Thursday, October 29, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Ghost Ship, Love Arumirai

It's Halloween weekend, so studios, distributors and theater chains have all conspired to cram horror films down our throats whether we want them or not.

Along with a mixed bag of tricks that includes Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse, the nu-horror Regression and yet another Ju-on movie, there's a couple of Thai films.

Among the local offerings is Mon Son Phee (มอญซ่อนผี, a.k.a. Ghost Ship), which has venerable Thai studio Five Star Production getting back into the water.

Set aboard a cargo ship, the story plays on that ancient nautical notion that women are bad luck at sea, and the superstitious crew have much to fear when they find the corpse of the captain's wife boxed up in the hold. Spooky stuff starts happening as the boat heads into a storm.

It's the feature debut by Achira Nokthet, who previously served as an art director on Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's It Gets Better and the horror-comedy films of Poj Arnon (he even helmed a segment of Poj's Tai Hong Tai Hian).

Sean Jindachote stars, along with Phuwadon Wetchawongsa, Akkarin Akaranithimetrath and gay-film cult actor "Fluke" Pongsatorn Sripinta.

The other Thai entry in local cinemas is Love Arumirai, which seems to be taking a page from the recent Amazon series Red Oaks, which had an honest-to-goodness body-swap episode.

The story has to do with the seven-year marriage between Geng (Phisanu Nimsakul) and fashion model Bella (Cheeranat Yusanon) turning stormy. The bickering husband and wife face their toughest test yet when they wake up one morning and get a shock when they go to the mirror.

Seree Phongnithi is the screenwriter on this feature from start-up shingle Munwork Production.

Apart from the spooky offerings, Thailand's new Documentary Club offers a demonstration of counter-programming that is also complementary, bringing in the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man on Wire, which is the story behind the death-defying 1974 high-wire stunt by Philippe Petit at New York's World Trade Center. It's a slice of history that has made a comeback thanks to Robert Zemeckis' The Walk, which is a dramatization of Petit and his stunt. But while the phobia-inducing 3D camerawork of The Walk earned accolades, the movie bombed at the box office and was slapped by a backlash from critics, who urged viewers to instead seek out Man on Wire.

That new release and others are covered at the other blog.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Review: Vanishing Point

  • Directed by Jakrawal Nilthamrong
  • Starring Ongart Cheamcharoenpornkul, Drunphob Suriyawong, Chalee Choueyai, Suweeraya Thongmee
  • Reviewed at premiere screening on October 16, 2015 at the Laem Thong Theatre, Bangkok; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

What is the point of Vanishing Point (วานิชชิ่ง พอยท์)? That’s a question that has vexed me since I saw the film in a rundown porn cinema in Bangkok.

Directed by Jakrawal nilthamrong, Vanishing Point is the culmination of everything the artist-filmmaker has done up to now. It won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and has been selected for many other fests. Like another prominent Thai artist-filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jakrawal is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and he’s much-respected in the art and indie filmmaking community. In his art installations and short films, Jakrawal explores strict Buddhist themes, reflecting on the dangers of greed and materialism.

An unapologetic art-house film, Vanishing Point is a cavalcade of experimental techniques and abstractions. The story, as nearly as I can make out, has two central characters, a journalist and a family man, whose lives run in parallel trajectories until they converge at that “vanishing point” on the horizon.

The film is also autobiographical in nature, since it opens with an image of a car twisted horrifically in half. The picture is from a 1983 newspaper report on a car being struck by a train, which left Jakrawal’s own parents with severe physical and emotional scars.

The wrecked car is something this Vanishing Point shares with the 1971 Hollywood counterculture film of the same title. Both movies are about existential crises, with the earlier film’s Kowalski at first having a purpose for driving his Dodge Challenger at flat-out speeds across the desert, but as that story goes on, he just drives for the sake of driving.

In Jakrawal’s Vanishing Point, the two central characters’ reasons for living are murkier. They are headed for the same destination as Kowalski – just far more slowly.

