Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Special Bangkok screenings for P, Censor Must Die and It Gets Better

Two films by filmmakers who have been banned and another film that's never been screened publicly in Thailand will be shown next week in Bangkok.

First off, filmmaker Paul Spurrier celebrates this Thursday's Halloween at his private cinema, The Friese Greene-Club, with a rare treat – a special screening of his 2005 horror film P, in which a dancer at a Soi Cowboy go-go bar uses black magic to upstage the others.

Weirdly, the film has never been screened publicly in Thailand, though it was released on Blu-ray a few years ago. There's a reason why P never unspooled in Thai cinemas, but I think it's a story best told by Paul himself while you enjoy a tasty beverage at the bar in his club. Anyway, this Halloween will be the film's Thai premiere.

Shows start at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. With just nine seats, the screening room fills up fast, so please check the website to make bookings.

Next week, from November 5 to 9, the Friese-Greene Club will host special screenings of Censor Must Die, the documentary by Ing K. that deals with the banning of her previous film, Shakespeare Must Die. It's an instructive look at a brand-new Thai bureaucracy – the Culture Ministry's Film and Video Board and its film-ratings system.

Though the movie has been cleared for public screenings, Ing K. is still being a bit cagey about it, so the screenings are for card-carrying FGC members only. Membership at the moment is free. If you're not yet a member, you just need to get down to the club and put your name in the book 24 hours before you plan to see the movie. Also, for this movie, there is an admission price: 150 baht.

Next Monday, November 4, The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand screens It Gets Better (ไม่ได้ขอให้มารัMai Dai Kor Hai Ma Rak) by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit.

It's the followup to her debut feature, Insects in the Backyard, which was banned for its frank depictions of sexuality and sex acts. It Gets Better takes a broader, more-commercially appealing approach to addressing the issues of sexuality and gender.

The top nominee at the Subhanahongsa Awards this year, the movie is structured in three segments that increasingly intertwine. One story deals with a fiftysomething post-op ladyboy (played by actress Penpak Sirikul) who is touring around a small town in Thailand's scenic north. Another part deals with a young man who returns to Thailand after the death of his father and discovers his dad ran a ladyboy cabaret in Pattaya. He finds himself falling for one of the bar's staff. And the third story is about an effeminate young man who is shipped off to the monkhood after his father discovers him dressing up in his mother's clothes.

Tanwarin will be present at the FCCT for a post-screening question-and-answer session. Entry for non-members is 150 baht plus 100 baht more for anyone wanting to sip the wines provided by Village Farm and Winery. The showtime is 8pm.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: Tom-Yum-Goong 2

  • Directed by Pracha Pinkaew
  • Starring Tony Jaa, RZA, Marrese Crump, Rhatha Pho-ngam, Jeeja Yanin, Teerada Kittisiriprasert, David Isamalone, Kazu Patrick Tang, Petchtai Wongkumlao
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 23, 2013; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

With an overly complicated plot, Tom-Yum-Goong 2, the much-anticipated new action flick from martial-arts star Thatchakorn “Tony Jaa” Yeerum, has turned out to be a rather bland concoction.

This is despite it being in 3D and pretty much non-stop action that crams in other martial-arts stars, including Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda and America’s Marrese Crump, plus hip-hop musician and kung-fu aficionado RZA and Thai singer-actress Rhatha “Yaya Ying” Pho-ngam.

It's better than Jaa’s previous feature, Ong-Bak 3, but is not as strong as his major studio breakout, 2003’s Ong-Bak and 2005’s Tom-Yum-Goong, a.k.a. The Protector.

Even more disappointing, it might possibly be the last Thai film Jaa makes. Tom-Yum-Goong 2 comes out amidst a feud between Jaa and his studio, Sahamongkol Film international, and its powerful boss, Somsak “Sia Jiang” Techaratanaprasert. He is upset that Jaa is now working in Hollywood, making a Fast and Furious sequel and teaching Vin Diesel Muay Thai.

The first Tom-Yum-Goong took Jaa to Australia as he chased gangsters who’d stolen his baby elephant. The relatively simple plot was an aim to broaden Jaa’s international appeal, setting up fights for him around Sydney landmarks.

Tom-Yum-Goong 2 stays in Thailand and again has Jaa’s character Kham losing his elephant Khon. But it keeps the international flavor, with such foreign fighters as Crump and RZA, plus David Ismalone (“Mad Dog” from Ong-Bak) and Kazu Patrick Tang (Raging Phoenix).

The set-up for the plot scripted by Ekkasith Thairath is labored, showing a snooze-worthy montage of news headlines about a war in fictional far-away lands. For some reason, Thailand is chosen as the location for the signing of a peace treaty.

And somehow, this will involve Kham’s elephant being stolen by the foreigner criminal mastermind portrayed by RZA. He leads a small army of martial-arts warriors, each with a number tattoo to indicate how good they are. Among them are the lethally brutal Number 2 (Crump) and the fierce Twenty (Rhatha), whose tattoo is spelled out across her cleavage.

Thankfully, it only takes 15 minutes or so for Kham to start running around, searching for his elephant, which was initially taken by the crooked owner of an elephant camp. But then that guy turns up dead, and Kham is standing over his body when the man’s nieces show up – Jeeja and another actress, Teerada kittisiriprasert. They are supposed to be twins, but apart from their pixie-bob hairstyles and clothing, they look nothing alike. Still, it’s pretty confusing trying to follow the Chocolate star Jeeja as she throws down against Jaa for the first time.

Arriving with the twins is a motorcycle gang. They chase Kham up a flight of stairs and onto a building’s roof. This is the best fight sequence of the movie, with the noisy bikes whizzing all around as Kham ducks and dodges them all with acrobatic ease. One smashes through a skylight and the camera angle quickly shifts above it to catch the bike and glass shards spiraling out of the screen in 3D.

More nifty camera work comes from a point-of-view shot of Kham jumping from the roof to a balcony on another building.

