Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Antapal

  • Directed by Kongkiat Komsiri
  • Starring Krissada Sukosol Clapp, Somchai Khemglad, Kritsada Suphapphaphrom, Sakrin Suthammasamai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on June 14, 2012; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

With Martin Scorsese now off making family-friendly 3D movies, a new director has arisen to take over Scorsese's old territory in the making of gritty, violent and stylish gangster movies: Kongkiat Komsiri.

The writer-director's latest effort Antapal (อันธพาล) echoes such Scorsese movies as Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Gangs of New York as well as old-time Thai action films. It's also a continuation of the thread of crime movies Kongkiat started with the underground boxing drama Muay Thai Chaiya and the serial-killer thriller Slice.

Antapal is a story previously told in 1997's Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters  (2499 Antapan Krong Muang), the debut feature by Nonzee Nimibutr (scripted by Slice scribe Wisit Sasanatieng) that's hailed as the first "Thai New Wave" film that helped elevate the Thai film industry out of the doldrums and bring Thai cinema to the world stage.

Kongkiat has adamantly said that it isn't a remake or a sequel and he gets angry at anyone who suggests otherwise. But there's nothing wrong with making a remake or sequel as long as it's a good film, and Antapal is great. The character names are the same, but the story is greatly expanded, with more of an epic feel. It's also a fact-based tale, and there are documentary-like segments in which old-timers from the era are interviewed and talk about the young gangsters of 1950s and '60s Thailand.

While Nonzee's version focused on Dang Bireley, Antapal, which translates literally as "hoodlum", casts Dang's friend Jod as the main protagonist.

Jod is portrayed by Krissada Sukosol Clapp, the pop singer and hotel-chain heir who previously gave a critically hailed performance in 13: Game of Death. In Antapal he exudes charisma as the humbly quiet and brooding gangster who explodes with rage when such emotion is needed.

Early on, he duels with an older gangster, played by perennial heavy Pongpat Wachirabunjong, in a knife fight in which the combatants are tied to each others' arms with a rope. They then use their one free hand to slash at each other with big blades. Later, at a big dinner, he uses a crab claw to stab a guy in the jugular. Another time, he uses a homemade firearm to shoot a rival, with the old-timers explaining that it was a game-changing act, marking the first time guns were used in the Thai gang world. Before then, gangsters had only carried knives. And even later, Jod comes out with a machine gun blazing – a solo Butch and Sundance making his last stand.

Somchai Kemglad portrays Dang, the hot-headed leader of the gangsters, but he's quickly and unceremoniously sidelined and then the movie mainly follows Jod's story.

Watching from the sidelines are a couple of young guys, PIak and Tong (Kritsada Suphapphaphrom and Sakrin Suthammasamai) who idolize Dang and Jod and aspire to be gangsters just like them. The pair live in the back room of a movie theater and spy on the older gangsters while they watch movies starring James Dean and Elvis Presley. The youngsters also slick back their hair and dress like the screen icons.

A military coup brings new order to the streets. A crackdown on the mafia sends most of the gangsters to prison or into exile as the junta takes over all their rackets, including protection of such criminal enterprises as gambling dens, prostitution and smuggling. In the young gangsters' neighborhood, it's a uniformed officer named Neung (Wasu Saengsingkaeo) who rules like a dictator and is a frequent thorn in the side of Jod's gang.

Jod emerges from prison a changed man, with a determination to set things right. But, knowing no other life, he returns to his old gangster ways with his old crew, which the new kids have joined.

Amidst beefing with rival gangs and paranoia over a possible mole within their ranks, Jod's new gang quickly unravels. One suspected informant is buried in a sugar-cane field, bringing to mind the cornfield burial scene in Scorsese's Casino.

And the lifelong friendship between blood brothers Piak and Tong is torn asunder when Piak, heedless of his pal's warnings, falls for a girl (doe-eyed Nantana Chaowarat) who is the mistress of their gang's boss.

Aside from the strong performance by Noi Sukosol, Kongkiat coaxes great performances from a couple of fellow directors who've been cast in supporting roles. Director Pornchai "Mr. Pink" Hongrattanaporn is reunited with his Bangkok Loco star, playing opposite Noi as he portrays the stylishly dressed boss of Jod's crew. Boonsong Nakphoo, who during the same week Antapal opened had his latest low-budget rural drama Four Stations in limited release at Bangkok's Lido cinemas, portrays Lod, the "uncle" figure of the gangster crew who usually does the driving. It's a meaty role for Boonsong, and his character has a crucial turning point late in the movie that affects everyone.

Also worth noting is a cameo by Sonthaya Chitmanee from Muay Thai Chaiya, making a departure from his usual role of best friend to play a rival gangster.

See also:

Review: Four Stations

  • Directed by Boonsong Nakphoo
  • Limited release at Lido cinemas, Bangkok, June 14-20, 2012
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Boonsong Nakphoo once directed a mainstream Thai comedy called Crazy Cops. He eventually became fed up with the film industry and went the indie route, last year self-releasing the low-budget Poor People the Great, the story of a downtrodden farmer that he patiently shot in the rural areas of his home province of Sukhothai, with his friends, neighbors and family as cast members.

