Monday, March 31, 2014

Salaya Doc 2014 review: The Songs of Rice

  • Directed by Uruphong Raksasad
  • Screened as the closing film of the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival, March 29, 2014
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

A crowd-pleasing jubilation, Uruphong Raksasad's The Songs of Rice (เพลงของข้าว, Pleng Khong Kao) is a poetic portrait of the various rituals and celebrations that accompany the cultivation of rice in Thailand.

It starts off quietly and gently, with only the sounds of chirping birds and the buzz of insects, and slowly builds up until it explodes. The sounds and tempo then gradually trail off until the movie is right back where it started.

As with Uruphong's previous features, Stories from the North and Agrarian Utopia, genius camerawork is the highlight. Uruphong shoots the moon and then zooms back out to focus on the head of a grasshopper.

He does this a lot, showing you something pretty amazing and then turning the camera to reveal something even more astonishing. One early dramatic scene involves a Buddhist temple blessing procession, featuring worshippers in white parading along a rural road with a pair of elephants. The procession leads to a hilltop temple adorned by a golden stupa. Fans of Agrarian Utopia will recognize the place. If all that isn't enough, there's a guy riding a para-glider, flying around above it all.

The Songs of Rice completes a trilogy for the director. Stories from the North was a compilation of vignettes of the director's neighbors in his native rural Chiang Rai, while Agrarian Utopia followed a pair of farming families as they struggled to make ends meet while growing rice by hand on a single plot of land in Chiang Rai.

That same spot in Thailand's far North is revisited in The Songs of Rice, but Uruphong casts his gaze further afield, filming up and and down the countryside. Places visited include Chon Buri on the Eastern Seaboard, for the water-buffalo races, and in Isaan, the Northeast, the bang-fai (rocket) festival in Yasothon and a visit with the travelling families and their spacecraft-like harvesting machines in Roi Et.

The rocket festival, an annual rite in which homemade rockets are launched in a prayer for fertility and abundance, has been depicted before in such movies as Kim Mordaunt's The Rocket and Panna Rittikrai's Dynamite Warrior. But there's another element of the festival that's probably not as widely depicted – along with the the usual bamboo and blue-PVC-pipe projectiles, there is also the spinning discs that spiral into the sky. These fertilizer-fueled Frisbees are huge – one is hauled in on a 10-wheel truck and placed on the launchpad with a crane. The men use long burning sticks to set off the fuse, made of old monk's robes, and then run and jump for cover behind a mound of dirt. When the rockets work, it's pretty dramatic and beautiful, but when they don't work, it's also pretty dramatic and beautiful.

And is if exploding rockets aren't enough, there's music and dance performances to further liven things up. Cross-dressing men, likely inebriated, bang drums and play traditional instruments. A beautiful transgender person prepares a spicy somtum-and-sticky-rice feast – watch for the symbolism of the mortar and pestle. Steaming sticky sweet dessert is ritually prepared – mounds of it. A granny hula hoops, teetering on the edge of a rice paddy. A rotund dancer waggles her behind to the delight of a provincial governor and other dignataries. A beauty queen rides in a golden cart pulled by water buffalo. It's a rig that the gods could use to fly across the sky.

Communities, young and old, pull together to celebrate. In this time of troubled politics polarizing Thai society, The Songs of Rice is a healing message. It gets back to the basics of stuff that really matters – traditions, culture, spirituality, food and just plain living.

Capping off the closing day of the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival, The Songs of Rice, along with Soundtrack for a Revolution and Cambodian director Rithy Panh's The Missing Picture, left me to ponder what really matters. The right to be treated like a human being. Honoring the haunting memories of family members who died at the hands of a genocidal regime. The act of growing the food that sustains us. These are basic things I think Thailand's warring political parties have lost sight of in their fight to protect their own comparatively petty, selfish interests.

There's nothing really political about The Songs of Rice, but with politics tearing apart the country right now, it's hard for me to come to any other conclusion than I just have.

Related posts:

Muay Jin Din Kong Lok 'the worst ever' Thai film

The comedy Muay Jin Din Kong Lok (หมวยจิ้น ดิ้นก้องโลก) was in and out of cinemas so fast, I didn't get a chance to see it. Turns out hardly anybody did.

But really, the insane trailer (embedded below) was all I needed to feel undeprived.

Now, according to Coconuts Bangkok, the film – the title is translated as "Chinese-looking daughter dances 'til the world ends" – "could be one of the worst ever". However, it is being buzzed about in the Thai social media because of its remarkable failure, "with people sharing it online to celebrate its total lack of cool, popularity and (thankfully) chance of a sequel."

Released on February 27, the film by VIP Entertainment opened on 15 screens and made a whopping 29,000 baht, or just under $1,000. That's according to figures cited by the I Love Movie Thai Facebook group.

The plot, such as it is, supposedly involves a teenage boy from Bangkok who seeks a change of scenery to heal his broken heart. He moves to a seaside village where he falls for a local lass who works in a convenience store. But she's aiming to fulfill her best friend's dream by dancing on stage with a popular singer.

But I think Coconuts Bangkok probably sums it up best: "A coming-of-age comedy, the story of 'Chinese-looking Daughter Dances ‘til the World Ends' examines the difficult relationships … haha just kidding."

Pen-ek and Ploy to sing Samui Song

Ploy in Last Life in the Universe.
Pen-ek Ratanaruang has picked actress "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak to star in his next feature, Samui Song.

“Using Hitchcock as a starting point, it serves as an homage to the kinds of movies I enjoy from Bollywood and Shinya Tsukamoto to Luis Bunuel and Thai cinema from the 1960s,” Pen-ek tells Screen Daily.

Pen-ek previously worked with Ploy on 2003's Last Life in the Universe. She had a small role as the sister of the lead actress, Ploy's real-life sister, Sinitta Boonyasak. Ploy is currently on the Thai big screen in the GTH romance The Teacher's Diary. Her many film credits also include Yuthlert Sippapak's Buppa Rahtree ghost-comedy franchise, Chookiat Sakveerakul's Love of Siam, ML Bhandevanov "Mom Noi" Devakula's period romance Chua Fah Din Salai (Eternity) and Mom Noi's Rashomon adaptation U Mong Pa Mueang (The Gate of the Ghost).

In Samui Song, she will portray the wife of a man who joins a cult and falls under the influence of its charismatic leader, the Holy One. The cult leader will be portrayed by Vithaya Pansringarm – the killer cop from Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives. He's wrapping up work on his next movie, The Last Executioner by Tom Waller.

Samui Song is being produced by Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who previously worked with Pen-ek on Headshot.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Salaya Doc 2014: Awards for Singapore, Red Wedding and Behind the Screen

 Cambodian director Lida Chan accepts the special mention award for Red Wedding.

Myanmar's rich cinema history blended with family heartbreak in Behind the Screen, which was named the winner of the Asean Documentary Competition at the fourth Salaya International Documentary Film Festival, which held its closing ceremonies on Saturday at the Thai Film Archive.

Special mentions were To Singapore, with Love and Cambodia's Red Wedding.

Directed by Aung Nwai Htway, the tear-jerking Behind the Screen, looked at the broken marriage of the director's parents, two of Myanmar's popular film stars of the 1960s, Burmese Academy Award-winning actress Kyi Kyi Htway and actor Aung Thein. Beautiful, vibrant clips from the actor couple's old films gave voice to the sad reality that off camera, the marriage wasn't working out. As a boy growing up in a broken home, it broke the director's heart.

