Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Pantai Norasingh, Snap continues

Before his name become synonymous with a brand of shrimp paste, Pantai Norasingh was known as a man who kept his word.

As the story goes, Singh was an oarsman on the royal barge of King Sanpetch, "the Tiger king", during the Ayutthaya Period.

One day, while steering in the fierce river current, Singh lost control and the boat slammed into a tree, breaking the bow. The penalty was death. No ifs, ands or buts.

The king, witnessing that the barge crash was obviously an accident and not wanting to lose one of his best, most loyal men, objected. However, the dutiful oarsman insisted that no exception be made, otherwise, he reasoned, public respect for the law and the crown would be undermined.

He was executed, and the king paid tribute to him by having a shrine ritually installed in the bow of the royal barge.

Veteran director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol presents this story in Pantai Norasingh (พันท้ายนรสิงห์), as the latest in his long line of historical epics on Ayutthaya Period royals, which started in 2003 with Suriyothai and continued with the recently wrapped-up six-part Legend of King Naresuan series.

Filmed at Chatrichalerm's Prommitr Studio in Kanchanaburi, Pantai Norasingh has all the hallmarks of his earlier productions, with lavish period costumes, palatial sets and all the right props, including an entire fleet of replica royal barges. It's all presented in clear, high-definition photography.

In addition to using the same sets and costumes as the Naresuan films (as well as the zombie movie Phi Ha Ayodhaya), there's also some of the same cast, with Naresuan himself, Royal Thai Army Lt-Colonel Wanchana Sawasdee, portraying the Tiger King. Pongsakorn "Toey" Mettarikanon portrays the dutiful sailor.

The story of Pantai Norasingh has been presented in film and television before. One version was made in the 1940s by Chatrichalerm's grandfather, and had pioneering Thai auteur R.D. Pestonji running the camera.

According to Soopsip in The Nation, Chatrichalerm had originally intended his Pantai Norasingh to be broadcast on television, but when he and the station could not agree on the best time to show the series, he took it back and re-edited it into the feature we now have before us.

Meanwhile, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Snap (แค่..ได้คิดถึง, Kae .. Dai Kit Tung) is continuing its nightly sneak preview run before adding daytime shows tomorrow in a wider release. I've already reviewed it, and I think it's one of the best Thai films of the year. More on that in the next week or so.

Further new releases this week are detailed at the Bangkok Cinema Scene.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: Halfworlds

  • Directed by Joko Anwar
  • Starring Salvita Decorte, Nathan Hartono, Bront Palarae, Aimee Saras, Tara Basro, Ario Bayu, Arifin Putra, Reza Rahadian, Adinia Wirasti
  • Series premiere November 29, 2015 on HBO Asia. Season 1 finale January 10, 2016

Southeast Asia's monster mythology and ancient spiritual beliefs are vividly drawn upon in the HBO Asia Original Production Halfworlds, which began airing its first season on HBO in Asia last month.

With all eight half-hour episodes directed by Indonesia’s leading filmmaker Joko Anwar, Halfworlds is set in the shadowy back alleys of Jakarta, where there exists a parallel world of ancient blade-wielding tattooed demons. Known as demits, they pose as humans, live alongside us and feed on our blood. Just as our own world appears on the brink of uncertainty, the realm of the demits is also at a crossroads, with a supernatural event known as “the Gift” fast approaching, and causing much anxiety.

It’s the most ambitious production for Singapore-based HBO Asia and its partner studio facilities just across the Strait, on Indonesia’s Batam Island. There, in a complex of soundstages carved out of a malarial mangrove, is where they made the adventure movie Dead Mine in 2012, the Australian-co-produced series Serangoon Road in 2012 and last year’s supernatural family drama Grace.

Halfworlds is their best yet, judging from the first two episodes HBO Asia provided for reviews.

And that’s thanks to Anwar, who co-wrote the series with Collin Chang. The director of a cult-hit, critically acclaimed string of film-noir-inspired thrillers, such as Dead Time: Kala (2007) and The Forbidden Door (2009), Anwar has an uncanny knack for combining moody lighting, highly saturated colors, comic-book-style framing and richly imagined characters in compelling ways.

At the center of the story is a young street artist named Sarah (newcomer Salvita Decorte). Like young Bruce Wayne in the Batman comics, Sarah’s destiny started when her parents were murdered. Unlike Wayne, Sarah is not rich. She has no butler nor a mansion. She squats in a flat but has a wealth of friends, including her tattoo-artist best pal Pinung (Aimee Saras) and young indie rocker boyfriend Coki (Nathan Hartono). They gather in a watering hole known as The Moth.

Sarah has been understandably haunted by her parents’ deaths, as reflected by the disturbing and graphic images that are alongside the tourist sketches in her portfolio. Like any other crime procedural, she has a “murder wall” of her drawings. Among the monsters she’s illustrated is the palasik, a female demon consisting of a floating head and entrails, similar to a well-known Thai ghoul, the krasue. There are also various figures lurking in the shadows, keeping an eye on Sarah, who they believe to be the “chosen one”, and this gives her a feeling of unease.

It’s those darker figures who make Halfworlds utterly watchable, and it helps that HBO Asia has tapped into Indonesia’s most-trusted film export, the smash-hit martial-arts franchise The Raid, to help complete that world. Among them are The Raid 2 alums Arifin Putra as a mysteriously handsome fellow in a hood who is dogging Sarah, and Alex Abbad as another troublemaking demit figure.

Other characters include veteran Malaysian actor Bronte Paralae as Detective Gusti, a weary lawman who has made the demits his personal beat. His intentions are unclear, as he appears to be under the thumb of demit head honcho Juragan (Anwar film vet Ario Bayu). There’s a killer female demon (Adinia Wirasti) with a cool bloody scene every episode. And Reza Rahadian and Tara Basro are a colorful demit couple.

Rahadian in particular has a stand-out sequence when he and his ladyfriend find a victim in a bar. He puts their mark at ease by posing as a nerd, with shaky voice, glasses, a turtleneck and scruffy beard to complete the look. As he lets the other guy steal his woman, Rahadian slowly sheds his quietly unassuming persona and plunges his blade into the guy. Soon, shots of blood are served up all around.

The action is among the highlights, even though it’s not on the scale of The Raid (after all, this is HBO Asia, not Game of Thrones). Among the stand-out scenes is a guy getting sliced in half. And there’s a cool fight in a men’s room, where the electric hand dryer blows a demon’s shirt, revealing his family tattoo. A knock-down-drag-out results in smashed bathroom fixtures and a load of red painting the walls.

