Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nawapol happy twice over with Venice premiere

Still from Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy via Facebook.

Selected for production from the Venice Biennale College – Cinema project, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's sophomore feature Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy will premiere at the 70th Venice International Film Festival.

Formerly The Year of June, the film follows the life of a Bangkok schoolgirl, based on her Twitter status. It's produced by Pop Pictures' Aditya Assarat.

Two other micro-budget projects were also selected for production in the Biennale College project, Memphis by Tim Sutton from the U.S. and Yuri Esposito by Italy's Alessio Fava.

Nawapol made his debut feature, the highly experimental drama 36, last year. It won the New Currents Award in Busan and was awarded in Thailand by the Bangkok Critics Assembly, the Thai Film Director Association and the Kom Chad Luek Awards.

The young filmmaker's varied career so far has seen him making award-winning experimental independent short films and writing award-winning commercial-hit screenplays for major Thai studios, including Home, The Billionaire and Bangkok Traffic Love Story.

You can read more about Nawapol in a BK Magazine article, which names him among the "13 New Faces You Need to Watch This Year".

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy is expected to have a theatrical release in Thailand in December.

The Venice International Film Festival runs from August 28 to September 7. Film Business Asia details the other Asian films in the official selection.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review: Only God Forgives

  • Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Rhatha Po-ngam
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 18, 2013; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

My impressions of Only God Forgives are as wildly divergent as the critical response has been, ranging from Rex Reed’s pronouncement that it’s one of the worst movies ever (not just worst movie ever made in Thailand) to other critics’ glowing praise for director Nicolas Winding Refn.

Let me get to the good part: Vithaya Pansringarm. Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas might be billed higher, but it’s Vithaya who is the real star and hero of Only God Forgives. He’s the "Angel of Vengeance", a retired cop who metes out his own brand of justice on the streets.

With seemingly supernatural abilities, this figure in a black suit and white shirt can appear out of nowhere on the street or in a vice den. He can vanish just as quickly too, disappearing into the ether by stepping into a Sukhumvit Road hawker’s stall like Superman changes outfits in a phonebooth.

Like cartoon characters have a “hammer space” from which they can pull all manner of Acme products, the Angel can produce a small Japanese-style sword from behind his back. This razor-sharp instrument of justice can lop off hands, slice open ribcages or inflect stab wounds that leave the victims bleeding like stuck pigs.

The Angel additionally has the ability to sense approaching danger, allowing him to get the drop on gunmen. And his ability to seemingly teleport through the back-alleys of Bangkok’s Chinatown put him a step ahead of the crooks.

Also, he sings a mean karaoke (cool soundtrack by Cliff Martinez), and always to a rapt audience of the high-ranking boys in brown who support him.

A lavish karaoke parlor is also the scene of one of the Angel’s most-talked-about scenes, where he pins a foreign gangster to a chair by driving steel chopsticks through his arms and various other bar implements in various other bodily places. Yikes.

On the bad side is a guy named Julian, a gangster who runs a Muay Thai gym as a front for his drug-dealing. He shares hardly any of the characteristics of Gosling's Drive character, though both Julian and the Driver are similar in that they hardly speak.

Julian, on the other hand is extremely weak and cowardly, with perhaps no redeeming qualities other than he’s kind to soi dogs. He has been forever in the shadow of his older brother – who’s possibly the worst-behaved expat in Bangkok (which put him high in the running for possibly the worst-behaved expat in the world). Julian is also cowed by his monster of a mother (a campily cathartic Scott Thomas).

When brother Billy (Tom Burke) is killed for his horrible behavior, Julian’s bleached-blonde dragon-lady mother arrives on the scene, spitting fire. With a colorful description for the locals that can’t be printed here, she orders Julian to take revenge, goading him with comments about how his penis is smaller than his dead brother's and other hamfistedly obvious allusions to his Oedipal complex.

Julian, meanwhile, is also given to inexplicably weird bouts of daydreaming, in which he imagines lurid sexual escapades with karaoke hostess Mai (a brave Rhatha Pho-ngam).

It’s not until he actually speaks to her and unwisely invites her to dinner with his mother that it becomes clear their relationship is mostly in his sick mind.

Eventually, Julian and the Angel meet, with Julian asking “Wanna fight?”