There’s also a sleazy 1970s vibe about the new Vanishing Point, an aesthetic that Jakrawal highlighted in choosing a cinema from that era as the venue for its debut in Bangkok. This business of life can be a dirty thing, and amid the mould and grime of Klong Toey’s Laem Thong Theatre, he wanted his audience to revel in it.

In the Thai universe of Vanishing Point, the fractured timeline shifts to the forest, where a reporter (played by Drunphob Suriyawong) is covering a police crime re-enactment. They have a suspected rapist acting out his deeds with a giant teddy bear. It’s a scene that will probably seem routine to Thais who see such things in the newspapers every day, but to foreigners it’s a bizarre situation. I too wonder just what these re-enactments really prove.

The reporter, who thinks the same, departs the scene to follow the police. He eventually turns up at a short-time motel, where he spends time with a senior hooker (Suweeraya Thongmee).

His visit is recorded on video by the movie’s other major character, a businessman (Ongart Cheamcharoenpornkul) who is in the midst of an existential crisis. He’s got a large stack of videotapes of hotel guests having sex, but appears to get no joy from watching them. At home he shares a meal in total silence with his wife and daughter. It seems there is no joy there either.

The guy, who runs a condom factory in addition to his sideline as the maker of amateur porn films, eventually turns up at a Buddhist temple, where a monk is meditatively sweeping the grounds. Played by the charmingly impish Chalee Choueyai, the saffron-wrapped clergyman launches into a long monologue that’s right up there with Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis story in Jaws.

In short, the monk’s lesson – and the movie’s – is that there are no easy answers. Not for the journalist, nor the businessman, nor me.

The ones who seem to fare best in Vanishing Point are the sketchiest characters – that monologuing monk and the senior hooker. They are at least honest about who they are and what they do, while the journalist and the factory owner seem only to be seeking merit or approval.

And perhaps that monk might not be a monk after all. Or perhaps Jakrawal is musing on what makes a monk. Is a monk still a monk once out of his robes? In this way, Vanishing Point offers more potent commentary on the state of contemporary Thai Buddhism that is potentially more controversial than the briefly banned Arbat, with its scenes of a misbehaving novice monk. That picture had to be toned down to get unbanned and was released as Arpat, but it didn’t really have much to say about Buddhism at all.

Dazzling cinematography by up-and-coming filmmaker Phuttiphong Aroonpheng is a highlight of Vanishing Point, and his work includes a bravura tracking shot that follows the businessman’s teenage daughter roller-skating through her small town, with the cameraman seemingly towed from behind and the girl’s knees framing the shot.

More technical prowess is displayed by score composer Pakorn Musikboonlert and sound designer Chalermrat Kaweewattana, who come up with an ominously hypnotic series of pulsating burbles and bloops to give the film a sickening heartbeat.

See also:

Related posts:

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Thai cinemas: Vanishing Point, Hor Taew Taek 5, Water Boyys the Movie

Winner of the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Vanishing Point (วานิชชิ่ง พอยท์) is artist-filmmaker Jakrawal Nilthamrong's feature-length debut. It deals with the themes he explores in his short films and video-art installations, which reflect on strict Buddhist teachings and the dangers of materialism and greed.

Part of the inspiration for Vanishing Point stems from a horrific car crash Jakrawal's parents were involved in long ago, and newspaper clippings of the wreck, featuring a car bent in half, opens the film. With that as a jumping-off point, the highly abstract art-house film becomes a psychological drama, about a family man and a reporter whose lives are two parallel lines, and eventually intersect at that "vanishing point" on their existential plains.

This new Vanishing Point is not directly related to the cult-classic 1971 car-chase movie, but both films deal with philosophical themes and arrive at more or less the same destinations.

Vanishing Point, which has been shown at many film festivals, had its local premiere last Friday, with the film's crew taking over a derelict former porn cinema in Bangkok and having attendees be part of a giant art installation.

It has received much praise from Jakrawal's fellow indie filmmakers, as well as from more-learned critics and academics. I'm still not sure what to make of it, but I liked it. It's at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, and comes to SFX Maya Chiang Mai on November 5.

Check out the local trailer.

