Monday, June 29, 2015

NYAFF 2015: Vengeance of an Assassin tickets given away

Thai action cinema returns to the New York Asian Film Festival this year with the North American premiere of Vengeance of an Assassin (เร็วทะลุเร็ว, Rew Talu Rew), the final feature by Panna Rittikrai, the director and visionary stunt choreographer who died last July.

I had two pairs of tickets to give away. They went to movie fans Danni and Bayda, Congratulations!

The show is at 6pm on July 10 at the SVA Theatre.

Here's what the NYAFF has to say about the movie:

There will never be another Panna Rittikrai. Vengeance of an Assassin is the final, brutal battlesong from the kinetic master of mayhem who discovered Tony Jaa and put Thai action cinema on the map. It’s a no-holds-barred all-you-can-eat action fiesta, delivering everything from badass games of soccer to high impact gun fu. It’s also the heartwarming story of two buff orphans who believe in filial piety and tearing thugs apart like warm bread. When the eldest brother (Thai stunt king Dan Chupong) leaves home in search of the truth behind their parents’ deaths, a web of secrets, carnage, and more carnage follows him wherever he goes. When he’s forced to team up with his little brother (21-year-old Nantawooti Boonrapsup, all grown up since 2010’s Power Kids), it becomes an ass-kicking family affair. The master of single-take destruction, Rittikrai delivers Buster Keaton-style train brawls, flying sledgehammers, copious gun fights and one glorious, Freudian double impalement. In the scorching, sweat-drenched dreamlife of Panna Rittikrai, family and honor are everything, and justice can only be forged from superior skill and righteous physical destruction.

Other highlights of the 14th NYAFF include a lifetime achievement award to Hong Kong director Ringo Lam, the Star Asia Award to Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok and the Screen International Rising Star Award for Japanese actor Shota Sometani. There are also focus programs, Hong Kong Panorama, Myung Films: Pioneers and Women Behind the Camera in Korean Film, New Cinema from Japan, Taiwan Cinema Now! and The Last Men in Japanese Film, in tribute to actors Ken Takakura and Bunta Sugawara, who died last November.

The New York Asian Film Festival runs until July 8 at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center and from July 9 to 11 at the School of Visual Arts Theater. For further details, check the Subway Cinemas website or Facebook.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review: Chalui Tae Khob Fah (Lost in Seoul)

  • Directed by Adirek Watleela and Suchart Makhawimarn
  • Starring Mek Mekwattana, Nachat Juntapun, Zuvapit Traipornworakit, Nichkhun Horvejkul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on June 4, 2015; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Rags-to-riches stories of struggling musicians looking for their big break are a dime a dozen, so journeyman producer Adirek "Uncle" Watleela got a real bargain with Chalui Tae Khob Fah (ฉลุย แตะขอบฟ้า, a.k.a. Lost in Seoul), which is a remake of a movie he first did in 1988.

The original, about two country lads looking to take Bangkok by storm, is repurposed for the K-pop era, and sends the bumbling heroes from Bangkok to Seoul, where they dream of bringing Thai rock to the uptight corporate ranks of South Korea's entertainment machine. Their big inspiration is a fellow Thai, Nichkhun Horvejkul, who is famous as the Thai guy in the boyband 2PM.

The story starts off in a dream sequence with Nichkhun as a pizza-delivery guy. Uncle and co-director Suchart Makhawimarn seem to be taking their cues from Christopher Nolan as they aim to keep things as off-kilter as possible, with a rapid succession of dreams, flashbacks and sight gags to propel the action as they introduce the two lead characters – long-haired guitarist Pong (Mek "Jessie" Mekwattana) and his singer pal Tong (Nachat "Nicky" Juntapun).

Amid this rapidly moving shell-game of a comedy, one thing becomes quickly apparent – Pong and Tong are no-talent hacks. But they're nice enough fellows, and their enthusiasm makes up somewhat for their lack of finessed dance moves. But behind their earthworm-like shimmying, it's all empty – they are lipsynching to a recording, and their instruments, which are just hollow shells, are unplugged.

But it doesn't matter. Uncle, well-versed in the art of showbiz hocus-pocus, manages to keep up a breakneck level of energy. The Thai Blues Brothers continue to practice their music on their rooftop and dream of their big break, with support from their endlessly cheerful comic neighbor (Phongthep Anurat), who becomes their manager. The suspense comes from the wonder of how long can the energy be sustained, and, will these sad clowns somehow have what it takes?