Kham eventually commandeers one of the bikes and leads the hundreds motorcycling miscreants on a chase through alleys and down an elevated motorway. He also takes a crazy ride on top of a drift-racing car.

And too soon, with an oil tanker explosion, it’s all over.

The action spills into a shipyard where Kham and the Pixie Sisters get the hurt put on them by the imposing Number 2.

While Kham is pursued by RZA’s gang of toughs, and is eventually captured and branded as No 1, he’s also a fugitive from a squad of Interpol officers who include Kham’s old friend from Sydney, Sergeant Mark (Petchthai “Mum Jokmok” Wongkamlao). I'm not sure why he's in this movie, but he at least gets to voice what everyone is thinking.

"Are you sure it's an elephant and not a kitten? Why do you keep losing him?"

From the first encounter with Crump, the fights all tend to blur together, taking place in such locations as dark warehouses and subway tunnels. For the most part, they are framed too tightly and move too fast to make any sense of.

One fun bit has Jaa and Crump fighting on an electrified railway line. In a move that defies the laws of physics, they both dip their feet in water and stand on the rails shocking each other. As their fists swing they make the same sounds as lightsabers from Star Wars.

Director Prachya Pinkaew and Jaa’s mentoring martial-arts guru Panna Rittikrai clearly had a ball coming up with all kinds of ways to have fists, feet, heads, elbows, weapons and elephant trunks zoom out of the screen in 3D. Some effects work, some don't. Jeeja and her "sister" have some kind of weird electric weapon they throw, but it's always hard to make out what it is.

Despite everyone's best efforts, the fights in Tom-Yum-Goong 2 lack the sizzle and originality of their earlier efforts in Ong-Bak and Tom-Yum-Goong.

On the plus side is Jaa, whose dour onscreen demeanor seems to have softened with marriage, fatherhood and maturity. Compared to his earlier films, he appears more at ease and natural. Perhaps Hollywood is where he’ll create his happiest memories.

Related posts:

First Cannes contender, Oscar hopefuls and royal home movies join Heritage Registry

The first Thai film selected for the Cannes Film Festival, Tears of the Black Tiger, is among this year’s additions to the Registry of Films as National Heritage by the Culture Ministry and the Thai Film Archive.

Established in 2011, the Registry of Films as National Heritage aims to select entries based on their historical and artistic value and influence on society, and make them a priority for preservation. With 25 entries selected each October, this year’s listing brings the registry’s number to 75.

Other notable entries this year include three films submitted to the Academy Awards and films by King Rama VII.

The earliest addition this year is from 1901, Visit of the Prince of Siam. The two-and-a-half-minute clip by British film company Mitchell and Kenyon shows the then-Crown Prince Vajiravudh on a trip across the Mersey during a visit with radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi. The Oxford-educated prince was crowned King Rama VI in 1910.

The Royal family were among the first filmmakers in Thailand, with Vajiravudh’s brother, Prajadhipok – King Rama VII – a keen lensman. Two of his films were added to the registry.

One is 1929’s Magic Ring, a home movie the monarch made on a trip to Koh Pha-ngan. The 25-minute short with silent-film intertitles is about a cruel stepfather who abandons his children on the island. One of them meets a nymph who gives him a magic ring that can grant wishes.

“All the actors are the royal family and King Rama VII shot the film himself,” Chalida uabumrungjit, the Film Archive’s deputy director, says in The Nation.

The other entry from the King Rama VII collection is 1930’s Mon Ram Phee at Pak Lad, the monarch’s recording of a traditional Mon dance.

From 1927 is Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, the oldest surviving Hollywood production made in Thailand (or maybe it was made in Laos). It’s directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, who later made King Kong. The documentary-style silent adventure, complete with deaths of multiple species of wildlife, depicts a rural Isaan family beset by a marauding herd of elephants.

The newest entry is 2005’s The Tin Mine (Maha’lai Muengrae), an expensively mounted historical drama directed by Jira Maligool and produced by GTH. Thailand’s submission to the Academy Awards in 2006, it’s adapted from the semi-autobiographical short stories by Ajin Panjapan, of a university dropout sent to work in the tin mines of southern Thailand in the 1950s.

Another Oscar submission is 2004’s The Overture (Hom Rong), directed by Ittisoontorn Vichailak. Loosely based on the life of palace musician Luang Pradit Phairoh, it follows a ranad-ek (xylophone) player from boyhood in the late 19th century to the 1940s. The film sparked a revival of interest in Thai classical music and the ranad-ek.

And Thailand’s first Academy Awards submission, 1983’s Story of Nam Poo, makes this year’s list. Directed by Euthana Mukdasanit, the factual drama is adapted from the book by award-winning writer Suwanni Sukhontha, which she wrote after her son died at age 18 of a heroin overdose. Singer Amphol Lumpoon stars as the son with theatre doyenne Patravadi Mejudhon as the mother.

More social issues are depicted in 1973’s Khao Chue Karn by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, about the problems encountered by an idealistic young physician in the countryside, and 1979’s Mountain People (Khon Phu Khao) by Vichit Kounavudhi, depicting the lives of hilltribes in the North.

The lighter side of Thai teenagers is shown in a pair of classic comedies on this year’s list – 1976’s Wai Ounlawon by Piak Poster and 1988’s Boonchu Phoo Narak by Bhandit Rittakol. Both spawned series of teen comedies by Five Star Production, which rebooted the Boonchu franchise in recent years. Another popular entry is 1990's Pook Pui, a childhood drama by Udom Udomroj.

And from the Thai New Wave period of the late 1990s and early 2000s is director Nonzee Nimibutr’s feature debut, 1997’s Daeng Bireley’s and Young Gangsters (2499 Antapan Krong Muang), a stylish, fact-based drama about James Dean-obsessed teenage hoodlums in 1950s Bangkok.

Scripted by Wisit Sasanatieng, it was the start of a movement of films that revitalised the local film industry and brought widespread attention to Thai cinema on the world stage.