"It shows how fiction can find the way to the truth," said jury member Iv Charbonneu-Ching, director of the documentary Cambodia, After Farewell. Other jury members were Final Score director Soraya Nakasuwan and Indonesian producer Meiske Taurisia (Postcards from the Zoo, Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly).

The special mention winners also had a strong sense of history, underscored by archival film footage and family photos.

Tan Pin Pin's To Singapore, with Love featured interviews with political exiles from Singapore, among them communist freedom fighters who took up residence in southern Thailand and ardent activists from the 1970s and '80s, feeling homesick and out of place in London.

Red Wedding brought forth a legacy of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge era, during which some 250,000 women were forcibly married. Rice farmer Sochan was one of them, and with an international tribunal established in Phnom Penh, she decided to break her 30-year silence and come forward. Courageously, she sets about to find out which of her neighbors ordered her "marriage" to a stranger, another Khmer Rouge cadre, who then raped her. Featuring famous archival footage of Khmer Rouge Brother No. 1 Pol Pot and a horizon full of black-clad laborers building his agrarian utopia, the film is produced by Rithy Panh and dovetailed nicely with another Salaya Doc entry, Panh's own The Missing Picture.

Lida Chan, who co-directed Red Wedding with Guillaume Suon, was the only filmmaker present to receive an award. She dedicated it to the brave farmer-turned-sleuth Sochan.

Other competition entries were two Thai short docs, the sweet ode to motherhood Homemade by Sivaroj Kongsakul and Wichanon Sumumjarn's profile of a product-presenting model in Pretty Woman Walking Down the Street. Romance was in the picture with Jazz In Love by the Philippines' Baby Ruth Villarama and the painful Vietnam War memories surged forth in the poignant Mrs. Bua's Carpet by Duong Mong Thu.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Salaya Doc 2014 review: Receiving Torpedo Boats

Seamen exercise on deck in Receiving Torpedo Boats.

The crack of a croquet mallet signified the ceremonial opening of the fourth Salaya International Documentary Film Festival last weekend at the Thai Film Archive.

Dome Sukwong, director of both the festival and the archive, had tasked Royal Thai Navy officers with putting a croquet ball through three wickets before the festival could “officially” begin.

Fortunately, one of the captains made quick work of rolling a ball over the bumpy lawn and it wasn’t long before the audience was treated to an old story about the Royal Thai Navy in the rare film Receiving Torpedo Boats (การรับเรือตอร์ปิโด).

Shot in 1937, the documentary recounts the Navy’s historic first overseas mission, to Italy to take delivery of two tiny warships built there.

The film was made by Luang Kolakarnchenchit, a.k.a. Pao Wasuwat. One of Thailand’s best-regarded pioneer moviemakers, he started his career shooting newsreels for the Royal State Railway’s Topical Film Service. He was the cinematographer on the first Thai feature film, Double Luck, in 1927, and also shot the first Thai sound film, Going Astray, in 1932. When the Wasuwat Brothers established the Sri Krung Studio – a replica of which serves as the archive’s bright yellow Thai Film Museum – Pao was the go-to cinematographer. He made many sound films before his death in 1948 at age 48.

As far as Dome knows, Receiving Torpedo Boats is the only surviving complete film by the talented cinematographer.

Inducted last year into the Culture Ministry’s Registry of Films as National Heritage, Receiving Torpedo Boats might have been lost if not for the efforts of Captain Suwit Chanpensri of the Navy’s documentary team. Introducing the movie, Suwit said the two reels were found tucked away in a plastic garbage bag.

Sensing he had something important, he drove it himself to the archive, worrying along way about the film’s telltale odor of decay. The reels were indeed in pretty bad shape, but happily, at some point, some sailor had made a videotape copy, which was used to make the digital file projected at the festival.

Receiving Torpedo Boats follows the four-month, 24,000-kilometre voyage of the training sloop HMTS Chao Phraya as it carried Navy officers, seamen and cadets from Bangkok to Trieste in northern Italy, where a shipyard had built a pair of torpedo boats for Thailand.

It shows the ship making stops along the way, including Mumbai, Colombo, Aden, Egypt’s Port Said and Athens. There are strange rituals aboard, including exercise sessions that require the seamen to perform headstands and walk across the deck on their hands.

On the notoriously rough Indian Ocean crossing, Suwit noted, everyone aboard got seasick, except for the cameraman – Pao, much admired by the sailors, was probably immune from nausea thanks to his strict regimen of alcohol consumption, he said.

At the invitation of Thailand’s Italian allies, the Navy men undertook an extensive tour of the country, with stops that included Venice, Pisa and Rome.

Rough seas were again encountered on the return voyage. Drama ensued when an Italian engineer wanted to cut an anchor loose on one of the torpedo boats, fearing the weight would drag the vessel down. But the Thai sailors wouldn’t let him – they would rather drown in the sea than face harsh discipline if they returned to Bangkok without the anchor.

Taking a detour from the choppy waters, the two smaller torpedo boats were able to break away from the Chao Phraya. With narrow beams, the boats were able to navigate the 21-metre-wide Corinth Canal in Greece, reuniting with the training sloop in Athens.

Once back in Bangkok, the two boats were ritually blessed and named the HMTS Trat and Phuket. Both served the Royal Thai Navy until they were decommissioned in the 1970s. In all, nine of the small warships were built in Italy for Thailand. French gunboats sank two sister vessels, the Chon Buri and Songkhla, in 1941’s Battle of Koh Chang. One survives – the Chumphon, now berthed for public visits in its namesake town.

The film was shown without English subtitles, but another member of the Navy's team, Captain Araya Amrapala, grabbed a microphone and performed a running English translation. And added on to the film was around two minutes of new footage, featuring interviews with some of the surviving sailors from the voyage.

Capping off the screening was the presentation of a historic photo from the Navy archives to the Film Archive. It shows the two torpedo boats docked side by side with all the sailors on deck in their dress whites, while at a higher vantage point in dark clothing is a solitary figure, cameraman Pao, dutifully recording the proceedings.

“It’s Thai naval history and Thai film history in one photo,” Captain Suwit said.

Receiving Torpedo Boats screens at 3.30pm on Sunday, March 30 as part of Doc Day at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. For more details, see www.Facebook/SalayaDoc.

The Royal Thai Navy presents a historic photo to Thai Film Archive director Dome Sukwong, second from left. In the photo are the torpedo boats Trat and Phuket and pioneering Thai cinematographer Luang Kolakarnchenchit, a.k.a. Pao Wasuwat. The officers are, from left, Captain Suwit Chanpensri, Captain Chatetha Jaipiem, Captain Benjamaporn Wongnakornsawang and Captain Araya Amrapala, who served as translator.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Bangkok Critics love Tang Wong and Mary

From left, Wanida Termthanaporn, best supporting actress for Grean Fictions, Patcha Poonpiriya, best actress for Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, Keerati Mahaphrukpong, best actress for Love Syndrome and Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich, best supporting actor for Tang Wong. Nation photo by Warisara Wuthikul.

Wednesday night's Bangkok Critics' Assembly Awards (ชมรมวิจารณ์บันเทิง) were nearly a carbon copy of the film industry's Subhanahongsa Awards, with the most prizes again going to the critically acclaimed indie productions Tang Wong and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy.

Writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee's culture-skewering Tang Wong swept most of the major categories, winning Best Picture, director and screenplay, just as it did at the Subhanahongsas. Tang Wong supporting actor Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich also repeated his Subhanaghonsa success at the Critics' Awards. The film had been nominated in nine categories.

However, the critics had trouble choosing just one winner in two categories, resulting in ties.