Further eye candy is provided by a graphic-novel opening sequence, which is different each episode and furthers illustrates the mythical world of the demits.

While Halfworlds is a cult hit waiting to happen, just how this HBO Asia series will translate in other territories is unclear. Director Anwar offers one view, with a funny scene of a foreigner hipster getting a tattoo in Pinung’s parlor. Seems he made unwanted advances on the pretty tattoo artist and she decided to teach him a lesson in Bahasa Indonesia.

“I can’t wait to show my friends back home,” he says as he checks out the newly inked script between his shoulderblades.

“Nasi goreng,” the tattoo reads. “Fried rice,” reads the subtitle.

See also:

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: Snap

  • Written and directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee
  • Starring Waruntorn Paonil, Toni Rakkaen
  • Sneak preview run in Thai cinemas December 24-30, 2015; wider release December 31, 2015; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Millennials wake up and smell life – unfiltered – in Snap (แค่..ได้คิดถึง, Kae .. Dai Kit Tung), a sharply observed romantic comedy-drama from writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasmee.

Laden with the hashtags and color-saturated photos of social-media posts, Snap has young Thais reflecting wistfully on the not-so-distant past as pessimism emerges about their impending adulthood, and, possibly, about the future of Thailand itself.

Set just as the military declared martial law last year, Snap is the story of Pueng (delicate singer-actress Waruntorn Paonil in her feature debut), the daughter of an army colonel who is set to marry a junior officer. She is one of those people whose only joy is derived from photographing everything with her phone – the coffee she’s about to drink, the food she’s about to eat, the nature vista she’s just seen – and post the snapshot to Facebook and Instagram, all heavy with descriptive nonsense hashtags.

Before her own big day, Pueng accepts an invitation from high-school friends to attend their wedding in her former hometown of Chanthaburi. There, she’s reunited with her old classmates, including her ex-boyfriend Boy (the quietly intense Toni Rakkaen), a local photographer who happens to also be shooting the wedding.

Melancholy wells up as Pueng revisits her old high school and goes looking for the bench where she and Boy spent their days. The dusty old wooden seat, still with the graffiti markings on it, has been relegated to the school’s rooftop, and no longer holds any significance to the current crop of kids.

Turns out there is little of Pueng left for Chanthaburi locals to remember either, as she left rather abruptly some years before, thanks to a sudden transfer of her military father. As a consequence, Pueng’s picture has been left out of her high-school yearbook, but her presence is still felt by the inclusion of dotted-line-bordered blank spaces in group photos. A second dotted-line figure also appears in many photos, that of Boy, who as the yearbook photographer was behind the lens and not in the frame. They are ghosts in the photos, and those blank spaces represent holes in their souls. Pueng and Boy wonder if those holes can still be filled.

Here, Kongdej is also trafficking in nostalgia for the old film-photography days, and the tactile feeling of developing the rolls of negatives and making the prints. It’s a subject previously referenced in fellow Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s abstract 36. There is also comment on the ridiculously epic proportions wedding-photo shoots have taken on in recent years, something Nawapol observed earlier this year in his Freelance (Heart Attack). Seems there is something on the minds of Thailand’s great movie makers.

The wedding couple are the a-dork-able bespectacled nerds Poo (Soifa Saenkhamkon) and her man Aey (Chakphet Goontong), who met on an online dating site. Poo tells the hair-curling story of their sex-filled first meeting, and rather than flash back to it, Kongdej lets the impact of their coupling register on the faces of Pueng and others.

Pueng, meanwhile, tells the group how she met her husband-to-be, the army officer Mann (Grisana Punpeng), who was her teacher at university, and they didn’t exactly hit it off at first. But Mann kept turning up, and really, he’s a sweet guy even if he's a bit clueless. He goes so far as to ask Boy to photograph his and Pueng’s wedding. Which probably isn’t the best idea. I mean, just look at Pueng and Boy, who seem drawn together like characters out of a manga novel. The connection between Pueng and Mann, on the other hand, appears strained.

Later on, Pueng wants to test the waters of her past relationship with Boy, and the two meet for a late-night reunion at Chanthaburi’s Kung Kraben Aquarium, where the swirls of ocean life and the bubbling water provide a dramatic backdrop for reminiscing.

“How come nothing is as good as it used to be?” That’s the utterance of the frustrated and profoundly depressed Pueng when the gravity of her situation – her own marriage, the junta, the pointlessness of sharing so many darn photos – hits her.

I can’t recall a Kongdej film, especially those of his late “indie” period, that’s looked better, thanks to director of photography MR Umpornpol Yugala, production designer Rasiguet Sookkarn and art director Manop Chaengsawang. In contrast to the movie’s sad, beautiful heroine, the look of Snap is cheery, colorful and pops right off the screen.

Snap is also possibly the most poignant and also the most ordinary film yet from Kongdej. His usual stock-in-trade has been unusual characters, such as a young woman running a smut magazine in Sayew, a taxi driver in love with a massage-parlour girl in Midnight My Love and the three-armed man on a road trip with a large-breasted woman in Handle Me With Care. The writer-director turned away from studio-driven projects to make smaller independent films with his 2011 feature P-047, which was perhaps his most unusual film to date, with an abstract story of a locksmith who loses the key to his identity. But he’s since become more grounded, covering Bangkok boys on the fringes in the drama Tang Wong and boys in Buddhist temples in his documentary So Be It. Fatherhood has had an effect (he made a short documentary, Udon, featuring his brilliant twin daughters) and Kongdej is viewing the world in ways that aren’t the same as before.

See also:

Related posts:

 (Cross-published in The Nation)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Kyushu the Movie, Snap sneaks in

Multi-hyphenate entertainer Worawech “Dan” Danuwong joins with his musician pal Pongjak “Aeh” Pitthanaporn for Kyushu the Movie, a road-trip comedy about the Thai singing duo SanQ on a busking tour of Kyushu Island, Japan.

They have 30 days to survive with no money; their only currency is 999 CDs of their songs, which they can sell or trade. It's at SF cinemas.

And making its bow in a wide sneak-preview run this week is Snap (แค่..ได้คิดถึง, Kae .. Dai Kit Tung), writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's latest sharp observations about contemporary Thai society.

A romantic comedy-drama, Snap premiered in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival and opened the 13th World Film Festival of Bangkok. Set just as the military declared martial law last year, the story follows a young woman who is about to be married to a military officer. She returns to her provincial-capital hometown of Chanthaburi for a wedding of high-school friends and becomes nostalgic as she reconnects with her old boyfriend, who is the wedding photographer.

You can read more about it in an article in The Nation. There's also a nice review in the newspaper.