Now Boonsong takes another look at poor Thai folks, with a compilation of four stories in Four Stations (Sathanee See Phak, สถานี 4 ภาค). The interwoven tales about two rural families, an elderly monk and a disenfranchised migrant worker are taken from short stories by well-known Thai authors, mostly winners of the prestigious Southeast Asian Writers' Award (SEA Write). Each of the writers represents one of the "four regions" of Thailand –  North, Northeast (Isaan), Central Plains and South. The stories are "Dtu Pboo" ("ตุ๊ปู่") by Mala Kamchan (มาลา คำจันทร์) from the north, "Songkram Cheewít Suan Dtua Kongtoo Taa"  ("สงครามชีวิตส่วนตัวของทู-ทา") by  Wimon Sainimnuan, a.k.a. Wat Wanlayangkoon (วัฒน์ วรรลยางกูร) from the central plains, "Lom Laeng" ("ลมแล้ง") by Khamsing Srinawk a.k.a. Lao Khamhom (ลาว คำหอม) from the northeast and "Baan Glai Reuan Kiang" ("บ้านใกล้เรือนเคียง") by Paitoon Tanya (ไพฑูรย์ ธัญ ญา) from the south.

The movie screened in limited release at the Lido cinemas in Bangkok's Siam Square, and the director himself was present for a Q&A session afterward, but due to pressing other engagements I couldn't hang around, so any questions I had went unanswered, so this is perhaps not the most-informed review of the film.

For one thing, it looks like all the segments were shot in the same general area, despite coming from the authors of the "four regions". But it still works.

One story is about an elderly Buddhist monk, who despite his bent-over, general state of decriptness, insists on going on the morning alms rounds. He slowly plods along in his hunched-over, Yoda-like state, his wooden cane banging on the ground to punctuate his slow, methodic steps. The younger monks are the paragon of Buddhist calm as they plod along behind the slow-moving senior monk. But back at the temple, the younger monks find various ways to disresprect the senior monk. Boonsong himself shows up in this segment as a travelling vendor of woven mats that he tries to sell the monks or exchange for a night of room and board at the temple. Stuck in his ways, the elder monk refuses to allow the man to stay, but he stays anyway.

There are two family stories. One has a pair of neighboring farm families, on either side of a forest thicket entering into an escalating feud. The wives of the families can't stand each other, and shout shrill insults while the men engage in more passive-aggressive activity. For example, one guy urinates in his neighbor's prized sugar wine. A tragedy ultimately brings them together and they put aside their differences.

The other family tale has a former novice monk, a chubby little boy, returning home to an overburdened family of two sisters, an angry mother, a henpecked father who can't find work. The family's only real asset is a water buffalo who later plays a crucial role. And it seems that since the boy returned home, nothing has gone right for the family, and the boy begins to blame himself for their misfortune.

And there's the story of the migrant laborer from Myanmar, whose Mon wife from back home shows up. But their reunion is all too brief. She's soon snatched up by the police. So the guy goes to his Thai boss for help in bailing her out of jail. At one point, it gets absurd, with the worker and his boss on a motorbike trying to chase down the police paddy wagon on the highway. Later, the guy goes to work in Bangkok and finds himself playing hide-and-seek with a couple of thugs – they are either plainclothes cops or just shake-down artists who prey on foreign migrant workers.

The story of the migrant worker is the main constant of the picture, with its story told from beginning to end. The segments about the old monk and feuding families peter out about halfway through, leaving the stories of the migrant work and the little boy and his troubled family to take up the slack.

I found the uneven length of the stories a bit distracting because as the other stories continued I was left wondering if the other stories had really run their course.

But what I liked about Four Stations, and Boonsong's previous feature Poor People the Great, was their unpretentious and forthright manner of storytelling. I look forward to more films by this guy.

Review: I Miss U

  • Directed by Monthon Arayangkoon
  • Starring Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Jessadaporn Pholdee, Natthaveeranuch Thongme
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 31, 2012; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

After the teen dance-romance Big Boy in 2010, Monthon Arayangkoon, who previously directed the Thai kaiju horror Garuda and the ghost thriller House makes a welcome return to the thriller genre with I Miss U (รักฉันอย่าคิดถึงฉัน, Rak Chan Yaa Khid Tueng Chang).

It is slow-paced and has a Thai love-song motif that gets used too much, but there is a bit of decent gore, a few good scares, a fair bit of suspense and even a humorous fake jump or two, all of which should make I Miss U a welcome view by Asian horror fans.

The ghost girlfriend drama stars Apinya Sakuljaroensuk as a young first-year resident surgeon at a Bangkok hospital. During her first operation, she runs into trouble and is bailed out by the chief resident Dr. Thana, played by Jessadaporn Pholdee. Young Dr. Bee has the temerity to talk back to the hotshot Thana, and he appeciates her spunk.

