Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Crowdfunded documentary Silent Waters looks back on 2004 tsunami

This coming December 26 will mark the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, a disaster that sent deadly waves rippling through the region and causing much devastation, including Thailand's tourism hotspots of Khao Lak and Phuket.

A documentary on the Boxing Day tsunami is in the works, Silent Waters. It focuses on largely overlooked fishing villages and sees how lives there have changed over the past 10 years, especially for folks who lost families, homes and livelihoods.

The director is Mike Thomas, a Thailand-based English expat who previously made Living with the Tiger, a documentary on HIV-positive orphans performing in a travelling musical play. Made in 2011, Living with the Tiger made the rounds in Thailand's international community and played a few festivals.

For Silent Waters, Thomas says he's completed many interviews and filmed a lot of footage, but he wants to make a couple more trips with hopes of getting hold of a helicopter drone camera to capture the stunning scenery. And then there will be post-production work to get the film up to broadcast quality.

So there's a crowdfunding campaign. With just nine days left, the project has reached around 10 percent of its goal of 320,000 baht.

Find out more from a promo video, embedded below, and keep track of the project on Facebook.

Monday, July 21, 2014

In memoriam: Panna Rittikrai, 1961-2014

Panna Rittikrai (พันนา ฤทธิไกร), the martial-arts choreographer who put Thai action movies on the world cinema map, has died.

According to The Nation, Panna died from liver disease on Sunday afternoon in a Bangkok hospital. He was 53, and had been battling illness since last November. Other reports can be found at Bangkok Post, Film Business Asia, Twitch and Film Combat Syndicate.

Tributes poured in on Twitter, most notably from Panna's former protégé Tony Jaa, who worked with Panna on B-movie action flicks for a decade before they made Ong-Bak in 2003, and kicked the Thai movie industry into high gear:

Another fitting tribute came from director Gareth Evans, who made the Indonesian martial-arts franchise The Raid:

Evans also posted a link to the Dragon Dynasty trailer for 2004's Born to Fight. One of Panna's best movies, it's a sizzle reel of everything that is amazing about his innovations, which often took actors and stunt performers to the edge of danger – the truck wheel misses his head by just that much.

Converging movements, such as groups of fighters lunging toward each other from each side of the frame, explosions, flaming objects and crazy car and bike stunts are other Panna Rittikrai trademarks. It's stuff Michael Bay dreams of, but only does digitally. With Panna, the stunts were real and human, and the stakes were high.

Born in 1961 in Khon Kaen, Panna headed to Bangkok in 1979 to work in the movie business, starting out training actors how to do action. After a few years of that, he put together his own stunt team and headed back to his hometown. Taking inspiration from the films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and the Bond movies, he ground out a series of gritty B-grade action flicks that played second run houses in Bangkok but were vastly more popular in Panna's native Northeast. It was during this period that he met Tony Jaa and started working with him. Titles from this era include Spirited Killer and Hard Gun, and after Ong-Bak was a hit, such DVD labels as BCI Eclipse started mining Panna's back-catalog.

When the boom years of the "Thai New Wave" hit in the late 1990s and early aughts, Panna and Jaa figured they had enough footage to impress a big Thai studio. Producer-director Prachya Pinkaew got ahold of some, took it to Sahamongkol Film International, and Ong-Bak was born, becoming a worldwide phenomenon and jump-starting the Thai action-film industry.

Jaa's lost-elephant adventure Tom-Yum-Goong (a.k.a. The Protector or Warrior King) followed.

Panna and his team were also kept busy on all sorts of other Sahamongkol projects, such as stringing comedian Mum Jokmok up on wires for the rollicking action-comedy The Bodyguard or teaching Ananda Everingham to swordfight in the Rashomon remake The Outrage.

Among the best of this period was the aforementioned Born to Fight (Gerd Ma Lui, เกิดมาลุย), a remake in name only of one of his 1980s films. The 2004 version introduced another of Panna's protégés, "Diew" Chupong Changprang, playing a Muay Thai champ who goes to a village with a bunch of Thai national athletes, including a female taekwondo champion ("Nui" Kessarin Ektawatkul), a sepak tawkraw kicker, a rugby tough and a gymnast (take that Gymkata!). There's even a little girl Muay Thai fighter – "Katt" Sasisa Jindamanee. She would later turn up in a couple more of Panna's projects, Somtum with wrestler and Tom-Yum-Goong fighter Nathan Jones, and Power Kids.

Other notable efforts by Panna and his team included Chocolate, which introduced martial-arts pixie Jeeja Yanin to the world.

One of my favorites is Dynamite Warrior, which marked Panna's return to acting after a couple of decades. He played an evil sorcerer who needs the menstrual blood of a virgin in order to cast a spell.. Diew Chupong tangles with him, along with water buffalo rustlers, a giant cannibalistic criminal and a hi-so steam-tractor dealer with a lisp.

Meanwhile, Jaa was endeavoring to strike out on his own as star, director and action choreographer on Ong-Bak 2, a historical-epic origin tale of the first Ong-Bak. Delays and budget overruns put pressure on Jaa, and he had his infamous meltdown. Panna was called in by Sahamongkol Film honcho Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techarattanaprasert to play peacemaker and get the project back on track as a co-director.

