Sunday, October 28, 2012

10th World Film Festival of Bangkok to open with Mekong Hotel

The 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok continues its tradition of opening with an independent Thai film. This edition it's Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mekong Hotel, which premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival and has been a fixture on the festival circuit ever since.

One of the most buzzworthy titles from this year's Cannes fest, Holy Motors, will also screen. And, director Leos Carax will be present to receive the festival's Lotus Award, which is essentially a lifetime achievement award. A couple of Carax's earlier films, The Lovers on the Bridge and Mauvais Sang.

And, finally making it's way to Bangkok is Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre, which was an award-winner at Cannes last year and was the French selection to the Oscars.

Other Thai films include Elephant Shaman, a documentary about an 85-year-old Hmong man who is believed to be the last elephant shaman in Thailand, and his efforts to pass on his knowledge to the generation. It's by Thai-Irish director Shane Bunnag, whose debut feature All for Nothing was screened at the 2006 edition of the festival.

Thailand's pachyderms are also featured in The Eyes of Thailand, which follows feisty activist Soraida Salwala's quest to help two elephant land-mine amputees walk on their own four gigantic legs with elephant-sized prostheses. It's narrated by Ashley Judd.

There's lots more Thai interest in the Short Wave package. It includes films from Chiang Mai's Friends Without Borders and their workshop for ethnic filmmakers, which generated Natpakal Khemkhao 's The Farmer, Tanit Jamroensuksakul's Ja Daw's Choice and Suthit Saja's A Belt and a Comb.  All three won awards earlier this year at the 15th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, and here's an excellent change to see them if you haven't yet.

This is actually the second time this year the World Film Festival of Bangkok has been held. Last year's ninth edition was postponed to January because of the flooding disaster in Bangkok last October and November. But the 10th edition looks set to go on as scheduled, even though there are still things work out on the schedule. Keep an eye on the festival website for more details.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On DVD: Headshot, Mundane History, Dark Flight, The Kick, I Miss U

There have been several recent English-friendly releases of Thai films in various parts of the world.

Probably the most prominent is Headshot, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's unique and acclaimed hitman thriller. Thailand's submission to the Oscars, Headshot has been a fixture on the festival circuit this year and won a bunch of awards in Thailand. Released on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. by Kino Lorber (which includes an English dub in addition to the original soundtrack), it's the first time in years Pen-ek's had a Stateside release of one of his films.

Indie director Anocha Suwichakornpong's debut feature Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก, Jao Nok Krajok) has been released in the U.K. by Second Run. The drama is about a paralyzed young man from a wealthy family forming a friendship with his nurse, a young man from the rural northeast. A story of Thailand's great class divide that eventually goes back to the very forming of the cosmos, it's taken awhile for this acclaimed 2009 film to find its way to English-friendly DVD. Now, reviews are comparing it to newer movies, like Terrence Malick's Tree of Life or the French blockbuster Intouchables.

Anocha has self-released Mundane History on DVD in Thailand, but, of course, there are no English subtitles. There's an English-friendly Region 2 Dutch release, but it looks like the U.K. version is the one to get thanks to such extras as a booklet featuring a long essay by critic Carmen Gray. There’s also Anocha's 2006 graduate-thesis short film Graceland, which was the first Thai film to be selected for the Cannes Cinefondation competition. And there's an interview with her.

Meanwhile, there are a bunch of Thai genre films, mainly horror titles, out in Hong Kong.

Five Star's bumpy airplane thriller Dark Flight, the first Thai film actually filmed in 3D, is offered on Blu-ray in both 2D and 3D. There's also a 2D DVD release. Directed by Isara Nadee, who was part of the Ronin Team that did the Art of the Devil movies, and scripted in part by Ronin Team member Kongkiat Khomsiri, the haunted airliner tale stars Marsha Wattanapanich as a veteran flight attendant who's troubled past causes problems for passengers and fellow crew on a short, stormy hop from Bangkok to Phuket.

The Kick is a fairly entertaining mix of Korean and Thai martial arts, with a family of taekwando experts clashing with gangsters who've stolen a treasured ancient Siamese dagger. Along with the South Korean cast, the film directed by Ong-Bak and Chocolate helmer Prachya Pinkaew also features Jeeja Yanin and funnyman Mum Jokmok and action choreography by Panna Rittikrai. It's on DVD and Blu-ray.

And there's I Miss U  (รักฉันอย่าคิดถึงฉัน, Rak Chan Yaa Khid Tueng Chang), director Monthon Arayangkoon's horror romance tale about a widowed, guilt-ridden chief surgeon (Jessadaporn Pholdee) who just won't let go of the memories of his dead wife (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), and a plucky first-year resident doctor (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) who finds herself haunted as she gets closer to the grieving guy. Inthira Charoenpura also stars. Controversially, studio M-Thirtynine released I Miss U in Thai cinemas with three different endings, which screened on different weeks during the movie's run. However, it appears there's only one ending available on the Hong Kong home-video release, even though the "alternate endings" gimmick seems tailor-made to be a bonus feature. It's on DVD and Blu-ray.