However, a colleague warns Bee that Thana is tainted goods. The doc hasn't been the same since the death of his fiancee in a car wreck, and it's rumored that any woman who approaches Thana is soon visited by the ghost of his wife-to-be, Dr. Nok (Natthaveeranuch Thongme).

That leads to a good early gore scene in an elevator, after a nurse sweet-talks Thana and passes him her phone number. Dr. Nok's ghost soon gets on the lift and bashes her head bloody on the wall for only the nurse to see and sending the young woman into hysterics.

Dr. Thana is one messed-up dude. He's so devoted to his dead girlfriend, that each week he leaves a fresh bouquet of white roses at the spot on the oddly deserted expressway where his car was cut off by a motorbike and rolled over, causing Nok's death. The weekly flower bouquet has been noticed by the media and become something of a sensation in this age of vapid, viral media. A camera crew ambushes Thana at the spot and sends the surgeon scampering away.

There's also giant posters of Nok in Thana's spacious home. And, whenever he orders coffee, he gets two cups, a latte for him and an Americano for Nok. The cups sit on the table, arranged just so, as if Nok were sitting there sipping along with him.

Gradually, the perky little Dr. Bee is let into Dr. Thana's world, and she's soon seeing Nok's ghost.

But Bee also has a rival for Thana's hand – a man-eating socialite portrayed by Monthon's House star Inthira Charoenpura, who oozes dusky, dragon-lady sexiness. Billed as a "special guest star", it's a bit of a different role for the Nang Nak and Naresuan star, but it looks like she had fun playing the bad girl.

Later, little Bee confronts her, and it's a pretty cool scene. The young Saipan Apinya, who made her debut in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy as the afro-haired title character and has since gone on to be a quite prolific film actress, is quite short in stature compared to the taller, more athletically built Sai Inthira, who looks like she could eat Apinya for breakfast. But Saipan holds her ground, and karma is served.

More weird stuff about Thana is revealed, like how he arranged for Nok's corpse to be kept in the teaching hospital's morgue as a research cadaver. And there, on a gray, withered hand is the ring he gave her.

Bee, trying to make sense of it all, visits the corpse and finds herself chased by a bird (nok, in Thai language means bird), and it's perhaps a little nod to Hitchcock as a single sparrow chases Bee down the stairs.

In a bizarre move by studio M-Thirtynine, the movie was released in Thai cinemas with three different endings, each playing on certain weeks during the movie's run. I can't believe the studio would expect movie-goers to head down to the cinema three weeks in a row just to catch a different ending. In this era of digital downloads and YouTube, the different ends are best left as an extra on the DVD release or as a premium on the VOD version.

I've had the other endings described to me, and the one I saw I think made the most sense, even if was ambiguous, which is not a bad thing. Thai movies tend to have these nicely tied-up, perfectly happy endings, even if they've been sad. The ambiguity is refreshing.

I could have done without the repeated refrains of the sappy Boyd Koysibong love song though. It was apparently the favorite of Dr. Nok, a point that's hammered mercilessly. It got old.

A bright point toward the end was rumination about the moment of death, and what it means to loved ones who are there to witness it. What is it that keeps the spirit of our dearly departed attached to our consciousnesses? In some cases, it's love, or perhaps just plain grief.

But in Dr. Thana's case, it's guilt.

See also:

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 Amazing Thailand 9FilmFest: Grand prize goes to Video Call

The winners pose for the photo call. Phone-cam snap by Wise Kwai.

The ups and tragic downs of a couple's relationship as viewed through a video-call screen in Video Call was the top-prize winner at the second edition of the 9FilmFest on Sunday night at Siam Paragon.

Directed by Wattanapong Wongwan,Video Call won the 600,000-baht grand prize in Thailand's richest movie festival. The short had a guy talking to his video phone cam with his girlfriend in a screen-within-the-screen. At first, they make sweet talk with each other and then joke. But when the guy takes too long to answer one time, the girlfriend immediately becomes suspicious and assumes he's cheating on her. The shocking truth leaves her red-faced with shame and sorrow.

Jury member MC Chatrichalerm Yukol said after the ceremony that he liked Video Call the best because it was "unpretentious".

The second-place Grand Prize, worth 100,000 baht, went to the comical Friend. Directed by Narongchai Parthumsuwan, it's about a guy who wears a Japanese superhero costume and is very lonely. His depressing life takes a turn when he strikes up an online friendship and the two meet for the first time, only to see that they both wear Japanese superhero costumes. They then take in the various sites around Thailand.

Interestingly, another winning short also dealt with people who wear costumes, the 20,000-baht honorable mention winner Jack's Chronicle by Pissapob Silltham. The documentary style short is about a group of folks who appear in public in big furry animal costumes. They eventually get in trouble with the police, but are let off with a warning and told not to dress up as animals anymore. They still have the compulsion to dress up in costumes, so their hilarious solution is to dress up as something else, but not as animals.

Of course their solution has something to do with this year's signature item that must appear in all shorts, the heart.

