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March 30, 2007

California, Here I Come

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This will be my last posting from Thailand. I will be flying back to the U.S. tomorrow after being out of the country for five months. Thanks to mystery science, I will arrive in San Francisco on the 31st of March on what will be one very long day. Fortunately I can fly directly out of Chiang Mai, so I just have two planes to catch instead of three. I am also assuming that four hours is enough time for me to find my way through the Taipei airport. As San Francisco will be my first stateside destination, I thought the poster to my favorite San Francisco movie would be appropriate.

While my study of Thai cinema turned out to be less substantial than I had hoped, it wasn't a total loss. I found a terrific store in the basement of Airport Plaza where I was able to get some good, and not so-good DVDs at bargain prices. I have every subtitled DVD available of the films of Chatrichalerm Yukol, and have begun creating an overview of his films. I'm not sure when or where it will be published. As there is no comprehensive overview of Thai films, I figured the least I could do is help where I can in English language scholarship.

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The above photo is from the Chiang Mai Mail, the English language weekly here. I wanted to give readers a better idea of how polluted the air is from the forest fires and crop burnings in this region. For the past couple of days, I've been running the air-con not only to cool my place down, but also to have relatively cleaner air. For various reasons, the government has been ineffective in dealing with this problem. My SO decided that she could not continue her studies here, and is down in Bali which she reports as being quieter and cleaner.

Since I'll be in San Francisco for just a couple of days, I won't have a lot of time for film-going. At this time I plan to be meeting Michael Guillen at the Pacific Film Archive on Sunday to see some early films by Michelangelo Antonioni. Hopefully I won't be too jet lagged to enjoy them. Early Tuesday morning, I will, er, pass over the country and return to Miami Beach. I should be resuming posting that night, if not sooner.

Posted by peter at 04:13 AM | Comments (4)

March 29, 2007

Alone

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Faet
Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom
GTH 35mm Film

It may be fitting that the last film I see in the country formerly known as Siam is about Siamese twins.

Alone will probably remind more than a few people of Brian De Palma's Sisters. This is announced not only with the subject matter, but with the Thai title, which translates as "twin". Alone is so well done that this is one of the few times that the reminders of other films doesn't get in the way. There is added pleasure to the twists in the narrative that suddenly upend the assumptions of the viewer.

Like Sisters, Alone is about the surviving sister, a formerly conjoined twin. Pim goes from Seoul to Thailand to see her dying mother. At the family home, Pim sees, or perhaps imagines, her dead sister, Ploy. With Pim is her boyfriend, Wee, who we eventually learn orginally encountered the twins when all three were hospitalized. As children, Pim was the outgoing, cheerful sister, while the glass wearing Ploy's mood was darker. Throughout the film are contant visual motifs of mirrors and glass. The inkblot test is a secondary motif. Throughout Alone, the idea is stressed that what we observe may not always be what we think we are seeing, and may be subject to interpretation.

Much of the action takes place in a big, spooky house, the Thai equivalent to a gothic mansion. In one scene, Wee is in a claustrophobic graveyard, surrounded by tall gravestones on a dark, rainy night. Even the music takes its inpiration from other films. At one point, violins are insistently plucked as in Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho. At another point the score includes women, or perhaps children, la la-ing as they have done for past gialli. A scene with the battling lovers cuaght in a house on fire echoes in particular ending of Roger Corman's Poe films, The House of Usher and Tomb of Ligeia. Both of those films were about houses with extraordinary connections to a dead woman.

Aside from the generally serious tone, what makes Alone different from the standard Thai horror film is the presence of star Marsha Wattanapanich. This is the pop singer's first film role in fifteen years. At 36, Marsha is significantly older than the actresses one usually sees in Thai horror films, but her maturity suggests a greater depth to the film. The filmmakers play with the Thai audiences familiarity with the star - Marsha's nickname is Pim.

Alone marks the last collaborative effort of Banjong and Parkpoom. Their previous film, Shutter, is available on DVD, with an English language remake in the works. Alone is certainly worthy of an international theatrical release. An if there has to be the seemingly inevitable English language remake, maybe Brian De Palma will be the director.

