Friday, May 23, 2014

Cannes 2014: Somebody's got to pay for those buckets of blood

A representative of Laos' emergent film industry, director Mattie Do, is on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival, schmoozing her way around town as she hunts for cash to make a movie.

Taking part in La Fabrique Les Cinemas du Monde, a market event and masterclass for first- and second-time feature directors, she landed a deal with crowdfunding website in partnership with the gorehounds who run Her campaign video is on Vimeo, but I can't get the embed link to work.

Mattie needs cash to buy buckets of blood from her local fresh market in Vientiane, as well as other supplies, to make her sophomore feature, Dearest Sister (Nong Hak). It's about a poor country girl who comes to the city to help her rich cousin, a blind girl who gets lottery numbers from the dead.

Produced by Douangmany Soliphanh and Lao Art Media, Dearest Sister is also supported by Lao Brewing Company, which explains why Mattie has been flogging Beerlao Gold up and down the Croisette in Cannes.

Her film is the follow-up to Chanthaly, a slow-burn ghost thriller that made history for being the first Lao horror movie and the first Lao feature directed by a woman. After premiering at 2012's Luang Prabang Film Festival, it went on to screen at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, becoming the first Lao film to screen anywhere outside of Southeast Asia.

For fans who support the IndieGoGo campaign, Mattie has an array of amusing premiums to offer. For example, for $10, she'll personally buy you a Lao lottery ticket. If you win, she'll send you a stack of kip – Lao currency that is absolutely worthless outside of Laos. And if you lose, you can join the production's Instagram and follow the progress there. For $100, you get a confiscated bootleg DVD of Chanthaly - Mattie will personally lick the stamps to mail it you. If you give $1,000, you can work as a production assistant, and wrangle those buckets of blood. Contributors of $5,000 can act in the film - "be a skeevy sex tourist" - you'll have to pay your own way to Bangkok, however.

Keep track of the production by "liking" the film's Facebook page.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Last Executioner is aiming at you

Blood and bullets rule in the latest trailer for The Last Executioner (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat), the biographical drama of Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand's last machine-gun prison executioner.

Directed by Tom Waller, it stars Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) as Chavoret. The film tracks his life, from his younger days as an unruly rock 'n' roller, performing for American soldiers during the Vietnam War, to finding love, and then taking a job in a prison as a way to support his family.

Penpak Sirikul (It Gets Better) portrays his wife, and David Asavanond (Countdown) is a shadowy spirit figure who haunts Chavoret. Thira Chutikul (Rang: The Parallel) plays the younger Chavoret.

The film depicts Chavoret's inner struggle, whether his killing in the name of justice is good or bad.

Film Journal has more:

Chavoret was deeply emotionally torn over his position, because it clashed with his Buddhist beliefs. “He always wanted to be a musician and in fact played clubs with his guitar. But this didn’t earn him enough money to raise his three children, so when the previous executioner suddenly retired, he very reluctantly accepted to replace him. After all, he would be paid 2,000 baht per execution, which was a considerable amount of money at the time,” Waller elaborated.

It is this inner conflict—leading a double life as a devoted family man on one side and carrying out state killings on the other—which the film depicts in stark, often harrowing visuals. “He can coolly pull the trigger on the same day he plays with his granddaughter, whom he absolutely adores. Yet it becomes clear to the audience that deep inside Chavoret is a troubled man, whose music often is his saving grace and who tries through his Buddhist faith to reconcile his torn conscience by making merit whenever he can,” explained Waller.

Although the scenes in the execution chamber—which was painstakingly recreated in a studio with the help of photographs taken on location at Bang Kwan Central Prison, the infamous “Bangkok Hilton” — are generally unsettling, the film’s defining moment is perhaps the scene where a female convict inexplicably survives the initial burst from the machine gun. “When she later comes to in a neighboring room, she has to be dragged back to be executed a second time, crying, screaming and kicking all the way. This surreal incident really happened and haunted Chavoret for the rest of his life,” said Waller."