(Thanks Logboy!)

Tony Jaa – performance artist, wall tagger

In the midst of preparations for Tom-Yum-Goong 2, still in production, with prominent guest stars being added, and still due for release sometime next year, the post-meltdown, post-monkhood, now-married-family-man martial-arts star Tony Jaa recently took time away from the movie shoot to put on a live performance at the opening of an exhibition of street art inspired by him.

“Pride of the Nation #1 Tony Jaa” at Bangkok's Artery Postmodern Gallery features various interpretations of the Ong-Bak star, from his fierce side, as represented in a Hulk-like green-hued painting, to his gentler side, as symbolized by a little boy in a pink bunny costume, his arms clutched around the trunk of an elephant.

Here's more, from The Nation's Soopsip column yesterday:

“I’m into martial arts, so I get my inspiration from watching Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jet Li,” he said at the opening of an exhibition of art that he in turn inspired.

Jaa put on a show of his own while musicians played and graffiti makers did their thing.

In another corner, Patcharapon “Alex Face” Tangruen explained that Jaa’s affection for animals led him to draw the actor as a cute boy with an elephant. “I noticed his soft side during our workshop.”

Cecê Nobre from Brazil emphasised Jaa’s eyes in a portrait of bravery and determination. “He doesn’t need to flex the muscles to show his courage.”

Good stuff, but Jaa believes everyone can succeed in whatever they do. “You’ve just got to have belief in your work.”

Read on at Soopsip for more news of another film in the works, a biopic of the Myanmar fortuneteller "ET", planned by Kantana's Nirattisai Kaljaruek.

You can see more of Tony Jaa in a video from Thai PBS, embedded below.

Tom-Yum-Goong 2 is now set for a Thai release in May 2013. Head over to Twitch for more discussion about that.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hollywood loves the Bangkok of the future

Bangkok's neon-lit seedy side lends itself well to Blade Runner-like dystopian film-noir settings, a notion that hasn't gone overlooked by dozens of authors, artists and, of course, filmmakers.

One of the latest filmmakers to get on the "Bangkok noir" bandwagon is Stephan Zlotescu, a special-effects specialist who directed the sci-fi short True Skin. Shot by H1, the video, embedded above, hit the Web about a week ago and in Thailand, especially among Bangkok's expat community, it's been the talk of social networks like Twitter.

It's the story of a guy in the future who gets hooked on robotic implants. They have been outlawed elsewhere, so the narrator travels to anything-goes Bangkok where there's an open market. The video visits the usual scuzzy sex-tourist traps, like Soi Cowboy and Silom Road. The robotic-implant special effects are stylishly overlayed on touts, vendors and go-go dancers.

The eye-popping short seems to have been made with the intention of landing a movie deal, and it did the trick, with The Hollywood Reporter saying that Warner Bros. and Harry Potter producer David Heyman have picked it up.

There are hopes among the local film-industry community that the movie will actually be made here, but it's early days yet, and as blogger Saksith Saiyasombut points out on Twitter, Warners will probably want to relocate the setting to North America.

Meanwhile, Film Business Asia reports on a crime thriller that will be made in Thailand and Singapore – Pharmacide – a thriller about the illegal pharmaceuticals industry. Thailand's Living Films, Singapore's Blackmagic Design and the U.K.'s Soho Films have teamed up for the production to be directed by Mark Hammond. It's expected to start shooting in mid-2013.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

See actual found footage on Home Movie Day

Celebrated annually worldwide, Home Movie Day this year falls on Saturday, October 20, and the Thai celebration is set for 11am to 6pm in the FA Cinematheque on the second floor of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

There's a crop of "found footage" movies playing now in Bangkok cinemas, like SinisterParanormal Activity 4 and even End of Watch. They aren't necessarily all bad, but here's a chance to see real found footage.

For the event put on by the Thai Film Archive, the theme is Thai home movies from Southeast Asian countries, just to get into the spirit of preparations for the Asean Economic Community 2015.

According to Limitless Cinema, the movies will include footage shot by King Rama VII when he visited neighboring countries in 1929-30, a clip of Italian-born artist Silpa Bhirasri (1892-1962) sculpting the monument of King Taksin the Great and Chun Suwannaboon's film of the opening ceremony of the Lam Tong Game (1959).

From 2 to 3pm, Khonthaptip Veeraprawat will talk on her family's home movie collection. Film Archive Director Dome Sukwong will talk from 5 to 6 on "The Surprising Discovery in Home Movies".

