Friday, May 31, 2013

Terracotta Far East Film Festival has Countdown, Karaoke Girl

Countdown and Karaoke Girl, two Thai fixtures of this year's festival circuit continue to make their way around the world, hitting London at next week's Terracotta Far East Film Festival.

Countdown, a big winner during awards season in Thailand, as well as at that other Far East Film Festival, screens at Terracotta as part of the fest's Horror All-Nighter (it'll also be at NYAFF). Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya, it's the story of three young Thais living in a New York City apartment who want to get their weed on for New Year's Eve. They are visited by a dealer named Jesus who is going to do considerably more than just sell them a few joints.

And there's more to it than that, says the festival page:

Over recent years, Thailand has shown itself as a serious hotbed for horror that has suffered in the international market due to subject matter being based on very local beliefs that are unlikely to scare a Western audience. Countdown avoids these pitfalls largely because it is set in New York and has a lot of English dialogue but also because it keeps the audience guessing all along as it evolves from stoner comedy to claustrophobic home-invasion right up to head-spinning game changer.

Karaoke Girl is in the Current Asian Cinema section. The debut feature by indie director Visra Vichit Vadakan, Karaoke Girl is drawn from the actual experiences of the film's star, threading memories of her rural childhood with the complicated reality of her urban life, working as a bar hostess to support her family back home. It premiered earlier this year in competition in Rotterdam and was featured in Helsinki and probably some other festivals.

In all, there's 27 films, including a Spotlight on Indonesia. The Terracotta Far East Film Festival runs from June 6 to 15 at the Prince Charles Cinema and ICA in London.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Free Thai Cinema Movement returns with Freedom on Film

Enacted in 2009, the Thai Film and Video Act replaced an antiquated 80-year-old censorship regime for Thai films. It instituted a film-ratings system that was supposed to make things better but instead made things worse for filmmakers, especially independent directors.

Under the new system, the process of getting official clearance to release movies has been made even murkier, with the bureaucracy of censorship banning two films, the sexually explicit Insects in the Backyard and the political satire Shakespeare Must Die. A third film, the Thai-Cambodian border documentary Boundary, was initially banned but then, after a bit of confusion, was cleared for release with the condition that it be edited to mute out an incidental reference to His Majesty the King.

Following the Boundary episode, there has been a resurgence of the Free Thai Cinema Movement, which started in 2007 to protest the Film and Video Act that at the time was being railroaded through the post-coup rubber-stamp Parliament.

Filmmakers are now taking to Facebook to post Instagram-type photos of themselves along with quotes and the movement's "No Cut, No Ban" logo, calling for an end to the banning and censorship.

According to Shakespeare Must Die co-director Manit Sriwanichpoom, the movement "is an attempt to organize ourselves, do away with the censors and regulate ourselves as the [Thai] TV people have the right to do."

On Saturday, June 1, from 1 to 6.30 in the fifth-floor auditorium at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, the Freedom on Film event will beging with a screening of a new 2.5-hour documentary on censorship. That will be followed by panel discussions with filmmakers, legal experts and rights advocates.

Panellists will include Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who fought a lengthy battle with scissor-wielding censors over his 2006 feature Syndromes and a Century, which was eventually released in Bangkok with the censored scenes replaced with black, scratched film leader.

Others will include Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-Bak), Nonzee Nimibutr (Nang Nak), Pantham Thongsang (Ai-Fak), Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (Insects in the Backyard) and Nontawat Numbenchapol (Boundary).

The panel talk will be in Thai with no translator, but the film has English subtitles.

The event is organized by the Film Department of Kasem Bundit University with participants including iLaw, the Thai Film Director's Association and the Free Thai Cinema Movement.

Check the Facebook events page for more details.

National Heritage films to screen June 1 and 2

Since its inception two years ago, 50 films have been inducted into the Registry of Films as National Heritage by the Thai Film Archive and the Culture Ministry.

Began in October 2011, to mark that month's annual Film Conservation Day, 25 historic films were named, with 25 more added to the registry this past October.

This Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and 2, four of the National Heritage films will be screened for free by the Film Archive at Paragon Cineplex in Bangkok.

Showtimes are at 2pm and 7pm.

Up first on Saturday is The King of White Elephant (พระเจ้าช้างเผือก ) from 1941. The oldest surviving Thai feature, the epic of elephant battles and palace intrigue is also a rarity because it's an English-language film, produced by statesman Pridi Banomyong as anti-war propaganda, to let the world know that not all Thais agreed with Japan's imperialist moves.