The Thai release, being handled by the new outfit Handmade Distribution, is now set for July 3.

The new trailer is embedded below.

Celebrity-studded Thai short Clueless to have red-carpet premiere in New York

Clueless?, the award-winning comedy short directed by Byron Bishop, is part of the Soho International Film Festival in New York.

Winner of the best actress and best producer prizes at last year's 9FilmFest in Bangkok, Clueless? has been reworked for its "world premiere" screening in Soho, with a couple minutes added.

It's the story of a farmer who finds a dead body, then goes to the police to report it. However, the overzealous, bumbling detective treats the farmer as a suspect, sweating him in the interrogation room. Meanwhile, what's happening with that body?

Bishop and Sahajak "Poo" Boonthanakit, who portrayed the brutal police henchmen of the vigilante Chang in Only God Forgives, are again a pair of cops, but play their roles for laughs, with Sahajak as the egocentric Barney Fife and Bishop as a silent Andy Taylor, performing an evaluation. Instead of drawling, Bishop just writes key words on a notepad.

Daniel Le is the farmer with best-actress-winner Joy Villanueva as his wife. Producer Peter Alan Lloyd is the dead body. Bishop's wife, Former Miss Thailand World Cindy Bishop, appears as a "dream girl".

"We shot the film on less than $1,000, entirely on location in the rice fields and on the lakes of Nakon Nayok, using a host of novice actors, and a film crew from Mahidol University," says Lloyd, who produced Clueless? with Sahajak and Bishop. "I wrote the screenplay in less than 24 hours, we shot it in less than two days and had to hastily edit it. Byron had never directed a movie before, I had never written a screenplay and Poo, Byron and I had never produced a film before either, so we are excited and surprised by its success so far."

According to the Pattaya Mail, the story is inspired by the "unfortunately frequent real-life incidents of dead foreigners turning up in the tapioca fields outside Pattaya."

The gang will all walk the red carpet in New York for the screening on May 16, with Lloyd adding that actress-model Florence Faivre will join them. She made her debut in 2004's version of Tawipob, The Siam Renaissance, and also appeared in a few other films, including The Coffin and The Elephant King. She's lately been landing roles on American TV series.

Clueless? will screen alongside the indie Hollywood feature, Growing Uup and Other Lies, starring Adam Brody.

The SOHO International Film Festival runs from May 15 to 22 at the East Village Cinema.

The Clueless? crew on location in Nakhon Nayok.

Review: Mor 6/5 Pak Ma Tha Mae Nak

  • Directed by Poj Arnon
  • Starring Wanida Termthanporn, Pongpit Preechaborisutkun
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 10, 2014; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

Since the legend of Mae Nak Phra Khanong originated more than a century ago, storytellers, playwrights and filmmakers have all sought to put their own spin on the tale of the ghost wife Nak, who died in childbirth while her husband was away at war. But her love was so strong, her spirit remained, and when Mak returned, his love was so strong, he was blind to the fact that his wife was no longer alive.

Now comes Thailand's reigning cinematic snakeoil salesman, Poj Arnon. A shameless opportunist who's never one to shy away from making a film that's ripped from today's headlines, his latest zeitgeist-capturing effort is Mor 6/5 Pak Ma Tha Mae Nak (มอ 6/5 ปากหมาท้าแม่นาค, a.k.a. Mathayom pak ma tha Mae Nak). It blends last year's blockbuster Thai movie Pee Mak – the record-shattering box-office hit – with his own 2013 horror-comedy, Mor 6/5 Pak Ma Tha Pee (Make Me Shudder!), in which bratty schoolboys ran and screamed as they were chased by ghost teachers.

While GTH's Pee Mak added four of Mak's bumbling war buddies to the Mae Nak Phra Khanong story, Poj ups the ante by adding 10 foul-mouthed shrieking schoolboys in short pants.

Taking a cue from another of last year's hit movies, the indie teen drama Tang Wong, the Mathayom 6/5 fellows pray to the Mae Nak shrine for good luck on their school exams. But, being complete idiots, they insult the shrine and find themselves pulled back in time to Mae Nak's day.