For best actress, the award went to two young talents, Patcha "June" Poonpiriya for the Twitter-generated teen comedy-drama Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy and Keerati Mahaphrukpong for the romantic comedy Love Syndrome. Patcha repeated her success at the Subhanahongsas but Keerati wasn't nominated for the industry awards.

And a new prize, the Young Filmmaker Award, went to three directors – Bongkot Kongmalai and Wiroj Srisithsereeamorn for the cabaret-dancer drama Nang Fah (Angels) and Nontawat Numbenchapol for this documentary Boundary. Bongkot, who also co-starred in the film, made her feature directorial debut with Nang Fah, aided by veteran TV and film hand Wiroj.

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy also won for film editing and art direction. Like Tang Wong and the box-office smash Pee Mak, Mary had also been nominated in nine categories.

Just like the Subhanahongsas, the best actor trophy went to soap-opera leading man Nadech Kugimiya for his portrayal of a Japanese soldier in love with a Thai freedom fighter in the wartime romance Koo Kam.

But other departures from the Subhanahongsas included Bangkok Critics' choices for best cinematography – Sandi Sissel and Chananan Choterungroj for Karaoke Girl – and Wanida Termthanaporn for her supporting-actress role in the teen drama Grean Fictions
A traditionally looser and less-formal affair than the Subhanahongsas, the four-hour awards show was hosted by popular transgender director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, who parodied Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar-hosting turn by strolling around among the audience and posting "selfie" photos to Instagram.

From left, Kim Worakamon, Inthira Charoenpura, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit and Mario Maurer have a selfie moment. Via Tanwarin's Instagram.

Here's all the winners:
  • Best Picture: Tang Wong
  • Director: Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Tang Wong
  • Actor: Nadech Kugimiya, Khoo Kam
  • Actress: Keerati Mahaphrukpong, Love Syndrome, and Patcha Poonpiriya, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Supporting actor: Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich, Tang Wong
  • Supporting actress: Wanida Termthanaporn, Grean Fictions
  • Screenplay: Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Tang Wong
  • Film editing: Chonlasit Upanigkit, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Cinematography: Sandi Sissel and Chananan Choterungroj, Karaoke Girl
  • Art direction: Rasiguet Sookkarn, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Original score: Chatchai Pongprapapan and Hualampong Riddim, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Original song: "Khem Nalika" by Kunlapon Samsen and Warat Prasertlab, Prayoke Sanya Rak
  • Young Filmmaker Award: Bongkot Kongmalai and Wiroj Srisithsereeamorn, Nang Fah, and Nonthawat Numbenchapol, Boundary
  • Box Office Award: Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Pitsamai Wilaisak
(Via The Nation)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Last Executioner and Heaven shopped in Hong Kong, streaming release for Mindfulness

Wrapping up production as it aims for a release in June, director Tom Waller's The Last Executioner was shopped at the Hong Kong International Film Festival's FilMart by the new Thai outfit Handmade Distribution.

“We’re not going to say we are arthouse. Our films are a little more commercial, but with an angle. We are quite new here, so just try to do what we believe in,” Handmade's marketing consultant Watson Homsangpradit tells Screen Daily.

Handmade made its bow last year, bringing Lee Daniels' The Butler to Thai multiplexes. Other releases include the Donnie Yen 3D Chinese fantasy The Monkey King and the Shia LaBeouf-led Charlie Countryman.

According to Screen Daily, The Last Executioner (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat) is among a pair of indie Thai features being prepped for release by Handmade.

The other is Heaven or Hell, a vehicle for rapper May Myo "Day" Thant of the hip-hop group Thaitanium. Day has previously had supporting roles in such films as Aung San Suu Kyi biopic The Lady, which was filmed in Thailand, and the Thai Town, Los Angeles-set drama Province 77. In Heaven or Hell, he'll play a gangster in Thailand's Sin City of Pattaya. Set for release next year, the director will be "Book" Alongod Uabhaibool, who previously did the 2010 drama Best Supporting Actor but is perhaps better known for directing music videos, including ones by Thaitanium.

The Last Executioner is a fact-based biopic about Chavoret Jaruboon, the one-man firing squad who was the last to carry out executions by rifle in Thailand's prison system. Vithaya Pansringarm (Chang from Only God Forgives) stars as Chavoret. The cast also includes Penpak Sirikul from It Gets Better and David Asavanond from Countdown.

Apart from Handmade's dealings in Hong Kong, another of Waller's films, his 2011 Buddhist mystery thriller Mindfulness and Murder (Sop Mai Ngeap, ศพไม่เงียบ), has received a video-on-demand rental release through Distrify. Also starring Vithaya, it's about an ex-cop-turned-monk investigating a murder at his temple. It's the first time the film has been made available for home viewing with English subtitles, another indication that in the near future foreigner Thai film fans will get their fix not from DVDs but through streaming platforms.

GTH deals Teacher's Diary, Laddaland in Hong Kong

Film studio GTH is at the Hong Kong International Film Festival's FilMart, and it has made distribution deals for its latest movie The Teacher’s Diary (คิดถึงวิทยา, Khid Thueng Wittaya) and sold remake rights to the hit horror Laddland to India.

According to Film Business Asia, The Teacher's Diary has been sold to distributors in Indonesia and Singapore.

Directed by Nithiwat Tharatorn (Season's Change, Dear Galileo), The Teacher's Diary stars popular talent-show winner (and Broadway hopeful) Sukrit “Bie The Star" Wisetkaew. In what's being billed as his debut film role, he plays a young man who takes a job as a teacher at a rural school on a houseboat. Feeling lonely after he's cut off from such modern conveniences as 24-hour electricity, smartphones and the Internet, his only solace is the diary of his predecessor ("Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak).

Released last week, The Teacher's Diary has been No. 1 in Thai cinemas, with earnings of more than 30 million baht, according to Film Biz Asia.

You can read more about the movie in an article in The Nation.

There's also an English-subtitled trailer (embedded below).

Apart from The Teacher's Diary, Film Business Asia also reports that GTH has sold Hindi-language remake rights the 2011 horror hit Laddaland (ลัดดาแลนด์). It goes to "an as-yet-unnamed Indian company" and marks the second time GTH has sold remake rights to India, the other being for 2007's Siamese twin thriller Alone.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Apichatpong-a-rama: 31 directors tapped for soccer-themed Short Plays

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is among 31 directors who will take part in Short Plays, a football-themed anthology project that's set to be released in time to celebrate the FIFA World Cup, which is being played this June in Brazil.

According to Variety, Apichatpong's segment is set in his northeastern Thailand hometown of Khon Kaen, and will feature 22 shots of the city's lake, "almost the only recognizable feature from his childhood". The shots will be arranged like players in a soccer game.

Other directors include Carlos Reygadas, Vincent Gallo, Gaspar Noe and Dorris Dorrie.  The project is created by Mexican director Daniel Gruener.

Each segment should be three to five minutes long and largely dialogue free, offer an analogy to some aspect of football, "but feature ordinary people from the director’s own country," Variety says.

Hi-Jaa! Skin Trade sneak, back to Fast and Furious 7, love from JCVD

Catching up on news of Tony Jaa, the martial-arts star has recently wrapped up the Thai portion of production on Skin Trade, and he shared a sneak peek at the film on his Facebook page (embedded below).

According to Flicking Myth, the film stars Jaa and Dolph Lundgren along with Peter Weller, Michael Jai White, Ron Perlman and Celina Jade. Lundgren is a New York police detective whose family is killed by a Serbian mobster (Perlman). Following a lead, he ends up in Bangkok and teams up with a Thai cop (Jaa) to put an end to the Serbian mobster's human-trafficking ring.