Brave words, but Julian can’t back them up. The brawl, taking place against a red backdrop and the giant face of a Chinese figure, leaves Julian battered, bruised and black-eyed. And the Angel didn’t even break a sweat.

Finally, I feel like somebody got something right with a portrayal of the city’s seedy side. It isn’t as ridiculous as The Hangover Part II or Nicolas Cage’s remake of Bangkok Dangerous. Yes, it’s lurid, gritty and idealised, with its overwhelming reds, garishly patterened wallpaper and ostentatious karaoke bars, but it somehow seems real.

And it’s comforting to think that there’s Angel watching over – just as long as you aren’t on the wrong side of his justice scales.

Related posts:

See also:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pee Mak is back, in 4DX

Pee Mak Phra Khanong (พี่มาก...พระโขนง), GTH's record-setting hit horror comedy, has become the first Thai film to be converted to the 4DX format. It's back in Bangkok cinemas, playing in a limited run until July 24 in the 4Dx theaters at Paragon Cineplex and Major Cineplex Ratchayothin.

The 4D conversion was done for Pee Mak's release last month in Taiwan. According to MovieXclusive, it's the second 4DX film to be released in Taiwan with Man of Steel being the first.

While still in 2D, the viewing experience is augmented by such things as shaking seats and gusts of air.

Around the region, Pee Mak has racked up impressive numbers. In Singapore it's the No. 1 Thai film, earning SGD$768,000 to surpass the previous record holder Phobia 2.

And in Vietnam, it earned 8 billion dong (US$380,300) in its first 10 days of release.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Moviemov Italian Film Festival revisits Thai horror

Paween and Banjong in action, promoting Italian cinema in Bangkok.

Returning for its third edition, the Moviemov Italian Film Festival again offers an unusual mix of award-winning contemporary and classic Italian movies with a handful of Thai flicks thrown in.

Part of the Italian Festival in Thailand, the Moviemov fest this year pays tribute to director Ettore Scola with a retrospective of his work, mostly commedia all'italiana (Italian-style comedies), from the 1960s to the '90s.

The Italian Showcase of films from the past year or so includes the latest by such directors as Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore (The Best Offer). It also features work by three up-and-coming young female directors, Francesca Comencini with A Special Day, Maria Sole Tognazzi's Viaggio sola and Elisa Fuksas with Nina.

And, owing to the record-setting box-office success of GTH’s ghost comedy Pee Mak Phra Khanong, the Moviemov fest's Thai Showcase will feature three more hit horrors from the GTH studio, Alone, Body and Phobia 2.

Here's the line-up of the Thai Showcase:

  • July 27, 6.30pm, Alone (แฝด, Faed), 2007 – Director pair Banjong Pisanthanakhun and Parkpoom Wongpoom followed up their 2004 hit Shutter with this thriller about a formerly conjoined twin haunted by her dead sister. Marsha Wattanapanich stars in a dual role.
  • July 27, 8pm, Phobia 2 (ห้าแพร่ง, Haa Phrang), 2009 – Paween Purijitpanya, Visute Poolvoralaks, Songyos Sugmakanan, Parkpoom and Banjong each take turns telling short horror stories, with karma catching up to a misbehaving novice monk and a dishonest car saleswoman. A hospital patient has a frightful night in a shared ward while young backpackers hitch a ride that turns terrifying. Finally, Marsha turns up in a parody of her Alone role in a comic segment about a scared film crew.
  • July 28, 8.30pm, Body (ศพ 19, Body Sop 19), 2007 – Paween directs this stylishly gory thriller about a college student (Arak Amornsupasiri) who has visions of a ghostly woman who appears to have been dismembered and put back together.

The Moviemov Italian Film Festival is open to the public from Thursday July 25 until Sunday July 28 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Movies will be screened with English and Thai subtitles. Admission is free, so give yourself plenty of time to stand in line beforehand to collect your freebie tickets. For more details, visit the festival website.

Countdown adds to awards count, gets mixed reviews

Countdown, the GTH studio’s big hit from last year, won another award recently. Nattawut Poonpiriya’s debut feature was given the Audience Award after an all-nighter event screening at London’s Terracotta Far East Film Festival.

The psycho-thriller about three young Thai hipsters terrorized by an unhinged drug dealer in their New York apartment previously won a bunch of awards from the Thai entertainment industry, mainly for the performance by David Asavanond as the crazy pusher named Jesus.

