Monday, June 23, 2014

Last Executioner hits mark for best actor in Shanghai

Opening next week Thai cinemas, The Last Executioner received a big boost from the Shanghai International Film Festival, which awarded its best actor prize to star Vithaya Pansringarm.

The awards were handed out on Sunday by a jury headed by Gong Li. Others on the panel were directors Im Sang-soo, Iwai Shunji, Liu Jie, Payman Maadi, Lone Scherfig and Sally Potter.

The big winner was Little England, a star-crossed period romance. It took Best Film, director and actress. Film Business Asia has a full report. Also in competition in Shanghai was another Thai film, Lee Chatametikool's Concrete Clouds. It was a nominee for the Asian New Talent Award.

The Last Executioner  (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat) , directed by Tom Waller, was among 15 films nominated for Shanghai's top-prize Golden Goblet. The film is a biopic about Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand’s last executioner to use a machine gun. A wild rock 'n' roller in his youth, Chavoret served at Bangkwang Prison, the "Bangkok Hilton", for 33 years, 19 as the executioner. Taking aim with a machine gun, he executed 55 prisoners – a job that had him struggling to reconcile the good and bad karma.

Recognizing the role's depth and intensity, the Shanghai win is a landmark honor for Vithaya, a relative newcomer as an actor, who got his start with supporting roles in such made-in-Thailand foreign features as The Prince and Me: The Elephant Adventure and The Hangover Part II. He made his breakthrough as a leading man as a policeman-turned-monk investigating a mystery in Waller's Mindfulness and Murder, which earned him a best actor prize at the ThrillSpy fest and a nomination at the Thailand National Film Awards. He followed that up with a major role in cult director Nicolas Winding Refn's Bangkok crime tale Only God Forgives, earning widespread praise for his portrayal of a cool-but-brutal vigilante ex-cop with seemingly supernatural powers.

The Last Executioner, covered in a recent New York Times article, opens in Thai cinemas on July 3.

Vithaya is flanked by his director Tom Waller, right, and Jim Sturgess from the film Eliza Graves.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Thai Aurora at the Horizon

Auroras, mystical lights in the sky at the extreme northern and southern reaches of our globe, aren't generally seen in Thailand, but they are a powerful symbol for Thai Aurora at the Horizon, an independent compilation of political short films that takes the celestial phenomenon as a symbol that seems hopeful for an end to conflict, even though reconciliation seems unattainable.

In the works since November, months before the military stepped into the fray and made political talk a risky endeavor, Thai Aurora at the Horizon compiles 14 short films by young directors, ranging in age from 19 to 28. They offer different perspectives on politically charged issues.

"From power relationships and education to the media, each film takes on a different topic to create awareness and encourage political participation," the organizers say. "We do not expect to change the country, directly or immediately. But this project might be one way to approach the current crisis."

The collection kicks off with Shut Sound: Lao Duang Duen by Joaquin Niamtubtim. The dulcet tones of Thai classical music accompany footage of this year's anti-government protests around Siam Square. The peaceful music imbues the scenes of hawkers stalls selling whistles with a feeling of tranquility, reminiscent of traditional Thai ways of life along a canal or rural village. But the scene soon shifts to violence, with news footage from the military's takedown of the 2010 protests, when another government was under fire.

Next, is a journey into the countryside, with Lice in the Wonderland by Boonyarit Wiangnon. Here, rural folk offer differing opinions about the Democrat Party governments as well as the governments of the Thaksin faithful. Seems both of them did some good.

Coming closest to offering a solution is The Taxi Meter by Natpakhan Khemkhao. A young man, wearing the tri-colour kit of this year's anti-Thaksin protesters, gets into a taxi. It's not until he's well down the road that he realizes the driver is a staunch red-shirt supporter. Yet their exchange is surprisingly civil and forward thinking. It's perhaps an example to follow. If there can't be unity, despite the military's efforts to force their brand of "happiness" on everyone, perhaps the two sides can agree to disagree?

Maybe not, as demonstrated in When I Was in Grade 12 by Prempapat Plittapolkranpim, which captures a man's hair-raising harangue in a high-school classroom. It's hard to get a sense of what he's so upset about, but he keeps yelling and won't shut up.

