at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. Look for the schedule at the festival blog.

The Salaya Doc blog has the jury's statements. The jurors were film critic Prawich Taeng-aksorn, filmmaker Pimpaka Towira and the Singapore National Museum's Zhang Wenjie.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Photo essay: Three comedy legends at the Thai Film Archive

A ceremonial prayer.

The comedy trio of Den Dokpradoo, Der Doksadao and Thep Pho-ngam made their hand, feet and – for Thep – a head impression in the Star Pavilion at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom on Saturday.

With the Salaya Doc festival also going on at the Film Archive's Sri Salaya Theatre, it was chance to make a documentary right there on the spot.

The trio m/ade a string of comedies back in the 1970s and '80s and remain active today. Though as far as films, it's Thep who's probably onscreen the most these days. Last year he starred in director Yuthlert Sippapak's Friday Killers, in a solidly dramatic role as an ageing assassin who botches a reunion with the daughter he never knew he had – a tough policewoman who's gunning for him.

The trio entertained the crowd of media, family and fans as they prepared to make their hand impressions, with Thep and Den offering up a humorous but solemn prayer.

Head into the concrete.

Thep, who's since adopted a shaven head as his trademark – he had a full head of black hair back in the day – opted to give the Film Archive its first head impression, planting his pate in the wet cement along with his hands. Den playfully helped make sure it would be a lasting mark, giving Thep's head a shove. In the process, Thep's glasses came off.

As usual for these ceremonies, the Film Archive staff were standing by with clean water and fresh towels, and Thep gave his cement-topped dome a wash before proceeding with the rest of the rite, which involves making feet impressions and an autograph in the concrete pavement.

More than three have been done before at one time at the Star Pavilion. Near Saturday's trio of fresh marks are impressions left by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the cast of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – 10 people in all.

Update: There's more photos on the FAPOT Facebook page.

Show your hands.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Headshot hits target at Bangkok Critics awards

Piak Poster, Piyathida Woramusik and Peter Noppachai were among the winners. Photo via Matichon Online.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot blew away the 20th Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards (มรมวิจารณ์บันเทิง), picking up five prizes, including best picture, director and actor for "Peter" Noppachai Jayamana.

Other big winners at the ceremony on Wednesday night at the Royal Thai Army Club were GTH's hit horror Laddaland and Sahamongkol's Umong Pha Mueang (The Outrage), which each won two awards.

Headshot (Fon Tok Kuen Fah, ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), in which Peter portrays a hitman who is shot and wakes up from a coma to see the world upside down, also won for editing by Patamanadda Yukol and cinematography by Chankit Chamnivikaipong. It was produced by Local Color Films, marking Pen-ek's move away from Five Star Production, the long-established Thai studio that released all his previous features.

Laddaland, a tale of family dysfunction in a supposedly haunted housing development, scared up awards for best screenplay for writer-director Sophon Sakkadaphisit and co-writer Sophana Chaowiwatkul and best actress for Piyathida Woramuksik who portrayed the mother of a family dragged to Chiang Mai by their desperate dad.

The Outrage, ML Bhandevanop "Mom Noi" Devakula's lavish adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, won best art direction for Pattarik Meesaiyat and Niti Smittasingha. And singer-actress Radklao Amaradit took the best supporting actress prize for her scene-stealing turn as the medium who channels the spirit of the murdered nobleman portrayed by Ananda Everingham.

The best supporting actor award went to Somboonsook Niyomsiri for Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan (The Billionaire). He portrayed the loyal and supportive "uncle" of the film's teenage fried-seaweed tycoon. At 80, he's probably the oldest actor to win the award. And, notably, it was his acting debut. Better known as Piak Poster, Somboonsook is a beloved Thai film-industry figure who was a movie-poster artist before becoming a director and making a string of popular teen-oriented films in the 1970s. He accepted his prize from the stunning 50-year-old actress Penpak Sirikul, who's making waves this year playing a transgender woman in It Gets Better and starring in the lesbian romance released this week, She

There were two new awards this year: the Young Filmmakers Award, which went to the team behind Love, Not Yet  (รักจัดหนัก, Rak Jad Nak, and Best Original Song, which went to singer-songwriter "Stamp" Apiwat Eurthavornsuk for “Man Khong Pen Khwam Rak” from 30 Kamlung Jaew.