Lundgren and Jaa had previously teamed up on the Eastern western A Man Will Rise – a movie that seems unlikely to see the light of day, thanks to Jaa's split with studio Sahamongkol Film International.

Skin Trade is directed by Beautiful Boxer helmer Ekachai Uekrongtham. He's been busy lately, having just put together a new tourist-oriented stage show, Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives at Bangkok's Asiatique the Riverfront.

According to an anonymous, unsolicited e-mail, there's a controversy within the Thai film industry regarding Skin Trade and its status as a Thai or foreign production. Suffice to say, I'll be very surprised if the film is ever publicly screened in Thailand.

Meanwhile, according to Movies with Butter, Jaa will rejoin the cast of Fast and Furious 7 which resumes production in June after a hiatus due to the death of franchise star Paul Walker.

Jaa talks about Skin Trade and Fast and Furious 7 in an interview with the Action Elite.

And a last piece of Jaa catch-up, also from Movies with Butter – longtime mutual admirers Jaa and Jean-Claude Van Damme hope to make a movie together someday. For now, they are just making cute YouTube videos together (embedded below).

Salaya Doc 2014 review: Asean Documentary Competition

Red Wedding

Sorrowful relationships as well as family ties and a longing for a place called home are among the common threads that bind the Asean Competition entries in the fourth Salaya International Documentary Film Festival.

Perhaps not unsurprising for the lineup curated by the Thai Film Archive, the most powerful entries of the seven films from six countries had a strong sense of history, bolstered by archival film clips.

Footage from 1960s Burmese romantic dramas illustrate a dysfunctional marriage in Behind the Screen by Aung Nwai Htway while a smiling Pol Pot chillingly greets his comrades in Red Wedding by Lida Chan and Guillaume Suon. Family photos and newspaper clippings bring back the memories in To Singapore, with Love, Tan Pin Pin’s look at political exiles.

In Sivaroj Kongsakul’s Homemade, another son uses family photos and warm-fuzzy Instagram filters as he has his mother, a Bangkok schoolteacher, recall all the places she’s lived but doesn’t yet have her own home.

Painful memories of the Vietnam War are felt in Mrs. Bua’s Carpet by Duong Mong Thu while romantic yearnings burst forth from the Philippines in Jazz in Love by Baby Ruth Villarama. And a young Isaan woman is pragmatic about her future in Pretty Woman Walking Down the Street by Wichanon Somumjarn.

Behind the Screen

In the tear-jerking Behind the Screen, the Yangon Film School’s Aung tells what it was like to grow up in a broken home with famous film-actor parents – Burmese Academy Award-winning actress Kyi Kyi Htway and actor Aung Thein. Cast in the 1960s romance Sweet Sixteen, the couple were married in a ceremony that was actually used in one of their films, blurring the lines between “the real and the celluloid wedding”. But their sparkling onscreen chemistry belied the tempestuous situation at home, with an alcoholic father who was abusive and a starlet mother who threw herself into acting, both as a means of escape and as a way to support her children.

Red Wedding exposes a cruel legacy of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge era, in which some 250,000 women were forced into marriages as part of Pol Pot’s scheme to rebuild Cambodia according to his twisted vision of an agrarian utopia.

At the center is a rice farmer, Sochan. At age 16 she was married to a stranger. He then raped her, presumably under orders from Khmer Rouge cadre, who watched to make sure the couple “got along”. The film establishes Sochan's strong character, depicting her family life with her children and her farming partner, a lifelong female friend. The pair playfully tussle, like fighting kittens. Putting aside her sickle to become a sleuth, Sochan sets out to systematically determine which of her neighbors ordered the marriage all those years ago. Evidence gathered and fingers pointed, Sochan mails her testimony to the international tribunal in Phnom Penh.

Justice won’t come easy in a land where former members of the Khmer Rouge are still in power, but the truth comes out in Red Wedding (no Game of Thrones fans, not that "red wedding"). The film is produced by Cambodian auteur Rithy Panh, whose Oscar-nominated drama The Missing Picture also looks back at the Khmer Rouge era and is also screening as part of Salaya Doc.

Old war wounds are also opened in Mrs. Bua’s Carpet, which warmly captures a tidy, close-knit community in Danang, where neighbors – people from both sides of the war to liberate South Vietnam – fret over an elderly resident who has epileptic seizures. Turns out that sweet Mrs. Bua, a single mother and grandmother, was in the Viet Cong. She has a hell of a story, which involves her capture by the “cruel Americans”. Her seizures are the scar of the torture she endured during her captivity.

To Singapore, with Love
Cagey ageing communists turn up in To Singapore, with Love, featuring interviews with political exiles, some of whom haven’t been home for 50 years. Among them are Malay freedom fighters who helped establish the island republic’s independence. Their communist leanings put them on the wrong side when Singapore became a country. They continued their fight in the jungles along the Thai border. Other exiles are ardent activists from the 1970s who were jailed for their leftist views. Their only chance for freedom was to leave the country they love. Their hearts burst with patriotism, but the closest they can come to Singapore is just across the Causeway in Malaysia's Johor Bahru, with the waters of the Straits of Johor lapping at their shoes while they view the Singaporean skyline.

Yearnings for home also come in Homemade (หนังบ้าน), in which a charmingly droll Bangkok schoolteacher recounts losing her life savings to a shady real-estate developer, depriving her of a chance to put down roots for her family. It’s a story that resonates for director Karn Sivaroj, and it should, for that schoolteacher is his mother, who he touched on in his partly autobiographical 2010 dramatic feature Eternity. In Homemade, he searches for a way to help her, taking his camera to suburban Bangkok's Chaeng Wattana. There, the chances for justice evaporate in the cavernous confines of the starkly dystopian Government Complex. Such cases are common, he’s told by faceless bureaucrats at the Office of the Consumer Protection Board, and it seems all a deep-pocketed fraudster has to do is wait 10 years for the statute of limitations to run out. Meanwhile, ordinary folks, like Karn's mother Koy, are left to scrape by.

There’s hope for the future in the other Thai entry, Wichanon’s Pretty Woman Walking Down the Street (เรื่องเล่าสาวพริตตี้). The short film, an outgrowth of his upcoming feature Beer Girl, follows a young woman named Gig who works in Bangkok as a “pretty”. A product-presenting job in Khon Kaen gives the northeastern native a chance to visit her parents in Amnat Charoen. Changing out of her revealing sparkly outfit and toning down her makeup, the former high-school drum majorette is perhaps even more stunning as she dons a straw hat and long-sleeved shirt for a walk into the family rice paddy. Her father beams with pride about his dutiful daughter, who sends money home. He has no problem with her job, which some in conservative Thai society frown upon. But dad says it’s an honest living and harms no one. And hard-working Gig is realistic about her career. She hopes her good looks will keep her employed until she’s earned enough to open her own Isaan restaurant, perhaps with her tomboy “boyfriend” by her side. But like the Singaporean exiles and that schoolteacher, Gig yearns for home. “Bangkok is a place I have to stay, but back home in Isaan is where I live,” she says as she returns to the city.

Cross-cultural connections are made and severed in Jazz in Love, a campy and colorful but also bittersweet look at the relationship between young Filipino Ernesto “Jazz” Tigaldo Jr and an older German military man he met on Facebook. Coming to the Philippines for the first time, the German Theo squires Jazz around on a romance-filled visit to nature sites. Jazz, who has a Ken doll made of himself to give Theo as a gift, has an idea that he'll wear a bridal gown for the wedding. Theo would rather Jazz wear a tux. He next goes with Jazz to his hometown in rural Davao. There, an auntie bends Theo’s ear, spilling family secrets and the truth of how Ernesto Sr feels about the choices his son has made. Slowly, a look of “what-have-I-got-myself-into” comes over the German’s face.

