Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 2-8, 2012

The Lady

Production of The Lady was quietly underway in Thailand in 2010 when news broke that the film's subject, Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, had been released from nearly two decades of house arrest by her country's military rulers. French director Luc Besson didn't believe it at first, because the TV footage looked so similar to the film he'd just shot.

But the news was true, and actress Michelle Yeoh, who portrays Suu Kyi, was actually able to meet the Nobel Peace laureate.

Later, the news of the film broke, and the still-testy Burmese junta denied Yeoh a chance to meet Suu Kyi a second time, though Besson was permitted. Yeoh says she might try to visit again, now that Burma, a.k.a. Myanmar, has initiated democratic reforms and Suu Kyi is free to be active in politics once again.

Described as "an incredible love story", The Lady chronicles Suu Kyi's days when she was studying at Oxford and met the English writer Michael Aris (portrayed by David Thewlis). The two form a relationship, get married, have children and live abroad as globetrotting scholars.

But then Suu Kyi's mother falls ill, and she goes to Burma for a visit. There she becomes caught up in politics, and as the daughter of general Aung San, the slain hero of independence from British colonial rule, she accepts her role as a democracy icon. The rest, as they say, is history, with Suu Kyi having to choose between her marriage and her country.

Besson, the director-producer of such hit action movies as Léon (The Professional) and The Fifth Element, may seem like an odd choice to direct this project, but he's always had a thing for strong female characters, like Joan of Arc and the female assassin in Nikita.

The Lady premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and has screened in several other festivals. It was the closing film at the recent Hua Hin International Film Festival, with Besson and Yeoh in attendance. And The Nation had a chat with Yeoh and Besson.

Critical reception is mixed, though Yeoh has been pretty much universally praised for her portrayal of Suu Kyi, and has been nominated for a Satellite Award. Rated 13+.

Also opening

War Horse – Steven Spielberg directs this epic drama about a horse that forms a bond with a young man and touches the lives of many others during World War I in Europe. It's based on a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo that's also been adapted for the London stage. Newcomer actor Jeremy Irvine stars. It's been nominated for a wagonload of awards, including Oscars for best picture, cinematography and John Williams' score. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to favorable (check out this hilarious illustrated review). Rated 13+.

Man on a Ledge – A fugitive ex-cop (Sam Worthington) stands on the ledge of a high-rise New York  hotel while a police negotiator (Elizabeth Banks) tries to talk him down. Meanwhile, the biggest diamond heist ever committed is in motion. Jamie Bell, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Kyra Sedgwick, Edward Burns and Titus Welliver also star. It's directed by Dutch filmmaker Asgar Leth, who previously made the 2006 Haitian political docu-drama Ghosts of Cité Soleil. Critical reception is mostly negative. Rated 15+.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – I didn't know this was a sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth until I read a Nation story about it last week. But yeah, it's a sequel, even though the only character who's really returning from the Brendan Fraser movie is young actor Josh Hutcherson. And since you can't build a franchise around him, they have none other than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to help out. As a stepson and stepdad, the set off an adventure to find a non-existent island, from which Hutcherson's character's grandfather (Michael Caine, cashing a check) sent a message. They hitch a ride in a broken-down helicopter with the pilot (Luis Guzman) and his improbably beautiful daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) and find the magical lost island, where there are miniature elephants and giant insects. Brad Peyton (Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) directs, making his live-action feature debut. Critical reception is mixed, though keep in mind this hasn't opened in the U.S., so not a lot of the usual critics have seen it. In 3D, including IMAX. Rated G.

Rak: An Ordinary Love Story (รัก) – Friends help Note (Komen Ruangkitrattanakul) and Nam (Benjanat Aksornnan) celebrate their wedding at a beachfront resort. Chatwan Witsawabamrungchai directs. Rated 15+.

Rak Liaw Fiaw!! (Ah) (รักเลี้ยวเฟี้ยวว!!(อ่ะ)) – Louis Scott is a guy named Korn who girls fall in love with as soon as they meet him. He doesn't know what to do with his life, so he sets off a journey from Phetchabun to Chiang Rai to find some answers. Scott's old Raptor singing buddy Joni Anwar also stars. Rated G.

Legend of a Rabbit – This Chinese animation about a kung-fu-fighting bunny takes dead aim at Hollywood's Kung Fu Panda franchise by casting a big, mean panda as the villain. But it's also much the same as Kung Fu Panda – a portly, goofball character who works in a food stall finds himself gifted with martial-arts powers and undergoes a transformation from underdog to hero. Even Chinese film-goers are calling Legend of the Rabbit a rip-off of Kung Fu Panda. Critical reception has been mixed. And, despite the movie being made in 3D, in Thailand it's only getting a limited release in 2D, and it's Thai-dubbed with no subtitles. At the Lido in Siam Square. Rated G.

Also showing

"A Ripe Volcano", screens in the BEFF closing program, "Now-Where?" at 7pm on Sunday.
6th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival – Held every other year or so and put on by a group of artists, curators, film scholars and filmmakers, this year's theme is "Raiding the Archives", and aims to group short films and features into programs that give the works a new context. Tonight's program, starting at 7, is at the Goethe-Institut, with a selection of shorts from sixpackfilm, a distributor of experimental films based in Vienna. Tomorrow night at 6, the festival moves to the William Warren Library at the Jim Thompson Art Center, with a talk on "Curating Artists Cinema", in English with translation into Thai. And on Saturday, the festival is back at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, starting at noon with History of Thai Experimenta 2, with a program of home movies collected at the Thai Film Archive. Another program on Saturday, Poetics of Longing, features shorts by the likes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (0016643225059) and Wichanon Sumumjarn (Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse). A highlight on Saturday is the Thai premiere of World Without End, a 1953 documentary, partly shot here by experimental filmmaker Basil Wright. That's at 6.15. The closing day on Sunday starts at noon, and among the highlights are From Experimenta India, Hong Kong Bohemia and KLEX @ BEFF6, featuring selections from the Kuala Lumpur Experiental Film and Video Festival. Click the link for the full schedule.

Contact High – The Goethe-Institut's German Open Air Cinema series continues on Tuesday, February 7, with this 2006 Austrian road comedy by Michael Glawogger, following the lives of four men living in Vienna. The show time is at 7.30pm.

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