Home Movie Day comes at a busy time for Bangkok movie-goers. This weekend, there's also the Indian Centenary Film Festival. And on Saturday afternoon, there's the screening of the Filipino drama Niño as part of the BACC's Cinema Diverse series. A reception at 5pm will welcome the film's director Loy Arcenas and star Fides Cuyugan Asensio.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Apichatpong-a-rama: Cactus River flows online

Cannes Golden Palm winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul has a new film out, and you won't have to trek to a film festival, arthouse cinema or art gallery to see it – it's online.

Cactus River (Khong Lang Nam) debuted over the weekend on the newly launched Walker Channel of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, which commissioned the short film by Apichatpong.

Here's more about it from the Walker Art Center website:

With Cactus River, the work’s title provides the sense of mystery that we have come to know through all of Weerasethakul’s work: a desert plant with the name of a waterway. It doesn’t make geographic sense, but conjures an image of what will happen to the Mekong if anticipated dams are built — making a veritable cactus-filled river. But this is more than a film about last year’s floods in Thailand and the threat of drought. In describing Cactus River, Weerasethkul tells the story of how actress Jenjira Pongpas changed her name to Nach, which means water. She has acted in his films since 2009, including Syndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee, both of which screened at the Walker in 2011. Convinced that her new name will bring good luck, Nach soon meets and marries Frank, a retired soldier from the small US town of Cuba, New Mexico. Cactus River opens with a scene of Nach and her husband in their new home on the Mekong River as they go about their daily life. She is cooking or knitting baby socks for sale while he gardens and watches a Thai television program with the sound turned off. We see the wind off the nearby river and the flowing of two waters, Nach and Mekong.

Cactus River is Weerasethakul’s diary of his visit with the couple. He explains, “The flow of the two rivers — Nach and the Mekong — activates my memories of the place where I shot several films. Over many years, this woman whose name was once Jenjira has introduced me to this river, her life, its history, and to her belief about its imminent future. She is certain that soon there will be no water in the river due to the upstream constructions of dams in China and Laos. I noticed, too, that Jenjira was no more.

Shot in black and white, much of it is in fast motion – though there is a spectacular slow-mo skateboard stunt. The video, available on YouTube, is embedded below.

Cactus River appears to be another element from Apichatpong's project about "water, specifically the Mekong". It also closely follows the low-fi, fragmented aesthetics of his previous work, Ashes, which was shot with the hand-cranked Lomo Kino camera and also debuted online.

Meanwhile, Apichatpong's latest feature, Mekong Hotel, is continuing to make the rounds at film festivals. It'll screen at the Walker later this month. Rumor is Mekong Hotel will appear soon in Bangkok, but details are yet to be confirmed.

(Via Mubi Notebook)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

36 wins New Currents Award at Busan International Film Festival

It's the little film that could. In a stunning win, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's 36 shared the top prize at the 17th Busan International Film Festival, which wrapped up on Saturday.

He's "a young filmmaker who invented his own film language,” the jury headed by Hungarian filmmaker  Béla Tarr said, calling 36 "breathtaking, artful, economic. [It] never included an unnecessary word."

The other winner of the New Currents Prize, given to directors making their first or second feature, was Lebanon's Maryam Najafi for Kayan.

Nawapol's film is a highly experimental effort. It's the story of a young woman (Vajrasthira Koramit) who works as a location scout for a movie company who gets into a relationship with an art director (Tee-Rak's Wanlop Rungkamjad). Later on, the guy moves on and the woman is stuck with a broken portable hard drive containing all the photos she took with him. She struggles to reconstruct those fragmented memories. Running 68 minutes, it's composed of 36 static shots, each a single-camera setup, and often from odd angles that obscure the faces of the actors.

It was released in Thailand earlier this year through an experimental effort by Nawapol, who executive produced the film and shepherded it around to various alternative venues like the Bangkok Art and Culture Center and the Alliance Française Bangkok. He promoted the screenings through Facebook and charged 100 baht a head, selling out most shows. It also had a run at Bangkok's House cinema, playing to capacity crowds.

The production also had support from Aditya Assarat's Pop Pictures and the big film studio GTH, as well as A Day magazine, which Nawapol writes for.

In addition to making many acclaimed short films, like Bangkok Tanks and Cherie is Korean-Thai, Nawapol is a screenwriter, film critic and film programmer. His varied career includes screenwriting on such hit Thai mainstream commercial films as Bangkok Traffic Love Story and Top Secret Teenage Billionaire. He also co-founded Third Class Citizen, which organizes screenings of independent Thai films.

Other Thai films at Busan this year were Nonzee Nimibutr's psychological thriller Distortion, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mekong Hotel, Boonsong Nakphoo's Four Stations and the short film Oriole by Kaynipa Polnikorn. Nonzee, a fixture at Busan, was interviewed this year by the Hollywood Reporter Festival Daily.