The Salaya International Documentary Film Festival continues until March 30. Screenings are at the Thai Film Archive until March 29, and at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center from March 25 to 28 and on March 30. For more details, see www.Facebook/SalayaDoc.


(Cross-published in The Nation)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: Threesome (Ther Khao Rao Phee)

  • Written and directed by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit
  • Starring Arpa Pawilai, Chaiyapol Julien Poupart, Steven Fuhrer
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 13, 2014; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

DC Comics might consider hiring Tanwarin Sukkhapisit if it ever wants to reboot the Catwoman franchise. Granted, Tanwarin's Catwoman in the ghostly romantic comedy Threesome (เธอ เขา เรา ผี, Ther Khao Rao Phee) is just a slutty actress in skin-tight feline gear, meowing and rubbing up  against her male co-star, but the short scenes are infinitely more entertaining than that supervillain bomb that starred Halle Berry.

I only mention that to illustrate how films with average-sounding plots can actually turn out great in the hands of a talented director. And that's the case with Threesome, which is about a young woman who breaks up with her boyfriend and takes up with another guy who turns out to be a ghost.

In any other hands, such a premise might turn out dull or belaboured. But writer-director Tanwarin, following up the critically acclaimed drama It Gets Better, takes Threesome to a conclusion that's refreshingly logical and straightforward but also entertainingly funny. Support from a strong cast and easy-on-the-eye camera work puts the film in the top tier of Thai productions so far this year.

Arpa Pawilai is appealingly cast as Som, an ordinary young woman who works as a movie make-up artist. Her longtime live-in boyfriend Rang (Chaiyapol Julien Poupart) is also in the business. But the handsome musclebound prop guy – always wearing tight, biceps-baring vest T-shirts – captures many adoring eyes, like that slutty actress, but also his straight-acting gay boss (Akarin Akaranithimethara) and just about anyone else with a pulse. Som has about had it with Rang being distracted by all the flirting. She's finally pushed to the brink when she arrives home to find him drunk and passed out in bed after being taken advantage of by the predatory Catwoman. She kicks Rang out and then goes to her apartment rooftop, which is of course the first place any heartbroken young woman should go. She stands at the precipice only to be held back at the last instant by a neighbor guy named Ple who's been hanging creepily around (Steven Fuhrer).

Something's not right about Ple, but Som doesn't notice anything amiss. "He always brings me food. I think his parents are rich," she tells a friend. Not even the fact that the food is an oddball conglomeration of items that might be offered to monks or at a spirit house raises Som's suspicions. Nor does it seem to matter that Ple's room next door hasn't been occupied in years.

However, Rang, heartbroken is wise to Ple and looks for ways to expose him while also trying to win back Som. Secretly, he enlists the assistance of the local Buddhist temple's abbot as well as Som's colorful friends and co-workers from the hair salon she's gone to work for. They mention the legend of the ghost wife Mae Nak of Phra Khanong, saying Som is just like the Nak's husband Mak, who has no clue is wife is dead.

Along with the trio of two leading men and one woman, the cast is livened up by a few familiar faces. Among them is Dear Dakanda director Komgrit Triwimol as the director on the film set. He hilariously seems all too eager to demonstrate how Catwoman should lick her man's face.

Love of Siam star Witwisit Hiranyawongkul turns up as one of Som's friends, part of a trio of neighbors who aid Rang in recapturing Som's heart.

In fact, nearly every stripe of the queer rainbow is represented, among them a transgender make-up artist who has been through the wringer, teen-idol actors who are actually gay and a hair-dresser male couple who fluidly switch roles as husband and wife.

Threesome is campy without going over the top. The queer characters are actually the most-grounded and real of the bunch. There's a a warmth to the portrayals of gay folk that's absent from most other Thai films, which tend to be mean and exaggerated when it comes to gay and transgender people.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Clouds, Gaddafi, Shakespeare and Censor in Singapore

The Singapore Art Museum's fourth annual Southeast Asian Film Festival will feature the premieres of several Thai films – Concrete Clouds, the short documentary Gaddafi and the one-two punch of the banned-in-Thailand Shakespeare Must Die and its companion documentary Censor Must Die.

Concrete Clouds makes its Singapore premiere in the festival on April 12, with director Lee Chatametikool on hand for a talk afterward. Clouds premiered in Busan last year and has also screened in Rotterdam and Vesoul. The story of a young stocks trader (Ananda Everingham) returning to Bangkok during the 1997 financial crisis, it's the feature directorial debut by Lee, who has been an editor on many films, most notably most of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's features.

Gaddafi, making its Asian premiere, precedes Clouds. The short documentary, the latest from Panu Aree, Kong Rithdee and Kaweenipon Ketprasit (The Convert, Baby Arabia), is about a Thai-Muslim teen who was given the name Mohammad Gaddafi by his father, who was an admirer of the slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But now the boy's mother worries about the legacy of that name. "By giving the floor to both advocates and opponents, the interviews with this Thai- Muslim family pose the age-old question: what's in a name?" Gaddafi was previously featured in last year's International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

Director Ing K will be on hand on May 2 and for the Singapore premiere of the banned-in-Thailand Shakespeare Must Die and the "world premiere" of the companion documentary Censor Must Die, which chronicles the efforts of Ing K. and producer Manit Sriwanichpoom to screen Shakespeare in Thailand. Despite the ban, Shakespeare has screened at a few overseas festivals, including Tripoli, where it won the Grand Prize and NETPAC Prize.

Ahead of the screening in Singapore, Ing K. had this to say:

As one of the most banned people in the world, at work in a divided country under a regime that employs the best Western media and political lobbyists that money can buy, I'm uniquely qualified to be your tour guide to this artist's circle of hell. As a filmmaker I have been banned twice officially (My Teacher Eats Biscuits in 1998 and Shakespeare Must Die in 2012) and once unofficially. This last applies to Censor Must Die. Despite their own official conclusion citing a legal clause governing news reportage that the film is exempted from the censorship process "because it has been made from events that really happened," the censors have threatened to sue any theatre that releases the film to the public. In addition, both films have been subjected to a smear campaign by the aforementioned international lobbyists who strive to paint them as "royalist propaganda" and even "Ku Klux Klan hate speech"! The films themselves are proof of my truthful intentions. But this defense was denied me since their efforts have ensured that the films would not be seen. Very big thanks as well as deep respect are due, therefore, to the independent, courageous people behind the Southeast Asian Film Festival, who have made it possible at last for me to say: see the films for yourself.

The Southeast Asian Film Festival runs from April 11 to May 4 in the Moving Image Gallery of the Singapore Art Museum.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

By the Time It Gets Dark backed by Doha

Anocha Suwichakornpong received a boost in making her sophomore feature from the Doha Film Institute, which included By the Time It Gets Dark (Dao Khanong) among 20 projects for its first global film grants.

By the Time It Gets Dark will be about a young female factory worker becoming accustomed to life in Bangkok.

Anocha, working on her followup to her 2009 debut Mundane History, has also received support from the Rotterdam fest's Hubert Bals Fund as well as the fest's Prince Claus Fund.

The grants from the Qatar-based Doha Film Institute go to mostly first or second features from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin American, the Middle East and North Africa.

Screen Daily has the full list.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Salaya Doc 2014: Seven enter Asean Documentary Competition

Entries from Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have been selected for this year’s Asean Documentary Competition at the fourth Salaya International Documentary Film Festival.

Two of them are by Thai indie filmmakers – Sivaroj Kongsakul and Wichanon Sumumjarn.