Wisit made his directorial debut with another entry on this year’s list, 2000’s Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah Talai Jone), which was the first Thai film to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival. It competed in the Un Certain Regard category.

A hyper-colourful western with six-gun-toting bandits on horseback, Tears of the Black Tiger was an homage to an earlier era of Thai film – the action movies of the 1960 and ’70s – like another entry on this year’s list, 1966’s Operation Bangkok (“Petch Tad Petch”), a Hong Kong co-production featuring superstar leading man Mitr Chaibancha and Hong Kong starlet Regina Piping.

Films as National Heritage 2013

  • Visit of the Prince of Siam, 1901, Mitchell and Kenyon
  • Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, 1927, Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack
  • Magic Ring (แหวนวิเศษ), 1929, Nai Noi Sorasak (pseudonym of King Rama VII)
  • Mon Ram Phee at Pak Lad (เสด็จทอดพระเนตรมอญรำผี ปากลัด ๑ มีนาคม พ.ศ. ๒๔๗๓ , 1930, King Rama VII
  • Giant Swing Ceremony (พระราชพิธีโล้ชิงช้า), 1931, HRH Prince Rangsit Prayurasakdi, Prince of Chainat
  • Acquiring Torpedo Boat (การรับเรือตอร์ปิโด), 1935, Luang Kolakarn Jan-Jit (Pao Wasuwat)
  • Ruam Thai (รวมไทย), 1941, Prince Sukornwannadit Diskul
  • Sand to Glass (ทรายมาเป็นแก้ว, 1950-51, Tadsong Satiensut
  • Silpa Bhirasri (อาจารย์ศิลป์ พีระศรี), 1951
  • Our Bangkok, Capital City (กรุงเทพเมืองหลวงของเรา ), 1957, United States Information Service
  • Boribool Balm commericial (โฆษณาขี้ผึ้งบริบูรณ์บาล์ม ชุดหนูหล่อพ่อเขาพาไปดูหมี), 1958-62, Sanpasiri Agency
  • The Site of Lue’s Grave (หลุมศพที่ลือไซต์ ), 1962, Somboon Wiriyasiri
  • Operation Bangkok (เพชรตัดเพชร, Petch Tad Petch), 1966, Vichit Kounavudhi, Promsin Siboonrueng, Prakob Kaewprasert
  • The Conqueror of Ten Directions (ผู้ชนะสิบทิศ, Phu Chana Sib Tid), 1966-67, Naramitr (Amnuay Klatnimi)
  • Dr. Karn (เขาชื่อกานต์, Khao Chue Karn), 1973, MC Chatrichalerm Yukol
  • Nora Khunoupthamnarakorn (โนราขุนอุปถัมภ์นรากร), 1973, Songkla Teachers College
  • Wai Ounwalon (วัยอลวน ), 1976, Piak Poster
  • Mountain People (คนภูเขา , Khon Phu Khao), 1979, Vichit Kounavudhi
  • Naam Poo (น้ำพุ ), 1983, Euthana Mukdasanit
  • Boonchu Phoo Narak (บุญชูผู้น่ารัก), 1988, Bhandit Rittakol
  • Pook Pui (ปุกปุย) 1990, Udom Udomroj
  • Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง , Song Si Kow Kow Antapan Krong Muang), 1997, Nonzee Nimibutr
  • Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร , Fah Talai Jone), 2000, Wisit Sasanatieng
  • The Overture (โหมโรง , Hom Rong), 2004, Ittisoontorn Vichailak
  • The Tin Mine (มหา’ลัยเหมืองแร่ , Maha’lai Muengrae), 2005, Jira Maligool

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thai film and animation industry go Hollywood

Going on next week, the first Thailand International Film and Animation Business Alliance roadshow, will take place in Santa Monica, California.

Here's the press release they sent out, just today:

October 30 to November 1, 2013, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, Mr. Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, is heading a delegation of the finest Thai film and animation companies to Hollywood for the first Thailand Film and Animation Business Alliance roadshow in America.

Organized by the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) of the Thai Ministry of Commerce, this first-of-its-kind initiative is aimed at promoting the Thai film and animation industry in America, and fostering greater creative and business ties between the two countries.

Twenty Thai companies involved in film production, distribution, visual effects and animation will be flying to Los Angeles to participate in a busy 3-day program which includes a symposium, studio tours, companies' showcases and a business matching session.

The program will culminate with Thai Night: Halloween Special, an exclusive party held on Halloween night and presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya. The Thai Night: Halloween Special will be the occasion to preview a slate of exciting new horror films coming out of Thailand and meet the talent behind them.

In addition to Her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, Mr. Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, Deputy Prime Minister and Ministry of Commerce and Mrs. Nuntawan Sakuntanaga, Director General, Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP), Ministry of Commerce, Royal Thai Government will be attending the event along with industry leaders from Thailand. A number of international celebrities and industry executives will also be present.

Participating companies (film) : The National Federation of Thai Film Associations, Amfine Production, Five Star Production, Kantana Post Production, Klongchai Pictures, M Pictures, M-Thirtynine, Right Content, Studio Aromdi, Sahamongkol Film International.

Participating companies (animation): Anya Animation, Creative Bean Studio, Imagimax, Lunch Box Studio, The Monk Studios, G Motif, Teapot Studio, Tomogram Studio, Vithita Animation, Yggdrazil Group.

Source: Department of International Trade Promotion, The Ministry of Commerce of the Kingdom of Thailand

It's taking place at the InterContinental Hotel in Century City.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tony Jaa is fast and furious as Tom-Yum-Goong 2 premieres

Actors have excused themselves from doing the promotional campaigns for their films before, but perhaps none have done so in quite the dramatic fashion as Tom-Yum-Goong 2 (ต้มยำกุ้ง 2) star Tony Jaa has.

The latest martial-arts epic from Jaa hits Thai big screens in the midst of a feud between the star and his studio, Sahamongkol Film International. In the runup to the release of Tom-Yum-Goong 2, a contract dispute arose when it was announced that Tony Jaa had been cast in a sequel to the Hollywood car-racing franchise, Fast and Furious 7.