Mosquito in the Ant Land by festival organizer Supakit Seksuwan follows the progress of an ant carrying a mosquito on a hazard-filled journey across a floor. Apply your own interpretation of the metaphor.

More news footage from the violent aftermath of the 2010 protests comes up in Tear of a Child by Weerachai Jitsoonthorntip, in which a youngster is watching a static-covered TV screen, but the sounds of struggle are heard. The end is reminiscent of a certain American anti-pollution commercial from the 1970s that featured a Native American man's emotional reaction to littering.

Introducing Post Thailand by Nuttawat Attasawat offers a view of a possible future in which everyone is happy to sit at the same kitchen table. A giant tri-color flag decorates the wall. Education Suicide by Karnchanit Posawat examines one possible way to practice civil disobediance, with schoolboys showing up for class when school is not in session.

But then there's a feeling of hopelessness, such in The Youth by Ukrit Sa-nguanhai and Chayajee Krittayapongsakorn, in which an underwater camera films children cavorting in a swimming pool, and yelling unintelligible phrases the camera. Or there's a feeling of drowning, such as in My Hand is Still Looking by Harin Paesongthai. The hand is the only thing poking above the surface of the water.

Others are Brother Ping-Ping Waiting in Line to Eat Fried Chicken by Thai Pradithkesorn, the post-apocalyptic, dystopian After Babylon by Napat Treepalawisetkun and Sleepwalker by Manasak Khlongchainan.

Near the end, the nationalistic songs played at the whistleblowing protests are heard in Here Comes the Democrat Party by Chulayarnnon Siriphol. Thailand keeps marching along, but where, exactly, is it headed?

After playing to a packed room at TK Park last Sunday, Thai Aurora at the Horizon moves to The Reading Room on Silom Soi 19, for a screening at 2pm on Sunday. Running 102 minutes in total, all films have English subtitles. There will be a directors' talk afterward. Entry is free. The trailer is embedded below.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Six projects in Puchon's Thai spotlight

Thai films are in the spotlight this year at NAFF, the Network of Asian Fantastic Films that's the project market of PiFan, the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival.

After drumming up response a few months ago, NAFF announced its selections today:

Directors include Kulp Kaljareuk, a rookie helmer and scion of the clan that runs Kantana, the long-established Thai studio that's best known for soap operas and post-production film work. He's making his feature debut this week with the house-of-wax thriller Hong Hoon, starring Ananda Everingham.

There's also Nuttorn Kungwanklai, who took part in the comic-book-like omnibus horror 9-9-81, art director Solarsin Ngoenwichit, short-film director Lertsiri Boonmee, producer Pakinee Chaisana, and, perhaps most notably, director Paul Spurrier and producer Piyawat Dangdej, who are looking to make a feature to follow their cult 2004 thriller P.

Kulp's project is Fallen Thailand, and it'll be produced by Nattaporn Kaljareuk.

Nuttorn's Jam-Nien: The 300 Years Ghost is being produced by veteran indie director Soros Sukhum, along with Donsarn Kovitvanitcha and Cattleya Paosrijaron.

Pakinee, a line producer and unit production manager on such made-in-Thailand Hollywood projects as Only God Forgives, Scorpion King 3 and Stealth, is shopping Love Me Love Me Not with producer Thidarat Pakchanakorn.

Solarsin, whose art department and set decorator credits include The Mark: Redemption and Journey from the Fall, is producing his project, Panang - The Monster Within.

Lertsiri is teaming up with producers Vutichai Wongnophadol and Veerapat Keeratiwuttikul for project called SLR.

And Spurrier and Piywat, whose P screened at the 9th PiFan, are looking to make The Penthouse, "examining social issues haunting Thailand".

Other NAFF projects were previously announced by Film Business Asia. And the full line-up for PiFan, running from July 17 to 27, is yet to come.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thai Film Archive treasures unearthed on YouTube

Every day, for the past year or so, the Thai Film Archive has been uploading clips to its official channel on YouTube, sharing a wealth of public-domain footage, this-day-in-history newsreels, documentaries and other historical film artifacts.

The effort is a fantastic public service, and makes the archive's holdings available to everyone, or at least those who have an Internet connection.

However, it's not very English-friendly – the Thai Film Archive, after all, exists to serve the Thai people first. So for those who don't understand Thai, keeping track of the significance of the uploads can be a daunting task.

