Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Bangkok Knockout

  • Directed by Panna Rittikrai and Morakot Kaewthanee
  • Starring Sorapong Chatree, Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Kazu Patrick Tang, Kietisak Udomnak, Pimchanok Leuwisetpaibul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 16, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating 3/5

The Thai film industry has cycled back into an era when goopy sweet romances and nonsensical comedies dominate the box office.

Action films, that once-vaunted staple of movie going in Thailand, have been pushed to the side. Bangkok audiences for the most part do not care for them. They only want sweet love stories. Or to laugh at cross-dressing comedians. Or they have Hollywood movies rammed down their throats.

But action flicks are still popular in the Thai countryside, and the man who's making movies for those audiences, as he's always done, is the legendary actor, action choreographer and director Panna Rittikrai.

A national treasure, the mentor of now-sidelined action hero Tony Jaa determinably plugs away, making flicks that are full of increasingly dangerous stunts and mind-boggling, hard-hitting fight scenes.

His latest is B.K.O.: Bangkok Knockout (โคตรสู้ โคตรโส, Koht Soo Koht Soh), in which members of a martial-arts club are held captive and forced to fight in an underground bloodsport.

It's a cross-disciplinary display of martial arts. In addition to Muay Thai, taekwondo, kung fu and capeoira are also put to the test. Add in parkour, a car smashing through walls, motorcycles colliding in mid-air and an axe-wielding maniac in an iron mask caught on fire, and you have an insane mix.

The story is kept pretty basic, so that it doesn't get in the way of the action. Martial-arts clubs compete for a Hollywood audition. The pure-hearted club, led by a taekwondo artist named Pod (Chatchapol Kulsiriwoothichai), wins. Of course.

That night the lads and their friends are treated to a celebratory dinner. They wake up the next morning in an abandoned, under-construction housing estate. Their cellphones and cars are gone. The audition was a set-up by the mastermind villain, played by Kazu Patrick Tang.

The housing estate is surrounded by gunmen and is wired with closed-circuit video. The fighters will be matched in to-the-death contests for the benefit of an international cast of gamblers – including a spoiled Thai rich kid – rounded up by a obnoxious drawling American named Sneed.

The fighters are talented stuntmen who've been doubles and extras in Panna's past productions.

But there are a few name actors. Veteran action star Sorapong Chatree plays the tough driver of a general's daughter, Joy, the one-time girlfriend of Pod. She's played by actress "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol. When she isn't being tied up and left dangling as bait, she throws a few feisty kicks and bites herself and participates in the climactic ending sequence.

Comedian "Sena Hoi" Kietisak Udomnak is a musician who turned up at the dinner and ends up stranded with the fighters. He's more an annoyance than an asset, but he plays his part in herding the fighters to where they need to be.

Young actress Pimchanok Leuwisetpaibul, playing the token female fighter of the group, gamely throws a few kicks and punches as well, and gives the guys something to fight for.

And Panna himself is the ringleader of the bad-guy fighters, vowing that he alone can whip everyone's asses.

The fights, all for the most part clearly staged and competently framed, are a crazy mix. One involves a cross-dressing villain.

There's things that happen just because they look cool. Like the opposing stunt teams leaping off balconies opposite one another, clashing in mid-air and tumbling to the ground.

Water gushes on a pair of fighters, and goes splashing around.

One villain strips off his shirt to reveal an iron vest.

A well-padded man in a hooded jacket and iron mask wields a huge axe and is set upon by all the good-guy fighters and eventually set on fire. He smashes through walls.

An armored black car crashes through walls too, and spins and swerves around, creating even more confusion during a battle royale between the opposing sides.

Toward the end, the bad guys on dirt bikes try to run everyone down.

And there's the much-hyped semi-truck stunt. It's been touted as being more elaborate and dangerous than the semi-truck stunt Panna and his team engineered in the 2004 stuntfest Born to Fight, which almost crushed a stuntman's head.

This one pits Pod and Kazu fighting under the truck while it (slowly) rolls down the highway. Meanwhile, other fighters are fighting on top of the trailer and falling off.

In the end, I think the stunt in Born to Fight was more exciting because it was the first time, and wasn't so drawn out.

While Bangkok Knockout has plenty of stunning scenes, it's not quite a knockout. While a welcome action flick in a year dominated by romantic comedies and melodramas, it feels like a bit of rehash of Born to Fight and other action flicks from Panna and his team, like Power Kids and Somtum.

Fans of those movies won't be disappointed by Bangkok Knockout.

Related posts:

Apichatpong creates waves in Kerala, Thai films popular in Goa

Lekha Shankar is in India, where she attended Goa's International Film Festival of India, which screened Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Nithiwat Tharatorn's Dear Galileo. Lekha then headed down to the Kerala International Film Festival, which held a retrospective on Apichatpong. The Thai director took a well-deserved vacation and shared the spotlight with another world-cinema luminary, Werner Herzog.

Story and photos by Lekha J Shankar in Thiruvanthapuram and Goa

Thai director "Joe" Apichatpong Weerasethakul was a star attraction of the Kerala International Film Festival, held at Thiruvanthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, in the southernmost tip of India. Five of his films were screened at a festival noted for its movie-literate audiences.

Joe also served on the international competition jury.

The only other filmmaker who attracted more attention than Joe at the festival was German director Werner Herzog, who had five of his movies screened.

The two directors met at a dinner organised by the Goethe Institute, and Herzog congratulated Joe for having won the Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and raising the image of his country.

Another director who was happy to meet Joe, was French director Olivier Assayas, who said he was a great admirer of his works.

Joe also met Julianne Lorenze, the widow of another legendary German director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. She attentively listened to a stage interview with the Thai director, after which she told Joe that Fassbinder had the same theories on filmmaking as him, as well as a strong interest in Buddhism, which she shared.

During the stage interview, conducted by this writer, Joe confessed that he had not expected to win the top award at Cannes, but after that he had revelled in his global travels.

The countries and cities he visited this year were as varied as Japan, South Korea, Buenos Aires, Greece and London.

"No, it was not a pressure," he stated. "It was hectic, but enjoyable. After all, I knew that my time at the top, was limited."

Joe was asked various questions about his filmmaking style – his subjects, methods, multi-level associations, non-professional cast, fund acquisition, censorship problems, the audience he catered to and the film festivals that made him famous.

The soft-spoken but strong-minded director was frank and articulate.

"It has not got easier getting funds for my films," said Joe. "On the other hand, it's got a lot more competitive."

He confessed how he had refunded money to a film-goer who had complained he'd felt "cheated" by watching Joe's film!

"Don't use your brain, when you see my films," he urged his audience while presenting Uncle Boonmee. "Just relax, and allow the images to take over you."

Judging by the cinephiles who followed him throughout the festival, the director's images sure seemed to have "taken them over".

Joe met legendary Indian director Adoor Gopalakrishnan and was keen to know more about his documentaries on Indian dance, which he said could be incorporated in a possible dance-project he would do in the UK.

The Thai director was most struck by the passion for cinema in India, which he said he had not witnessed in many countries.

Joe did various media interviews, watched many films, but also found time to relax in the swimming pool of the Taj Vivanta hotel where he stayed, meander around the city and visit the exotic Tapovan resort at the Kovalam beach, where he enjoyed a traditional ayurvedic massage and spicy seafood meal.