Update: More coverage of Nawapol's win from The Nation.

(Via Hollywood Reporter, Film Business Asia)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cinepanic! in Palm Springs with more vintage Thai movie posters

Last January there was a Thai movie poster show at a gallery in Palm Springs, California, called Eyegasm: The Art of Thai Movie Posters that was pretty cool and got a lot of attention.

Now Swank Modern Design brings another selection in Cinepanic! Vintage Thai Terror Posters.

While the earlier show featured some action and sci-fi titles, this one is totally devoted to horror cult classics, like The Evil Dead II, Day of the Dead and Frogs. There's even an old Thai ghost movie, Krasue vs. Phi Pop (Filth-Eating Ghost vs. Liver-Eating Ghost).

They are all from the M. Wright Collection, and most are very rare, Wright says, adding: "We are not making money on this event, our intent is the exposure of Thai movie posters to a Western audience."

The show started on September 28 and runs until November 4, with a reception next Saturday, October 20, from 8 to 10pm.

If you can't make it out to the desert haven, have a look at online gallery.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Last Executioner takes aim at Busan market

Following the critical success of last year's monastic mystery thriller Mindfulness and Murder (ศพไม่เงียบ, Sop Mai Ngeap), De Warrenne Pictures producer-director Tom Waller continues to mine the grittier side of Thai culture with his next project, Chavoret: The Last Executioner, which he's shopping around this week at the Busan International Film Festival's Asian Film Market.

The fact-based biographical drama is about Chavoret Jaruboon, the last person to hold the job of executing prisoners with a rifle. He died in May of this year. In his younger days, Chavoret was a "wild rock-and-roller" who played guitar for American GIs during the Vietnam War. He then took a "respectable" job with the Corrections Department and became the one-man firing squad responsible for executing condemned prisoners. The film will portray him as a devoted family man who struggled to reconcile the good and bad karma.

The film is being produced by Waller and Michael Pritchett, with Somboon Vichaisre and Oscar Kahar as associate producers. The screenplay is being written by Thailand based expat Don Linder, who interviewed Chavoret and sourced recollections of his life from his wife, lifelong friends and children. Producition is expected to begin in early 2013.

The project will reunite Waller with his Mindfulness and Murder star Vithaya Pansringarm – both nominees for this year's Subhanahongsa Awards for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Vithaya, who is also featured in the upcoming Nicolas Winding Refn-Ryan Gosling film Only God Forgives, will portray Chavoret in this later years. They are still looking for a younger actor to take on the role of Chavoret during his rock 'n' roll days.

Waller is at the Asian Film Market along with delegates from the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand.

There will also be Thai Night on Tuesday, put on by the Commerce Ministry and presided over by movie-star Princess Ubolratana, with an aim to promote Thailand as a film location.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: 9-9-81

  • Directed by Suthat Phawilairat, Disporn Sampattawanit, Phithak Rueangrotsin, Adirek Phothong, Pirun Anusuriya, Seree Lawchonnabot, Siriphon Prasatthong, Thanyawan Mepnom, Nuttorn Kangwanklai, Rapeemon Chaisayna, Kiattisak Wibunchat and Oliver Woonsan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on September 13, 2012; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Horror-omnibus movies remain a staple of Thai cinema, especially as a fun way to put a bunch of young indie directors to work on a mainstream-industry film.

The genre is given a slight twist in the enjoyable and entertaining low-budget horror anthology 9-9-81 (บอก-เล่า-9-ศพ, Bok Lao 9 Sop). Twelve directors take part. But instead of them telling different stories in their segments, they each weave together a single tale with surprisingly cohesive results.

The story is about a bride-to-be (Patitta Attayatamavitaya) who jumps to her death from the roof of her creepy old rundown apartment building after she learns her fiancé has died. But he hasn’t. What really happened? The points of view of those close to the girl as well as a couple of innocent bystanders are recounted in nine segments.

First up is The Waiter by Sivalat Phawilairat, about a teenage boy who works at his aunt's streetside stall and has the job of delivering food trays to tenants of the apartment block. He's had a longstanding crush on the dead bride, going so far as to steal a pair of her underpants, into which he masturbates. After her high dive into the pavement – splat, right in front of him – he has the dilemma of returning the panties so that her ghost won't haunt him.

An innocent bystander who's caught up in all this is The New Tenant by Pitak Rueangrotsin. He's a comic-book illustrator who's moved into the room formerly occupied by the dead bride. He's also a cancer patient, and has apparently moved into the room while waiting to die, biding his time by drawing comics and smoking cigarettes. He comes across some of her former belongings, but is then called out of the room for mysterious circumstances. He returns to find it haunted. He shouldn't go into that bathroom, but he does because this is a horror film.