Another big winner was Numberman in Love, a sequel to one of last year's winning films. Directed by Eiji Shimada, it won an honorable mention and the 20,000-baht best actor prize for Yuto Tanabe.

Also taking two prizes was the romance and break-up rumination The Moment, which netted director Pathomwat Wansukprasert a roundtrip flight to Seoul on Thai Airways and the 20,000-baht best actress prize for "Cream" Naphatsorn.

The third honorable mention prize went to the bizarre Love Cookies by Sugimasa Yamashita, which depicts a strange, dialogue-free dystopia in which people's love for one another is manifested by heart-shaped cookies magically appearing in your shirt pocket. You then give that cookie to someone else or munch on it yourself. At one point a golden retriever is petted by his owners, and a pile of cookies tumble from the dog's breast to the ground.

Along with cash awards and airline tickets, other prizes included a lease on a Ford Fiesta and an iPhone.

Winners of the car were Rattha Buranadilok and Thammaruja Dharmasaroja's Where the Heart Is (as in home), for best cinematography, and the third-place film prize, Rec*Life by Titsalak Kamngam.

Smiling Heart won the AIS Popular Award and an iPhone 4s for director Karawee Chokkunawattana.

This year's 9FilmFest was held inside, in the Paragon Cineplex's Infinitcity Hall. Each short was preceded by a short video introduction by the directors.

And, before the prizes were announced there was a mini-concert by Grammy Award-nominee Howard McCrary. Along with a few classic R-and-B and pop tunes, he performed a pair of songs he composed for one of the short films, Smiling Heart, in which he stars as basically himself, an American entertainer vacationing in Thailand. He is shown visiting the tourist sites in Ayutthaya where he is enraptured by the famous Thai smile. Meanwhile, his gold watch and jewellery attract the attention of local thugs, who drug his drink and steal his belongings – a surprising turn of events, given that one of the sponsors of the festival was the Tourism Authority of Thailand. But, robbed of all his possessions, it's only then does he find the meaning of true happiness.

Emcees for the evening were filmmaker and former Miss Thailand World "Pop" Areeya Jumsai and Iron Pussy star and director Michael Shaowanasai.

Meanwhile, festival founder Brian Bennett announced the signature item for next year's films: the river. So get out on the river and make a movie. Maybe you can win 600,000 baht.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NYAFF 2012: Gangstas, ghouls and girls in Dead Bite

It's that time of year again, when the wacky folks who put on the New York Asian Film Festival take over the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center and screen some of the craziest movies on the planet.

This year's Thai entry is Dead Bite, a ripping horror comedy featuring bouncing bikini babes, amiable hip-hop musicians and zombies.

Directed by rapper Joey Boy and starring him and his colorful hip-hop crew, it was released in Thailand last year as Gancore Gud (ก้านคอกัด).

Here's an excerpt from the festival website:

One of the beautiful things about the Thai film industry right now is that it’s functioning a lot like Roger Corman’s classic exploitation studio, AIP: if you’ve got the right actors, a marketing hook, and a high concept, you’ve got a greenlight. While this means that a lot of cruddy movies get made, it also means that the occasional trash classic slips under the wire and hits screens like a big blast of reefer smoke. Such is the case with Dead Bite. Joey Boy is a hiphop star who’s buddies with of the Black-eyed Peas and you can just see him in the pitch meeting for Dead Bite, “See, I’m going to get my hiphop crew, the Gancore Club, to play themselves in a zombie movie featuring lots of girls in bikinis. And then they all get killed.” Cue gangsters signing checks and cameras starting to roll.

Head on over the festival website for more details, as well as a music video and an English-subtitled trailer.

Dead Bite screens at 11.10pm on Friday, July 6 and at 3.50pm on Wednesday, July 11. I had two pairs of tickets to give away, but they are all gone.

The New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 29 to July 12 at Lincoln Center and from July 12 to 14 at the Japan Society.

Ready for young gangsters in Antapal

A flash mob promotes Antapal at Bangkok's Victory Monument BTS station. Photo by Wise Kwai.

Kongkiat Khomsiri, director of such acclaimed, retro-infused crime dramas as Muay Thai Chaiya and Slice, offers a fantastic-looking, violent take on the fact-based account of young gangsters in 1950s and early '60s Thailand with Antapal (อันธพาล).

Opening today, there's already a positive buzz heating up among Thai film geeks as well as foreign genre fans.

Also making sure word of the film gets out was a flash mob of young men with slicked-back hair, sunglasses, jeans and T-shirts with rolled up sleeves taking rides on Bangkok's BTS skytrain. But I think I was probably the only one on the train who knew what they were up to.

It's much the same story that was done by director Nonzee Nimibutr and screenwriter Wisit Sasanatieng in 1997's Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters (2499 Antapan Krong Muang), though Kongkiat takes great pains in a Nation article today to say it isn't a remake.

It's definitely an original approach, if the crab claw used as a weapon, which you can see in the English-subtitled trailer (embedded below), is any indication.