It's in sneak previews from around 8 nightly at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square and most other multiplexes, and then moves to a wider release next week.

Other new releases in Thai cinemas this week include the Jack Black family comedy Goosebumps and the Will Ferrell comedy Daddy's Home, as well as a final Documentary Club entry for the year, Iris. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens is held over for a second week at the Scala in Siam Square. Go see it there if you haven't already.

Monday, December 21, 2015

LPFF 2015 review: Spotlight on Cambodia

The Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock 'n' Roll

Cambodia's constant struggle to reconcile its bloody Khmer Rouge past with the ancient legacy of Angkor and the push for modernity in the 21st century were common threads running through five movies at the sixth Luang Prabang Film Festival, which made Cambodia the subject of its first “Spotlight”. It showed there is more to Cambodian cinema than the works of its multi-award-winning veteran leading director Rithy Panh.

Curated in part by Sok Visal, Cambodia’s “Motion Picture Ambassador” to the Luang Prabang fest, the Spotlight devoted a full day to the country’s re-emerging cinema movement, with a diverse selection of four films. The line-up included the documentaries The Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock ’n’ Roll and Still I Strive, martial-arts action in Hanuman and melodrama in The Last Reel. Shown on another day was a fifth Cambodian entry, the cult crime-comedy Gems on the Run, co-directed by Visal.

Cambodia’s “code of women’s conduct”, masked killers and arranged marriages were among the common themes linking the films.

Still I Strive

Referenced in at least three of the entries, that book that holds that Cambodian women should be polite, quiet and dutiful, is promptly tossed out by domineering female protagonists. In Not Easy Rock ’n’ Roll, a Phnom Penh bargirl undergoes a transformation from a mouse-like figure afraid of her own voice to a tigress-like diva rocker who could teach a thing or two to Cookie Lyon of TV’s Empire. In The Last Reel, a teenage girl jumps off the back of her gangster boyfriend’s motorbike to take up the mantle of movie producer and actress as she tries to reconstruct the missing reel of a 1970s historical epic. And in Gems on the Run, a plucky gun moll chooses love, and falls for the movie’s unlikely hero, a portly police officer who wants to be a singer.

A masked vigilante is out for revenge in Hanuman, which brings Cambodia’s ancient Bokator “pounding a lion” martial art out of the shadows. And it’s masked men who rob an armored car in Gems on the Run. Meanwhile, both the heroine in The Last Reel and the plus-sized leading man of Gems on the Run are seeking to escape from pending marriages arranged by social-climbing parents.

More martial arts are on display in the jawdropping and surprising documentary Still I Strive, which covers the orphan schoolchildren of the National Action Culture Association, an organization run by veteran actress Peng Phan. Having lost her own family during the Khmer Rouge years, she and her husband devote their lives to teaching arts to the orphans. With heartbreaking individual profiles of students, showing the hardships they faced in broken homes to a life of love and learning at the orphanage, the film follows their efforts to perform for the country’s arts-and-culture patron, Princess Bopha Devi.

Directed by Adam Pfleghaar and A. Todd Smith, Still I Strive has these remarkable youngsters acting in full-fledged dramatic segments, following a parallel quest in ancient times, in which their skills in music, dance, storytelling and stage combat are used to full effect. It's amazing.

The gritty Hanuman, meanwhile, is set in contemporary Phnom Penh, where a masked vigilante rises up to challenge the country’s culture of impunity and take revenge on criminals who killed his father. The masked man is also reunited with his estranged brother, a police officer who has been secretly trying to bring his father’s killers to justice himself. Directed by Italian filmmaker Jimmy Henderson, Hanuman is clearly inspired by The Raid, which vividly brought Indonesia’s pencak silat martial arts to world screens. Along with nods to Thailand’s Tony Jaa and Ong-Bak, Hanuman also revels in the lurid images of Italy’s spaghetti westerns and giallo slashers. It's not going to do for Cambodian action cinema what the The Raid did for its stars (who turn up in the new Star Wars), but it is the start of something, and I hope the Hanuman gang will regroup to make more of these types of films.

The Cambodian Space Project and The Last Reel both dealt with the vibrant Cambodian pop culture of the 1970s. Under the patronage of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, himself a multi-hyphenate musician, producer, director and star of his own movies, Cambodia’s cinematic golden age was paralleled by a rollicking music scene, which emulated American rock ’n’ roll. Both scenes were brought to an abrupt end in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took over, emptied the cities and put the populace to work making the country into an agrarian utopia. Intellectuals and artists didn’t fit into that scheme, and were targets for persecution and death.

The Last Reel
The forces of music and film combined in The Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock ’n’ Roll, which surveys the resurgence of Cambodian rock and its revival under an unusual band, the Cambodian Space Project, which began in 2009 when Australian pop-artist and musician Julien Poulson heard the extraordinary voice of bargirl Srey Thy performing karaoke. The two had little in common but music, but it was enough.

The band is similar to another outfit, the U.S.-based Dengue Fever, which were featured on the soundtrack to Matt Dillon’s 2002 made-in-Cambodia drama City of Ghosts and have been the subject of their own documentary. But while that band’s frontwoman Chhom Nimol was influenced by the slain 1970s Cambodian singer Ros Sereysothea, the Cambodian Space Project’s Thy has taken the more earthy and grounded vocalist Pan Ron has her major influence.

Directed by German Mark Eberle, The Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock ’n’ Roll follows the band’s journey from the bars to Phnom Penh to music clubs in Sydney, Paris and Hong Kong. Clips include the band’s landmark performance at the Cambodia International Film Festival, providing live musical accompaniment to Georges Melies’ 1902 science-fiction epic A Trip to the Moon, the style of which was emulated by Cambodian filmmakers in the 1970s and by Eberle in fantastic animation sequences that imagined the photogenic Thy as an actress in an Angkorian sci-fi epic. Making the film turned out to be an epic undertaking for Eberle, who at one point was drafted to play bass in the band in order to keep both the band and his film project going.

It was a hit with viewers at the Luang Prabang Film Festival's daytime venue, who gave it the festival’s first Audience Choice Award.

Cambodia’s lost cinematic golden age, artfully covered in French-Cambodian director Davy Chou’s Golden Slumbers, unspools further in The Last Reel, a handsomely mounted melodrama that was the country’s official submission to next year’s Academy Awards. Directed by Kulikar Sotho, who rose to prominence as a location supervisor on Angelina Jolie’s made-in-Cambodia action romp Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Last Reel follows a young woman who discovers old film reels in a dilapidated Phnom Penh movie palace and realizes that the beautiful actress in the movie is her mother. Secrets of her family’s Khmer Rouge past surface as the young women sets out to recreate the movie’s missing final reel, with help from a motley crew of her biker boyfriend, the theater's elderly projectionist and film students.

