Zombies shuffled, independent films delighted and a favorite studio released two more winning entries before closing up shop, helping to make 2015 another memorable year for Thai cinema. Here, mostly in the order viewed, are some of the best Thai movies I saw in Bangkok cinemas last year.
Phi Ha Ayodhaya (The Black Death)
Made with the same props and costumes as the “Suriyothai” and “Naresuan” historical epics of his father MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, Adam’s “Phi Ha Ayodhaya” was set in 1565 and covered what’s possibly the first historical instance of zombies. As the dead come shambling from the battlefields with a hunger for brains, a disparate band of survivors hole up in a brothel and fight back.
With plenty of cartoonish action and a decent helping of cinematic gore, the familiar tropes of George Romero’s “Dead” franchise mixed with the stately pageantry of “Naresuan” and “Pantai Norasingh” to create something refreshing.
I got to see Y/our Music twice, and both times the film demonstrated its power to move usually reserved Thai movie audiences into spontaneous applause, as if it were a live concert.
P’Chai My Hero a.k.a. How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)
At the heart of the story is the Thai military’s unusual lottery-drawing draft, which Kim had previously dealt with in his short documentary Draft Day, covering transgender draftees. Checkers is adapted from the short stories of noted Thai-American writer Rattawut Lapcharoensap, and adds more observations about the class divide. It was one of two major Thai premieres at the Berlin fest and Thailand’s official submission to the Academy Awards.
Freelance .. Ham Puay Ham Phak Ham Rak More (Heart Attack)
He had previously made the abstract romance 36 and wrote screenplays for the hit GTH films Bangkok Traffic Love Story and Top Secret. Nawapol’s quirky deadpan indie style was burnished with the backing of GTH, which provided its bankable stars, leading man Sunny Suwanamethanon as a freelance graphic artist who pushes himself too hard and gets sick, and Davika Hoorne as the lonely young overworked doctor who treats him.
Subverting the “feel good” style of most GTH films, Freelance turned out to be one of the two last films from that company, which broke up at the end of the year. Freelance now provides one possible template for the reformed company, GDH 559, to follow.
Onthakan (The Blue Hour)
The other major Thai premiere at Berlin last year, The Blue Hour had a foreboding atmosphere and electrifying performances from the young lead actors, Atthaphan Poonsawas and Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang.
May Nhai .. Fai Raeng Fer (May Who?)
The sophomore feature from Chayanop Boonpakob, who followed up his 2011 rock ’n’ roll romance SuckSeed, May Who? was highlighted by a domineering performance by Sutatta Udomsilp as the electrically afflicted teen. Full of positive energy, the picture was further polished with manga-inspired animated sequences, giving May Who? the colorful feel of a comic book.
Bringing Vanishing Point to Bangkok, Jakrawal chose a rundown porn cinema in Klong Toey for the Thai premiere, creating a visceral connection between our sin-filled realm and the world of the movie, which had things to say about materialism, merit-seeking and willful self-deception. Quietly released in a handful of mall multiplexes, Vanishing Point had much more to say about Buddhism than did another Buddhist-themed drama Arpatti, which created controversy with its trailer showing a novice monk nearly kissing a girl. The film was briefly banned before the filmmakers trimmed the scenes that offended censors and clergymen.
Similar to May Nhai, Runpee also had a strong young superpowered heroine. Played by Ploychompoo Jannine Weigel, she’s a Catholic schoolgirl who has the ability to smell ghosts, and teams up with a boy ghost to solve a 50-year-old murder.
It has all the hallmarks of Wisit’s earlier works, including Fah Talai Jone and Pen Choo Kub Pee, with spooky Gothic settings and inventively stylish (and funny) horror sequences.
Sway was filmed over the course of several years, starting in 2010 in Bangkok with Ananda Everingham and Sajee Apiwong as a couple trying to figure things out.
Subsequent segments filmed in Los Angeles and Paris provide a look at the developing style of a new filmmaker, whose cultural views about East vs West are coincidentally similar to other Western-educated Thai filmmakers, particularly Aditya Assarat and Lee Chatametikool.
The multi-layered story is about a young woman who spends her days plugged into social media, sharing her heavily filtered and hashtagged photos of everything. But the realities of life come crashing down as she attends the wedding of old friends, reconnects with her high-school boyfriend and has second thoughts about marrying her current beau, a junior Army officer. And it’s all taking place under the cover of martial law.