The best score prize went to two films, GTH's rock 'n' roll romance SuckSeed by Wichaya Wattanasap and Hualamphong Riddim and Aditya Assarat's Hi-So, which was scored by Koichi Shimizu and the Desktop Error duo of Wuttiwong Limtrakul and Adisak Phuakngok.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to the veteran singer, actor and director Charin Nantanakorn.

And MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's The Legend of King Naresuan Part III was awarded as the No. 1 Thai film at the box office last year.

Headshot has dominated Thailand's awards season this year, with wins at the Kom Chad Luek Awards, Starpics and the Thai Film Director Association.

Still to come is the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand's Subhanahongsa Awards, the so-called "Thai Oscars", but no one seems to know when they will be held.

(Via Ornpp on Twitter, Manager, Matichon, Daily News)

Horror in the skies, in 3D, in Dark Flight 407

Following quickly on the heels of Mae Nak 3D comes another Thai 3D movie, Dark Flight 407 (407 เที่ยวบินผี, 407 Tiawbin Phee) – this one billed as the first Thai film to actually be shot in stereoscopic 3D.

Produced by Five Star Production, Dark Flight 407, a.k.a. Dark Flight 3D, is a haunted airplane tale.

Marsha Wattanapanich stars as a flight attendant who is back in the air 10 years after she was the sole survivor of a crash. Peter Knight also stars as a flight engineer.

Isara Nadee, one of the "Ronin Team" responsible for Art of the Devil 2, directs, with the script by another Art of the Devil 2 team member, Kongkiat Khomsiri, who previously directed Muay Thai Chaiya and Slice and has scripted such films as Bang Rajan and The Unseeable.

After its its Thai release today, Film Business Asia says Dark Flight 407 will take wing and head to Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Cambodia.

Check out the trailer embedded below and watch out for the bouncing head.

More Thai lesbian romance in She

A surprise hit of 2010 was Yes or No, So I Love You, an indie Thai film that depicted romance between a couple of cute college girls. It's since become quite popular.

Now Angel and Bear productions, the same firm that was behind the coffee-infused romance Bitter/Sweet, wants another look at lesbian love in She (เรื่องรักระหว่างเธอ, Ruang Rak Rawang Ther).

It has two stories.

In one, a businesswoman facing terminal cancer turns her back on her husband and daughter in hopes of sparing them the pain of her dying; but then she strikes up a relationship with a female photographer.

Meanwhile, a columnist's life is destroyed when her boyfriend e-mails their sex clips to her work contacts. While bouncing back, she strikes up a friendship with her tomboy neighbor.

Veteran actress Penpak Sirikul, who appeared earlier this year in the transgender romance It Gets Better, stars as the businesswoman, along with Ann Siriwan Baker. Appassaporn Sangthong is the columnist with Kitchya Kaesuwan as her neighbor.

It's directed by Sranya Noithai, who previously did 2007's historical horror romance Perng Mang: The Haunted Drum.

Released in Thai cinemas today, there's an English-subtitled trailer embedded below.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mom Noi plans remake of Jan Dara

It's been just 10 years or so since director Nonzee Nimibutr steamed up screens with Jan Dara (จัน ดารา), a period erotic drama about family dysfunction, lust and incest.

With an ice-cube seduction and a bloody do-it-yourself abortion scene, Nonzee's Jan Dara (a co-production with Hong Kong's Peter Chan) was controversial in its day, but was fairly well-received and even played at some overseas film festivals.

ML Bhandevanop "Mom Noi" Devakula thinks the time is right for a remake of Jan Dara. Based on a novel by Utsana Phleungtham, the tale is set in 1930s Siam and is about a boy growing up in an aristocratic family under the lash of his abusive, sex-addicted, womanizing father. If Mom Noi pulls off his version, expect to see art direction, costuming and hair styles that are even more outlandish and lavish than the sepia-toned 2002 version. Mom Noi will likely also add his personal stamp of  high-brow references to literature, theater and Buddhist philosophy.

It'll be the third remake in a row for Mom Noi, a veteran dramatist who made his comeback as a movie director with 2008's Chua Fah Din Salai, a.k.a. Eternity, an erotic tale that shares many of the same themes as Jan Dara. Chua Fah Din Salai had previously been filmed as Forever Yours back in the 1950s by Kru Marut and Ratana Pestonji. Last year, Mom Noi adapted Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, calling it U Mong Pha Mueang, a.k.a. The Outrage and setting it in 1500s northern Thailand.