Gems on the Run

The Last Reel strained my brain with its soap-opera leanings and a time-travelling story that omitted an entire generation between the Khmer Rouge era and the teenagers of today, whose grandparents, not parents, would have been Khmer Rouge cadre and captives. But for reasons of sentimentality, nostalgia and, I suppose, vanity, there was a compression in time that took away from the weight of the film's dramatic heft.

I liked Gems on the Run better, and I told Sok Visal so at one point during the fest. He thought I was kidding, but then he doesn't know me very well. Directed by Visal and his French friend Quentin Clausin, Gems on the Runs is exactly the type of film I actually enjoy, with its sprawling, shaggy-dog tale of a portly police officer who wants to be a singer getting mixed up with an estranged childhood friend, his ladyfriend and stolen diamonds. It is, essentially, a Coen Bros farce made in Cambodia. Visal, whose family made their escape to Thailand and then France during the Khmer Rouge era and made his return to Cambodia in 1993 to produce music, is a first-time filmmaker with Gems. The film was something of a flop on commercial release, though the soundtrack did well. It's got a cult following, of which I'm now a member. Visal, for his part, wants to do a horror film next, and I can't wait to see it.

The rotund leading man, Cheky Athiporn, was a photographer before he got put in front the camera for his eye-popping star turn in Gems on the Run.

Other actors provided more connections between the films in Luang Prabang's Spolight. Among them was actress Ma Rynet, star of The Last Reel who also appears in Hanuman. And the girl’s mother (or should it be her grandmother?) is portrayed by Dy Saveth, a Golden Age star. Saveth, who famously survived the Khmer Rouge era because she missed a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh in 1975, also appears in Cambodian Space Project, imparting advice to the budding diva Thy.

Further talent ties are cemented by the appearance of hard-working actor Rous Mony, who plays the sneering villain in Hanuman, The Last Reel and Gems. I liked to think he was also lurking the background in Space Project and Still I Strive.

Here's Wise Kwai's ratings, for those keeping score:

The Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock 'n' Roll: 4/5
Hanuman: 3/5
Still I Strive: 5/5
The Last Reel: 2/5
Gems on the Run: 4/5

Sok Visal talks about Cambodian cinema with Cambodian Space Project director Mark Eberle. Wise Kwai photo
(Adapted from an article in The Nation)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

In Thai cinemas: The Guitar King

It takes some real guts to release a movie the same week as the new Star Wars film, but you should have that department more than covered if you're a rock star.

And so we have The Guitar King, a documentary on Thai rock and blues musician Lam Morrison. Produced by TrueVisions, it's directed by Passakorn Pramunwong, who follows the 72-year-old guitarist as he performs at his Hot Tuna Pub in Pattaya and revisits Norway and Germany, where he performed in his rock 'n' roll heydays.

Passakorn, a founder of A Day magazine, previously collaborated with filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang on the documentaries Total Bangkok and Paradoxocracy. There's more about the movie in a Bangkok Post article.

In limited release in Bangkok, it's at Eastville, Esplanade Ratchada, Major Ratchayothin, Mega, Paragon and Quartier CineArt.

9FilmFest goes online with new contest

On hiatus for the past year or so, Bangkok's 9FilmFest has returned in online form and has issued a call for entries for a contest that's taking place next year.

The idea behind the short-film competition is to create a new work of nine minutes in length that will contain a unique "9 Signature Item" or "9SI". This edition, the signature item is "flower".

The deadline for entries is January 29, 2016.

For more details, check the festival website or Facebook page.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Review: Sway

  • Written and directed by Rooth Tang
  • Starring Matt Wu, Lu Huang, Kris Wood Bell, Kazohiko Nishimura, Ananda Everingham, Sajee Apiwong
  • Limited release in Thailand on December 10, 2015; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Fragments from around the globe form a story in Sway, the ambitious debut feature from Thai-American director Rooth Tang.

In three cities, there are couples going through the motions, but are somehow stuck:

  • In Paris, Chinese-American drifter Arthur (Matt Wu) has just landed at the airport. While trying to figure out his next move, he tentatively reconnects with his girlfriend Vivian (Lu Huang), a former TV star from China who is trying to make it as a serious journalist. Arthur then gets news from home that his parents might get a divorce.
  • In Los Angeles, Amanda (Kris Wood Bell), the Caucasian second wife of widowed Japanese businessman Eric (Kazohiko Nishimura) feels she is on shaky ground with her husband's teenage daughter Grace (Miki Ishikawa). She is giving her young stepmum the silent treatment.
  • And in Bangkok, well-travelled Thai hipster Palm (Ananda Everingham) romances less-worldly office girl June (Sajee Apiwong) and fills her head with dreams about future destinations. She also has a belly full of Palm's baby, and is afraid of what will happen if she tells him he's a father.

It's the first feature from Rooth, a graduate in film studies from the University of California, Irvine. He was raised in America by Thai parents, and took inspiration from his mum and dad, who had participated in the pro-democracy movement at Thammasat University in the 1970s, but then moved to the US. In short, he wondered, what was that like?

Filming started in Bangkok in August 2010, just months after the red-shirt anti-government demonstrations. At the time, Rooth was unsure whether his project would be a short film or develop into something longer. Thanks to a windfall and financial help from his parents, who are among the producers, the Los Angeles segment was added, and then to Paris, where filming wrapped up in 2013. After a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Sway has swung around the globe, with appearances in Taipei's Golden Horse fest and the Singapore International last year and this year's Shanghai fest.

Sway draws its influences from the expressionist palette of Wong Kar-wai's films, the globalized existentialist angst of Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel and the quietly simmering family dysfunction of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata.

Sway will also seem particularly familiar to fans of independent Thai cinema, thanks to its coincidental connections to two recent Thai indie movies that also dealt with brooding Asians who are adrift in the world - Aditya Assarat's Hi-So and Lee Chatametikool's Concrete Clouds. Both featured Ananda in similar roles of a rootless vagabond of sorts, and Hi-So actually featured both Ananda and Sajee. Both films were also by directors whose backgrounds are similar to Rooth's - they are all foreign-schooled Thai filmmakers seeking to express feelings of being caught between Eastern and Western cultures but not really sure which side to pick.

Those connections were further solidified in post-production, which was completed in Bangkok at White Light studio, under supervision of Lee.

