Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening March 27-April 3, 2013

Pee Mak Phra Khanong

The often-told legend of the ghost wife Mae Nak Phra Khanong gets an update for teenybopper audiences in Pee Mak Phra Khanong (พี่มาก...พระโขนง), one of the Thai film industry's first big tentpole releases of the year.

Set 100 or so years ago in a small canal village that's now a paved-over part of Bangkok, the story has been adapted into films dozens of times and is probably best known for 1999's Nang Nak by Nonzee Nimibutr and screenwriter Wisit Sasanatieng. Originating as a play that was recounted by word of mouth so many times that it passed into folklore as a "true story" (there's even a shrine to the "actual" Mae Nak in Bangkok's Phra Khanong district), it's about young woman named Nak who dies in childbirth while her husband Mak is away at war. He returns home and resumes living with his wife and baby, unaware that she and his child are ghosts.

In Pee Mak, the apparently dimwitted and besotted husband's blissful ignorance is played for laughs as four hilarious pals make desperate attempts to get him to realize his lovely wife is a fearsome ghost.

Starring heartthrob young actor Mario Maurer as Mak and Davika Horne as Nak, it's released by GTH. The director is Banjong Pisunthanakun, the celebrated young helmer who had a hand in such films as Shutter, Alone, Phobia and Hollywood's recent ABCs of Death horror omnibus. Rated 15+.

Also opening

Lincoln – The leading nominee of this year's Academy Awards with 11 nods, Steven Spielberg's lavishly mounted historical drama features an Oscar-winning turn by Daniel Day-Lewis, who inhabits the role of the 16th U.S. president during the final months of his life. With the bloody War Between the States still raging and dividing the country, Abraham Lincoln faces an epic fight in Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, putting an end to slavery. Based in part on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the film also stars Oscar-nominee Sally Field as Lincoln's domineering wife Mary Todd Lincoln and grouchy old Tommy Lee Jones in a much-nominated and SAG Award-winning role as fierce anti-slavery proponent Thaddeus Stevens. I've been looking forward to Lincoln and believe it will make a sober bookend to the insane Django Unchained, which opened here two weeks ago. As a preview, check out comedian Louie CK's version of Lincoln. Critical reception is of course mostly positive. This is in a somewhat limited release, at Apex Siam Square, Paragon, Major Cineplex Ratchayothin, SFW CentralWorld and SFX the Emporium. Rated G.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation – The action movie franchise based on a line of Hasbro toy action figures gets a bit of a reboot in this sequel. Most of the cast from 2009's first entry are gone and have been replaced by the likes of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and iconic action hero Bruce Willis. The story has something to do with the evil people from COBRA taking over the White House and unleashing a powerful weapon that turns cities into mush. It also features cool ninjas fighting on the side of a mountain. Jon M. Chu, who's previously directed the Step Up dance movies and the Justin Bieber concert film, makes his first foray into blockbuster action, with the script by Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. I thought the first G.I. Joe movie was pretty dumb but also a lot of fun. And, having premiered in a few places already, critical consensus for Retaliation seems to hint at more of the same. Having opened here yesterday, it's in 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX and IMAX Digital. It's in 2D at Apex Siam Square. Rated 13+.

One Day (You yi tian) – This 2010 Taiwanese arthouse sci-fi romance has a young woman working on a ferry boat who has a recurring dream in which a young man shouts something at her that she can't understand. Then, one day, on the ferry boat, she meets a young soldier who says that someday he'll be her boyfriend. The debut fictional feature by Hou Chi-jan, One Day screened at several festivals, including Berlin, Hong Kong and Singapore. Critical reception is positive. It's in Mandarin with English and Thai subtitles at House on RCA.

Also showing

In Lav We Trust – Two recent works by the master of long-form black-and-white human suffering, Filipino auteur Lav Diaz, screen at the Reading Room on Silom Soi 19 on Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31. The films are 2011's Century of Birthing (Siglo ng pagluluwal) and last year's Florentina Hubaldo, CTE. Century of Birthing has two stories, one about a filmmaker who has spent years making an epic and still isn't happy with it, and the other dealing with a religious cult of mainly young women who are dominated by their charismatic male leader. Florentina Hubaldo, CTE is described as a philosophical drama about the psychological effects of injustice and arbitrariness, with two poor laborers leaving the city to look for a treasure. "CTE" is a medical acronym referring to the condition suffered by boxers who get punched in the head too many times. Both films clock in at 6 hours, which as Diaz fans know make them actually short films. The showtime is 1pm. I advise getting there early in order to stake out the spot you'll be occupying for the day. Bring along snacks and perhaps a pillow, folding chair or bedroll.

A still from Boundary, which opens Salaya Doc 2013.
Salaya International Documentary Film Festival – Salaya Doc 2013 gets underway on Monday, April 1 at 5pm at the Film Archive in Nakhon Pathom, with Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง, Fahtum pandinsoong), Nontawat Numbenchapol's look at the disputed border area around Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple. It premiered at last month's Berlin International Film Festival. The festival runs in Salaya until Sunday, April 7, with many worthwhile and thoughtful special programs and the ASEAN documentary competition. The festival also runs from Tuesday, April 2, to Sunday, April 7, at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. At BACC, the competition screenings are during most of the week at BACC and with the special programs taking place next weekend. I'll detail them more next week. Or, please see a recent post on that other blog and check the festival's Facebook page for the schedules.

Thailand International Film Destination Festival – This rather hastily planned event that unfortunately conflicts with Salaya Doc runs from April 1 to 10 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Plans are to screen such such made-in-Thailand Hollywood blockbusters as The Hangover Part II, The Beach and The Lady as well as China's low-budget box-office surprise Lost in Thailand, all of which have screened here before. Local premieres will include Formosa Betrayed, which has Thailand standing in for 1980s Taiwan, the Danish romantic comedy Teddy Bear and Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's globalization drama Mammoth starring Gael García Bernal and Michelle Williams. And, although it's been out on DVD for awhile, the action film Elephant White will make its Thai theatrical premiere. Directed by Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-Bak), it stars Djimon Hounsou as a mercenary holed up in a Buddhist temple while protecting a mysterious woman. He runs into conflict with a former friend, played by an oddly accented Kevin Bacon. The centerpiece of this 80-million-baht festival put on by the Thailand Film Office under the Department of Tourism is the Amazing Thailand Film Challenge, which has 48 foreign and two Thai teams rushing to complete short films and win a grand prize of 1 million baht. The winners will be announced at the obligatory red-carpet closing ceremony on April 10. Please check the festival website for the screening schedule.

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