In exaggerated Gothic style, Hor Taew Taek ... Hak na Ka (หอแต๋วแตก แหกนะคะ) is seemingly timed as a counter-programming to the terrific Crimson Peak.

The fifth entry in Poj Anon’s crossdressing horror-comedy franchise, the story has former students returning to their boarding-school alma mater as teachers. They deal with a problem ghost while fending off a takeover attempt by a rival.

Jaturong Phonboon, Ekachai Srivichai, Charoenporn Ornlamai, Weeradit Srimalai and Sudarat Butprom are among the stars.

And in a third Thai film being released this week, teenage lads discover they have feelings for one other in Water Boyys the Movie. The story is about gifted swimmer Num (Anuphat Laungsodsai), whose father (Nopphon Komarachun) is the coach for the national swim team. He brings Muek (Papangkorn Rerkchalermpon) to train with his son. There is a trailer.

Also on the scene, the Friese-Greene Club has one more screening tonight of So Very Very (จริงๆ มากๆJing Jing Mak Mak), Jack Park's romantic comedy about a struggling young South Korean filmmaker who marries Thai woman.

Among upcoming events is the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which runs from November 13 to 22 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, opening with the Thai film Snap, a brand-new feature from Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

More new movies, including Straight Outta Compton and Bridge of Spies, are covered at the other blog.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Banned film Arbat, now Arpatti, is unbanned

Arbat (อาบัติ), the Buddhist-themed horror film that was banned for its scenes of a monk kissing a girl, has been unbanned, and was released in Thai cinemas last night.

Running around three minutes shorter than the banned version, the movie is now known as Arpatti (อาปัติ).

"A little toned down" is how the movie is described in an article in The Nation by producer Prachya Pinkaew, whose Baa-Ram-Ewe production marque supported the film.

It is directed by Kanitta Kwunyoo, a young filmmaker making her debut feature. "I felt relieved that I could save the main theme of the movie," she is quoted as saying in The Nation.

According to the newspaper, the removed scenes included the novice monk kissing a woman and novices disrespectfully lifting a Buddha image by its head.

Censors, which had included Buddhist clergy on their committee, had also objected to scenes of monks drinking alcohol and getting into physical altercations.

The novice, a young man packed off to the monkhood by his father, is played by Charlie Potjes, a.k.a. Charlie Trairat, the former child actor from such movies as Fan Chan and Dorm. The story has the young man falling for a local girl. Meanwhile, dark secrets of the temple's past begin to manifest themselves.

The title change, from Arbat (อาบัติ) to Arpatti (อาบัติ), softens the film's image. The original title is a Pali word that refers to offenses committed by monks. The new title, Arpatti, has no apparent meaning. The difference as written in Thai is so subtle it is difficult to spot, with ปั instead of บั. New posters with the changed title were issued.

While Buddhist groups feared the film would cause Thais to lose faith in their majority religion, the film's supporters said it would strengthen the institution by calling attention to the issue of monks who break the Buddhist precepts – monks who drink, fornicate, fight, gamble, etc. – instances that are reported widely in the daily Thai press.

And though the filmmakers will deny it, there was also criticism that the movie's provocative original trailer and the ban itself were simply moves to generate publicity.

News of the ban received worldwide coverage, including articles in the Hollywood industry press.

Thailand's film-censorship law was changed in 2008, shifting the focus to a ratings system rather than 1930s-era one-size-fits-all blanket censorship. There are six ratings, ranging from P (for "promote") and G (general), to the age-related advisory categories, 13+, 15+ and 18+, and the restrictive 20-, which requires IDs to be shown. There is also a hidden seventh category, for films that are banned. Arpatti is rated 18+

Previously banned films include Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's erotic drama Insects in the Backyard and Ing K.'s political satire Shakespeare Must Die. Both filmmakers have appealed against the bans, and those cases are pending.

Other controversial films have included Nontawat Numbenchapol's 2013 Thai-Cambodian border documentary Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง, Fahtum Pandinsoong), which was banned and unbanned. There was also the political documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย, Prachatipthai), which had the sound muted and subtitles blacked out when certain things were said.

