Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Cannes premiere set for Santi-Vina, a film misplaced for 60 years

A scene from Santi-Vina, via the Film Archive (Public Organization) Thailand.

Long considered an unattainable "Holy Grail" of Thai cinema, the 1954 romantic drama Santi-Vina (สันติ -วีณา) was once lost. But really, it was there all the time, hidden away in mislabeled cans at the British Film Institute archives.

Now accounted for, the film, directed by Thavi "Kru Marut" na Bangchang with a screenplay by Vichit Kounavudhi and cinematography by pioneering auteur R.D. Pestonji, will get a new premiere at the Cannes Film Festival tomorrow (May 19) as part of the Cannes Classics program.

Having undergone a complete digital restoration, Santi-Vina is the only Thai film officially selected to this year's edition of the prestigious festival.

Added to Thailand's national registry of historic films in 2014, Santi-Vina is significant because it was the first Thai film to be shot on 35mm color with sound. It was also the first Thai film to win an award at an overseas film festival, taking away three prizes at the 1954 Asia Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo. There was a kerfuffle when Pestonji returned from the festival, and had to pay customs duties on the camera he was awarded as a prize. Also, authorities fined the filmmakers for showing the film overseas without first passing through censors.

Nonetheless, it was shown in Bangkok that same year, according to various accounts. But from there the film's path into the collective pop-culture consciousness becomes sketchy.

No one today seems to know exactly why or how Santi-Vina went missing. Or maybe they do know, but can't say. Anyway, archivists searched for decades, and had pretty much given up hope. But the film was there, somewhere in England, just sitting and waiting to be rediscovered.

A recent Bangkok Post article had more details:

"In the early 2000s there were clues, but none was substantial. When Rank Laboratory in the UK sent us back several Thai films marooned in their lab, Santi-Vina wasn't among them. We checked with British Film Institute [BFI] too because they kept so many films, but they didn't find it. So we thought it had been lost forever," says Chalida [Uabumrungjit, deputy director of Thailand's Film Archive (Public Organisation)].

But then luck struck. In 2011, a film critic and student in London, Alongkot Duangmai, was browsing through the BFI library when he accidentally found the title Santi-Vina. Then followed a flurry of communication between the Thai Film Archive and BFI, which eventually found the sound negatives of the film, but no picture. More digging revealed that BFI had also kept the picture negatives, though they were misplaced with the wrong registration number and misspelled title, thus making it untraceable in the beginning. Against all odds, Santi-Vina came into existence again.

There will hopefully be a screening or screenings of Santi-Vina in Thailand in the not-too-distant future. Keep an eye on the Film Archive's Facebook page for those developments. In the meantime, feast eyes on the trailer, embedded below.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

In Thai cinemas: Embracing Khemarat, Keep Scala petition

Three loosely connected stories of romance take place in Embracing Khemarat (อ้อมกอดเขมราฐ, Aom-Kod-Khemarat), set in an idyllic small town in Ubon Ratchathani on the banks of the Mekong.

They involve a young female physician who is posted to the local hospital and runs into cute conflict with the owner of a local coffee shop. Other stories have a young Lao immigrant woman who falls for a photographer and a "nerdy girl" who has attracted the eye of a quiet and shy schoolboy rock musician.

Among the stars are Miss Thailand 2009 runner-up Kobkullaya Chuengprasertsri, who is an actual physician. Other stars are "Fluke" Teerapat Lohanan, "Palmy" Nantariya Namboon, "Tao" Phusin Warinrak, "Nong" Puttason Seedawan and "Golf" Anuwat Chucherdwattana.

The film is written and produced by Dr Ritt Pokkrittayahariboon, a surgeon and businessman who settled in Khemarat and wanted to make a movie to promote the town and its attractions. The Nation had a bit more about it.

Apart from a new Thai movie, there is also news about an old Bangkok cinema – the Scala.

Despite the threat of imminent closure by landlord Chulalongkorn University, the leaseholder and the theater's management remain devoted to the profession of showing films. Recently, the Scala installed a new screen because the old one was showing its age and was long past due for an upgrade. The result is a much clearer and brighter picture that makes going to movies at the Scala well worth your while. It is the best value in movie-going in Bangkok. Please support the Scala while it exists, which will hopefully be through 2017 and into 2018.

Meanwhile, general Thai public awareness of the Scala's plight is finally starting to emerge, perhaps too little, too late. There was a Nation editorial this week, and there is also a Thai-language petition that asks Chula U. to "keep Scala" open and recognize that its unique cultural and architectural values outweigh the supposed economic benefits of building yet another shopping mall in a city already saturated by shopping malls.