"Tao" Somchai Kemglad and Krissana "Noi" Sukosol Clapp star as a pair of young hoodlums who take on the old-time mafia to shake up the Thai underworld. But times change and the game gets rougher as they find themselves challenged by a pair of even younger hoodlums who are obsessed with the style of James Dean and being gangster kingpins themselves.

Perennial heavy Pongpat Wachirabunjong is also in the cast.

Next stop, Four Stations, at the Lido

Boonsong Nakphoo, who last year did the well-received low-budget farmer drama Poor People the Great, has another movie out this week, Four Stations (Sathanee See Phakสถานี 4 ภาค ), which offers four stories about ordinary people in each of the four regions of Thailand.

With support from the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Boonsong has adapted stories by well-known Thai authors who come from the ranks of the SEA Write Awards and National Artists.

The stories are "Dtu Pboo" ("ตุ๊ปู่") by Mala Kamchan (มาลา คำจันทร์) from the north, "Songkram Cheewít Suan Dtua Kongtoo Taa"  ("สงครามชีวิตส่วนตัวของทู-ทา") by  Wimon Sainimnuan, a.k.a. Wat Wanlayangkoon (วัฒน์ วรรลยางกูร) from the central plains, "Lom Laeng" ("ลมแล้ง") by Khamsing Srinawk a.k.a. Lao Khamhom (ลาว คำหอม) from the northeast and "Baan Glai Reuan Kiang" ("บ้านใกล้เรือนเคียง") by Paitoon Tanya (ไพฑูรย์ ธัญ ญา) from the south.

Opening tonight, it's at the Lido in Bangkok's Siam Square at 6.30 nightly until Wednesday, June 20.

The English-subtitled trailer is embedded below.

Another 9 films for another 9FilmFest

The second annual edition of the Amazing Thailand 9FilmFest will be held on Sunday, June 17, in the Infinicity Hall lobby of Paragon Cineplex.

More than 150 entries were submitted, with 29 semi-finalists from which the nine finalist shorts were chosen.

Here's the list of finalists, which are mostly from Thailand:

  • The Moment, Pathomwat Wansukprasert
  • Video Call, Wattanapong Wongwan
  • Where the Heart Is, Rattha Buranadilok & Thammaruja Dharmasaroja
  • Smiling Heart, Karawee Chokkunawattana
  • Numberman in Love, Eiji Shimada
  • Love Cookies, Sugimasa Yamashita
  • Friend, Narongchai Parthumsuwan
  • Rec. Life Titsalak Kamngam
  • Jack's Chronicle, Pissapob Silltham

Among the entries is a returnee from last year, Eiji Shimada's Numberman, which took the top prize in 2011.

Top prize is 600,000 baht from a total prize purse of more than 1 million baht, thanks to such sponsors as the Tourism Authority of Thailand, AIS, Major Cineplex and Ford.

The rules are that the films have to be nine minutes or less and must include a signature item, which this year is "heart".

Activities start at 11.45am, with a screening of Man with a Video Camera 2, the latest effort by 2011 9FilmFest finalist and last year's winner of the best cinematography award, Kris Clijsters.

Then will be the screening of the semifinalist shorts mixed with video-and-music performances by DJs.

The finalist shorts start screening at 7pm in a ceremony emceed by filmmaker and former Miss Thailand World "Pop" Areeya Chumsai.

Other celebs include the jury members, MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wych Kaosayananda, Australian director George Miller, American filmmaker Ron Fricke and  2011 9FilmFest finalist Kanin Ramasoot.

The evening’s  special  guest is American R&B, jazz and gospel singer Howard McCrary, who acts in Smiling Heart. A Grammy Award nominee, he'll close the evening with a set of his songs, including "The Land of Smiles" and "Smile from the Heart" from the short film.

“This year, the films have been amazing and creative.  Using the heart as a signature item, has given us films filled with love, yet often times with tragedy. We promise a rollercoaster of feelings when you see the films on the night of 17 June,” says Brian Bennett, 9FilmFest founder.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

IBFF 2012 Bangkok review: Thai Panorama

On the Farm, by Uruphong Raksasasad.

Six films – five shorts and a feature – were brought together for the Thai Panorama at the International Buddhist Film Festival 2012 Bangkok.

The shorts were a mix of old and new with 2007's Emerald (Morakot, มรกต) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul leading off the package and taking on new significance as a Buddhist parable. Originally conceived as a video loop for an art installation, Emerald was filmed in the derelict Morakot hotel at the corner of Thong Lor and Petchaburi roads in Bangkok. The hotel still stands there, with an outdoor beer garden on the grounds doing a brisk business each night. Apichatpong's usual cast members Jenjira Pongpas and Sakda Kaewbuadee take on the roles of spirits who tell their stories to each other until they no longer exist. According to the festival program, it's inspired by the 1906 Buddhist novel, "In the Pilgrim Kamanita". Meanwhile, the camera pans lazily around an old room in the now-closed hotel, with the bed still made, oddly, but there's a weird stain on the sheets. TVs are stacked in the hallway. And feathers, or maybe snow, are falling or floating, thanks to work by a special-effects studio.