According to The Nation's Soopsip column, Mom Noi has already cast his Outrage star Mario Maurer. Presumably, Mario will be getting his kit off as the title character in Jan Dara, which will be a big draw for all the fans of the Love of Siam leading man.

Mae Nak 3D starlet "Tak" Bongkote Khongmalai is also in the cast, Soopsip says.

But Mom Noi is having trouble finding the right actress to play the part of Jan's father's worldly mistress, memorably portrayed in Nonzee's version by Hong Kong actress Christy Chung. It was her character that used ice cubes to heat things up with young Jan. Later, she strikes up a relationship with Jan's half-sister/wife (played by "May" Pathawarin Timkul) and participates in the bloody bedroom abortion.

Veteran singer-actress Marsha Wattanapanich, who's on screens this week playing a flight attendant in the 3D haunted-airplane flick Dark Flight 407, said she'd been contacted about the role. She starred in Mom Noi's movies back in the 1980s.

But Mom Noi remains mum about Marsha, Soopsip says, adding that the director may want to pick a non-Thai Asian actress like Nonzee did, perhaps heading up to South Korea or Japan to find the right woman.

Salaya Doc 2012: The Asean Competition

The Hongvivatana sisters in Wish Us Luck.

Now in its second year, the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival has introduced the Asean Competition, featuring recent documentaries from around Southeast Asia.

They start screening at 4 today and continue through Saturday. Here's the line-up:

  • Hard Rails Across the Gentle River by Tran Thi Anh Phuong, Do Van Hoang, Pham Thu Hang, Tran Thanh Hie, Vietnam – This feature by four directors from the Hanoi Doc Lab focuses on the various colorful folks who live, work and play on or around a railroad bridge. Among them is a group of nude swimmers. It's been screened before in Thailand, including last year's Lifescapes festival in Chiang Mai and at this year's Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.
  • Click in Fear by Sai Kyaw Khaing, Burma – This documentary, originally made in 2009, has been newly re-edited. It's about the photographer who took iconic news photos of protesting monks during 2007's "Saffron Revolution" in Rangoon. He had to flee Burma to avoid prison. The earlier version screened at the 2009 World Film Festival of Bangkok and the updated one was shown at the Lifescapes fest.
  • Wish Us Luck (ขอให้เราโชคดี) by Wanweaw and Weawwan Hongvivatana, Thailand – The twin-sister indie filmmakers made their debut feature during a one-month journey by train from London back home to Thailand. They had adventures along the way in Germany, Russia, Mongolia, China and Vietnam. Sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, it's hard to not draw comparisons with Wes Anderson's train movie The Darjeeling Limited. It premiered recently at a Third Class Citizen screening in Bangkok.
  • World without Shadow by Khoo Eng Yow, Malaysia – A centuries-old form of theatre is under threat in Kelantan, Malaysia, where wayang kulit shadow play has become the victim of conservative state policies and Islamic puritanical influences. What was once a revered art form is now seen as a threat to religious values. Previous screenings include the  International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Singapore's Southeast Asian Film Festival and the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.
  • Salakyom (สลากย้อ) by Pisut Srimok, Thailand – A team of researchers from the Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre study Lamphun's Salak Yom festival, a tradition among the ethnic Yaung that features the presentation of an elaborately decorated “tree of gifts” to the Buddhist monks and novices of the local monasteries. In the past, it was young women who offered a Salak tree to their local monastery, making the ceremony a rite of passage into adulthood.
  • Black Umbrella by Chairun Nissa, Indonesia – A look at the struggles of women who fight for justice for human rights.
  • 8.8.88 by Vichart Somkaew, Thailand – This is a profile of Tarji, the 12-year-old son of Burmese refugees who fled their country after the  8888 Uprising. Born in Thailand, the ethnic Mon boy lives in Ranong Province, in a rented room near the fish market and red-light district of karaoke bars and brothels. He speaks three languages and wants to go to school. But his parents can't afford it. So Tarji and his brothers go to work.

Check the Salaya Doc blog for the full schedule.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Good night for Southeast Asia at the 6th Asian Film Awards

Lovely Man director Teddy Soeriaatmadja and Best Actor winner Donny Damara. Photo via YesAsia Facebook.
Indonesia and the Philippines as well as a Thai composer were among the winners at the 6th Asian Film Awards on Monday night in Hong Kong.

The big winner was the Oscar-winning Iranian courtroom-family drama A Separation, which took the awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenwriter for Asghar Farhadi and Best Editor for Hayedeh Safiyari.