Not-so-innocent is the main character in Friend by Adirek Phothong and Siripon Prasatthong, chronicling the part the bride's best friend played. The obese girl, jealous of her attractive gal pal, is recruited by the handsome fiancé to take part in a scheme, which is further detailed in the next segment, The Lover, by Oliver Woonsan. Karma, for both of them, is a bitch. A disturbing picture emerges that the dead girl likely had pretty severe psychological troubles, causing the groom to have second thoughts.

More about what happened in the dead girl's apartment after the comic-book artist moved in is revealed in The Maid by Seree Lawchonnabot. It's one of the more comical segments, featuring a couple of superstitious old ladies as they use the apartment to cast black-magic spells in hopes of the dead girl's spirit giving them lottery numbers.

Mother by Nuttorn Kangwanklai and Thanyawan Mepnom profiles the dead bride's domineering mother, offering more hints about what caused the girl to turn out like she did.

The seventh segment, The Groom by Pirun Anusuriya profiles the person who was probably the only true friend the bride had – the proprietor of a wedding shop where she got all her supplies. With much tenderness and care, he takes part in a bizarre wedding ceremony with her corpse in a bid to appease her angry spirit.

Old Soldier by Rapeemon Chaisayna profiles the bride's father, a retired military man who perhaps did not have as strong a role in his daughter's upbringing as he should have. He is reluctantly drawn into his wife's scheme to avenge their daughter's death.

Finally, there's Old Dog by Disporn Sampattawanit and Kiattisak Wibunchat, about an alcoholic police detective who's doggedly trying to make sense of what happened. Despite his boozing, the detective connects the dots, but the constant haranguing phone calls from his police chief causes him to walk away, shaking his head, case unsolved.

In all, 9-9-81 entertains with laughs more than scares. Its low-budget aesthetics probably won't make it a big draw overseas, except for possibly genre festivals and direct-to-DVD releases.

See also:

Review: Jan Dara: The Beginning

  • Directed by ML Bhandevanov Devakula
  • Starring Mario Maurer, Bongkot Kongmalai, Sakkaraj Rerkthamrong, Ratha Po-ngam, Savika Chaiyadej, Sho Nishino, Chaiyapol J. Poupart
  • Released in Thai cinemas on September 6, 2012; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Despite the ample bare breasts and bodacious curves of actress "Tak" Bongkot Kongmalai, ML Bhandevanov Devakula's new version of Jan Dara comes off rather flat.

Aiming to capitalize on the new era of film ratings instead of censorship, Jan Dara: The Beginning (จันดารา ปฐมบท, Jan Dara Pathommabot) has plenty of sex scenes but little sizzle in the way of compelling storytelling.

Adapted from a 1966 novel by Utsana Phleungtham. Jan Dara was adapted into film just a little over a decade ago by Nonzee Nimibutr, so many people already know the story.

I guess Mom Noi realizes this, which is why he quite literally stages the story in a very theatrical fashion. He's turning the pages of the novel while you sit there and wait for stuff to happen. It's all very painterly, but it has about as much life as a dusty old oil painting. Set in the 1930s, the movie has Mom Noi's eye for lavishly detailed period settings and costuming, but it still somehow seems rather fake.

The story begins in modern times, with Mario Maurer sitting on a bench on a Bangkok sidewalk in a grey-haired wig and appallingly unconvincing aging makeup. If your eyes didn't roll to the back of your head like mine did, you'll see him open up a notebook, and then he starts telling his story literally from the beginning, while he's still in his mother's womb.

His mother, a young woman from a noble family of timber barons in Phitsanulok, had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, so a stepfather of suitable nobility is arranged for Jan's mother to marry. But childbirth does not go well, and Jan's mom dies, leaving his stepdad (Sakkaraj Rekthamrong) with a huge grudge. From then on, the dad refers to Jan as "scum" and treats the boy miserably.

Having moved to a mansion in Bangkok, Jan's social-climbing father seeks to cement his position as head of the household. So when Jan's great-aunt (singer-actress Radklao Amaradit in a comical scene-stealing turn) is away, the dad sets about to seduce all the servants, using sex as power. He starts with opening his sarong and having the ladyboy servant give him a blowjob, and then works his way through all the maids. It's probably the best sequence in the movie, and is played as a comedy. When the great aunt returns, she finds she's been ousted as head of roost, leawithout her protection.

Fortunately for Jan, he has another aunt, Waad (Bongkot), the younger sister (or maybe cousin – it's not quite clear) of his mother. She moves into the house to keep watch on Jan. She too falls prey to Jan's stepfather's sexual prowess, but she also uses her sexuality to get him to promise not to kill Jan. They have sex right there in the room as baby Jan watches from his crib. It's one incident that Jan's mind will always flash back to. Waad is the mother Jan never had, always there to comfort him and let him nuzzle her breasts. That's another thing Jan thinks about a lot later on.

