Friday, June 28, 2013

Boundary opens under unusual conditions

A forlorn Nontawat sells tickets at his table in the Major Cineplex Airport Plaza lobby. Photo via Facebook.

Boundary has started a limited run in Thai cinemas that almost didn't happen.

Nontawat Numbenchapol's controversial documentary on the Thai-Cambodian border conflict was set to have its official Thai premiere for press and VIPs on Monday at Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada when it appeared it might be cancelled.

Apparently, Major Cineplex, having agreed to screen Boundary in its theaters, had second thoughts, given the film's sensitive political topic.

After some discussion, Nontawat struck a new deal with Major that would still let him show the film, but he'd have to handle ticket sales himself – an unusual situation that means extra hassles for the young indie filmmaker.

"There was a misunderstanding about the press screening at Esplanade Cineplex. Bioscope magazine [as a distributor] and myself rent the theater for screening. The cinema operator itself has no responsibility," Nontawat is quoted as saying in The Nation.

Major Cineplex is also hosting screenings of Passakorn Pramoolwong and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's political documentary Pachatipathai (ประชาธิปไตย, a.k.a. Paradoxocracy).

I've heard rumors that the theater-chain's top brass have come under pressure for showing Pachatipathai – pressure that then led to the change of heart on Boundary. However, many advance tickets for Pachatipathai had been sold through Major's box offices, making it more difficult to pull that film without creating yet another international uproar about the Thai government's censorship.

Pachatipathai has been cleared by censors, who passed it with a G rating. But I suppose it's still possible that the theater chain could come under extralegal pressure to remove it. It's screening at 2 and 8 daily until July 10 at Paragon Cineplex (with English subtitles) and Esplanade Ratchada (no subs when I checked on Tuesday).

Boundary attained its 18+ rating only after a confusing go-round with the Film and Video sub-committee that initially banned it but then unbanned it. So this latest episode only adds to the film's mystique.

After it wraps up its run at Major Cineplex Airport Plaza in Chiang Mai on Sunday, Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง, Fahtum Pandinsoong) moves to the EGV Tesco Lotus in Khon Kaen on July 6 and 7 and then Major Cineplex Udon Thani on July 13 and 14. It's scheduled to return to Bangkok on July 18 for a run at the Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada.

Check the movie's Facebook page for details on booking tickets.

They don’t know what they did Last Summer

Three high-schoolers are haunted by the spirit of a star pupil in Last Summer (ฤดูร้อนนั้น ฉันตาย, Rue Doo Ron Nan Chan Tai), the first release by a new production shingle, Talent 1 Movie Studio. It opened in Thai cinemas this week.

Scripted by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee – the nearest thing to a rock-star screenwriter there is in the Thai film biz – the story is told in three acts. Each is handled by a different director – Saranyoo Jiralak, Sittisiri Mongkolsiri and Kittithat Tangsirikit – with the focus on one of the three young actors, Jirayu La-ongmanee, Suthata Udomsilp and Krit Sathapanapitakkij.

Industry veteran Rutaiwan Wongsirasawad (Oops, There's Dad) contributes her steady hand as producer, along with Pimpaka Towira and Kongdej. Further behind-the-scenes technical help came from indie film figures Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town), Soros Sukhum (P-047) and Pawas Sawatchaiyamet (Headshot) who all served as line producers.

Talent 1 is backed by Major Cineplex Group and run by Laddawan Rattanadilokchai, former head of GMM Grammy's now-shuttered Bliss Publishing.

There's an English-subtitled trailer embedded below.

Marathon 17 starts Tuesday

One of the defining characteristics of the Thai Film Foundation's annual Thai Short Film and Video Festival is the Marathon, in which all the films submitted are shown over the course of the month before the festival.

I don’t know of any other film festival that does this sort of thing.

Numbering around 450 entries, this year’s Marathon starts on Tuesday. Screenings will be in the FA Cinematheque on the second floor of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 8.30 and Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 11am to 8.30pm.

The 17th Thai Short and Video Festival is set for August 22 to September 1 at the BACC. For more details, check

Drive away from 9FilmFest in a new car

The 9FilmFest is back for its third edition, this year offering the grand prize of a car, thanks to its new sponsor, Toyota.

Now called the Style by Toyota 9FilmFest, the annual short-film competition challenges filmmakers to craft a nine-minute movie that incorporates the festival’s “signature item”, which changes every year.

This time around, the “9SI” is “waterway”, which means the films must somehow feature a river, stream or a canal – moving-water features that are easy to find around Thailand.