Hong Kong director Peter Chan's historical martial-arts mystery Wu Xia was another big winner, taking three prizes, among them Best Composer, a prize shared by a trio, "Comfort" Chan Kwon-wing, Peter Kam and Thailand's Chatchai Pongpraphan. Wu Xia also won for cinematography and production design.

Indonesia's Donny Damara won best actor for Lovely Man. The '80s model, basically making his debut as a star in a feature film, portrayed a father who's gone to work as a transvestite prostitute on a bridge in Jakarta.There, he meets his teenage daughter – a traditional Muslim girl from a rural town – who has the shock of her young life.

Donny's win was an upset at the Asian Film Awards, which are traditionallly dominated by South Korea and Hong Kong, as well as Japan and China. Andy Lau, star of veteran Hong Kong director Ann Hui's much-acclaimed A Simple Life was favored to win. Andy's co-star Deanie Ip won Best Actress and Hui was the first female director to win the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Andy did win the popular-vote People's Choice Award for Best Actor. He was mugged by Filipino actress-comedienne Eugene Domingo, who won the People's Choice Award for best actress for the mockumentary The Woman in the Septic Tank. She took time time to tweet the results of her win and snap photos of herself with Andy.

The best-supporting actress winner was Shamaine Buencamino of the Philippines for Niño, which won the New Currents Award for director Loy Arcenas at last year's Busan International Film Festival. She beat out Cris Horwang, who co-starred in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's upside-down hitman tale Headshot. Ananda Everingham was a co-presenter of the award with Japanese actress Karina.

Thai star Mario Maurer was a nominee for The Outrage (U Mong Pa Mueang), the remake of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. He was a co-presenter of the award for best editing with Seediq Bale star Umin Boya. But Mario lost out on the best supporting actor prize to Taiwanese actor Lawrence Ko for the gymnastics flick Jump! Ashin.

Other nominees included Outrage costume designer Noppadol Techo.

The jury was headed by Singaporean director Eric Khoo, marking the first time the AFA had reached out beyond Hong Kong for its jury president.

The winning Wu Xia composers, from left, Chatchai Pongprapaphan, Chan Kwong-wing and Peter Kam. Photo via YesAsia Facebook.

Here's the complete list of winners:

  • Best Film: Nader and Simin, A Separation, Iran
  • Best Director: Asghar Farhadi, Nader and Simin, A Separation
  • Best Actor: Donny Damara, Lovely Man, Indonesia
  • Best Actress: Deanie Ip, A Simple Life, Hong Kong
  • Best Newcomer: Ni Ni, The Flowers of War, China
  • Best Supporting Actor: Lawrence Ko, Jump Ashin!, Taiwan
  • Best Supporting Actress: Shamaine Buencamin, Niño, Philippines
  • Best Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi, Nader and Simin, A Separation
  • Best Cinematographer: Yee Chung-man and Sun Li, Wu Xia, China/Hong Kong
  • Best Composer: Chan Kwon-wing, Peter Kam and Chatchai Pongpraphan, Wu Xia
  • Best Editor: Hayedeh Safiyari, Nader and Simin, A Separation
  • Best Visual Effects: Wook Kim, Josh Cole, Frankie Chung, The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Hong Kong/China
  • Best Costume Designer: Yee Chung-man, Lai Hsuan-wu, The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
  • Lifetime Achievment Award: Ann Hui, Hong Kong
  • Edward Yang New Talent Award, Edwin, Indonesia

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thai tsunami orphan's tale added to Tribeca fest

A coming-of-age story set in the aftermath of Thailand's 2004 tsunami is among the shorts added to New York's Tribeca Film Festival.

Adirake follows an boy, made an orphan by the tsunami, as he looks for the white elephant his mother spoke of.

Making its international premiere in the Fallout program, Adirake is by New York-based filmmaker Tati Barrantes and Andinh Ha. Barrantes was one of the participants in the Film Expo Asia short-film contest in 2010 in Thailand.

Previously announced for Tribeca was Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot as well as Indonesian director Edwin's Postcards from the Zoo. The Tribeca fest runs from April 18 to 29.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Japanese disaster and Golden Slumbers at the 2nd Salaya Doc fest

The second edition of the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival is set for March 20 to 25 at the Thai Film Archive's Sri Salaya Theatre in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, opening with 311, a documentary by veteran filmmaker Tatsuya Mori on the aftermath of last year's earthquake in Japan.