Aunt Waad should have asked the stepdad to promise not to hurt Jan at all, because at one point, he's severely beaten with a stick, just for trying to pay his respects to his father figure. That beating will also come back to haunt Jan.

Meanwhile, Waad has a child with Jan's stepdad, and the daughter Kaew is given as much love by her father as he gives Jan his hatred. He also raises the girl to despise her stepbrother.

Jan, having been banished to live in the servants' quarters, becomes friends with the head maid's son, Ken "the Golden Bull" (Chaiyapol J. Poupart), a rakish, rough-and-tumble guy who is the household's champion Muay Thai boxer. There's even an old-timey Muay Thai match (fight choreography by Panna Rittikrai) to liven things up. Ken also steps up to save Jan from being sodomized by a gang of ex-con opium addicts. He's everything that Jan is not.

Much of Jan's sexual upbringing is thanks to his buddy Ken, who lets his girlfriend tutor Jan in bed artistry. Later, there are orgies in Ken's sex clubhouse, with Jan sketching the amorous scenes in his notebook.

Meanwhile, Jan wants to have a life as a normal teenager, and he tries to strike up a relationship with a sweet schoolgirl. But you know it's doomed from the start because she's played by "Pinky" Savika Chaiyadej – the same actress who plays Jan's mother.

More confusion for Jan comes when his stepdad moves his old mistress Khun Bunluang into the mansion, sidelining Aunt Waad as the lady of the house. Bunluang is portrayed by singer Ratha "Yaya Ying" Po-ngam, and she gets a chance to show her vocal talents in a musical interlude.

Eventually, there is the scene that everyone is waiting for – when Jan goes to the seductive Bunluang's room and cools her down with ice cubes but gets all hot and bothered himself.

Eventually, stepsister Kaew's evil plotting frames Jan for a heinous act he did not do, and the boy is sent packing, but not before it's revealed who Jan's real father was in an ambitiously staged action scene.

As far as the performances go, Sakkaraj as the hateful stepdad chews up the most scenery with his sexual scheming and constant berating of Jan.

Tak Bongkot as the unflappable Aunt Waad gives probably the performance of her career, and puts on a brave face as she's finally taking all her clothes off for Thai movie audiences. There was an audible gasp as her ample pointed breasts and curvy nude torso were revealed for the first time in a breathtakingly mounted scene in which she meets her old lover by a waterfall deep in the misty jungle.

Ratha Po-ngam puts her own stamp on the Bunluang character, but she'll probably be less-remembered for her portrayal than Hong Kong actress Christy Chung was in Nonzee's version.

A curious casting choice was Japanese AV actress Sho Nishino in the role of the devious Khun Kaew. Her lines were post-dubbed by singer-actress "Nat" Myria Benedetti, and the effect is jarring with Nat's strong voice clashing with Sho's delicate, anime-like appearance. The role of Khun Kaew was more memorably realized in Nonzee's version by "May" Patharawarin Timkul. But perhaps director Mom Noi felt no Thai actress would be willing to partake in the sex scene that leads up to Jan's dismissal from the mansion.

The elephant in the room that no one seems to be talking about is Jan, portrayed by Mario Maurer, who doesn't show the range to be convincing in the role. That dopey-dreamy expression that's made him a favorite in romantic comedies, and a heartthrob across Asia, never changes, whether he's being insulted by his stepfather or making sweet talk with his schoolgirl friend.

Perhaps that innocence is what director Mom Noi was going for, but it makes for tedious viewing.

Taking a cue from Hollywood blockbusters like the Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games and Hobbit movies, the single book of Jan Dara is being broken up by Mom Noi and the Sahamongkol studio into at least a two-part film.

Jan becomes a stronger character as the story continues, and hopefully Mario will rise to the occasion with that character's strengthening arc.

See also:

Related posts:

Friday, October 5, 2012

25 more films picked for Thai historical registry

A still from Chok Song Chan (Double Luck). Only about one minute of the 1927 film survives.

King Rama VIII's arrival in Bangkok, a fragment of a 1927 silent and aerial footage of Bangkok being bombed during World War II are among the additions this year to the Thai Culture Ministry's Registry of Films as National Heritage.

The listing by the Culture Ministry and the Thai Film Archive coincides with Thai Film Conservation Day. The registry was initiated last year with 25 entries, and this year's list has 25 more historic films.

