Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bangkok, here's your chance to see Norte, the End of History

Filipino auteur Lav Diaz, a filmmaker known for a freeform approach that has his features lasting up to 11 hours or more, has developed a following among cinephiles in Thailand, thanks to programs curated over the years by the Thai Short Film and Video Festival and Filmvirus.

In fact, it was at the 2007 Digital Forum started that year by the Thai Short Film and Video Festival, where I saw my first Diaz film, Heremias, which blew my mind and hooked me instantly.

Now, thanks to that freedom-embracing "video" portion of the Thai Short Film and Video Fest, one of Diaz' latest efforts will come to Bangkok, the four-hour Norte, the End of History (Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan), screening just one time only, at 6pm on Monday, September 1, at the Lido in Siam Square.

Now, as a viewer who's seen Lav Diaz films in all kinds of situations, usually while crashed out on the floor of a sweltering shophouse, I have to say that the idea of watching one of his films in a proper cinema like the Lido is pretty special.

Screening in the main competition at Cannes last year, Norte also won the best director award at Cinemanila. It even received a limited U.S. run and made many year-end critics' lists.

Here's the plot:

The lives of three people take a turn when one of them commits a crime.

Joaquin (Archie Alemania) is failing miserably at providing for his family when his money lender gets murdered. The crime is pinned on him. Misery and solitude would
transform him in prison.

Left to fend for the family, his wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani) pours all of her strength to battling with despair and eking out a living for their children.

The real perpetrator, Fabian (Sid Lucero), roams free. His disillusionment with his country—its history of revolutions marred by betrayal and crimes unpunished—drives him to the edge of sanity, of humanity.

Norte producer Moira Lang will be among the festival guests, and she comes to Bangkok just after Diaz won the Golden Leopard in Locarno for another film, From What is Before (Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon), which I hope makes it to Bangkok eventually.

The 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival opens on Thursday, August 28 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center with Cambodia 2099, a new short by young French-Cambodian director Davy Chou (Golden Slumbers). It is part of a new program this year called "French Connection", which gathers many excellent French live-action and animated shorts.

There will also be a chance to see Letters from the South, the omnibus on Chinese communities in Southeast Asia by Thailand's Aditya Assarat, Singapore's Royston Tan and Sun Koh, Myanmar's Midi Zhao and Malaysia's Tan Chui Mui and Tsai Ming-liang.

More views from across the region can be seen in the S-Express program curated by film experts from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

And, in celebration of the Film Archive's 30th anniversary, there will be a special program from the Archive's collection as well as the annual Queer shorts collection of Thai and foreign films.

As always, the centerpiece of the Thai Short Film and Video Festival is the competition among Thai indie filmmakers for the top-prize RD Pestonji Award, named in honor of the country's pioneering auteur, along with documentaries, animated shorts and student films vying for other awards.

I've embedded the trailer for Norte below. Color, hmm? That's a different look for Lav.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nawapol's Master joins projects by Pen-ek, Nonzee at APM 2014

Bangkok's legendary pirate-movie vendor Mr. Van is the subject of The Master, a documentary in the works by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit.

It's been selected for this year's Asian Project Market at the Busan International Film Festival, along with works by two other Thai directors, Pen-ek Ratanaruang with Samui Song and Nonzee Nimibutr, who has The Two Kings.

"Before Bittorrent, we have him," reads the tagline to The Master, which again has the Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy director looking back on outmoded media, much as he did with his experimental romance 36, which evoked memories of 36-exposure rolls of camera film.

Here's more about The Master:

The Master is a documentary aiming to look into the movie piracy problem in Thailand and worldwide. It tells the story of a man who opened a bootleg video store that introduced art and rare films from around the world to Thai customers. He only sold films that have no distributor in Thailand. He didn't get rich from this shop, but he created this shop because of his love of cinema. 

A coin has two sides. Movie piracy is illegal. It devastates filmmakers and movie industry. Still, it is difficult to judge what he did is morally right or wrong. The project means to show the movie piracy cycle and the effects of movie piracy in both ways, bad and good.


In 2014, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit produces and distributes the DVD of his own film Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy in Thailand. A few days after the release date, bootleg DVDs of the film could be found everywhere. On the day that his film is copied, Nawapol recalls that 10 years before, he used to be a customer of a bootleg video shop in Thailand called 'Van Vdo', which sold bootleg videos of art films that have no distributor in Thailand. It was the only place in Thailand that allowed him to discover the works of directors such as Wong Kar-wai or Takeshi Kitano.

Nawapol remembers 'Mr. Van' the owner of the shop, which closed down many years ago. What Mr. Van did is illegal, but videos from his shop has influence on Thai filmmakers. Young directors grew up with videos from his shop. Some film critics ordered 10 videos from the shop every week. Some film directors worked for the shop, while some were angry when they knew their films were on the shelves of this shop.