It was also the runner-up in the audience poll at the Udine Far East Film Festival.

And it recently screened at the New York Asian Film Festival, where Fangoria caught it and called it a “sprightly little slice of exploitation”. They gave it three out of four bloody skulls.

Other reviews can be found at Unseen Films, Libertas Film Magazine, Louis Proyect and Cinema Strikes Back.

Among the harsher views were Film School Rejects, who gave it a grade of C- while the Film Stage was an even stricter teacher, slapping Countdown with an F.

Maybe Nattawut can give them a nice shiny apple when he delivers his next feature.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nontawat, By the River, in Locarno

With his Cambodian-Thai border documentary Boundary wrapping up a Thai theatrical run this weekend, director Nontawat Numbenchapol has another documentary on a hot-button topic completed, and it makes its world premiere at next month's Locarno Film Festival.

Taking part in the Concorso Cineasti del presente Windows of Discovery competition for new talents, By the River (Sai Nam Tid Shoer, deals with the 15-year-old environmental case involving contamination from a lead mine that hit a Karen village along Klity Creek in Kanchanaburi Province in western Thailand.

Here's the synopsis and director's statement from production companies Mobile Lab and Ok-Pi-Dern Co., Ltd.:


Amidst the tranquility of the deep woods, the people of the Southern Klity Village of Kanchanaburi have led a simple life. Their staple has always and still been the fish living in the village’s creek although for many years the stream has been contaminated with lead from the mineral processing factory. A young local man, too, dives into this very creek everyday to catch fish for his lover. But today he has gone missing and no longer has a chance to come back to her, who eagerly waits for his return.

Director’s Statement

“Conflicts over the use of natural resources in varying conditions, forms and degrees of complexity are not difficult to find these days. One of the conflicts that have long and still been plaguing our lives is the pollution released into the river by factories, a problem which has seriously harmed the freshwater fishing. Personally, the case which I find particularly interesting is the one which is resulted from the mistake in the mullock collecting system of a mineral processing plant in the District of Thong Pha Phum of Kanchanaburi Province. Since 1998, the tailing leaked from the waste catchment has caused the level of lead contamination in the Southern Klity Village’s creek to rise above the safe level. The damage to the ecosystem, to the natural resources and to the well-being of people in the area which the event has created has been immeasurable. Although earlier this year the Supreme Administrative Court has ordered that the Pollution Control Department paid a few million baht in compensation to the villagers, it seems that the necessary and effective measure for the creek rehabilitation from the government that many have been asking is still a mere plan on a piece of paper, without any degree of certainty. On the other hand, the villagers still have to bear with this contaminated river without any choices even though they probably yearn for ‘a better life’ in the same way the dwellers in the capital city like us do.

“I have decided to convey to the society this perennial problem that the villagers of Southern Klity has endured due to a firm belief that conflicts over the use of natural resources, be it at Klity or elsewhere, can be resolved if the society and the involving organizations have the awareness and the good enough environmental management. If this documentary feature can inspire us to start thinking about our own actions that might affect other people in the society, especially the actions concerning environmental problems, to try to understand the people who have to live with the pollution without having any choices, and to start changing our behaviors – both in the individual level and in the societal level – in order to relieve the troubles from the pollution that we might have caused, as well as to try avoiding being a part of those problems, I – as a documentary filmmaker – will be truly honored.

Other festival highlights include a Werner Herzog retrospective and two films by Lav Diaz, who is president of the international competition jury. The festival will screen Diaz' recent Norte, the End of History (Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan and a restoration of 2001's Batang West Side.

Film Business Asia has more on the Asian selection. The Locarno Film Festival runs from August 7 to 17.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Boundary returns to Bangkok for shorter-than-planned run

Step right up. Nontawat hawks tickets at the EGV in Khon Kaen. Photo via Facebook.

Indie director Nontawat Numbenchapol had originally planned a more-extensive Thai release for Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูงFahtum Pandinsoong), his embattled documentary on the Thai-Cambodian border conflict.

But he had to scale things back thanks to a conflict that arose with another politically sensitive film, Paradoxocracy, which Major Cineplex came under pressure for showing and actually discouraged customers from seeing.

