Monday, January 28, 2013

Apichatpong, sex and smashing watermelons at HAF 2013

A who's who of Thai indie filmmakers will take part in this year's Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul will be at the project market with Cemetery of Kings, "which follows a lonely middle-aged housewife and a soldier with a sleeping sickness".

Aditya Assarat, Sivaroj Kongsakul and Pramote Sangsorn combine for the three-segment sex omnibus Nude Project

And Anocha Suwichakornpong collaborates with Bosnian visual artist Sejla Kameric on ForeverAwhile, "composed of reconstructed scenes inspired by the fragments of their memories and lives".

Cemetery of Kings will be the first full-length feature from Apichatpong since his Cannes Palme d'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. He'll again be working with his Uncle Boonmee producers Simon Field and Keith Griffiths and his long-time actress Jenjira Widner, whose character is based on her recent real-life marriage to a retired German soldier. Here's the project synopsis from the HAF website:

In a small town in Thailand, 27 soldiers come down with a strange  case of sleeping sickness. An abandoned elementary school is converted to accommodate them. Jenjira Widner, a middle-age Thai lady who is married to  Frank, a retired soldier from the US, volunteers to tend to the sleeping soldiers.  She takes special interest in Itta who has no visiting relatives.

At the public library, Jenjira meets two phantoms who tell her about a buried cemetery of kings underneath the school/hospital. Jenjira is alarmed and feels more protective towards Itta. At the same time, the young soldier makes her heart flutter. Frank, her husband, becomes suspicious.

Jenjira’s fear and confusion trigger a strange dream that she shares with Itta, a  dream that involves a large unidentified creature on the Mekong River’s shore. Its  carcass leads Jenjira to Itta’s imaginary girlfriend, Phon, who revitalizes her with  the power of poems, remembering, and touching. At the shore, Jenjira fulfils her  fantasy of having a younger man begging for her love. Not far away, the dead animal is cut up. Its belly is full of marigold flowers in various stages of decay.

Check out the project synopsis from the HAF website for a detailed director's statement, in which he explains his inspiration comes from the "blanketing" influence of the military and the monarchy.

The omnibus Nude Project has Pramote, Aditya and Sivaroj each directing a segment based on a single theme: sex. "The filmmakers explore the nature of sexual desire and sexuality in different social contexts in Thai society," says the project statement, which gives detailed synopsis for each segment and further explanations from the directors, who take their inspirations from repressed and censored societal notions about sex and how parents set examples for sexual behavior.

Anocha collaborates with Sejla, a visual artist she met in Copenhagen. Their project, ForeverAwhile "will comprise a series of fragments, with each fragment’s narrative seemingly disconnected to one another. Some fragments will be short, lasting under a minute in duration, while some will be much longer. Some fragments will also be repeated, sometimes (but not always) with a slight variation."

Watermelons falling off the back of a truck and smashing on the road, footprints in the snow, hands setting a table and silent record player are among the images. The project, which aims to be a 60-minute film/visual art crossover, is produced by Copenhagen's DOX:LAB, the Center for Contemporary Arts, Sarajevo and Anocha's own Electric Eel Films. Read the project PDF for lots more details.

The Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) runs from March 18 to 20 as part of the Entertainment Expo Hong Kong.

(Via Film Business Asia, The Hollywood Reporter)

Pen-ek's Paradoxocracy delayed over 'technical problem'

Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Prachya Pinkaew promote the Clap! Festival du Film Francais, set for February 13-20 at the Emporium, Bangkok.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's forthcoming political documentary Paradoxocracy has been delayed, according to The Nation's Soopsip column.

It was set for release on February 7 at the Lido cinemas, but has now been pushed back because of technical problems – color correction and sound. The reason for the delay is not because of any political pressure, insist the filmmaker and his producer.

Soopsip says another insider points out that Paradoxocracy hasn't even been submitted to the film board for rating, so how could there be a censorship issue? "It's too early for that," they say.

Nonetheless, feelings of paranoia and fear are palpable, especially in light of such recent events as the 10-year prison sentence for an activist magazine editor and Channel 3's abrupt cancellation of the politically themed TV series Nua Mek 2, the reasons for which haven't been coherently explained. Add to that the banning last year of Shakespeare Must Die, and well ...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nawapol's Year of June selected from Venice Biennale College

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit took part in the recent Venice Biennale College – Cinema and his project, The Year of June, produced by Pop Pictures' Aditya Assarat, is one of three selected to proceed to the production phase.

The goal is to present the mini-budget, 150,000-euro features (debut or second works) at the this year's 70th Venice International Film Festival, which runs August 28 to September 7.

Nawapol won last year's Busan's New Currents Award and is in this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam Tiger Awards with 36.

The Year of June looks to continue his experimental efforts. Here's more about the project from the Biennale College website:

The Year of June [is] a "digital adaptation" of an anonymous school girl’s year-long Twitter stream. She deconstructs herself into hundreds of fragments and the filmmakers reconstruct them back into an imagined narrative. The result is a fast, funny, and fantastical adventure of a schoolgirl in the city of Bangkok.

In all, 15 filmmakers took part in the Biennale College. The other two projects selected for production are Memphis by Tim Sutton from the U.S. and Yuri Esposito by Italy's Alessio Fava.

The three production teams will take part in a second workshop, each working with a mentor-director and a number of tutors and trainers.

The Biennale College – Cinema is organized by the Biennale di Venezia in partnership with Gucci with support from Italy's Ministry for the Cultural Heritage and Activities – General Direction Cinema – and by the Regione del Veneto, and in collaboration with the New York IFP, the Dubai International Film Festival and TorinoFilmLab.

(Thanks Thongdee!)

IFFR 2013: Presenting Lublae and more

A still from Lublae, the one-minute leader by Anocha Sukwichakornpong.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam is now underway. As always, it's an important platform for Thai independent filmmakers.

