Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Luang Prabang Film Festival 2012: Capsule reviews and notes, part 1

Sherman Ong, Ananda Everingham and Kong Rithdee take part in the panel talk on  Cross-Border Filmmaking.

After introductions, speeches by government officials and a gong-ringing ceremony, the third Luang Prabang Film Festival got off to a rocky start on Saturday night. It was supposed to open with Chanthaly, billed as the first Lao horror film. However, a problem with the digital file prevented the movie from being shown. So the next entry in the program, Thailand's Cheer Ambassadors became the de facto opening film.

A work print of director Mattie Do's Chanthaly was completed in time for a premiered on Monday night for the outdoor screening in Luang Prabang's Handicraft Market. A capsule review of that will be forthcoming.

Among the dignitaries introduced during Saturday's opening festivities was actor Ananda Everingham. He also took part in the "Cross-border Filmmaking" panel discussion on Sunday, along with Malaysian-Singaporean filmmaker Sherman Ong, Bangkok Post film critic and filmmaker Kong Rithdee, Cheer Ambassadors director Luke Cassady-Dorion and Hollywood producer Nicholas Simon.

Much of the talk naturally gravitated toward Thai-Lao co-productions, and Ananda talked of making Sabaidee Luang Prabang, the first of a string of cross-border romances by Thai director Sakchai Deenan. The Lao-Australian actor attached his name as producer on Sabaidee, gaining valuable experience. "To be honest, we spent too much on it," he said, and it's a mistake he's hoping not to repeat as he embarks on producing more projects. He's recently connected with Lao filmmaker Anysay Keola, having been duly impressed by Anysay's first feature, the thriller At the Horizon, and the two are looking develop another project, one that might indeed cross borders.

Kong Rithdee revealed that with the coming Asean Economic Community scheme in 2015, the Southeast Asian trade and diplomatic bloc is looking to start an Asean film fund – Asean just needs filmmakers to submit a proposal on how such a initiative might work.

Problems with cross-border productions include language and cultural differences.

Ananda spoke of his disappointment with the Thai dubbing of The Coffin, the Pan-Asian horror drama he starred in along with Hong Kong superstar Karen Mok. "It ruined the film," he said.

Language issues are easier to overcome when two countries share similar languages, like Thailand and Laos or Singapore and Malaysia.

Cultural differences and censorship, especially in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, were brought up as obstacles. However producer Simon said dealing with censors is much easier than dealing with the demands of investors and studio executives. "At least with the censors, you know what the rules are."


Benito Bautista directs this hard-boiled crime thriller about a taxi driver who takes a mysterious passenger. But just who is taking who for a ride? The motivations of the two men remains unclear throughout much of the picture. Prolific actor Ronnie Lazaro stars as the taxi driver Lemuel. His face is full of weariness, weighed down by dread and shame. His slick ponytailed passenger (Raymond Bagatsing) is a friendly enough chap, but there's an underlying threat and hidden meanings in every word. The title refers to the quota the taxi driver must make each day, and Lazaro's character isn't making enough. Eventually, the driver and the passenger have a run-in with a gang of glue-sniffing thugs, who commandeer the taxi, and soon it becomes clear what Lemuel's deal is. The short-tempered glue huffers bring a bit of comedy to the otherwise tense proceedings. One guy lets a fart and stinks up the cab. And then there's an ordeal to fetch cash from an ATM, and you can't help but laugh at the result. But no one is laughing at the end, with the ultimate fate of the taxi driver left unclear. (5/5)

Bounthanh: Lost in the City

Sabaidee Luang Prabang director Sakchai Deenan offers Laos' answer to Thailand's long-running Boonchu comedy film series, about a daffy college student and the humorous adventures he has with his zany group of friends. Like Boonchu, Bounthanh is from a farming village. He's too poor to attend the university, but is considered a bright enough boy that the local Buddhist temple's abbot gets up a support fund to send him to college to study forestry. He's given a hen – for eggs, not for meat – to take with him. So the country boy arrives in the big city of Vientiane with his chicken in a cardboard box tied with plastic twine. He's such a hick, he doesn't realize he has to pay the tuk-tuk driver, no matter that the driver is from his home village. His influential "uncle" is not the university president as everyone back home was led to believe, but the janitor. And Kamla, the girl from his hometown, who was supposedly his best friend, doesn't remember him at all. She's part of a group of snooty girls, and perhaps her affiliation with these hi-so drama queens has completely changed her. Bounthanh's efforts to reconnect with Kamla are hampered by a trio of goofball classmates. They befriend Bounthanh with the intention of conning him into paying their house rent. Later, the four boys get up to all kinds in shenanigans to try and impress the ladies, such as comically dressing up as Korean pop stars. They also have an encounter with a "ghost", which is a bit controversial because depictions of supernatural beliefs are generally frowned upon by Lao censors. In all, it's cute but squeaky-clean fun, totally in keeping with traditionally modest and polite Lao culture. (3/5)

The governor of Luang Prabang bangs the gong to open the third Luang Prabang Film Festival.

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