In Homeland, Sivaroj continues on the themes he explored in his semi-autobiographical debut feature, 2010’s family drama Eternity (Tee-Rak). The 23-minute documentary is about a schoolteacher who, after 36 years of instructing first-grade pupils, hopes to own her own home before she dies.

Wichanon, who made his feature debut with the semi-autobiographical documentary-drama In April the Following Year There was a Fire, looks at a young Isaan lass as she takes a job as a product presenter in Bangkok in Pretty Woman Walking Down the Street.

From Myanmar, Aung Nwai Htway dissects his parents’ marriage in Behind the Screen. His folks were film icons in 1960s Myanmar, but today Htway struggles to reconcile those glamorous images with the painful memories of his parents’ divorce.

The Cambodian entry Red Wedding looks at a legacy of the Khmer Rouge, which forced some 250,000 women into marriages. Directed by Lida Chan and Guillaume Suon and produced by Rithy Panh, Red Wedding tells the story of Sochan, who at the age of 16 was forced into a marriage with a soldier who raped her. After 30 years of silence, she brought her case to the international tribunal in Phnom Penh.

Another Asean neighbor’s past is unearthed in To Singapore, With Love by Tan Pin Pin. Her controversial film features interviews with the country’s political exiles.

The past also lingers in the Vietnamese entry, Mrs Bua’s Carpet, in which director Duong Mong Thu goes looking for memories and traces of war in Danang.

And Jazz in Love by Filipino filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama centres on cross-cultural romance as it looks at a young Filipino named Jazz as he awaits the arrival of his fiance, a middle-aged German man.

Further details about the fest, were covered in an earlier post. Hit the following link to download the schedule.

The Salaya International Documentary Film Festival runs from March 22 to 29 at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, and at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center from March 25 to 28 and on March 30.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

The Cheer Ambassadors are back in Bangkok

Perhaps Thailand's warring political parties could learn a lesson or two from The Cheer Ambassadors, a rousing documentary about the plucky band of misfits who formed the Bangkok University cheerleading squad. Together, they trained hard and became determined to make it to the world cheerleading championships, and, against all odds, they actually won!

After a lengthy run on the festival circuit, The Cheer Ambassadors is back in Bangkok, and has opened at House cinema for a limited run.

Directed by Luke Cassady-Dorion, the documentary bursts with energy as it follows the cheerleaders while they work under their coach, the obsessive Sarawut "Toey" Samniangdee. Inspired by late-night ESPN viewings of the "cheerleading Olympics", he gathered together a squad and pushed until they shared his dream of a Thai team competing on the world stage.

Since its premiere at the ninth World Film Festival of Bangkok in January 2012, The Cheer Ambassadors has spread its uplifting story around the world, winning several awards, including Best Documentary at the 60°N Os festival in Norway, the Audience Award at the ChopShots documentary Edge Festival in Jakarta and third place International Documentary at the All-Sports Los Angeles Film Festival.

But for the filmmakers, their greatest honor was being granted an audience to show The Cheer Ambassadors to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Srindhorn.

I liked it too and listed it among the Top 10 Thai Films of 2012. You can read more about it in an article in The Nation today. The trailer is embedded below. And as a bonus, head over to A Single Production's website to view a short documentary, The Cheer Tailor.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pee Mak and Karaoke Girl in San Francisco's CAAMFest

Thailand's all-time top-grossing film Pee Mak will make its U.S. premiere in San Francisco at CAAMFest 2014, along with another Thai film, the documentary-drama Karaoke Girl.

Put on by the Center for Asian American Media, CAAMFest might still be better known by its less-succinct moniker, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), which it dropped last year.

Here's the synopsis for Pee Mak:

Shutter co-director Banjong Pisanthanakun’s No. 1 Thai box office hit, Pee Mak, is a hilarious send-up of horror movie conventions that owes as much to Scary Movie 3 as it does to Thailand’s favorite lovelorn ghost, Mae Nak. Every Thai child knows the tale: wounded country boy Mak returns home to his village after the war – this time around with his four best buddies in tow – to reunite with his love and their son, only something is not quite right.

While Mak gets mushy with his devoted bride (Thai/Belgian model Davika Hoorne), the four friends set up in a neighboring house that has conveniently been abandoned by frightened villagers – everyone seems to believe Mak’s wife is a ghost, and not without good reason. Between all the stringy long black hair, outrageous physical gags and genuine scares, you might gloss over the film’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it barrage of on-point cultural references and its luxe cinematography. Try to keep your eyes open: Pee Mak is a rare treat – certified art and certified pop.

And the synopsis for Karaoke Girl:

Sa Sittijun sings in the karaoke clubs of Thailand, opening the film with a teary ballad. Born to hard-scrabbling farmer parents in rural Thailand, Sa is devalued from the moment of her birth, living on the downside of gender and class social hierarchies.

In this inviting film that’s part-documentary, part-fictionalized account of her story, we follow Sa as she makes her way to Bangkok to find work. Poverty and desire tangle to create intractable situations that leave her suffering – from breaking eggs in a cake factory to throwing herself in the arms of strangers trying to find love. Yet, there is a charming hope for Sa to emerge from this hidden life as a survivor and heroine.

“Only your tonight, not your forever … How does a karaoke girl find love?” A touching question, sure to stir compassion.

Director Visra Vichit-Vadakan will be in attendance at CAAMFest. Her film will be preceded by a short, the similarly themed Amazing Grace by U.S. filmmakers Faye Viviana and Haley Sims.

Other entries include Cambodia's first Foreign Language Film nominee The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh, the documentary Cambodian Son, Singapore's Ilo Ilo, the Indonesian experimental short A Lady Caddy Who Never Saw A Hole In One, the Filipino-French gay romantic documentary Jazz In Love, the Filipino documentary short My Revolutionary Mother and animation from the Philippines in Milkyboy. Vietnam chips in with Ham Tran's latest, the comedy How to Fight in Six Inch Heels, along with the short documentary Employed Identity and the award-winning short Burn to Send.

CAAMFest 2014 runs from March 13 to 23 at various venues in the Bay Area.

Streaming: Catch Ploy on Netflix

Following his bigger-budget international co-productions Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves, Pen-ek Ratanaruang wanted to make a smaller movie. So in 2007, he came up with Ploy (พลอย), about a jet-lagged Thai-American couple whose bickering comes to a boil when the husband brings a curly headed teenage girl back to their Bangkok hotel room.

The tense thriller made its mark when it premiered at the Cannes Directors Fortnight but was censored for its Thai theatrical release. It then dropped off the map for much of the English-speaking world.

Ploy never got an English-subtitled DVD release, but for the past year or so it has been available for streaming on Netflix.

That's where the AV Club's A.A. Dowd caught it recently. He watched it as part of a series of hotel-themed films for the AV Club, ahead of the U.S. release of Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. Here's a snip:

Those seeking a representative introduction to [Pen-ek's] work could do no better than the 2007 relationship drama Ploy, about a married couple whose domestic discontent comes to a head during a sleepless trip abroad. Back in Bangkok for a funeral after several years in the States, restaurateur Wit (Pornwut Sarasin) and his ex-actress wife, Daeng (Lalita Panyopas), retreat to a hotel in the wee hours of the morning. The unspoken tension between them explodes into outright hostility when Wit meets a teenage waif (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, sporting an afro and a black eye) and invites her to crash in their rented room. From here, the lines separating fantasy and reality begin to blur, as flashes of an erotic, unrelated subplot—and hints of real danger lurking elsewhere in the building – transform the film into more than just another war of the roses.