Posted by peter at 05:38 AM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2007

Bewitching Attraction

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Yeogyosu-Eui Eunmilhan Maeryeok
Lee Ha-jung - 2006
J-Bics Region 3 DVD

Out of the eight films made with Moon So-ri, I have now seen four. If talk about the best contemporary screen actresses wasn't pretty much limited to those who speak English, Moon would be considered as good, if not better than a number of her Anglo-American peers. Her performance as a woman with cerebral palsy in Oasis is the kind of stuff Academy Awards are made of. Following that film was Moon's acclaimed role as The Good Lawyer's Wife, a married woman having an affair with a teenage boy.

Moon's character in Bewitching Attraction is almost a blend of those two films. Moon portrays Eun, the lone female teacher in a design school, with five male faculty members competing for her favor. Eun is first seen standing still, looking out at the ocean while a priest and a large group of nuns are seen staring at Eun. When Eun begins to walk, it is clear she has a limp, something one of the male characters mentions that he finds arousing. If for no other reason, Betwitching Attraction should be seen simply for the wonder of watching Moon So-ri play a beautiful woman with a limp, roaring drunk, wearing stiletto high heels.

There is a Gallic quality to Lee's debut film. That may be simply due to the music, often a duet of guitar and accordian. The film is observational, with the camera at a distance allowing the viewer to watch the characters interact with each other. There are echoes of Truffaut in the narrative, most obviously with Jules and Jim with men fighting each other for a woman who could well live without any of them. There is also a scene that recalls a visual joke from Shoot the Piano Player. One of the men swears on the life of his mother that he is telling the truth. The mother suddenly dies. Lee's film is much darker in its humor than anything Truffaut made, while the sex is more explicit. Additionally, Eun is reunited by chance with someone from her youth, with the two sharing a secret that makes their relationship more volatile. Again, this recalls several of Truffaut's films, usually with former lovers forced together by circumstance.

While the men act foolishly in the name of love, Eun is looking for ways to advance herself beyond her teaching career. Everyone does the wrong thing for the wrong reason, in a variety of acts of self-destruction. In the end of Bewitching Attraction, Eun compares herself to a red flower. Unlike flowers, Eun is more resilient than fragile. But like some flowers, Eun is best appreciated observed from a safe distance.

Posted by peter at 08:48 AM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2007

The Messengers

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Oxide Pang & Danny Pang - 2007
Sony Pictures 35mm Film

In spite of the decidedly mixed reviews for The Messengers from stateside critics, I made it a point to see this newest film from the Pang Brothers (seen above). Not that it made any difference, but there was for me a kind of circular logic to seeing the duo's English language debut in the country where they made there mark, primarily with The Eye. I had no worries about the Pang's working in English based on Oxide's solo effort The Tesseract. What I wasn't sure about was whether the film would look like the work of the brothers, especially with the news that another director was brought in to re-shoot some footage.

I suspect that some of the critical hostility towards The Messenger is based on several factors. Primarily, within the horror genre, the film has more in common with the Pangs' previous work than it does with a film like Stay Alive. The horror is not explicit as in, for example, Bangkok Haunted. The Pangs new film spends a good part of the time establishing a sense of dread following the opening scene with a boy and a woman pursued and killed by someone or something unseen by the audience. The basic premise, of ghosts invisible to all but one person makes The Messenger similar to The Eye. Complaints that the ghosts are similar to those seen in primarily Japanese horror films is based on a superficial knowledge of Asian horror films. The Pangs essentially created what have become the cliches of the Asian horror film. In terms of establishing the framework of a certain genre, The Eye is to ghost stories what Stagecoach is to the Western.

The most unbelievable thing about The Messengers isn't that there are ghosts in an abandoned house in North Dakota, or that the house looks too similar to the family home of Norman Bates. What is incredible is that the audience is to believe that Dylan McDermott can single-handedly farm sunflowers on property the size of a couple of football fields.