Sahamongkol honcho Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techaratanaprasert asserted that Jaa was under another 10-year contract with his studio and had to get his permission to take part in an outside project. He's threatened a lawsuit.

But Jaa, newly emboldened by the backing of a new Westerner manager, retorted that the contract was null and void and he was no longer a slave to Sahamongkol.

So Tom-Yum-Goong 2 opens today, the Chulalongkorn Day public holiday, which is ironic because Chulalongkorn, King Rama V, is celebrated for his role in ending slavery in Siam. And the film's star isn't present to appear at premieres or make the rounds of press interviews. Instead, Jaa is in the U.S., filming Fast and Furious 7 and posting Facebook pictures of himself teaching Muay Thai to Fast and Furious leading man Vin Diesel.

Years in the making, Tom-Yum-Goong 2 is a sequel to a 2005 movie that was Tony Jaa's second major studio effort following his breakout hit Ong-BakTom-Yum-Goong, a.k.a. The Protector, took Jaa to Australia, on the hunt for his baby elephant that had been abducted by gangsters. It was an aim to broaden Jaa's international appeal, setting up fights for him around Sydney landmarks with Vietnamese-American stunt performer Johnny Tri Nguyen and towering Australian wrestler Nathan Jones.

Tom-Yum-Goong 2 stays in Thailand, but still keeps the international flavor, bringing in hip-hop musician and kung-fu aficionado RZA as the main villain as well as American martial artist Marrese Crump. Jaa also meets on screen for the first time with Sahamongkol's other major martial-arts star, Chocolate actress Jeeja Yanin. She's paired up as a twin sister to another female fighter, Teerada Kittisiriprasert. Another featured fighter is Only God Forgives siren Rhatha "Yaya Ying" Pho-ngam, in her first action role. And Jaa's usual comic-relief sidekick Petchthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao reprises his role from the first Tom-Yum-Goong as a Thai-Australian police officer, now seconded to a major Interpol investigation.

The story again involves a stolen elephant, with Jaa's character on the run after being blamed for the killing of an elephant-camp owner.

Also, it's in 3D, the first by Sahamongkol and director Prachya Pinkaew.

The contract dispute between Jaa and the studio is just the latest bump in the film's rocky road to completion. The production has been beset by delays, including flooding in 2011 and Jaa's marriage to his pregnant bride last year. Also, Jeeja hooked up with an assistant director during filming, and is now married and a mother herself.

Other behind-the-scenes drama comes from Jaa's tumultuous family life becoming fodder for the Thai press, which has reported news of Jaa's fiesty wife getting into fights with her in-laws.

Fortunately, the action-packed trailer, embedded below, helps you put all this nonsense out of your mind.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Mor 6/5 Pak Mha Ta Pee

  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 3, 2013; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

Kids, mind what your teachers say and show them respect, or else they will fly into a murderous rage and after they die they will haunt you for the rest of your days.

That's the lesson to be learned in the haunted schoolhouse horror-comedy Mor Hok/Haa Pak Maa Taa Pee (มอ6/5 ปากหมา ท้าผี, a.k.a. Mor Hok Tub Ha, M. 6/5 or Make Me Shudder!). It's the first 3D offering from the 12-year-old movie studio Phranakorn. Poj Arnon, the infamous master of schlock, is credited as writer, production designer and costume designer, but, oddly not director. That credit goes to someone named Poch Apirut (but it's really Poj Arnon).

It's a headache-inducing effort, thanks to the constant, ear-splitting screams of the schoolboys as they endlessly run around shrieking like schoolgirls. You have to squint, thanks to the dimly lit school corridors, made even darker by the polarised 3D glasses. I peeked at the screen without the glasses, and things weren't much brighter, plus it was blurry.

Even though the lighting was dim, the 3D photography wasn't too bad, turning the tour of the haunted school into an immersive journey, sort of like Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Too bad Werner wasn't narrating or directing though. Perhaps one day he could do a documentary on Poj Arnon's obsession with making crappy movies.

And there were also gimmicky special effects to sweeten the 3D, like a cloud of murkily rendered bats squealing out of the screen, or a gore-drenched teacher ghost's spectre flying at the audience.

The story is about the bully leader of a gang of boys in short pants – fresh-faced youngsters cast out of Poj's talent-management stable. He likes to lead his pals on dares to explore haunted houses. They stay after school one night to explore an off-limits building on campus where years before a boy leaped to his death, distraught over his bad grades.

Soon, the ghost kid is stalking the boys, chasing them down gated-off hallways and up and down endless staircases, screaming all the way. Eventually they take a break, and the ghost boy is actually pretty friendly and talkative for a guy with a smashed head. But then they are back to running and screaming some more. And this goes on for 90 minutes.

It isn't until the last half hour or so that the movie gets interesting. After so many dark, dead-end hallways, the story starts to go somewhere, thanks to the introduction of an imperious headmistress played by none other than original Bangkok Dangerous actress "May" Pathawarin Timkul, who still has the best glowering sneer in the business.

There's a whole backstory to her character and her dealings with a couple of other teachers who are mysteriously hanging around late at night in this abandoned school building. It's a story from another time and another, better, movie.

Related posts:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mary is sweary, Mary is sweary

In preparation for his new film's November 28 limited release in Thailand – "not in every theater" – Nawapol Thamrongrattanrit has cut a teaser for Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, the story of a teenager that's crafted from a schoolgirl's Twitter feed.

Mary has a potty mouth, which kind of bothered me. But then there was an explosion, so it made me pretty happy.

Outside of Thailand, look for Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy at fests in Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Countdown blasts off for U.S. release

Thailand's Oscar submission Countdown will get a U.S. release next year by Birch Tree Entertainment, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Directed by "Baz" Nattawut Poonpiriya and produced by GTH, Countdown is a psychological thriller about three young Thai college students in New York City who are terrorized in their apartment by a crazed, Bible-toting drug dealer named Jesus.