Ploy is among nearly two dozen Thai-language films available on Netflix. Others include Magnet Releasing's slate of Sahamongkol action films, such as Ong-Bak 2 and Ong-Bak 3. There's also the children's boxing documentary Buffalo Girls, Aditya Assarat's indie drama Wonderful Town, the 2005 historical-musical drama The Overture and GTH's 2003 hit Fan Chan (My Girl). And, there's a weird film that's worth a look, 2002's post-apocalyptic action-comedy Goodman Town.

The roster changes from time to time as licensing agreements expire on older titles. For example, Tears of the Black Tiger, supposedly the Miramax version, used to be available.

Others by Pen-ek that are currently available include Headshot, the under-appreciated Invisible Waves and my favorite of his, Monrak Transistor.

So perhaps there's life beyond Thai cable television after all for Pen-ek's latest effort, the made-for-TrueVisions movie The Life of Gravity (แรงดึงดูด, Raeng Dueng Dood). Maybe subscribers could tip Netflix off to this new film by Pen-ek?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Salaya Doc 2014: Premieres set for Songs of Rice, Missing Picture

Just two weeks away, the fourth Salaya International Documentary Film Festival is still coming together, but festival organizers have a few confirmed entries, among them the Thai premieres for the Rotterdam award-winner The Songs of Rice and the Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film The Missing Picture.

The opening film will be At Berkeley, a brand-new work by documentarian Frederic Wiseman. Running for four hours, it chronicles the debate over tuition increases and budget cuts at the University of California at Berkeley.

The Songs of Rice, the latest feature by Agrarian Utopia director Urupong Raksasad, will be the closing film. It was among a big crop of Thai films at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it made its world premiere and was given the Fipresci Award.

The Missing Picture, the first Foreign Language Film nominee for Cambodia at the Academy Awards, is the latest work by Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh to examine the legacy of the Khmer Rouge. It combines archival footage and uses clay figures of his vanished family members in a bid to reconstruct fading memories. It makes its Thai premiere in a special screening.

Another special screening will be Receiving Torpedo Boat (การรับเรือตอร์ปิโด), 1935 footage by pioneering Thai cinematographer Luang Kolakarn Jan-Jit (Pao Wasuwat) about the Royal Thai Navy going to Italy to acquire two torpedo boats. The film was added last year to the Registry of Films as National Heritage.

The Director in Focus this year is Kazuhiro Soda, with screenings of two of his films, Campaign and Campaign 2
There will also be a selection of UK-produced documentaries co-presented by the British Council – Rough Aunties, Requiem for Detroit, Moving to Mars and Soundtrack for a Revolution.

Details are still being hammered out on the entries in this year's Southeast Asian documentary competition.

The fest runs from March 22 to 29 at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom with a concurrent program at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center from March 25 to 28 and March 30.

For more details, keep an eye on Salaya Doc's Facebook page.

Thailand, Philippines share Frozen's Oscar glory

Perhaps not since 1985, when The Killing Fields was at the Oscars, has Southeast Asia had as big a presence as it did at the Academy Awards. This year, the buzz was about Cambodia landing its first nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and the best documentary feature nominee The Act of Killing, covering the work of the Indonesian anti-communist death squads of the 1960s.

But when all the golden statuettes were handed out, it was the Philippines and Thailand that were celebrating, both thanks to connections with the Best Animated Feature winner, Disney's Frozen.

Pinoy pride kicked in when "Let It Go" from Frozen was picked as Best Original Song. The hit track, performed in the film by Wicked Broadway star Idina Menzel (a.k.a. Adele Dezeem), was written by Filipino-American Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon) and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

And then a smiling young bespectacled Thai woman turned up in the social media holding the Best Animated Feature Oscar for Frozen and the image went viral. She's Fawn Veerasunthorn, who works as a story artist for Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank. A graduate of Mahidol University in Thailand and the Columbus College of Art and Design, her credits also include work on Pink Panther and Pals, the Despicable Me short Minion Madness and storyboarding a Road Runner cartoon for Looney Tunes. More of her work can be seen at Bluefoot Studios.

Although the trophy went to Frozen directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and producer Peter Del Vecho, in spirit, the entire crew shares in the Oscar glory. And according to Soopsip in The Nation, that not only includes Fawn, but two other Thais as well, visual-development artist Sunny Apinchapong and effects apprentice Rattanin Sirinaruemarn.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Youth in spotlight as Bangkok Critics nominate Pee Mak, Tang Wong and Mary Is Happy

The Bangkok Critics Assembly (ชมรมวิจารณ์บันเทิง) is bowing to the domination of youth in the past year's Thai films, creating a new award for young filmmakers and giving the bulk of the nominations for its Critics' Awards to teen-oriented movies, Pee Mak Phra Khanong, Tang Wong and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy.

The three films were also the top nominees at the recent Subhanahongsa Awards, and the Bangkok Critics' selection largely mirrors the Thai film industry's biggest trophy parade.

The teenybopper ghost romance Pee Mak Phra Khanong and the teen dramas Tang Wong and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy each have nine nominations, including best picture, director, acting and screenplay.

At the Subhanahongsas, the low-budget indie dramas Tang Wong and Mary came away the big winners, leaving the big-studio box-office record-holder Pee Mak with just one prize.

Other leading nominees in the Critics' Awards include the teen drama Grean Fictions with seven nods, including best picture, director and screenplay. The teen ghost thriller Last Summer, the rom-com Love Syndrome, the older-woman-young man romance Prayoke Sanya Rak and the docu-drama Karaoke Girl each have four nominations. The wartime romance Koo Kam and the teen slasher Thongsuk 13 each have three.

Although the industry-organized Subhanahongsas have started to give more recognition to indie films in recent years, the Bangkok Critics have traditionally been more receptive to the low-budget art-house features that make it big on the festival circuit, and have been particularly keen on any documentaries that make it to Thai cinemas. Though oddly, the political documentary Paradoxocracy, which was nominated at the Subhanahongsas, is left off the list.

Anyway, current trends are reflected most this year in a new category, Best Young Filmmaker, honoring a crop of first-time feature directors. Nominees include Nontawat Numbenchapol, who is also up for best director with his Thai-Cambodian border doc Boundary. Twin sisters Wanwaew and Waewwan Hongwiwat are nominated for Wish Us Luck, which documented their monthlong train journey from England to Thailand. Bongkot Kongmalai, whose acting credits go back to her late teens with 2000's Bang Rajan, made her feature directorial debut with co-director Wiroj Srisithsereeamorn on Angels (Nang Fah). Palatpon Mingpornpichit is a nominee for Prayoke Sanya Rak, which is also nominated for best actor and actress and song. Visra Vichit-Vadakan is named for Karaoke Girl, which is also nominated for best actress, cinematography and song. And MR Chalermchatri Yukol, son of MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, is recognized for his feature debut The Cop (Sarawat Mah Baa).

The Critics’ Awards will be presented at 6pm on March 26 at the Royal Thai Army Club.

