Saturday, December 31, 2005

Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins Silpathorn Award

I've ranted a lot about the Thailand Culture Ministry here, but one segment of the ministry that's doing good work -- actually promoting culture -- is the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture. Last year the OCAC started the Silpathorn Awards to recognize prominent living Thai contemporary artists.

The 2005 award for filmmaking goes to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director of Tropical Malady, a jury prize winner at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

I like the criteria for the award. Winners must be a "Thai national [and] be aged between 30-50 years and still alive on the announcement day. Their works must have continually been exposed to the general public until present, as well as have been released in Thailand, creating a great impact to Thai contemporary art and inspiring young artists.

Seeing how an independent film movement has grown up around Apichatpong, and he's been tirelessly promoting experimental films, he definitely qualifies.

More about the award can be found at

The OCAC, by the way, was the office that backed the Tsunami Digital Short Films, on which Apichatpong served as a consultant.

As an aside, the OCAC has commissioned writer Prabda Yoon to write a book about the tsunami. He's the screenwriter who worked with Pen-ek Ratanaruang on Last Life in the Universe and the upcoming Invisible Waves, which is due out in Thailand cinemas on March 2.

(Thanks Thunska! Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Citizen Dog on Time's best of 2005 list

Okay, it was a 2004 film, unless you lived in behind-the-times North America, where Citizen Dog was one of the 10 best films of 2005. This is according to Richard Corliss at Time magazine. Wisit Sasanatieng's second film came in at No 6 on the list.

Here's a rapturous, visually orgasmic Asian romance, the sophomore effort from Sasanatieng (Tears of the Black Tiger), based on a novel written by his wife. This Thai kaleidoscope of comedy, with brisk narration and fevered imagery, suggests the French film Amelie, but after a dozen beers and a couple conks on the head. The movie includes a missing finger found in a sardine can, killer helmets, a grandmother reincarnated as a gecko, a litter of puppies in blue dresses ... And it's a musical! All right, you had to be there. But, guaranteed, once you're there, you won't want to leave.

(Thanks Sebu! Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Apichatpong's Intimacy and Turbulence

Twitch has details of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's forthcoming feature film, Intimacy and Turbulence.

It's one of the films commissioned by Peter Sellars for the New Crowned Hope Festival to be held in Vienna in November and December 2006, as part of the Vienna MozartYear 2006.

A festival press release explains further:

The commissions will be inspired by and explore the deeper issues that Mozart miraculously treated in the three great works from the last year of his life: The Magic Flute, La Clemenza di Tito and the Requiem. The primary themes are those of magic and transformation, forgiveness and reconciliation and recognition of the dead. These issues are those that Peter Sellars passionately feels make Mozart's work so crucially relevant to our moment in history.

Apichatpong's film "is a story set 40 years ago in a small town's hospital. A recollection and a reconstruction of the love and work of a filmmaker's parents before they finally became lovers".

Other directors participating in the project are Paraguay's Paz Encina, Iranian-Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun, Tsai Ming Liang and Indonesia's Garin Nugroho.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, December 26, 2005

The art of scary trailers

Good points made in an article a few days ago in ThaiDay (which finally has an online presence) about the need for film ratings in Thailand, and along with them, trailers that have also been rated and are approved for general audiences, similar to what is done by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The article highlighted the gory trailers for Art of the Devil 2 (found at Twitch), which were shown ahead of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, an animated feature that many kiddies (and squeamish adults like me) went to see.

Thailand's film industry still has no ratings, and is subject to the long-outdated 1930 Censorship Code, which is enforced by the police. In some cases, the cops physically get into the films with scissors and snip stuff out, or blur offending frames with Vaseline. Every film, video, VCD and DVD that is sold in the Kingdom must get the stamp of approval from the Censorship Board.

The enforcement is spotty, with some DVDs simply getting rubber stamped, but others getting censored. An example of some DVDs I bought recently: Locally sold Region 3 versions of Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino (with Thai, Korean, Mandarin and Bahasa subtitles) haven't been touched, but still have the Royal Thai Police stamp. However, a Thai-dubbed version of Silver City has booze bottles and guns pixellated out. I'll be selling that one back, by the way.

A ratings system, proposed by the Culture Ministry, has been presented for Cabinet approval, but things are taking time. Scuttlebutt has it that the cops don't want to give up their cushy job of watching movies. Each viewing is an extra 500 baht in their pockets. Where's that money going to go when the Culture Ministry takes over?

And, understandably, filmmakers are wary of the Culture Ministry, which has acted positively Orwellian in the past, more like a Conservative Values and Morals Ministry than anything to do with culture.

"I don't underestimate them. But what kind of concept do they have?" an anonymous producer was quoted as saying by ThaiDay. He said he doubted that the Culture Ministry's board would be efficient enough, because most of the appointees are government officials who know nothing of how the film industry works. "Why don’t they just take some of us...and ask for our help with something we know about?"

Adirek "Uncle" Watleela (whose new directorial effort, Ghost Variety, opens on Thursday), was quoted as well. "Those selected to be on the board, have they been to the theater during the past 30 years? How many films have they seen, and how much do they understand them?"

Ladda Tangsupachai, head of the Culture Ministry’s monitoring center, countered that she regularly sees movies and that as an audience member, she doesn’t like to see cut or blurred films either. Once the ratings are in force, she says, everyone will understand their rights: filmmakers will know what to make, parents will know what to buy for their kids and marketers will know how to present their products.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Invisible Waves to premiere at Berlin

It's official - Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's next film, Invisible Waves, will get its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, from February 9 to 19.

It'll be in competition for the Golden Bear, the first since Rattana Pestonji's Black Silk in the 1961.

Among the many out-of-competition films will be Chen Kaige's poorly-reviewed historical fantasy epic romance, The Promise.

A follow-up collaboration by the Last Life in the Universe director with his star Tadanobu Asano and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Asano portrays a Japanese chef from Macao who kills his lover and heads to Thailand to hide out.

In addition to Asano, Invisible Waves features a pan-Asian cast that includes Kang Hye-jeong from Old Boy and Hong Kong funnyman Eric Tsang.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Remembering the Tsunami

We're fast coming up on the one-year anniversary of the December 26, 2004 tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean region.

In Thailand, the disaster has been remembered by filmmakers, who produced the Tsunami Digital Short Films, which premiered back in October at the World Film Festival of Bangkok.

The films will be shown in Phuket - which was hit hard by the tsunami - on December 24 and 25 at SFX Coliseum Cinema at Central Festival Phuket. In addition, 15 short films produced by youths who reside in Trang and Phuket will be shown. These were made in the Short Film Production Youth Camp organised by Office of Contempoary Art and Culture and the Thai Film Foundation. This programme will be screened at 6pm on Christmas Day. Tickets are Bt90. All proceeds go to tsunami relief efforts.

Bangkok has a bigger event going on over the holiday weekend - the Fourth Experimental Film Festival, in which a staggering number of short films and feature films will be shown in Lumpini Park from 5pm to 9pm from December 23 to 25.

The Tsunami Digital Short Films will be shown on Sunday. Friday and Saturday there will be a retrospective of Anna Sanders Films. Other programmes include Bangkok Utopia, Thai Experimental, Thai Indie, Art+Film, MTV+POP Culture & Anima(sta)tion, Experimental Narrative and Travelogue.