“The symbol ensures that the films have been created for our festival,” says Brian Bennett, who created the 9FilmFest in 2011. A seasoned festival hand, he founded the original Bangkok Film Festival in 1998.

The maker of the best film will drive away in “a brand new Toyota Vios”.

Picking the driver will be a jury that’s set to include actor Ananda Everingham, film critics Kong Rithdee and John Anderson, directors Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Prachya Pinkaew, Areeya Chumsai and Adam Yukol and producer Yuthana Boonorm.

To get contestants ready, the festival will hold workshops over the next several weeks. Here's the schedule:

  • July 6 – “Where does Inspiration come from?” with producer-director Pop Areeya and “How to shoot a documentary”. Bennett will explain “Rules of entry, Guidelines, What it takes to be a finalist.”
  • July 13 – “Good scripts, make good films?" with Wych Kaosayananda and Prachya Pinkaew.
  • July 27 – "Can we live without Pre-Production? How?” with Adam Yukol.
  • July 31 – Acting workshop with Kaprice Kea, acting coach, Fluid Co. Ltd.
  • August 3 – “The Importance of Teamwork”  with Wych Kaosayananda.
  • August 7 – “Winning 2012 Amazing Thailand 9FilmFest” with Wattanapong Wongwan, director of Video Call
  • August 10 – “Who wants to be a director?” with Tanwarin Sukkhapisit.
  • August 24 – “Adobe Creative Cloud" with Adobe Team, Adobe Premiere Pro.

There will also be movie nights, showing finalist and semi-finalist 9FilmFest entreis from past years. Here's the schedule:

  • July 26 – 9FilmFest Finalists 2011
  • August 14 – 9FilmFest Semi-Finalists 2012
  • August 21 –  9FilmFest Semi-Finalists 2012
  • August 28 –  9FilmFest Finalists 2012

The deadline for entries in this year's festival is August 15 with the nine finalist films unspooling on September 21 and 22 at Paragon Cineplex. For more details, visit

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pen-ek's Paradoxocracy comes to cinemas on Monday

Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิปไตยPachatipathai), Pen-ek Ratanaruang's much-anticipated documentary on Thai politics, opens in Bangkok cinemas on Monday, June 24, the 81st anniversary of Thailand becoming a constitutional monarchy.

The limited run lasts until July 10, with screenings at 2 and 8pm daily at Paragon Cineplex and Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada.

On Paradoxocracy, Pen-ek collaborates with Pasakorn Pramoolwong, formerly of A Day magazine, to cover Thailand's contemporary political history. The film is a mix of archive footage, narration and interviews with various academics and activists, surveying the tumultuous times since the constitutional monarchy was established in 1932.

Paradoxocracy was submitted to censors and had a few cuts ordered. In a bold and interesting move, no footage was actually cut, but words or phrases deemed inappropriate by censors have been muted and subtitles crossed out so you'll at least see that there's censorship going on. And, if you can read lips (in Thai), you still might understand what's being said.

By accounts I've seen of the film, in the Bangkok Post and The Nation, it's classic Pen-ek, bearing the same sly humor you'll find in his fictional features.

The trailer is embedded in a previous post, but you can also watch it on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Boundary sets Thai release, in Yamagata competition

Boundary, the controversial documentary on the Thai-Cambodian border dispute and Thailand's red-and-yellow political divide, will tour the Kingdom this month and next.

Along with getting a snazzy new poster, Nontawat Numbenchapol's film has also been picked up for the competition at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in October.

In Thailand, Boundary's tour starts on June 27 at the Major Cineplex Airport Plaza in Chiang Mai, where it runs until July 3. It'll then move to the EGV Tesco Lotus in Khon Kaen from July 4 to 10, Major Cineplex Udon Thani from July 11 to 17 and then finish up at the Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada in Bangkok from July 18 onwards.

Boundary premiered earlier this year at the Berlin International Film Festival and then screened in Thailand as part of the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival. Nontawat then submitted it to be rated for a commercial release. The ratings sub-committee initially deemed it too politically sensitive and banned it, but then two days later the bureaucrats admitted they'd made a mistake – a historic moment in Thai government – and allowed Boundary to be released with only a bit of censorship.

But even though Boundary was not banned after all, the incident spurred other filmmakers into action and breathed new life into the Free Thai Cinema Movement, headed up by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Al-Jazeera covers all that in a recent news segment (embedded below).

On Region 1 DVD: This Girl Is Badass

Continuing to mine Sahamongkolfilm's back catalog for anything that's Thai and has a bit of action, Magnet Releasing has put the comedy Jakkalan (จั๊กกะแหล๋น), a.k.a. This Girl Is Badass, on English-friendly DVD and Blu-ray in North America.