Rooth is seeking to develop a style that is distinct from those he's influenced by, coincidental or not. With Sway, he drops you into people's lives mid-stream, but you don't need to paddle to keep up. Instead, it's best to just float along and watch the stories unfold.

The intended result is that the audience has the same ill-at-ease feeling as the characters, who themselves aren't really sure who they are or what they should be doing. Romantic chemistry is palpable, especially with the Paris and Bangkok couples. Dialogue is clipped and spare, with smoldering sidelong glances, angry grimaces or worried frowns doing most of the narrative heavy lifting.

It's left to minor supporting characters to finally and fully explain what motivates the main ones, with June's pragmatic Thai mother putting her at ease, and the Japanese-American teenager to explain why she's been so awful to her stepmother. In Paris, Arthur's mother turns up to reflect on her life as an immigrant and help point her son in a definite direction.

Real-world events place the three segments in different times and help ground them, with the political crisis of 2008 to 2010 providing the backdrop of the Bangkok story, while Barack Obama's re-election as U.S. president in 2012 is referenced in L.A. France's intervention in Mali is mentioned in the Paris segments.

Symbolism and metaphors crop up frequently, mostly noticeably in the Bangkok segments, where the small composite-plastic figure of a bird represents the ambitions of Palm, who thinks he can get rich making widgets from the hi-tech hybrid material. The bird is later found shattered on the floor, along with the possibility of broken dreams. But then another stork-like symbol emerges on the Bangkok skyline - a construction crane - representing hopes for the future.

See also:
Related posts:

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Sway

Three dysfunctional relationships unfold between Asians in three cities in Sway, the debut feature by Thai-American writer-director Rooth Tang.

The drama was put together over the course of many years by Rooth, who graduated in film studies from the University of California, Irvine, and has taken part in industry initiatives, such as HBO's Project Greenlight.

For what would become his first feature, Rooth began with Bangkok scenes that were shot in 2010 with Thai stars Ananda Everingham and Sajee Apiwong. He's a well-travelled dreamer who seduces a Bangkok office worker, who then gets pregnant, but she is afraid to say anything.

In Los Angeles, the Caucasian-American second wife (Kris Wood-Bell) of a widowed Japanese-American businessman (Kazuhiko Nishimura) is having insecurity issues, along with problems with her husband's teenage daughter.

And in Paris, a drifter Chinese-American translator (Matt Wu) ponders his next move while renewing a relationship with his girlfriend (Lu Huang), a former Hong Kong TV star who is struggling to make it as a serious journalist. Meanwhile, the young man's parents are on the verge of divorce, giving him doubts about the future of his own relationship.

Sway made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and has also screened in Taipei's Golden Horse fest, last year's Singapore International and this year's Shanghai fest.

Critical reception has been fair so far, and I've got my own review.

It's in limited release at Esplanade Ratchada, House, Major Cineplex Ratchayothin and SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Check out the trailer, embedded below.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

LPFF 2015 reviews: Above It All, The Search for Weng Weng

Above It All (ນ້ອຍ) – It's the story of two people named Noy who want the freedom to love the way they want to love, not the way society says they should love. One is a gay medical student who has yet to come out of the closet to his parents and the girlfriend from a wealthy family they want him to marry. The other Noy is a Hmong college student who wants to buck eons-old tribal traditions and marry someone of her own choosing, not some stranger her father has found.

Outside of Laos, it'll be hard to explain why Above It All is so gosh-darned groundbreaking. But it is the first Lao feature film to specifically address homosexuality. The Hmong angle is interesting as well. I'm just not sure the two taboo love stories work together, as one might cancel out the potential audience for the other.

Much anticipated in certain circles, Above It All is the sophomore feature from Anysay Keola of the Lao New Wave Cinema collective, who debuted in 2012 with the astonishing thriller At the Horizon. It's best to keep your expectations in check. With Above It All, Anysay seems to have made a conscious stylistic choice to make his movie just like the Lao PDR's public-service and propaganda videos. The performances are old-fashionedly wooden and emotionally flat. The pacing is frustratingly slow. At one point during the film's world premiere as the official opener of the sixth Luang Prabang Film Festival, I could sense the audience's impatience, and folks were murmuring, "go on, kid, tell your dad you're gay." Then, a beat too late, Noy says it, "Dad, I like men." And everyone cheered. I think Lao people are ready for more of these types of films.

The lady Noy, meanwhile, has struck up a friendship with a young man in Vientiane, where she has been working as a waitress to put herself through college. In a way-too-cute coincidence, her man Sack happens to be the other Noy's rock-musician younger brother, the guy who has been a huge disappointment to his father. If only dad knew Sack's brother Noy was gay.

As she's ready to graduate from college, Noy's parents show up, and her father insists that she marry a Hmong gentleman in the U.S., whom she has never met. This is apparently a thing now among the Hmong people in Laos, in which Hmong daughters are being married off to, say, Hmong dentists in Minnesota, to support the impoverished family back home.

Above It All has its moments when it approaches the intensity of At the Horizon. Lady Noy gets to tell off a snotty restaurant customer who is badmouthing Hmong women. She receives backing from Sack. A surreal car-wreck serves to further bind the two stories together, and make the Dr. Noy a hero, possibly redeeming himself in his stubborn father's eyes. (3/5)

The Search for Weng Weng – Wearing an actual pith helmet like he's on an archaeological dig, cult-video purveyor/filmmaker Andrew Leavold descends into the heart of darkness in his obsessive quest to untangle the shrouds of myth from bleak reality in The Search for Weng Weng.

The 2013 documentary is another essential chapter from the 1970s and '80s era of exploitation filmmaking in the Philippines. It was a time the Filipino people would rather forget, so it's been left to foreigner genre-film fans to fill in the blanks. Previously, the scene was overviewed in Mark Hartley's informative and entertaining 2010 documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which has since led to Not Quite Hollywood, covering Ozploitation, and the more recent Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

In Weng Weng, the Australian Leavold goes to the Philippines to track down clues about one of his obsessions – a 2-foot-9-inch movie star known as Weng Weng. Very nearly forgotten if not for Leavold, Weng Weng was a novelty bit player who was elevated to the level of action star in a string of early '80s spaghetti-and-hotdog westerns and Bond-movie spoofs such as D'Wild Wild Weng, Agent 00 and For Y'ur Height Only.

With the help of old-timer actors, directors, film editors and other friendly characters like "Rene the Legman", Leavold circles ever closer to the depressing truth about Weng Weng, whose tiny, childlike figure was the source of much mirth for movie-goers for just a blip in time. As a public figure, the diminutive Weng Weng (real name Ernesto de la Cruz) was built up into a larger-than-life figure. Trained in martial arts as a child, he was not only a movie star, but also a playboy with multiple girlfriends as well as a secret agent for the Marcos regime. In truth, he was a graceful martial artist, but lived a sad, lonely existence under the control of opportunistic husband-and-wife movie producers, who "adopted" Ernesto and saw him as a yardstick-sized cash cow rather than a human being.