They then hamfistedly attempt to assist in Mae Nak's giving birth, but of course botch things up.

Later, Nak and her baby Dang appear to be just fine, and apparently alive. She tasks the boys with going to the battlefield to track down Mak and tell him the good news.

Of course, the lads all have to don period clothing, so off come the shirts, out come outlandish "historic" hairstyles and, for good measure, their teeth are blackened in keeping with the fashion of the era.

A short action scene later, the boys have returned with Mak (Pongpit Preechaborisutkun), but something's off. It appears Nak is dead after all. Torch- and pitchfork-wielding villagers band together against the ghost while the boys attempt to gently clue Mak in while also not upsetting Nak.

The story then follows the usual lines of the Mae Nak story as well as the usual Thai horror-comedy rhythms of nonsensical, headache-inducing running around and screaming.

Poj sets up plenty of opportunities for the boys to get close together, grabbing onto each other out of fear. Several scenes are devoted to the shirtless, loincloth clad young men sleeping, arranged with one boy's head making a pillow out of another lad's groin, much to the audience's delight.

Singer-actress Wanida "Gybzy Girly Berry" Termthanaporn joins the pantheon of Thai actresses to take on the role of Nak. Unfortunately, she isn't given much to do, other than look fierce, and I'm not sure she pulls it off. It seems she is upstaged by hair, makeup, costume and cheesy special effects, including a rubbery-looking arm stretch (hey, about a Stretch Armstrong-style Mae Nak action figure?)

As with the first Mor 6/5, the movie was filmed in 3D – the second to come from studio Phranakorn. But I didn't see it in 3D – Thai 3D releases are quickly supplanted in local cinemas by Hollywood 3D action movies and animation, so if you don't see them in 3D in the first week or so, you'll likely miss out. But I don't feel I missed a thing. If anything, the 3D would have just given me a bigger headache.

Mor 6/5 Pak Ma Tha Mae Nak has persisted in hanging around in cinemas after nearly a month, earning around 30 million baht, according to the latest published account. It's not near the record-setting levels of Pee Mak, but it's probably enough that Poj and Phranakorn will do another sequel, just as long as the boys look good in short pants and school uniforms.

See also:

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review: Village of Hope

  • Directed by Boonsong Nakphoo
  • Limited release at Bangkok's Lido cinema, May 8-14, 2014
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Indie filmmaker Boonsong “Sueb” Nakphoo tells authentic, hardscrabble stories of contemporary rural life, enlisting his family, friends and neighbors in his native rural Sukhothai province to help him make his low-budget movies. They are unpretentious and compelling portraits of folks who have been surpassed by society, and they are out of step with the increasingly urbanized, digitized, plastic-coated modern Thailand.

Boonsong’s latest feature is the ironically titled Village of Hope (วังพิกุล, Wangphikul). A drama, it’s a sequel to his 2010 effort, Poor People the Great.

In between Poor People and his new one, Boonsong, who also directs short films, acts in mainstream films and coaches actors, did the ambitious Four Stations. A 2012 compilation of four short stories by noted Thai authors, it won a jury prize at last year’s Deauville Asian Film Festival.

With Village of Hope, which premiered at last year’s Mumbai Film Festival and was featured in the World Film Festival of Bangkok, Boonsong further hones his craft, presenting the succinct tale in black and white.

The grey adds weight and shadows to the story of Sorn, a sombre young soldier on leave who returns home. In Poor People the Great, Sorn was an idle teenager, prone to hanging out with motorcycle-riding troublemakers. He ended up in jail, requiring his debt-ridden, jobless father Choo to scrape together cash to bail him out.