Mori will also be among the filmmakers leading workshops for filmmakers. Others taking part will be Nguyen Trinh Thi from the Hanoi Doclab and Urupong Raksasad, director of Agrarian Utopia.

Also on the opening day will be a look at Thailand's big disaster of last year, Under/Water/Dog, a short by Nuttorn Kungwanklai about controversial volunteer efforts to help dogs stranded by the floods.

The closing film on March 25 will be Golden Slumbers, a documentary on the lost films of Cambodia's golden age of cinema by Davy Chou. It previously screened at the Lifescapes festival in Chiang Mai and is part of a resurgence in interest about Cambodian films that has picked up in recent weeks thanks to the screening of some Khmer classics at the Berlin film festival. The Bangkok Post had a story about that, plus a profile of Cambodian leading lady Dy Saveth. There's also more at the Southeast Asian Film Studies Institute.

Other films will include The Cheer Ambassadors, about the first Thai team to participate in the World Cheerleading Championships. The Wall Street Journal's Southeast Asia Real Time blog has more on that.

There's also an ASEAN documentary competition with entries from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Burma and Indonesia.

And there's a seminar on March 26 and 27 at the Sri Salaya, organized by the Film Archive in collaboration with the DocNet Southeast Asia project of the Goethe-Institut and the Thai Film Foundation, “Finding Neverland for Southeast Asian Documentary”, with panels on such topics as film funding, censorship and distribution.

Some of the films will be repeated on March 31 and April 1 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Check out the Salaya Doc blog for more details.

Poverty porn? No! This is Udine! The trailer for FEFF 14

The Udine Far East Film Festival has attracted well-known directors to make the trailer that's shown before all the screenings. Hong Kong's Pang Ho-cheung and Indonesia's Joko Anwar have been past contributors.

Filipino director Quark Henares wondered if they've ever had a Filipino director, and festival organizers knew they had their man for this year's edition.

Comedian Ramon Bautista stars in this year's trailer (embedded above), and in 90 seconds he proceeds to skewer the trend of "poverty porn" that other directors – especially indie Filipino ones – have embraced.

The Udine Far East Film Festival runs from April 20 to 28.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Headshot to make U.S. premiere at Tribeca fest

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot (Fon Tok Kuen Fah, ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า) makes its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Playing in the Spotlight program, Headshot was among 45 films added to the Tribeca lineup last week.

Headshot has U.S. distribution, with Kino Lorber, and I would expect that after the Tribeca bow, other festivals across the States will be picking it up.

It's also showing at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Last month, Headshot played in Berlin. It was also featured in a Pen-ek retrospective at this past weekend's Deauville Asian Film Festival, which awarded Querelles by Iran's Morteza Farshbaf as best film. The jury prize went to the Philippines' Baby Factory, the debut feature ​​by Eduardo W. Roy Jr. The Critics Prize went to Himizu by Sion Sono and the Lotus Action Asia award went to the Donnie Yen martial-arts thriller Wu Xia by Peter Chan. Last year, Headshot premiered at the Toronto fest and also screened in Vancouver and Tokyo.

The exposure abroad for Headshot comes amid accolades at home, where Pen-ek picked up the best director award from the Thai Film Director Association, as well as six Starpics Awards. Still to come is next Monday's Asian Film Awards, with Cris Horwang up for best supporting actress.

Pen-ek, who turned 50 on March 8, was recently asked what he's planning to do next, and The Nation's SoopSip column quotes him as saying he's working on a documentary "about Thai politics during the Rattanakosin Era, right from the beginning."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Two reviews: Mae Nak 3D and Ghost Day

The makers of Mae Nak 3D (แม่นาค 3D) – the first Thai 3D feature – ought to provide special glasses that prop viewers' eyes open. It's that dull. All around me, other movie-goers had their 3D glasses propped on their heads and were busy texting on their cellphones rather than watching.

Inexplicable and confusing jumps in the chronology remove any suspense that could possibly be derived from this well-known ghost story, which has been depicted in film, television and on stage dozens of times.

About the only reason to do the Mae Nak story again is to do it in 3D. But while there are a few moments when the special effects by the teams from Imagimax and Kantana shine, they are more cartoonish than scary. And, you can only get so much mileage out of Nak's endlessly stretching arms reaching out of the screen to strangle you. The gag gets old pretty quickly.