He also went shopping, to buy the local lungis (sarongs), which totally fascinated him. He planned to wear them during his two-week holiday in Kerala.

The two-week tour included a houseboat ride on the famed backwaters of Kerala, the hillscapes of Wyanad, the temple-town of Trichur, and New Year in the old-world "Fort" area of Cochin town.

With homestay accommodation and scenic locations, meen (fish) curries and biryanis, Joe seemed to be enjoying his much-needed year-end break in Kerala, a place described by National Geographic as “God's Own Country.”

When I last heard from him, he was moving from a quiet "ghost town" to a noisy town, and was all set to watch a "velichapad" performer in a famed temple – a dancer who performs after being "possessed" by the temple deity.

Earlier, Uncle Boonmee had created waves at the country's biggest film festival, held in the beach town of Goa, the International Film Festival of India.

Joe could not attend the festival due to his commitments at other festivals, but when the film print did not arrive in Goa on time, because of a goof up by the courier company, the Thai director generously lent his personal print to the festival, which was much appreciated by Indian cinephiles.

The 9.30am screening at the festival's biggest Kala Bhavan auditorium was well-attended by a large and curious audience who had many questions to ask this writer after the screening.

Festival director Shankar Mohan said he was knocked out by the "stunning" film.

Another Thai film that was screened at the festival was Dear Galileo by young director Nithiwat Tharathorn of Fan Chan fame.

The road movie set in Europe attracted the interest of both young and old, and the director was warmly greeted by all of them at the end of the screening.

Nithiwat, who has been to various festivals with the film, including Berlin and Yokohama, was excited to visit India for the first time, especially the beach-town of Goa, and seemed to enjoy everything about it, from the beer to the beaches to the parties – and the many "good" movies.

He was also excited to meet many Indian film-folk from Bollywood mogul Subhash Ghai to award-winning indie director Gautam Ghosh.

On the jury of India’s biggest film-festival was Frenchman Olivier Pere, the new artistic director of the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. It turns out he's an avid follower of Thai cinema.

Pere, who formerly headed the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes festival, said he was keen not only to screen more Thai films at his Locarno but possibly also to hold an Open Doors script-writing session for young talents. This year, Central Asia participated in the Open Doors session, and next year was to be India's turn.

Who knows, Thailand could possibly be the country in focus in 2012.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Laughing all the way to the bank on New Year's Eve 2010

Last year new studio MThirtynine made its bow with the December 30 release of the romantic comedy 32 Thunwa (32 ธันวา, 32 December Love Error), which ended up doing pretty well and even beat the likes of Avatar at the box office.

So it's become a tradition for MThirtynine and director Rerkchai Puangpetch. They're releasing another romantic comedy on December 30 this year, Sudkate Salateped (สุดเขต สเลดเป็ด ), while Sahamongkol Film International tries to muscle in on the action with their lucrative Saranair comedy franchise.

Sudkate Salateped has Rerkchai following the successful formula he used for his 2006 smash-hit Noodle Boxer (Sab Sanit) and 32 Thunwa, both of which paired young pop singer Dan Worrawech with well-known comedians.

For Sudkate Salateped, it's another young musician-actor, "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri, portraying a young guy trying to get a break as a recording artist. "Yipso" Ramida Mahapruekpong, who was also in 32 Thunwa and played the glasses girl in MThirtynine's travel romance That Sounds Good, also stars.

Comedic support is provided by the ubiquitous funnypeople Charoenporn “Kotee Aramboy” Onlamai, "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom and the other usual yuksters.

There's a trailer, embedded here. And if you didn't hear enough of the theme song, there's a music video.

Also out this Thursday is Saranair Hen Phee (สาระแนเห็นผี ), a horror-comedy from Lucks Film and the comedy crew from the Saranair TV series, which with the help of Sahamongkol broke into movies with 2009's Jackass-like Saranair Haao Peng and followed that up this year with the romantic comedy Saranae Siblor, one of 2010's top-grossing Thai films.

Saranae Siblor star Mario Maurer returns for this unrelated tale. He's paired up with Pongpit “Starbucks” Preechaborisutkul, the young prankster who got his break in Saranair Haao Peng. They're a couple of guys hanging out in a bar and run afoul of a mobster, so they go lay low at a Buddhist temple that turns out to be haunted. Actress "Aum" Patcharapa Chaichua portrays a drunk coyote dancer who helps the guys out. And Saranair cast regular "Ple" Nakorn Silachai is featured as a violent cop. Mum Jokmok, showing he's a good sport after being pranked in Saranair Haao Peng, makes an appearance.

There's an English-subtitled trailer embedded below.

Another look at Chua Fah Din Salai and Eternity: Director's Cut

Characters are literally and figuratively fleshed out in ML Bhandevanob "Mom Noi" Devakula's director's cut of his lush-period potboiler Eternity (Chua Fah Din Salai, ชั่วฟ้าดินสลาย).

Running for 3 hours and 10 minutes – an hour longer than September's original theatrical release – the director's cut adds scenes that reinforce the main characters and make clearer their motivations. And the supporting characters are more vividly depicted.

Of course there is more sex and nudity. The director's cut is rated 18+, whereas the original commercial release was a comparatively watered-down 15+.

Based on the 1943 novella by Malai Choopinit, the story is set, I believe, in the early 1930s, on a timber plantation in Burma. The land is owned by a logging baron named Pabo (Teerapong Leowrakwong), who has built an elaborate teakwood mansion where he lives and rules like a king. Pabo's nephew is Sangmong, played Ananda Everingham. He's a highly educated and contemplative young man. And there's Pabo's young wife, the cultured and vivacious Bangkok socialite Yupadee. The love triangle forms when the nephew and his young auntie enter into their affair. They are found out and sentenced by Pabo to spend their lives chained together, "for eternity".

It's a lavishly made film, with beautiful period costuming and props, sumptuous set dressing and locations and gorgeous cinematography. Just for those things alone, it's easy to get swept away by it all.

There are Mom Noi's trademark high-brow literary and theatrical references. I'm not sure how many movie-goers will understand or even make a beeline for the library or bookstore to try and figure things out. The references to Ibsen and Gibran are perhaps pretentious, but then maybe I should be reading more and not watching so many movies.

Breathtaking as Eternity is, by now my memory of what was in the original release compared to this version is foggy.

But one scene that stands out is a visit to a brothel by Sangmong and Tip, the logging camp foreman. While Tip, portrayed by 1980s heartthrob Sakkaraj Rerkthamrong, indulges himself with prostitute, Sangmong does not. He flashes back to his childhood and remembers Uncle Pabo telling him to not pick a wild orchid – the flower being highly symbolic of you know what. This scene reinforces Sangmong's pure heart, and the fact that he doesn't drink or smoke, and is saving sex for when he's married.

Tip, on the other hand, indulges in sex constantly, not only with the prostitute, but with one of the servants at Pabo's mansion, presumably a woman who was one of Pabo's interests, but was handed down to the loyal right-hand man Tip. And one night Sangmong spies on Tip having sex with his girlfriend, and this stirs feelings inside Sangmong, and leads to the breaking down of his resistance against the lustful feelings he has for Yupadee.