Folks overseas might be forgiven if they think this is a new film from Chocolate star Jeeja Yanin, but it's actually from 2011, and I didn't like it much back then.

Though there are cool scenes of Jeeja using a bicycle as a weapon, the action and stunts are too few and far between lame gags by the director Petthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao. Subsequent reviews have been even less kind.

Still, if you're a fan of Jeeja and not sure you can wait for Tom-Yum-Goong 2 to come out (who knows if she's actually in it?), This Girl Is Badass may help tide you over.

The Region A/1 release includes the original soundtrack, English subtitles, an English dub and a making-of as an extra.

Jeeja, meanwhile has been settling into motherhood, with a little boy that arrived around nine months after she met assistant director Andrient Bowden on the set of Tom-Yum-Goong 2. They're now married and Jeeja is getting back in fighting shape with an aim to start work on the long-delayed Chocolate 2 in the next couple of years.

Banjong in the Roughcut for Tropfest SEA

Gearing up for the next year's regional edition of Australia's Tropfest short-film festival, Tropfest Southeast Asia has put together Roughcut, a film symposium and screening for film professionals, educators, enthusiasts and short-film consumers and producers in the region.

Set for June 28 at the at the Performing Arts Centre of Penang in Malaysia, the full-day symposium will feature Pee Mak Phra Khanong director Banjong Pisanthanakun on a panel that also includes Tropfest International managing director Michael Laverty, Filipino director Sheron Dayoc (Ways of the Sea), Griffith Film School's Herman Van Eyken and Malaysian director Azharr Rudin.

Roughcut also features a three-hour masterclass by cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Free public screenings will be held on June 29 in the compounds of two of George Town's heritage buildings – St. Joseph's Novitiate and in the city's oldest clan temple, featuring 10 Lessons in Film with Van Eyken and short film screenings curated by VIDDSEE.COM and Tropfest.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Angels (Nang Fah)

  • Directed by Bongkot Kongmalai and Viroj Sristsereeamorn
  • Starring Julaluck Julanon, Ratha Pho-ngam, Bongkot Kongmalai, Chalad na Songkhla, Mariano Consentino
  • Released in Thai cinemas on June 6, 2013; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Actress "Tak" Bongkot Kongmalai offers a glimpse into her weird mind with her feature directorial debut, Angels (นางฟ้า, Nang Fah), an erotic drama about three dancers in a Pattaya cabaret.

One scene in particular made me wonder whether it had any symbolism about what Tak thinks of her career as an actress and the sexpot roles that get thrown at her.

But Angels is one of those twist-filled movies that's difficult to explain without revealing the twists, though if you know anything about the history of movies you can probably guess what they are.

The story centers on Mint (Julaluk Julanon), and toggles back and forth from her dance-hall days to the present, when she is happily running an upscale floral-arrangement business and sending her teenage son Kao to a pricey international school. Fourteen years before, Mint was working in a Pattaya cabaret with the lead dancer and choreographer Roong (Ratha Pho-ngam) and her friend Fern, a young deaf woman played by Tak herself.

A pet project of Tak's, Angels was made over the past year or so, sometime in between parts one and two of the Jan Dara remake that Tak starred in, along with Ratha. It's been a busy time. Along with writing, co-directing and co-starring in the movie, Tak has also been wooed by and married to one of Thailand's biggest tycoons, Boonchai Bencharongkul. She also put on weight, leading her to finally reveal that she was pregnant.

And in Angels Tak is heavier in some scenes than others. But she keeps on dancing – indeed, several dance numbers pad out the narrative – and Tak makes judicious use of artful lighting, shadows and costuming.

She gets help behind the lens from seasoned TV helmer and assistant director Viroj Sristsereeamorn. In front of the camera, Tak's character Fern is a deaf woman who becomes mentally unwound. Her performance is a call-back to earlier actressy roles she's played, such as the crazy exhibitionist in 2004's Ai-Fak or the blind homeless woman in Wisit Sasanatieng's Sawasdee Bangkok short in 2009.

Tak's Jan Dara co-star Ratha isn't given much to do, except be the strong-willed and bossy leader. She's soon out of the picture as she's whisked away to Germany by her foreigner boyfriend.

So it falls on Julaluk to bear most of the dramatic load as the doting mother of Kao (Mariano Consentino), a schoolboy who has reached that certain age where he's wondering who is father is and why his mother has partnered up with a gay man.