In Village of Hope, Sorn is introduced walking back home – too poor to afford a bus, taxi or motorcycle ride. Trudging along the highway as cars whiz past, his steps quicken and become bouncier in anticipation as he approaches the old homestead. But his mood quickly deflates as he greets his aunts who perfunctorily return his greeting with an “uh”. It’s quiet. Few others are around. Most people his age have all left to work in Bangkok. Any male relatives who happen to be around are prone to bossiness, and sternly lecture him about getting a job, thinking about the future, “you’re a man now”, etc.

Uneasiness sets in as he reacquaints himself to the village’s slow pace and the struggles of his impoverished, heavily indebted relatives, who all live in a tight-knit collection of rustic wooden houses. Boyhood has slipped away and the reality of adulthood is looming for young Sorn.

He checks in with his grandmother, an ancient, bent-over woman who is so infirm she spends most of her days in bed. “I don’t know how long I can live,” she croaks from beneath her deeply wrinkled face.

An aunt’s mobile phone rings – one of those old candybar models – no smartphones here. It’s a Bangkok nephew who plans to visit and wants to talk to grandmother. So begins a routine for the family, who live in a place with lousy cell reception. The aunt has to go to the middle of the yard, and Sorn is stationed at granny’s door. With the auntie shouting from across the way, the conversation is relayed in two steps. It shows just how out of touch this place is.

Fortunately for Sorn, there’s a younger male cousin around, who has a motorbike. The boys are dispatched to the market to fetch provisions for the Bangkok relative’s forthcoming visit. It’s a chance for Sorn to be a kid again. He even gets to chase a girl his age, but only briefly.

A bright spot is a visit with cousin Champ to Uncle Sueb’s place. He’s off somewhere making a film, and doesn’t want anyone swimming in his pond, but the boys take a dip anyway, figuring the water will clear up by the time Sueb returns.

But for the most part, this is not a fun visit for Sorn. Being there reminds him of the family life he never really had – mother ran off when he was young, and father Choo, an itinerant labourer, is constantly broke and constantly on the move.

Sorn eventually gets put to work by Uncle Choob, who is a character. Pot-bellied, he’s introduced coming back from the doctor. “All my organs are failing,” he says. Could be the eight or 10 cups of coffee he drinks, but it’s the only way he can keep going. He has Sorn help him spray pesticide on the rice paddy – no respirator masks or protective clothing. Part way through the job, Choob stops and grips his chest, but the pain is momentary.

They return to find the Bangkok uncle has driven up for a visit. He’s sitting down to lunch with the rest of the family. He’s brought his son, a chubby, happy little boy. Introduced to a young niece, the boy tries to get his head around why the little girl calls her grandmother mum. Later, the kid entertains everyone by performing the “Gangnam Style” horse dance.

Sorn, shunted off to the side, feels left out. He greets his uncle, and the man frowns. Uncle then pulls out his wallet, hands over a few baht and gives Sorn the same lecture he’s been getting from everyone else.
His visit over, Sorn takes a last look around his old house, and grabs a photo of his mother. He stops by granny’s and “borrows” a few hundred baht. “You never pay me back,” she grumbles, and he just smiles.

But perhaps those stern lectures will sink in for Sorn, and as he marches back down the highway, there is a sense of hope after all.

Related posts:
See also:

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Village of Hope, By the River, 13 Sins in Thai cinemas

There are two interesting limited releases of indie films in Bangkok cinemas today, plus a pair of wider releases, including a Hollywood remake of a Thai film.

The indie efforts are the black-and-white rural drama Village of Hope and the documentary By the River. The remake is 13 Sins – Hollywood's long-in-the-works treatment of 2006's 13 Game Sayong. And there's a special-effects-laden fantasy, Spirits War.

At the Lido in Siam Square, Boonsong "Sueb" Nakphoo has another hardscrabble story of contemporary rural life in his native rural Sukhothai Province – Village of Hope (วังพิกุล, Wangphikul) – a sequel to his 2010 effort Poor People the Great.

In between those two films, Boonsong did the ambitious Four Stations, a 2012 compilation of four short stories by noted Thai authors. It won a jury prize at last year's Deauville Asian Film Festival.