Uncle, as always, can't resist inserting references to his other movies. So the boys, in their apartment decorated by a Black Sabbath vinyl clock (points added), a Good Charlotte poster (points deducted) and toilet stool for a desk chair (points added), pop a DVD into a portable player. It's Tears of the Black Tiger, the melodramatic western by Wisit Sasanatieng that Uncle co-produced. It's a scene where two male characters pray together and seal a blood bond.

And, I'm pretty sure that's the two actors from the original Chalui Tae Kob Fah (literally Touch the Sky) popping up in another scene to give the younger lads encouragement. Later on, Pong and Tong find a DVD for Yuthlert Sippapak's Chiang Khan Love Story, which Uncle produced only last year. And watch for Uncle in a cameo as a cop.

Like the movie's characters, Chalui Tae Khob Fah gets by on sheer amiability. The boys are guys you wouldn't mind hanging out with for a night, and the movie is like that too. It spends roughly half its time goofing around in Bangkok before jetting off to Seoul, and I hardly noticed an hour had gone by.

Once in Seoul, where the production values are eyepopping, the boys rapidly go through the usual succession of adventures – getting mixed up with mobsters, street hoods and bent cops. Only the Illinois Nazis are missing. They lose their money and passports and then fumble their way into another situation that leads to them making friends with colorful locals.

There's the usual succession of nods to Korean culture, which have become stock-in-trade for Thai-South Korean productions. The gold standard of these remains GTH's blockbuster romance Guan Muen Ho (Hello Stranger). Others have included Poj Arnon's Kao Rak Thee Korea (Sorry Saranghaeyo), Wisit and Michael Shaowanasai's short Iron Pussy: A Kimchi Affair for the Busan-backed Camellia and Prachya Pinkaew's Bangkok-set South Korean martial-arts comedy The Kick.

Thanks to Oldboy, we must have a wriggling octopus, and I'd be disappointed if there weren't any octopuses. But there's also Korean theater and music, thanks to a young woman named Meehwa, her mother and their friends. Of course, she turns out to be half-Thai, and can serve as the boys' translator, helping them get jobs and fast-talk their way out of sticky situations. If it seems like she's everywhere, it's because she is. It's singer-actress "Baitoei" Zuvapit Traipornworakit in a dual role as Meewha and as Bangkok neighborhood doll Tukdta. So there's enough of Baitoei to go around for both of the guys.

One convenient situation after another befalls Pong and Tong as they try to land an audition with an executive at a Korean record label who they first met on a drunken night out in Bangkok. Boyband member "Buck" Nichkhun turns up again, and agrees to help the guys, because they are fellow Thais. Because that's overseas Thai code. Or something.

Soon, we're all singing along to a street-performer backed rendition of the anthem "Arirang", complete with classical Korean instruments, a bicycle drum set and crunchy Thai rock-guitar power chords.

Chalui Tae Khob Fah is the third release for Transformation Films, the new company formed by the former Film Bangkok producer pair of Uncle and Sa-nga Chatchairungruang. Other features so far have been last year's award-winning Chiang Khan Love Story by Yuthlert and this past February's romantic comedy Single Lady Phror Khoei Me Fan, directed by Thanakorn Pongsuwan (Fireball).

Like the others, Chalui Tae Khob Fah has performed very modestly at the local box office, with earnings of 1.5 million baht in its first week, trailing far, far behind the Hollywood behemoths Spy, San Andreas, Tomorrowland and Mad Max: Fury Road. At last count, Chalui had only doubled its first week's earnings, but it remains in theaters thanks to Transformation's partnership with Major Cineplex, Thailand's biggest multiplex operator. If it were anyone else's film, it would have been booted out after a few days.

Despite iffy box-office prospects – hardly anyone in Thailand is watching Thai films these days unless they come from GTH – we'll likely be seeing more of this type of thing. Also backing Chalui Tae Khob Fah was the Korean entertainment mega-firm CJ E&M Film Division, which is separately joining up with Major Cineplex in a three-year 10-film deal for more Thai-South Korean co-productions, likely from Transformation, or the half-dozen or so other Major Cineplex-backed production companies.

See also:

Friday, June 19, 2015

John Torres given shelter in Bangkok

One of the more interesting filmmakers to emerge from the Philippines New Wave, John Torres mixes searing self-confessionals and personal memories with the tumultuous history of his country.

Next weekend, Bangkok movie lovers get a chance to see all his films in a two-day event, A Child Outside: Retrospective to John Torres, put on by Filmvirus, which previously brought another Filipino indie stalwart, Lav Diaz, to Bangkok.

With support from the Japan Foundation, the retrospective will present Torres’ short films and all his features on June 27 and 28 at the Reading Room on Silom Soi 19.