Also on Saturday is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ). The newest entry in the Registry, Boonmee made history in 2010 by being the first Thai film to win the prestigious top-prize Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It brought much international recognition to director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and to Thai independent films in general. It's a mystical tale, about relatives of a dying uncle gathering around him for a dinner that's visited by ghosts from his past.

First up on Sunday is 1982's Son of Northeast (ลูกอีสาน), a landmark docu-drama by Vichit Kounavudhi, which follows the migrations of a close-knit group of struggling farming families in northeastern Thailand of the 1930s.

The program closes with another classic, Reun Pae (เรือนแพ ), a.k.a. The Boat House or The House Boat, a sumptuous 1961 Thai-Hong Kong co-production that blends music, romance and adventure in a rollicking and tragic tale of triangular romance between guys renting a floating house and the pretty daughter of their landlord.

Unfortunately, neither of the movies on Sunday have English subtitles. Subtitled prints existed at one time, but not any more. Tickets will be handed out one hour before showtime.

Monday, May 27, 2013

NYAFF 2013: Countdown returns to New York

Countdown, a psychological thriller that bottles up three young Thais with an unhinged drug dealer in a New York apartment, returns to its spiritual home next month. It's among the first titles announced over the weekend for this year's New York Asian Film Festival.

Directed by Nattawat "Baz" Poonpiriya, Countdown had its origins in a 45-minute short that Nattawat made as a student in the Big Apple. It screened at the 2010 Thai Short Film and Video Festival. It starred David Asavanond as the goateed dealer named Jesus who stops by to peddle joints to three Thai hipsters in their New York apartment. He ends up overstaying his welcome and making their life miserable.

GTH then picked it up and got Nattawat to expand it into a feature, still with Asavanond, but sneakily billing his showy performance as a supporting role, with young GTH stock company players Pachara Chirathivat, Patarasaya Krueasuwansiri and Jarinporn Junkiet starring as the dope-smoking hipsters.

Before Pee Mak Phra Khanong came in this year and scooped up 600-million-baht worth of box-office takings, one of the GTH studio's most successful movies was Countdown, which was a commercial hit of last year and a big winner in this year's awards season in Thailand.

It narrowly missed the top-prize Audience Award at the recent Udine Far East Film Festival.

So now Countdown returns to New York, as part of the 12th New York Asian Film Festival,

Other recently announced NYAFF highlights include the North American premiere Jay Chou's martial arts musical romance The Rooftop as the Closing Night film, Sion Sono’s and Tokyo GAGAGA’s Bad Film, Hideo Nakata’s The Complex, Takashi Miike’s Lesson to the Evil and other Udine winner, Herman Yau's Ip Man: The Final Fight.

There are also three special focuses in this year's lineup: Hong Kong Cinema Now and Beyond!, Taiwan Pulp! – Tales of Gangsters, Female Avengers and Ninjas! and a spotlight on distributor Well Go USA.

Head on over to the festival's blog for more details. The 12th New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 28 to July 15.

(Via Twitch)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cannes 2013: Mixed reviews for Only God Forgives, Chompoo on red carpet

Vithaya Pansringarm, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nicolas Winding Refn and Ratha Po-ngam at the daytime photocall for Only God Forgives in Cannes.

The blood-spattered Bangkok-set crime drama Only God Forgives premiered to boos and mixed reviews in competition at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday. The violence in the film has been turn-off for the squeamish critics, even though some of them liked the movie.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives features his Drive star Ryan Gosling in the lead role.

However, Gosling didn't turn up at the premiere, and sent his regrets to festival director Terry Fremaux. He is in Detroit shooting his directorial debut How to Catch a Monster.

The Guardian rounds up some of the reactions, including a five-star review from The Guardian's own Peter Bradshaw in which he says "The first scenes made me think that Wong Kar-wai had made a new film called In the Mood for Fear or In the Mood for Hate."

Other round-ups are at The Wrap and Metro. Reviews include Variety, Screen Daily, AV Club and the Vulture.

Liv Corfixen and her husband Nicholas Winding Refn hits the red carpet at Cannes with Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm and Ratha Po-ngam.

Some of the critical loathing is directed at Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays Gosling's venom-spewing mother. She forcefully calls on her gangster son to take revenge for the death of his brother. But others are praising her bold turn, which the actress herself has said left her unsettled by the time filming was over.