In addition to two features – Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's 36 and Visra Vichit-Vadakan's Karaoke Girl in the main Tiger Awards competition plus Pimpaka Towira's single-shot funeral The Mother in the Tiger Awards Competition for Short Films – there are several other Thai shorts.

There's a special one-minute leader that will precede each HBF Harvest film at IFFR, Lublae, a weird sci-fi short directed by a past Tiger Award winner, Mundane History's Anocha Suwichakornpong.

Here's more about it from the festival website:

Lublae is a district in northern Thailand that used to be known as the "hidden" land, due to its remote location; "lub" means "hidden" in Thai. Others say that Lublae is a derivative of Lublang, the name of the forest in the area. "Lang" means "evening" in the language of Lanna (an old kingdom in present-day northern Thailand) as the forest was so dense, it often got dark before sunset. Legend has it that the residents of Lublae were all women and that they tolerated no lies, no matter how small.

The ten women who appear in Lublae are friends of the director, all of whom work in the arts: among them are a film director, an architect, an actress. They walk through a field, torches in hand, searching for something. The beams of light from their torches briefly illuminate the soon-to-be dark landscape. The director likes to think of them as modern-day usherettes – while these ten women may be searchers, they also show us the way.

Watch it online at the IFFR website.

Anocha is also taking part in the Spectrum Shorts program with fellow Electric Eel and IFFR veteran Wichanon Sumumjarn (In April the Following Year, There was a Fire). Together they present Overseas, a 16-minute short in the Leaving Traces program. It's about a young Burmese woman working in a seafood-packing factory who is faced with pretty serious dilemma.

Another IFFR vet, Jakwaral Nilthamrong (Unreal Forest) presents Zero Gravity, a "visually and dramatically complex story set simultaneously in the present and the past, [which] returns to where a bizarre hostage situation ended in blood over 10 years ago. Almost every conflict in or on the border of Thailand seems to be dealt with."

Also of Thailand interest is Poor Folk, Myanmar-Taiwan-based Midi Z's followup to Return to Burma. It's a look at lawlessness along the Thai-Myanmar border and follows a guy as he's trafficked to Bangkok to begin a life of crime.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam runs through February 3.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: The Stunt

Veteran stunt coordinator Kawee Sirikhaerut and his team.

  • Directed by Sathanapong Limwongthong
  • Starring Panna Rittikrai, Kawee Sirikhaerut, Wych Kaosayananda, Prachya Pinkaew, Gary Daniels, Pangrit Sangcha, "Ant" Vatcharachai Sunthornsiri, Kecha Jaika, Nhong N.T., Thep Baanrig, Nung Pradit, Lalisa Sontirod, Nerun Sreesun, and Gary Daniels
  • Special screening on January 20, 2013 at the Lido cinema, Bangkok
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Featuring talking-head interviews with the Thai film industry's top stunt doubles, coordinators and action directors, The Stunt is a worthy effort in giving these unheralded talents a much-needed voice.

Directed by Sathanapong Limwongthong, The Stunt pulls no punches in its depiction of the Thai action movie scene. The interviews are for the most part brutally frank, with the interviewees stating that it's difficult for Thai stuntmen because there is no guild. They also speak of a lack of unity because the scene is so fiercely competitive.

They also acknowledge the key role 2003's Ong-Bak played in jump-starting the Thai action movie scene and bringing it to the world stage.

The Stunt, which is made with support from the Department of Tourism, isn't quite a slam-dunk though. It suffers from an appalling lack of film clips, which would go far in spicing up the talking-head format. It's not that what the stunt players have to say isn't interesting, it's just that the parade of talking heads becomes dull after awhile.

The young director was quizzed about this in during the question-and-answer session after the movie's screening at the Lido, and he acknowledged it was difficult to obtain the rights from any of the major studios.

So what we're reduced to seeing are B-roll clips from such B-grade Thai action flicks as The Sanctuary and The Microchip, and there simply isn't enough to go around.

It's symbolic that a film that's so supportive of the industry is undercut by the industry itself.

Vatcharachai Sunthornsiri and his horse.

There's also the elephant that's missing from the room – Ong-Bak star Tony Jaa, the actor who did his own acrobatic, hard-hitting stunts in the rough-and-tumble "no wires, no CGI" style. While Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew and Jaa's mentor and stunt choreographer Panna Ritthikrai – a hero to many of the other interviewees – are present, Jaa is noticeably absent. But really, that's okay, because it gives other folks a chance to be heard.

One of the most interesting figures is Ant Vatcharachai. He performs all kinds of stunts but specializes in horseback riding. Virtually any recent Thai movie that's involved horses has had Ant in the saddle. These include Tears of the Black Tiger and the King Naresuan epics. The interview is conducted with a corral in the background, and a horse, seemingly aware it's on camera, paces pack and forth behind Ant. Eventually, Ant saddles up and takes a ride.

One stuntwoman is interviewed: Lalisa Sontirod, who is better known as "Tik Big Brother" from her time on the Thailand version of the reality TV series. Her roles have included Kantana's epic The Edge of Empire and doubling for Princess Ubol Ratana in My Best Bodyguard.

Another major player is Suthep "Thep Baanrig" Chubsri, whose company specializes in rigging slings. Watch the closing credits for just about any Thai film, even ones that aren't necessarily "action" films, and you'll see that name scroll by.

There's also "Seng" Kawee Sirikhaerut, an industry veteran whose long list of credits includes stunt coordination on such Thailand-set Hollywood movies as The Hangover Part II and Rambo.

Other figures are Kecha Khamphakdee (Operation Dumbo Drop, The Red Eagle),  Pangrit Sangcha (Bang Rajan, Tears of the Black Tiger, Fireball), Pradit Seelum (My Best Bodyguard, The Red Eagle), Nerun Sreesun (Fireball, The Red Eagle) and Krissanapong Rachata, director of Power Kids and The Microchip.

British action star Gary Daniels also appears, and is full of praise for the professionalism, skill and bravery of Thai stunt players.