Sahamongkol Film International, the studio releasing Arpatti, had previously released the Buddhist-themed crime thriller Nak Prok (นาคปรก, a.k.a. Shadow of the Naga), which had criminals posing as monks brandishing guns. It was eventually released in Thai cinemas with pop-up text warnings during certain scenes, to remind viewers that monks should not do those things.

Further coverage of the unbanning can be found in the Bangkok Post and there's discussion at the Dhamma Wheel forum.

Friday, October 16, 2015

From World War I to Love of Siam, 25 Thai films added to historical registry

The Siamese Military in the First World War

Another 25 titles have been added to the growing list of “Films as National Heritage” by the Culture Ministry and the Thai Film Archive, ranging from 1918 footage of soldiers going off to battle in World War I to puppy-love romance between teenage boys in the 2007 drama The Love of Siam.

Updated each year on October 4, which is Thai National Film Preservation Day, the historic-film registry now numbers 125 titles.

Many of the entries this year are from the U.S. Information Service, the propaganda arm of America's diplomatic corps. These include Thai Army Goes to Korean War, which shows Thai troops joining the fight against communism, and Heritage from King Mongkut, which recounts the contributions of American missionary and physician Dan Beach Bradley.

USIS also made The Ordination of the King, documenting the ceremony by which His Majesty King Bhumibol entered the monkhood.

The growth of commercial Thai cinema is represented by entries from the 1970s through the 1990s, ranging from director Piak Poster’s erotic island romance Choo, to Baan Phi Pob 2, the second film in the popular horror-comedy franchise, which had villagers endlessly running around and screaming and they tried to escape the gut-stabbing ghost-granny Pob Yip.

Ta-mone Prai

Aside from Piak, other notable filmmakers on this year’s list are Manop Udomdej, with 1981's On the Fringe of Society, Cherd Songsri with his 1983 sibling-rivalry romance Puen-Pang, Bhandit Rittakol and his 1987 farming drama Duay Klao, Pen-ek Ratanaruang with his 1999 black comedy Ruang Talok 69 and Jira Maligool with his 2002 Nong Khai festival yarn Mekhong Full Moon Party.

Historical battle epics now become history themselves, with the inclusion this year of Thanit Jitnukul’s Bang Rajan from 2000 and MC Chatrichalerm Yukol’s Suriyothai from 2001.

And recent global hits are represented by 2003’s martial-arts drama Ong Bak, which introduced Tony Jaa to the world, and GTH’s 2004 thriller Shutter, which introduced Thai horror to the world.

Here's the list, which is translated by Thai Film Archive deputy director Sanchai Chotirosseranee, who also offered commentary on some of the more-obscure entries.