By coincidence, Kao – a Muay Thai fighter who prefers his English nickname "Nine" – has a crush on his classmate Sophie. Her disapproving father is Sharif, a foreigner businessman played with sneering menace by periennial heavy Chalad na Songkhla. Sharif is a shadowy figure from Mint's past – a former customer who paid great stacks of cash to "see" one of the dancers "outside" of the club.

The sordid story of the events that led to Kao's birth is then spilled by Mint to the boy as a flashback, which features ultimately off-putting imagery that you'll likely wish you never saw. The truth is crushing for Kao. His entire life has been built on a lie and he sees no reason to keep hanging around.

The narrative then falls apart quickly and clumsily as Kao goes to live on the beach with his real mother and he is told the truth about his stepmother. There's then a rush to somehow salvage what is ultimately a depressingly tragic tale with an uplifting ending and a positive message.

Angels is not a great film, but I ended up sort of liking it anyway, just for its sheer audaciousness. It's a bold directorial debut by Tak, but now that she's gotten it off her chest and entered a new phase of her life with marriage and motherhood, I wonder if anything else she's compelled to share will be half as interesting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Censor Must Die

  • Directed by Ing K.
  • Screened on June 1, 2013 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Censors may not get past the title of the latest documentary by provocative filmmakers Ing K. and Manit Sriwanichpoom.

Nonetheless, Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย) is a comprehensive look at the controversial duo's fight to screen their Macbeth adaptation Shakespeare Must Die. It's been banned by censors who feared was too divisive and posed a threat to national security.

At 2.5 hours, Censor Must Die is an exhaustive and instructive behind-the-scenes look at a brand-new bureaucracy, which was created by the Culture Ministry to support the new film-ratings system that came into effect in 2009. While new law did away with the broad brush of old-fashioned censorship, instead offering age advisories to audiences, it retained a vestige of the old authoritarian ways – the provision to outright ban a film.

Shakespeare was hit with the ban because of politics, though no one will come right out and admit it. It's the story of a theater troupe attempting to stage Macbeth. They run into conflict with the megalomaniacal leader of their fictional land. He is widely assumed to resemble Thailand's ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The film had been funded by the Culture Ministry under a scheme of the government that eventually replaced the junta that threw out Thaksin. But by the time Shakespeare Must Die got around to be submitted to censors, Thaksin's sister had been swept into power by the populist "red shirt" movement.

Shakespeare has been blocked at every step of the process, even though the bureaucrats applaud the film itself and its translation of the Bard's words.

Ing K.'s camera mainly follows Manit around as he shuffles from office to office and plays the waiting game. Eventually, the paper trail takes them to the Culture Ministry, a bizarre place where for some reason people are sitting around in the lobby, waiting their turn for something. It's like they are in a public hospital or a bus station.

As a surreal, Orwellian aside, there's MiniCult video playing in the lobby, which instructs Thais how to properly sit.

At one point, Manit and Ing K. are riding in their car and are caught in a traffic jam. This gives them time to discuss their case. And, coincidentally, they happen to be stuck in the roundabout at Democracy Monument, which symbolizes the Thai Constitution.

At another point, the film switches to audio of Ing K. testifying before a Senate sub-committee. She breaks down into tears, bawling as she wonders why it's only filmmakers who are persecuted and denied the freedom of speech that's accorded under the Constitution.

Although not yet cleared for theatrical release, Censor Must Die was shown on June 1 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center as part of the Freedom on Film seminar organized by the Free Thai Cinema Movement.

See also:

Related posts:

Review: Young Bao

  • Directed by R. Jo
  • Starring Thana Iamniyom, Arak Amonsupasiri, Pawalit Mongkolpisit, Chulachak Chakrabongse, Supawon Kitsuwon, Somchai Kemklad, Pitisak Yaowanon
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 30, 2013; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

The formation of Thailand' popular songs-for-life band Carabao (คาราบาว) takes on mythical proportions in the biographical drama Young Bao (ยังบาว เดอะมูฟวี่ ), which was made as part of efforts celebrating Carabao's 30 years in show business.

The film project got off to a rocky start after it was announced last year. Initially, charismatic singer Atiwara "Toon" Kongmalai of the group Bodyslam was cast as Carabao frontman Yuenyong "Ad" Ophakul. It seemed like a perfect choice, because, after all, Toon is a nephew of Ad. But Toon dropped out and was replaced by newcomer actor Thana Iamniyom.

Nonzee Nimibutr was introduced as a producer, but he dropped out too. Eventually, the job fell to veteran director Thanit Jitnukul. The director is a newcomer, Yuthtagon Sookamonktapa, credited as "R-Jo".