With Village of Hope, which premiered at last year's Mumbai Film Festival, Boonsong further hones his craft, presenting the succinct tale in black and white. The story follows Sorn, a somber young soldier on leave who returns home to Wangphikul. He feels ill-at-ease as he reaquaints himself to the village’s slow pace and the struggles of his impoverished relatives, who all live in a tight-knit collection of rustic wooden houses. Boyhood has slipped away and the reality of adulthood is looming for young Sorn.

Village of Hope screens at 6.30 nightly until May 14 at the Lido in Siam Square, with post-screening talks by the director and his crew.

Check out the trailer, embedded below.

By the River (สายน้ำติดเชื้อ, Sai Nam Tid Shoer) is screening at the SF World Cinema at CentralWorld and at the SFX Maya Chiang Mai, with shows at around 4 and 8 daily.

Directed by Nontawat Numbenchapol, who follows up his Thai-Cambodian border doc Boundary, By the River looks at the hardships in a Karen village in Kanchanaburi where lead mining has contaminated the creek that used to be the community's lifeblood.

Concentrating mainly on the villagers, the film only briefly refers to the legal wrangling over the Klity Creek case, which stretched on for more than a decade. Though a verdict last year ordered a clean-up, it's going to be a massive effort, covering some 19 kilometers of waterway. It doesn't seem like the damage will ever be truly undone.

Nontawat recently returned to the village to stage a special outdoor screening for the residents.

Worth mentioning at this point is an effort to bring clean water to the village being undertaken by the Enlawthai Foundation.

By the River won a special mention at last year’s Locarno Film Festival and also screened at the 11th World Film Festival of Bangkok. It's been picked up by the new Thai indie outfit Mosquito Films Distribution and was part of the recent ChopShots festival in Jakarta.

Shows are at 4 and 8 daily at SFW CentralWorld and SFX Maya Chiang Mai. Check out the trailer, embedded below.

13 Sins comes eight years after there was first word of a Hollywood remake of 2006's 13 Beloved. The slick, tension-filled drama had Terrence Sukosol Clapp as a down-on-his luck band-instrument salesman receiving a series of mysterious phone calls promising him increasing rewards for completing 13 increasingly sinister and dangerous tasks. Also called 13 Game Sayong and 13: Game of Death, the original film was directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul and was based on a comic by Eakasit Thairatana.

Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism) directs this new version, which at one time bore the title Angry Little God. Mark Webber stars as the salesman, with Devon Graye, Tom Bower, Rutina Wesley, Pruit Taylor Vince and Ron Perlman. Critical reception is surprisingly even, with some critics actually liking it. I wonder if they ever saw the original? Meanwhile, I wonder if Chookiat's stuck-in-development-hell sequel 14 Beyond will ever materialize?

Finally, there's a new mainstream-industry Thai film this week, Spirits War (ไพรดิบ, Prai Dib). It's a special-effects-laden fantasy starring Akara Amarttayakul as a spirit hunter contending with demons and evil priests. Pisut Praesangeam, who earlier this year did She Devil (รักเราเขย่าขวัญ, Rak Rao Khayao Khwan) and the 2008 comedy Super Hap, directs.

Oh what the heck. Here's the trailer.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cannes 2014: Thai Night set for May 17, Lao film to be pitched

No Thai films were in the official selection for the 67th Cannes Film Festival, but as always, concerned bureaucrats will lead a junket of Thai film industry figures to the croisette to tout their achievements of the past year.

They've set the annual Thai Night for May 17. Here's the press release:

Her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi will preside over Thai Night 2014 - Where Films Come Alive, an event in honour of Thai cinema held during the international film festival.

Held in Cannes on May 17 by the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP), Royal Thai Ministry of Commerce, the event will place a special focus on Thailand's action cinema under the slogan "Thailand: At the Heart of the Action", with an exclusive showcase of "Muay Boran" (ancient Thai Boxing) performed by the cast of Muay Thai Live, Bangkok's critically-acclaimed new stage show.