Best Picture

  • Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Grean Fictions
  • Tang Wong
  • Love Syndrome Rak Ngo Ngo


  • Banjong Pisunthanakun, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Chookiat Sakveerakul, Grean Fictions
  • Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, Tang Wong
  • Nontawat Numbenchapol, Boundary


  • Nadech Kugimiya, Khoo Kam
  • Pattadon Janngern, Grean Fictions
  • Krissada Sukosol Clapp, Pawnshop
  • Mario Maurer, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Setthapong Phiangpor, Prayoke Sanya Rak


  • Keerati Mahaphrukpong, Love Syndrome
  • Lalita Panyopas, Prayoke Sanya Rak
  • Patcha Poonpiriya, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Sa Sitthijan, Karaoke Girl
  • Suthata Udomsilp, Last Summer

Supporting Actor

  • Auttarut Kongrasri, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich, Tang Wong
  • Kittisak Pathomburana, Grean Fictions
  • Jirayu La-ongmanee, Last Summer
  • Arak Amornsupasiri, Young Bao

Supporting Actress

  • Chonnikan Netjui, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Natharat Lekha, Tang Wong
  • Titirat Rojsangrat, Love Syndrome
  • Wanida Termthanaporn, Grean Fictions
  • Sucha Manaying, Hashima Project


  • Nontra Kumwong, Chantawit Thanasewee and Banjong Pisunthanakun, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Chookiat Sakveerakul and Niwaruj Teekaphowan, Grean Fictions
  • Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, Tang Wong
  • Manachaya Panitsarn, Worakorn Virakun, Virasinee Raungprchaubkun, Kimhan Kanchanasomjai and Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke, Love Syndrome

Film Editing

  • Thammarat Sumethsupachok, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Chonlasit Upanigkit, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Manussa Warasingha and Kamonthorn Ekwattanakit, Tang Wong
  • Chookiat Sakveerakul and Jirasak Jakrawan, Grean Fictions
  • Chalermsak Klangjaroen, Adirek Watleela and Taweewat Wantha, Thongsuk 13


  • Narupon Chokkanapitak, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Sayompoo Mukdeeprom, Last Summer
  • Pairach Khumwan, Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy
  • Sandi Sissel and Chananan Choterungroj, Karaoke Girl
  • MR Umpornpol Yugala, Saran Srisingchai, Tang Wong

Art Direction

  • Akradej Kaewkote, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Rasiguet Sookkarn, Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy
  • Rasiguet Sookkarn, Tang Wong
  • Warakorn Poonsawas, Thongsuk 13

Original Score

  • Chatchai Pongprapapan and Hualampong Riddim, Pee Mak Phra Khanong
  • Chatchai Pongprapapan, Jan Dara: The Finale
  • Somsiri Sangkaew, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
  • Chaibandit Peuchponsub, Apichai Tragoolpadetgrai and Yellow Fang, Tang Wong
  • Giant Wave, Thongsuk 13

Original Song

  • "Sao Karaoke", Kampee Sangthong, Karaoke Girl
  • "Hideko", Yusuke Namikawa and Wichaya Wattanasap, Khoo Kam
  • "Yuewya", Cin Thosaporn Achawanantakul, Last Summer
  • "Chan Rak Ther", Rerkchai Paungpetch and Chansa Mettapan, Fud Jung To
  • "Khem Nalika", Kunlapon Samsen and Warat Prasertlab, Prayoke Sanya Rak

Young Filmmaker Award

  • Wanwaew and Waewwan Hongwiwat, Wish Us Luck (Khor Hai Rao Chokdee)
  • Bongkoj Khongmalai and Wiroj Srisithsereeamorn, Nang Fah
  • Palatpon Mingpornpichit, Prayoke Sanya Rak
  • Nontawat Numbenchapol, Boundary
  • MR Chalermchatri Yukol, Sarawat Mah Baa
  • Visra Vichit-Vadakan. Karaoke Girl

Box Office Award – Pee Mak Phra Khanong

Lifetime Achievement Award – Pitsamai Wilaisak

(Via The Nation)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Timeline Jodmai Khwam Songjam

  • Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr
  • Starring Jirayu Tangsrisuk, Jarinporn Joonkiat, Piyathida Worramusik, Noppachai Chaiyanam
  • Released in Thai cinemas on February 14, 2014; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Someone dies in Timeline Jodmai Khwam Songjam (Timeline จดหมาย-ความทรงจำ). But that's not a spoiler, because a death sets up the story of this tragic romance and family drama by Nonzee Nimibutr.

Try as hard as he might, Nonzee failed to bring me to tears with this sad story of missed connections, misplaced desires and general hard-headedness. Which is saying something, because, for example, if I just think about the ending of John Ford's The Searchers, I'll bawl like a big baby. So it's not like I have a heart of stone.

Everyone is crying in Timeline, which is beautifully filmed against a breathtakingly idyllic rural backdrop, features strong performances by a talented cast and has many cute nods to contemporary Thai society, with plenty of Facebooking, smartphones, vintage bicycles and animated drawings. Oh, and there's a puppy! But the movie is emotionally bereft.

The set-up involves Piyathida Worramusik as an achingly young mother who was widowed early in her marriage while she was pregnant. Living on small farm in the hills of Chiang Mai, she tends to her late husband's dream of growing strawberries and holds tight to her memories of him, reading letters that he wrote her. When her young son Tan grows old enough, she has him read dad's old letters to her.

It's a routine Tan ("James" Jirayu Tangsrisuk) has grown weary of, and as he's reading the letters, which he's memorized, he's actually looking at his phone. Tan wants off the farm, and wants to go to university in Bangkok and become a cartoonist. His mother wants him to attend agricultural college and stay close to home.

Eventually, the stubborn mom relents, and Tan is on the bus to Bangkok. As the country boy tries to get his around the fact that he's in the big city, he also experiences his first taste of alcohol, courtesy of a pair of comic-relief roommates. Late to wake up the next morning, he rushes off to school and is tardy to the freshman orientation – a hazing ritual. Also arriving late is June (Jarinporn Joonkiat), a plucky Bangkok girl with a big goofy smile. She and Tan are singled out for special attention and made to look like dogs.

They are a cute couple and form an easy bond as they bicycle their way around the city, share many classes and take a day trip that turns into an innocent overnighter on the beach on Si Chang island.

But Tan isn't picking up on June's signals. He chases after Orn, the more-conventionally attractive filmmaking cousin of June. Orn, who's way out of Tan's league, treats the farmboy like a doormat. But Tan is so besotted he doesn't care, and June slips away to pursue her own dreams in Japan.

Meanwhile back at home, Tan's mother Mat struggles to keep the berry farm a going concern. Wat (Noppachai Chaiyanam), a produce buyer and longtime family friend, wants to help. But heartbreakingly headstrong Mat, who holds tight to her dead husband's spirit, refuses the handsome man's advances.

There are parallels made. June teaches herself to make Tan's favorite stir-fried vegetable dish while Mat learns to make strawberry jam. And June and Mat actually meet and bond during a weekend of filmmaking by Tan and that other girl. Chemistrywise, it'd be nice to see more of Piyathida (Laddaland) and young Jarinporn (Dear Galileo, Countdown) together.

Young soap hunk James Ji is an appealing face fresh but his character is so frustrating I wished I could've reached up into the screen and slapped some sense into him. Piyathida's obstinate character is pretty painful to watch at times as well, but you get the feeling that maybe she might've eventually lightened up and accepted a bit of joy into her sorrow-filled life.

Timeline began as a loose sequel to The Letter, a hit 2004 drama that Nonzee produced and famously had audiences crying so much the cinemas had to hand out tissues with the tickets. It was a remake of a South Korean drama. Nonzee now insists that Timeline has nothing at all to do with The Letter, even though letters are a big part of the movie. Timeline also owes a debt to Bhandit Rittakol's Boonchoo series of comedies, about a country boy who goes to college in the big city and trafficked in the same type of idealized nostalgia that Timeline evokes.

Whether Thai audiences are going for it is debatable. Timeline opened at a distant No. 2 and at the most recent count was in third place – good enough to stay ahead of The Monuments Men and Saving Mr. Banks but not enough to draw eyes away from the likes of the RoboCop remake or the lava-laden 3D spectacle of Pompeii.

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