The ghosts that really haunt The Messengers are those from past horror films. Aside from the creepy house, the other big Hitchcock shout-out concerns the crows that appear ominously throughout the film, especially near the end when a large flock attacks farm-hand John Corbett. This may be heresy to some, but the scene did convince me that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to take Hitchcock's The Birds and replace the obvious rotoscope animation with some state-of-the-art CGI birds. The Pangs also pay tribute to The Amityville Horror and/or The Shining, with their undone fathers destroying their families. William B. Davis is effective in a small role, bringing in immediate memories of The X-Files's Cigarette Smoking Man. Familiar elements aside, The Messenger is nicely photographed making the Pangs' Hollywood debut look as good as their previous films. One could easily imagine The Messengers taking place in a remote farm in Thailand. In this case, the Pang brothers came to America, and brought some of their ghosts with them.

Posted by peter at 05:21 AM | Comments (3)

March 23, 2007

The Sperm

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Asujaak
Taweewat Wantha - 2007
Sahamongkol Film International 35mm Film

Is it possible to make a comedy that's too smart for its audience? I had to wonder as I was the only person at the theater where The Sperm was playing. A couple of days ago, I saw Taweewat's nutty debut, SARS Wars, about zombies on the loose in Bangkok. His new film plays as both a satire of science fiction films and Thai popular culture, and a look at the male id, with humor trumping any questions of bad taste. Adding to the overall silliness is an aesthetic that combines the wizardry of computer generated graphics of Michel Gondry with the cobbled together look of a film by Bert I. Gordon.

The basic story is about a struggling rocker, Suthin, who accidentally creates a crisis in Bangkok following his disasterous encounter with Lammy, the girl of his dreams. The basic plot could be read as a parody of John Wyndham or even a send-up of David Cronenberg's The Brood. What is funnier than the hundreds of children that resemble their unwitting father is that these boy-monsters brief lives personify the French expression "La Petite Mort.

While Suthin's band is first seen creating atonal noise, the rock music, leaning towar heavy metel, might be somewhat dated by American standards, but is more credible than most Thai pop. Somlek Sakdikul plays an eccentric scientist, first introduced snorting some kind of substance. I'm not sure if I could declare Somlek the axion of Thai cinema, but his presence in so many films suggests that there is a law regarding the frequency of his appearances. As the would-be rock star, Leo Put(t) (Puttipong Sriwat) is unafraid to put himself in embarassing situations. Pimpaporn Leenutapong plays the object of Suthin's dreams.

That there was no one else in the theater enjoying Taweewat's delirious vision of adolescence should be of concern. Based on other critical writings, as well as my own observations, the general consensus is that Thai audiences aren't interested in Thai films that fall outside familiar conventions. I am hoping to read analysis of The Sperm from Thai critics. My own reaction may be an indication that the humor of The Sperm may be relatively sophisticated for a Thai audience that can be counted on for fits of laughter over shrieking fat men in women's clothing. I would at least hope that one of the better Thai films of this year finds an audience somewhere, if not in Thailand.

Posted by peter at 05:23 AM | Comments (4)

March 20, 2007

Vow of Death

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Peemaijimfun
Piyapun (Tommy) Chupetch - 2007
Avant Company Ltd. 35mm Film

Vow of Death is this past week's newest Thai horror-comedy. Perhaps my expectations were a bit misplaced, but the film is yet another example of a potential premise mishandled by laziness. Vow of Death vacillates between the comic, horror, and a combination of the two, without ever finding the right balance in this overworked Thai genre. Making it worse, the comedy is often not funny, while the back story is too serious, making the film's shifts in tones frequently awkward.

The basic premise should have been mined more greater comic value. A quartet of high school students, concerned about passing their exams for college entrance, go to a special banyan tree that has been known to grant wishes. The spirit of an assassinated Army general lives in the tree. There are also stories that those who do not make offerings to the tree following the fulfullment of wishes encounter untimely deaths. The students, heeding advice of the folk tale, return to the tree with their gifts, only to find that the tree has been removed by a lumber company, to be made into toothpicks. Demons pursue the students. In order to placate the demons, the students go shopping for packages of toothpicks made from the holy tree.