The story is pretty much the same as 1999's Nang Nak, directed by Nonzee Nimibutr and scripted by Wisit Sasanatieng. Set in a canal village in old Siam, Nak is a pregnant young woman whose husband Mak is called away for military service, and while he's gone she goes into labor and dies trying to give birth to the stillborn baby. Her love for Nak is so strong, her spirit won't let go and when Mak returns he is unaware that his lovely wife is a ghost. And she takes her revenge on anyone who tries to clue Mak in, as well as anyone who offended her before she died.

Wisit has said that the story of Mae Nak was originally a stage play, but it was recounted by word of mouth so many times that the origins were lost and it became "true". There is even a shrine capitalizing on the Mae Nak myth in Bangkok's Phra Khanong district, which back in the day was a rural canal village and is the setting for the Mae Nak story.

Mae Nak 3D, finally released on March 1 after many delays, aims to show more about the relationship of Nak and Mak, and starts the story before their marriage, with Mak courting Nak by pulling her into the canal for an amorous swim and sweet-talk time. Later, at the village temple fair, he vanquishes a foe in the Muay Thai ring in order to further impress his gal.

Meanwhile, there is a competing suitor for Nak's hand, the village headman's spoiled son Plueng (Chalat Na Songkhla). He hires the local sorcerer to make a potion that will make Nak fall in love with him. The method of dispersal is pretty inefficient though, even if it does give the special-effects folks an opportunity to have amber drops of liquid coming out of the screen. But one of those drops hits Nak's best friend and makes her insane. Another hits a water buffalo, with predictably humorous results for Plueng's bumbling henchmen. When the potion doesn't work, the sorcerer says he needs the blood from a fetus to make Nak fall in love with Plueng, but the only pregnant woman in the village is Nak ... and, well, I'm so confused I don't know what to say.

Battles between Nak and her arch-nemesis the village sorcerer make for some of the best special-effects scenes in the movie, with the wizard tossing black-magic rice at Nak and the rice burning into her skin. Another good scene is Nak sticking out her tongue and bugging her eyes out. And even the ghost baby gets in on the action, crawling around in the rafters, scaring his dad half to death.

For the most part, the usual beats of the story are hit. Mak returns home to find his house is dusty and full of cobwebs. Finally his wife shows up. While cooking Mak's meal, she drops a lime through the floorboards and she stretches her arm to reach 6 feet down to the ground to retrieve it. Nak, having discovered his wife is a ghost, makes an excuse to leave by saying he has to go outside to urinate. He knocks a hole in a water jar and makes his escape.

There's no forehead bone element to this story – that's something Wisit came up with from the biography of the monk Somdej Toh, who lived back when Nak was supposed to have lived.

But Mak (Rangsirote Phanpheng) does make love to Nak. He caresses a single Rated 15+ bare ghost breast, but it appears to belong to a sharper-chinned body double and not the star actress, "volcano boobs" "Tak" Bongkote Khongmalai. Playing Mae Nak is a dream role for Thai starlets, and Tak devoted herself so much that the movie became a vanity project.

The suspense is further killed by the slapstick shenanigans of comic supporting characters, among them a pair of old-time comedians and a boatman who is quick to leap into the water, escape the ghost and provide laughter. (2/5)

There's a lot of black-magic ghost-fighting rice flying from Thai movie screens, in 3D thanks to Mae Nak 3D and in 2D thanks to another flick, Ghost Day  (Gang Tob Phee, แก๊งค์ตบผี), starring rapper Joey Boy and Jazz Chuancheun as pair of gadget-toting ghostbusters who are recruited to perform an exorcism on reality TV.

Thanit Jitnukul directs this movie, released by Phranakorn. I thought perhaps it was the result of Joey Boy having the Bang Rajan director as a consultant on Joey Boy's directorial debut last year, the zombie comedy Gancore Gud. But actually, Ghost Day has been sitting around in the can awhile – the copyright date on the end credits is 2010.

It's not a horrible film, but not that great either. It's eye candy, with vivid cinematography, enthusiastic young actresses like Phimanara Wright (plus a cameo by "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol) and a few decent scares, but the story becomes so convoluted and confusing, I feel like I lost some of my brains trying to keep up.