Another character who's greatly expanded is that of Nipon, portrayed by newcomer actor Penpetch Benyakul. He's the visitor to the timber plantation in 1943, years after the disastrous affair of Sangmong and Yupadee. It's Nipon's visit that gets Tip to flashback, telling the whole sordid story. There's more scenes of Nipon having sex with a servant girl, and he has a bizarre encounter with the disheveled Sangmong.

Overall, the symbolism seems more overt, such as the shotgun barrels probing through the jungle while Tip and his men hunt for a tiger at the same moment Sangmong and Yupadee have their first explosive sexual encounter.

In watching the director's cut, another thing that struck me was just how poorly the female characters fare.

Yupadee is objectified and sexualized from the moment she hits the screen, slinking down the stairway of the Bangkok club in her tight satin evening gown. She is a temptress, naked in the pool, goading Sangmong into the act of betrayal against his uncle. She has corrupted the young man, who takes up drinking and smoking. Later, when she and Sangmong are chained together, Yupadee is a weak, whining, shrewlike nag.

Pabo's loyal maid Makin, portrayed by Daraneenuch Pothipithi, is a conflicted character. She clearly loves Pabo and has motherly affection for Sangmong. She is initially distrustful of Yupadee, but warms up to her after Yupadee uses her convent-school nursing skills to treat Makin for a snake bite. She's the one who tattles on the couple for the affair, and Pabo severely beats her. That was a difficult scene to watch.

One more thing: It's hard not to get cynical over this film and all its sex and nudity – however tastefully done it might be – getting the green light for a limited theatrical run while Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Insects in the Backyard has been labeled pornographic and is banned. If Chua Fah Din Salai dealt with a homosexual affair would it have also been banned?

Chua Fah Din Salai: Director's Cut runs until January 5 at House on RCA, showing on Blu-ray DVD with English subtitles.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"The movie was banned because it is deeply immoral"

Crossdressing indie filmmaker Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Insects in the Backyard was officially banned by the National Film Board on Wednesday night.

According to The Nation, the vote was 21-3 against Insects.

Tanwarin had twice before submitted Insects to the Culture Ministry's censorship regime, which deemed the movie against public order or morality and contrary to morality. The National Film Board was the last stop for Insects at the ministry.

"I'll file a petition with the Administrative Court," Tanwarin told a Nation reporter.

Insects in the Backyard has strong depictions of sex, including a vivid scene of sex between men and another involving a strap-on dildo.

Censors have objected to the teenagers in their school uniforms working in the sex industry. They were also disturbed by a dream sequence in which the son kills his father.

An Associated Press article yesterday quotes a Culture Ministry official who wished to remain anonymous:

"The movie was banned because it is deeply immoral," said one of the officials, a member of the Culture Ministry's Film and Video Screening Office, which is under the Department of Cultural Promotion and advised the Film Board to ban the film. He said it was "unnecessary" to show child sex workers and dreams of patricide that could be copied by young viewers.

"Members of the public might take a negative view of our ban," the official said. "But if they have an opportunity to watch the movie, they would understand why it was banned."

What did "the official" say?

If the film is banned, how will members of the public have the opportunity to watch the film?

Logic and contradictions aside, it's the members of the National Film Board and the Film and Video Screening Office who ought to be given the kind of scrutiny they are giving Insects in the Backyard. Clearly, they have some deep-seated and disturbing emotional issues if they really do believe that schoolchildren will see the film and immediately go out and start prostituting themselves and killing their fathers.

I suppose there's a chance people might still see the film, maybe at film festivals or private screenings. It premiered in the Dragons and Tigers competition at the Vancouver festival, and I was lucky enough to see Insects at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which got to show it I guess because the rules for film festivals are not as strict as films intended for commercial release.

But I hope it doesn't end up on YouTube or as a pirated torrent. That would undermine Tanwarin's dogged efforts in the fight for free expression.

People would get to see the movie, sure, and it would be another great example of the Streisand Effect of something becoming popular because it is suppressed.

But then nothing in Thailand's film and censorship laws will have changed.

Insects in the Backyard is the first film banned under the film law, which includes a motion-picture ratings system and replaced a 1930 law under which all films were subject to censorship by the police.

Tanwarin had sought a limited commercial release for Insects under the 20- rating, the only restrictive classification in the film law, which bars viewers under the age of 20 and requires ID checks. Other ratings, including G, 13+, 15+ and 18+ are advisory only and require no ID checks.

Insects in the Backyard is a magnum opus for the veteran indie director, who also stars as the flamboyantly dressed transvestite dad. Tanwarin has said the film aims to show that negative attitudes about homosexuality and transgender issues still exist in Thailand, despite its reputation for tolerance of gays and transgender people.

Tanwarin is also quoted by the Associated Press:

"The problem with my film wasn't that it was a gay-themed movie — because there are many gay comedies allowed in Thailand. My movie was banned because it was a serious movie. It showed there can be real problems when society cannot accept sexual differences."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Outdoor movie dubbers stage swordfights with forks and spoons

Movies on the Beach in the nang klang plang tradition of Thai outdoor cinema are continuing this week at the Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside Bangkok.

I caught last Saturday's double feature of 1966's Suek Bang Rajan and 2000's Bang Rajan.

The setting is a sand-covered plaza on the riverfront at the Ramada hotel, which is downstream from the Saphan Taksin pier. It's easily reachable from the pier by a shuttle boat from the hotel that runs every half hour.

Instead of movie-theater seating, there are beach-style lounge chairs set up in rows.

Starting well after dusk, at around 7.30, the first feature was 1966's Battle of Bang Rajan, starring Sombat Metanee in a commanding performance that won him a Tukata Tong (Golden Doll) award, which was handed to him personally by His Majesty the King.

Instead of the soundtrack, a team of five dubbers handled all voice work, music and sound effects. They worked from a table next to the projector tent, which was set up behind the beach chairs.

Two men and two women handled all the voices, from the heroic leading man to the comic-relief characters. Sound effects for this historical action epic were simple but effective – forks and spoons from dinner provided the clanging of swords, a pair of small coconut shells were the sound of pounding horse hoofs. Braying horses, trumpeting elephants, gunshots, cannon fire and the cries of dying men and women were all covered by the men and women behind the mic. A fifth member of the team worked a cassette player, swapping tapes in and out with music suited to the mood – rousing orchestral cues for the action scenes, and slow Thai traditional instrumentals for the romantic settings.

Fantastic as the movie was – it's the Alamo-like tale of heroic villagers who put themselves between the capital at Ayutthaya and the entire army of invading Burmese – it was hard to not turn around and see how the dubbers worked their magic.

Just how effective they were became evident when director Thanit Jitnukul's 2000 remake Bang Rajan was the second feature and the dubbers went away to let the soundtrack play. I felt like it was missing something, even with all the modern movie magic of CGI blood and digitally hacked-off limbs.

Compared to the newer version, the first Bang Rajan is lots more colorful, with lots of reds, yellows and greens, especially the women's costumes. The stories are the same. The village is up against overwhelming odds. Even the women get in on the two-handed swordfighting action. And yes, the village drunk climbs aboard a water buffalo to gallop into battle, though in the old version, the ride is short-lived – a letdown compared to the awesomely heroic ride Bin Binluert takes in 2000's version.