Playing the unhinged Jesus is David Asavanond, who won the best actor at this year's Subhananhongsa Awards. Countdown also won for best screenplay and editing, as well as other awards in Thailand and at festivals abroad. It was screened earlier this year at the New York Asian Film Festival.

Art Birzneck, president and CEO of Birch Tree Entertainment, raves on about Countdown in quotes to THR:

"We are very excited about this acquisition. After seeing the exceptional storytelling skills and visual style of Nattawut Poonpiriya and the breakout performance of David Asavanond, we knew we had discovered a gem. We hope the Academy members will share our enthusiasm."

"We are very happy to continue our relationship with GTH, Thailand's premiere production company," added Birzneck.

Through its Action Slate label, Birch Tree previously released GTH's acclaimed hit 2011 thriller Laddaland on DVD.

(Via 2Bangkok.com)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

36 wins top international prize at Turkey's Golden Orange fest

Via Facebook
Nawapol Thamrongrattanrit's acclaimed 2012 feature debut 36 is still making the rounds on the festival circuit, most recently picking up the Best Film Award in the International Competition at the 50th International Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in Turkey.

With Nawapol in Busan with his latest feature Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, it fell to the 36 stars, actor Wanlop Rungkamjad and actress Vajrasthira Koramit, to be there and accept the trophy.

Here's the festival synopsis:

36 is the number of shots on an analogue roll of film. It’s also the number of shots in this film. It’s the playful quest of a young photographer for the photos that disappeared on her computer: a whole year’s worth, including one of a challenging encounter. In a playful way, this film tackles the issue of changing memory. These days a lot is remembered for us, but what do we still remember ourselves? Thamrongrattanarit’s first feature film 36 competed in International Film Festival Rotterdam for the Hivos Tiger.

On a handshake deal by producer Aditya Assarat, 36 will be distributed in the U.K. by Day for Night.

The film won last year's New Currents Award in Busan, a string of awards in Thailand, Cinemanila, Hong Kong, St. Petersburg and a bunch more award from other fests I never heard of. In Thailand, Nawapol released the highly experimental film himself.

His latest effort Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, a story based on a teenage girl's Twitter feed, premiered at Venice and screened in Busan and Chile's Valdivia Film Festival. Upcoming appearances include the Tokyo International Film Festival and the 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Rocket, By the River bookend 11th World Film Festival of Bangkok

Hurtling into its 11th year, the World Film Festival of Bangkok will open with the award-winning Australian-made Lao-Isaan family drama The Rocket and close with a new documentary by indie Thai filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol, By the River.

Winner of the Crystal Bear and two other prizes in Berlin, The Rocket is the tale of a little boy who is believed to be the bringer of bad luck after his family loses his home. So, with a colorful cast of characters, including a drunken uncle played by veteran Thai comedian Thep Po-ngam, he sets out on an adventure to change his fortune.

Directed by Kim Mordaunt, The Rocket won the Audience Award and prizes for Best Narrative Feature and Best Actor for young star Sitthiphon Disamoe at the Tribeca fest. It's also picked up audience awards at home in Melbourne and Sydney. And Australia has submitted it to next year's Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

The closing film By the River (สายน้ำติดเชื้อ, Sai Nam Tid Shoer) is an award-winner too, earning a special mention after its premiere in Locarno. It chronicles the 15-year legal struggle that ensued after a lead mine contaminated Kanchanaburi province's Klity Creek and ruined the livelihoods of villagers.

With more than 800 films submitted, the fest boasts a decent selection of Thai indie features this year.

A highlight will be The Isthmus by Sopawan Boonnimitra and Peerachai Kerdsint. The story of a little Thai girl who starts speaking only Burmese, it premiered last week at the 18th Busan International Film Festival, where it was in the New Currents competition.

Other new Thai indie features are Village of Hope, an ode to rural Thai ways by veteran helmer Boonsong Nakphoo, and Mother, the debut feature of young director Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul.

There will also be a few Thai indies that have made the rounds already in limited release in Thailand, such as Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Tang Wong, Visra Vichit-Vadakan's Karaoke Girl and Boundary by Nontawat.

This year's Lotus Award for lifetime achievement goes to Jarunee Suksawat, one of Thailand’s biggest movie stars of the 1970s and '80s. Two of her classic films will be shown, the melodrama Baan Sai Thong and Pojjamann Sawangwong

Other highlights of the Asian Contemporary section include Stray Dog by Tsai Ming-liang, A Woman and War by Junichi Inoue, To My Dear Granny by Chu Yu-Ning and Innocents by Singapore's Wong Chen-Hsi, winner of best director in the Asian New Talent Awards at this year's Shanghai fest.

Other festival sections include Cine Latino, giving rare exposure in Bangkok to films from such places as Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Portugal and Spain. There's also Cinema Beat, covering the rest of the world, with Israel's Rock the Casbah among the don't misses.

The 11th World Film Festival of Bangkok runs from November 15 to 24, and for the first time it will be held at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.

Update: The complete lineup has been released.

Review: Karaoke Girl

  • Directed by Visra Vichet Vadakan
  • Starring Sa Sittijun
  • Limited release in Thailand on October 3, 2013; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

In forums, novels and websites about Bangkok's "night entertainment" scene, it's usually the bar girls who are portrayed as mercenaries, victimizing the idiot men who pay to have sex with them. Karaoke Girl (สาวคาราโอเกะ, Sao Karaoke)  turns the tables, with a young karaoke-bar hostess made the victim of her customers and her douchebag rich boyfriend.

The stunning debut feature by U.S.-schooled independent writer-director Visra Vichet-Vadakan, Karaoke Girl is a seamless blend of documentary and drama as it depicts the life of Sa, an exceedingly lovely young woman from the countryside who supports her family back home by working as a hostess in a karaoke bar that caters to well-moneyed, well-lubricated Thai men.

