Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening September 2-8, 2010

Agrarian Utopia

Extra Virgin's Director's Screen Project has a change of program this week to Agrarian Utopia (สวรรค์บ้านนา, Sawan Baan Na), a beautiful, highly acclaimed experimental documentary on the hardships of rice farming.

Uruphong Raksasad directs. A native of rural Chiang Rai Province, he previously did the short-film compilation Stories from the North, which was an intimate look at the fast-disappearing old ways of Thai rural life.

For Agrarian Utopia, Uruphong hired two families to work a plot of land over the course of the year. He thus set the stage, but what unfolds is real life, with no script.

"I only knew it was going to be about rice farmers over the course of a year," he told The Nation recently. "I myself didn't know how it would turn out until I was in the cutting room.

"Everything they say is their own words. I only gave them hints in terms of the topics."

The film pulls no punches as it depicts the challenges the families face as they try to plant their crop with a stubborn buffalo, and work in all kinds of weather, from blistering heat, shivering chills and intense downpours. They also have to forage for food, scavenging honey from beehives, and even eating ants.

Uruphong captured it all on high-definition video camera, to beautiful, jaw-dropping effect.

"The rice field and the process of growing rice are very beautiful, like paradise, but at the same time it's not a sustainable practice in reality," he says.

Agrarian Utopia has been acclaimed the world over. It won the Unesco Award at last year's Asia Pacific Screen Awards, best narrative feature at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, and recently a jury prize at the Millennium International Documentary Film Festival in Brussels.

Uruphong recently won a $100,000 prize for his short film, Dad's Picture, at the Film Expo Asia, and the short film is online so you can watch it. It makes a great warmup to Agrarian Utopia.

Agrarian Utopia is playing at SFX the Emporium until September 29 at around 7 nightly with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2. Rated 15+

Sabaidee 2: From Pakse With Love

I lost track of the production news on the sequel of the Thai-Lao romance Sabaidee Luang Prabang.

Last I heard, "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri had been chosen for the leading man role that had starred Ananda Everingham the first time around. Pe was then replaced after the rocker-actor had made a disparaging remark about the physical attractiveness of Lao women.

Seeing how he was to act opposite Laotian beauty queen Khamly Philavong, reprising her role from the first film as a charming tour guide, that would have made things awkward.

Well, it turns out Ray MacDonald took over the role.

Directed by Sakchai Deenan, the Thai director who co-helmed the first movie with Laotian filmmaker Anousone Sirisackda, the movie is called Sabaidee 2: From Pakse With Love (สะบายดี 2 ไม่มีคำตอบจากปากเซ , Sabaidee 2: Mai Me Kamtob Jak Pakse).

Ray plays a struggling filmmaker named Por who agrees to take a job shooting a wedding video in Pakse, a major city along the Mekong River in scenic southern Laos. There, he meets the comely tour guide played by Khamly.

It's actually a prequel, according to The Nation's Parinyaporn Pajee. She attended the movie's August 22-23 premiere in Pakse, which is one of only three cities in Laos that has a multiplex.

Here's more about Ray's character:

"I can understand how my character feels. I was out of work for a while and people treated me differently. "I'm amazed at Por's resilience. He has a tough life but he has never given up on making his beloved movie. And he doesn't blame anyone for his troubles," says Ray, who is tackling comedy for the first time.

"I usually play complex characters, so complex that even my mother and brother often ask me why I can't choose a project that they'll have less trouble understanding. So this film is for my family," he says.

"We always see Ray in a serious role, but I think his real personality is cheerful and relaxed. In this role, he is more than that. He's like a mixture of Stephen Chow and Jim Carrey," says Sakchai.

Read on for Sakchai's plans to work more in Laos and help build up that country's industry.