But it's Vithaya Pansringarm (profiled recently by The Nation) who plays the main antagonist, a sword-wielding former cop nicknamed the Angel of Vengeance who metes out his own form of justice. It's a breakout role for "Pooh" Vithaya, 50, who's only been acting for four years. He previously starred as the sleuthing monk in Tom Waller's Mindfulness and Murder and had bit parts in various foreign productions in Thailand, including The Hangover Part II. In real life, Vithaya is a kind, soft-spoken soul who runs a ballet school in Bangkok with his American wife. However, in the movie he pins a man to an armchair with knives and stabs him through the eye. Not unsurprisingly, he's earned the "badass" title and admiration from various quarters, including Twitch and First Showing. Hopefully, his appearance in Only God Forgives will be a shot in the arm for his and Waller's next project, The Last Executioner.

Singer-actress Ratha "Yaya Ying" Po-ngam, among the stars in the recent Jan Dara remake, also appears in Only God Forgives, playing Gosling's girlfriend Mai. She, Vithaya and Scott Thomas joined the director on the Cannes red carpet and at a daytime photocall. Vithaya, as promised, waved the Thai cultural flag, turning up on the red carpet in a Siamese cut jacket and traditional black silk "jong kraben" trousers.

Also in Cannes is Madame Ho actress "Chompoo" Araya A. Hargate. However, she isn't there as part of any movie, she's representing l'Oreal Thailand. Wearing a frilly green gown, she hit Tuesday's red carpet premiere for Behind the Candelabra, the Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and directed for HBO by Steven Soderbergh. And on Wednesday, she turned up in a slinky black number for All Is Lost.

Chompoo is at Cannes representing l'Oreal. She attended premieres for Behind the Candelabra, left, and All Is Lost.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cannes 2013: Peru checks in for Long Weekend

At the Cannes market, Thongsuk 13 (ทองสุก 13), a.k.a. Long Weekend, was picked up by Eurofilms Perú for distribution in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, according to Film Business Asia.

The first release from a new production shingle, Wave Pictures, international sales for Thongsuk 13 are being handled by Five Star Production, which also found buyers in Asian territories for 3AM: The Second Night, another entry in Five Star's exploration into the realm of 3D horror.

The slasher-thriller Thongsuk 13, directed by Taweewat Wantha, was featured at last month's Udine Far East Film Festival, where Film Biz Asia's Derek Elley gave it a reasonable review.

Also worth a read at Film Biz Asia is the recent report, Good times, bad times. It's a look at the current state of the Thai film industry, from such highlights as the record-breaking box-office success of Pee Mak Phra Khanong and high-profile foreign productions like Lost in Thailand and Only God Forgives, to the problems, such as the continued censorship and banning of films and the failure to deliver on promised incentives to foreign productions, which could lead to film shoots choosing Malaysia instead of Thailand.

Pen-ek secures limited release for Paradoxocracy

Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิปไตย, Prachathipatai), Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary of Thailand's modern political history, is set for release at the end of next month.

According to the movie's Facebook page, it'll get a limited run at Paragon Cineplex and Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada in Bangkok from June 24 to July 3.

A pet project of Pen-ek's, Paradoxocracy was cleared by censors early in the year and was set for release in February. However, it ended up being delayed, with the blame at first attributed to "technical problems" but Pen-ek later admitted he'd encountered difficulties in finding a venue to screen it.

Featuring a mix of archive footage and talking-head interviews with academics, Paradoxocracy covers such topics as the switch from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in the 1930s and the violent political protests of the 1970s to the rise in political power of populist telecommunications tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra.

A trailer is available on Facebook, and it's embedded below.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pee Mak reaches No. 1

According to a story in The Nation today, the horror-comedy Pee Mak Phra Khanong has earned 556 million baht, surpassing the previous Thai box-office record holder, MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's 2001 royal epic Suriyothai.

The new record can be attributed to increases in ticket prices over the years – nearly double since 2001 – as well as the opening of more and more mall multiplexes across the Kingdom. What's surprising is that a mega-hit to beat Suriyothai didn't happen sooner.

Opening on March 28, GTH's monster is still in cinemas. As a "thank you" to fans, the studio has a promotion going until tomorrow, offering discounted tickets for 80 baht – see it again, and give them even more money!