The opening finds her asleep on the beach, and it turns out she's been left there without any money or shoes by a customer who brought her there and took off in the wee hours.

Hitching rides in the backs of pick-ups on her way to Bangkok, it's the first of several trips Sa takes in the movie. Another is a train ride back home to Isaan for the Songkran Thai New Year holiday. Parents and other relations talk about how they really appreciate the money Sa sends home.

Poetic camera work – the director's teacher from New York University, Sandi Sissel, is one of two cinematographers – captures the Songkran water-splashing fun in slo-mo.

Back in Bangkok, Karaoke Girl settles in  for more glimpses of Sa's life of living in her apartment, daubing on her war paint and getting geared up for work in a skirt and little midriff-baring top. At the bar, she serves drinks and sits with "guests". Taking breaks on the roof with her co-workers, a waiter is really nice to her, but the auntie cook (Karuna Lukthumtong from Aditya Assarat's Six to Six) tells him to quit trying so hard. "She doesn't like you."

The rich boyfriend dances around the edges, but lacks commitment. Banknotes flutter on the breeze in reply.

As an epilogue, Sa is dolled up in the bedazzling sequinned outfit of luk thung singers and surrounded by dancers as she performs in a karaoke video of her own, singing a sad country song about a sad country girl. It's a fitting and hopeful end.

Related posts:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Busan IFF notes: Concrete Clouds, Isthmus reviewed, Soros honored, 36 dealt

As the curtain falls on the 18th Busan International Film Festival tomorrow, mixed reviews for the Thai films in the New Currents competition – Concrete Clouds and The Isthmus – have started to trickle in.

But first, there's this – Concrete Clouds producer Soros Sukhum was honored at the festival's Thai Night this week with a special award for his contributions to Thai cinema given to him by none other than a princess, Princess Ubol Ratana. It appears no one got a photo of the auspicious handing of the award, perhaps owing to the intricate protocols involved when photographing a member of Thailand's royal family, but Pop Pictures has news of it on Facebook (as well as other news from Busan).

It's a well-deserved honor for Soros, whose friends call him Tongdee and who's been quietly and tirelessly working behind the scenes (and sometimes in front of the camera) on indie Thai films for more than a decade. Among Thai producers on the circuit right now, he's one of the most traveled, with a passport that must be absolutely bulging with stamps from such places as Rotterdam, Berlin and Busan. Aside from films like Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town and Hi-So, Soros' recent credits include Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Tang Wong and P-047.

The Princess, an actress and fixture of Thai film events in Cannes and Busan, is for the first time actually in a movie showing in the festival, as part of the ensemble cast in the family drama Together, directed by Saranyoo Jiralak, screening in the Window on Asian Cinema.

Another in the Window was Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, the latest from last year's New Currents winner for 36, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit. Having premiered in Venice (and also now screening in Chile's Valdiva Film Festival), Mary was well-received in Busan and producer "Aditya is happy, Aditya is happy", according to the Pop Pictures' Facebook timeline. Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy will also screen at the upcoming Tokyo International Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Aditya made a market deal to sell Nawapol's experimental romance 36 (also an award-winner in St. Petersburg) to the U.K. distributor Day for Night, according to Screen Daily. That's the same outfit that bought Aditya's Hi-So.

Aditya was also in Busan supporting the premiere of Letters from the South, an omnibus about the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia. Others directing segments are Tsai Ming-Liang, Malaysia's Tan Chui Mui, Singapore's Royston Tan and Sun Koh and Myanmar's Midi Z.

Now, let's get to those reviews. To recap, Concrete Clouds is the much-anticipated debut feature by longtime film editor Lee Chatametikool. Set in during the 1997 financial crisis, it stars Ananda Everingham as a young Thai-American trader who returns to Bangkok after his father commits suicide. The Isthmus is the debut feature of a pair of academics, Sopawan Boonnimitra, a film studies lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, and Peerachai Kerdsint, from Bangkok University's film department. It's about a little Thai girl who suddenly starts speaking only Burmese after her family's migrant-worker maid dies. So her mother, played by Saengthong Gate-Uthong, goes searching for answers in the Burmese migrant community in Thailand's Kra Isthmus.

First up is the much-anticipated Concrete Clouds, which Meniscus magazine gives a mixed review:

In his directorial feature debut, Concrete Clouds, Lee Chatametikool turns the clock back to 1997, the year of the Asian financial crisis. However, despite a well-known Thai cast, and a potentially multi-layered observation of love in a time of depression and mourning, the story unfortunately never really gets going.

And The Hollywood Reporter was even more downbeat on the other Thai New Currents entry, The Isthmus, calling it "well-meaning but tepid" and the bottom line being it "offers too much emotion and a wafer-thin a treatise that doesn’t support a very tangible socio-political issue".

Perhaps both Concrete Clouds and The Isthmus will find more receptive audiences when they eventually screen in Thailand. I'm not sure when Concrete Clouds will be released in Thailand, but for Bangkok residents The Isthmus will be seen soon in a film festival near you.

The Nation rounds up the Thai Busan entries today and the Bangkok Post previewed them last week.

Lao premieres, Home, Boundary and River Changes Course among highlights at 2013 Luang Prabang fest

With his lineup released last week, Luang Prabang Film Festival director Gabriel Kuperman revealed a few of his highlights in an article in The Nation today. Here's the details:

The opening film will be Big Heart, directed by Laos' Mattiphob Douangmyxay. It's about a young boxer overcoming personal obstacles while falling in love.

The other Lao premiere will be I Love Savanh by Bounthong Nhotmanhkong. It's about a Japanese expat working in southern Laos and taking romantic interest in a weaver.

"These impressive titles are the feature film debuts for both directors, and both show incredible promise for the filmmakers," Kuperman says.

Other highlights are two films by acclaimed Love of Siam director Chookiat Sakveerakul. He's expected be on hand to present his award-winning Chiang Mai-set drama Home as well as his teen comedy Grean Fictions.

