Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening March 7-13, 2013

The Grandmaster

Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai brings his poetic slow-moving arthouse direction to kung-fu for his much-anticipated The Grandmaster, his first feature since 2007's My Blueberry Nights.

Covering mainly wartime 1930s China, the martial-arts epic follows a rivalry that develops between Wing Chun master Yip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) – the legendary mentor to Bruce Lee – and the fierce Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), daughter of the Gong family, who head a competing school of martial arts.

Over time, their rivalry morphs into mutual admiration and perhaps something more if only they weren't already married or engaged.

The Grandmaster opened in China early this year. Wong then spent weeks at the Oriental Post facilities in Bangkok cutting a special international version of his film, which premiered at last month's Berlin International Film Festival.

Critical reception, so far, is generally positive. It's in Chinese with English and Thai subtitles at Paragon and CentralWorld only – elsewhere Thai-dubbed. Rated 15+.

Also opening

Oz the Great and Powerful – Spider-Man director Sam Raimi pulls back that curtain and urges you to pay attention to the man behind it. A prequel to the classic 1939 musical fantasy The Wizard of Oz, Hollywood's second big tentpole release of the year stars James Franco as the man who would be "the wizard". He starts out as a shyster travelling-carnival magician from Kansas who ends up somewhere over the rainbow and smack in the middle of a battle between good and bad witches. Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams also star, with Zach Braff among the voices for the animated characters. Critical reception, so far, is mixed. It's in 3D in some cinemas, and a special IMAX version is at IMAX Paragon. Rated G.

Wish Us Luck (ขอให้เราโชคดี) – Wrapping up their masters-degree film studies in London, twin-sister filmmakers Wanweaw and Weawwan Hongvivatana thought it would be a swell idea to take the train back to Thailand. In Wish Us Luck, they document their colorfully languorous one-month adventure, which took them across Europe and Asia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and then down through Mongolia, China and Vietnam. They then jumped the tracks and made their way across Laos before finally boarding a train home to Bangkok. With many reflective moments along the way, the film at times takes on precious airs that recall Wes Anderson's train movie, The Darjeeling Limited. Other times, it's a bit weird, like when they have to share a compartment with a creepy Russian guy. It's at House on RCA, with showtimes at noon and 6.30 daily.

Amour – This highly acclaimed award-winning drama was supposed to receive a wide release last week but ended up being only a sneak preview run. It was an bizarre move, though perhaps not surprising considering that distributor Jiant Pictures has a reputation for making erratic, last-minute scheduling changes. Anyway, Amour has a wider variety of showtimes this week. Directed by Michael Haneke, the bleak drama stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as retired music teachers in their 80s. Their lifelong bond is severely tested after Anne suffers a series of crippling strokes. Isabelle Huppert also stars, portraying the couple's daughter. Amour won the top-prize Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival and has had scores of accolades since then. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won the Oscar for foreign language film. It's in French with English and Thai subtitles at Apex Siam Square and SF cinemas. Some Major Cineplex branches also have it, though the soundtrack appears to be English-dubbed at most branches. Rated 15+.

21 and OverHangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore squeeze into the director's chair for this tale of debauchery about a straight-A student (Justin Chon) who is turning 21 and wants to cut loose. However, he has an important medical-school interview the next morning, so he decides to have just one beer with his pals. If you've seen the Hangover movies, then you know that nothing will go as planned. Miles Teller and Skylar Astin also star. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 18+.

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away – James Cameron produces this immersive offering from the famous acrobatic troupe that's known for its fantastic shows. Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Narnia) directs the family-friendly action, which has a story about star-crossed lovers who are separated and must journey through astonishing, dreamlike worlds to find each other. Critical reception is mixed. It's in 3D only. Rated G.

Panya Raenu 3: Roopoo Roopee (ปัญญา-เรณู 3: รูปู รูปี) – Director Bin Bunluerit's third outing about the comic misadventures of Isaan schoolchildren finds little boy Panya, his chubby loudmouthed bully of a girlfriend Raenu and their pals lost in India. Rated G.

Take note

Digital screenings commenced at the Scala last week with Stoker and Jack the Giant Slayer.

If Internet rumors are to be believed, the Apex cinemas in Siam Square will close for good in 2016. That's the word from a Facebook post that's oddly by House RCA that was in turn tweeted by Thai film blogger Jediyuth.

Under plans revealed last year by landlord Chulalongkorn University, the Lido three-screen multiplex was to close at the end of its lease in 2014 to make way for the second phase of Chula's mall-building spree.

Phase one is currently underway, with the new Siam Square One mall rising from the ashes of the Siam Theatre, which burned down in the 2010 arson attacks following the crackdown on the red-shirt political protests.

Now, the Lido has been given a stay of execution until 2016 – the same year the lease runs out on the historic Scala, Bangkok's sole-remaining single-screen cinema.

After its unsustainable vision for more malls in a neighborhood that is already saturated with malls was revealed and sparked criticism, Chula sort of backed down, saying "plans have yet to be developed regarding the future of the [Lido and Scala sites]", so much is still uncertain.

Meanwhile, the Apex chain has added digital projection. It's a move that rankles film purists but ensures the theaters will be competitive.

And, instead charging more for digital "films" like other theater chains do, the admission price at the Apex cinemas remains the same bargain as it has always been – 100 baht – less than half the price charged on some days for some movies by the big shopping-mall multiplexes.

Digital projectors are in operation at the Scala and the Lido 2 and 3. I saw the digital screenings of Jack the Giant Slayer and Stoker over the weekend at the Scala. Both looked crisp and clear with no cigarette burns, scratches or frame jumps. However, the digital prints somehow feel less human, similar to the difference between vinyl records and CDs.

Interestingly, the old film projectors are still being fired up to show the previews as well as the Royal Anthem.

The move to digital also might enable the Apex cinemas to also more easily adapt to the 3D trend, though I'm not crazy about that idea – I tend to prefer 2D, and generally count on Apex to give me the alternative of watching a movie in 2D even if it might lend itself to 3D gimmickry.

While it's sad to see film projection fade, the switch to digital is a necessity, as many new releases are only available in digital format. And I have to wonder, if Apex really was going to close soon, is the investment in the digital equipment really worth it?

Update: The Bangkok Post has a story on the Apex's switch to digital, but offers no elaboration on the rumors on when the theaters might close.

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