There's the usual names in Thai avant garde cinema: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thunska Pansittivorakul and Michael Shaowanasai. Noi Sukosol Clapp from Bangkok Loco offers something called Time Traveller in Saturday's Bangkok Utopia screening.

In addition to the outdoor screenings at Lumpini, there will be a program on "Xtreme Film" from 2pm to 8pm on Saturday, December 24, at the 14 Ocober 1973 Memorial on Rajdamnoen Avenue, near Tanao Road and Khao San.

It'll include a discussion with filmmakers Thunska, Michael, Tuan Andrew Nguyen and film archivist Dome Sukwong, facilitated by the Thai Film Foundation’s Chalida Uabamrunjit.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

In the name of what?

I'm back after a break from the journal while I was in the States. It's taking me awhile to get back in the swing, and so far, the news is pretty disheartening.
  • I tried to see In the Name of the Tiger, directed by Theeratorn Siriphunvaraporn, but I wasn't able to get to the cinema until yesterday and it was too late. One of the last cinemas in town where it was showing with subtitles took it off the schedule that very day. Killed by Kong.
  • Yam Yasothon and the documentary, Crying Tigers, are out on DVD, but neither have English subtitles. Both are Sahamongkol releases, so I never really had my hopes up for the subtitles - Sahamongkol rarely springs for the licensing of the subtitles, they sell the film rights to foreign distributors and let them sort out the subtitling licensing and royalty issues. But I'm still disappointed.
But there's some good news:
  • Three 1970s films - Insee Thong (the film Mitr Chaibuncha died making), Piak Poster's Tone and Choompae have been released on Thai DVD with English subs. I haven't watched any all the way through, but what I've seen is fun. The transfers are clear - you can really see how bad the films' conditions are - and the sound is surprisingly clear as well. Very cool retro vibe. Hope to have some reviews up soon.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Review: Country Hotel

  • Directed by Ratana Pestonji
  • Starring Chana Sri-Ubon, Surasit Sattayawong, Sarinthip Siriwan, Prajuab Reukyamdee
  • 1957, available on DVD with English subtitles from the Thai Film Foundation
  • Rating: 5/5

I've finally seen the spring from which Wisit Sasanatieng drank that inspired his Tears of the Black Tiger, and the water is very good indeed.

Not that Ratana Pestonji's Country Hotel is a great film, but it is a fun movie that offers rewards for repeat viewings, just to catch the nuances that I didn't think were possible. Overall, there's an elegant, understated style to this film that I find enjoyable.

Essentially, Country Hotel is a stage play, shot with one camera on a soundstage with one set - the inside of a ramshackle bar and guesthouse in suburban Bangkok.

The first hour is hilarious, pure comedy, with lots of music.

It opens with the camera panning around at various people in the bar. A musical soundtrack accompanies the scene - a solo trombone playing some bum notes. The then camera pans over to a corner of the bar, and there's actually a guy studiously playing solo trombone, badly. Meanwhile, there's a pair working on some music at the piano. The singer goes over to the trombonist and asks him to stop playing so he can practice. The guy then breaks out with some horrible, hoarse-sounding European opera, which drives the bar's one customer crazy.

The cavalcade of music hardly lets up. Just as the opera singer departs, a small marching band comes in blowing a Sousa march. A small brass band comes in with a pair of boxers and a boxing match (where the opponents let each other hit them with one punch in turn until one passes out) is held. In the morning, there's shrill Chinese opera. And a guitar-strumming Filipina stops by to sing a beautiful ballad.

The bartender, Noi, is an arm-wrestling champion, and he must frequently defend his title as challengers come into the bar.

Into the mix comes a mysterious woman who gives her name only as Riam, who claims she is 60 years old, has 12 grandchildren and trades opium.

She asks to stay at the hotel, but oddly, the place has only one room and it is taken. After some hysterics and throwing and dragging of suitcases, Riam and the solo lodger, the musically embattled man, who is named Chana, come to an agreement that has the wonderfully sassy Riam sleeping out on the sofa.

"What is this place, the hotel from hell?" asks the man.

No, actually, it's the Paradise Hotel (though "Hell Hotel" is the literal meaning of the film's Thai title, Rongraem Nark).

For the second hour, the story settles into a film noir, as the mystery of Riam and Chana are revealed, when a Thai mafia boss comes to the hotel looking for a quantity of cash and holds Riam and Chana hostage until the money is turned over.

I'm grateful to the Thai Film Foundation for making this available on DVD.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Review: Powder Road

  • Directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol
  • Starring Chatchai Plengpanich, Masatochi Nagase, Sinjai Hongthai
  • Available on DVD from Mangpong in Thailand. Language is Thai with some broken English and Japanese, however only the Thai dialogue is English-subtitled.

Made with the Japanese market in mind, this film is historic in that it's the first Thai film that shows bare breasts. Never mind that they are the fake tits of a transgendered male who has heroin packed into his plastic jugs. But that's how Tan Mui got around it.

Though there's actually some female breasts earlier in the film, at a Patpong go-go bar.

"You see they're in Patpong and the woman will put in a dart [into her vagina], and shoot a dart at a balloon. What you can do is integrate it into the fabric of the film, into the structure of the film, and it is impossible to take it out," Chatrichalerm explained to Thomas Richardson for Richardson's now-defunct Thai Film Index website at Cornell. "You have to see the nipple. And when you see the nipple, next year you have to fight to get the pubic hair. If you see the nipple you can see the whole tit, front on. So now you have to fight to get the pubic hair. Now, what is the definition of pubic hair? I have one of my actors who has hair from his chest down to his knees. You have to tell the censors, 'Okay, you draw the line, where is the pubic hair? Okay, I will obey it'."

Powder Road deals with the drug trade, and starts out with a Japanese man, Tokio (Nagase) trekking into Burma for some reason or another. Throughout the whole film I can't figure out what exactly his role is. Is he a cop? A secret agent? A rival yakuza enforcer? A hired assassin?

Anyway, he's a wirey little fella (not at all the imposing presence of a, say, Toshiro Mifune, a Wakayama Tomasaburo or a Sonny Chiba), and dodges bullets and grenades well as he crosses back into Thailand through the jungle and runs into some para-military bandits who try to kill him.

Tokio is tracking a shipment of heroin, which frozen into big ice blocks and is moved from the Golden Triangle region on boats down the Mekong.

He hits Bangkok, and eventually Pattaya, where he hides out, waiting, I guess, for instructions from his mysterious female handler.

He runs into a bargirl (Sinjai) who professes her hatred for the Japanese. One night, he saves her from some guys trying to rape her, taking a quite a beating in the process.

So there's one Japanese (or, sorry, Jap) that's okay in her book. They hook up, and she takes him to her home village, where she shows Tokio why she hate the Japanese -- because they built a big chemical plant that is poisoning the neighborhood, killed off the fish stocks and made her sister a brain-dead cripple. So besides the dangers of the drug trade, there's another message in this Chatrichalerm film -- of wealthier nations preying on smaller ones so they can operate dangerous industries.