In the late '90s when cinemas in Thailand has no space for art films, was it the right thing to sell bootleg copies of those films so Thai people could watch it?

Is Mr. Van like Robin Hood? Is it right to violate copyrights for the sake of 'education'? Is 'Violate copyright for the sake of education' just another excuse of careless customers who never care for the cost of making a film? Nawapol goes back to Mr. Van again to explore his life, and to look for the answers of those questions.

Producers on The Master are Soros Sukhum, Donsaron Kovitvanitcha, Cattleya Paosrijareon and Attaphon Nabangxang.

Pen-ek's Samui Song, meanwhile, was launched earlier this year with an announcement at the Hong Kong fest. The drama, which has shades of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, is about a young woman (Chermarn Boonyasak) with husband who falls under the influence of a cult leader (Vithaya Pansringarm). It's produced by Pen-ek's Headshot partner Raymond Phathanavirangoon along with Arunee Srisuk, Rasarin Tanalerttararom.

And there's Nonzee, who made a comeback earlier this year with the weepy teen drama Timeline. His APM pitch will be The Two Kings, produced by Henry Ko and Sandra Gaviria.

Other projects include Diamond Island by Cambodia's Davy Chou, Fowl by the Philippines' Brillante Mendoza, and Full-Moon Party by Vietnam's Dang Di Phan.

The Asian Project Market runs from October 6 to 8 as part of the Busan International Film Festival, October 2 to 11.

Pause for a moment with the Concrete Clouds teaser

THIS MOVIE TEASER SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD! But maybe not at work. Or, if you're in my office, turn it up.

Finally, Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Pavang rak, literally "subconscious love"), the directorial-debut feature of famed film editor Lee Chatametikool, is making its bow in Thai cinemas. Following a tour of the festival circuit, the film is opening on September 18 for an exclusive run at SF Cinemas.

He's cut a nifty one-minute teaser to get local audiences revved up for the 1997-set Bangkok family drama. It features the song ""Mai Mi Laeo" ("ไม่มี แล้ว ", "No More") by the '90s earworm crafters Pause. It is a rocking blast from the Bakery label. The band was fronted by the inimitable singer Joe Amarin, who died in 2002 at age 30.

The movie, oh yeah. There's a movie. It stars Ananda Everingham as a guy named Mutt, a U.S. trader who turns up back in Thailand for his suicidal dad's funeral in 1997, just as the economic bubble burst. Apinya Sakuljaroensuk also stars, in all her mirror-smashing glory, along with Janesuda Parnto.

Thank you, by the way, to Wichanon Somumjarn for help in Pause's incredible backstory. Do click the song link above for the video of the band.

As a bonus, here's another video that was released by Dazed Digital. It features the music of Pookie (ปุ๊กกี้), "Kho-Kae-Me-Ther" ("ขอแค่มีเธอ").

(Thanks Soros!)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: The Swimmers (Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther)

  • Directed by Sophon Sakdapisit
  • Starring Juthawut Pattarakamphon, Thonphop Lirattanakhachon, Supatsara Thanachart
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 7, 2014; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

The title characters in The Swimmers (ฝากไว้..ในกายเธอ, Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther) aren't the schoolboys with chiseled six-pack abs. Nope, the real stars of this movie are sperm, tiny swimmers who deposit themselves in a teenage girl and cause much grief for everyone involved.

Sophon Sakdapisit, largely repeating the success he had with 2011's Laddaland, about a dunder-headed dad who moves his family to a supposedly haunted housing development, The Swimmers pulls Speedos over the eyes of young Thai moviegoers. Plugged by studio GTH's slick social-networking machine, the kids think they are going to see a ghost movie. But it's not – it's a taut psychological drama, with the added horror of being a message movie about teen sex. That's similar to what GTH is doing with its TV series Hormones, now in its second season. It has Thai society jabbering about the pros and cons of the show's depictions of schoolkid promiscuity and partying, no doubt contributing to sales of the special GMM Grammy set-top boxes needed to watch the zeitgeisty show.

Anyway, the story of The Swimmers centers on a love triangle that springs from a big-haired boy named Perth (Juthawut Pattarakamphon), one of the top-ranked members of his high school's swim team. He has eyes for Ice (Supatsara Thanachart), the pretty girlfriend of Tan (Thonphop Lirattanakhachon), a taller, rangier and short-haired rival on the team who is also the closest thing Perth has to a best friend.

After a few tender moments, Ice is splattered at the bottom of the school's drained diving pool, setting up the much-touted premise of a guy haunted by the ghost of a suicidal pregnant girl. A nifty sequence has workmen replacing the smashed pool tiles in fast motion, leaving a slightly darker light blue spot where there was once the corpse of a girl.

With guilt over the death weighing on him, Perth slowly comes apart. He starts encountering the girl's ghost. His buddy Tan, grieving and angry, is determined to find out who got his girlfriend pregnant, and he enlists Perth's help.