The most outspoken is director Wych Kaosayananda who's infamous for making one of the movies that's considered the worst ever, the Hollywood bomb Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. Aware of his infamy, he doesn't hold back at all, and states flatly that there have been no decent Thai action films since Ong-Bak and that the Thai industry still has a long way to go.

Stuntwoman Lalisa Sontirod.

Related posts:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Boundary to debut in Berlinale Forum

Nontawat Numbenchapol's Boundary will make its world premiere at the 43rd International Forum of New Cinema, which is a sidebar of the Berlin International Film Festival.

The Thai-Cambodian production, also called Fahtum Pandinsoong, pushes the hot-button topic of Preah Vihear, the ancient Angkorian temple that's perched on the border between the two countries. Nationalist Thai groups have protested the border demarcation that handed Preah Vihear to Cambodia, and used the topic to politically tarnish various Thai governments. There have even been military skirmishes between the two countries in recent years.

Nontawat's movie focuses on residents of the troubled border area. He received support for his project in 2011 from the Asian Network of Documentary's DMZ Fund.

Nontawat exhibited a related video installation and research materials in a show called DIG at the Messy Project Space in Bangkok. The show wrapped up last month.

The Forum line-up follows a previous announcement about another Thai film, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Tang Wong taking part in Berlinale's Generations program.

The Berlinale Forum runs from February 7 to 17.

(Via Film Business Asia)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: Khun Nai Ho

  • Directed by Rerkchai Paungpetch
  • Starring Araya A. Hargate, Akom Preedakul, Jaroenporn Ornlamai, Teeradate Methavorrayuth, Ray MacDonald
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 27, 2012; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

For no other reason than it's funny looking, soap star "Chompoo" Araya A. Hargate wears a wig in Khun Nai Ho (คุณนายโฮ), the latest year-end comedy bonanza from M-Thirtynine Pictures and director Rerkchai Paungpetch. The comical bowl-shaped bob gives the usually long-haired actress the appearance of a mushroom, a fact that is later commented on with much venom by one of the characters.

Khun Nai Ho, a.k.a. Madame Ho, also has the international English title Crazy Crying Lady, which is literally what the movie is about. Sort of.

It's the latest in a long line of romantic comedies from Rerkchai and M-Thirtynine, released every New Year's holiday. They all follow the same formula – casting attractive young, popular stars with veteran male comedians who are usually in drag. All are incomprehensible tales, full of non-sequitur humor and take forever to get to the point. And they are, for some reason, wildly popular with Thai audiences. According to the latest box-office figures, Khun Nai Ho has earned nearly 80 million baht after three weeks, zeroing in on the industry's benchmark 100 million baht figure and ensuring that we'll get another one of these types of comedies around this time next year.

Like just about every Thai comedy, Khun Nai Ho starts out fun and full of energy, but quickly degenerates into a succession of headache-inducing nonsensical jokes, gay slurs and slapstick gags. The production design and costuming is candy colored and gives the movie a generally hermetic feel, more like a TV series. Much of it seems to have been filmed in a city park, where tiny roadways add to the fantasyland feel. The electronic keyboard soundtrack also seems to have been borrowed from Thai TV. And the storytelling is episodic, just like a TV series.

Also from TV is the star, Thailand's leading soap-opera actress, "Chompoo" Araya. She portrays Ho, a woman-child who wears her emotions on her sleeve.

The story follows her from childhood. As a schoolgirl she is bright but emotionally crippled. Simple requests from anyone cause her to cry. At school one day, the teacher asks the children what they want to be when they grow up. Ho's neighbor-boy classmate Doc says he wants to be a doctor, of course. Her long-haired guy pal Boyd wants to be a rock star. The little girl Ho says she wants to be pregnant, which earns her a severe reprimand from the teacher, who instructs Ho to wait until she has indeed grown up. The incident scars Ho for life.

Another life-altering occurence is when little-girl Ho is awarded for earning the highest marks in her class. She runs home, crying all the way, to tell her parents, only to be met on the front porch by her father and younger brother. Dad then breaks the news that her mother and sister have been killed in a car crash. And cue more tears.

Cut to years later, the adult but still childish Miss Ho is a teacher at her old school. She's still single and still a virgin, thanks to that traumatizing reprimand from her teacher years ago. Ho is also still handicapped by her overemotional state, which causes her cry all the time. Tell her some good news, she cries. Tell her some bad news and she cries even more.

Chompoo Araya is really the perfect choice for this role, because in order to work on Thai TV she has be able to turn on her tear faucet as easy as most folks turn the tap on their kitchen sink.

But one of the many problems with this movie is that Chompoo, despite being the star and central figure, is sidelined by various nonsensical subplots involving the supporting characters, namely her father, played by Akom Preedakul, a.k.a.  Kom Chaunchuen, and her gay cross-dressing brother, portrayed by Jaroenporn "Kotee" Ornlamai.

Kom's character is a retired military man who can't let go of his former career. He's haunted by an incident on the battlefield, and apparently suffers from terminal post-traumatic stress syndrome. Despite his unkempt facial hair, unruly mane and not-so-trim physique, he holds on to his military bearing and wears a uniform everywhere.

Among the shenanigans involving Kom's character is an outing to a paintball range with his old army buddies. It's run by Ho's wannabe rock star childhood friend Boyd (Ray MacDonald). The fun turns disastrous when dear old dad opens up with real bullets rather than paintballs.

Kom's character Nawa is also ashamed that his son is gay, and scolds the boy for dressing up in women's clothes, engaging in less-than-manly activities and having a boy-toy boyfriend. Kotee, as always, commits fully to the character, squeezing his rotund figure into tight outfits. A humorous aside is the "Yes! You Can Do" self-help videos Nawa records, offering tips on everything from makeup to robot dancing. At one point, Kotee strips to the waist, letting fly his large man boobs and corpulent tummy. The stunt earns him gales of laughter from the audience but does nothing to advance the plot.