It's full of bizarre revelations, but none are more surreal than when the documentary is hijacked by none other than the Philippines' former first lady Imelda Marcos, who draws Leavold and his band of cult-movie geeks into her rich pageant of self-aggrandizement.

Running just over 90 minutes, The Search for Weng Weng has a running time that belies the epic story of its making, which took eight years and cost Leavold mortages on his Brisbane video shop and brought him to kickstart the Kickstarter era in self-funded indie filmmaking. Such dedication definitely makes Weng Weng a doc you should order. (5/5)

Other films I've caught so far at the Luang Prabang Film Festival include Lao TV star Jear Pacific's latest hilarious horror-comedy-romance Huk Ey Ly 2 (Really Love 2). It had the audience in stitches with its Thai-TV-style slapstick. Judging from crowd response alone, it should be the winner of the festival's new audience award. But will the cheers of the Lao movie-goers translate to the clicks on a tablet screen that are supposed to be made as viewers pour out of the venue?

I was also happy to finally see the Thai country comedy Phoobao Thai Baan Isaan Indy (ผู้บ่าวไทบ้าน อีสานอินดี้), which was released in Thai cinemas last year. Made in the Northeastern Thai province of Khon Kaen, PBTB is a representative of a regional cinema movement of Isaan films that could easily be exported to Laos, to play in the new Platinum multiplex in Vientiane.

Review: Runpee (Senior)

  • Written and directed by Wisit Sasanatieng
  • Starring Jannine Wiegel, Phongsakon Tosuwan, Sa-ad Piampongsan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 3, 2015; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

After a five-year hiatus from commercial filmmaking, Wisit Sasanatieng has been coaxed back to the director's chair by the studio M-Thirtynine with Runpee (รุ่นพี่, a.k.a. Senior), an artfully directed ghost comedy that successfully merges old-fashioned horror thrills with contemporary teen romance.

Penned by Wisit, the story is about an outcast weirdo at a Catholic girls' boarding school. She has a special nose. Unlike the kid in The Sixth Sense, the olfactorily gifted girl Mon (Ploychompoo Jannine Weigel) can't see dead people, she smells them. More specifically, she can sniff out the troubled spirits who are still lurking in our realm.

Her unique talent leads her to develop a connection with a boy ghost (Bom Phongsakon Tosuwan) who was a student when the place was a business school in the 1980s, before it was a church convent. Together, they investigate a murder that occurred there some 50 years before, when the school was the palace home of a princess, who was found beaten, bloodied and very much dead in her swimming pool. Her gardener took the fall for the death, but there was more to the case than met the eye.

It's an old-timey Thai setting right out of Wisit's 2000 debut feature, Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger), and that western's trademark raspberry-jelly blood splatter is evident in key scenes. Runpee also has echoes of Wisit's 2006 Gothic horror Pen Choo Kub Pee (The Unseeable), plus the wry observational humour of his satiric Mah Nakorn (Citizen Dog).

With false scares and other cinematic sleight-of-hand tricks, Wisit keeps the audience guessing as he suspensefully strings along the story of Mon and her ghost friend Runpee, whose name means simply "senior".

Mon's abilities to sense ghosts has made her an outcast among her school's other girls. Everyone already thought she was a bit weird, but since Runpee came on the scene, she's especially bizarre, since she's given to carrying on conversations with her ghost pal, who almost no one except the audience can see. So it appears she's walking along, talking to herself. There are even street scenes, which I'm not certain were filmed on a closed set, in which passersby naturally react with perplexity to the odd girl who is flailing her arms and talking gibberish to an invisible friend.

At one point, Mon is talking and flailing during her French lessons, and the stern nun teacher punishes Mon by having her wear a sign and stand with her arms outstretched. Even then, she continues her conversation with Runpee.

The laws of physics are different in the ghost world, Runpee explains as they sleuth around the school property, searching for clues to the 50-year-old murder. For example, ghosts can't walk walls if the walls were built after they died. Industrial-like animated diagrams help illustrate. And, there are exceptions, of course. It's not quite Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, but then thank goodness it isn't.

Aside from the main story of the old murder case, there are other issues to pad out the tale and give weight to the characters. There's an annoyingly cheerful young doctor friend of Mon's (DJ We Raweeroj) whom Mon strings along long enough for him to be helpful to the murder case. Another subplot has Mon developing a selfie-fueled friendship with the school's other outcast, Ant (Kaykai Nutticha Namwong), who is shunned by the popular clique because she's been seen getting close to the male chemistry teacher – way too close in fact. He's a jerk, and gets what's coming to him in a vividly memorable scene that has him haunted by millions of eyeball-like CGI spirits.

Ant's story has parallels to the 50-year-old murder, which is intertwined with the school's history and the mysterious figure of "Baby Daeng", the heir to the princess' estate and the cause of conflict. What happened to Baby Daeng? That's the question that keeps coming back to haunt Mon and Runpee as they circle ever closer to a truth that was right in front of their eyes to begin with.

Figures from the past include an elderly doctor, portrayed by stage and screen veteran Sa-ad Piampongsan, who is a hoot to watch as he chews up scenes that grow meatier and meatier with each appearance.

Onward and upward, the action reaches its heights with Mon atop a bell tower, rescued by her personal Jesus Runpee.

It's a mix of actors from a bygone era of classic Thai genre films and fresh-faced youngsters making their debuts, which is something of a trademark for Wisit, who has a knack for plucking up fresh talents and dropping them in as the leads of his films.

Here, singer-actress Ploychompoo is an endearing heroine, rebellious and strong, placing her in good company with another superpowered young actress, Punpun Sutatta Udomsilp from another Thai movie this year, May Nai (May Who?), about a high-school girl who releases a strong electrical charge if her heart gets racing. Maybe one day Mon and May could team up to solve more crimes.

See also:

Related posts:

Monday, December 7, 2015

Festival festival (and awards)! Ferris Wheel spins in Singapore, Checkers goes Golden, Keetarajanipon applauded in Hawaii

Ferris Wheel (ชิงช้าสวรรค์, Ching Chaa Sawan), a short film by up-and-coming indie filmmaker Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, won a special mention at the Singapore International Film Festival, which wrapped up yesterday.