In order to show his film, Nontawat had renegotiate with the theater chain. Under a new, unusual arrangement, he's had pay out of his pocket to hire out the hall and has been selling tickets himself as he shepherded the film around to screenings upcountry in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. Weeklong screenings had been planned, but under the new deal with Major, he cut back the schedule to just a weekend in each city.

The Bangkok release runs for only four days at Esplanade Cineplex Ratchadaphisek. Showtimes are at 7 nightly from Thursday until Sunday. For more details, see the movie's Facebook page.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: The Cop (Sarawat Maa Baa)

  • Directed by MR Chalermchatri Yukol
  • Starring Somchai Khemklad, Note Chernyim, Chalad Na Songkhla, Piyathada Mitteerarote
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 4, 2013; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Turn in your badge and gun, because The Cop (สารวัตรหมาบ้า, Sarawat Maa Baa) is that kind of movie.

With a feeling of timelessness, director MR Chalerchatri “Adam” Yukol’s feature debut channels the classic Hollywood police procedurals.

His title character, a mad-dog police inspector named Wasan (Somchai Khemklad), recalls such characters as Popeye from The French Connection, Riggs from Lethal Weapon and McNulty from The Wire. Toting a long-barrelled revolver like Dirty Harry, he’s a hard-drinking, hard-driving cop with his own brutal way of doing things. He colors outside the lines of the law, but he believes he has justice on his side.

Most loose-cannon cops like Wasan need a level-headed partner as a tether, so there’s veteran Sergeant Thong (Note Chernyim) – a Danny Glover-like Murtaugh to Somchai’s Riggs.

And because Thong is probably getting too old for this stuff, Wasan gets another partner, young Lieutenant Nalin (Krystal Vee), a policewoman who is out to prove she can run and gun with the boys as well as bring a fresh perspective to crime-fighting.

And there’s the usual jerk of a commander that TV and movie cops are sometimes saddled with. Here, he’s Colonel Praphan (Chalad Na Songkhla), and he’s out to get Wasan if the crooks don’t get Wasan first.

Wasan, a crusading cop in the children and women protection division, is already facing suspension for some recent bit of brutality. He’s passed out drunk at his desk in the police station when he’s roused by his sergeant. Seems a government minister’s daughter has been murdered, and the top brass want Wasan on the case. He takes another slug or two from his flask of Sang Som and he’s good to go.

The girl is found under the expressway in the middle of a mud puddle with a large knife protruding from her chest. The scene makes Thong puke, but only makes Wasan angrier.

The long night over, Wasan turns up at the home most cops like him have (if they are still married that is), with a wife (Piyathada Mitteerarote) who’s angry her husband stays out all night chasing criminals and two young children who miss their dad.

Back at the station, rookie lieutenant Nalin reports for duty and is still saluting her commander when Wasan bursts in and starts a fistfight with him. She soon gets over her shock and introduces her new partners some a newfangled thing called the Internet and Google Earth, which she can use to track down the bad guys.

Dramatic shootouts ensue as Wasan and his team get closer to their culprits as well as a strange figure from Wasan’s past – a disfigured death-row prisoner – who has a damaging secret.

Adam, 27-year-old son of influential director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, has said he aimed to make a gritty, ’80s-style crime thriller. He also wanted to come out with his own style of movie-making, but it’s hard to not recall some of the similar action films from the elder Yukol’s filmography, like The Colonel from the ’70s or the Gunman movies of the '80s and early ’90s.

And one aspect of the production that seems stuck in the ’80s is the performances, which are uniformly wooden and overly formal. Perhaps that’s just a stylistic choice, that being the way things were in Thai films back then. Besides, unlike Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, this isn’t meant to be an action-comedy. So the fine cast takes Adam’s direction and wears like a badge of honor.

Somchai, infamous for his bad-boy ways offscreen, has a role that fits him like a glove. He is well supported by the veteran comedian Note in a solidly dramatic role. Chalad is his usual sneering baddie. Piyathada makes the most of her thankless role while new-face actress Krystal has a few surprises in store.

While the acting comes off a bit flat, the tension-filled action offers visually arresting gunplay and sound effects that pop. The soundtrack, led by rock guitar, is never overbearing and adds to the shadowy, stylish atmosphere that places the The Cop well within the ranks of Thai noir.