Up first will be a selection of shorts, made from 2004 to 2011, and his two 2008 autobiographical features, Todo Todo Teros, which blended found footage and home-video clips, and won several awards, and Years When I was a Child Outside, which won an award at the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2008.

I think Todo Todo Teros will bring back bittersweet memories for the Filmvirus crowd, because the cast includes Diaz with film critic Alexis Tioseco, who died about a month after he visited Bangkok in August 2009.

Back to the Torres line-up, June 28 has his two dramatic features, 2010’s Refrains Happen Like Revolutions in a Song, about a young woman who takes on different roles as she travels from village to village. I like how the title is a play on a 1987 Filipino film, Revolutions Happen Like Refrains in a Song, by Nick Deocampo. There's also 2013’s Lukas the Strange, a coming-of-age yarn about an awkward teenager coming to grips with his manhood just as a film crew comes to his village.

And Torres himself will close off the event with a talk.

Shows start at 1pm. The venue is a fourth-floor walk-up in a shophouse on Silom Soi 19, opposite Silom Center. Recent Filmvirus events there have been packed to the rafters, so be sure to arrive early to ensure you'll have a seat.

For further details, check the Facebook events page.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thai culture comes to Piccadilly in the Thai Film Festival U.K.

Thailand's Ministry of Culture is bringing seven recent films to London in the Thai Film Festival U.K., which runs from June 25 to 27 at the Princess Anne Theatre at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in Piccadilly, London, home of the Bafta Awards.

A mix of mainstream commercial features, including action and horror, as well as animation plus an independent drama and a documentary, the Thai Film Festival will open with the GTH studio's award-winning drama The Teacher's Diary (คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya), directed by Nitiwat Taratorn starring actress "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak, who will both be present for the screening.

Another award-winning entry is indie director Lee Chatametikool's drama Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Phawang Rak), which is also part of the Thai Indie Fest being put on by U.K. distributor Day for Night.

Londoners will also get the latest adaptation of Plae Kao (แผลเก่า, a.k.a. The Scar), a Thai literary classic by Mai Muengderm. A star-crossed romance set in suburban Bangkok in the 1930s, it has been adapted many times for film and TV, with Cherd Songsri's 1977 feature being the best regarded. But last year, dramatist and frequent movie-remaker ML Bhandevanov "Mom Noi" Devakula offered his own interpretation, with fresh-faced stars Chaiyapol Julian Pupart from Mom Noi's Jan Dara remake and Davika Hoorne from Pee Mak Phra Khanong as the leads. According to The Nation, Mom Noi has created an "international version" for the London screening, which adds 45 more minutes to the cut that was released in Thai cinemas last August.

Genre-film fans will be paid service with martial-arts star Tony Jaa's swan song with the Sahamongkol studio, Tom-Yum-Goong 2, and from Five Star Production, there's director Tiwa Methaisong's supernatural horror thriller Ghost Coins (เกมปลุกผี, Game Plook Phi).

The painstaking efforts by Thailand's animation industry are featured in The Story of Mahajanaka (พระมหา ชนก ), an adaptation of a devotional tale written by His Majesty the King.

Finally, there's a more-grounded look at contemporary Thai life in Krisda Tipchaimeta's critically hailed documentary Somboon (ปู่สมบรูณ์, Poo Somboon), which follow the extraordinary efforts of an ordinary elderly gentleman as he provides round-the-clock care for his chronically ailing wife of 45 years.

The film fest is part of the Totally Thai celebrations, put together by MiniCult in honor of the 60th birthday of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Other activities include a classical dance show at Royal Albert Hall tomorrow night – 130 years after a historic khon performance there for Queen Victoria – and Thailand Eye, a contemporary art exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in November and December.

The film festival is free, but reservations are required. Check Facebook for more details.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Y/our Music sets Bangkok release, Vietnam dates

Y/our Music, the independent documentary that contrasts quirky Bangkok musicians with nearly forgotten legends of rural Thailand's mor lam genre, will get a release in Bangkok next month.

Meanwhile, the documentary co-directed by Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every and David Reeve will head to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for the Asean Music Festival. In Hanoi, the screening is at 8pm this Friday at Cama ATK while Saigon gets Y/our Music on June 25 at Hoa Sen University.

In Bangkok, Y/our Music will open on July 9 at the Lido cinemas in Siam Square. And I would strenuously urge interested Bangkokians to see the film there, where it will benefit from a proper cinematic sound system and projection equipment. It deserves to be seen in a movie theater.