Ngoa Ba
Films as National Heritage 2015

  1. The Siamese Military in the First World War (unofficial title) / ภารกิจทหารอาสาสยามในสงครามโลกครั้งที่ ๑, 1918/63.26 min. – King Rama VI sent 1,233 Siamese volunteer soldiers to join World War I in 1917. According to newspaper ads from the era, the film was shown in Siam in 1919. It was thought to be lost, but resurfaced last year as France observed the centenary of the war. The French Embassy and the Alliance Francaise exhibited rare photographs and this film footage, which was well-preserved at the archives of the French Ministry of Defense.
  2. The Playful Kids in the Reign of King Rama VII (unofficial title)/เด็กซนสมัย ร.๗, 1927-32)/7 min. – This "found footage" was shot on 16mm. There is no information on who made the film. It shows youngsters putting on a performance for the camera, playing traditional games, dancing, play-fighting and comic acting in the style of Western films, showing the already pervasive influence of film on Siamese society.
  3. Pan-Tai Norasingh/พันท้ายนรสิงห์, 1950/98 min. – Directed by Prince Bhanubandhu Yugala (grand-uncle of MC Chatrichalerm Yukol) with cinematography by then-budding auteur R.D. Pestonji, this is the first theatrical feature of a historical tale that has been adapted many times for theater, film and television. The story, which takes place during the reign of Ayutthaya's King Sanphet VIII, is about an oarsman on a royal barge who loses control of the vessel in strong currents, causing it to hit a tree and become damaged. The king, understanding the difficult conditions, did not wish to punish Norasingh, but the ever-dutiful and devoted sailor insisted that no exceptions should be made, and he was beheaded according to law.
  4. Thai Army goes to Korean War (unofficial title)/ทหารไทยไปเกาหลี, 1951–52)/7.42 min. – The United States Information Service in Bangkok made this clip of Royal Thai Army troops joining the United Nations' "police action" against the communist North Korean invaders.
  5. Heritage from King Mongkut/มรดกพระจอมเกล้า, 1954/60 min. – This USIS dramatization depicted the influential contributions to Thai society of Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, an American Christian missionary and physician, whose close relations with the King Rama IV court helped Western medicine gain acceptance in Thailand. Bradley also published the first Thai newspaper, the Bangkok Recorder.
  6. The Ordination of the King/พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวเสด็จออกผนวช, 1956/13.42 min. – When His Majesty King Bhumibol entered the monkhood for 15 days in 1956, the USIS was there with its film cameras to record the royal ceremony.
  7. The Commercial of the Monk Coin for 25th Buddhist Century Anniversary/โฆษณาพระเครื่องฉลอง ๒๕ พุทธศตวรรษ, 1957/4.52 min. – Commemorative coins were minted in observance of the 25th Buddhist century anniversary, which the government aimed to use to raise funds to build the massive "Buddhist Vatican" called Phutthamonthon, near Salaya, Nakhon Pathom.
  8. Ta-mone Prai/ทะโมนไพร, 1959/42 min. – King Kong has a starring role this an artifact from a lost era of regional cinema. It was made by a filmmaker in Narathiwat and screened only there and in nearby southern provinces. “Only a few of these films survive,” Sanchai says, adding that the complete movie was 50 minutes but one reel was damaged, leaving just 42 minutes of the tale of triangular romance and a giant ape.
  9. Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat Performing the Duty for His Nation as Head of Government and Military Commander Until He Fell Ill and Died/การปฏิบัติหน้าที่เพื่อประเทศชาติในตำแหน่งหัวหน้ารัฐบาลและผู้นำทางทหารจนถึงล้มป่วยและอสัญกรรมของ ฯพณฯ จอมพลสฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์, 1963/25.16 min. – Their Majesties the King and Queen make an appearance, visiting the bedridden military ruler, who in an act of devotion, takes His Majesty's hand and places it over his head.
  10. Yuthana und Siripon Monch auf Zeit/ยุทธนา –ศิริพร, 1963/44.54 min – Another monkhood ordination is depicted in this travelogue documentary by German documentarian Hans Berthel in collaboration with noted lensman Tae Prakardwuttisan, following a middle-class Bangkok couple as they visit tourist attractions. Tae was made a National Artist in film in 1999.
  11. The Spread of Kinship/สายเลือดเดียวกัน, 1966–68/103 min. – Another Cold War relic, made with support of the USIS, this feature-length drama aimed to attack and defame communism.
  12. Choo/ชู้, a.k.a. Adulterer, 1972/145 min. – While he's probably best known for his string of teen-oriented comedies, movie-poster-artist-turned-filmmaker Somboonsuk Niyomsiri, a.k.a. Piak Poster, also made many solidly dramatic films, including this erotic island romance. "Although the film was not successful in term of box-office earnings, it was much-acclaimed and became the Thai representative at the 19th Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Singapore, where it was awarded the special award because of its outstandingly unconventional story," Sanchai notes.