Nirvana (นิพพาน), a 2008 by Siwadol Rathee that was previously shown in the 14th Thai Short Film and Video Festival and programmed short as part of the travelling S-Express Thailand package, is about a young man who wants to be ordained according to his mother's wishes that she see her son enter the monkhood in her lifetime. Problem is, the young man is blind, which prevents him from being able-bodied enough to carry the message. Nirvana also questions the motivations behind the mother's merit-making, a driving component of contemporary Thai Buddhist culture.

The inaugural edition of Bangkok's Buddhist film fest also commissioned three new shorts by well-known filmmakers, Sivaroj Kongsakul, Chookiat Sakveerakul and Uruphong Raksasad.

All are extensions of recent work by them.

Sang-Yen (แสงเย็น) by Sivaroj could very well be inserted into his award-winning debut feature Eternity (Tee-Rak). With the same cast as Sivaroj's partly autobiographical Eternity, a young-adult son and daughter sit down for dinner with their mother and talk about relationships, business and life. The mother wonders if her son will ever ordain as a monk. Father is missing, which goes unspoken but still carries weight. The family parts after dinner, with the offspring going their separate ways from their rural-village home, with the son driving off into the sunset listening to a dharma tape.

I Dreamed a Dream (ในฝัน) by Chookiat plays like a lost segment from his recent feature Home. The festival program says it's about  a man who feels attached to things and feelings and is full of anger and hatred. But it's mainly about friends driving around Chiang Mai, talking about a ghost of a man who drowned in the city moat. While it was experimental and wildly entertaining, I had a hard time figuring out what's Buddhist about it.

In the Farm (ในสวน) by Uruphong is an extension of themes he explored in his acclaimed feature Agrarian Utopia, about the use of chemicals in farming. A young woman who spends her days on a rubber plantation clearing weeds by hand, gets into a debate with her mother over the use of pesticides and fertilizer. The mother is all for it because it would mean the end of back-breaking work and probably result in a higher yield of rubber sap. But the young woman sees fields below, where the family's food is grown, and worries about contaminating the water well. Again, I'd have to have an expert explain to me what's specifically Buddhist about this, but it is an enlightened discussion, environment-wise. And it's capped off with close-up, high-def shots of insects and reptiles, which would surely perish if chemicals were used.

Three Marks of Existence.

The festival also featured the world premiere of a new feature, Three Marks of Existence  (นมัสเตอินเดีย ส่งเกรียนไปเรียนพุทธ) by Gunparwitt Phuwadolwisid.

A road movie about a young man's pilgrimage to significant Buddhist sites in India and Nepal, it was supported by the Culture Ministry's Strong Thailand fund.

Basically, it's a low-budget Citizen Dog on a Buddhist pilgrimage, with same type of whimsical, wry humor and episodic nature as Wisit Sasanatiang's 2004 comedy.

The main character is M (Yossawat Sittiwong), a twenty-something guy who is having difficulty finding a job after graduating from college. When his girlfriend breaks up with him, he decides to go in search for answers at the major Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

His first stop is Bodh Gaya, the place of Lord Buddha's enlightenment. Staying at the Thai temple there, he shares a room with an older man (Wanchai Thanawangnoi), who is into meditation, seemingly addicted to it for its supernatural properties. At one point, he sees a ghost while meditating by a swimming pool. M makes an assumption about the man's motivations for meditating, which later turns out to be a false assumption.

Hiring a taxi – another situation played for humor – M spends nine hours crammed into the back seat with a sleeping Indian man's head on his shoulder headed to Sarnath, the place of Buddha's first sermon. There, he introduces himself to an attractive young Japanese woman, Yuiko (Kobayashi Ayako), and the two become travelling companions as they take in the sights and discuss Buddhist scripture.

But then there's a hitch in M's plans to get closer to the woman when another Thai guys turns up. Slightly older than M, Jen (Patchrakul Jungsakul) comes from a wealthy background and was a playboy before he set off on the road to enlightenment. Yuiko is of course attracted to Jen, which causes M to be jealous.

The trio takes in the sights around Kusinara, where Lord Buddha died, with Jen expertly negotiating a ride with the same taxi that had earlier ripped M off.

M takes action to prevent Jen from travelling with them to Nepal, which it turns out was unneeded because Jen planned to head his separate way anyway.

So M has Yuiko all to himself in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, and they grow closer as they head back to India and go their separate ways.

In his travels, M encounters a Thai monk (Saifah Tanthana), who offers wisdom for M to mull over as he heads back to Thailand.

The proceedings are enlivened by motion-graphic animation that introduces each character, and by the animated "yes" or "no" motif of M's travel journal, in which he records his likes and dislikes as well as things to do and not to do.

The world-premiere screening itself was a lesson in Buddhist tolerance and humility after more movie-goers than seats turned up, thanks to double-booking of complimentary seats. But some chairs were set up in the aisle to accommodate those folks.