Chatchai is a Thai cop looking to get to the bottom of the yakuza's involvement in the drug trade. His path crosses with the mayor of Pattaya, who also runs a transvestite cabaret.

There's some decent action in this, especially toward the end when there's a gunfight at a seedy hospital where the "girls" are having their breasts done. Here's where there's a cool reveal involving the yakuza's chief henchman, a blade-wielding sort who's got a secret identity.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Too scared to see Scared

Scared is out in local cinemas this week, but I'm too squeamish to go see it. The latest Thai horror film is about a group of college freshmen who go on a class trip, and end up isolated in redneck land, where they start getting killed off, one by one.

Directed Pakpoom Wongjinda, I read in a local magazine, BK I think, that the cast - largely young first-time film actors - were kept in the dark about the script right up until shooting, so their reactions would be genuine.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tony Jaa gets a hired gun

Contrary to an earlier report (and here), it seems Sword might still be a going concern for Tony Jaa, but then when you're dealing with the nebulous world of film pre-production, who knows what's going on?

Anyway, The Nation's print-only Soopsip column reports today that while Tony is busy on tour promoting Tom Yum Goong, director Prachya Pinkaew is putting together the team for the next film, "temporarily titled" Daab Atamas. Daab is sword in Thai, okay?

Prachya has roped in writer Praphas Chonsalanon, a co-founder of Work Point Entertainment Company, who will write the script.

Script? What's that?

"He met Jaa when I was working at Grammy," Prachya was quoted as saying. "He's been interested in working with us since then, but it’s not until this project that the timing’s been right."

Soopsip further opined: "Bringing in the popular writer will perhaps overcome problems with substance and ensure the new movie has a stronger story line than Tom Yum Goong."

Tom Yum Goong is now out on VCD in Thailand and all the video shops are playing it. It's my preferred way to catch the film now, doing some shopping and catching glimpses of Tony Jaa doing some bad-ass stunts out of the corner of my eye.

Meanwhile, plans by Tom Yum Goong executive producer Somsak Techarattanaprasert to offer shares of his Sahamongkol Film have been shelved.

Somsak, also known as Sia Jiang, says he changed his mind after watching the debacle earlier this year when Grammy boss Paiboon Damrongchaitham attempted a takeover of the Matichon publishing firm and the Bangkok Post.

Somsak says he probably wouldn't work so well with shareholders watching his every move.

"I'm totally unhappy if I don’t have total freedom to do what I want," Somsak was quoted as saying.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Banzai! Born to Fight!

The love for Panna Rittikrai's Born to Fight continues unabated at Twitch (despite a bit of hatin' in the comments section), where they've posted links to the super cool Japanese trailer. I played it in my office and it ran smooth, stopping all activity. I had to play it again to get everyone to go back to work. But at home, it was balky, probably due to my tentative DSL connection. If I could get a download of the trailer, I'd probably be able to do without the movie - just about all the cool stunts are there.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

AFM update: GTH sells films to France

The horror! GTH has sold the suspense films, Alone and Dorm to Wild Side Films in France, Kaiju Shakedown reports. It's news that is slowly leaking from the American Film Market, where GTH has set up shop to try and sell five of its films.

Alone is the followup to last year's box-office smash Shutter, directed by Parkpoom Wongpoom and Banjong Pisanthanakun, and it goes into production in March 2006 with a Korean lead actress, Kaiju says.

Dorm is the first solo project from another one of the six Fan Chan directors, Songyos Sugmakanan, and it stars Charlie Trairat, the young male lead from Fan Chan. Folks out there in the Asian film blogosphere are more cautious about this one, with Twitch comparing it to Devil's Backbone and Kaiju Shakedown saying it "sounds like a Thai version of the Korean girls school ghost flicks."

Also coming in 2006 from GTH is Body by Prajitpol Tangsritrakul. "Can you make one body disappear?" begs the teaser on the poster. What's better is this bit from the synopsis: "But what will happen if one person believes that he can destroy every molecule of a human’s body within 2 hours just by using a 10 cm long scalpel just for the sake of proving that he can." Ick.

Shifting gears, GTH also is trying sell the funny and sweet rom-com, Dear Dakanda as well as the family comedy, Oops ... There's Dad, which ran earlier this year as Wai Ounlawon: 30 Years Later.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Tom Yum Goong: L'Honneur du Dragon

Not content to leave film titles alone, the overseas marketing machine has given Tom Yum Goong a subtitle to get in that requisite "dragon" that all martial arts films must have.

So now it's Tom Yum Goong: Honor of the Dragon.

The film is due for release in France on February 8. The French poster is here, thanks to Sebu, who also reports that the TF1-mandated edit will clock in at 94 minutes. That's quite a trim from original 110-minute version that played in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia this summer.

Presumably, it'll cut right to the action.

The full film can be caught on VCD. YesAsia has Edko's Hong Kong release with Chinese subtitles only, while eThaiCD has a version with no subtitles at all. Just press that fast-forward button to get to the action and you'll likely the the effect of the edited version.

Meanwhile, has news on the Tom Yum Goong star's next movies. It says that Sword has been put on hold while Tony makes an as-yet-untitled film that has him going on an odyssey to learn martial arts skills from other countries: Shaolin kung fu from China, ninja skills from Japan and taekwando from the US.

Looking ahead to 2009, Tony is being slated for a fantasy that tells the story of Hanuman, the monkey god. And there's also Mum Jokmok's Bodyguard 2, probably coming out next year, which he'll have a cameo in along with Born to Fight star Dan Chupong.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thai studios to boost output in 2006

Thai movie studios are already crowing about how much money they've made this year, giving them enough optimism to increase their output next year. So says an article in today's Nation (temporary link).

The leading studio, Sahamongkol Film, will invest more than 1 billion baht (about US$25 million) to produce at least 18 movies in 2006, up from 11 this year. GMM Tai Hub, or GTH, will launch eight films next year with the expectation to boost its revenue to 700 million baht, from 200 million baht this year.

Sahamongkol honcho Somsak Techarattanaprasert said the firm’s production and marketing budget for 2006 would be 30 per cent higher than this year’s.

"Generally, the production and marketing budget will increase 10-20 per cent per movie in 2006, as producers are inspired by this year’s huge success," Somsak was quoted as saying.

He also said the potential for marketing Thai films in Thailand is huge, since foreign films have relatively small promotional budgets. Hollywood films already dominate, so why would they need to spend more?

GTH chairman Visute Poolvoralak said that since the beginning of the year, Thai movies were expected to have generated more than 1 billion baht or 30 per cent of movie industry revenue, estimated at 3.5 billion baht.

In 2004, local movies grossed Bt800 million or 20 per cent of the market value of 3.2 billion baht. "This represents huge growth and should form a strong business base for Thai movies next year," Visute said.

Somsak said "the total market size should expand to nearly 4 billion baht.

"Watching movies remains cheap and affordable entertainment, despite many polls that predicted a decline in the movie industry following economic problems," he said.

So far this year, a few films have raked in gross revenue of that exceeds the magic number of 100 million baht, including Tom Yum Goong, The Holy Man (Luangphee Theng) and Yam Yasothon. Tom Yum Goong earned 300 million in ticket sales from its domestic release alone. Tom Yum Goong and Yam Yasothon are from Sahamongkol. The Holy Man comes from Phranakorn Film.