  13. Wai Tok Kra/วัยตกกระ, 1978/122 min. – Here's a Thai cinema “first” – the first commercial feature to have elderly people as central characters, with “actual senior actors, not young, famous actors in makeup,” Sanchai explains.
  14. Ngoa Ba/เงาะป่า, 1980/86.21 min. – Two generations of master filmmakers, Prince Bhanubandhu Yugala and Piak Poster, came together to collaborate on this adaptation of a popular play from the King Rama V era. It's a "Romeo and Juliet" romance taking place in land of the Sakai, an indigenous tribe in the South of Thailand.
  15. On the Fringe of Society/ประชาชนนอก, 1981/90 min. – Manop Udomdej directs this flipside view of all that anti-communist propaganda, with the story of community activists who were wrongly persecuted and killed for their socialist leanings. It was funded by the Roman Catholic charity Caritas Thailand.
  16. Puen-Paeng/เพื่อนแพง, 1983/131 min. – Auteur director Cherd Songsri's best-regarded film is the tragic romance Plae Kao (The Scar). But I saw Peun-Pang several years ago and liked it better. Sorapong Chatree stars as a poor farmboy in 1930s Siam, who is in love with one sister, but the girl's plucky younger sister likes him more. It was another entry in Cherd's campaign to introduce the concept of "Thainess" to this world, which I think he accomplishes with subtlety and sensitivity.
  17. Duay Klao/ด้วยเกล้า a.k.a. The Seed, 1987/107 min. – Like Piak Poster in the 1970s, director Bhandit Rittakol in the 1980s was primarily known for his teen-oriented Boonchu movies. Duay Klao was his attempt at "serious" cinema, and he succeeded. Made in celebration of His Majesty the King's 60th birthday, the drama stars folksinger Jarun Manupetch as a farmer who nurtures a rice crop from a single seed he obtained from the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. A story of drought-hit farmers and opium-growing indigenous people, the movie depicts many of the His Majesty's Royal Projects, including cloud-seeding and crop replacement. The movie had a brief revival run in 2006 to celebrate the King's 60th anniversary of accession.
  18. Baan Phi Pob 2/บ้านผีปอบ 2, 1990/91 min. – This is the second entry in a crazily popular ghost comedy franchise, which for many Thais are the films that defined the '90s. The films all involve hayseed villagers endlessly running around and screaming and they tried to escape the gut-stabbing ghost-granny Pob Yip, portrayed by Natthinee Sittisaman.
  19. 6ixtynin9/เรื่องตลก 69 (Ruang Talok 69), 1999/115 min. – With an iconic poster that features actress Lalida Panyopas pointing a gun into her mouth, I'm not sure Ruang Talok 69 would fly in today's squeamishly conservative and politically correct Thai culture. Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, the biting black comedy is about a desperate jobless woman who comes across an instant-noodle box full of cash outside her apartment. She then haplessly racks up a body count as various thugs try to retrieve the loot.
  20. Bang Rajan/บางระจัน, 2000/118 min. – Produced by Film Bangkok, this was one of the first Thai titles to make global impact during the "new wave" period of the late '90s and early 2000s. Thanit Jitnukul directs the blood-soaked tale of farmers mounting a last-ditch defense against the invading Burmese hoards in 1767.
  21. Suriyothai/สุริโยไท, 2001/142 min. – Directed by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol and supported by Her Majesty the Queen, this epic historical drama recounts the life of an Ayutthaya-era queen who famously took up arms and rode an elephant into battle, and perished in defense of her king. A box office hit that was only recently unseated from the top spot by Pee Mak Phra Khanong, Suriyothai served as the prequel and template for Chatrichalerm's six-film Naresuan saga.
  22. Mekhong Full Moon Party/15 ค่ำเดือน 11 (15 Kham Duean 11), 2002/120 min. – Jira Maligool's charming comedy offers an explanation of the mysterious fireballs that arise from the Mekong River during the annual Full Moon Festival in Nong Khai. While scientists and various experts offer their theories on the phenomenon, there's a local boy and a monk who know the truth.
  23. Ong-Bak/องค์บาก , 2003/104 min. – Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, this is the definitive showcase of the abilities of martial-arts star Tony Jaa and the innovative choreography of Jaa's former mentor Panna Rittikrai, who passed away last year.
  24. Shutter/ชัตเตอร์ กดติดวิญญาณ, 2004/92 min. – Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom wrote and directed this thriller, which is based on the notion of ghostly images turning up in photos, and has Ananda Everingham as a lensman who is haunted and slowly goes insane. It was one of the first Thai films to get the Hollywood remake treatment.
  25. The Love of Siam/รักแห่งสยาม, 2007/171 min. – Widely acclaimed and winner of dozens of awards, this was the hit that brought gay romance to the Thai mainstream. It was a breakthrough for director Chookiat Sakveerakul, as well as the film’s stars, leading man Mario Maurer, actor-musician Witwisit Hiranyawongkul and the August band.
(Adapted from an article in The Nation)