Related posts:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Concrete Clouds, Beer Girl land in Asian Cinema Fund

Concrete Clouds, Lee Chatametikool's feature directorial debut, and Beer Girl, a new project by In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire director Wichanon Somumjarn, are among the projects awarded in this year's round of the Busan International Film Festival's Asian Cinema Fund.

Long in the works, Concrete Clouds receives post-production funding from ACF. According to Film Business Asia, filming has wrapped up and it's expected to be completed by October.

Here's the description from the ACF website:

Concrete Clouds is Lee Chatametikool's first feature film as director. He is an acclaimed editor for art-house and independent films of Thailand. His credit includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee who Can Recall his Past Lives. The story follows Mutt returning to Bangkok after his father commits suicide and meets his ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend is facing financial difficulty and his young brother is in love with a girl next door. The characters in this film consist of a stock broker, a formal model, a market researcher, a prostitute and a student. This film looks like a commercial film, but it criticizes the social and financial crisis of Thailand, displaying a huge consumption society through the different characters. The unexpected combination of the seriousness of the Thailand independent film and the lightness of the commercial film works wonderfully well in the film and it comes as a delightful surprise.

Ananda Everingham stars along with Janesuda Parnto and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk. Producers include Apichatpong, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Sylvia Chang and Soros Sukhum.

Formerly known as Past Love, Lee's project has been in development since around 2010, and has been steadily making the rounds at the various markets and funds, with support also coming from Visions Sud Est and the Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Wichanon's Beer Girl was named under the Script Development Fund for the Asian Film Academy. It's about a girl working at a bar who gets caught up in a crime and runs away with her lover.

The 18th Busan International Film Festival runs from October 3 to 12.

Monday, July 8, 2013

What happened to Paradoxocracy?

Pen-ek Ratanaruang makes a point. Photo via The Nation.

Prachatipthai (ประชาธิป'ไทย, a.k.a. Paradoxocracy), Pen-ek Rattanaruang and Pasakorn Pramoolwong's documentary on Thai contemporary politics, wrapped up a confusing run in Bangkok cinemas last Monday.

Debuting on June 24, the 81st anniversary of the establishment of the constitutional monarchy, Paradoxocracy's release was marked from the beginning by paranoia and fear. Rumors were that it might be pulled from cinemas. Even though it had been passed by censors with a couple of parts muted, the rumors had it that various interests were pressuring the Major Cineplex chain for allowing the film in its theaters.

Paradoxocracy was initially scheduled to screen from June 24 to July 10, twice a day at Paragon Cineplex and Esplanade Cineplex Ratchadaphisek. That schedule was eventually cut back to July 3 by the filmmakers. I don't know why.

On the Major Cineplex website and on its mobile app, the film was listed as having English subtitles at both locations, however on a visit to Esplanade on June 25, there was no indication of English subs at the ticket counter, and I asked the counter worker to confirm that. She did, but I didn't see the screening there myself so I can't confirm if no subs was indeed the case. Anyway, the version screened at Paragon had subs.

Later in the week, Paradoxocracy disappeared from the listings on Major's website and app. I called Paragon to check on that, and the man who answered said there were no screenings, but said there were at Esplanade (which may or may not have had subtitles).

According to some co-workers, the film had "sold out", so Major removed it from its website for the day. The listing was back a day later.

In his Saturday column, Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee details the shenanigans further:

All seemed fine, the cinemas were surprisingly packed, and "political movies" no longer looked like an endangered species in Thai cinema. But something bizarre happened last weekend when the cinema chain, according to many eyewitnesses, seemed to be trying to discourage people from seeing the film. At Paragon, they took the movie off the LCD showtime board, and if you called, the staff would give you confusing answers, such as the film wasn't showing, or may be showing, or, as happened on Sunday, "someone" had booked the entire cinema. All of this even though the film was showing as originally announced. This must be one of the few times in history that a cinema committed "demarketing", flirted with censorship, and offered a case of head-scratching paradox – a movie house persuading people not to see a movie. Conspiracy theories were rampant.

On the movie's Facebook page, Passakorn offered his thanks to all who supported Paradoxocracy, and vowed to continue the project. He raised the possibility that there will be more screenings in the provinces, but I am not sure that will happen, unless the filmmakers strike a similar deal that indie filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol had to make to screen his own politically sensitive documentary Boundary, and rent out a cinema hall and sell the tickets themselves.