From 1938, King Rama VIII's Arrival in Thailand is "rare and precious" footage, archive director Dome Sukwong was quoted as saying by The Nation today. The newsreel chronicles the arrival of 13-year-old King Ananda Mahidol and members of his family, including his younger brother, the present king, the Princess Mother and sister Princess Galyani Vadhana. Picked as king when he was 9 years old, the boy monarch was born in Germany and raised overseas. He was chosen king after the abdication of King Rama VII, following a coup that established the constitutional monarchy.

The earliest entry on this year's list is 1927's Chok Song Chan (โชคสองชั้น, Double Luck), the first film produced by a Thai company, the Sri Krung studio. Before then, there was the Hollywood co-production Miss Suwanna of Siam, which has been lost. King Kong director Merian Cooper's jungle adventure Chang was made around the same time. But Double Luck is considered the first actual Thai feature film. Unfortunately, all that remains is about 82 feet – around 1 minute – of a car chase.

The World War II footage was shot aboard a B-29 bomber on December 14, 1944. Thailand, having been occupied by Japan, actually issued a declaration of war against the Allied powers. Another news clip from the World War II era is a parade of soldiers fighting for the Seri Thai or Free Thai movement, which was opposed to the Japanese occupation and the totalitarian Thai government of the time.

An interesting artifact is 1967's Gnathostoma Spinigerum and Gnathostomiasis in Thailand, a short film made by a Thai physician to present his findings about roundworms and the illness caused by them.

Another historic reel is the first Thai animated film, 1955's Hed Mahassajan (The Miraculous Incident), by the "Walt Disney of Thailand", Payut Ngaokrachang. The short depicts a humorous city outing by a gentleman – Payut himself – and culminates in a traffic pileup caused by a policeman being distracted by a popped button on an attractive lady's outfit.

Feature films on the list include the 1958 musical drama Dark Heaven, the first color film by pioneering auteur RD Pestonji. There's also 1959's Mae Nak Phra Khanong, the first of many adaptations of the famous legend of the ghost wife.

The romantic drama Reun Pae (The Houseboat) from 1961 is another enduring classic. Even today, youngsters can hum along to the theme song. Historic for a number of reasons, it was a Hong Kong co-production and was shot on 35mm with sound, rare for the era when post-dubbed 16mm films were still prevalent. It was chosen for restoration through a grant by Technicolor and the Thomson Foundation a few years ago.

Iconic screen couple Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat star in the 1965 entry, the sprawling musical comedy Ngern Ngern Ngern (Money, Money, Money) and 1970's action drama Insee Tong (Golden Eagle), which Mitr died making, being killed in a fall from a helicopter while filming the last scene. Petchara's first film, 1961's The Love Diary of Pimchawee, is also on the list.

Even the costumed B-movie antics of notorious cult director Sompote Sands are honored in this year's list, with Hanuman vs Seven Superheroes from 1974 making the cut. It has footage of Thai mythological characters intercut with footage from a Japanese Ultraman movie.

There are also examples of "social problem" movies, with Kru Bannok (The Country Teacher) from 1978 and MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's taxi-driver drama The Citizen starring Sorapong Chatree from 1977. Another social-realism stalwart, Vichit Kounavudhi, is represented with his early effort, 1961's Hands of a Thief.

Newer notable films are also included, such as 1999's gritty urban homelessness drama Kon Jorn. The most recent entry on the list being Uruphon Raksasad's award-winning farmer drama Sawan Ban Na (Agrarian Utopia) from 2009.

Registry of Films as National Heritage, 2012

  1. Chok Song Chan (เรื่องโชคสองชั้น , Double Luck), 1927
  2. Cheewit Kon 2475 (ชีวิตก่อน 2475, Life Before 1932, 1930
  3. Hae Rattathamanoon (แห่รัฐธรรมนูญ , National Constitution Parade, 1933
  4. King Rama VIII's Arrival in Thailand, 1938
  5. The bombing of Bangkok, 1944
  6. Seri Thai March, 1945
  7. Hed Mahassajan (เหตุมหัศจรรย์ , The Miraculous Incident), 1955
  8. Sawan Meud (สวรรค์มืด , Dark Heaven), 1958
  9. Mae Nak Phra Khanong (แม่นาคพระโขนง), 1959
  10. World Boxing Championship, match between Hua Hin native Pon Kingphetch and Argentina's Pascal Peres, Bangkok, 1960
  11. Meu Jon (มือโจร, Hands of a Thief), 1961
  12. Reun Phae (เรือนแพ , The House Boat), 1961
  13. Bunteuk Rak Khong Pimchawee (บันทึกรักของพิมพ์ฉวี, The Love Diary of Pimchawee), 1962
  14. Ngern Ngern Ngern (เงิน เงิน เงิน, Money, Money, Money), 1965
  15. Saneh Bangkok (เสน่ห์บางกอก , Charming Bangkok), 1966
  16. Gnathostoma Spinigerum and Gnathostomiasis in Thailand, 1967
  17. A Drug Inmate's Execution by Firing Squad, 1967
  18. Insee Thong (อินทรีทอง, Golden Eagle), 1970
  19. The Dalai Lama Visits Suan Mokkh, 1972
  20. Hanuman Pob 7 Yod Manut (หนุมานพบ 7 ยอดมนุษย์ , Hanuman vs the Seven Superheroes, 1974
  21. Thongpoon Khokpho Rassadon Temkhan (ทองพูน โคกโพ ราษฎรเต็มขั้น, The Citizen), 1977
  22. Kru Bannok (ครูบ้านนอก, The Country Teacher), 1978
  23. Muang Nai Mhok (เมืองในหมอก , City in the Mist), 1978
  24. Kon Jorn (คนจร ฯลฯ ), 1999
  25. Sawan Ban Na (สวรรค์บ้านนา, Agrarian Utopia), 2009