Sophon keeps viewers off balance with a plot structure that toggles back and forth from the present to the weeks before Ice's deadly drop.

More distractions and character-building for Perth are added when he gets sexually active (and again forgets a condom) with another girl, the promiscuous Mint (The Voice Thailand season two contestant Violette Wautier). With the time jumps, it's sometimes confusing because Ice and Mint are so scarily similar, they are kind of hard to tell apart.

There's also Perth's somewhat dysfunctional home life, with his single mother always working late and then by chance getting involved with the swim team's coach. He advises Perth to eat one raw egg a day, for the protein. The eggs then become another handy metaphor for pregnancy, and make for cool scenes, such as when Perth goes overboard and eats a couple dozen raw eggs in one sitting.

Perth believes he's pregnant, carrying Ice's baby. "Hey Perth, your six-pack is now a one-pack," a teammate shouts at him in the locker room. And, indeed, Perth's belly appears to be swelling in sympathy to his dead pregnant sweetheart.

The soundtrack by prolific film-score composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan throws in plenty of fake jump scares to ratchet up the tension and keep viewers in knots. The scary soundtrack cues worked on the young Thais who packed a suburban Bangkok cinema for a late weeknight show, but had me rolling my eyes and wondering if the movie would still be as scary without such nonsense. Try it sometime. I think it might be scarier.

But there's more that's good than annoying with The Swimmers, such as a fun jump cut from one home pregnancy test to another. It's another way of keeping the audience off kilter.

Also enjoyable is watching Perth's "frenemy" Tan grow increasingly suspicious. Tan turns detective, trying to recover the data on Ice's shattered phone, setting up a race that has Perth trying to stay ahead and erase damaging evidence from the dead girl's Facebook page. It's another example of how the Internet and text messages are being seamlessly integrated into films, and I guess Sophon does it pretty effectively. At another point, Perth fingers another guy as Ice's lover, and in a spooky abandoned half-built hotel, Tan forces Perth into putting the hurt on the boy.

There are a few other distractions. The story is set in Chon Buri, a seaside setting that is lovely yet otherworldly when compared to the Bangkok or Chiang Mai locales that GTH productions tend to favor. It's a weird place, where the kids are still using BlackBerrys, or are moving straight to Windows phones. And they drive Chevys. Strange.

Also, whose corpse is that hanging in the doorway? And, well, there's other confusing developments.

What's clear though is that Perth is a dark, flawed character, a well-worn element of Western films and TV series but something that GTH has tended to shy away from until recently, with such films as Laddaland, last year's hit thriller Countdown and now The Swimmers. No squeaky-clean teens here.

Goosed along by the prospect of boys who wear less clothes than the girls, The Swimmers has been a big draw in Thai cinemas, earning more than 30 million baht (about $1 million) on its opening weekend and appearing to be well on its way to hitting the studio's celebratory benchmark of 100 million baht.

Going dark is a good thing, GTH. Keep it up.

See also:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Luang Prabang Film Fest is set for December 6-10

The chairs. They are blue, and waiting for you. Mike Phetchareun photo.

Once again, it looks like Laos in December.

Luang Prabang, Lao PDR - The Luang Prabang Film Festival will announce its program lineup for this year’s festival on 6 September 2014. The program will include films from all ten ASEAN nations and will again offer a carefully curated collection of some of the brightest talent in the region.

The festival will be held 6-10 December 2014, in the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, high in the mountains of Northern Laos. Celebrating its 5th year, the festival continues to grow in popularity and importance, securing its place as one of the most interesting events on the international festival circuit. This year it has bigger plans than ever with new screening venues and exciting events planned for the duration of the five-day festival.

The festival is backed by a variety of sources, including corporations, non-governmental organizations, embassies, and private donors. Coca-Cola is one of the festival’s largest supporters, having also made a large donation to this year’s Lao Filmmaker’s Fund  (managed by the Luang Prabang Film Festival), which allows artists in Laos to apply for small grants to realize their film projects.

More information is available on the festival’s website (www.lpfilmfest.org) and regular updates and news about the Southeast Asian film industries can be found on the festival’s popular Facebook page (www.facebook.com/lpfilmfest)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Watch this: Inside Bangkok's Friese-Greene Club

The Friese-Greene Club, Bangkok from Bradley Cox on Vimeo.

Bradley Cox, the director of the Peabody Award-winning documentary Who Killed Chea Vichea? recently presented his film at Bangkok's Friese-Greene Club, a private cinema that opened a little over a year ago and has quickly become an oasis for the city's film lovers.

And, for his latest work, Cox goes behind the scenes of the FGC, talking to the club's proprietor, Bangkok-based British filmmaker Paul Spurrier.

A place I sometimes frequent, though probably not as frequently as I'd like, Cox captures the FGC's vibe accurately and succinctly. The video is embedded above, so just watch it.