They showed films. Actual film reels, running through a projector. That was good to see in this age of DVDs and digital projectors. In previous outdoor film screenings I've been to, they have two projectors, which the projectionist uses to keep the flow steady, with no discernable interuption between reels. I swear I've even seen that feat accomplished with one projector, but the projectionists handling Saturday's screening had trouble keeping up with the cigarette burns, so there were pauses between reels.

And I was surprised at just how bad a shape the print of 2000's Bang Rajan was in. It seemed just as scratched up and jaggedy as the 1966 film.

Shows just how fragile a medium film is.

Movies on the Beach continue through Sunday.

Tonight's show is the 1970 smash-hit musical Monrak Luk Thung (Magical Love in the Countryside), starring Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat. Back in the day, it played in cinemas for six straight months.

Christmas Eve has 1970's Insee Tong (Golden Eagle), which features the fateful helicopter stunt that killed Mitr on October 8, 1970. I expect the dubbing team will be handling that one.

It's on a double bill with this year's Insee Dang (The Red Eagle), an action-packed reboot of Mitr's long-running franchise by director Wisit Sasanatieng, featuring Ananda Everingham in the lead role of the masked vigilante crimefighter.

Christmas night has a pair of monastic comedies, Luang Ta 3: Seeka Khang Wat from 1991 and Phranakorn's 2005 smash-hit Luang Phee Theng (The Holy Man).

The screening series closes on Sunday with the 2001 romantic drama Khang Lang Phab (Behind the Painting), the final film by the late director Cherd Songsri, starring "Ken" Theeradej Wongpuapan and Cara Pholasit.

The price is a bit steep, which may be the reason audiences are so sparse – 350 baht for the one-movie nights and 450 baht for the double-feature nights. That includes your choice of beverage and/or food.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya

  • Directed by Nopporn Watin
  • Starring Seiki Oseki, Sorapong Chatree, Kanokkorn Jaicheun, Thanawut Ketsaro
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 2, 2010; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Muay Thai and samurai swords clash in the blood-soaked historical-action epic Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya (ซามูไร อโยธยา).

Laced with beheadings, breaking bones and lots of spurting blood, Yamada is the fact-based account of how a samurai warrior came to serve as one of the personal bodyguards of King Naresuan the Great.

Seki Oseki, a Thailand-based actor and model, portrays the title character, Yamada Nagamasa, who lived from 1590 to 1630 and served in the courts of four kings during the reign of the Sukothai Dynasty in Ayutthaya. He was eventually granted a lordship and served as governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Directed and executive produced by Nopporn Watin, who also promotes Muay Thai events, the movie is made in celebration of 124 years of Thai-Japanese diplomatic relations.

With stoic determination similar to that of Neo in The Matrix, Seki's Yamada mows down an endless stream of masked black-clad ninjas and Burmese tribesmen, but that comes only after he's received training in Muay Thai.

A refugee from the feudal wars of Japan, Yamada sought out a new life for himself in Siam, and came to the Japanese settlement in Ayutthaya. But with Siam still at war with the Burmese, there are still people trying to kill him. A bald dude with a goatee sends sword-toting ninjas to assassinate the samurai in a dark alley, but the men in black are dispatched by four bare-chested Muay Thai fighters. They spirit the wounded warrior up the river to their peaceful settlement in Phitsanalok.

There, Yamada has his wounds treated by the blushing young lass Champa (Kanokkorn Jaichuen, Miss World Thailand 2007) and he's given the nickname Na Khao ("White Face") by the cheeky little girl Kratin.

As soon as he's recovered, Yamada seeks to prove himself among the men, but is shown his Japanese martial arts are no match for the eight weapons of Muay Thai – fists, feet, knees and elbows.

So he seeks training under the Jedi master, veteran actor Sorapong Chatree, reprising his role from MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's Naresuan movies as a wise warrior monk.

And so there are misty Muay Thai training sequences against the backdrop of ancient temple ruins.

With holy tattoos spread across his bare back and sculpted chest, the fair-skinned, long-haired samurai is ready to join the swarthy band mustachioed, Mohawk-coiffed brothers who serve as King Naresuan's personal bodyguards.

Naresuan, by the way, is portrayed by Nang Nak star Winai Kraibutr.

Also notable is the attention to language, with Yamada and his goateed foe speaking Japanese, with English and Thai subtitles. An over-the-top Burmese villain is also given the dual-subtitle treatment.

The movie is similar to other recent Thai historical epics, like Suriyothai, the Naresuan movies, Bang Rajan and Ong-Bak 2 and 3. There is brutal, bloody violence leavened by slow scenes of stereotypical ancient Siamese pageantry – paddling boats, bathing elephants, masked dances, etc. – plus Japanese flute playing.

Yamada has a female love interest in Champa. He gives her his heart. But he gives a sword – a razor-sharp katana blade with a lovingly crafted Siamese-style sword handle – to her brother Kham (Thanawut Ketsaro). Stained with the blood of their vanquished foes, the two men bond in battle.

The Muay Thai scenes are all clearly staged, with only a bit of slow-motion stylization. The beauty of the ancient form of the Thai martial art is framed like a postcard.

The swordfighting, which involves buckets of CGI blood and digital blades penetrating torsos and lopping off heads, is murkier, taking place in forests or in the darkness.

The gory action – too strong for the G rating – actually had the audience laughing, with the Indiana Jones sword vs. pistol shtick repeated a few times. Yamada, after ostentatiously presenting himself in his Japanese martial-art stance is immediately hammered in the nose with an elbow by the Muay Thai master, portrayed by real fighter Buakaw Por Pramuk. Another scene has Yamada in his fight-club audition for the King, facing a giant (Somdet Kaew-ler), who cackles in anticipation of wasting a man from "Ippun". But the laughing man is perfunctorily silenced. A third scene comes when the bodyguards face a rough band of Burmese invaders, carrying thick blades, hammers and axes. One of the jungle warriors looks vaguely like Tony Jaa. He does an elaborate sword-twirling dance but is unceremoniously gutted by Kham.

Finally, Yamada returns to that dark alley where he was almost killed, again facing an army of ninjas and that bald dude with the goatee. The guy has no hair, but he has a little taken off the top anyway.

See also:

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Apichatpong-a-rama: Award in Dubai, Independent Spirit nomination and lists, lists, lists

Recent awards news about Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his Cannes Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives:

And to the year-end lists, which is just a taste of things to come:

  • Cahiers du Cinema lists Uncle Boonmee as its No. 1 film of 2010. According to critic Cédric Succivalli, Boonmee appeared on every one of the ballots and was listed at No. 1 on more than half of them.
  • The Toronto Film Critics Association picked Boonmee as a runner-up behind The Social Network and The Black Swan for Best Picture. Boonmee was also named their Best Foreign Language Film.
  • Film Comment lists Uncle Boonmee as its No. 1 unreleased film of 2010.
  • The Sight and Sound year-end poll lists Uncle Boonmee at No. 2, receiving the 19 votes to come in behind The Social Network.

Film festivals:

Finally, the Mubi Notebook has a roundup of Boonmee posters from around the world, with striking designs from Germany and Mexico, featuring the Monkey Ghost. I think my favorite so far is the Spanish poster, featuring the Catfish Princess.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kong Rithdee shows clips of censored films

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee has made a video in which he discusses film censorship in Thailand.

In his Reel Rithdee short, he shows clips from films that Thai authorities have deemed inappropriate.