Noted Thai indie filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol will also be there, showing his documentary Boundary, covering the Thai-Cambodian border dispute around the Preah Vihear temple.

More views from across the border come from Cambodian genocide survivor and activist Youk Chhang, who will present A River Changes Course, which won the World Cinema Jury Prize at this year's Sundance festival. Directed by Kalyanee Mam and produced by Chhang's Documentation Centre Cambodia, it's a look at how the country's ancient culture and fragile environment is being devastated by globalisation.

And from Vietnam, Thi Nhung Mello-Pham will present Here ... or There? At age 65, she's made her debut feature, a semi-autobiographical drama about a Vietnamese woman who retires with her European husband to a remote Vietnamese fishing village.

Also peppered in there as possibilities for the main screen are Pen-ek Ratanaruang's hitman thriller Headshot (though with its gun-toting monk maybe not on the main screen), Visra Vichet-Vadakan's Karaoke Girl and a two-pack from Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, P-047, which I'm not sure what they'll make of in Laos, and his more-accessible teen drama Tang Wong.

The Luang Prabang Film Festival runs from December 7 to 11.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Paradoxocracy returns

If you missed Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย, Prachathiptai) (and it's very possible you did) when it was released for a limited run in Bangkok in June, you now have another chance to catch it.

House on RCA has it listed on their schedule in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the October 14, 1973 student uprising against a military dictatorship.

Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Pasakorn Pramoolwong, the documentary gathers together a dozen or so academics who talk about the tumultuous times constitutional monarchy was put in place in 1932. Frank and sometimes funny, it's censored in a couple of places. If you're interested at all in Thai politics, hurry on over to House and catch it while you can.

Paradoxocracy will also screen at 1pm on Sunday, October 13, at the Thai Film Archive as part of a program that features two other documentaries, Ngao Prawat Sart (The Shadow of History) by Panu Aree and Octoblur (Lom Tulakom) by Patana Chirawong.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

East Winds Film Festival has Pee Mak and Pawnshop

The East Winds Film Festival, put on by Conventry University's East Asian Film Society, will present the European premiere of the record-breaking Thai box-office smash Pee Mak Phra Khanong
(พี่มาก...พระโขนง), with special guest director Banjong Pisanthanakun.

The fest will also screen the U.K. premiere of Banjong's solo feature debut, the hit 2010 romantic comedy Hello Stranger.

And to round out the East Winds Thailand Showcase, the fest will host the international premiere of the "arthouse" horror Pawnshop, directed by Parm Rangsri and starring Krissada Sukosol Clapp. which is part of the festival's Halloween night "East Winds Chills" program.

Aside from the Thai selection, a big highlight will be the opening film, the European premiere of Dustin Nguyen's directorial debut, the action-packed epic "Eastern western" Once Upon a Time in Vietnam.

The East Winds Film Festival – the U.K.’s only major showcase of East Asian cinema outside of London and the first of its kind in the Midlands – will take place at Coventry University’s purpose-built digital cinema facility at its student center, The HUB, from October 31 to November 3.

Five Star establishes Kiat-Charoen Iamphungporn Foundation

Five Star Production, one of Thailand's oldest movie studios, has a launched a new foundation named after its late founders, the Kiat-Charoen Iamphungporn Foundation, that will be devoted to the education of new filmmaking talents.

Film Business Asia has more details:

Headed by Saicharoon Iamphungporn, who serves as president, the foundation is well supported by the industry with a seven-member committee and 24 consultants consisting of exhibitors, directors, producers, post production houses and animation companies.

To nurture new talents, the foundation will offer classes conducted by top Thai filmmakers. The first class is on scriptwriting which will be held on eight weekends in January and February 2014. Thirty students – selected from over 500 applicants – will attend.

In addition to Five Star, industry executives from GTH and Phranakorn have kicked in start-up funds.

Instructors will include Five Star alum Pen-ek Ratanaruang, GTH talents Banjong Pisanthanakun and Jira Maligool, indie producers Aditya Assarat and Soros Sukhum ans screenwriter Amraporn Pandinthong.

Please see Film Business Asia for the full story.

Somewhere Only We Know joins the crowdfund

Wichanon Sumumjarn, the award-winning maker of Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse and the feature In April the Following Year, There was a Fire, is the latest director to turn to crowd-funding.

He's making a short called Somewhere Only We Know, about Bee, a country girl working in Bangkok. She spends a night with her ex-boyfriend.

The goal is raise 100,000 baht, or about $3,200. For $20, you get a DVD of the film. Donate $50 and you'll get a "special thanks" in the credits. Contribute $500 and you'll get executive producer credit.

Contributors will also be listed on the Facebook page for Wichanon's next feature project, Beer Girl.

For more details, check out the campaign page at Electric Eel Films.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Luang Prabang Film Festival has poster-design contest, Lao Filmmakers Fund

The Luang Prabang Film Festival, which a couple days ago announced its 2013 lineup of Southeast Asian movies, has a couple other things going on – a poster-design contest and the Lao Filmmakers Fund.

Here's the details on the movie poster design contest:

Any designer living in Southeast Asia is invited to submit a movie poster design for a fictitious film called My Mother's Wedding. This is not an existing movie, nor one in production, so we encourage graphic designers to imagine what might happen in the film, who the main characters are, and how the film might take place in their own country of origin. First Place prize is $750, and the Top 20 will be displayed at the LPFF Visitor Center during the festival.

Meanwhile, there's the Lao Filmmakers Fund. Here's more about that:

The fund is publicly generated, and allows filmmakers in Laos to apply for small grants to help make their film projects possible. Grants are currently available once per year. Successful projects will be chosen by the Luang Prabang Film Festival's Board of Directors, based on the merits of the project, as well as an organized and feasible plan for execution. In our first year, the maximum grant Aaount is $3000 USD.