As Ad Carabao, Thana is as inert as his whispy mustache. Ad in real life is pretty outspoken and mercurial, but in the movie, the singer-songwriter is so brooding and quiet he hardly registers. It's hard to believe he united a disparate group of musicians to form his band.

Thankfully, Thana is surrounded by a cast of seasoned actors and actor-musicians who all tease out their hair and paste on mustaches and beards to get into their roles.

The strongest support comes from Pawalit Mongkolpisit, star of the original Bangkok Dangerous. He plays Keo Carabao, who first encounters Ad at university in Manila. It's from there where Carabao got its name, from the Tagalog word for the water buffalo, which in the Philippines is revered as a symbol of the hard work and strength of the common people (unlike in Thailand where the word for buffalo, kwai, is a synonym for "stupid" commoners). The band pledges their unity at the carabao statue in Manila's Rizal Park.

With around a dozen or so members, a Carabao biopic is a pretty unwieldy prospect, and Young Bao is on the lengthy side as it attempts to fill in the back stories of Ad and the others. It's also potentially controversial, as the history of the songs-for-life (เพลงเพื่อชีวิต, pleng puea chiwit) genre and Carabao are intertwined with the student democracy protests and the communist movement of the mid-1970s. The politically sensitive aspects of the tale are likely why the film was given the 18+ rating.

After returning from the Philippines, Ad and Keo go their separate ways but eventually meet again in the Bangkok music scene. They encounter lead guitarist Preecha "Lek" Chanapai, ably portrayed by musician-actor "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri. Lek is in a band called The President that plays "string" music, a popular genre of the day that mainly consisted of Western rock and funk covers. He's dressed in an outfit that looks like something the Commodores might wear. Lek and his bandmates end up backing Ad in the studio and then some of them follow to join Carabao, among them studio whiz and bassist Anupong "Ot" Prathompatama (Pitisak Yaowanon).

Others include session keyboardist "Ajarn" Thanit Siklindi (Supawon Kitsuwon), rock 'n' roll drummer Amnaat "Pao" Luukjan (Somchai Kemklad), and guitarist-singer Thierry Mekwattana ("Hugo" Chulachak Chakrabongse).

Carabao's early struggles involved a fight for acceptance in a music scene that actually discouraged Thai lyrics in favor of Western pop hits. But, like the water buffalo, they kept plowing away, eventually finding their audience. As more and more members were added, the band's folksy songs-for-life sound evolved, adding in the "string" music funk and rock sounds as well as traditional Thai music. They even incorporated luk thung (Thai country) sounds, playing as a backing band for a record producer's female singer.

Backstories include Ad's time living in the forests with the communists. He apparently was sent to school in the Philippines to get him away from that scene. Lek is depicted as having been caught up in the bloody October 1976 crackdown on the student democracy demonstrations. And Thierry, played in a screen debut by pop musician Hugo, struggles with discrimination because of his mixed racial heritage.

Recent songs-for-life concerts have been marred by brawls between audience members, action that goes against the easy-going songs about the common man, such as Carabao's "Drunken Uncle", and odes to nationalist unity, like Carabao's mega-hit "Made in Thailand". And apparently audience brawls were common in Carabao's early days, with trade-school students planning to attend the concerts for the sole purpose of starting fights and blowing off steam. Lek, Ad and the boys make a vain attempt to stop the fights but have little effect. They can't even stop fighting among themselves.

Eventually it's up to Ad to unite the group and take them to the next phase. It leads them back to the Philippines and Rizal Park and everyone taking the family name of Carabao.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pee Mak earns 1 billion, gets decent reviews in Hong Kong

Pee Mak Phra Khanong, the ghost comedy that has thundered its way into the box-office record books in Thailand, has earned 1 billion baht, according to social-media promotions from studio GTH.

And the cash is still rolling in as the movie generates waves of laughter across the region. Pee Mak opens this week in Malaysia and next week in Singapore.

It opened in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago, and a couple of reviews have surfaced.

Twitch's Hong Kong-based Asian editor, James Marsh, who's never gone easy on Thai films, surprisingly liked Pee Mak:

"Re-inventing a classic Thai ghost story into a goofball comedy romance, seasoned director Banjong Pisanthanakun has scored a huge box office hit in his native Thailand. While unlikely to do the same kind of business outside South East Asia, Pee Mak Phra Khanong is nevertheless an enjoyable and frequently laugh-out-loud crowd pleaser.

While praising lead actress Davika Hoorne, who plays the stretchy-armed ghost, Marshy reserved his negative views for Mario Maurer's performance and for the film's 115-minute length, in which all the running around and screaming begins to get old. Read the whole thing at Twitch.

Another review comes from Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, and it's generally positive.