What little satire there is of Thai folk beliefs and animism is primarily limited to the students making comments about a female demon's threatening poses. A scene of the students screaming just a bit too long at the sight of a demon is played for laughs, a moment spoofing a frequent cliche of Thai horror films. What hobbles Vow of Death is that the story of the general, told in flashback, is too serious within the context of the main narrative, making the comic aspects seem more inappropriate. Also, the female demon appears for no other reason than to scare the students, but otherwise seems to have no direct relation to the spirit of the banyan tree.

There is no reason to overly analyze Vow of Death. The film was made primarily to entertain a teenage audience, which it seems to do quite well based on the audience at the screening I attended. The film is as easily forgotten as the life lesson regarding promises that the characters are suppose to learn.

Posted by peter at 05:57 AM | Comments (2)

March 18, 2007

Seven Days to Leave My Wife

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Torpong Tunkamhang - 2007
A.G. Entertainment 35mm Film

Even the title, Seven Days to Leave my Wife, tips off how the film is going to end. The film is a slight comic rehash of the American comedies from the Fifties, with nods in the direction of Billy Wilder's Seven Year Itch and Frank Tashlin's two films with Jayne Mansfield. The familiar elements have been transposed to contemporary Bangkok. The only aspect that would be new for Western viewers is the presentation of the ethnic Chinese background of some of the Thai characters. The opening scene could be retitled My Big Fat Chinese Wedding.

The film is about a rather non-descript salesman, Yong, who has somehow attracted his extremely attractive co-worker, Pim. How attractive is Pim? Her office wear includes form fitting red dresses cut to show off her legs from the thigh. One Tashlinesque moment shows two men holding small milk cartons, with the white liquid spurting out of their respective straws. There are also a couple of verbal references to Pim's breasts. Yong and Pim make mad, torrid love with each other yet at no time is there any attempt to explain why the tall, gorgeous woman is involved with Yong. The screenplay is so lazy that it demands we accept Pim's explanation to another character that she's in love with Yong. The film shows a guy who is both already married and socially inept, although there is the roundabout suggestion that he is terrific lover.

Pim has given Yong an ultimatum to leave his wife within a week if he wishes to continue their relationship. Yong spends part of the film coming up with schemes to indirectly end his marriage, including having a bogus fortune teller convince his wife that if she does not leave him, Yong will die. Yong also fights off a competitor for Pim’s affections, a tall, rich, and handsome businessman. Of course no fortune teller is needed to predict how this film will end.

In spite of two collaborators on the screenplay, Torpong modest strengths are visual, rather than verbal. As Pim, Benjawan Artner is lovingly photographed, the hem of her red dress fluttering in slow-motion. In addition to the kind of visual gags that recall Tashlin, there is a nice moment when Pim gives Yong her ultimatum, and the wall behind Yong cracks into small pieces. Samapon Piyapongsiri portrays the frustrated Yong. Somlek Sakdikul, the chinless comic fixture in seemingly every other Thai film portrays Yong's less than helpful co-conspirator. Seven Days to Leave my Wife is a harmless piece of fluff worth seeing for the embryonic talents of Torpong, should he have a smarter screenplay to support his eye for the comic.

Posted by peter at 03:47 AM | Comments (1)

March 16, 2007

A World of Links

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I've been updating my links. One dropped blog seems to be no longer active. In a couple of cases, I added some links of people who have been generous enough to include this site on their blogroll. What may make things a little unusual is that a couple of the linked blogs are primarily in languages other than English.

I don't know if they still include this "bumper" before the films, but when I went to the Landmark Theater chain, they often showed an ad for themselves that began with a variety of voices, each in a different language, all saying "The language of film is universal". Within the context of the theater, it's a bit of self-congratulatory hooey for the audience to pat itself on the back for being so hip and worldly compared to the monolinguals at the multiplex. I guess my own attitude is that even though I am probably missing some good stuff by my inability to read some of these other blogs, I can glean bits here and there. Additionally, by making these links available on my site, I will be able to help someone make a connection that they may not have made otherwise. It may not be perfect, but there are ways to get translations online.