The trailer is at YouTube. Rated 13+

Also opening

Machete – What began life as a fake trailer that played before Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror segment of the Grindhouse films he did with Quentin Tarantino has been expanded into a full feature that's still in the same ultra-violent B-movie style as Grindhouse. Long-time Rodriguez cast character actor Danny Trejo stars, playing a Mexican "Federale" secret agent who's on a deadly rampage of revenge after he's betrayed. Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey return from the original trailers to play their characters, a gun-toting priest and a ruthless businessman. Rodriguez has lined up an all-star cast to flesh out the story. Michelle Rodriguez is a machine-gun-equipped taco-truck lady. Steven Seagal is a drug lord. Jailed starlet Lindsay Lohan is a nun with guns. Jessica Alba plays Sartana, "a beautiful Immigrations Officer torn between enforcing the law and doing what is right." Others include Don Johnson, Robert De Niro, Rose McGowan and Tom Savini. Critical reception so far is mixed, though there are relatively few reviews because the movie isn't opening until tomorrow. One of the year's most highly anticipated releases among genre-film fans, it premiered last night at the Venice film festival. Rated 18+

The American – George Clooney stars in this Europe-based action thriller, playing an assassin who's hiding out in a small Italian town after a job went bad in Sweden. With an eye on retiring, he takes what he hopes will be one last assignment to construct a weapon for a mysterious contact, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). He also starts to make friends and embarks on romance, but by stepping out of the shadows, he might be tempting fate. The director is Anton Corbjin, the maker of music videos for U2, Johnny Cash, Metallica and Depeche Mode, who won acclaim for Control, a drama about Ian Curtis, suicidal singer of the band Joy Division. The American just opened worldwide yesterday, and critical reception so far is pretty positive. At the Scala.

Triple Tap – Here's a sequel to the acclaimed 2000 Hong Kong thriller Double Tap that starred Leslie Cheung as a professional competitive target marksman who gets locked into a bitter and deadly rival with Alex Fong. Here, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu star as rivals in a shooting competition. One's a day-trader and part-time crackshot and the other a cop. Reviews are mixed, but there's a good one at A Nutshell Review. In Cantonese with English and Thai subtitles at the Lido.

Going the Distance – Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star in this romantic comedy as a couple who have a summer fling, part ways and then embark on a long-distance romance. This is just opening in the U.S. this weekend, so there aren't many reviews, but critical reception so far is mostly negative. Rated 18+

Color's Love (สมาน ฉัน คัลเลอร์เลิฟ, Saman Chan) – A bickering young couple from opposite sides of Thailand's "color" factions (Tachapol Chumduang and Pokchut Tiemchai) decide to divorce on Valentine’s Day, but before signing the paper, their little son has an accident and the only way he'll survive is if they stay together. Chawana Mahittichatkul-Pawakanon directs. The posters for this movie aim to make this about national reconciliation following the government's violent May 19 crackdown on the red-shirt anti-government protests, and that people of different affiliations or "colors" should live in harmony. The trailer shows there is a fair amount of comedy as well, despite the melodramatic premise. Rated G.

Also showing

14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival – Today is queer film day at the fest, with the Queer of Siam package at 5 and an international selection in Queer Generation at 6.30. Friday's shows are the first of the International Competition programs at 5 and a rare look inside Myanmar in the Beyond Yangon compilation of short documentaries the Yangon Film School at 6.30. Starting at 11 on Saturday is a full day of Thai indie shorts in competition as well as Shorts for Kids, In the Realm of Conflict and the Best of Clermont-Ferrand. Sunday's shows include the Dedicated to Payut Nagaokrachan Animation Showcase of international animated shorts. On weekends, please be aware that some of the screenings are in the fourth-floor activity room. This space has a flat floor and is not ideally suited for film viewing. So if you're tall, please be considerate to other audience members and sit in the back or off to the side. The awards ceremony is at 5.30 on Sunday and the fest closes with the screening of the winning entries starting at 7.