Update, July 8: The Hollywood Reporter has an interview with Pen-ek and Passakorn.

National Human Rights Commission weighs in on Shakespeare Must Die

In their bid to fight the ban of Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย, Shakespeare Tong Tai), filmmakers Ing K. and Manit Sriwanichpoom, took their case to the National Human Rights Commission, an effort exhaustively recorded in their documentary Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย).

Last week, the NHRC's findings were released, with a translation provided by the filmmakers. The full document is available here and the original Thai document has been scanned on posted on the film's blog. Here's an excerpt:

The rationale behind the National Board of Film and Video’s order to ban the film, namely their order [and the filmmakers’ refusal] to cut the scene featuring the events of October 6, 1976, a historical event well-known to the general public, [that their decision to ban the whole film came] solely from objection to this one scene, is insignificant and without substance. Therefore, the National Board of Film and Video used its power to issue a banning order on Shakespeare Must Die without being able to offer supportive justification for such restriction of freedom.  They could not cite scenes and dialogues to explain the necessity to limit freedom of opinion and expression to protect the rights and reputation of others, or for the preservation of national security and the protection of public peace and order and good morality. Instead, their order to ban the entire film outright is an act of infringement of freedom of opinion and expression by the producers of the film Shakespeare Must Die.

So the ban stems from the filmmaker's refusal to cut a scene depicting an iconic image from the October 1976 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.

Further, the NHRC pointed out problems with the Film and Video Act of 2008, "a law that restricts freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution of the Thai Kingdom, 2007".

Kong Rithdee covers the matter further in his Saturday column in the Bangkok Post.

The NHRC's opinion is not legally binding, though I believe the filmmakers can use it to back up their court case, since they have filed a lawsuit against the censorship committee. But through its official findings, the human rights agency has confirmed what a lot of media scholars have already emphasised: at present, the "pre-crime" paranoia rooted in the Cold War years (or sci-fi delusion) that authorises the censoring of media prior to its broadcast or publication is only applied to film. Newspapers, radio stations, TV channels and even websites do not have to submit their content to state inspection before going to print or on air, but movies have to. That's unjust at best and primordial at worst, given the democratisation of media on the airwaves, cable TV and the internet. The view that movies are the are the most dangerous media is baffling. Isn't what's being said every day on colour-coded TV, for instance, far more inflammatory?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Last Summer

  • Directed by Kittithat Tangsirikit, Sittisiri Mongkolsiri, Saranyoo Jiralak
  • Starring Jirayu La-ongmanee, Sutatta Udomsilp, Pimpakan Phraekhunnatham, Krit Sathapanapitakkij, Ekkawat Ekatchariya
  • Released in Thai cinemas on June 27, 2013; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Thai filmmakers continue to find ways to innovate with the tried-and-true horror-anthology format in Last Summer (ฤดูร้อนนั้น ฉันตาย, Rue Doo Ron Nan Chan Tai), a three-act story that is shared by three directors who each take a segment that focuses on one main character.

Last Summer deals with the demise of a star high-school student. Her spirit haunts friends and family members who are responsible in their own ways for the girl’s death.

The story starts out in the typical way of teen ghost thrillers, with the youngsters cutting loose for a weekend of partying. One kid, Singha, steals his dad’s car and the keys to the family’s beach house, and brings along his classmates, including his buddy Garn (Krit Sathapanapitakkij), budding actress and popular girl Joy (Pimpakan Phraekhunnatham) and Joy’s gal pal Meen. Beach frolicking and boozing at the house follow, but then Joy becomes drowsy and she’s never the same again. Oh, she eventually wakes up, but it’s in the way corpses bolt upright and scare the daylights out of you.

In this first part, directed by Kittithat Tangsirikit, the suspense ratchets up as the kids struggle to dispose of Joy’s body. But she isn’t going to go easily or quietly. For example, the trunk lid on dad’s Mercedes won’t close, so the dead Joy has to ride in the back seat next to Meen. A nosy uncle pops by to cause further problems for the kids, who are all bickering about whose fault it is Joy died.

Eventually, Singha folds Joy up into a suitcase – he wanted to have his way with her, but not like this. The conclusion of this fast-moving first act is explosive and unpredictable.