An entry in the Singapore fest's Silver Screen Awards Southeast Asian Short Film Competition, Ferris Wheel follows a migrant woman from Myanmar and her young son as they navigate the border areas. There is an altercation in a gas station's convenience store, depicting the unfriendly attitudes of some Thais toward the migrants, and the mum and boy are separated. The kid is attracted to a nearby carnival by a man in a monkey costume, leading to panic by the mother.

Ferris Wheel premiered at the Busan International Film Festival as part of the Color of Asia – Newcomers program. Apichatpong Weerasethakul was a mentoring counterpart in the Color of Asia – Masters line-up with his own short, Vapour.

The Color of Asia project was initiated by China's Youku video-sharing website and Heyi Pictures, which on the strength of Ferris Wheel picked Phuttiphong to make a feature film. He'll be doing Departure Day, a project that previously won support from the Busan fest's Asian Cinema Fund.

Ferris Wheel will next head to France, where it's been selected for February's Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, which is the biggest and most prestigious short-film fest in the world.

I've actually seen Ferris Wheel, and it's powerful stuff, especially the haunting close-ups of the faces of Myanmar migrants spinning into frame as they ride a Ferris wheel. It was screened as a special treat for movie-goers who braved sleazy confines of the decrepit Laem Thong Theatre for the Bangkok premiere of Jakrawal Nilthamrong's Vanishing Point.

Other Thai shorts in the rebooted Singapore fest's line-up this year were Night Watch by Danaya Chulputhipong, which previously won an award in Rio de Janeiro and Sivaroj Kongsakul's Our,from the 19th Thai Short Film and Video Fest.

Thai features in the Singapore fest were Apichatpong's Cemetery of Splendour (which had an accompanying video-art installation) and the Thai Oscar entry How to Win at Checkers (Every Time).

And that leads me to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards, which have put How to Win at Checkers on its list of possible nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. This is the first I've heard of the Globes' foreign-film submissions being made public before the final shortlist of five actual nominees are announced, which leads to questions. Have any Thai films been submitted to the HFPA in past years? Also, who submits the foreign films?

Finally, here's one more item for this edition of "Festival festival!" Keetarajanipon, the short-film omnibus that is inspired by musical compositions of His Majesty the King, won an audience award at the recent Hawaii International Film Festival. That's according to IndieWire and Film Business Asia. News of the award came as the film was on a revival run in Thai cinemas, screening over the weekend as part of celebrations for His Majesty the King's 88th birthday and Thai Fathers' Day. Keetarajanipon has well made, highly polished devotional segments by Nonzee Nimibutr, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, Parkpoom Wongpoom and Wallop Prasopphol. More festival appearances are scheduled, including next year's East Winds Film Festival.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

13th WFFBKK capsule reviews: Ruined Heart, Underground Fragrance, About a Woman, Arabian Nights

Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore – Remember that weird and wonderful time in the early 2000s when Pen-ek Ratanaruang made a couple of movies with Japanese cult-film actor Tadanobu Asano and Wong Kar-wai's cinematographer Christopher Doyle? That was fun, right? Well, Filipino indie filmmaker/punk rocker Khavn de la Cruz thought so, and he got Asano and Doyle back together for Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore. Set in the tin-shack slums of the Philippines, it is the punk-rock opera adaptation of Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover that I never thought I needed, nor really deserved. But I got it anyway. Without much in the way of dialogue, owing I suppose to language differences, Ruined Heart has Asano as an enforcer for a mobster who falls disastrously in love with the mobster's special lady friend. Bathed in a dreamy blue haze by Doyle's lighting and set to an original rock 'n' roll soundtrack, Ruined Heart is an oddball music-video appendix that would play comfortably alongside screenings of Pen-ek's Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves. (4/5)

About a Woman – Each year at the film festivals, there are Southeast Asian movies about maids, and I for some reason always end up seeing at least one. This year's entry into the canon was Indonesian director Teddy Soeriaatmadja's latest, About a Woman. It has a well-to-do widow whose maid up and quits, leaving her to figure out how to cook dinner, put the heavy water bottle up on the dispenser and shut off the lights at the end of the day. Set in a fancy house with a dark, polished wood interior, it's a quiet, slow-moving drama that took me awhile to get into. But the turning point was when the widow's daughter shows up to look in on her mother, and they have a conversation. No biggie, just one of those moments of truth in cinema with a mother and daughter are having a heart-to-heart, and the daughter is just sitting there, looking like dynamite in her Muslim hijab, smoking a cigarette. The mother, a bit jealous, admits she could never quite pull that look off. Anyway, that's the first of many little moments. Another is when the sketchy son-in-law drops by with some of the honey he's hawking, and amid sweet talk he determines that what his mother-in-law needs is a young man around the house. So a jeans-clad, emo-haircut-sporting nephew shows up. And sparks almost instantly fly between the young man and the lonely, somehow eerily attractive widow. She's played by Tutie Kirana, a veteran Indonesian actress with credits that stretch back to the 1970s. From then, I was like Peter Stormare in Fargo, holed up in a cabin, engrossed in a soap opera on a snow-covered TV set, just engrossed to the point where I audibly gasped at a scene I'd already seen in the trailer. I know I annoyed the heck out of the serious Thai cinephiles seated around me. Sorry guys, I just got swept up. (4/5)

Those are the Southeast Asian films I got to see at the 13th World Film Festival of Bangkok last month. Other films I quite liked included the well-made Chinese indie Underground Fragrance and the Russian teen drama 14+.

I also saw all three volumes of Miguel Gomes' Arabian Nights and I am glad I did. I'm not sure I can put into words my feelings about the films. However, I did try, but only because I was assigned to by The Nation.

A Christmas present for Tanwarin and Insects in the Backyard?

Insects in the Backyard was a landmark film for a lot of reasons. Besides being the best film Tanwarin Sukkhapisit has made, the drama of sexual and family dysfunction also pushed the boundaries of what could be presented in a publicly released Thai film.

It was too much for Thai censors in 2010, whose kneejerk reaction to Tanwarin's transgender father and his two sexually active teenagers was to ban the film.

Tanwarin fought back, and with the help of friendly lawyers, took her case to court. Now, her five-year long legal battle appears headed for a happy result, with news coming out during my travels that the ban is "likely" to be lifted.

So now the film has become a test case of the new Thai film ratings law, and might set a legal precedent for what Thai filmmakers can show onscreen.

In addition to determining that there wasn't actually a legal reason to ban the film (it doesn't, for example, violate "national security", "public order" or "morality"), the  court also said Tanwarin is owed 10,000 baht in compensation. The actual ruling will be read on December 25, so it could be a merry Christmas for Tanwarin.