The International Buddhist Film Festival 2012 Bangkok opened on June 6 with a screening of The Light of Asia, a 1925 German-Indian silent that was previously banned in Thailand, according to reports. Playing at the Scala theater, the movie was accompanied by live music from a band of Thai and Indian traditional musicians.

Monday, June 11, 2012

IBFF 2012 BKK: Youth Short Film Competition winners

The Gift, one of two first-place winners.

The fact-based story of a young woman giving all to care for her comatose husband and the tale of a young man caught up in drug dealing were the two top winners of the Youth Short Film Competition at the International Buddhist Film Festival 2012 Bangkok, which wrapped up its four-day run on Sunday.

The Gift, a heartfelt portrait of a wife cheerfully devoting her life to the care of her comatose husband brought many to tears. A true story, it was from the SumThink Production team and directed by Saranwich Janusasranwat.

It tied for first place with The Stain (รอยเปื้อน), about a young man who is trying to wash a permanent-marker stain from his white shirt. It then shows how he got that stain as he hangs around with some bad people, despite the warnings of his father. Directed by Nukool Khamlert, it was produced by the Mod Media team.

Second place went to Missing, about an 11-year-old boy whose mother has died. After moving to a new town, he is befriended by a girl and learns new ways to fill the void in his life. Directed by Wakim Neamtubtim, it was produced by the Streamline Film team.

Third place went to the comedy The Angel of Luck (เทพารวย), about a somtam vendor who is addicted to the lottery. She worships the goddess of wealth in hopes of scoring the right numbers. Her henpecked husband comes up with a way to get her to concentrate on her work. It was directed by Jiraon Promon and produced by the Filmstopper team.

In all, there were 13 finalist entries in the contest sponsored by the Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives and other agencies, with workshopping and mentoring for the teams by well-known figures in the Thai film industry.

The first package of shorts, shown on Saturday, was particularly strong, and judges had a hard time picking the best, hence the tie for first place.

A crowd-pleaser was Streamline Film's Phop (พบ), directed by Supakit Seksuwan, in which a young man has the temerity to warn a blade-wielding market vendor against killing fish. Instead, he buys the fish and takes it to a temple to release it in a pond. Later, his wallet is lifted, but karma has other ways of paying him back, even if it means difficulties for others. Meanwhile, it seems his assumptions about the market vendor might have been wrong.

There was more comic moments in 13 (เสียบสาม) by team Krow, directed by Chaiyut Thanaudommongkol. In it, a selfish young man will do anything to succeed at a job interview, including butting in line at the motorcycle-taxi queue, not holding the elevator and taking the last sandwich on the lunch table. He's eventually taught a lesson, but in a nice way.

A darker tone was struck in Alternative by team Error, directed by Donlawat Sunsuk. It's a young guy's birthday and his mother wants him to come home that night to celebrate with her and eat cake. He has other ideas, which could prove to be fatal.

Women in a Room by Idea Production, directed by Athip Taechapongsaton, was a psychological drama in which a studious young woman is saddled with a selfish slacker slob for a college roommate. While one girl studies, the other yaks on her phone. The tension grows and grows until there's tears and a blade comes out.

Like the first-place winner The Gift, two other shorts dealt with illness and bed-ridden characters. Inevitable (หลับตาตื่น) by the Num-Rong team, directed by Thitiphun Bumrungwong, had a little boy with a respiratory ailment. His mother prays for his recovery at a homemade shrine at a nearby tree. Talking by the Wake Up team, directed by Pattaratape Reepairoj, has an older brother suddenly stricken with Huntington's disease. As he lays in bed paralyzed with his head bandaged, his siblings and mother try to cope.

And in Happiness by the Krapong Kongkang team, directed by Nuttawat Pattanasirisak, an eccentric artist is mistakenly thought to be insane and put in a psychiatric hospital. As he's being admitted, he's about to say he's not crazy, but then he sees a pretty nurse and decides to stay. For a little while anyway.

Let It Be by Girl Garden Cinema, directed by Anuwat Wisai and Suriyen Suakeaw, has a young man losing his job and being dumped by his girlfriend all in one day. He decides to move back home to his family's farm, bucking the trend of youths moving away from rice farming.

Anarchy in My Mind (ผมไม่ใช่คอมมิวนิสต์) by team Anyaprakard, directed by Nargon Srisophab, had more rural flavor, with a young man who lost his father in a mysterious incident. His mother can't answer his questions, so he seeks out a childhood friend to solve the mystery.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project kicks off Kickstarter drive for Cambodian campaign

Here's another Kickstarter campaign for a project that interests me: the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project wants to go to Cambodia to document the remaining single-screen cinemas in that country.

As "the Projectionist" explains in the Kickstarter campaign video, it's important to get to Cambodia now to see these remaining structures.

Without documentation, Cambodia's historic cinemas will be forgotten as they are bulldozed to make way for condos and shopping malls in rapidly modernizing Phnom Penh and other cities.

Having visited and photographed theaters across Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam, Cambodia is the next logical step for the SEATheater blog.