Chulalongkorn University International Film Festival – The current leg of Chula's DVD screening series closes tomorrow with A Prophet, director Jacques Audiard's winner of the Cannes Grand Prix, Oscar-nominee and much acclaimed drama. The prison tale stars Tahar Rahim as an illiterate young hoodlum who is jailed and given "missions" to carry out by a Corsican cellblock leader. He's a fast learner and rises up the prison ranks, all the while secretly devising his own plans. The show time is 5pm in the Boromrajakumari Building, Room 503 (seating capacity: 320). There's free parking next to Chulalongkorn University Auditorium. The movies are on DVD, all with the original soundtracks and English subtitles. Admission is free. Stay on afterward for a talk with film critics Kittisak Suvannapokhin, Nopamat Veohong and the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee. Call (02) 218 4802 or visit

Cabaret Balkan: Rarely Seen Films from the Balkans – The film series continues this week with two more from the former Yugoslavia. First up is When I Am Dead and Gone, a 1967 drama by Serbian "black wave" director Živojin Pavlović about a small-time pickpocket and aspiring singer who hopes to make it big. This movie was originally banned by the communist authorities because of its realistic portrayal of the "economic boom" times. Next up is The Medusa Raft, a 1980 drama by Slovenian filmmaker Karpo Acimovic-Godina. Set in a small Serbian town in the 1920s, it's about a group of eccentric Dadaist artists. The movies are at Thammasat University Tha Prachan, in the Pridi Banomyong Library's Rewat Buddhinun Room, U2 Floor. The shows start at 12.30. The movies are on DVD. Admission is free. You'll have to inform the library staff you're watching the movies and let them copy your ID. Call (02) 613 3529 or (02) 613 3530 or visit the DK Filmhouse blog for the complete lineup.

RIP Satoshi Kon – House cinema on RCA will remember animator Satoshi Kon with a special screening of his Tokyo Godfathers, a drama about a disparate trio of streetpeople – a transvestite, a runaway girl and a gruff alcoholic bum – who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. Kon died on August 24 at the age of 46. He had pancreatic cancer. The pain he felt and despair about dying is chronicled in a rambling blog entry, posted posthumously by his family and generously translated by blogger Makikoh Itoh. Kon made four feature films, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, which competed at the 2006 Venice film festival. He was working on a fifth film, The Dreaming Machine, when he died. Tokyo Godfathers screens at 7pm on Sunday at House. Admission is 80 baht.

10 Years of Tears of the Black Tiger –Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร, Fah Talai Jone) was released 10 years ago this month. Equal parts parody and loving homage to classic Thai action films of the 1960s, Tears of the Black Tiger is a colorful melodramatic, action-filled western. It was the first Thai film to play in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, and it won the Dragons and Tigers Award for best new director at the Vancouver International Film Festival, as well as several awards in Thailand. The Thai Film Archive has a month of activities lined up to celebrate Fah Talai Jone's 10th anniversary. They'll be playing all of Wisit's features – Tears of the Black Tiger, Citizen Dog and The Unseeable – as well as classic Thai films that influenced Wisit's style. These include the films of Ratana Pestonji – 1955's Forever Yours (ชั่วฟ้าดินสลาย, Chuafah Din Salai, 1957's Country Hotel (โรงแรมนรก, Rongraem Narok) and 1961's Black Silk (แพรดำ, Phrae Dum) as well as other influential films: 1977's Citizen Taxi Driver by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, 1979's Mountain People (Khon Pu Khao) by Vichit Kounavudhi and 1962's The Boat House by Prince Phanuphan Yukol. On September 25, there will be a discussion on Tears of the Black Tiger and a screening of clips of Wisit's films. Of course, all this is an excellent warm-up for the big event of the year – the expected October 7 release of one of the year's most highly anticipated films Wisit's reboot of classic Thai cinema's Red Eagle action franchise with Ananda Everingham stepping into a role once filled by legendary superstar Mitr Chaibancha. During September, the Thai Film Archive will also repeat some of the programs of the 14th Thai Short Film & Video Festival – the Best of Clermont Ferrand, In the Realm of Conflict and Beyond Yangon. They are also continuing the 11am Sunday matinee screenings of Payut Ngaokrachang's The Adventure 0f Sudsakorn until October 3. Please see the website for the schedule and other details. The screenings are on DVD and I am uncertain of the availability of subtitles. Call ahead and ask at (02) 482 2013-14, ext 111, if you need to know more.

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