From that point, Jaa's relationship with Sia Jiang become strained, though he did a few more films for the studio with Panna's steady hand. Ong-Bak 3 followed, and then a hiatus while Jaa got married and started a family.

There was Tom-Yum-Goong 2, and the "eastern western" A Man Will Rise with Jaa and Dolph Lundgren. Panna handled the action, and it was produced by Sahamongkol.

But now that Jaa has split from Sahamongkol in order to work in Hollywood and Hong Kong, it seems unlikely A Man Will Rise will get a release anytime soon.

And, there's another Panna Rittikrai action film already in the can, completed last year before he became ill – Rew Talu Rew (เร็วทะลุเร็ว , a.k.a. Vengeance of an Assassin). According to Film Business Asia, it stars Panna's Born to Fight leads, Diew Chupong and Nui Kessarin; he's a hitman who goes on the run after he is ordered to kill a woman under his protection.

There's plenty of other tributes around the Web. Hit the various links at the top of the article. And though I won't link to them, there's hospital photos of Panna. They are sad, but Tony Jaa did go visit him.

I'll leave you with a behind-the-scenes featurette from Bangkok Knockout, showing the master at work.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Apichatpong-a-rama: Cemetery of Kings backed by WCF, male farang cast sought

Courtesy of Kick the Machine.

Cemetery of Kings, the upcoming new feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, has received backing from the Berlin International Film Festival's World Cinema Fund.

Receiving 30,000 euro for production from WCF, Cemetery of Kings deals with a strange sleeping sickness that befalls soldiers. A local woman – Apichatpong's long-time leading actress Jenjira Widner – pitches in to help.

The project was previously touted at last year's Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum. It has also been supported by the Rotterdam fest's Hubert Bals Fund.

Film Business Asia has more details of other WCF recipients.

Under production in Apichatpong's hometown of Khon Kaen, Cemetery of Kings is also seeking male farang cast members, ages 30 to 55, who can speak a bit of Thai. No acting experience is necessary.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Relaunched Silpathorn Awards honor Kongdej

Award-winning writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee (คงเดช จาตุรันต์รัศมี) will add another piece of hardware to his trophy shelf – the Silpathorn Award – announced yesterday during a press conference at the Culture Ministry's new Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Centre in Bangkok.

The Silpathorn, honoring mid-career Thai contemporary artists, was inaugurated 10 years ago by the ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC). It was presented annually until 2010, and has been on hiatus for the past four years.

For Kongdej, the Silpathorn adds to his haul this year for his latest film, Tang Wong (ตั้งวง), an indie drama that critiqued contemporary Thai culture with a story about four teenage boys who have to learn a traditional dance in order to fulfill a vow to a spirit-house shrine. Made with the support of the OCAC, Tang Wong premiered in last year's Berlin fest, and went on to win several awards at home, including four Golden Swans at the Subhanahongsa Awards, as well as gongs from the Bangkok Critics Assembly and the Thai Director Association.

Tang Wong was Kongdej's second feature as an independent director, following his quirk-filled 2012 psychological drama P-047, which was also a big award winner. His 2003 debut feature, the coming-of-age sex comedy Sayew, was released by Sahamongkol Film International, as was his sophomore effort, the comedy-drama Cherm (Midnight My Love), in which comedian Petchtai Wongkamlao made a dramatic breakthrough as a lonely taxi driver who strikes up a relationship with a massage-parlor girl. Kongdej then jumped over to GTH for 2008's Kod (Handle Me with Care), about a three-armed man on a road trip with a large-breasted woman.

Kongdej has also penned numerous mainstream-industry screenplays, including 2004's weepy romance The Letter, Tony Jaa's lost-elephant adventure Tom-Yum-Goong, the amnesiac Ananda Everingham drama Me ... Myself, Nonzee Nimibutr's high-seas swashbuckler Queens of Langkasuka, Kantana Animation's Echo Planet (for which he also provided voice talent and an original song) and last year's teen horror Last Summer.

His latest efforts, Tang Wong and P-047, were independent, with Soros Sukhum as producer. Their next project is So Be It, which has been picked up by the new Thai indie outfit Mosquito Films Distribution.

Previous Silpathorn film honorees are Pen-ek Ratanruang (2004), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2005), Wisit Sasanatieng (2006), Thunska Pansittivorakul (2007), Nonzee Nimibutr (2008), Pimpaka Towira (2009) and Aditya Assarat (2010).

The Silpathorn Award's 10th anniversary was commemorated earlier this year with a performance series that included a screening of a shortened version of Thunska's The Terrorists.

According to The Nation, other Silpathorn Award honorees this year are conceptual artist Surasi Kusolwong, actress-playwright Jarunan Phantachat of B-Floor Theatre, architect Suriya Umpansiritatana, writer Rewat Panpipat, conductor Vanich Potavanich, typographer Pairoj Teeraprapar and product designer Chaiyut Plypetch.

Each winner receives 100,000 baht and a commemorative lapel pin.  The awards presentation ceremony will be held on July 17 along with an exhibition that will run through July 27.