One of my older links is Bulgarian Cine Daily from Marina. Even with greater global connections, eastern European cinema still is relatively little known in the U.S. I'm not even sure if I've even seen a film from Bulgaria, but I'm keeping my eyes open. Night of the Hunter is named after one favorite film, while the nom de blog is a searcher who was also a hunter. Even though this blog is in Spanish, a survey of the contents shows interest in many of the same films discussed in the English language blogs. I also have added Safari Underground, a Chinese language blog that has made me interested in a couple of older Asian films I hadn't read of previously.

One other link for today is the review of Bodyguard 2 in today's Bangkok Post. I can understand Kong's point of view concerning the humor of the film. For me, what worked in the film was just enough for me to weigh in favor of Bodyguard 2, primarily because of the action set-pieces. While much of the humor was for cheap laughs, the only part that I was uncomfortable with was a scene with Petchai making derogatory comments towards Paula Taylor. Humor at the expense of an actor's on-screen wife has been a part of film comedy since the beginning. There are times when making fun of a star playing him or herself in a movie can be funny. Telling Paula Taylor not to forget to buy tampons wasn't one of those moments.

I am including this link not only to provide a contrasting review of this film, but also because Kong is looking into the state of Thai cinema and its audience. I should maybe say cinemas and audiences. Chiang Mai may be a bit different than Bangkok in a variety of ways. Except for the festival I reviewed last November, the only foreign films that play here are Anglo-American. At the very least, I have learned first hand a little bit more about Thai film. Often, what is understood to be a nation's films are just those that are part of the festival circuit. Certainly Thai cinema means Tears of the Black Tiger and Tropical Malady, but outside of Bangkok, Thai cinema is more often along the lines of Bodyguard 2 or Letters of Death.

Posted by peter at 04:51 AM

March 15, 2007

Here be Pirates!

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The condo I'm living provides only a handful of channel on television. Even worse, since I don't get cable or satellite, I don't get any of the channels dedicated to English language movies. The theaters have an extremely limited choice of films here in Chiang Mai, and my significant other has absolutely no interest in seeing Dreamgirls, Rocky Balboa or Pursuit of Happyness. The nearby VDO stores have a limited selection of English language films, although the guy at the closer of the two stores is nice enough to help point out the new English language VCDs. While I'm usually up for seeing a film in any language, my SO demands cinematic entertainment without subtitles, preferably weighted towards action, with big name Hollywood stars.

Especially as some films simply will not recieve a theatrical run in Chiang Mai, we've seen some films on DVDs made available through street entrepreneurs. Quality varies from copies made from other DVDs, to obvious copies shot in a movie theater. In some cases, a good quality dub is more than the film deserves.

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The Good Shephers (Robert De Niro - 2006)

The Good Shepherd is one film that has been promised release in Thailand, but has yet to be released. I read a review that complained that director Robert De Niro learned nothing from Martin Scorsese. That isn't quite true - The Good Shepherd has a longer running time than Scorsese's last three films. The story about the creation of the C.I.A. and the corruption of ideals and power is still in search of a better movie than this one. It's not enough to have the star power of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and a host of others. De Niro should have handed the footage to Thelma Schoonmaker or at least somebody with a sharper eye to have picked up the pace and tightened the narrative. The Good Shepherd has the lethargy and flab of Jake La Motta in his later years.

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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (Steven Shainberg - 2006)

Much better is Fur. With the explanatory title An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, Steven Shainberg's film is placed in a context other than biographical. As the mysterious upstairs neighbor, Robert Downey, Jr.'s fabulous furry freak resembles Jean Marais in Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. Although Patricia Bosworth is listed as a producer, the film only tangentially seems connected to her biography of Arbus. More of the narrative combined elements of Cocteau, Tod Browning and Lewis Carroll to create Diane's adventures in Wonderland.