The Love of Siam

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

In Thai cinemas: The Down, So Very Very, P'Chai My Hero

Five twentysomething Thais who just happen to have Down syndrome are spotlighted in The Down (เดอะดาวน์), a documentary that aims to show people with Down syndrome in a positive light, living ordinary lives and making contributions to society. It's a passion project of producer-director Wongthanong Chainarongsingha, founder of A Day magazine.

The five subjects are Sutthiphot "Bank" Kanoknak, who works at a Uniqlo store, Kamonporn "Pan" Vachiramon, an AIS customer service staffer, twin Special Olympics bocce-ball champs Onnipa "Orm" and Atiya "Un" Kanjanasiri, and Starbucks employee Sirinluck "Beer" Chalat.

You can find out more about the movie in an article in The Nation. It is showing at Major Cineplex and SF cinemas. The trailer is embedded below.

Fresh from its run at House cinema, the South Korean-Thai romantic comedy So Very Very (จริงๆ มากๆ, Jing Jing Mak Mak) comes to The Friese-Greene Club tonight for the first of two special screenings. Tonight, director Jack Park will be on hand to talk about his film, which follows a struggling young South Korean filmmaker as he falls in love with a Thai woman and marries her. So Very Very also screens at the club next Thursday. To attend, check out the Facebook events page. And for the trailer, check out an earlier post.

You have another chance to see the charming indie film P'Chai My Hero (พี่ชาย My Hero) this week at select Major Cineplex branches as it is released back into cinemas. Also known as How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), the coming-of-age drama is experiencing an "Oscar bump" as the result of being Thailand's submission to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Feature. With plenty of warmth and humor, it deals with many hot-button issues, including gay themes and Thailand's unique military draft lottery.

Also of note in Thai cinemas this week is the local release of the unusual Hungarian film White God, which won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival last year. It is the second feature brought in by the new indie distribution outfit HAL Film, which made its debut a few weeks back with another buzzworthy Cannes 2014 title, The Tribe. The man behind HAL is Dhan Plewtianyingtawee, the owner of a film school who wanted more Thais to see the kinds of weird and wacky films he likes. You can read a story about him in BK magazine.

And there's a Thai film that has slipped into that hidden classification of the ratings system – the banned category. The Buddhist-themed thriller Arbat has been banned at the behest of Buddhist groups, which objected to the film's depiction of a young monk falling in love with a teenage girl.

Other new releases this week include Robert Zemeckis' terrific The Walk and Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak. They are covered over on the other blog.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Buddhist horror Arbat banned just days before premiere

Arbat (อาบัติ), a horror thriller centered on a teenage novice Buddhist monk, has been banned by censors, a day before the movie's press premiere.

According to various social-media and news sources, the Culture Ministry's film and media committee banned Arbat for four reasons: it shows the novice drinking alcohol, has scenes of novices fighting, depicts the novice having inappropriate contact with a female, and for a scene of the novice showing disrespect to the Buddha image.

The movie's trailer, released last month, caused a stir with a scene of the young monk touching the face of a girl, prompting Buddhist groups to demand that the film be banned. Thai Buddhist culture strictly prohibits physical contact between monks and females.

The debut feature by young director Kanittha Kwunyoo, Arbat was to be released in cinemas on Thursday, with a press and VIP premiere set Tuesday night.

According to the reports, the movie's studio, Sahamongkol Film International and producer Prachya Pinkaew's Baa-Ram-Ewe company, plan to appeal the decision.