Plot? Oh yeah. Plot. Eventually, somewhere toward the end of the movie they get around to that. Ho still desperately wants to have children but doesn't want to give up her virginity. However, her best friend, the dear old childhood chum Dr. Doc (Teeradate Methavorrayuth), is as it turns out, an obstetrician. He informs her that her eggs are dying, and if she doesn't get pregnant soon, she won't be able to have kids.

At the urging of her gal pals, she tries a weekend hookup with her supposed boyfriend, the paintball-range operator Boyd. But Boyd is simply too aggressive, and scares the tearful Chompoo off. Ray brings his usual dramatic intensity, but shows off his comedic range as he rattles off a string of insults when he breaks up with Ho.

The next likely candidate is her BFF, Doc. But will it be too late by the time they finally get around to being more than friends?

Unfortunately by then, time has run out and the end credits are running alongside outtakes involving Kotee's character and his self-help videos.

See also:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Documentary The Stunt gives voice to Thailand's unheralded stuntmen

Before Ong-Bak hit the scene in 2003, Thai action cinema was largely unheard of outside Thailand, except perhaps for a handful of cult-film nerds.

Ong-Bak changed all that, spawning hordes of fanboys worldwide. With its rough-and-tumble, "no wires, no CGI" style, the movie made household names of star Tony Jaa, his mentor martial-arts choreographer Panna Rithikrai and director Prachya Pinkaew. Before Ong-Bak, Panna had toiled away in obscurity for years, making C-grade direct-to-VCD action flicks. But with Ong-Bak, an entire industry has grown up around Panna, who now runs a major martial-arts and stunt training center that's grooming the next Tony Jaa as well as the legions of black-shirted foes who oppose him.

Nonetheless, the lot of most Thai stunt performers has not much improved in the decades since the start of the industry, with no stuntmen's guild and sometimes a shocking lack of safety standards. Many stunt actors still grind away to earn a living, performing death-defying acts in live stunt shows in the Thai countryside.

A new documentary film, The Stunt, produced by Dream Maker Entertainment with support from the Department of Tourism, looks into the history and hardships of the still largely unheralded Thai stuntmen. It's directed by Sathanapong Limwongthong.

Interviewees include Panna and Prachya, and the documentary goes deeper into the industry by giving voice to several other players – "Seng" Kawee Sirikhaerut (The Hangover Part 2, Rambo 4), Pangrit Saengcha, Ant Vatcharachai (King Naresuan), Kecha Jaika, Nhong N.T., Thep Baanrig, Nung Pradit, Tik Bigbrother, Nerun Sreesun (Fireball, Red Eagle), Wych Kaosayananda and Gary Daniels.

The Stunt will screen on Sunday, January 20 at 2pm at the Lido cinemas in Siam Square, Bangkok.

Find out more by checking out the film's Facebook page and by watching English-subtitled trailer below.

Film Virus brings more Lav Diaz to Bangkok

Two recent works by the master of long-form black-and-white human suffering, Filipino independent filmmaker Lav Diaz, will be screened in Bangkok at the end of March in a program called "In Lav We Trust".

The films are 2011's Century of Birthing (Siglo ng pagluluwal) and last year's Florentina Hubaldo, CTE.

The screenings are made possible by Film Virus, the same loosely organized group of film-loving "sick people" who brought Lav Diaz and several of his films for a series of screenings in Bangkok and around Thailand in 2009.

The screening venue for the March 30-31 event is the Reading Room on Silom Soi 19 in Bangkok. The showtime is 1pm. Both films clock in at 6 hours. I advise getting there early in order to stake out the comfy spot you'll be occupying for the day. Perhaps bring along a pillow.

Century of Birthing has had festival appearances in Venice, Toronto and Rotterdam. It won the Jury Grand Prize at the 2011 Cinemanila International Film Festival.

Here's the synopsis from Toronto, which is reposted at

Telling two seemingly unrelated tales, it is a grand meditation on the roles of the artist, the prophet and the acolyte. The first story focuses on Homer, a filmmaker who has spent years working on his latest opus — and still isn’t happy with it. Hounded by friends, co-workers and festival programmers to finish the damn thing, he resists every entreaty, countering a programmer’s pleas to send him the film with, “I don’t make films for festivals, I make them for cinema.” (The story plays a little like , minus the surrealism and with a dollop of Warhol thrown in.) The second story concentrates on a Christian cult in a rural region — a group largely comprised of young women (referred to as “virgins”) and dominated by its charismatic leader, Father Turbico. When one of the longest-standing members strays, the impact is catastrophic for both her and the cult.

Diaz portrays both men as troubled and problematic figures, pressured to perform but also ruled by their own romantic conception of themselves. Father Turbico carefully primps himself before meeting with one of his disciples. Homer gives long interviews about the nature of cinema — Diaz, as if to indicate that he’s not convinced by his apparent stand-in’s rhetoric, drowns out the dialogue with industrial noise and almost-decipherable chatter. The characters are linked by public professions of fealty to their gods (Homer’s devotion to cinema; Turbico’s peculiar take on Christianity), and both have followers whose devotion proves to be less than healthy.

Told almost entirely in long takes that are alternately transfixing, claustrophobic and penetrating, Century of Birthing boasts exquisite black-and-white imagery. Indeed, it may be Diaz’s most entrancing film to date — and it’s certainly his most personal.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE has had festival appearances in Rotterdam, Toronto's Images and Edinburgh. It won the NETPAC Award at last year's Jeonju International Film Festival. Here's the synopsis from Rotterdam, as reprinted from

As no other filmmaker, Lav Diaz is involved with the suffering of the people of the Philippines, with its history of colonialism, corruption and poverty. A philosophical drama about the psychological effects of injustice and arbitrariness. Two poor labourers leave the city looking for a treasure.