Back at school for the second segment, directed by Sittisiri Mongkolsiri, Meen is left to pick up the pieces after that tragic summer weekend. With Joy out of the picture, she moves to the top spot as the school’s most popular girl and star pupil. Classmates seek her approval to be “friended” on Facebook and pose for photos with her. But Meen can’t shake the feeling that Joy’s spirit is haunting her. Guilt takes its psychological toll on the girl. Egged on by a scary soundtrack and dark school hallways, the dread is palpable as Meen runs up the stairs to escape the ghost.

The final segment, helmed by Saranyoo Jiralak, introduces a new character, Joy’s younger brother Ting (Ekkawat Ekatchariya), who’s always been in the shadow of his more-popular sister. A member of the school’s diving team, the Speedo-clad kid feels more pressure as as his overbearing mother channels her grief into pushing him harder.

More spookiness is wrought from their house, where Joy’s mom keeps dressmaking dummies with the girl’s old outfits around. A creaking staircase, a closet with a door that slams shut and a fusebox on the fritz sends the tension spiralling as Ting’s share of the guilt is revealed.

No one is let off the hook. Even Joy herself is responsible for her fate.

The strongest performances are from the two more-experienced young stars in the cast, Jirayu La-ongmanee as Singha and Sutatta Udomsilp as Meen. They usually play more-wholesome teens in the squeaky-clean GTH movies, so it’s refreshing to see them rise to the occasion of darker, flawed characters. Sutatta is particularly good as the guilt-ridden Joy.

Last Summer is the first release by a new studio, Talent 1, which pulled together an all-star team of Thai indie filmmakers. Kongdej Jaturanrasmee wrote the script and is one of the producers, along with industry veteran Rutaiwan Wongsirasawad and independent director Pimpaka Towira. Line producers were Aditya Assarat, Soros Sukhum and Pawas Sawatchaiyamet. These are guys etter known for directing and producing slow-moving art-house dramas, and they were out to prove they could make a horror thriller that’s as slick and commercial as anything put out by the big studios. It’s a heck of good beginning.

Related posts:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A young Yukol makes his bow with The Cop

A hot-headed police inspector ("Tao" Somchai Khemklad), under investigation by internal affairs, is called back to duty to probe the murder of a government minister's daughter. He's partnered with a veteran sergeant (Bamrer "Note Chernyim" Phongintakun) and the young female lieutenant (Krystal Vee). Meanwhile, the killer has the cop in his sights, setting out to ruin him by exposing his possible misdeeds in a previous case.

The movie is Sarawat Mah Baa (สารวัตรหมาบ้า), which literally means "inspector mad dog", but for now the international English title is simply The Cop.

It's the feature directorial debut of MR Chalermchatri "Adam" Yukol, son of veteran filmmaker MC Chatrichalerm Yukol. Having grown up on movie sets and graduated from film school in Australia, Adam sought to make a name for himself, starting a new-media company with the cheeky moniker FuKDuk Production. He immersed himself in the latest technology while shopping his first film project to the Thai studios.

For The Cop, Adam has said he aimed to capture the spirit of police films of the 1980s, taking inspiration from Lethal Weapon, though The Cop is much more serious in tone than the Mel Gibson action-comedy. And, it might also hark back to the gritty 1970s and '80s action films of his father, such as The Colonel, The Elephant Keeper and Gunman.

There's a trailer embedded below.

Review: Prachatiptai (Paradoxocracy)

The movie poster's slogan reads "The thing Thais should know the most but know the least."

  • Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Pasakorn Pramoolwong
  • With Sulak Sivaraksa, Sombat Boonnarmanong, Somchai Pakapaswiwat, Saranyoo Thepsongkroh, Charnvit Kasetsiri, Thamrongsak Petchlertanan, Chaiywan Chaiyaporn, Nakharin Mektrairat, Worajet Pakeerat, Parinya Thaewanarumitkul, Jiranan Pitpreecha, Sombat Thamrongtanyawong,
  • Thongchai Winichakun, Ammar Siamwalla
  • Limited release in Bangkok cinemas from June 24-July 3, 2013; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Thai politics are confusing, and the new documentary Prachatiptai (ประชาธิป'ไทย), a.k.a. Paradoxocracy, doesn't really make anything clearer, except to affirm that fact.

But it's all made palatable, thanks to the stylish direction of Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who with co-director Pasakorn Pramoolwong, rounded up 14 academics and experts to calmly explain that yes indeed, Thai politics are confusing and complex.