Essentially, the two ghostbusters perform an exorcism on a TV producer (Phimnara) by mistake, and when it turns out the ghostbusters' master has a viral video on YouTube, the struggling reality TV producer contacts the ghostbusters to come on her show. The TV crew thinks they are going to stage a fake exorcism, but then a real ghost shows up and takes turns possessing the bodies of various other folks, including another producer (Boriboon Chanruang) and a "ghost-face" actress. With much running around and screaming in a dark, vacant building, the drama unfolds on live TV but is ultimately more exciting for the viewers in the movie than the viewers of the movie. (2/5)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fourth Fly Beyond the Barbwire Fence Festival assembles Samurais

Giving voice to Thailand's diverse ethnic groups, Friends Without Borders' fourth Fly Beyond the Barbwire Fence Festival in Chiang Mai is set for March 29 to April 1 at Chiang Mai University Art Museum.

The lineup of films and schedule are still coming together, but it's looking pretty solid, with the opening and closing, special programs and a competition. More than a film festival, it's a cultural celebration, with an art exhibition, food, crafts, traditional dance performances and a world music concert. The last one I attended was the second edition back in 2009, and I had a blast.

The opener this year will be Pimpaka Towira's My Father, which won the Special Jury Prize at last year's Vladivostok International Film Festival. It's about the small-town master of a train station who loses his job over a letter he wrote, demanding justice. He then heads to Bangkok and joins a protest rally.

A highlight will be The Assembly of Samurais, the new film from Colors of Our Hearts director Supamok Silarak and the Friends Without Borders team. Samurais is a semi-documentary following the journey of a young Lahu and his experiences making his first film. There's a trailer and it's embedded below.

Another special screening will be Frame by Aroonakorn Pick, a 22-year old CMU student. It aims to question the "frame" we're living in.

The closing film will be the Chiang Mai premiere of Enemies of the People, the extraordinary documentary by Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath and co-director Rob Lemkin about Sambath's decade-long effort to gain the trust of the Khmer Rouge's Brother No. 2, Nuon Chea.

There's also a competition, featuring shorts by students and young filmmakers. Here's the lineup so far:

  • Uau-Jao, directed by Pranpriya Kamchadpai – Made by film students from KMITL and inspired by a song of the same name, it's about a city man who's a teacher of Hmong children on Phu Hin Rong Kla who learns that the little school will be closed down, according to the new government's policy.
  • Flesh and Blood directed by Taviras Amatyakul – The short by a junior director of commercial film at Maison Film and Production in Bangkok, is dedicated to those who lost loved ones during the bloody May 2010 incident in Bangkok. It's about two brothers who walked on the paths of their beliefs, which are in the opposite directions.
  • The Farmer, directed by Natpakal Khemkao – A story, told by a director who is a farmer's son, is about a farmer who is trapped in teh vicious circle of debt.
  • Pre-attitude directed by Panu Saeng-xuto –
  • Three "misters", a village headman, a soldier and a Muslim student, have chosen to live their lives happily as "misses". It received Young Thai Artist Award 2010 from the Siam Cement Foundation.
  • Pals Beyond Borders, directed by Tanupong Polpaiboon – Boys from different ethnic backgrounds need to prove their friendship before their parents can accept it. It's made by a student director from Mae Sai-Burma border and his friends.
  • Tamula, directed by Saw Day Day – His girlfriend decides to seek freedom in a third country and his grandfather wants to return to his homeland in Karen State. But, Tamula, a young refugee, flies out of the refugee camp's barbwire fence with just his imagination in his painting. It's made by a young Karen director from Mae Sot.
  • The Six Principles, by Abhichon Rattanapayon – The principles declared by the People's Party in the 1932 revolution have been forgotten and undermined during the past 78 years.
  • A Comb and a Buckle, directed by Ja Bue (premiere) – The 17-year-old ethnic Lahu filmmaker looks at a day in the life of a stateless mother and her son.
  • The First Human Couple in the Boundless Narrative – He needs to get away from the truth; the one he has been suffering with. Yet, his dream makes him naked in front of all strangers. The short is by a fine arts student whose inspirations are from a young man from the mountain and memories of one ethnic community.
  • 3 Gens, directed by Panu Saeng-xuto – Views on politics are expressed by three generations.
  • Ja Daw's Choices, directed by Mo Tha – This romance is inspired by true stories from border areas. A young man tries to find dowry to marry the girl he loves, but choices are so limited for a man who is denied citizenship like him. It's by a young Lahu director who wishes to tell stories of his people who are forgotten.
  • The 110th Year of Pridi Banomyong, directed by Sorayos Prapapant – The world keeps moving and changing, and so does democracy. The documentary celebrates the life and work of Pridi Banomyong through a stage play and the political atmosphere of Thailand in 2010.
  • When the Sky's Color Changes, directed by Insree Khampeepanyakul – The comedy by a Hmong director is about a new deputy district chief who, on the way to his new post in a remote highland area, happens to travel through time into the year 2460 AD (not BE!) where city folks have become refugees in the highland areas.
  • The Dam, directed by Nattan Krungsri – Whenever the flood covers the central Thailand, the campaign for the Kang Sue Ten dam restarts. A young man who has fought to keep his home and the last golden teak forest since his teenage time now feels exhausted. He is not sure whether to join this endless fight. It's by a filmmaker from Phrae's Kosai Nakorn Youth Group.
  • Jabo Means the Man of Fortune, directed by Maitree Chamroensuksakul – The Lahu director makes this fact-based drama about tragedy in a mountain village, where Jabo, the head of the family, tries desperately to save his family by going to Malaysia for work.