GTH, which produced the underperforming Tin Mine (though I can't place my hands on any figures right now), did have a hit with Dear Dakanda, which has become the most successful Thai romantic comedy in history, earning 80 million at the box office, according to The Nation's Soop Sip column.

Other recent films haven't fared so well, with Ahimsa: Stop to Run, The Tiger Blade and the colossal bomb The King Maker earning less than 10 million baht in their opening weeks, Soopsip says.

Ahimsa was made by RS Film, while Tiger Blade is from the start-up Mono Film. The King maker was backed by Sahamongkol.

Somchai "Lek" Kittiparaporn, director of The Kingmaker, remains upbeat about the poor performance of his 250 million baht historical epic. He explains that the local market was never a priority for the English-language Thai film, set in 16th century Siam.

"We are negotiating with Hollywood studios to distribute the film. The movie was always intended for the international market, which is why it has an English soundtrack."

Trouble is, I wonder who outside Thailand would actually want to see The King Maker, when there are so many better choices?

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Hit Man File on Region 1 DVD

The 2004 gangster drama, Hit Man File, is now available on Region 1 DVD with English subtitles from Kino. "From the studio that brought you Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior," says the box.

Digitally Obsessed gives it a favorable review, saying that although "the gangster film has been done to death ... every now and then a nice, fresh entry comes along ... Hit Man File is one of those nice surprises."

Directed by Sananjit Bangsapan, it stars Chatchai Plengpanich as an ex-communist guerrilla who is trying to fit in to capitalist society as a paid assassin. He takes his orders from pretty nightclub manager Chaba (Bongkot Kongmalai), and his latest assignment puts him in the middle of a gang war.

This is one of those I gave a miss last year, and still haven't seen, thanks to the Thai DVD release with no English subs. But now it's possible, if only I could bring myself to spend the dough.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Firecracker 12 online

The 12th issue of Firecracker magazine is up. There's a review of the Born to Fight DVD now out in the UK, a recap of the Pusan International Film Festival (including a mention of Mum Jok Mok's dramatic turn in Midnight, My Love), an article Journey from the Fall, a Vietnam war movie by a Vietnamese director, Graham Streeter's Singaporean film, Cages, and lots more.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Beautiful Boxer wins Third Eye award

Beautiful Boxer was screened at Third Eye, the Asian Film Festival in Mumbai and it won the Rajkamal Academy for Cinematic Excellence Trophy for Best Film, voted by the audience.

Meanwhile, DVDs of Beautiful Boxer are available.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, November 4, 2005

More freaking Thai horror movies

Make it stop. Last night I caught back-to-back trailers for two upcoming Thai horror films, Scared and Art of the Devil 2. Both were so damn similar - featuring much ripping of flesh, gore and young pretties being terrified and screaming - that I thought it was all one trailer.

Scared, about a group of university freshmen who get caught up in some extreme hazing, comes out next week, on November 10. Art of the Devil 2 will be in Thai cinemas on December 1.

Quite a stew they are cooking up with Art of the Devil 2. It features seven directors, collectively called the Ronin Team, all who have worked on such films as the occult historical epic Kun Pan, Bang Rajan and Art of the Devil - all films directed by Thanit Jitnukul. It stars the lovely Mamee Nakprasitte from Mae Bia and Butterfly Man as some kind of tattooed sorceress. She likes to use a blow torch on a guy's leg. Yikes!

Too much. I need some comedy with my horror, so there's Ghost Variety, starring Mum Jok Mok. It marks the return to the director's chair of Adirek "Uncle" Wattleela, the producer behind Thanit's Bang Rajan and other movies, including Oxide Pang's Bangkok Dangerous and Som and Bank: Bangkok for Sale.

Ghost Variety, or Phee Chalui tells the story of a group of losers who find themselves behind the cameras of a reality TV series that searches for spirits in haunted places. Mum portrays an indie short-film director looking for his big break.

Last in this roundup of Thai horror, Dorm, or Dek Hor, a boarding school scarer that stars Charlie Trairat. Twitch has more on that, including a trailer.

Both Ghost Variety and Dorm are due out on December 29.

Young Charlie is getting in lots of work. He had a small role in The King Maker and stars in the title role in the upcoming The Legend of Sudsakorn.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Oops ... There's Dad at American Film Market

There are more Thai films at the American Film Market, which is running November 2 to 9 in Santa Monica.

In addition to the previously noted crop of Thai horror films, Hell, Scared and P, there's Art of the Devil 2 as well as two new projects The Routine and The Unseeable. This is according to

There is also Wai Ounlawon 4: 30 Years Later, which is now being marketed as Oops ... There's Dad, which makes it sound like a Disney family comedy - not a bad idea when trying to sell a feel-good family comedy to the West.

A sequel to Wai Ounlawon, a popular 1970s film, I for no good reason missed 30 Years Later when it was in cinemas earlier this year. I'm kicking myself now, because I'm sure it was actually one of the better Thai films this year. I'm sure I'll be hearing more about it from other Thai film fans, and when the Thai film awards crop up early next year.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Yamagata festival recap

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has a report today from the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, which was held October 7-13.

Two Thai films were in the festival.

Manatsak Dokmai showed Don't Forget Me, "an idiosyncratic remembrance of the student massacre of October 6, 1976 that aroused a fair amount of attention from international viewers curious about that murky episode of Thai politics."

Pimpaka Towira, who served as a juror in the New Asian Currents program, premiered the rough cut of her new work, Unseen Thailand, about an activist sued by a mega-corporation.

"Both movies are a sign that political filmmaking is still alive in this country, albeit barely as it is," says Kong. "And both Thai docs added to Yamagata's strong selection. Small as it is, [the Yamagata festival] proves that size doesn't matter as long as [it] keeps developing the quality of its program and stays committed to the well-being of cinema art. This is something most festivals, including Bangkok's, should take to their hearts."

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

New Southeast Asian film website

There's a new website devoted specifically to Southeast Asian cinema, Criticine.

For their first edition, they have a sprawling, exhaustive interview with Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang.

There are also many reviews, including one for Gie, Indonesia's entry for the best foreign film Oscar.

Good stuff. Will have to keep check back for updates.

(Via Twitch. Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Monday, October 31, 2005

World Film Fest recap

The Nation has a special report (temporary link) today on the recently wrapped-up World Film Festival of Bangkok, recapping the 10-day event's highlights, which included a visit by Roman Polanski and many other things.

The Tsunami Digital Short Films (reviewed here and here) got a lot of notice.

The Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture Director-General Apinan Poshyananda and the Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang extended their appreciation for the efforts of the filmmakers who addressed the difficult subject of the tsunami with sensitivity and creativity.

Christian Jeune from the Cannes Film Festival asked to have some of the short films in the series shown at next year’s Cannes festival, the article said, but didn't say which ones they would like. Possibly a "best of"?

Nonetheless, there has been some criticism of the films, with the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee saying that while there were some good films individually, particularly Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Ghost of Asia, Santi Taepanich's Tits & Bum and the powerful Tsu by Pramote Sangsorn, the shorts as a package left audiences feeling disappointed.