There's a lot of footage from Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's so-far disapproved Insects in the Backyard. It was viewed by the Culture Ministry's National Film Board (including director Prachya Pinkaew) on Wednesday night but they have yet to come to a decision whether they will permit other Thai people to see it.

Kong also mentions Thunksa Pansittivorakul's This Area Is Under Quarantine, an explosive combination of explicit gay romance and documentary on Islamic separatism in southern Thailand. In that movie, Thunska shows clips from a banned VCD that contains footage of what's known as the Tak Bai incident, in which at least 85 people were killed. In the incident, Muslim men at a protest were rounded up by the Thai army, stripped of their shirts, ordered to lie face down on the ground, have their hands bound behind them and then stacked into trucks for a journey in which most of those who perished died by suffocation.

And a video about film censorship in Thailand wouldn't be complete without a mention of Syndromes and a Century, the 2006 film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul that received almost-universal critical acclaim worldwide, except in Thailand, where cultural minders issued personal insults at the filmmaker and ordered six cuts to the film, including scenes of doctors drinking whiskey in the hospital, a doctor kissing his girlfriend and a Buddhist monk playing guitar. Apichatpong went ahead and released the gutted corpse of a film, replacing the scenes snipped by censors with scratched black film leader.

Now, here's something worth noting: under the Byzantine bureaucracy that has been created under Thailand's new film law, none of these films I've mentioned so far are actually banned. They aren't!

Under the new motion-picture ratings system, "Ban" is an official category. It's that hidden seventh classification, following "P" for promote, "G" for general audiences, the 13+, 15+ and 18+ age-advisory ratings that no one pays attention to and the restricted 20- rating.

Insects is merely not yet permitted. And anyone who screens the film is liable to fines of 200,000 to 1 million baht and a year in jail. But it's not banned, honest!

Quarantine was submitted for screening at last year's World Film Festival of Bangkok, but the committee it was presented to couldn't give it a rating because it wasn't authorized to since the actual copyright holder wasn't the one asking for the rating. Or some-such nonsense that I still don't fully understand. So Quarantine couldn't be shown due to a technicality. But it's not banned.

Kong also shows clips from foreign films that have actually been given the "ban" rating, the French horror thriller Frontière(s) and Kevin Smith's sweet comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Wisit back in the ring with Muay Thai project at CineMart

Although Tears of the Black Tiger director Wisit Sasanatieng has said he's done with making movies for studios, it doesn't mean he's quitting filmmaking entirely.

Following the example of such Thai indie filmmakers as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Aditya Assarat and Anocha Suwichakornpong, the industry veteran is looking at overseas film festivals for money. He's looking to make his first independent project.

It's called Suriya, and he'll be pitching it at CineMart during the International Film Festival Rotterdam's XL edition where he's also serving on the Tiger Awards jury and screening his latest feature The Red Eagle.

Here's more about Wisit's new project:

Suriya is a biography of a mysterious Muay Thai boxer who lived in the 1940s in the Northeast of Thailand. A true story of a small man who chooses to live his life heedlessly: a life of joy and suffering, of beauty and misfortune. A life that expires so fast, though its owner doesn’t care if anybody would waste his time remembering it.

His name is Suriya Lookthung.

Trois Film Company Ltd. is listed as the production company.

Wisit says he wants to make the movie "just for fun".

And it should be.

Update: I missed another Thai entry on the CineMart list: Karma Police, by Visra Vichit-Vadakan, produced by Hidden Rooster Films. It previously received support from the IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund.

Friday, December 17, 2010

French distributor first in line for Pen-ek's Headshot

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's crime thriller Headshot, currently in production, has been picked up for distribution in France by Wild Side.

The movie is being hailed as Pen-ek's "return to the crime-thriller genre". Pen-ek's debut feature Fun Bar Karaoke and his second one 6ixtynin9 had film-noir elements. But then so did Monrak Transistor. Pen-ek's pan-Asian features Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves were solid crime thrillers. And his last two efforts Ploy and Nymph were mysterious and full of shadows.

So I'd say the crime thriller is a genre Pen-ek has never really left behind.

Anyway, folks are pretty excited, and they have reason to be, since Pen-ek is adapting a story by S.E.A. Write Award-winning writer and Silpathorn Award laureate Win Lyovarin, Fon Tok Kuen Fah (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า, literally "rain falling upward"), which is a self-styled "film noir novel".

Wild Side COO Manuel Chiche is among the fans, which he affirms in this quote from a press release:

"We have always been very attached to Pen-ek's talents and have been waiting for him and his next project for quite some time. The script itself is full of action, humour, and philosophies Pen-ek style - very original."

The movie is being produced by Bangkok-based Local Color Films, which also backed Wisit Sasanatieng's The Red Eagle, the short-film omnibus Sawasdee Bangkok (which included segments by Pen-ek and Wisit) and Aditya Assarat's recent short film Phuket.

Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who was formerly with Fortissimo and has worked as a programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, is producing Headshot, along with Pawas Sawatchaiyamet.

Ray brokered the deal with Wild Side, and he explains more in the press release:

"Wild Side has always been a great supporter of director Pen-ek's works since Invisible Waves and Ploy. Manuel was one of the first to read the Headshot screenplay, and we were elated by his immediate and enthusiastic response. As such, we are very pleased to be continuing our relationship with them."

Head Shot, which is being made for around US$600,000, was recently presented at the Tokyo Project Gathering. Production has started and it's expected to be completed around May.

The plot has been detailed in an earlier post and at the movie's website.

"Peter" Noppachai Jayanama (Naresuan II, Nymph) and Cris Horwang (Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story, Saturday Killer) star.

There's also a new-face actress in the supporting cast, model "Dream" Chanokporn Sayoung, and she's interviewed (in Thai) in a behind-the-scenes clip that's posted on the Headshot Facebook page.

(Via Film Business Asia, Twitch)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

First Isaan Film Festival, December 17-January 9 at Jim Thompson Farm

Movies about Isaan – Northeast Thailand – are featured in the first Isaan Film Festival, running from December 17 to January 9 in Nakhon Ratchasima.

The selection varies from recent commercial features that celebrate Isaan culture, such as Chalerm Wongpim's rousing 2006 action feature Kon Fai Bin (Dynamite Warrior) and the social drama Kru Bannok (The Country Teacher), to short films like Apichatpong Weerasethakul's A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and works by Wichanon Somunjarn, Krissakorn Thintapthai, Jakrawal Nilthamrong, Pattanapong Chatukate, Boonsong Nakpoo and local students.

Other movies include Tongpan, a 60-minute docu-drama about the construction of a dam and its impact on a poor Isaan farmer. The film was made in the 1970s by a collective of socialist-minded student activists that included director Paijong Laisakul and scriptwriter Kamsing Srinok, and was at one time banned by the communism-fearing Thai government.

There's also Santi Taepanich's Sua Ronghai (Crying Tigers), a 2005 documentary that profiles Isaan people working in Bangkok, among them a movie stuntman, a female taxi driver and a luk thung singer. Crying Tigers actually received a commercial release by Sahamongkol Film.