Action and horror have contributed to turn 2013 into a banner year for the Thai film industry. The domestic box office grew almost 100 percent to reach 2 billion baht (USD62M), from a little over 1.1 billion baht (USD34M) in 2012. The highlights of 2013 were the historical epic King Naresuan 5 [n.b. – the release is actually set for May 29, 2014], the second instalment of the action franchise Tom-Yum-Goong 2, and the horror-comedy phenomenon Pee Mak Phra Khanong, which became the most successful Thai film of all times and ended up raking over USD10M during its theatrical release.

Independent filmmakers are also making headlines, as demonstrated by one of the big winners at the Thai Film Awards this year: the quirky Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, a groundbreaking coming-of-age story adapted from a real girl's 410 tweets. The film, which was made with a grant from the Venice Film Festival, was released at the end of 2013 and became an instant sensation among young viewers.

While the local industry keeps growing, Thailand continues to be extremely attractive to foreign productions, cementing its position as Southeast Asia's main production hub. In 2013, a record 67 foreign motion pictures were filmed in Thailand, a 26% increase from the year prior. Recent highlights include Cannes 2013’s official competition’s Only God Forgives starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas, The Railway Man starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, and the upcoming The Coup, an action film starring Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan and Lake [B]ell. And this does not take into account the larger number of films which are being post-produced in Thailand, making use of the country's state-of-the-art facilities and technicians.

This remarkable success relies not only on the country's beautiful locations, its world-class hospitality industry and its low production costs, but also on the strength of the local industry. Having gone through a rapid period of modernization and professionalization, the Thai entertainment industry now offers among the most skilled film crews and technical services available in Asia, contributing US$2.22 billion to the local economy and supporting 86,600 jobs.

All these accomplishments will be at the centre of Thai Night 2014 - Where Films Come Alive. Held in the presence of the Permanent Secretary - Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sport, the Deputy Permanent Secretary - Thai Ministry of Culture, and the Director General - Department of International Trade Promotion of the Thai Ministry of Commerce, the event will give an opportunity to film professionals from around the world to network with Thai filmmakers and forge new ties with the Thai film industry.

Mattie Do
Meanwhile, Thailand's neighbor, the newly emergent Laos, enters the picture in Cannes for the first time.

Mattie Do is seeking to follow-up her historic debut thriller Chanthaly, Laos' first horror film and first feature by a female director.

She's lined up to shop her next project Dearest Sister as part of La Fabrique Les Cinemas du Monde, a market event and masterclass for first- and second-time feature directors.

The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 14 to 25.

Hi-Jaa! Where is he now? Plus Protector 2 in U.S, TYG2 in China

Better not let your elephant see you tinkling those ivories. Via Tony Jaa Official Facebook page

This is another installment of the occasional feature of this blog that catches up on news of Tony Jaa.

Tony Jaa recently wrapped a globetrot that took him to Hollywood, where he schmoozed with celebrities, and to Switzerland, where he performed handstands in a ritzy hotel lobby.

After a brief stop back home in Thailand, he jetted off again to start production on his Hong Kong action debut, SPL II, which will see him clashing with Wu Jing. Pou-Soi Cheang directs this sequel-in-name-only to 2005's SPL, which was directed by Wilson Yip, who's now producing. Original SPL leading man Simon Yam also stars.

You can follow all of Jaa's moves on his official Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Tom-Yum-Goong 2 opened over the weekend in select U.S. cinemas as The Protector 2. Reviews aren't pretty. They include the New York Times, Village Voice, New York Daily News, the AV Club and The Hollywood Reporter. A number of them say it's his "comeback" following his controversial "meltdown" during filming of Ong-Bak 2 and Ong-Bak 3, but really it's his swansong with studio Sahamongkol, which he left in the midst of making TYG2 during a contract dispute.

Now he's on to the next phase of his career, as an international action star and man of mystery.