Few filmmakers make films as long as those of Lav Diaz. Six hours is not even particularly long within his oeuvre. He has films to his name that are twice that long. And even fewer filmmakers would want to reshoot a film they’ve already made. Yet that’s what happened here. Lav Diaz shot a first version of Florentina Hubaldo, CTE in 2009 (when it was still called Agonistes, Myth of a Nation). Once he had a HD camera, he decided to shoot the film again. Another long film. Back to distant and inhospitable locations. It says a lot about this filmmaker’s commitment that he does not make life easy for himself when telling his epic social dramas.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. A variant of the condition, dementia pugilistica (DP), is primarily associated with boxing.

Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression which may appear within months of the trauma or many decades later.

Call for entries: Chaktomuk Short Film Contest 2013

In Southeast Asia's film industries, Cambodia is among those that are still struggling in the "emerging" category. The country at one time had a vital, much-acclaimed film industry, as documented in Golden Slumbers. But then talents from this Golden Age were snuffed or scattered by the brutal Khmer Rouge, and the Cambodian film industry has been on the ropes ever since.

Cambodian cinema has started to rise back up in recent years with more and more features being made and more young independent filmmakers coming out with new works. Last month's Cambodia International Film Festival, the third edition, featured several new Cambodian films.

Another new film event is the Chaktomuk Short Film Contest and Film Camp, which holds its second edition this year. They have a call for entries until February 28 for shorts in three categories: Southeast Asian competition, Cambodian competition and Women's Rights. Films must have been completed after January 2011 and entries are open to all genres except documentaries. Check out the website for further details.

9FilmFest winners heading to Jaipur

Five winning entries from last year's heart-themed Amazing Thailand 9FilmFest are headed to the fifth Jaipur International Film Festival.

Among the selection is Wattanapong Wongwan's Video Call, the top-prize winner at 2012's 9FilmFest. Using a screen-within-a-screen technique, it traces the video-call relationship between a man and his girlfriend. She turns jealous when he mysteriously takes too long to answer her call.

Also headed to Jaipur is last year's honorable-mention winner Numberman in Love, Japanese director Eiji Shimada's followup to the prize-winning 2011 9FilmFest entry.

Another Jaipur-bound honorable mention winner is Sugimasa Yamashita's bizarre Love Cookies, which depicts a strange world in which people's (and dog's) love for each other is manifested in heart-shaped cookies magically appearing out of their shirt pockets.

Narongchai Parthumsuwan's Grand Prize winner Friend traces the life of a young Thai man who dresses as a Japanese superhero. He meets an online friend from Japanese who also dresses as a masked superhero.

The Jaipur selection is rounded out with Where the Heart Is by Rattha Buranadilok and Thammaruja Dharmasaroja, which won the cinematography prize at last year's 9FilmFest.

The Jaipur International Film Festival runs from January 30 to February 3.

Meanwhile, keep track of the 2013 edition of the 9FilmFest on Facebook. The theme for this year's crop of 9-minute-long entries is "waterway".

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kongdej's Tang Wong dances into Berlinale

Four teenage boys swear an oath at an altar that if they do well in their endeavors they will perform the traditional tang wong dance. But none of them are dancers, nor are they all that in touch with traditions.

That's the set up for Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Tang Wong, which makes its world premiere at this year's Berlin International Film Festival as part of the just-completed Generations lineup.

Here's the synopsis from the film's Tumblr:

Tang Wong is a comedic drama that centers around four high school boys.

Yong and Jay are representing the school in the science competition. Best wishes to be on the school ping-pong team. And Em is a champion K-pop cover dancer.

All four boys have prayed before the Luang Poo idol at the spirit house. When their wishes come true they must repay the debt by performing a traditional Thai dance. This is easier said than done and they must enlist the help of Nut, a transvestite dancer who lives in their block.

But in today’s Thailand, rushing blindly forwards without compass or a rear-view mirror, many questions arise out of this predicament. Who are we? What do we believe? And where are we all headed?

Kongdej is again working with the crew of indie filmmakers that made last year's much-acclaimed psychological drama P-047, including producer Soros Sukhum, director of photography Umpornpol Yugala. Cult alternative rock musician Apichai Tragoolpadetgrai, star of P-047, is among the contributors of original music.

The 63rd Berlinale runs from February 7 to 17.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Karaoke Girl completes Tiger Awards lineup

The complete lineup for the Tiger Awards competition at the International Film Festval Rotterdam has been announced, with Visra Vichit-Vadakan's debut feature Karaoke Girl (Sao Karaoke) among the final selection.

Karaoke Girl makes its world premiere in competition alongside the previously selected 36 by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, which is making its European premiere in Rotterdam.

Here's the synopsis for Karaoke Girl:

Young sex worker Sa is the protagonist of Visra Vichit Vadakan’s first feature film. Sa was sent to Bangkok when she was just 15. After three years in a factory, she decided to become a sex worker in order to support her family. Four years later Vichit Vadakan met her and invited her to be the subject of this film. She documented her life in the city and in the country and also wrote a fictional script for her to act in. Karaoke Girl is made from these building blocks of real life and fiction.

Visra has directed several short films, including the award-winning In Space. She received support in 2010 from the IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund.

In addition, controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is among the jury for the Tiger Awards. He won't be able to attend the festival and will judge the competition films at home in Beijing. Other jury members are Iranian-banned actress Fatemeh Motamedarya, Russian writer-director Sergei Loznitsa, Dutch filmmaker Kees Hin and Seville European Film Festival artistic director José Luis Cienfuegos.

While the Tiger Awards features competition are for directors making their first or second feature, there's also the Tiger Awards shorts competition, which this year includes a new work by veteran director Pimpaka Towira, Mae (The Mother).

IFFR runs from January 23 to February 3.

Tom-Yum-Goong 2 is still coming, plus more from Panna

Continuing with The Nation's roundup of coming attractions for 2013, due out sometime this year, perhaps in May, is Tom-Yum-Goong 2, which will see the return of Tony Jaa to the big screen, and for the first time in 3D.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew with action choreography by Panna Rittikrai, the project has been long in the works, owing to production delays and Tony juggling a new marriage and fatherhood.