The fest opens on Friday in Nakhon Ratchasima, the capital of the province that's also known as Korat and is considered to be the gateway to Isaan. The open-air screening will be held in the city's square, which has the monument to Isaan heroine Thao Suranari. The opening program features Surasee Patham's 2010 remake of his 1970s rural schoolhouse drama Kru Bannok. There's short films, including something called Bata Loob Fai (Foot Stroke Against Fire) and then Dynamite Warrior, starring Dan Chupong as a rocket-riding masked vigilante warrior who uses Muay Thai and homemade fireworks to fight buffalo rustlers, an evil steam-engine dealer and a demon wizard portrayed by Panna Rittikrai.

Other programs take place at the Jim Thompson Farm in Pak Thong Chai, Nakhon Ratchasima, as part of the farm's annual open house that also shows off the green agriculture, silk production, Isaan architecture and arts and crafts.

The full festival schedule and other details can be found at the Jim Thompson House website.

Eternity (Chua Fai Din Salai) director's cut is an hour longer

The lush-period potboiler Eternity (Chua Fah Din Salai, ชั่วฟ้าดินสลาย), will become even more epic in a director's cut that's been prepared by ML Bhandevenob Devakula.

The director who's also known as Mom Noi has added one hour to the theatrical version that was released in Thai cinemas back in September.

The director's cut, which will screen for two weeks at Bangkok's House cinema, is said to be a more accurate presentation of Mom Noi's screenplay and will explain more about the motivation of the three characters.

After the Bangkok run, Mom Noi will submit his uncut version to film festivals.

Adapted from a 1943 novella by Malai Choopinit, Chua Fah Din Salai is about a love triangle that develops between a Burmese timber baron, his attractive younger wife and the man's handsome young nephew. Among the iconic images from the story is that of the cheating lovers chained together for eternity. Previous film adaptations include the 1955 version directed by Tawee "Khru Marut" na Bangchang and filmed by Ratana Pestonji.

Ananda Everingham and "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak star as the lovers in this sizzling new adaptation. Theerawong Liawrakwong portrays the uncle.

Chua Fah Din Salai: Director's Cut will run from December 23 to January 5 at House on RCA, showing in digital HD with English subtitles. Tickets are 150 baht.

(Thanks Tee!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eagles and Mitr fly in outdoor movie shows

Thai films will be screened in the classic nang klang plang (open-air) style – including live dubbing – nightly from Friday until December 26 in the Movies on the Beach show at the Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside Bangkok Hotel on Charoenkrung Road.

Filmmaker Pantham Thongsang curates the program, mixing classics with contemporary Thai movies.

The program starts with Khoo Kam, a classic tale of star-crossed lovers during World War II. Many versions of this story have been filmed, and they'll show two of the best remembered – the 1973 version starring Nat Phoowanai and Duangnapha Attapornwisan and 1996's with Thongchai "Bird" McIntyre in the role of a Japanese officer and Apasiri Nitibhon as the Thai woman he's in love with.

Saturday's show will have dueling historical dramas, starting with 1966's Suek Bang Rajan, starring Sombat Metanee in a performance that won him a Tukata Tong (Golden Doll) award, which was handed to him personally by His Majesty the King. Phitsamai Wilaisak also stars. It's in a double-feature bill with Thanit Jitnukul’s blood-soaked battle epic Bang Rajan, which became an international cult hit after its release in 2000.

Sunday will feature the martial-arts exploits of legendary actor Mitr Chaibancha and his leading lady Petchara Chaowarat in the high-flying Hong Kong wire-fu swordfighting fantasy Atsawin Daap Gaaiyasit (อัศวินดาบกายสิทธิ์). According to Thai Worldview, another actor named Chat Chayaphum from Chayaphum province was brought in to complete the film after Mitr died.

During the week, there will be the films by Pantham and Somkiet Vituranich: the talking-dog drama Ma Mha (Mid-Road Gang) on Monday, and 2004's social drama Ai Fak (The Judgement) on Tuesday.

Nonzee Nimibutr's 1997 debut feature Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters about teenage hoodlums in the 1950s (screenplay by Wisit Sasanatieng) shows on Wednesday.

And there's the smash-hit 1970 musical Monrak Luk Thung (Magical Love in the Countryside), starring Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat.

Christmas Eve has more Mitr action in 1970's Insee Tong (Golden Eagle), which features the fateful helicopter stunt that killed Mitr on October 8, 1970. It'll be in a double bill with this year's Insee Dang (The Red Eagle), an action-packed reboot of Mitr's long-running franchise by director Wisit Sasanatieng, featuring Ananda Everingham in the lead role of the masked vigilante crimefighter.

Christmas night will offer spirituality and laughs in the Buddhist monk movies Luang Ta 3: Seeka Khang Wat from 1991 and Luang Phee Theng (The Holy Man).

The program closes with the 2001 romantic drama Khang Lang Phab (Behind the Painting), the final film by the late director Cherd Songsri, starring "Ken" Theeradej Wongpuapan and Cara Pholasit.

Tickets are Bt350 for one screening and Bt450 for two movies on Friday and Saturday. Part of the proceeds will benefit the Thai Film Foundation. Call (02) 688 1000.

Eternity (Teerak), Red Eagle and more set for Rotterdam

The International Film Festival Rotterdam presents its XL edition for its 40th edition this year, and is already unveiling some of its Tiger Awards competition lineup.

Among the selections teased is Eternity (ที่รัก, Tee Rak), Sivaroj Kongsakul's debut feature. Eternity received support from IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund.

There's also Wisit Sasanatiang's The Red Eagle, and Wisit will serve on the jury for the Tiger Awards competition alongside Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, former IFFR director Sandra den Hamer, Romanian filmmaker Andrei Ujica and Sonic Youth musician Lee Ranaldo.

Anocha Suwichakornpong, who won a Tiger Award for her debut feature Mundane History will also be back in Rotterdam, serving on the jury for the Tiger Awards Competition for Short Films. Her latest project, the all-female-director short-film trilogy with China's Wang Jing and Singapore's Kaz Cai, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, will also be shown.

IFFR runs from January 26 to February 6.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mundane History back in New York City

Anocha Suwichakornpong's award-winning family social drama Mundane History is back in New York City, where it's playing in a limited run at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art.

The New York Times' Jeannette Catsoulis gives it review. Here's a snip:

Merging astronomy, Buddhist philosophy, and political and social unrest, Mundane History may carry a modest title, but its ambitions are exactly the opposite. A simple, almost spare family drama told through strong, purposeful images, this first feature from the Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong parallels the emotional dynamic of a single home with the tumult of an entire country
It's screening until Sunday as part of MoMA's ContemporAsian film series.

Ready to be knocked out by Bangkok Knockout

Aside from The Red Eagle, I've been underwhelmed by the offerings of Thai action flicks (*cough Ong-Bak 3 cough*) this year.

So I'm looking forward to this Thursday's local release of B.K.O.: Bangkok Knockout (โคตรสู้ โคตรโส, Koht Soo Koht Soh) as a welcome break from the romantic dramas and cookie-cutter slapstick comedies that are the usual Thai offerings.

Stunt guru Panna Rittikrai, the mentor of Tony Jaa, directs this one, and he's seeking to outdo all the insanely dangerous-looking action he displayed in the 2004 stuntfest Born to Fight.

Among the notable setpieces is a truck stunt that Panna has said was way more complicated to put together than the truck stunt from Born to Fight – you remember the one where the dude almost had his head crushed under a truck's wheel in the final take?