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Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast

The DVD was shot in a theater, so that the dialogue was muffled, while the color was off. A constant flicker on the screen almost induced a headache. From the beginning with cropped off credits, it was obvious no one cared about copying Fur with the correct aspect ratio. This is one film I plan to see again to judge more accurately. My SO was surprised to know that Fur didn't rate any Oscar nominations, deeming Nicole Kidman's performance as good as that in Eyes Wide Shut. Certainly Shainberg's closing shot, a close up of Kidman, echoes Kubrick's adoring shot of his final
muse.

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On the minus side again, is Dragon Tiger Gate. My SO and I both enjoy a good martial arts film. This is one of those movies that doesn't live up to the trailer. The film was directed by Wilson Yip with fight choreography by star Donnie Yen. The film does get visually inventive, especially in one scene that views the action looking down on several rooms from straight above, a formal approch that recalls the overhead shots from Van Trier's Dogville, or the open side house from Jerry Lewis' The Ladies' Man. Other fight scenes seem clearly derivative of Uma Thurman against the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill. Even worse, the film grinds to a halt in between fight scenes. I fell asleep after an hour, not caring about the missing plaque or if the two brothers reunite. Of course it didn't help that the subtitles were totally missing during a key scene that set up the story. Maybe the film should be retitled Crouching Tiger, Snoring Viewer.

Posted by peter at 01:03 AM

March 14, 2007

Haunting Me

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Hortaewtak
Poj Arnon - 2007
Five Star Production 35mm Film

Imagine the stupidest Thai horror-comedy combined with with outtakes from Wigstock. That pretty much describes Haunting Me. I'm not going to expect every film starring guys in drag to be as good as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Even Vegas in Space had inspired moments. Even if by Thai standards there aren't the apirations of Beautiful Boxer or even Iron Ladies, I would have hoped to be even slightly amused. Obviously there is a culture gap as I was surrounded by an audience that couldn't stop laughing at the sight of four middle aged cross dressers simply sitting in a room, shrieking as loud as possible. The film is my introduction to Poj Arnon, a guy who admittedly knows how to please Thai filmgoers.

The film takes place in an apartment building haunted by two ghosts. One of the ghosts is a chubby would-be ladyboy who accidentally has killed herself falling on a bar of soap, knocking her head against a toilet bowl. The other ghost is of a young woman who was murdered by a group of male students in the apartment, following her gang rape. The film follows the four mature ladyboys in their attempts to fight against ghosts and various evil spirits.

Parts ofHaunting Me are parodies of Thai movie cliches - the lonely ghost, the ghost seeking revenge, the one guy who can vanquish many foes with his martial arts skills, and the evil sorcerer. The spoof of Brokeback Mountain must have seemed like a real howler in the writing stage - the two sheep herders actually have goats, and engage in a threesome with the chubby ghost, seen as shadows inside the pup tent. One of the "women" actually mentions Brokeback Mountain just to make sure the audience gets the joke. For those who care, the scene is the first of at least two Thai Brokeback parodies this year.

As a comedy about guys with female identities, Haunting Me is neither divine nor Divine. The funniest part of the film was the pre-credit advisement that the film was made for entertainment purposes, and that the offensive language used by the characters should not be used by the audience. Otherwise, to coin an expected cliche here, as a film about guys in drag, Haunting Me is a . . . well I'm sure you've figured it out.

Cross-published in Twitch.

Posted by peter at 01:43 AM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2007

Bodyguard 2

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Petchai Wongkamlao - 2007
Sahamongkol Film 35mm Film

Now that the dominance of King Naresuan on Thai screens is winding down, new Thai films are now starting to get play. The most popular new film here is Bodyguard 2. Not seeing the first film has proven to be no problem in enjoying this action-comedy, although a little bit of research has revealed that this film is a prequel to the first film. Best of all, this film has nothing to do with a threatened sequel to a film of the same name starring Kevin Costner.