Thankfully, The Nation has an article that points to a few of the highlights.

Among them is the first Thai feature film, 1927's Chok Song Chun (โชคสองชั้น, Double Luck). A 2012 entry in the Films as National Heritage Registry, just 55 seconds is what remains of the movie, mostly consisting of a fight scene and a car chase. It was made by the Wasuwat Brothers' Sri Krung Studio, which was Thailand's first major movie studio. Today, the studio's bright yellow building has been replicated on the grounds of the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, and it houses the Thai Film Museum and serves as one of the archive's icons.

Most significant is another 2012 entry in the film registry, the first Thai animated film, Payut Ngaokrachang's Hed Mahassajan (เหตุมหัศจรรย์ , The Miraculous Incident) from 1955. In the seven-minute short, Payut cheekily inserts himself into the action as he witnesses the events leading up to a traffic pileup in Bangkok. Payut has been called "the Walt Disney of Thailand", but the film reminds me more of Tex Avery.

Do not adjust your settings – there is no audio with the clip. It was made during the heyday of live dubbing, in which a troupes of voiceover artists would accompany films and provide all the dialogue and sound effects during the screenings. And now that Hed Mahassajan is on YouTube, it's ripe for remix treatments. Perhaps budding filmmakers, animators, composers and sound-effects artists might try their hand at adding soundtracks of their own.

And one more gem to feast your eyes on, and listen to, The Diamond Finger – an eye-poppingly gorgeous staging of a classical Thai dance episode from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana. From 1958, the 27-minute film is directed by pioneering auteur Ratana Pestonji and is staged by the Fine Arts Department, with narration by Thai statesman MR Kukrit Pramoj.

Out of respect to the Archive and the care it has taken, I won't embed the videos here, so head on over to the YouTube channel and start watching.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Executioner, Clouds set for Shanghai fest

Two Thai films are in competition in the 17th Shanghai International Film Festival, The Last Executioner, which makes its world premiere in the main Golden Goblet competition, and Concrete Clouds, which is in the Asian New Talent lineup.

Directed by Tom Waller, The Last Executioner (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat) makes its bow in Shanghai ahead of its July 3 release in Thai cinemas. Here's more about it from a press release issued just seconds ago:

The Last Executioner a.k.a. Petchakat is inspired by real events and follows the story of Chavoret Jaruboon, a former rock 'n' roll musician who entertained American GIs during the Vietnam war before becoming a death row executioner at the notorious "Bangkok Hilton".

Starring Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) in the lead role of Chavoret, the Thai-language film also features Penpak Sirkul and Thai National Film Best Actor winner David Asavanond (Countdown) as well as veteran Thai actors Nirut Sirichanya (The Hangover Part II), Pisarn Akkaraseranee and Jaran "See Tao" Petcharoen.

Selected from 1,099 entries as one of 11 films chosen in the Golden Goblet competition, award-winning director Tom Waller’s second Thai-language film will be judged by a jury headed by famous Chinese actress Gong Li.

Born in Bangkok to a Thai Buddhist mother and Irish Catholic father, director Tom had a unique dual perspective on the story: “Is it a sin for one man to kill another, even if it is his duty? Does being an executioner make him a murderer or not.”

"Pu" Vithaya, who had worked with Tom before playing Father Ananda in Mindfulness and Murder a.k.a. Sop-Mai-Ngiab, was honored to play Chavoret, who passed away in 2012. “It was a challenge for me to play this ordinary family man who led such an extraordinary life. With his job killing people, as a Buddhist he had to come to terms with his karma.”

After its World Premiere at Shanghai, the film will have its Thai Premiere on June 19, before going on general release in Thai cinemas on July 3 through Handmade Distribution.

Waller and Vithaya were also recently interviewed by The Nation, and Film Business Asia has details on the rest of the Shanghai Golden Goblet contenders.

Concrete Clouds, the feature directorial debut of prominent longtime film editor Lee Chatametikool, is a drama set during the 1997 financial crisis in Bangkok. It premiered at last year's Busan fest and has been steadily making the rounds on the festival circuit, including appearances in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. In Shanghai, it's part of the nine-entry field in competition for the Asian New Talent Award. It's also in the New Talent Competition at the Taipei Film Festival, which immediately follows Shanghai.

The 17th Shanghai International Film Festival runs from June 14 to 22.