Still, Sahamongkol is wringing Tom-Yum-Goong 2 for all it's worth, with a "wide release" recently in China – some 2,500 screens, the biggest yet for a Thai film. The Nation's Soopsip had more details about that, including a red-carpet appearance by Jaa's co-stars, Jeeja Yanin and Rhatha Pho-ngam.

A Blu-ray release for The Protector 2 is set for July 29.

Finally, it's the early 2000s again as Tony Jaa gets a mention in the newly reconstituted Kaiju Shakedown, the blog by Asian film raconteur Grady Hendrix. Now at home at Film Comment, Hendrix looks back at all the main figures of Thai cinema's boom days of the late '90s and early aughts, wondering "where are they now?"

Jaa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Ekachai Uekrongtham, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Chookiat Sakveerakul and Nonzee Nimibutr – they've all been right here, steadily working. Just one of the stalwarts of the New Thai Cinema Movement mentioned – Wisit Sasanatieng – has faded from view. Perhaps Wisit could get his long-gestating Muay Thai biopic Suriya out of development hell with help from Jaa and a host of international backers?

Rhatha Pho-ngam and Jeeja Yanin on the Beijing film fest red carpet for the Chinese premiere of Tom-Yum-Goong 2.

And that's it, until next year, for the Thailand International Destination Film Festival

Thai starlet Marsha Vadhanapanich walks hand-in-hand with China's Bai Ling on the red carpet at the second Thailand International Destination Film Festival. Photo via Twitch.

Because of work commitments and too much hoop jumping required to obtain the free tickets, I did not attend the Thailand International Destination Film Festival.

Wrapping up on April 29 with a red-carpet awards ceremony, this is the second year the festival has been put on by the Thailand Film Office. Aiming to promote the Kingdom's production services industry, the fest comes as the sector is facing competition from Malaysia, which is keen to pony up with the much-sought-after tax incentives that Thai bureaucrats can only offer empty promises for.

Highlights included such made-in-Thailand classics as The Killing Fields and Good Morning Vietnam, as well as premieres of under-the-radar titles, such as Glory Days, about a '90s hair-metal band reuniting in Pattaya, Secret Sharer, about a ship's captain who plucks a naked Chinese woman from the sea, and Trafficker, the directorial debut of Larry Smith, cinematographer for such directors as Stanley Kubrick and Nicolas Winding Refn.

Celebs on hand for the fest included perennial red-carpet fixture Bai Ling, who was featured in The Lazarus Papers, a Bangkok-set thriller that made its premiere.

Aside from the feature films presented, the centerpiece of the festival was the Amazing Thailand Film Challenge, in which more than 100 student filmmakers were given airfare, a few nights in a hotel and a modest budget to complete short films showcasing Thailand's regions.

Coverage can be found at Screen Daily, Variety and, most thoroughly of all, Twitch.

In a related development, the South China Morning Post profiles four film industry veterans who have set up shop in Thailand – production designer Jim Newport (Brokedown Palace and the Bangkok Dangerous remake), special-effects supervisor and armorer Kevin Chisnall (Red Hill, Strike Back), producer-director Mark Hammond (Johnny Was, Pharmacide) and producer Les Nordhauser (Hellgate, that movie made in Thailand with William Hurt and Carey Elwes). Gathered together in Bangkok's comfortably posh Friese-Greene Club, they regale with stories of their Hollywood days.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Pee Mak, Tang Wong share prizes from Director Association

Team Tang Wong.
Banjong and assistants
Siwawut Sewatanon and
Chutigan Seechomphu.
The record-setting blockbuster Pee Mak Phra Khanong split prizes with the acclaimed indie comedy-drama Tang Wong in the fourth Thai Film Director Association Awards.

In an informal ceremony on Tuesday night, the Best Picture prize went to Tang Wong, directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, with runner-up going to Pee Mak directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun.

Banjong then took the prize for Best Director, with Kongdej as the runner-up.

Pee Mak, a romantic-comedy send-up of the century-old Mae Nak Phra Khanong ghost story, shattered box-office records last year with estimated earnings of around 1 billion baht. It was produced by leading studio GTH and had been nominated for several prizes at both the Subhanahongsa Awards and the Bangkok Critics Assembly.