Written, directed and starring Petchtai Wongkamlao, the combination of action and comedy is best in the opening sequence. Petchai is first seen as an unlikely go-go boy in an after hours gay bar that also houses the office of a mobster. A group of incompetent crooks come to meet with a mob boss, led by a gangster who finds himself beaned on the head with a cash-heavy briefcase when not frequently put in harm's way by his own crew. The accidental firing of a gun initiates a series of shoot-outs in the bar, leading to a chase scene involving the gangster racing through the streets in a monster truck armed with bazookas, while Petchai pursues the gangster in a car taken from a dealer, with the surprised car saleman as a passenger, with the car skidding on its side. Nothing in the rest of Bodyguard 2 matches the near perfect combination of sight gags and firepower in that first sequence.

While there is no joke that is too stupid or tasteless for Bodyguard 2, the comedy is, more often than not, actually pretty funny for a Thai film. Some of the humor is dependent on familiarity with Thai popular culture. A cameo appearance by popular starlet Paula Taylor may not be meaningful outside of Thailand. Conversely, one of the bright spots in the film is a brief appearance by Tony Jaa, doing the kind of ass kicking that has endeared him to audiences worldwide. Gags involving body parts or bodily functions make the Farrelly Brothers look like paragons of propriety. Even the presence of a character that looks like Adolph Hitler manages to be fit in with the general anything for a laugh attitude of this film.

Holding it all together is Petchai. Dumpy and square headed, part of his charm is that he is an unlikely action hero. There is a sense of stoicism, and deadpan determination that is somewhat reminiscent of Buster Keaton. In addition to his unassuming physical appearance is Petchai's ability to make himself, literally, the butt of much of the humor. The best comic stars are usually those who aren't afraid of making themselves look as ridiculous as possible. Some of the humor works, some of it doesn't, but the film and Petchai keep on plugging forward. This is the kind of film where you don't mind overlooking that gaps in logic, or filmmaking goofs that can't be covered by tricks in editing. Even the end credit sequence is comprised of an extended gag involving an actor unhappy with his character in the film. Petchai is comfortable enough to make fun of himself as well as the Thai film industry. Bodyguard 2 may be loaded with dumb jokes, but at its best the audience is laughing with the filmmaker.

Cross-published at Twitch.

Posted by peter at 02:39 AM

March 06, 2007

Mekhong Full Moon Party

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Sibha kham doan sib ed
Jira Maligool - 2002
Mangpong Region 0 DVD

During the time that my computer was in the shop, I saw the film Mekhong Full Moon Party on DVD. The film is instructive to watch during this time of controversy over James Cameron's documentary on the tomb that may belong to Jesus.

One of the biggest problems I have regarding discussions about films and faith, as I have previously addressed, is that the films are almost always Western, and the faith, Christian. While Mekhong Full Moon Party is a Thai film, about Buddhism, it brings up an issue that is more universal regarding religion. As Graham Greene may have put it, the heart of the matter is whether faith depends on the preservation of certain beliefs that may be mythic or symbolic, rather than factual. The story concerns the investigation of fire balls that shoot out of the Mekhong river at the end of a Buddhist holiday. Are the fireballs created by a dragon, or a freak accident of nature, or an entirely man-made phenomena? The film takes place in a small town in Northeast Thailand that hosts the increasingly popular annual event which for some participants is evidence of the power of Buddhism. The film is also inspired by true events.

This dramatic comedy has its share of problems, primarily with a sprawling story line that meanders away from the main narrative. Where the film succeeds is in its joy and respect of the chief characters. The grandmother with her folk remedies for every ailment is no more or less eccentric than the doctor and scientist who investigate the fire balls, or the teacher who argues that to question the miracle is to show a lack of religious faith. Even when the fire balls are explained, neither characters nor their particular beliefs are in any sense diminished or ridiculed. Nor should they be.

What Mekhong Full Moon Party has is the idea that scientific inquiry or factual knowledge is fully compatible with the sense of the mystical or magical. Not surprisingly, the film was awarded a FIPRESCI Prize - Special Mention at the 2003 Hong Kong International Film Festival, "For the joyous dialogue with one's own folk traditions and its accessible representation of Thai-Laotian mythologies to the international audience." That one sentence concisely explains the difference between Jira's debut film, and those films that equate faith with visual and verbal shouting.

Posted by peter at 04:45 AM | Comments (1)