Backers have until July 6 to help out and make the project a reality.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Cheer Ambassadors starts Kickstarter campaign

Aiming toward a wide theatrical release, The Cheer Ambassadors, the documentary about scrappy Thai cheerleaders who overcame the odds to win world championships, has started a campaign on Kickstarter to raise $19,999 to pay for post-production work and marketing.

With a deadline of July 7, they have $13,415. If the "all-or-nothing" goal isn't reached, all the money will be refunded to the donors.

Here's more details from a press release:

“When we started this film, we knew we would eventually utilize Kickstarter’s innovative platform. However it’s only just now that we have had time to launch the campaign. We were lucky to receive some initial donations from people who believed in the project, and we funded the rest by being extremely frugal in the ways we spent money and used credit cards.”, said Jason W. Best, the film’s executive producer, who is also known for spearheading the campaign to legalize equity and debt-based crowdfund investing.

“The film is basically done; it has been making the rounds in film festivals and recently won Best Documentary at the 60N Os Festival in Norway. However, we still want to complete a Dolby surround-sound mix, do professional color correction, and we need to raise lots of money to fund marketing and advertising”, added Luke Cassady-Dorion, the film’s director.

Thapanont (Tae) Phithakrattanayothin, former assistant coach and the film’s production manager added, “I spent 16 years of my life training with this team and then another one and a half years helping to produce the film, and my biggest fear is that it will only be able to be seen by a few hundred people in festivals. I’m honored that people around the world are moved by our story, and want to make sure that as many people see it as possible. Raising money to pay for marketing will allow this to happen.”

Head on over to the Kickstarter page and see how you can become an associate producer.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

International Buddhist Film Festival 2012 Bangkok, June 7-10

Around 30 features and shorts, mostly from around Asia, will screen in the International Buddhist Film Festival 2012 Bangkok from June 7 to 10 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.

Part of events celebrating 2,600 years since the Lord Buddha's enlightenment, it's a collaboration between filmmaker Pimpaka Towira, who's previously programmed the for-now-defunct Bangkok International Film Festival, and Gaetano Kazuo Maida, executive director of the Buddhist Film Foundation, which puts on the International Buddhist Film Festival.

Among the Thai selection will be brand-new shorts by well-known filmmakers Chookiat Sakveerakul, Uruphong Raksasad and Sivaroj Kongsakul. There's also an offering by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, his 2007 short Morakot, and classic films from South Korea, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The fest actually opens on Wednesday night at the Scala Theatre with an invitation-only screening of The Light of Asia, the 1925 silent by Franz Osten and Himansu Rai. The Korphai band conducted by Anan Nakkhong will provide live Thai classical accompaniment. Restored in 2001 by Europe's Arte channel, it's the story of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the man who become Lord Buddha.

Among the Thai films is the 2012 feature Three Marks of Existence by Gunparwitt Phuwadolwisid. It's about a young man named Em who travels to the four major Buddhist pilgrimage sites: Lumpini (Lord Buddha's birthplace), Sarnath (where he delivered his first teaching), Bodh Gaya (the place of his Enlightenment) and Kusinara (where he died). Along the way, he encounters various others that change his attitude towards life and his faith.

And there's short films:

  • Nirvana (2008) by Siwadol Rathee is about a young man who is ordained according to his mother's wishes that she see her son enter the monkhood in her lifetime.
  • Emerald a.k.a. Morakot (2007) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul was filmed in the derelict Morakot Hotel at the corner of Thong Lor and Petchaburi Road. In this ghostly setting, there's inspiration found in an early 1900s Buddhist novel, "In the Pilgrim Kamanita", in which the protagonists are reborn as stars and tell their stories to each other until they no longer exist.
  • I Dreamed a Dream (2012) by Chookiat Sakveerakul is about a man's attachment to things and feelings like anger and hatred.
  • In the Farm (2012) by Uruphong Raksasad is about a young woman working on a rubber plantation who starts to have doubts as she works to get rid of weeds around the rubber trees.
  • Sang-Yen (2012) by Sivaroj Kongsakul has a young man lost in thought as the sun sets, thinking about marriage, life and the monkhood.

Among the Asian Panorama selection is several older films, such as 1989's Come, Come, Come Upward by South Korea's Im Kwon-taek, 1979's Raining in the Mountain by King Hu, 1967's Yellow Robe from Sri Lanka, 1996's Gone, Gone, Forever Gone by Ho Quang Minh from Vietnam, and from Myanmar, Talking Heart, a 1968 drama by Thu Kha.

And there's the 2011 feature by Cambodia's Rithy Panh, The Catch, adapted from a novel by Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author Kenzaburo Oe. Panh sets it during the Khmer Rouge era, with a a boy soldier guarding an African-American POW.

The festival is also holding a competition for student filmmakers, with 13 shorts being screened.

Well-known monks V Vachiramethi, Jayasaro Bhikku, Phra Paisal Visalo and Phra Dhamma Kosajarn also selected some films for the Carte Blanche program.