The title Arbat actually means "offense" or "misdemeanor" and refers to acts committed against the Buddhist precepts.

“Viewers will understand the cause and the consequence of everything in the film," director Kanittha had told The Nation in an article last week. "Nothing is there just to stir up controversy. My father told me that if my intention was clear and I could make the film reach the goal I intended, then I should go for it. I haven’t touched on anything I don’t fully understand and I have made the film as a commitฌted Buddhist who still has faith in my religion.”

Starring Charlie Potjes as the central character, Arbat is about a young man who is forced into the monkhood by his father. He takes his vows and dons the monastic robes at a rural temple. Lonely and isolated, he grows close to a local girl in a relationship that would be innocent if the young man weren't a monk. Meanwhile, hidden secrets of the temple and of the young man's own life become revealed.

Also known as Charlie Trairat, the Arbat star is transitioning to more-mature roles after years of working as a child actor in such films as Fan Chan and Dorm.

The controversy over Arbat recalls another Sahamongkol film, Nak Prok (นาคปรก, a.k.a. Shadow of the Naga), which stirred opposition from Buddhist groups over its depiction of criminals dressed as monks brandishing guns and behaving violently. Nak Prok screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008 and was shelved for a couple of years by Sahamongkol.

Nak Prok was eventually released after the adoption of a film-ratings law overseen by the Culture Ministry, which in some ways has more leeway than the old system of blanket censorship administered by the Royal Thai Police, but still has provisions in place for the outright banning of films.

Update: Prachatai has more coverage.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

In Thai cinemas: May Who? and Shnit fest

Teenage angst takes the form of electricity in the Thai teen romance May Nhai .. Fai Raeng Fer (เมย์ไหน..ไฟแรงเฟร่อ, a.k.a. May Who?), which is about a schoolgirl who is afflicted with a powerful electrical charge, which she releases when her heartbeat reaches 120 beats per second. This makes it difficult for her to get close to anyone.

Sutatta Udomsilp stars as May. She keeps a low profile at school in order to keep her shocking condition a secret, but her heart gets racing whenever she sees the star athlete Fame (Thanapob Leeratanakajorn). Her superpower is discovered by classmate Pong (Thiti Mahayotharak), a shy guy who also keeps to himself but has a crush on the school's most popular girl (Nareekul Katepraphakorn). So May agrees to help Pong score with his crush if he keeps her secret and helps her hook up with Fame.

May Who? has movie studio GTH doubling down on the last few months of the year, as the film is being released less than a month after the studio's current hit Freelance. Usually the studio makes just two or maybe three films a year, and spreads them out more. Sure to also do well at the box office, May Who? is directed by Chayanop Boonpakob, a former indie filmmaker who got his big commercial break with the 2011 hit SuckSeed, about a teenage rock band. Along with the special effects related to the girl's superpower, May Who? also includes animated segments, inspired by notebooks Chayanop drew in when he was in high school.

The new film has been accompanied by the usual promotional blitz by GTH, but it's been a bit awkward because talented young actress "PunPun" Sutatta has been suspended from working by the company after she and members of the cast of Hormones the Series misbehaved on a train while visiting Japan. They posted a clip of their rowdy behavior on social networks, not realizing that being disruptive on public transport is seriously frowned upon in orderly Japan. To prevent the breach in etiquette from becoming a major international incident, GTH made all involved issue apologies, and they punished PunPun and the others by banning them from social media and suspending them from work. And PunPun's suspension doesn't end until sometime next week, too late to support her new film before its release.

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

Next week is the third Bangkok edition of the Shnit International Short Film Festival, which runs from Wednesday until October 11 at the Lido multiplex in Siam Square.

Now in its 13th year, the Switzerland-based Shnit fest is held simultaneously in several cities, with Bangkok joining Bern, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Cape Town, Moscow, San José and Hong Kong.

The selection includes new short-film entries from around the world plus a special bloc of "Made in Thailand" shorts.

Find out more at the festival's Facebook events page.

Other new releases in Thai cinemas this week include the The Tribe, the troublemaking entry at Cannes last year. For more, please see the other blog.