Deadline for entries is October 15. For more details, hit up the links above or the festival's Facebook page

The Luang Prabang Film Festival runs from December 7 to 11 in the UNESCO World Heritage former royal capital of Laos.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Karaoke Girl, Ilo Ilo and a Poj Arnon 3D horror in Bangkok cinemas

It's an interesting week for fans of Southeast Asian cinema in Bangkok, with the release of Ilo Ilo, the first Singaporean film to be awarded at the Cannes Film Festival and the city-state's submission to next year's Academy Awards.

There's also Karaoke Girl, the debut feature by indie Thai filmmaker Visra Vichet-Vadakan. A fixture from this year's festival circuit, Karaoke Girl is an experimental documentary and drama about a young woman who works as a bar "hostess" in Bangkok.

And as a weird aside, there's Mor Hok/Haa Pak Maa Taa Pee, the first 3D movie from Phranakorn Production and controversial director Poj Arnon.

Ilo Ilo is a family drama set against the backdrop of the 1997 financial crisis. Directed by Anthony Chen, the partly autobiographical story is about a Filipina maid who moves into an apartment with an ethnic Chinese family. She becomes a confidant to the bratty spoiled schoolboy son and newly unemployed dad, earning her a hairy eyeball from the pregnant domineering mother.

By coincidence, Ilo Ilo has a Bangkok connection, thanks to one of its producers, Wahyuni A. Hadi, wife of Thai indie filmmaker Aditya Assarat and herself one of the driving forces behind the promotion of Singaporean independent cinema. Winner of the Cannes Camera d'Or Award for best first feature – the first Singaporean film to be awarded at Cannes – Ilo Ilo is at House on RCA. Check out the trailer embedded below.

Karaoke Girl (สาวคาราโอเกะ, Sao Karaoke) depicts the grim life of a young woman who works as an escort. The debut feature of Visra  is the story of Sa, a country girl who was sent to Bangkok when she was just 15. After three years in a factory, she entered the sex trade in order to support her family. Four years later the filmmaker met her, documented her life in the city and in the country and also wrote a fictional script for her to act in. The story is drawn from Sa's actual experiences, threading memories of her rural childhood with the complicated reality of her urban life.

Boasting impressive credits, with New York University professor and Salaam Bombay cinematographer Sandi Sissel as a director of photography, Karaoke Girl premiered in the main competition at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it earned positive reviews. It went on to a bunch of other fests, including Helsinki and London's Terracotta Far East Film Festival as well as Karlovy Vary, Vancouver, Jeonju, Hamburg and Luxembourg City. It won the award for Emerging International Filmmaker at London's Open City Docs Fest.

Happily, the film had a positive effect on Sa, and she's turned her back on her old life, according to the filmmaker.

Karaoke Girl is in limited release at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square and the Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada. It'll open next week at Major Cineplex Airport Plaza Chiang Mai and at Bangkok's House cinema on October 17. The trailer is embedded below.

Mor Hok/Haa Pak Maa Taa Pee (มอ6/5 ปากหมา ท้าผี, a.k.a. Make Me Shudder is the first stab into 3D by B-movie studio Phranakorn and schlock filmmaker Poj Arnon.

The horror comedy is about young schoolboys in short pants who challenge themselves by entering haunted buildings.

I don't know what else to say about this, except it looks like utter nonsense but I will still watch it because I haven't filled my Poj Arnon quota this year. The trailer is embedded below.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

World premieres lined up for 2013 Luang Prabang Film Festival

The world premieres of a pair of Lao films are among the highlights of this year's Luang Prabang Film Festival (LPFF), which will take place from December 7 to 11.

As always, LPFF will celebrate the best cinema from across Southeast Asia, and create a space for regional film professionals and fans to network, dialogue, and encourage local film production.

All screenings and activities of the festival are free and open to the public. Selected by LPFF's Motion Picture Ambassadors (film experts in each of the participating countries), the 28 feature films in the fourth annual festival will be:

  • 13:00 Sunday (Laos)
  • A River Changes Course (Cambodia)
  • Ah Boys to Men (Singapore)
  • Big Heart (Laos) [World Premiere]
  • Boundary (Cambodia/Thailand)
  • Contradiction (Malaysia)
  • Dancing Across Borders (Cambodia)
  • Deenok and Gareng (Indonesia)
  • Grean Fictions (Thailand)
  • Hak Aum Lum (Laos)
  • Headshot (Thailand)
  • Here or There?  (Vietnam)
  • The Hidden: Wrath of Azazil (Malaysia)
  • Home (Thailand)
  • I Love Savan (Laos) [World Premiere]
  • Karaoke Girl (Thailand)
  • Kil (Malaysia)
  • Lovely Man (Indonesia)
  • Mater Dolorosa (Philippines)
  • P-047 (Thailand)
  • Red Scarf (Laos)
  • Rising Sun on the Horizon (Myanmar)
  • Scent of Burning Grass (Vietnam)
  • Tangwong (Thailand)
  • Thy Womb (Philippines)
  • What is it about Rina? (Brunei)
  • What isn't There (Philippines)
  • What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love (Indonesia)

In addition to these feature films, LPFF will also have multiple short film programs, including all 21 Southeast Asian documentary films from DocNet's first ChopShots collection.

The six short films from LPFF's "Our Lives on Film" Documentary Filmmaking Workshop will be featured, as well.

There will be panel discussions, Q-and-As, a concert, and dance and puppetry performances to entertain visitors during the festival.

Several exhibitions will be on display at the LPFF Visitor Center, including the best designs from the festival's movie poster competition (accepting entries until October 15), and an update on the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project.

Coca-Cola, Heineken, Chillax Productions, Khiri Travel, Lane Xang Minerals, and the US Embassy are all major sponsors of this year's festival.

Currently, a crowdsourcing campaign is underway to provide LPFF with mobile screening equipment via CineFund.

For further information on the festival, visit www.lpfilmfest.org (currently under renovation), or stay up to date at Facebook.com/lpfilmfest.

To book discounted tours and travel arrangements to attend the festival, e-mail Khiri Travel, LPFF's Official Travel Partner, at sales.laos@khiri.com.