Bangkok Knockout is the story of a college "fight club" whose members are together for a reunion when one of their number is kidnapped. So they have to combine all their mad skilz – Muay Thai, kung fu, capoeira and other forms of badassery – to rescue their friend.

The cast of fighters are mainly guys who've been playing stunt doubles in movies choreographed by Panna and his crew at Prachya Pinkaew's Baa-Ram-Ewe studio. But among the recognizable names, there's Kazu Patrick Tang, the French-Vietnamese martial artist who co-starred with Jija Yanin in Raging Phoenix. Other marquee draws for Thai fans include comedian Kiatisak "Sena Hoi" Udomnak, actress "Kratae" Supaksorn Chiamongkol and veteran action star Sorapong Chatree.

In addition to the English-language trailer, there's also a Thai trailer, and you can watch it here.

Are they or aren't they? Yes or No?

The poster really says it all.

In Yes or No (Yes or No อยากรัก ก็รักเลย, Yes or No, Yak Rak Kor Rak Loei) a college girl named Pie (Sucharat Manaying) has a tomboy named Kim (Supanat Jittaleela) as a roommate

They have their differences at first. The girl thinks the tomboy with the Korean pop-star hair is a guy. They divide their room in half with a line that shall not be crossed.

But they eventually become friends.

And perhaps it will be more than friendship?

There's a trailer and you can watch it here.

Review: Cool Gel Attacks (Kradeub)

  • Directed by Jaturong Phonboo
  • Starring Jaturong Phonbbo, Jim Chuanchuen, Nuttapong Chatpong, Patarasaya Kreusuwansiri
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 2, 2010; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

The sci-fi/horror comedy Cool Gel Attacks (กระดึ้, Kradeub) is a blast of entertainingly cartoonish special effects against the backdrop of a typical Thai situation comedy, with all the usual stereotypes, crude humor, wacky sound effects, goofy slapstick and lots of running around and screaming.

Weird blue maggots attached to an asteriod are somehow mutated when they crash-land in a suburban Bangkok village. With a mouthful of sharp teeth, these one-eyed wonder worms are cartoonish and fun. They range in size from that of an egg up to a submarine sandwich. Though one mother worm is as big as a city bus.

Produced by GTH, Cool Gel Attacks is directed by comedian Jaturong "Mokjok" Phonboo. One of the usual suspects in Thai comedy films, he starred in GTH's cute family comedy earlier this year, The Little Comedian, and gives that film's director Witthaya Thongyooyong a cameo as a newspaper delivery man.

Loosely based on a factual incident of a blue substance falling from the sky, it's the story of feuding neighbors who have to put aside their differences and team up if they are going to defeat the worms from space.

Jaturong's character is Teerachai, the patriarch of a clan of pork-bun makers. The steam from his bakery annoys his neighbor Maew (Jim Chuanchuen), who runs an icehouse. The two trade insults over a rickety picket fence.

Nuttapong Chatpong, who's been featured in the comedy segments of GTH's Phobia movies, is the nephew of icehouse owner Maew. He's in a Romeo-and-Juliet romance with "Peak" Patarasaya Kreusuwansiri, the actress from Yuthlert Sippapak's drama The Last Moment, daughter of the steamed-bun maker.

I have to say, I think Peak is better suited for comedies than weepy melodrama.

There's also a lesbian sister at the bakery who's in a hot and heavy romance with one of the icehouse workers.

Later, a group of gangsters show up, and among their number is an effeminate-acting cross-dressing man, just to check off one of the items on the list of things all Thai comedies must have.

The space slugs first attack pet dog and then try to find their way inside the other inhabitants of the village.

The usual running around and screaming ensues. Sight gags include the stock kicks to the groin, pork buns used as padding in a bra and an alien worm trying to enter a man through his anus. Seems a bit strong for a Rated G movie.

It's entertaining enough, but humor-wise I don't think Cool Gel Attacks is trying hard enough. The potential for a cult-hit in the vein of SARS Wars is there, but it doesn't rise above the level of pedestrian Thai comedy, which may limit its appeal to audiences beyond Asia, though genre festivals might seek it out, just for a few laughs.

Related posts:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Prachya, Jija and Mum join Koreans for 100-million-baht Kick

Ong-Bak and Chocolate helmer Prachya Pinkaew is now at work on a Thai-Korean co-production called The Kick, and according to an article in The Nation on Sunday, it'll be the first Korean martial-arts film.

"We don't have martial-arts films. Most of our action films revolve around gangsters or fights. And there's never been a movie about taekwando before," producer Kang Sung-kyu is quoted as saying.

The movie is budgeted at around 100 million baht, which is more than twice as much as what's usually spent on most Thai studio flicks.

It's a co-production by Sahamongkol Film International and CJ Venture Investment, an arm of the South Korean giant CJ Entertainment.

Raging Phoenix and Chocolate star Jija Yanin has a supporting role in the film. It's worth noting that Jija's first martial-arts training was in taekwondo, and only picked up Muay Thai for the movies. Here, she plays a Muay Thai boxer named Wah Wah, who along with Tony Jaa's comic sidekick Mum Jokmok, trains at taekwondo gym in Bangkok that's owned by a Korean family.

They join the Korean stars, Cho Jae-hyun and Ye Ji-won who portray a couple who've settled down in Thailand to run a Korean restaurant and taekwando school. They have three teenage kids who also get in on the action.

The plot involves Korean gangsters who steal some ancient daggers, and so the plucky family and their Thai friends have to try and stop them.

Veteran Thai producer Sa-nga Chatchairungruang, who had a hand in Fireball and the now-classic Film Bangkok productions like Tears of the Black Tiger, Bangkok Dangerous and Bang Rajan, is co-producing.

"It's an action comedy and appropriate for all ages. It has the ambience of a Jackie Chan movie," Prachya is quoted as saying by The Nation, which could make The Kick similar to Jump, the live stage show that's been a smash-hit in South Korea and worldwide.

Details about The Kick were first broke last month by Twitch, which revealed the news in its coverage of the American Film Market.

Twitch now has their hands on a Korean behind-the-scenes video on the production of The Kick. Go on over there to watch it.

The movie is due out sometime next year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Constitution Day "funeral" for Insects in the Backyard and free expression

What was meant to be an informed and scholarly discussion about censorship and Thailand's confusing film laws, became a protest yesterday after the Culture Ministry sent a letter threatening to impose stiff fines and even jail time for the organizers of the seminar that was to show Insects in the Backyard at the Thai Film Archive.

The letter came from the Department of Cultural Promotion, which said that "every film screened in the Kingdom must first pass the Film and Video Commission."

So the seminar, which coincided with Constitution Day, was turned into a "funeral", during which the elegantly black-clad Tanwarin Sukkhapisit gave a tearful "eulogy" and then a ceremonial "cremation" was held, lighting fire to a disc of the movie. The ashes will be stored at the Thai Film Archive.

Those taking part in the ceremonies included Dorm and Hormones director Songyos Sugmakanan, who heads the Thai Film Director Association, Dome Sukwong, director of the Thai Film Archive, and media activist Supinya Klangnarong.

Instead of Insects, the formerly banned film Tongpan was shown. There was also a panel discussion on the film law, as planned.

A video of the eulogy is at YouTube, and you can watch it below.

