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.

Arnold Is a Model Student gets high marks from Hubert Bals

Sorayos Prapapan at the premiere of Vanishing Point at the Laem Thong Theatre in Klong Toey, Bangkok. Photo via Vanishing Point.

Sorayos Prapapan, an indie filmmaker who has made short films and has served on the crews of many indie features, has received a boost from the Rotterdam festival's Hubert Bals Fund for what could be his directorial feature debut, Arnold Is a Model Student.

Announced yesterday by the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Sorayos' Arnold is among winners in the Hubert Bals Fund's Fall 2015 selection round for the Script and Project Development Grant.

Produced by Donsaron Kovitvanitcha, Arnold Is a Model Student was earlier pitched at the Ties That Bind workshop and last year's Produire au Sud Bangkok.

Sorayos, a graduate in film and photography from Thammasat University, has made critically acclaimed short films, among them the domestic-worker drama Boonrerm and the satiric Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport. Along with his short films, he has been a fixture on the festival and workshop circuit in recent years, attending Generation Campus 2013 in Moscow and the Asian Film Academy 2013 in Busan, among others.

He was a production assistant on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and has been a sound department hand on other films, including Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's 36. He also worked on Jakrawal Nilthamrong's Rotterdam prize-winner Vanishing Point, for which he did foley work.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cemetery of Splendour wins Best Feature at Asia Pacific Screen Awards

Presenters Sofie Formica and Anthony Chen at the ninth Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Brisbane. Photo courtesy of APSA.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's much-acclaimed latest feature Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น, Rak Ti Khon Kaen) was named best feature film at the ninth Asia Pacific Screen Awards on Thursday night in Brisbane.

It's the second time a Thai film has won an award at the APSAs, an Australia-based ceremony that was first held in 2007. The awards recognize and promote cinematic excellence and cultural diversity of the world’s fastest-growing film region, which comprises 70 countries and areas, 4.5 billion people and is responsible for half of the world’s film output. In 2015, 39 films from 22 Asia Pacific countries and areas received APSA nominations.

Thailand's previous APSA winner was Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia, which won the Unesco Award in 2009. A third Thai film, the documentary Citizen Juling, was also a nominee in 2009.

The full list of this year's winners can be found at the APSA website.

Cemetery of Splendour premiered to much acclaim in the Un Certain Regard section of this year's Cannes Film Festival. It has been a fixture on the circuit since then, with appearances that include the London film fest and the Pancevo Film Festival, where it shared the Lighthouse Award with Flotel Europa.

Closest Splendour is coming to Thailand this year appears to be the Singapore International Film Festival. Prospects for a Thai screening are uncertain or even unlikely, according to various interviews with the director.

Friday, November 13, 2015

GTH to disband amid stock market conflict

Surprising news to report today as GTH, the eminently successful Thai movie studio, is set to dissolve amid conflict between partners over whether to take the company public.

A statement was posted on the company's website, and Khaosod English has a translation:

According to the online statement, Hub Ho Hin “believes the company is not yet ready to enter stock market within the next 1-3 years” because doing so may cause a financial pressure that affects the company’s creativity and work quality.

“Every side has tried to initiate dialogue and negotiation to find a solution for a long time, but cannot reach a conclusion on the shared objective of the company,” the statement says. “Therefore, we unanimously agree that if our works continue without finding a conclusion, it will cause damages to all sides involved.”

It went on, “GMM Tai Hub Ltd (GTH) subsequently agreed jointly to cease all operations of the company, effective on 31 December 2015 onward.”

Formed in 2004, GTH was a merger of three companies – GMM Pictures, Tai Entertainment and Hub Ho Hin. They came together as GMM Tai Hub, with the massive success of a co-production, the hit 2003 childhood friendship drama Fan Chan (My Girl). It set the formula that GTH films more or less followed, with hallmarks that included "feel good" stories, squeaky clean characters, polished production values and an easily recognizable roster of attractive, bankable stars.

Subsequent features included the horror smash Shutter, the critically acclaimed romance Puen Sanit (Dear Dakanda) and the coming-of-age epic The Tin Mine.