Back to the festival, there was also the Produire au Sud (Producers of the South) film-marketing workshop, which selected three pairs of producers and directors to attend Festival of 3 Continents from November 22 to 29 in Nantes, France, where they can learn more about filmmaking.

The three film projects chosen to attend the festival are A Moment in June by producer Noth Thongsriphong and director O Nathapon from Thailand; Singapore's Forgotten Tears by producer Juan Foo and director Ellery Ngiam; and Ostrich Granny, by producer Lina Tan Suan Jeu and director Bernard Chauly of Malaysia.

Among the surprises at the festival was the success of Russian films. The 7.5-hour Russian version of War and Peace was screened to a sell-out audience, with hundreds being turned away. Doctor Zhivago (okay, not strictly a Russian film) also was screened. The puzzling but brilliant 4 was in the competition. And, Thai Airways is starting direct Bangkok-Moscow flights, and tied its promotional campaign in with the festival and the Russian films. Maybe that had something to do with it?

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Review: The Tiger Blade

  • Directed by Teeratorn Siripunwaraporn
  • Starring Atsadawut Luengsuntorn, Phimonrat Phisarayabud, Pongput Wachilabunjong, Suengsooda Lawanprasert, Amornrit Sriphung, Chalut na Songkla
  • Theatrical release in Thailand on October 27, 2005.

The first release from the brand-new Mono Film has everything the ultimately disappointing Tom Yum Goong should have had. I'm going to lay it on the line and say this is the best Thai action film of 2005.

This is not to say the action is any better than Tom Yum Goong, because it isn't (though it's still pretty good). But what The Tiger Blade has going for it is a sense of fun. Where Tony Jaa and Tom Yum Goong were weighed down with ostentatiousness (despite the 'simple country boy' hero) and were afraid to crack a smile, The Tiger Blade (Sua Kab Daab) has no fear of letting the jokes fly. It's not so much a big action film trying to prove something as it is pure entertainment that has nothing to prove. So there's a sense of humour, plenty of hot babes (though no nudity) and lots of cool stunts.

The story is a pretty standard cops-and-robbers set up, though there's a bit of a twist, evident from the movie's official tagline: "When kick-ass cops can't get the job done, bring in the kick-ass magic."

The criminals here are all protected by black magic - the first baddie wears a headband that's been enchanted and it renders guns inoperative. Other criminals have elaborate tattoos that protect them.

In order to defeat them, a top-secret police unit, led by Yos (capable leading man Atsadawut Luengsuntorn), must obtain an ancient sword.

Now, I must say, I'm get pretty confused if I think about the actual story any further. For one thing, I don't know why the bad guys are being bad, other than to just be bad. I don't know what their overall motive is. Do they want to blow up Bangkok? Take control of the world? Release a deadly virus? I'm not sure. I guess it doesn't matter.

Maybe it involves a vault full of money. Yeah, that's it. Steal the national treasury. There's a subplot involving a Karen warlord - a long-haired guy leading one of the countless independent states in endless rebellion against the Burmese (or Myanmar) government. He needs the money. But again, it doesn't matter.

What does matter is that Yos is a bit of a loner who actually asks for a new partner: The secret unit's gadgets gal, Dao (Phimonrat Phisarayabud). On their first outing together - working undercover on a prison transport bus, she proves her worth, doing some high kicks and shooting her way out of trouble.

Meanwhile at the prison, black-magic crimelord Mahesak (Amornrit Sriphung) and a woman fighter who is the most kick-ass of all the characters in the film, GI Jenjila (Suengsooda Lawanprasert), are breaking someone out.

Each time a new criminal is introduced, there's a title card that comes up, and then a black-and-white flashback. For Jenjila, it flashes back to her childhood as a little Viet Cong soldier, enjoying the ruthless killing of war.

A couple of times Jenjila and Dao square off for a girlfight. So you get girls with guns, as well as chicks kicking ass. One of their fights is in a shopping mall, where Jenjila heists a pair of roller blades and Dao goes after her on a skateboard. So the extreme-sport market segment is covered here.

In another fight, Dao asks Jenjila: "I heard you prefer women, and I thought I'd like to try you."

"You're wrong," says Jenjila, "but you can try me anyway."

This sets up a bit of mystery about Dao's and Yos' relationship that is sure to be explored further. Yes, there will be sequels - that is clearly set up at the end.

Some other stunts:
  • Jenjila leads the cops on a footchase through the narrow, winding alleys of Bangkok's Chinatown - a direct lift from Ong-Bak, even with Jenjila leaping over a vendor's cart and scaling up and over a chain-link barrier fence. She doesn't have near the same grace as Tony Jaa, but it was still fun to watch.
  • In that same chase scene, Jenjila steals one of those motorcycle vendor's carts, the kind with two wheels and a big basket on the front. Yos grabs another motorcycle cart and gives chase. Again, you can see they are trying to one-up and stunt-check with Ong-Bak. It's not quite as exciting as the tuk-tuk chase in Ong-Bak, but it's still fun.
  • Yos finds a big yellow endloader to stop the bad guy from getting away.
  • There's a go-cart chase scene down a busy expressway, with the go-carts doing u-turns under some big-rigs. Alot of these are in the trailer.
These stunts aren't totally in the same class as Ong-Bak, which claims that no wires or CGI tricks were used. In Tiger Blade, there is evidence of wire work, and I think many of the stunts were performed by stuntmen, rather than the actors themselves. But that go-cart-semitruck scene is real. Has to be. Some low-rent CGI is used, but not for the stunts themselves, mainly just the animation of the magic blade and for stylistic purposes. I wasn't bothered by it.

Oh, there's a babe factor. The opening fight scene is in a nightclub, where's there's go-go booted ladies in hot pants on stage. In another scene, Yos comes home to his apartment to find his bed filled women in lingerie. It's all quite tasteful, though, in keeping with the chasteness of Thai society and film censorship codes.

And there's humor. The secret police unit as a heavyset cop named Red Beard (Annan Bunnak) who's constantly cracking wise. Back at the go-go bar, he pulls a boot off one of the dancers to use as a weapon, but he first catches a whiff of the gal's foot odor. "You need to hang that thing out in the sun, girl," he tells her, helpfully.

The drawbacks of The Tiger Blade are in the confusing story. There's also a cheesy score, the kind of synthesiser soundtrack that the Thai soap operas have. Its awfulness was distracting. Next time, Mono Film, spring for a real soundtrack, with at least a rock band performing the score. Some of the acting, too, also smacked of soap-opera melodrama. Folks, you're in a movie, not onstage at the university theater. You've made it! Lighten up.

The actual hunt for the magic blade is anti-climactic, as well is the encantation needed to make the rusty blade work again - it must be doused in virgin's blood. This is played up, with Yos asking Dao for blood, but hers won't work, she says. Then he gets his little sister's blood and - shock! - it doesn't work either. He gets some virgin blood eventually, but I'm not sure where it came from.

Perhaps a second viewing is in order, which is something The Tiger Blade has going for it: I'd actually want to see it again.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Review: Ahimsa: Stop to Run

  • Directed by "Leo" Kitikorn Laewsirikul
  • Starring Boriwat Yuto, Teeradanai Suwanahom, Tharanya Suttabusya, Prinya Ngamwongwarn, Joni Anwar, Kiradaj Ketakinta
  • Theatrical release in Thailand on October 20, 2005

Picture your karma. How would it be embodied?