Tanwarin, a veteran indie filmmaker, directs and stars in this family drama, portraying a sad and deluded transvestite father of a teenage daughter and son. The movie has strong depictions of sexual acts as the two youngsters address their confused sexuality and rebel against their cross-dressing dad by entering the prostitution trade. There's masturbation, a strap-on dildo and a brief glimpse of the director's penis. But there's also tears and even a bit of optimism.

A magnum opus by the director, Tanwarin has said Insects in the Backyard was made to address the issues of gay discrimination that persist in Thai society.

The movie was selected for the Dragons and Tigers competition at the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it premiered, and also screened at the recent World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Working with Bioscope magazine's Indy Spirit project, which earlier this year obtained a local limited release for Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Tanwarin's been aiming to release Insects under Thailand's most-restrictive 20- rating, which would limit the film to viewers aged 20 and older only.

This has been met with bureaucratic resistance, with Culture Ministry authorities saying the film is "contrary to morality". In the bureaucracy's confusing labyrinth of sub-committees and boards, Insects has already been turned down twice.

Employing kind of double-talk that you might find in Orwell's 1984, MiniCult says Insects isn't officially banned, "we just didn't give it permission to screen".

According to a story in The Nation today, Insects in the Backyard comes up for appeal for a third time before the Culture Ministry's full National Film Board on Monday. The story offers a glimmer of hope that the movie might be passed for release.

I'll believe it when I get to see it playing at a multiplex near me.

You can keep up with Insects in the Backyard at Facebook.

Update: Rikker has translated the eulogy.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post also had a story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cinemanila 2010: Hope for a Red Eagle sequel

The 12th annual Cinemanila International Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday, with Wisit Sasanatieng's The Red Eagle among the line-up.

Insee Dang himself, Ananda Everingham, was in attendance, and did a Q&A after the screening. According to Twitter, he said:

"If Wisit makes nice with Five Star, then the sequel will film in 2011." He also shared that Sahamongkol is interested in sequel.

So maybe there will be The Red Eagle: War of the Deadly Psychobots. I guess I still have a slim hope.

Ananda also took time out to talk to the press, talking about Filipino films and the possibility of his planned collaboration with Adolf Alex Jr. on a Spratlys Islands drama, Kalayaan.

Cinemanila opened this year with the Taiwanese comedy Pinoy Sunday and closed with John Sayles' Philippine-American war movie Amigo – two foreign films featuring Filipino actors and telling Filipino stories.

Suffering budget problems, the festival ran just five days this year, and come together at the last minute, according to Film Business Asia.

At the opening ceremony, the festival's founding director, Amable "Tikoy" Aguiluz, stated that "Cinemanila is like Philippine cinema, always in crisis mode, always in trouble, but somehow, someway, always pulling through".

Screening fees are blamed for being the biggest drain on the budget. Read the Film Business Asia article for more on that.

(Photo via Hammered Thor)

Luang Prabang Film Festival 2010: Festival notes

I was invited to attend the opening weekend of the Luang Prabang Film Festival, which is screening 23 Southeast Asian films until Saturday.

The fest got me a deal on a Lao Airlines flight (one of the sponsors) and put me up at a My Lao Home guesthouse (another sponsor). So many thanks to the director, Gabriel Kuperman, for inviting me and putting on what hopefully will be an annual event.

I wrote up a story about it for The Nation, and it's in the paper today. Here's a snip:

The fest, the first-ever in Laos’ Unesco World Heritage city, flickered to life over the weekend, showing films from neighbouring nations in the hopes of getting Laotian people interested in making movies.

In fact, they already are. The opener on Saturday night was an exuberant compilation of 15 one-minute films made by children in Luang Prabang. They played to an audience of 1,000 that filled the 800 seats in the City Market Square and spilled out around the edges. Passersby would pause on their way to the walking-street night market.

The Oneminute Junior programme, put together by Unicef and various other cultural organisations, was under the theme of “Daily Life in Dreams”. The short subjects ranged from a public-service message about wearing motorcycle helmets to mini-profiles of artisans.

One of the most entertaining was Be Careful!, an animation of an aeroplane, similar to the tiny twin-propeller aircraft that buzzed past the open-air festival venue on take-offs and landings at the city’s international airport. The crayon drawings of the plane flying through a thunderstorm in the mountains were moved by hand in front of the camera while the noise of the aeroplane and storm were imitated by vocal sound-effects that had the audience in stitches.

Made just last month in a Luang Prabang workshop, it was the first time many of the children had ever held a video camera, says Kuperman, who’s been in Laos since 2008.

Other shorts gave voice to the children’s dreams, of becoming a teacher or owning a computer shop. Maybe now, some of the children will dream to be filmmakers.

I think the short films were my favorite of the festival, and would recommend the package to other festival programmers. It's not every day you see a film from Laos.

I'd seen most of the other films already.

The opening feature was the Irish documentary Today is Better Than Two Tomorrows, which was filmed in Laos by director Anna Rodgers. Beautifully shot and interspersed with philosophical quotations, it's an intimate portrait of two boys who seem destined to live the same hand-to-mouth existence as subsistence farmers as their parents. An uncle convinces the families to send the boys to Luang Prabang. One enters the monkhood, where he'll spend 10 years in meditation and getting an education. The other attends a school. I was grateful for the scenes that showed the temples and monastic life around Luang Prabang. Because I was on a working weekend, and concerned with covering the festival, I didn't take much time out for touristy things like visiting the temples.

On the van ride from the airport, I ran into Stirling Silliphant, who I became acquainted with years ago when he was living in Bangkok and playing in a co-worker's rock band, the Eastbound Downers. Stirling, son of the famous screenwriter, was there representing the Vietnam-based Indochina Film Arts Foundation, one of the festival's "gold sponsors".

I also met Blaine Johnson, who was providing technical support for Open Air Cinema, an American company that specializes in inflatable movie screens for outdoor screenings. While the once-popular outdoor cinema screenings are becoming thing of the past in Thailand, Blaine says they are all the rage in the U.S., where park districts put on shows. For the Luang Prabang fest, Jay had a conventional fixed screen, 20 feet by 11.5 feet, which was a bit small. But that was within the small budget of the festival. A large Sony projector provided by Lao Star TV beamed the images from DVD files ripped onto a laptop.

Lao pop singer Alexandra Bounxouei was the mistress of ceremonies on opening night, providing bilingual translation of the speeches by Kuperman and the various Lao government dignitaries.

There were only a few noticeable technical difficulties. Moisture in the projector lens made a red splotch on the screen that sometimes made it look like someone's head was bleeding.

And sadly, one of the films playing this weekend that I hadn't seen, Kelvin Tong's Singaporean ghost thriller The Maid, had a problem with its file, which had apparently been ripped from VCD and send on a DVD. It was pixellated and running poorly and then gave up the ghost entirely about halfway through. I had a great time watching it with the Lao kids in the crowd, who screamed and covered their eyes to keep from being scared.

Later in the evening, for movies like Adrift from Vietnam or Karaoke from Malaysia, the audience tended to drift away, but like any festival, there's a hard-core of die-hard viewers who'll watch them all.

The Lao movies like Sabaidee Luang Prabang starring Ananda Everingham tended to attract the biggest audiences, showing there's a hunger for local movies.