It was No. 1 at the Thai box office for five consecutive weeks before dropping to No. 2 over the weekend of May 2-5, being bumped from the week-on-week top spot by Iron Man 3, which is holding on even after this past weekend's release of Star Trek Into Darkness.

Pee Mak should easily be the No. 1 movie of the year in Thailand, having clobbered other Thai releases, such as studio M-Thirtynine's weepy World War II romance Khoo Kam and Chookiat Sakveerakul's teenage coming-of-age comedy Grean Fictions, as well as the Hollywood blockbuster G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Meanwhile, The Nation's story today deals with the idiotic rumor that Pee Mak is "banned in China". The nonsense is thanks to lamentations circulated on a Thai website by Pee Mak leading man Mario Maurer, who expressed his dire wishes that the movie would get released on the Mainland.

However, according to director Banjong Pisanthanakun, Pee Mak isn't banned in China, officially anyway, because no deals have been made with distributors there, though interest has been shown. Nonetheless, it's doubtful Pee Mak will ever screen in China, thanks to prohibitions against the "ghost movies" and the "third sex" that are staples of the Thai film industry.

Plus, there's the strict quota that only allows a handful of foreign films each year. Thai officials are lobbying for China to bend the rules to allow more films from other Asian countries. But as long as Iron Man is powered by a Chinese milk drink, it's going to be tough for other countries to compete with Hollywood for a toehold in China.

Oh well, at least there's Hong Kong, where Pee Mak opens this week, followed by Cambodia next week, Malaysia on June 6, Singapore on June 13 and Taiwan on August 9.

With Pee Mak topping the box office and being so phenomenonally successful, the pressure is on. Other Thai studios are surely taking stock of the productions on their books, and looking for ways to compete with GTH's slick marketing machine.

And even other GTH directors are feeling the pressure, among them Sophon "Jim" Sakdaphisit, who is tasked with coming up with the studio's next big hit this year. Now, he's no slouch, having written and directed the 2011 No. 1 movie Laddaland as well as having a hand in writing the international hit horrors Shutter and Alone. But rather than deal with the scrutiny, Sophon has dropped off the grid, according to a recent Soopsip column in The Nation. He will likely re-emerge once the stretchy-armed shadow of Pee Mak has retreated a bit.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Industry has plenty to celebrate at Cannes Thai Night 2013

Along with the return of the Thai Pitch event at the Cannes Film Festival, this Saturday, May 18, is also the date for the Thai film industry's glitzy annual Thai Night celebration.

And, despite there being no entries from Thai directors in this year's festival, the bigwigs feel they have much to celebrate, as detailed in this press release:

Presided by Her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, Thai Night Cannes 2013 will be the occasion to celebrate another banner year for the Thai film industry.

Entirely shot in Thailand, Nicolas Winding Refn's new thriller Only God Forgives, one of the most anticipated films of the year, will premiere at the festival in official competition. The film features veteran Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm and pop star Yaya Ying alongside Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Another highlight of the past year is the Chinese film Lost in Thailand, written and directed by Xu Zheng. Shot in Thailand with the financial support of the Thai Ministry of Tourism, the comedy went on to become the highest grossing Chinese film of all time, netting over $200 million in China alone, where it beat the previous records held by Avatar and Titanic in numbers of tickets sold. Abe Kwong, producer of Lost in Thailand, will be at Thai Night to share this extraordinary success story.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. In 2012, Thailand hosted 53 international film productions, a 45 percent increase over 2011 and an absolute record for the country.

This remarkable growth is not only due to the country's breathtaking sceneries, the world class quality of its hospitality services and its competitive production costs. In recent years, the local film industry has gone through a rapid period of modernization and internationalization, and now offers among the most skilled film crews and technical services available in Asia.

The local industry's coming of age is also apparent in the rising strength of Thai cinema itself, which boasts critically-acclaimed auteurs such as Palme d'Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul along with a new wave of genre directors such as Chookiat Sakveerakul, whose high concept thriller 13: Game of Death is being given Hollywood remake treatment by Daniel Stamm under the title Angry Little God, and Banjong Pisanthanakun, director of the brand new horror-comedy Pee Mak Phra Khanong, which is smashing all records at the Thai box office.

All these accomplishments will be at the centre of Thai Night 2013 - Where Films Come Alive, an exclusive event organized by the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP), an agency of the Royal Thai Ministry Of Commerce, during the Cannes Film Festival.