No one seems to know what exactly the film is about. The only hint comes from the cryptic Tinglish tagline: "This time the fight get beyond."


Twitch recently posted that it "marks the end of the no wire, no CGI era for Tony Jaa."

When TYG2 was first announced, it was touted as an all-star project involving not only Tony Jaa but also Tony's Ong-Bak 3 enemy Diew Choopong from Born to Fight and Dynamite Warrior plus Chocolate heroine Jeeja Yanin.

But now perhaps neither Diew nor Jeeja are actually involved. Or maybe they are. Only when the film is released will anyone be totally certain of what it's about or who's in it.

An accompanying Soopsip column in today's Nation sows more confusion, revealing that Jeeja is now pregnant!

Meanwhile, action guru Panna has prepped a new action star, stunt-team member "Wut" Nantawut Boonrubsub, for another project called Reaw Talu Reaw, which will also star Diew Choopong.

More on that when it is actually released.

Back to TYG2, it was announced months ago that newly minted martial-arts actor-director RZA had been added to the mix that already included RZA's stunt double Marese Crump. And as an aside, RZA's The Man with the Iron Fists comes to Thai cinemas this week.

2013 preview: More Mae Nak, Pen-ek on politics, Adam Yukol's debut and Film Bangkok from the ashes

The first still from Banjong Pisanthankun's Pee Mak Phra Khanong.

The Nation yesterday detailed 2013's coming attractions from the Thai film industry, with highlights including a new take on the "Mae Nak Phra Khanong" ghost story, the resurrection of the old Film Bangkok studio, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's political documentary Paradoxcracy and the debut feature from Chalermchatri "Adam" Yukol, son of MC Chatrichalerm Yukol.

Banjong Pisanthanakun, half of the Shutter/Alone director duo, is making Phee Mak Phra Khanong, which will offer a fresh take on the ghost story that's been made into dozens of movies before. This time, it'll be from the perspective of the husband Mak and his buddies. Mario Maurer stars, marking his first feature with the GTH studio. The rest of the cast includes the hilarious quartet of actors from Banjong's entertaining comedy segments in GTH's Phobia horror compilations.

Adam Yukol makes his debut with the action-drama Tamruad Peun Hode starring Somchai Khemklad and Piyathida Worramusik. I spoke with Adam about this project months ago and he said he aimed to get back to gritty social-realism of his father's films of the 1970s and '80s.

Meanwhile, the elder Yukol is still at work on the fifth and final installment of the King Naresuan historical saga. It was penciled in on the calendar for December 5, but never materialized. Look for it on the next auspicious date on the calendar and then the next and so on until it actually appears. Chatrichalerm then hopes to move on to another epic, an adaptation of Phet Phra Uma, a beloved series of genre-jumping sci-fi jungle adventure novels from the 1960s that spanned 48 installments. The possibilities with that are limitless.

Following his 2011 hitman thriller Headshot, Pen-ek said he wanted to do a documentary on Thailand's messed-up politics, and he's done just that. Prachathipatai, a.k.a. Paradoxcracy, is expected to have a limited release on February 7, most likely at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square.

Taweewat Wantha returns to the scene on January 31 with Thongsuk 13 (ทองสุก 13), an island horror tale. It doesn't look to be reaching the same insane heights of his stylish and funny zombie comedy SARS Wars or the sci-fi weirdness of The Sperm, but it's a welcome return nonetheless and it's the first project from a new studio, Wave Pictures, run by the Maleenont family of BEC-Tero fame.

The roots of Wave Pictures go back to the old Film Bangkok marque that was run in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Adirek "Uncle" Watleela and Sa-nga Chatchairungraung. They produced such now-classic films as Tears of the Black Tiger, Bang Rajan, Bangkok Dangerous and SARS Wars. Word is that Tears of the Black Tiger director Wisit Sasanatieng has found a home at Wave Pictures, which is also developing projects by Yuthlert Sippapak and Kongkiat Komsiri.

Kongkiat, meanwhile, is also at work for Sahamongkol on a follow-up to last year's gangster drama Antapal. It's a historical action drama called Khun Phan, featuring a pistol-toting hero on horseback. It looks like a western.

Sahamongkol's other big tentpoles this year include part two of ML Bhandevenop Devakula's erotic epic Jan Dara, due out on February 7, and Tom-Yum-Goong 2 (more on that in a minute).

With Mario pasting on a moustache as he continues in the lead role in Jan Dara, part two of the 1930s-set family sex drama will likely be rated 20-, signalling that it will be even more explicit than last year's Rated 18+ Jan Dara: The Beginning.

Also at Sahamongkol, fans who have been waiting and waiting for the 13: Game of Death sequel 14 Beyond will have to wait and wait even longer. According to The Nation, director Chookiat Sakveerakul has again sidelined the big-budget thriller in favor of a smaller, more personal project, Krian Fiction, about high-school life.

Yuthlert's long-awaited Southern Thailand action drama Pitupoom, a.k.a. Fatherland, seems likely to be released this year. The handsome-looking film marks yet another genre shift for the prolific director, and it features Ananda Everingham among the stars.

Another big project is the new adaptation of Koo Kam by director "Leo" Kittikorn Liawsirikul. It looks to be the most ambitious effort yet by the newish studio M-Thirtynine. The tale of star-crossed romance takes place during World War II, with a Japanese officer falling in love with a fiercely independent young Thai woman. Small-screen heartthrob Nadech Kugimiya stars as the Japanese soldier.

And venerable studio Five Star Production will continue its exclusively 3D horror direction with The Second Sight, plus another installment of 3 A.M. shorts in 3 A.M.: The Second Night. I can hardly wait for Twitch's Asian honcho James Marsh to feast his eyes on those.