Recent hits include the box-office record-setter Pee Mak Phra Khanong, and this year's indie-feel romantic comedy-drama Freelance and the teen comedy May Who?

At the heart of the conflict is the company's domineering honcho, veteran show-business executive Visute Poolvoralaks, whose Tai Entertainment forms the "T" in GTH, and producer, writer and director Jira Maligool, who brought his more indie-leaning Hub-Ho-Hin into the corporate fold.

This story just broke! There is further coverage in the Thai press, including Thai Rath and entertainment website Sanook.

Update: Film Business Asia now has the story.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

In Thai cinemas: World Film Fest, Father and Son, Love Next Door 2, Tiger Women, Sang Sudthai Khong E-Hien

The 13th World Film Festival of Bangkok is upon us, opening to the public on Saturday and running until November 22 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.

The schedule is available for downloading.

The opener is Snap, the latest feature from Kongdej Jaturanrasmee. Set during a time of martial law in Thailand, it's about a high-ranking military officer's daughter who is set to marry a junior military man. But before her own wedding, she heads back to her hometown for a friend's nuptials, and reconnects with her former sweetheart, who is the wedding photographer. Snap premiered in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival. According to a story in The Nation, Snap is set for a general theatrical release in Thailand on December 31.

The opening night will also see the presentation of the festival's annual Lotus Award for lifetime achievement. This year it will go to Dome Sukvong, founder of the Thai Film Archive. A filmmaker, scholar and historian, Dome has worked tirelessly over the decades to build up the Thai Film Archive from nothing, and he's done much to raise awareness for the need for film preservation. Without his efforts, much of Thailand's film legacy would be lost.

Other Thai highlights of the WFFBKK include the award-winning Vanishing Point, the art-house psychological drama by Jakrawal Nilthramrong, which got a limited release in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago and has also been playing in Chiang Mai. The World Film Fest brings it back to Bangkok for a spin with the festival crowd.

There are at least a couple of Thai live-action shorts, among them The Young Man Who Came From Chee River (Jer Gun Muer Rao Jer Gun) by Wichanon Somumjarn, which earlier screened in Venice. It follows an upcountry debt collector as he sees to his duties. It's in the Shortwave 1 program alongside Free Falling by artist-filmmaker Namfon Udomlertlak. Described as "docu-fiction", Free Falling "traces the journey of a young women who uses the making of the film to investigate the relationship between herself and her family and to understand the complexities involved before telling her parents about her life’s 'free falling'".

Thai animation is featured in the second edition of the Franco-Thai Animation Rendezvous, which packages Thai animated shorts with French ones. The Thai entries include award winners from the 19th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. Among them are the very weird, dark and delightful Prince Johnny by Patradol Kutcharoen, the funny CG animated Breaking Zoo by Prakasit Nuansri, the football-themed Kickoff by Twatpong Tangsajjapoj, Lamp by Nareporn Winiyakul, and the heist tale The Sneaker by Chattida Ajjimakul. Others are the darkly comic Gokicha’s Love Story by Chidchanok Saengkawin, A Knight on Horse and Backward by Panupun Jungtrakarn, Fragile by Jan Bhromsuthi, LUNAe by Nuntinee Tosetharat and Trapped by Phet Thaveesak.

The World Film Fest also has many Southeast Asian films, including Teddy Soeriaatmadja's About a Woman from Indonesia. There's a tribute to past projects of Produire au Sud, the funding workshop hosted by the WFFBKK. The entries are the Filipino comedy-drama Anita's Last Cha Cha by Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo, which was supported by the Produire au Sud Nantes in 2010, and Liew Seng Tat's Malaysian social satire Men Who Save the World, which was backed by Produire au Sud Bangkok 2008. And most intriguing is Filipino indie stalwart Khavn de la Cruz's Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore. Just like Pen-ek Ratanaruang with Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves, Khavn got cult-favorite Japanese leading man Tadanobu Asano to be in his film, and he got Hong Kong lensman Christopher Doyle to bath it all in a bluish light.

In addition to the film festival, there are new Thai films in general release, including two gay films, Love Next Door 2 and Father and Son (Phor Lae Lukchai, พ่อและลูกชาย).