Kong Rithdee further details the list in his article today in the Bangkok Post.

Scary robots animated in Yak: The Giant King

In an industry where animators have always struggled for years to release a movie – Thai film executives have traditionally eschewed animation as too labor-intensive and prefer the cheaper and faster turnaround of live-action movies – 2012 is turning out to be a banner year, with two animated features.

Earlier, there was Kantana's Echo Planet, and this week in Thai cinemas is Yak: The Giant King (ยักษ์).

Released by Sahamongkol, it's produced by Workpoint Entertainment, the company best known for its noisy TV game shows, comedy-variety series and live-action comedy feature films.

It's the brainchild of Workpoint co-founder Prapas Chonsaranon, who scripted the Bt110 -million picture, and Chaiporn Panichrutiwong, the U.S.-schooled animator behind the PangPond cartoon series.

Yak is yet another one of those computer-animated cartoons about robots, but it has a Thai twist, in that it's inspired by the Ramayana – the Indian epic poem that is the basis for the Thai epic, the Ramakien. In Yak, the giant robot king awakens a million years after a war to find himself chained to a tiny "Hanuman" robot. Neither robot remembers they were enemies, so the two become friends as they set out on an adventure to free themselves.

In a Nation article today, the two co-directors are eager to dispell comparisons between their film and such Hollywood animated features like Blue Sky Studios' Robots and Pixar's Wall-E. They point out that they started working on Yak years ago, long before those slick U.S. productions came about. They tell The Nation:

"We believed the story would make it different." Prapas notes.

"There is nothing new in the animation world. Whatever we do, someone will have already done it before," Chaiporn points out. "If we use animal characters, we'd be like Madagascar. If it's fish, it would be Finding Nemo. The difference lies in the storyline and the character design."

Aiming for broad appeal in the international market, there's already an English soundtrack recorded, supervised by American expat musician and TV presenter Todd "Thongdee" Lavelle. In Bangkok cinemas, the English soundtrack is playing with Thai subtitles at CentralWorld, Emporium, Esplanade Ratchada and Paragon. The English-language trailer is embedded below.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In Bangkok, this week, it's April

After touring the festival circuit for most of this year, Wichanon Sumumjarn's experimental drama with the really long title comes to Bangkok cinemas for a limited release this week..

Here's the synopsis for In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire (สิ้นเมษาฝนตกมาปรอยปรอยSin Maysar Fon Tok Ma Proi Proi), from the movie's Facebook page:

Nuhm is a construction foreman working in Bangkok. The political instability in Thailand has made its presence felt in all business sectors. Nuhm suddenly finds himself out of jobs. He decides to leave Bangkok to go back to his hometown in the northeast of Thailand to attend his high school friend’s wedding during the Thai New Year in April, which also happens to be the hottest month of the year.

Nuhm reunites with his old friends at the wedding in Khon Kaen. He also runs into Joy, a senior from his high school whom he used to have a crush on, and is now an office woman. They exchange their phone numbers.

Suddenly, the film turns into another direction. Some interview footage of the director’s father and brother is included, and we learn that the film is a semi-autobiography of the director’s life. The character of Nuhm is, nonetheless, as much a construct as it is real.

From this point on, the film becomes the voyage of a young man into the labyrinths of thereal and the imagined, the documentary and the fiction, the past and the present – and notonly of his self but also of the Thai society writ large.

Produced by Anocha Suwichakornpong (Mundane History) and Electric Eel Films, it's the debut feature by Wichanon, who made his mark with the award-winning short film Four Boys, White Whisky and Grilled Mouse.

In April premiered this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and has played at many, many festivals since then. In addition to it's limited release in Bangkok this week, it's also one of several Thai films at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

It's in a two-week release at House on RCA, with showtimes for this week set at 3.45 and 7pm with Q-and-A sessions after the 7pm shows Friday to Sunday. It's Rated 13+.