Finally, regarding the film festival scene, a much-rumored fest for Pattaya apparently won't materialize this year. However, there will likely be a second edition of the Hua Hin International Film Festival, possibly around mid-year. Attention organizers: The sooner you announce, the sooner everyone can make plans to be there and, you know, actually watch some films. However, you can count on the 11th World Film Festival of Bangkok taking place in November.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Top 10 Thai films of 2012

Kongdej Jaturanrasamee and Aphichai Trakulkraiphadejgrai on the set of P-047.

This past year seemed longer than usual, thanks to the floods of 2011, which pushed films and events into 2012 and packed the calendar with plenty to see.

The Thai film industry suffered a bit though, with only one Thai studio movie reaching the benchmark 100-million-baht threshold. That was the GTH workplace comedy, ATM Er Rak Error, which had actually been scheduled for release in 2011 but was postponed because of the floods. According to The Nation's year-end roundup, the second-place earner was GTH's Seven Something, which posted around 70 million in earnings.

Other industry films fared worse. Sahamongkolfilm International's major tentpole release Jan Dara: The Beginning, had box-office takings of just 40.4 million baht, despite the promise of uncensored nudity and sex scenes. The studio still has a chance to earn a bit more on the project with part two of the saga due out next month.

Independent films did a better job of landing bums in the seats, attracting capacity crowds to limited-release screenings.

After running just a Top 5 for 2011, I return to the Top 10 format for my 2012 roundup.

1. P-047

Writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee’s movies have always been oddball affairs, even when he’s been restrained by the conservative studio system. For P-047 (Tae Peang Phu Deaw, แต่เพียงผู้เดียว), his first release with indie producer Soros Sukhum, the veteran helmer spun a surreal tale that mused on the concepts of identity and possession. The film seemingly came out of nowhere, being selected at the last minute for last year’s Venice Film Festival. It made its Thai premiere at the ninth World Film Festival of Bangkok in January, and had sold-out screenings in a limited run in Bangkok and around Thailand later in the year. Fans of indie musician Aphichai Trakulkraiphadejgrai packed in to seem him portray a taciturn locksmith who helps an aspiring writer (Parinya Kwamwongwan) break into apartments while the tenants are away. The pair hang out and “borrow” the lives of others. But the story takes an unpredictable turn after they pry too far into one apartment owner's life, prompting the man to return home earlier than expected.

2. Antapal

Another colorful and stylish entry in director Kongkiat Komesiri's canon of Scorsese-like retro-crime sagas following Muay Thai Chaiya and Slice, Antapal, a.k.a. Gangster, is about young gangsters in 1950s and '60s Bangkok. It's another take on the story of greasy-haired James Dean-obsessed hoodlums that was previously covered in Nonzee Nimibutr's 1997 debut Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters. Kongkiat sweared it wasn't a remake or a sequel even though it had a gangster named Dang and dealt with the same crew of real-life hoodlums as Nonzee's film did. The focus of the gritty and violent Antapal was on Dang's No. 2, Jod, played with the usual quiet intensity of Krissada Sukosol Clapp. Humorous documentary-style asides by purported old-timers remembering the old days add to the fun. One codger recalls when fighting gangsters would hold a rope in one hand and slash at each other with a knife in the other. "I don't know why they did that," he says. But probably it was because it looked cool. After Dang is unceremoniously sidelined, Jod rises to the top. He's an old-school gangster, but isn't against shaking up the game, and proves it when he trades in his knife for a gun. A crab claw also comes in handy. But there are even younger gangsters who are challenging Jod's leadership, and when the military dictatorship arises to crack down on the gangsters, Jod finds himself caught in the middle with no escape. The only way is to come out with machine guns blazing.

3. 36

After self-releasing his debut feature to sold-out shows in Thailand, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit hit the road with 36, sharing the New Currents Award at the Busan International Film Festival, where the jury led by Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr hailed it as a new form of cinematic language. Nawapol, whose varied career includes curating indie film screenings, making award-winning shorts and writing acclaimed mainstream studio screenplays, takes a uniquely spare and fragmented approach that reflects the story of a film-company location scout (Vajrasthira Koramit) who gets into a relationship with an art director (Tee-Rak's Wanlop Rungkamjad). After the guy moves on, she struggles to reconstruct those memories after a hard-drive crash erases the photos she took with him. Nothing, it seems, is the way she remembers. The story is told in 36 static camera set-ups, with each scene preceded by a numbered title card. It's making its away around to other festivals now, sharing the best director prize at last month's Cinemanila. Later this month, it'll be competing in the Tiger Awards in Rotterdam.

4. Echo Planet

Kantana Animation's Kompin Kemkumnird, who made the first Thai computer-animated feature, 2006's Khan Kluay, innovated further with Echo Planet, the first Thai computer-animated 3D movie. It was ambitious, aiming for a broader appeal with its mix of Thai traditional and Western cultures in a story that carries a strong environmental message. The adventure tale comes as heat-loving little monsters are invading our gadgets, turning them against us and causing environmental havoc. To combat this scenario, the Boy Scout son of the president of "Capital State" teams up with a Karen hilltribe boy who can talk to plants and animals and the Karen boy's tough older sister who wears the traditional neck rings. They travel from the Thai highland jungles to "Capital State" to stop a plan that will mean even more environmental destruction. I thought it was an entertaining and handsomely rendered tale. Blame for the environmental problems is laid on the modern, materialistic, gadget-obsessed culture, which was apparently a turn-off for the majority of Thai movie-goers. They stayed away from Echo Planet in droves. Further, there's an anti-American message, even if the trouble-making country is called "Capital State", so that might limit Echo Planet's international appeal. Still, I thought Echo Planet was the better of the two Thai animated features released this year. The other was Work Point Entertainment's Yak: The Giant King, which seemed derivative of other tales, like Robots, Wall-E and The Iron Giant. Nonetheless, Yak had its own innovations by having two versions released in Thai cinemas – the Thai soundtrack and an English version.