Tang Wong, a low-budget indie effort by Kongdej, satirized Thai culture with a story of four working-class Bangkok teenage boys who have to learn a traditional dance in return for their prayers at a spirit-house shrine being answered. It has won several awards, including Best Picture and Best Director at the industry’s Subhanahongsas and from the Bangkok Critics.

The Thai Film Director Association also recognized assistant directors – an important position on film crews that is largely unsung. This year’s prize went to the team of assistants on Pee Mak – Veerachai Yaikwawong, Siwawut Sewatanon and Chutigan Seechomphu.

On Tang Wong, the assistant directors were Aekpatt Jomkoh, Tippawan Narintorn and Sebastian Kratzer.

Other nominees were Grean Fictions by Chookiat Sakveerakul, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit and Love Syndrome by Pantham Thongsang. There's a showreel of all the nominees.

Banjong Kosalwat was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. His films include the 1985 crime drama Nuanchawee, which he also wrote. It starred Apichart Halumjiek with actress Sinjai Plengpanich in the title role. Other films include 1987’s Sai Nam Mai Lai Klub, See-Oui Sae Ng and 1996’s Khoo Kam 2.

Along with the awards, Thai Film Director Association president “Golf” Tanwarin Sukkhapisit ended her term and handed over leadership to Bhandit Thongdee. His films include the 2011 musicial biopic Pumpuang, the 2006 martial-arts drama Mercury Man, the 2003 horror The Unborn and the 2002 musical comedy Monpleng Luk Thung FM.

Bhandit Thongdee is elected president.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Thunska sets online release for two features

Mixing politics and penises, Thunska Pansittivorakul's recent crop of films are so controversial that it's unlikely they will be publically screened in Thailand. He's trying other ways to bring his films to people who want to see them.

Exclusively on his Tumblr page, Thunska will release two features, one on May 5 and another on May 12. Each will run for one week. You'll have to tune in to see what they are.

The online release comes after a shortened version of Thunska's taboo-breaking The Terrorists was screened as part of a the recent Culture Ministry event, "Silpathorn: A Decade of Success in Thai Contemporary Art", which offered performances by artists who have been honored with the Silpathorn Award, which is 10 years old this year. Thunska is among the filmmaking honorees.

His latest feature is Supernatural, which premiered at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Here's more about it from Thunska:

Supernatural's futuristic narrative takes place against a backdrop of the world in 100 years from now, and switches to the past lives of three characters who were reincarnated in three different periods of time. Chronologically, the story begins with three men discussing Karen myths on the Thai-Burmese border, and moves on to an unconventional family with strong traditional values and finally to a spaceship stuck between Mars and Jupiter. In all episodes, we can perceive the shadow of "The Leader," an unseen character with an overwhelming authority on all the other characters across every period of time.

Check out the trailer:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Concrete Clouds in L.A. and Taipei; distribution in U.K.

Ace film editor Lee Chatametikool's feature debut Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก) has been picked up for distribution in the U.K. and has festival appearances in Taipei and Los Angeles.

In the UK, the drama set during the 1997 financial crisis has been picked up by Day for Night, the specialty house launched last year. It previously grabbed up other Thai indie films, including Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's 36 and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy and Aditya Assarat's Hi-So.

“There is something incredibly vibrant and fresh within Thai filmmaking today and we are delighted to be continuing our commitment to Thai independent cinema in bringing this outstanding film to UK audiences,” Sonashi Joshi of Day for Night tells Variety.

In Taipei, Concrete Clouds is part of the International New Talent Competition at the Taipei Film Festival, running June 27 to July 19. Film Business Asia has more.

And in Los Angeles on Saturday, Concrete Clouds is having its U.S. premiere in the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Fest.

Clouds stars Ananda Everingham and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk. Sales are being handled by the new Thai indie outfit Mosquito Films Distribution. A Thai release is still pending.