The Bangkok Post has story, and there is coverage at Matichon, MThai, and Voice TV.

And Kong Rithdee says more about it and other censorship issues in his Saturday column in the Bangkok Post. Go read that.

(Thanks to Phil J. for the tip on news I'd missed.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Keetarajanipon, Khun Thong Daeng, Runpee

On the occasion of His Majesty the King's 88th birthday this Saturday, there are films inspired by the monarch's deeds.

In general release is the animated feature Khun Thong Daeng: The Inspirations, which pays tribute to His Majesty's favorite pet dog with three stories about lovable pooches determined to make a difference.

And back for a special screening this weekend is Keetarajanipon (คีตราชนิพนธ์), which was first released in May. It's a compilation of four devotional stories that are in part inspired by musical compositions of His Majesty.

Since its May release, it screened last month at the Hawaii International Film Festival, and the updated poster is also sporting official selection laurels for next year's East Winds Film Festival in Coventry, England. Update: The film won the Audience Award in Hawaii, according to IndieWire and Film Business Asia.

The absolute highlight is the dramatic biographical account of the late conservationist Seub Nakhasathien. It's directed by Parkpoom Wongpoom and stars Nopachai “Peter” Jayanama. Well-known directors of other segments include Nonzee Nimibutr, who has story of elderly female singers bonding at a temple old-folks shelter, and Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, who has a tale of a bratty boy learning to do his duty.

 is screening until Monday at Major Cineplexes, where free tickets are first-come, first-serve and are handed out at special table an hour before the shows. Check Facebook for details.

His Majesty the King's pet dog Khun Thong Daeng is paid tribute in the animated omnibus Khun Thong Daeng: The Inspirations (คุณทองแดง The Inspirations).

Produced by music-festival promoter Vinij Lertratanachai, with concepts overseen by movie-marketing strategist Dr Head, The Inspirations has three stories about pooches from three animation studios.

Imagimax Studios has Mah Wad (Mid-Road), about a tough injured stray who is adopted by an elderly monk, and unites the temple's dog pack to protect the place from thieves. The Monk Studio contributes Tong Lor, which deals with the relationship between a blind girl, her grandmother and their pet dog. And Workpoint Studios is still in the world of robots, similar to the company's animated feature Yak a few years ago, with Little Copper, about a boy robot who gives new life to his robot pet.

The three tales are tied together by live-action segments involving a girl who wanted her uncle (comedian "Nong" Choosak Iamsook) to buy her a foreign pure-breed, and he instead came up with a Thai mutt, played by the talented four-legged actor Richard, who has been the canine star of many Thai movies, TV shows and commercials. There is more about the movie in an article in The Nation. Rated G

The end of the year also brings the long-awaited return of writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng. The screenwriter of the classic Nang Nak takes on a teen ghost romance for the M-Thirtynine studio.

It has the rather curious title of Runpee (รุ่นพี่), but it's not the movie-going toilet application but simply Senior, as in older "brother". Though it could also mean ghost, a different-sounding word but also pee.

It's about a Catholic boarding school student (Ploychompoo Jannine Weigel) who has a special gift for smelling out ghosts. This leads her to meet a mysterious senior ghost boy and they investigate a murder that happened at the school 50 years before.

It's the first feature in five years from Wisit, who has largely been absent after he took a break from the film industry following a studio-budgetary ordeal making the action film Red Eagle. There's more in an article in The Nation.

Two films by Lav Diaz are screening in Bangkok, thanks to Filmvirus with generous support from the Japan Foundation. They are his Locarno prize winner From What Is Before, showing on Sunday at House, and the Typhoon Yolanda documentary Storm Children on Monday at the Chinatown art space Cloud. The screenings were announced late last week by the Filmvirus crew and spaces went fast. Monday's event, which includes a talk by Diaz himself, is full, but the Sunday film screening still has a few spaces left. Check the Facebook post for details.

More new releases in cinemas are covered at the other blog.

Friday, November 27, 2015

In Thai cinemas: German Open Air, Lav Diaz and the appearance of Vanishing Point

Along with the return of beer gardens and the strains of festive-season music in the air, there’s another indicator of Bangkok’s most joyous time of year – the return of the German Open Air Cinema Season at the Goethe-Institut Thailand.

With screenings on Tuesday nights from December 1 to 15 and January 5 to February 16 at the Goethe-Institut off Sathorn Soi 1, the Open Air Cinema series opens next week with a German movie that was made in Thailand.

Directed by Susanna Salonen, Patong Girl is a family drama and romance about a German family on vacation in Phuket. There, amid the salacious nightlife of Patong Beach, the family's teenage son falls for a young Thai woman and runs off. The mother soon runs off too, going in search of the boy. She ends up finding herself. Salonen and members of the cast will be present for a talk after the screening. There's a trailer, and it's embedded way down below.

Meanwhile, the devoted Thai cinephile club Filmvirus has put together two one-off screenings of films by Filipino auteur Lav Diaz. With support from the Japan Foundation, Filmvirus will show two recent Diaz entries, the Locarno Golden Leopard-winner From What Is Before and Storm Children on December 6 and 7.

Another one of Diaz' freeform black-and-white dramas, From What Is Before (Mula sa kung ano ang noon) tracks social decay in a small town as it comes under martial law during the Marcos regime in the 1970s. In addition to the Golden Leopard – the first for the Philippines – From What Is Before won prizes at the Gawad Urian Awards (the Philippines' top film honors) and the World Premieres Film Fest. Running around 5.5 hours, it screens at 3pm on December 6 at House cinema on RCA.

The other Bangkok screening will be Storm Children (Mga Anak ng Unos, Unang Akla), which has Diaz training his firmly affixed camera on a typhoon-wrecked town. A documentary, The Storm Children, looks at the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda, which is probably the worst storm to hit the Philippines. Running 143 minutes, it will be at Cloud, an art space and gallery in Bangkok's Chinatown. The show is at 2pm on December 7. A talk with Diaz himself is planned afterwards.

Filmvirus has previously organized other screenings of Diaz films in Thailand, including the "In Lav We Trust" event in 2013 and a major retrospective in 2009, which served to make Lav Diaz a patron saint of sorts for Thai cinephiles and their farang hangers-on. The Filmvirus folks do a good job, and I highly recommend their events.

Finally, there's another chance to catch Jakrawal Nilthamrong's award-winning Vanishing Point in Bangkok cinemas. Following its premiere at the Laem Thong Theatre, a limited run in SF cinemas and an appearance in the World Film Festival of Bangkok, Vanishing Point is now screening at House on RCA. Go see it.