Love Next Door 2 is a sequel to a hit 2013 indie gay romantic comedy. It's about a virginal young man (Angkoon Jeenukul) who becomes the object of lust for customers at the restaurant where he works. Ratthapol Pholthabtim, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit and Jenny Panan are among the stars. Rated 18+

Father and Son, meanwhile, has a more serious tone, with its story of a gay dad who has raised his surrogate son alone after the death of his partner. The kid, weary of being bullied, seeks to break out on his own. He takes up with a guy who it turns out has a crush on the kid's dad. In limited release at CentralWorld and Esplanade Ratchada, Father and Son is rated 20-.

Another new Thai film is Tiger Women (Phromajan Suay Phan Sayong, พรหมจรรย์ สวยพันธุ์สยอง). An erotic jungle thriller, it's about a young woman who is possessed by a tiger spirit. Released by Thana Entertainment, it's directed by Atsajun Sattakovit. He previously directed a movie called Soul's Code.

And as if all that isn't enough, there's also ountry comedy. In the same cornpone vein as Yam Yasothon, Mon Love Sib Muen and Poo Bao Tai Baan E-San Indy, Sang Sudthai Khong E-Hien (แสงสุดท้ายของอีเหี่ยน) involves a country girl who comes to the city to search for her mother but ends up losing all her money and cannot return home.

Other new movies in Thai cinemas include The Gift, American Ultra and Life. They are covered at the other blog.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Hand in Glove, Produire au Sud Bangkok, Teacher's Diary

Thai and Japanese talents combine both in front of and behind the lens for this quirky indie romantic comedy, which is so light it is practically inconsequential.

Thai actor-musician Chanon Rikulsurakan stars as an oddball glove-clad prince from a fictional country, who is visiting Kumamoto, Japan. Desperate to escape the pressures and protocols of being the heir to the throne, he sneaks out of his hotel and meets a local woman, who accompanies him on sightseeing trips. His minder is played by Selina Weismann, and I think she and the hotel manager conspire to let the prince believe he's sneaking away.

Directed by Japanese actor-director Yusuke Inaba, it was shot in Kumamoto by Thai cinematographer Pairach Khumwan, who is noted for his work on Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s 36 and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy. Hand in Glove first screened in Bangkok in January during the Japanese Film Festival, so here's a chance for more folks to see it. It's in Japanese with English and Thai subtitles at House on RCA.

There are two other movies this week in addition to the usual Wednesday screening at the Alliance Française Bangkok, where tonight and tomorrow, there are Southeast Asian films as part of the Produire au Sud Bangkok film-funding workshop, which is organized by the World Film Festival of Bangkok and the Three Continents Film Festival in Nantes, France.

The workshops give up-and-coming independent filmmakers experience in pitching their projects and finding backers to fund their films.

Tonight's screening, at 7pm, is the Filipino comedy-drama Anita's Last Cha Cha, which was supported by the Produire au Sud Nantes in 2010. And tomorrow at 6.30pm is the Malaysian social satire Men Who Save the World by Liew Seng Tat. It was pitched at Produire au Sud Bangkok in 2008 and screened in the recent Bangkok Asean Film Festival. Both films will also screen in the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which opens on November 13.

There are five teams pitching projects this year. They are:

  • Love for Life, directed by Pyae Zaw Phyo and produced by Myat Noe, Myanmar
  • Birdshot, directed by Mikhail Red and produced by Pamela Reyes, Philippines
  • Art Studio, directed by Jiekai Liao and produced by Jeremy Chua, Singapore
  • Sydney, directed by Wasunan Hutawet and produced by Parinee Buthrarsi
  • Cha Cha Cha, directed by Trung Do and produced by Trang Ngo, Vietnam

Wasunan, the director of the Thai project, is an alumnae of the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2012. Seeking to make her feature debut, she previously took Sydney to the Thai Pitch in Cannes.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand's Contemporary World Film Series closes out another year with a Thai film, the award-winning 2014 romantic drama The Teacher's Diary (คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya).