Screenings will be from 4.30 to 8.30pm on March 29 and 30 and from 11am to 5.15pm on March 31 and April 1. Check the FFFest Facebook page for more updates.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Poj Arnon films flood, adds comedic sound effects

Opportunistic producer-director Poj Arnon mobilized film crews to wade into last year's floods to film the backdrop of Rak Ao Yoo (Love Flood), which opens today. It's being released by M Pictures.

The romantic comedy is about an office worker (scandal-plagued singer-actor "Film" Rattapoom Tokongsub) and his buddy (Attaphong Attakitkun) volunteering to help flood victims in order to meet women.

He pursues one he really likes (Busarin Yokphraiphan) but she doesn't feel the same way, at first. Bencharat Wisitkitchakan also stars.

Poj, his cast and crew had to work fast to make this movie while there was still water covering Bangkok's streets.

The title comes from the Thai government's oft-repeated refrain during the flood crisis of ao yoo – "we can handle it" – which also has a sexual connotation in Thai slang.

The trailer, with Thai-comedy sound effects included, is embedded below.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Thai Film Director Association honors Pen-ek, Laddaland

Patchara Chirathiwat, Songyos Sukmakanan, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Jirayu La-ongmanee at the Thai Film Director Association Awards.
The second Thai Film Director Association Awards were held on Saturday, with Pen-ek Ratanaruang named best director for Headshot  (Fon Tok Kuen Fah, ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า) and the GTH horror thriller Laddaland, directed by Sophon Sakkadaphisit, named best film.

Other nominees were Eternity (Tee Rak) by Sivaroj Khongsakul, and two other GTH films, the rock 'n' roll romance SuckSeed by Chayanop Boonprakob and the teenage billionaire biopic Top Secret Wairoon Pun Lan by Songyos Sukmakanan.

The low-key ceremony was held at Major Cineplex Ratchayothin.

Songyos steps down as president of the Thail Film Director Association (สมาคมผู้กำกับภาพยนตร์ไทย), with It Gets Better director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit taking over.

(Via The Nation, Khao Sod, Bangkok Biz News)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mae Nak 3D finally opens

On and off the release calendar for the past year or so, Tamnan Rak Mae Nak 3D (แม่นาค 3D) finally opened today. Thailand's first 3D horror feature, the release has been continually pushed back, presumably due to tinkering in the post-production process, and because of last year's floods.

The well-known ghost story has been adapted for movies, television and the stage dozens of times. Worldwide, most folks know about it thanks to the 1999 film by Nonzee Nimibutr, Nang Nak.

The story, thought by some to be true, takes place sometime in the mid-1800s, during the reign of King Mongkut, in Phrakhanong, a rural canal village that's now been swallowed by the Bangkok metropolis. While the pregnant Nak's husband Mak is away fighting a war, she dies while giving birth. Mak returns home, unaware that his sweet loving wife and new baby are ghosts, and the fearsome Nak takes vengeance on any neighbor who tries to clue Mak in.

"Tak" Bongkot Khongmalai stars in this new 3D version. Rangsirote Phanpheng co-stars and Phichai Noirod directs. It's released by Bangkok Inter Film Group. The latest trailer is online and embedded below.

Watch out for Nak's endlessly stretching arms.

Coming up on March 22 is Thailand's second 3D horror feature, Dark Flight 407 (407 เที่ยวบินผี), a haunted airplane story from Five Star Production directed by Isara Nadee, one of the "Ronin Team" responsible for Art of the Devil 2.