Y/our Music premiered at last year's Busan International Film Festival, and also screened at this year's South by Southwest Festival as well as Salaya Doc. It's also been featured in Chicago. More festival appearances and screenings are planned, including New York's Lincoln Center on August 4.

Keep up to date on the film at Facebook or Twitter. The trailer, embedded below, can be spotted at YouTube.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Concrete Clouds float over London in Thai Indie Fest

U.K. independent movie distributor Day for Night is releasing Lee Chatametikool's award-winning drama Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Phawang Rak) as part of the first Thai Indie Fest in London, which will screen several other award-winning indie Thai titles over the next month or so.

In fact, Thai Indie Fest got underway yesterday with a screening of Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's 36. Other entries are Tongpong Chantarangkul's road trip tale I Carried You Home, Aditya Assarat's post-tsunami romance Wonderful Town and Anocha Suwichakornpong's social drama Mundane History.

Up next on June 9 is I Carried You Home (Padang Besar, ปาดังเบซา), about two estranged sisters who are forced back together by the death of their mother, for a tense cross-country road trip with the corpse in the back of an ambulance. It screens at 8pm on June 9 at COG ARTSpace.

Wonderful Town, in which an architect planning a new development in an isolated town hit by the tsunami, strikes up a relationship with a hotel manager, screens at 7.15pm on Tuesday, June 23 at the Proud Archivist.

Concrete Clouds, which is set in Bangkok during 1997 financial crisis, brings together two estranged brothers after the suicide of their father. While the older brother (Ananda Everingham) tries to get things in order at home and attempts to reconnect with an old girlfriend, the aimless younger brother strikes up a relationship with a lonely neighbor girl.

It is the feature directorial debut for Lee, who is well known for his work as a film editor, particularly his collaborations with Apichatpong Weeraesthakul, most recently on Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น, Rak Ti Khon Kaen), which premiered at last month's Cannes Film Festival.

There are several events to mark the release of Concrete Clouds, with a screening at noon on June 27 at the Rich Mix with Lee doing a post-screening talk. He'll also be on hand for a show at 8.10pm on June 28 at the Ritzy and 7.30pm on July at the Regent Street Cinema. Concrete Clouds is also showing at the Watershed in Bristol from June 26 to July 2.

And Thai Indie Fest wraps up with Mundane History, a slow-burn social-class drama about the paralyzed son of a wealthy family being cared for by a male nurse from a rural upbringing. The screening is at 7pm on July 6 at the Regent Street Cinema.

"The Thai independent film scene is thriving, with a new generation of filmmakers coming to the fore. Often carrying undertones of social, political or economic uncertainty and realities in contemporary Thailand, common themes emerge – memory and imagination, love and loss, decay and regeneration," Day for Night says. "Thai Indie Fest will celebrate some of the freshest filmmaking from the Thai independent scene with a season of award‐winning debut features by Thai 'second new wave' directors."

All the films, winners of multiple awards in Thailand and abroad, share several other common threads, mainly Lee himself, an award-winning film editor who helped shape Mundane History and Wonderful Town. I'm pretty sure he was post-production supervisor on 36 and lash me with noodles if he wasn't involved somehow with I Carried You Home.

Also, there's actress Apinya Sakuljareonsuk, who stars in both Concrete Clouds and I Carried You Home. She just recently won a Tukkata Tong Award for best supporting actress for her work in Concrete Clouds.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Last Executioner, Teacher's Diary, I Fine win Tukkata Tong Awards

From left, Don Linder, Tom Waller, Katrina Grose and Vithaya Pansringarm from The Last Exectioner, winner of the best picture and best screenplay prizes. Photo courtesy of Tom Waller.

Snubbed by the Thai film industry's Subhanahongsa Awards, the cast and crew of The Last Executioner were feeling vindicated last night after winning best picture and screenplay at the 30th Surasawadee Awards (รางวัลพระสุรัสวดี) at the Thailand Cultural Center.

Put on by the Thai Entertainment Reporters Association, the long-running movie kudos also gave floral bouquets to The Teacher's Diary  (คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya) and  I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You (ไอฟาย..แต๊งกิ้ว..เลิฟยู้). The actual awards, the Tukkata Tong (Golden Doll) statuettes, will be given out later in the year in royally appointed ceremonies.