Thai Night Cannes 2013 will be held in Cannes on Saturday May 18th, 2012 at 6pm.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thai Pitch returns to Cannes with four more new projects

After a five-year absence, the Thai Pitch returns this year to the Cannes Film Festival, bringing projects by Aditya Assarat, Boonsong Nakphoo, Pimpaka Towira and Somkiat Vithuranich to the Thai Pavilion on the Crossette.

Supported by the Culture Ministry, the Thai Pitch will be held on Saturday, May 18 at the Thai Pavilion. Producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon (Headshot) is the coordinator.

Here's the four projects:

A Culinary Murder, directed by Somkiat Vithuranich (October Sonata), produced by Pawas Sawatchaiyamet (Headshot, Red Eagle) – Born poor and raised as the kitchen maid to a wealthy, corrupt family, Anoma spends her childhood learning that the secrets to a man’s heart lie in his stomach. Enticed by her developed Thai culinary skills and arresting beauty, the gluttonous master of the house marries Anoma. She feeds him well, but as the years pass his rotten core poisons their relationship.

The General’s Secret, produced and directed by Pimpaka Towira (One Night Husband, The Truth Be Told) – Rian, young and idealistic NGO worker, lives with her mother who suffers from a chronic back pain. One day, she finds her mother's condition has gotten better after receiving a homeopathic massage therapy from an "auntie". The woman soon becomes a part of Rian and her mother's daily lives, but Rian starts to develop an inner conflict and decides to find out the auntie's secret. Incredibly, it goes back to the roots of Thailand's modern political history.

The Way Back, directed by Boonsong Nakphoo (the Deauville award-winner Four Stations, Poor People the Great), produced by Pantham Thongsang (Tropical Malady, Mid-Road Gang, Ai-Fak) – Sueb, the protagonist, decides to leave Bangkok behind and bring his family. Life in the countryside initially seems to be as joyful as anticipated, until stresses gradually pile up. In reality, life outside the cities is not easy.

The White Buffalo, directed by Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town, Hi-So), prodcued by Aditya, Soros Sukhum (Mundane History, P-047) – Peter, a European, is married to a Thai woman and living in her village in Northeastern Thailand. Their situation reflects the colonial past, when white men came to the East to exploit and build their own paradise. But today, the balance of power has changed. The European is large only in body. He is no match for the cunning and deceit of the Thais.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sweding lives again in Thai Iron Man 3 parody trailer

The Fedfe Iron Man Corps. Photo via Facebook.

"Sweding", the trend of lo-fi, back-yard remakes of blockbuster movies that became popular with director Michel Gondry's 2008 Jack Black romp Be Kind Rewind, lives on in Thailand, thanks to a comedy collective known as the Fedfe Boyband.

Fedfe's Thai-sweded Iron Man 3 trailer has racked up more than 900,000 views since being posted on YouTube on April 25, and has been incessantly blogged, reblogged and tweeted about.

The fake trailer has made its way into the mainstream media, with The Nation's Soopsip saying it was featured on Thai TV's Channel 3, and had the morning-show hosts in stitches.

The tattooed Tony Stark's Iron Man suits are made of underwear, body paint and cardboard. His swanky ocean-cliff Malibu pad is a joss paper mansion that's destroyed by toy helicopters. Special effects consist of the actors holding sparklers in their hands and running. Skydiving stunts involve wriggling around on the ground.

The Fedfeclip YouTube channel also includes a comparison video, just so you can see the guy in the blonde wig giving Gwyneth Paltrow a run for her money, though the less said about the guy in blackface standing in for Don Cheadle the better.

Thumbs-up "likes" of the original video (embedded below) number around 19,000 versus zero thumbs-down dislikes. Comments number around 2,830, mostly compliments – "Thailand is the new Sweden", "Thai-Ron Man", etc. – and requests for more "sweded" trailers, such as the upcoming Fast and Furious 6  (I'd vote for a Fedfe version of Star Trek Into Darkness).

The group's worldwide fame has also boosted "likes" on the Fedfe Facebook page.

Fedfe started posting clips on YouTube around a year ago, beginning with Jackass-like pranks before moving on to parodies of boyband music videos.

With fame from their Iron Man 3 video, perhaps the group will be picked up by a TV production company or maybe even get a film deal. However, if either of those things happen, I hope they'll keep their raw edge and not simply become dumbed-down clones of the clowns already on Thai TV and in Thai comedy movies.