Along with Captain America: Civil War, which is held over at the Scala for a third week, newer movies in local cinemas include the Oscar-nominated Colombian adventure Embrace of the Serpent; which is brought in by indie distribution outfit HAL Film. There is also The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Angry Birds Movie and the great Sammo Hung in The Bodyguard. More new releases are detailed on the other blog.

The Scala marquee on opening day for Captain America: Civil War, April 27, 2016. Photo by Wise Kwai.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Review: Buppha Arigato

  • Written and directed by Yuthlert Sippapak
  • Starring Supassara Thanachat, Charlie Potjes, Chalermpon Thikampornteerawong, Yok Teeranitayatarn, Aphichan Chaleumchainuwong, Thana Wityasuranan, Triwarat Chutiwatkhachorachai, Navin Yavapolkul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 5, 2016; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Yuthlert Sippapak is one of the Thai film industry's more distinctive and prolific directors. His signature move is to throw all kinds of ideas into the blender and then somehow assemble them as mostly coherent films that I have more or less enjoyed over the years.

After a bit of a hiatus, he's back at it with Buppha Arigato (บุปผาอาริกาโตะ, a.k.a. Buppha Rahtree: A Haunting in Japan).

Not only does it blend the horror, comedy and romantic-drama genres, it's also an Asian cultural mix, with a blood-and-slapstick story about a Thai musician and a film crew visiting a winter resort in Japan, where they are haunted by Japanese-style ghosts as well as the ghost of a spurned young Thai woman. I also couldn't help but feel a bit of John Carpenter vibe, with perhaps a nod to Halloween.

Additionally, it is trading on a combination of well-known Thai movies, tying in with Yuthlert's own Buppha Rahtree franchise of ghost comedy-horrors and the hit 2003 film Fan Chan (แฟนฉัน, a.k.a. My Girl). The bulk of the cast are the boys from Fan Chan, all grown up, including that film's lead actor Charlie Potjes along with the schoolyard bully, Chalermpon "Jack" Thikampornteerawong. It's the first time all the guys have been reunited onscreen since they were children.

The story follows the familiar template of the Buppha Rahtree films, which dealt with the ghost of a vengeful heartbroken young woman haunting an apartment building, and mined comedy from the colorful procession of police, priests and shamans who are recruited to perform exorcisms.

Buppha Arigato changes things up by having the action take place in a rental lodge at a picturesque Japanese ski resort. And instead of one ghost, there are several. The most lethal is a knife-wielding mother and her creepy little boy, spirits of a family who stayed in the house years before but could not pay their rent.

Meanwhile, there's a young Thai woman named Buppha who comes to the resort on a solo trip to mend her broken heart. Seems she caught her boyfriend having sex with another woman. Somehow, she has passed away but her soul is hanging on at the lodge, and is drawn to Charlie and his crew because Charlie looks a bit like her cheating ex.

The lodge's shady landlord, a Thai expat portrayed by "Tar" Navin Yavapolkul, is aware of his property's status as a haunted house, and he has various clergymen brought in to get rid of the bad spirits. Among the bumbling exorcists is a Thai Buddhist monk who is hung over after having too much beer and a sake bomb the night before. His saffron robe is accessorized by expensive sunglasses and a designer handbag, reflecting an actual controversy about a jet-setting monk in Thai religious society. Later, a Thai Hindu priest takes a crack at the spirits. Neither are successful at much except getting plenty of laughs.

So it's up to Charlie, Jack and the rest of the gang to solve the mystery of why the ghosts are haunting the place.

It's a chance for the former child actor Charlie to stretch his dramatic chops, and to show his talent as an indie singer-songwriter. He gets an extended scene during the closing credits, with a stylishly shot close up of just him, his tenor voice and acoustic guitar.

Jack, now a ubiquitous TV personality and commercial pitchman, gets to play director, heading up the film unit that is comprised of other four other now-grown child actors from Fan Chan, namely Yok Teeranitayatarn, Aphichan Chaleumchainuwong, Thana Wityasuranan, Triwarat Chutiwatkhachorachai.

There is a passing of the torch, with former Buppha Ratree actress "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak putting in a cameo in a limbo dream sequence, and offering guidance to new-face actress Supassara Thanachat, who takes over the role.

But the real hero of Buppha Arigato is of course Yuthlert's long-time collaborator, actor and veteran film-industry hand Adirek "Uncle" Watleela, again playing a police officer as he has throughout the franchise, and in other films. Here, he's a Japanese cop, but helpfully speaks Thai, and he comes up with an unusual way of defeating the ghosts, involving the use of an umbrella and the Thai military's infamous divining-rod-like GT-200 "bomb detector".

Also, all the guys are required to strip down to their tighty-whitie underwear briefs, so at least these young emperors have a shred of dignity.