For Ahimsa, in this karmic-action-comedy-thriller, it's a guy in a red track suit, with close-cropped, dyed red hair and classic white Nikes with a red swoosh. And he's here to make Ahimsa pay for his sins.

When Ahimsa was a boy, he wasn't quite right, narrates a character who goes by the name of Einstein. His parents were at wits end, trying to figure out what to do. Medically, nothing wrong could be found. Ahimsa's dad thought the doctor was an idiot. But there was something wrong. It was that guy in the red track suit, always hanging around. But nobody but Ahimsa could see him.

Finally, they took Ahimsa to a shaman, who was able to convince Ahimsa's karma to leave him.

Then Ahimsa (Boriwat Yuto) grew up and became a DJ, playing rave parties in the rain and dropping LSD. And there's that karma (Teeradanai Suwanahom) again, big as life.

But first, after taking that hit, he's visited upon by a woman in a red dress. More on her later.

Ahimsa (alternatively transliterated as Ahingsa) and his roommate U-Kot (Prinya Ngamwongwarn) work in Einstein's after-hours rave club. Einstein (Joni Anwar) is a singularly weird character, who rides around in an electric wheelchair (even though he can walk) and wears cowboy boots and an Afro wig. He also thinks that drugs can alter time and space relationships.

Eventually, the karma guy shows up again, in a big way, bashing Ahimsa over the head with one those returnable glass water bottles, you know, the real thick ones? That had to have hurt!

He wakes up the next day, with blood on his pillow. U-kot explains that Ahimsa had passed out at the club and had to be carried home. Ahimsa visits the hospital. And there's that woman in the red dress - she's a doctor. She runs the tests, but can find nothing wrong.

Then Ahimsa starts having visions of the future. He sees his roommate getting sodomized by their drug dealer (another very weird character) and then dead in the shower. But it didn't happen. Or did it? The next day, he has a deja vu moment, complete with a little boy telling him to "watch where the fuck you're going" after he trips over the kid's trike.

He starts to have other weird visions, like the karma guy in a flame-decalled, fire-engine red 1960s Chevy Impala convertible, playing chicken with him as Ahimsa speeds towards him in his equally classic 60s Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight (both cars pure American Detroit iron leftover from the Vietnam War days). He gets into a near crash as the result of his blackouts while he has these visions, but the movie's budget wasn't so great that a classic land yacht like that could be wasted.

In another cool moment, the karma remarks that Ahimsa "hasn't suffered enough today", and proceeds to beat the living daylights out of Ahimsa. But Ahimsa can't get a lick in edgewise - the karma can't be touched.

Even releasing a cage full of birds, which is supposed to be an excellent merit-maker, does no good. Here's where Ampon Rattanawong, the comic actor who played the monkey shaman in Buppa Rahtree and also had a key role in Monrak Transistor comes in, as the bird-freedom vendor at a temple.

It turns out that Ahimsa and the doctor (Tharanya Suttabusya), who is oddly named Pattaya (the action also takes place in Pattaya and some other beachside location that I can't place) are karmically entwined. Which isn't so good, because the doctor is engaged to marry a cop (Kiradaj Ketakinta).

And Ahimsa just keeps getting deeper and deeper into trouble - shooting the sodomizing drug dealer, then a local politician (who's also the cop's brother). Now, in addition to having his karma after him all the time, he's a fugitive from the law.

Other karmas also appear. Einstein has his own karma, a long-haired guy in a Game of Death yellow track suit. And the hilarious dyed-blond U-Kot becomes a karma who torments the drug dealer.

There's a lot going for this movie. The performances are all solid, especially the karma, played by Teeradanai Suwanahom.

But there's just something ... I can't put my finger on it. Much of it seems to be color and style, just for the sake of color and style.

Director Leo Kitikorn has said he made the film for youngsters to demonstrate that they can't escape their karma, especially if they do bad things, like take LSD or kill people.

But, with a karma in red track suit, who favors a hunk of lumber to beat you over the head with, can anyone really take this message seriously?

You'd think someone with the name Ahimsa would know better.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thai films at Tokyo film market

As a sidebar to the Tokyo International Film Festival, three Thai films were screened in a film market event that concludes today.

The films are two colorful RS Promotion products, Bangkok Loco and the recently viewed Ahimsa: Stop to Run and Mono Film's new movie being released this week, The Tiger Blade.

Also in the main program at the Tokyo festival are Midnight My Love and Citizen Dog.

But back to Mono Film's Tiger Blade. It's worth mentioning just for the tagline: "When kick-ass cops can't get the job done, bring in the kick-ass magic."

Mono Film is a fairly new company. They have a number of releases planned, including The Legend of Sudsakorn, starring Fan Chan's Charlie Trairat. A live-action fantasy, the ancient legend has been told on film before - in the first and only Thai animated feature, 1979's The Adventure of Sudsakorn by Payut Ngaokrachang.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bollywood action in Bangkok

Both Kaiju Shakedown and Twitch are reporting about a new Bollywood action film, Ek Ajnabee, which stars Amitabh Bachchan.

It was filmed in Bangkok and features stunt work by Kawee Sirikhanaerat, another protege of Ong Bak choreographer Panna Rittikrai (Kawee did the tuk-tuk taxi chase), as well as a part of the versatile Thai stunt crews who have worked on Tombraider 2 and Batman Begins.

Basically Man on Fire or Transporter 2 done up Bollywood style (though likely without any three-hour-long song-and-dance numbers), Ek Ajnabee is the story of a burnt-out bodyguard who takes a job protecting a little girl who gets kidnapped and he has to go ballistic to get her back.

Kaiju Shakedown had the scoop and Twitch has more.

Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Review: The King Maker

  • Directed by Lek Kitaparaporn
  • Produced by David Winters
  • Starring Gary Stretch, John Rhys-Davies, Cindy Burbridge, Yoe Hassadeevichit
  • Wide theatrical release in Thailand on October 20, 2005, with English and/or Thai-dubbed soundtrack

Everything about The King Maker, or The Rebellion of Queen Sudchan, feels borrowed.

The story is lifted straight from Suriyothai. The action scenes come from Bang Rajan. The hand-to-hand action looks like it's trying to copy any number of sources, such as Ong-Bak, Once Upon a Time in China (by way of The Musketeer) and Gladiator.

The only reason I can figure this movie has been made is because of the ambition of producer David Winters, a British child actor and veteran director and producer, to make an epic like this. And the only place an epic like this could get made is in Thailand, where armies of extras, horses, elephants and experienced movie crews can be found relatively more cheaply than anywhere else in the world.

It's something that has drawn filmmakers to Thailand since the earliest days of cinema. Merian C Cooper shot the elephant disaster film, Chang, in Thailand in 1927. Oliver Stone came here to do Alexander last year. There have been many more in between.

The six degrees of separation on The King Maker and King Kong (and Alexander) give me chills. The King Maker is based on Suriyothai, which was directed by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, who once worked for Merian Cooper. Gary Stretch, who stars in The King Maker, also was in the cast of Oliver Stone's Alexander. John Rhys-Davies also stars in The King Maker. He was also in the Lord of the Rings, which was directed by Peter Jackson, who has directed a remake of King Kong that is based on Cooper's version. It helps that the trailer for King Kong played right before The King Maker. Oh, and Chatrichalerm has visited the WETA Workshop, which does special effects for Jackson's films.