5. Countdown

Following the workplace romantic comedy ATM Er Rak Error and the seventh-anniversary love poem to itself, Seven Something, GTH chipped in at the end of the year with the somewhat atypical psychological thriller Countdown (เคาท์ดาวน์). Bordering on torture porn, it's the story of three young Thais living in New York City who are terrorized in their apartment by a drug dealer named Jesus. Nattawat Poonpiriya directed, making his big-studio debut with a remake of his 2010 short film. GTH regulars Pachara Chirathivat (SuckSeed, The Billionaire), Patarasaya Krueasuwansiri (The Last Moment, Cool Gel Attacks) and Jarinporn Junkiet (Dear Galileo) are the three Thai hipsters with David Asavanond (Tom-Yum-Goong) reprising his role as the off-the-hook Jesus. Claustrophobic thrills ensue as the three youngsters party hard with their dope-smoking savior who later becomes their interrogator and gets them to confess to a multitude of sins. Nails and the Bible add to the symbolism in what is ultimately a tale of redemption (and resurrection) for the Thai trio.

6. 3 A.M. (Tee Sam 3D)

The Thai film industry finally entered the modern 3D age in 2012. In addition to Echo Planet being the first 3D animated feature, in March, there was the long-delayed Mae Nak 3D, the first Thai live-action fictional 3D feature. "Tak" Bongkot Kongmalai starred as the stretchy-armed ghost wife. Apparently, the 3D effects were added in post-production, which took years to accomplish. But it was still pretty awful. That same month, Five Star Production came out with Dark Flight 407, touted as the first Thai film actually shot in stereoscopic 3D. The haunted airliner tale had some decent, if cheesy, effects, but the story meandered too much as the passengers and crew ran around and screamed aboard a way-too-spacious Boeing 737 that was also strangely empty. The same team from Five Star followed that up in November with the comparatively better 3 A.M. (ตีสาม 3D, Tee Sam 3D). The 3D scares were still gimmicky, but in falling back to the tried-and-true horror omnibus format – three ghost stories that occur at 3am, when ghost powers are the strongest – the storytelling was tighter and more enjoyable. Strong performances by a cast of well-knowns, including Focus Jirakul, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Shahkrit Yamnarm and Ray MacDonald – added to the fun. It turned out to be one of the better horror-omnibus releases in Thai cinemas last year, the others being the also-fun 9-9-81 and Yuthlert Sippapak's found-footage assembly Heaven and Hell.

7. In April the Following Year, There was a Fire

It seemed like it took forever for the indie film with a really long title to make its way into Bangkok cinemas after numerous film-festival appearances and special screenings following its premiere at the beginning of the year in Rotterdam. The debut feature by Wichanon Sumumjarn, maker of Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse, In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire (สิ้นเมษาฝนตกมาปรอยปรอย, Sin Maysar Fon Tok Ma Proi Proi), takes a laid-back stream-of-consciousness approach as it recalls the filmmaker's own life. It starts off as a fictional feature about a construction foreman thrown out of work in Bangkok. He returns to his Khon Kaen hometown, where he reconnects with old friends and crashes on his father's sofa. Midway through, it becomes a documentary, with the filmmaker's actual father and brother interviewed, revealing a sometimes traumatic life in which, indeed, one April, the following year, there was a fire, as well as a jellyfish attack, the scars of which are still sensitive.

8. The Cheer Ambassadors

Here's another well-traveled Thai indie movie that hit the festival circuit this year. Directed by Luke Cassady-Dorian, The Cheer Ambassadors also premiered at the postponed ninth edition of the World Film Festival of Bangkok last January and screened at several other events, including last March's SalayaDoc fest. It's about an underdog squad of Thai cheerleaders who beat the odds to win world championships. The version that screened at the Luang Prabang Film Festival boasted retooled animation sequences and new remastering by the filmmakers in their quest to secure a commercial release in Thailand. I've seen it a couple times now. Although it's the type of uplifting, inspirational story I usually run screaming from, the relentless enthusiasm of The Cheer Ambassadors wore me down and made me a fan.

9. It Gets Better

Last year was the year of Penpak Sirikul, a veteran model and actress who came to prominence in the 1980s. At age 50, she's well past the age of most Thai leading ladies, but thanks to her well-preserved good looks and strong talent, she remains a favorite of indie directors. She starred in two high-profile features, both of them examining sexuality issues, the transgender drama It Gets Better and the lesbian romance She. The better of the two was It Gets Better, in which Penpak entertainingly portrayed an ageing ladyboy on vacation in a small town in northern Thailand. Directed by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, It Gets Better was a slicker, far-more-commercial followup to her banned Insects in the Backyard. Penpak was featured in one of three intertwining storylines, which deal with transgender issues across three generations. Another deals with a novice monk and his sexuality issues and a young man who returns to Thailand to discover the secret of his estranged late father and the ladyboy cabaret he owned. In a bit of synergy with another Thai film released this year, some of the male cheerleaders from The Cheer Ambassadors appear in drag and high heels as members of the acrobatic cabaret troupe. They had been picked from an act they did on the TV show "Thailand's Got Talent", as did transgender singer Bell Nunthida, who also stars in the film.

10. I Carried You Home

The journey that Tongpong Chantararangkul's debut feature made to get into Bangkok cinemas was almost as languorous as the road trip the main characters took in the movie. I Carried You Home (Padang Besar, ปาดังเบซา) follows a pair of estranged sisters (Akhamsiri Suwanasuk and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) as they accompany their dead mother’s body on a long, slow ambulance journey from Bangkok to their southern border hometown. The more I've thought about it over the past year, the more the movie has grown on me, for underneath the slowness that is typical of many Southeast Asian indie films, there's also a quirkiness and bizarre, dark sense of humor. The film premiered in competition at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival and was scheduled to open that November's ninth World Film Festival of Bangkok. But then the WFFBKK was postponed by the floods until last January. Along the way, I Carried You Home made festival stops that included Marrakesh, Vancouver, Rotterdam, Tokyo and Deauville, France. It also screened at last month's Luang Prabang Film Festival. This past September, it secured a limited release in Bangkok at the Lido cinemas in Siam Square and at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.