The talking-head interviews are interspersed with voice-over narration, old photos and archival newsreel footage. The commentary is broken up into segments, covering the 1932 coup that established the constitutional monarchy, the World War II era, the 1970s and the early years of telecoms tycoon and populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra. With the push of "buttons", he was able to mobilize support from the rural poor.

A soundtrack of slide guitar and blues harmonica accompany establishing shots taken aboard a boat in a rural canal, giving the documentary a low-down-and-dirty feeling. At another point Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is invoked.

The beginning is an eyebrow-raising statement about how the people were displeased by the corrupt and uncaring monarchy, but pretty soon you can figure out that the comments were made in the 1930s, about the absolute monarchy – a different regime than what exists now. The documentary then settles into a conversational tone that serves as a history primer.

Inescapable paradox has been intertwined with Thai democracy since the beginning of the modern political era, when members of a Paris-schooled intelligentsia led by Pridi Banonmyong teamed up with military leaders to oust King Rama VII from absolute rule.

As history professor Thongchai Winichakun, a student activist in the 1970s, points out, it was the birth of both Thai democracy and Thai military dictatorship. The uneasy alliance led to a cycle of coups and counter-coups over the decades, with military strongmen taking over after periods of democratic civilian rule.

The interviews are for the most part frank and sometimes funny, with the men and one woman speaking their minds. However, when it came time for censors to weigh in, some of what's said was deemed inappropriate. Pen-ek and Pasakorn opted to let the footage keep rolling but mute out the audio and blank over the subtitles. Unsurprisingly, it's the most-outspoken of the interviewees who get censored – acid-tongued social critic Sulak Sivaraksa is muted the most, followed by law professor Worajet Pakeerat, whose so-called Nitirat Group has been critical of Article 112, the lese majeste law.

But if you know anything about the historical context of the subject being talked about, you can more or less guess what's being said – the usual stuff that's said in the privacy of homes or murmured between barstool companions.

Notably missing from Pachatipathai is talk of the 1992 Black May crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. Nor are more recent developments covered, like the 2006 coup that tossed out Thaksin Shinawatra and the red-shirt demonstrations of 2010 that led to Thaksin's sister Yingluck taking office

"Your movie shouldn't waste too much time on Thaksin," said Sulak, in one of the better-received lines of the film.

"To be continued ..." reads a title card at the end.

Let's hope so.

Nation graphic

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Monday, July 1, 2013

NYAFF 2013: Tickets given away for Countdown and Gangster

The New York Asian Film Festival is on with two acclaimed Thai films in the lineup, both making North American premieres – the psychological thriller Countdown and the gritty crime drama Gangster (Antapal, อันธพาล).

I had a pair of tickets to each film to give away to the first readers who e-mailed me. Congratulations to Danni, who wanted to see Gangster, and Sisouvanh, who got the tickets to Countdown.

Countdown shows on July 3 at 10.20pm and Gangster is on July 4 at 8.15, both at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.

Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, Countdown is feature-length remake of a short the director did as a student in New York. It won numerous awards in Thailand this year, especially for the performance by David Asavanond. Here's the festival synopsis for Countdown:

An acclaimed Thai horror movie about three Thai hipsters in New York City who make a big mistake when they call an evil American drug dealer named Jesus to provide their needs for a New Year’s Eve party. Along with the drugs, Jesus supplies a psychological game involving violence and torture as the clock counts down to the New Year.

Gangster, directed Kongkiat Khomsiri, is spun from another thread of the stories of Dang Bireley's young gangsters who ran Bangkok's underworld in the 1950s and '60s. It features a smoldering performance by Krissada Sukosol Clapp as the old-school gangster Jod. Here's the festival synopsis:

Thailand’s answer to Goodfellas, Gangster is a fact-based tale with documentary segments in which old-timers are interviewed and talk about the young gangsters of 1950s and ’60s Thailand. The film focuses on Jod, a gangster who has been sent to jail following the military coup, which brings new order to the streets. In their neighborhood, a uniformed officer named Neung rules like a dictator and is a frequent thorn in the side of Jod’s gang. When he emerges from prison, Jod is a changed man, now determined to set things right. But, knowing no other life, he returns to his old gangster ways with his old crew.

The 12th New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 28 to July 15.