This is all tenous at best, and doesn't really mean squat, but this is a part of cinematic legend that David Winters wants to lay claim to by making The King Maker.

And it's all for nothing. But there's more.

The story opens with Portuguese mercenary Fernando de Gama (Britain's former middleweight boxing champion Stretch) drowning in the ocean after a shipwreck. He comes to, finds some flotsam to float on and washes up on an island, where he forages for food. Here is the first of bad CGI - a Siamese crocodile comes up in jungle pool and tries to eat Fernando. Crocodile-based effects in Thai films are never very good and this is no exception.

He survives the croc, only to be captured by some Arab slave traders and taken to Ayutthaya, which is oddly placed next to the ocean, even though it is several hundred kilometres inland, up the Chao Phya River. The ancient Siamese capital, by the way, is another bad CGI creation.

Released from his bonds to be put on the auction block, he promptly knocks down his Arab captors and leads them on a comic chase throughout the ancient city - one of two decent action scenes in the movie, however derivative it is.

Eventually, he's brought under control, but not before he's captured the attention of a Eurasian beauty, Maria (Miss World 1996 Cindy Burbridge), who buys him his freedom back. This sets up a stomach-churning romance that leads to a lot of stilted dialogue and wooden action.

"Why Fernando, what a dashing figure you cut in that armor."

Okay, enough of that. Maria's father is portrayed by John Rhys-Davies, one of the only good things about this movie. Turns out, Phillippe is a figure from Fernando's past that has spurred Fernando's need to become a mercenary and look for his father's killer -- none other than Phillipe.

But first there are bigger battles to be fought. Fernando and his Portuguese compatriots are pressed into the service of King Chairacha (Nirut Sirichanya), who has to go into battle against his Lanna foes. It's a multi-national taskforce, not only including Portuguese mercenaries, but also samurai warriors (which is pure fiction) -- which is based on actual Siamese history.

After a decent gory battle scene that borrows heavily on Bangrajan, Fernando is relaxing and bonds with a Thai warrior named Tong (Dom Hetrakul). They are then surprised by a band of wild sakai warriors from South Thailand, shooting poisonous darts. They distinguish themselves by saving the King and are appointed his personal bodyguards (again, pure fiction, a foreigner would not have been allowed to get so close to the King) -- also based on actual history.

Meanwhile (there's always a meanwhile), Queen Sudachan is scheming. She was a consort of the King who wangled her way into becoming queen. Her story is better told in Suriyothai and better portrayed there by Mae Charoenpura. Here, Mae's role is channelled by model Yoe Hassadeevichit. A vengeful woman, she wants to kill the king and put her lover on the throne.

Apparently, that attack by the sakai was an assassination plot. It failed, so Sudachan calls on Don Phillippe for help. Phillippe makes a deal with a scar-faced ninja (Byron Bishop, or Mr. Cindy Burbridge) to kill the king.

It's a cool idea, a bunch of black-suited ninjas stealing their way into a Siamese palace. But they are thwarted by Fernando, Tong and other Siamese troops.

So Sudachan has to resort to poisoning the king. She also must kill her own son (Fan Chan's Charlie Trairat) who would next in line for the throne, to clear the way for her boyfriend. To do her bidding, Sudachan has an African warrior wielding a spear. I tell you, this movie is weird. But not weird enough to be cool. What happened to Sudachan's rabidly loyal squad of Amazon guards?

It goes seriously downhill from there. Fernando and Tong are framed for the deaths and made to fight each other in a death duel for Sudachan and her new king's amusement. Maria is brought out and stomped on by an elephant and survives (she's holding her tummy like she has a stomachache).

One last odd thing about this movie - it was made with an English soundtrack, with even the Thai actors meticulously reciting all their lines in English. However, for the screening I checked out at a suburban Bangkok cinema, the bits where Thais were speaking to other Thais had been dubbed into Thai, which was much preferable to some of the clunky English dialogue.

So this makes The King Maker the first English-language Thai film since 1941's Kingdom of the White Elephant, made by Pridi Banomyong in a nationalistic bid to raise world consciousness against Japanese occupation of Thailand during World War II. It's another part of history that The King Maker wants desperately to be a part of.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Forsaken Land best film at World Film Fest

The controversial Sri Lankan film Forsaken Land by Vimukthi Jayasundara was named the best film in the Harvest of Talents competition at the World Film Festival of Bangkok.

"The film features unique cinematography. Its powerful imagery portrays the life of ordinary people in an atmosphere of fear," French film critic Nadine Tarbouriech, one of the festival’s five jury members, was quoted as saying in The Nation.

Set in Sri Lanka, the story centers on a family living in a desolate, sand-blown area where there is no fighting, but also no peace. The decades of living on the edge have taken their toll, and while others have fled the area, the family - a man and his young wife and the man's sister - have hung on, but are left without any will or morals of their own.

Vimukthi was present for the awards ceremony, as well as a Q&A session after on of the screenings of his film. He explained it was his own viewpoint of how the civil war has affected his country. Though it was made with cooperation of the military, when the film was completed and shown in Sri Lanka, the reactions were negative. The film was banned and Vimukthi now lives in Paris.

"Thank you so much for this award. It is important for me as I have a lot of trouble in my country," Jayasundara said in his acceptance speech. "I'm pleased because many people think that I made this film for Westerners. As an Asian, I always make films for my country and for Asians. This award from Thailand proves at least that I made this film for Asians."

Other awards in the festival's competition:

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Review: Tsunami Digital Short Films - Program 2

  • Premiered at the World Film Festival of Bangkok on October 22, 2005.

Thirteen short films were made in a project funded by the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, which gave filmmakers about US$4,800 and five days to make a film somewhere in the area of Thailand that was hit by the tsunami on December 26, 2004. The films were premiered as a package at the Third World Film Festival of Bangkok, and screened in two parts. The first part is reviewed here. Here the films that were shown in the second program.

Forget It, directed by Somkid Thamniamdi

This program was more varied in styles and moods than the first program. It started with Forget It, a stop-motion clay animated film. It features a handsome, big-chinned man with big hair and an important job that forces him to leave his home and his incredibly shaped wife and spend his days working and earning money. All too late, he realizes what he's leaving at home everyday.

World Priceless Day, directed by Lek Manont

A guy who lost his friends and everything he owned in the tsunami. All he has is sand in the pockets of his cut-off Dickies trousers. But he wants to do something for his friends. He makes a crown of leaves and vines to present to them somehow. In his grief, he discovers that people are still living: Motorcycle Man, T-shirt Man, Food Man, Airplane Man. He gets transport, new clothes, food and a plane ride to Bangkok. Then he realizes he's still wearing the crown of leaves he made for his friends.

Smiles of the Fifth Night, directed by Sonthaya Subyen

"Pebbles cannot be tamed to the end they will look at us with a calm and very clear eye" - Zbigniew Herbert.

This film mixes images and text. After that opening flash of text, it switches to images, with a text crawl of actually letters from survivors of the tsunami and well-wishers.