Directed by Tom Waller and produced by Handmade Distribution, Tiger Entertainment and De Warrenne Pictures, The Last Executioner (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat) had been nominated in six categories, including best director, best actor for "Pu" Vithaya Pansringarm, score by Olivier Lliboutry and costumes by Panyawan Nimjareanpong. The fact-based biographical screenplay by Don Linder and Katrina Grose recounted the moral and spiritual struggles of Thai prison guard Chavoret Jaruboon, who executed 55 death-row inmates with his rifle. He was the last to carry out the deadly deed with a firearm before the prison system switched to lethal injection. But he also was haunted by bad karma, which took on the form of various characters, such as David Asavonond's "spirit". The cast also included Penpak Sirikul, Jaran "See Tao" Petcharoen and Somdet Kaew-ler.

The Teachers' Diary was the leading nominee with 15 nods. In addition to best director for Nithiwat Taratorn, the GTH romantic drama about star-crossed teachers at a floating rural schoolhouse was also awarded for cinematography and art direction.

Another GTH picture, the English-tutoring rom-com I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You took the top acting prizes. It starred "Ice" Preechaya Pongthananikorn as a celebrity English-language tutor who agrees to teach a boorish factory worker (leading man Sunny Suwanmethinon) who wants to win back his U.S.-based ex-girlfriend. It had received three nominations, and in addition to the actor trophies, it was also honored for being the top-grossing Thai film of 2014.

Other honors went to the indie financial-crisis drama Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Phawang Rak), which had 11 nominations. Apinya Sakuljaroensuk took the supporting actress prize for her brave turn as a young woman who has a fling with a woefully naive guy in a neighboring 1997 Bangkok apartment. Writer-director Lee Chatametikool was among a host of folks receiving special honors.

The supporting actor prize went to Pichaya Nitipaisankul from the Phranakorn horror omnibus Tai Hong Tai Hian (ตายโหงตายเฮี้ยน), in which he played a former monk haunted by an ex-girlfriend. The gory Tai Hong Tai Hian (I'll call it Die a Violent Death 2) also won for hair and makeup.

Three documentaries were among the honorees: The Master, about influential Bangkok bootleg video king Van VDO, with best editing; Somboon, about an elderly husband caring for his chronically ailing wife, with best song, and By the River (สายน้ำติดเชื้อSai Nam Tid Shoer), about a Karen village devastated by lead-mining waste, with best score by the Karen musicians.

Animation and 3D movies were also recognized, with the animated The Story of Mahajanaka (พระมหา ชนก) winning the honor for films paying tribute to His Majesty the King. The devotional fantasy is based on a story written by His Majesty. And Five Star Production's horror omnibus 3AM 3D Part 2 was noted for its special effects and sound.

Leaving empty handed was the romantic comedy-drama Chiang Khan Story (Tukkae Rak Pang Mak, ตุ๊กแกรักแป้งมาก), which scored big at the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards and the 12th Kom Chad Luek Awards and another leading nominee, Timeline Jodmai Khwam Songjam (Timeline จดหมาย-ความทรงจำ).

The Last Executioner cast and crew. Photo courtesy of Tom Waller.

Here are the winners in the 30th Surasawadee Awards:

  • Best picture – The Last Executioner
  • Director – Nithiwat Taratorn, The Teacher's Diary
  • Actor – Sunny Suwanamethanon, I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You
  • Actress – Preechaya Pongthananikorn, I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You
  • Supporting actor – Pichaya Nitipaisankul, Tai Hong Tai Hian
  • Supporting actress – Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Concrete Clouds
  • Screenplay – Don Linder and Katrina Grose, The Last Executioner
  • Cinematography – Narupon Chokkanapitak, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Film editing – Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, The Master
  • Art direction – Akradej Kaewkote, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Costumes – Phoobao Thai Baan: E-San Indy
  • Hair and makeup – Tai Hong Tai Hian
  • Score – By the River (สายน้ำติดเชื้อ, Sai Nam Tid Shoer)
  • Song – “Chan Ja Fan Tueng Ter” by Suphatra Inthonphakdi (Danu Huntrakun, composer), Somboon
  • Sound – 3AM 3D Part 2 (ตีสาม คืนสาม 3D, Tee Sam Khuen Sam Sam D)
  • Special effects – 3AM 3D Part 2
  • Most popular film – I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You
  • Buddhist film – The Story of Mahajanaka (พระมหา ชนก )
  • Lifetime achievement awards – MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, Rong Kaomoonkadee, Aranya Ngarmwong, Thanit Watrothai,
  • Rising stars: Thanapob Leeratanakajorn, Chonthida Asavahame
  • Outstanding director – Lee Chatametikool, Concrete Clouds
  • Popular actor – Sukrit Wisetkaew, The Teacher's Diary
  • Popular actress – Davika Hoorne, Plae Kao (แผลเก่า, a.k.a. The Scar)

(Via Daily News, Matichon)