It's the sweetly sentimental tale of two teachers who are posted to an isolated floating schoolhouse a year apart. Despite never having met, they fall in love with one another through a diary they share at the school. Directed by Nithiwat Tharatorn and starring "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak and "Bie" Sukrit Wisetkaew, it won many awards for its screenplay, art direction and music. It was also Thailand's submisssion to this year's Oscars.

Nithiwat will attend the screening, which is at 7pm on Monday and is supported by the GTH film studio and a wine brand. Admission is 150 baht for non-members and 100 baht for the wine.

Other movies opening include the new Bond film Spectre, and the gore-filled Tag, which has director Sion Sono killing as many Japanese schoolgirls as he can put on camera. There's also Spanish Film Week, which last just four days, at SF World. Check the other blog for more details.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Festival festival! Awards in Tokyo and Lisbon, Motion in Toronto

Pimpaka Towira with her Asian Future Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Photo via The Nation.

Though she's been making films since the late 1990s, it's taken awhile for the men in charge of world cinema to get around to recognizing Pimpaka Towira, who was honored over the weekend at the Tokyo International Film Festival with the Asian Future Award for her new film The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน, Maha Samut Lae Susaan).

It's her sophomore fictional feature, which follows her 2003 debut One Night Husband and the 2007 documentary The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong.

Of course, Pimpaka has also been kept quite busy over the years making short films, producing films by other directors, lending her expertise to workshops and serving as a festival programmer, juror and panelist. The award for her new film seems quite overdue, but is still most welcome.

Here is more about her Tokyo award from The Nation:

"I am so excited right now. The film took so many years to complete. I'd like to thank the Tokyo International Film Festival and all the crew and the actors who made the big effort until we could finish this project," Pimpaka said in her acceptance speech.

The film tells the story of Laila, a Muslim woman from Bangkok who travels to Pattani to meet her long lost aunt. "I was not sure initially as my film was different from other films, but the feedback from the audience was very nice," Pimpaka said later in an interview. After One Night Husband, which premiered in the Forum Section of the Berlin International Film Festival in 2003, she had to put in a lot of effort to make her second feature.

"During the production stages, I was not sure if this film was good enough. I had to revise the editing so many times. The award proves that at least the jury and the audience saw something in this film," said Pimpaka, whose film was praised by the jury for showing the landscape and politics of the country with strong cinematic language. The jury members were Olivier Pere, managing director of Arte France Cinema, Jacob Wong of the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Tatsushi Omori, director of the critically acclaimed Japanese film The Ravine of Goodbye.

Shot partially in Pattani with 16mm film, The Island Funeral went through a lot of problems and was almost left unfinished. "At one point, I didn’t feel like I wanted to finish the project. There were lots of problems, from myself, from the source of funding, and what happened around me, but in the end I made a decision to finish the film even though the result was unforeseeable."

The Island Funeral premiered in Tokyo alongside another new Thai film, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Snap, which will open the upcoming 13th World Film Festival of Bangkok. Folks in Thailand will have to wait awhile for The Island Funeral though. Pimpaka and her team plan to tour the festival circuit for the next year or so, building up more anticipation for the film's eventual Thai release. There's more about the film in another article in The Nation.

Elsewhere in the festival world, the short film That Day of the Month was among the prize winners at the 19th edition of Queer Lisboa, which was held in September. Thanks to a Facebook reader for sending me the tip about this one.

Directed by Jirassaya Wongsutin, That Day of the Month was named the Queer Lisboa's best short film, winning a 1,500-euro prize and Portugal's RTP2 public TV channel picking up broadcast rights. Jirassaya had previously won the White Elephant Award for student films at last year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

Finally, here's news of an upcoming Thai film screening overseas – Bangkok in Motion, a short directed by Bangkok-based filmmaker Jimmie Wing – has been selected for the Toronto International Short Film Festival, which runs from November 11 to 13. It's a smoothly rolling portrait of Bangkok, shot from the perspective of a disabled cameraman in a wheelchair.

I found out about this one because Jimmie saw me at a film event, and actually walked over and spoke to me. He told me that his short film was going to be in the film festival in Toronto. So now I've reported that news here. Funny how that works.