It's pretty haunting, showing vast mudflats, stripped bare. A rice barge is left high and dry. But it's also beautiful, with images of life in the mangroves.

The Helping Hand, directed by Folke Ryden

This is a documentary by Swedish filmmaker Folke Ryden, focusing on a young Thai man, Mard Mankala, who was a hotel manager on Koh Phi Phi, which was leveled by the tsunami. Mard was able to warn his staff and guests to get to safety -- one of the success stories of the tsunami. But he lost everything.

However, he turned to helping out in the relief effort, as did others. Thousands of Swedes visit Thailand each year, enough to make a small city, and the tsunami counted as probably the biggest disaster for Sweden since World War II.

The documentary footage is from right after the tsunami, showing the devastation and the recovery of bodies.

Lie Beneath, directed by Margaret Bong Chew Jen

A little Malaysian boy returns to his hometown and makes up a story about his parents being killed in the tsunami to win the attention of his friend.

Tits & Bum, directed by Santi Taepanich

Here's a concept that should be expanded on: A parody of the karaoke videos.

If you've been in Asia, you know what I'm talking about. A sexy woman in a bikini or lingerie frolics on the beach or in the bedroom while the words to the song are scrolled at the bottom of the screen.

The film switches back and forth from parody to a behind-the-scenes mockumentary of the making of karaoke video, featuring a model who refuses to open her legs too wide and a transsexual stand-in for the model.

There's further parody with a muscle-bound guy flexing for the camera as the karaoke words go by, which is something you never see. Karaoke videos always have beautiful women.

By the director of Crying Tigers, this was the funniest, most entertaining of the shorts. It had the audience in stitches.

Tune In, directed by Pimpaka Towira

A young woman drives around Phuket, trying to find something. She stops and asks for directions many times. She plays with the radio, trying to find the station. Finally, she gets to the end of the road. Good thing she has a four-wheel drive. It seems she finds what she was looking for.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Review: Tsunami Digital Short Films - Program 1

  • Premiered at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, October 20, 2005; part one of two programs.

Ghost of Asia, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Christelle Lheureux

A fitting beginning to the package of six short films made to memorialize the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004. Apichatpong served as the creative consultant for the project, which includes 13 films in all.

Funded by the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, directors were given a budget of 200,000 baht (about US$4,800) and five days to shoot their film somewhere in Phuket or other provinces in southern Thailand that were hit by the tsunami.

For Ghost of Asia, the directors engaged three local children to direct their actor, Tropical Malady's country boy-tiger shaman Sakda Kaewbuadee, making him a "ghost" or "puppet" who had to do their bidding.

Basically anything you could think of doing at the beach or in Thailand, these kids made their ghost do - swim in the ocean, take a boat ride, hunt for crabs, go fishing, pick and eat every conceivable kind of fruit, sleep, drink milk, "go poo", paint a house, climb a mountain, climb a tree.

The film is presented all sped up, giving it a kind of silent-film feel. It was the most hopeful, celebratory and entertaining of the package, presenting a normal, everyday life. Even if the guy was supposed to be a "ghost", it shows a Phuket that is okay and fun to visit.

One of Apichatpong's most accessible works, Ghost of Asia has actually been shown in Montreal and other film festivals before being screened as part of the Tsunami Digital Short Film program. It's also part of a multi-media art exhibit in Berlin.

Waves of Souls, directed by Pipope Panitchpakdi

The Nation Channel documentarian catches up with the Moken, or sea gypsies, a tribe that takes pride in self sufficiency and survival. After the tsunami, organizations came to help, and in this particular case, a Christian charity came to build houses and offer money - with a catch. Pipope lays it on the line, offering the definition of "proselytize" from Webster's dictionary in white text on a black background. "I don't even feel like I'm part of my own village," says one woman, who didn't want to convert or wasn't allowed and is now left out of the evening get togethers where traditional music is played - and Bibles are read.

Aftershock, directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul.

For quicky, low-budget films, one of the first things to be sacrificed is audio. Like many of the films in the program, Aftershock relied mainly on images. Indeed, while showing scenes of a carnival, a guy selling hats and other trinkets and a boat ride, there is no sound at all. The tension in the audience was palpable.

I'm sure people were thinking: "What the fuck?" I know I was, but I rode with it. It's on that boat ride where things go to hell. The camera pans lazily around, finally locking in on the boat driver's crotch, and there it stays until some sort of sound kicks in and we're looking at a pale, white foot. Someone's dead? No, nobody's dead. It's a guy covered in some kind of brown substance, chocolate syrup I hope, and he's licking it off his fingers. Oh, he's got some milky substance on his lower lip.

Perhaps as a clue as to where Thunska's going with this, I kept looking at Tsai Ming-Liang, who was sitting in front of me at the screening.

Out of all the tsunami shorts, this is one that'll keep me up nights.

Andaman, directed by Sompot Chidgasornpongse

Another short that sacrifices the live audio, but instead of going silent, it substitutes the sound of surf and waves as the camera looks around at the island. You get a sense of a Phuket, still recovering after the tsunami. The beaches are a bit empty and lonely feeling. There are some tourists and locals making living from the tourist trade, and the camera stops to talk to them. Their lips are moving but you can't hear what they are saying. Just the sound of waves.

Then a rainstorm kicks up and the sound ratchets up. It made me jump. A mini tsunami on film. In a headline on its story previewing these films yesterday, the English-language ThaiDay said: "News crews showed us what the tsunami looked like. Now, filmmakers show us what it felt like." Especially in Andaman's case, this is dead-on accurate.

Trail of Love, directed by Suchada Sirithanawuddhi

With the most traditional narrative of the short-films package, Trail of Love is a cyber romance set around the days just after tsunami. Picha is a young woman who's visited the island and has found a message in a bottle that contains a map to a remote beach. She e-mails a long-time net pal about the beach and bottle, and the friend agrees to meet Pricha on December 29. But the tsunami strikes three days before. Pricha loses touch with her friend. She sends a plaintive e-mail, asking for a response. What happened? She's left alone to follow the map.

Tsu, directed by Pramote Sangsorn

A young man limps across the beach. All color is washed out. It's almost black and white. The wind blows ominously. Slowly, color comes into focus. The man approaches a green flag, flapping in the strong ocean breeze. He takes a knife and cuts the flag down. He then pulls out a red flag and ties it on to the post, and takes things further by painting the flagpole red.

There are dozens of these flags, perhaps 100 or more, lined up all the way down the beach, just at the waterline, flapping in the wind. He goes to the next flag, cuts it down and replaces it with a red one.

The source of his limp is revealed - a big open sore on his left leg that is the shape of Thailand. A lot of people gasped when they noticed that. He limps along, replacing the green flags with red ones.

Eventually, he leaves his flags and turns his attention on a battered boat that's in the shape of a swan, hitching a rope to it and trying to pull it out to sea.

Despite the calm and deliberativeness of Tsu, this is the one that really channels the anger that a lot of people must have felt about a lack of an early warning system that could have gotten people away from the beaches and saved lives. Thai meteorological officials were warned hours in advance of the possibility of a tsunami, but did nothing with the information out of fear it would be a false alarm and business and tourism would have been disrupted.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)