Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening July 18-24, 2013

Only God Forgives

Following the widespread acclaim for his 2011 movie Drive, cult Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn moved to Thailand with his family and set up shop in Bangkok as he immersed himself in Thai culture and worked on his next project. The result is an ultra-violent framing of Winding Refn's view of Bangkok culture in the crime drama Only God Forgives, which reunites him with his enigmatic Drive star Ryan Gosling.

The Gos is a gangster in Bangkok who runs a boxing gym as a front for his smuggling ring. When his brother is killed, the crime family's domineering matriarch (Kristin Scott Thomas, cast wildly against type) arrives on the scene to demand he take revenge, or else. This sets up a confrontation with the "Angel of Vengeance", a sword-wielding retired Thai policeman who dispenses his own brand of justice.

Vithaya Pansringarm, who played a sleuthing monk in the 2010 Thai mystery movie Mindfulness and Murder and has been featured in bit parts in foreign productions here, plays that brutal cop. It's possibly the role of his lifetime. A soft-spoken late-bloomer actor, the 50-year-old "Pooh" Vithaya is quite a bit different from the character he plays on screen.

The cast also includes Ratha Po-ngam, a pop singer who garnered praise for her break-out film role in the remake of the erotic drama Jan Dara and was also recently seen in the burlesque tale Angels.

Only God Forgives also sees Refn reuniting with his Drive score composer, Cliff Martinez, who collaborated closely with the director in unearthing ear-wormy Thai pop and luk thung music for the soundtrack.

The film premiered in the main competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where it was actually booed. Critics were divided, with Bangkok-based Kong Rithdee among the detractors. Nonetheless, Only God Forgives went on to the Sydney Film Festival, where it was awarded best film. Also premiering this week in the U.S., critical reception remains polarized. Rated 18+.

Also opening

Red 2 – Bruce Willis and his gang of aging spies are back for more explosive adventures. Former CIA agent Frank Moses (Willis) is enjoying retirement and a normal life with his new lady (Mary-Louise Parker) when his crazy old colleague (John Malkovich) tracks them down and convinces them to take a mission. This leads them to needing to go to Russia to track down a missing portable nuclear device. Helen Mirren also returns as the sophisticated British assassin and joining the cast this time around are Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones as an old flame of Moses and Lee Byun-hun as a relentless killer. Dean Parisot, director of 1999's Galaxy Quest along with many television credits, takes over for Robert Schwentke, helmer of the first film. Red is based on a cult comic-book series, so there's plenty more stories that could be told. Critical reception, so far, is mixed. Rated 15+.

Man of Tai Chi – Falling back on his martial-arts training from The Matrix, Keanu Reeves directs and co-stars as the villain in this Chinese drama about a humble tai-chi student who is forced to puts his skills to use in a deadly underground fight club. A pet project of Reeves' that's been in development for several years, it stars his friend and trainer Tiger Chen and is loosely based on his life. It also features work from Matrix fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping. Karen Mok also stars as a feisty Hong Kong police inspector with Simon Yam as her boss. Among the featured fighters is Iko Uwais (The Raid). Critical reception is mixed. Rated 15+.

Turbo – Dreamworks Animation introduces what's ultimately going to be a TV series with this feature. Though it clearly aims to capture some of the fan base for the Fast and Furious films, it actually appears to be an unlikely combination of Crank and Pixar's Cars. Here, a snail with delusions of being the greatest racer in the world has his dream come true after a freak accident gives him with the power of incredible speed. The voice cast stars Ryan Reynolds with support from Maya Rudolph, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Michael Peña, Michelle Rodriguez and many others. Critical reception is mixed. It's in 3D in some cinemas. Rated G.

Prayok Sanya Rak (ประโยคสัญญารัก, a.k.a. Present Perfect Continuous Tense) – '90s movie star and soap actress Lalita Sasiprapha is back on the big screen in this romantic drama about an attractive fortysomething woman in a doomed relationship with a guy half her age (Setthapong Phiangpor). Rated 15+.

The Berlin File – Three South Korean movies open in Major Cineplex branches this week as part of a promotion. The best of the bunch appears to be this hit spy thriller, which was released earlier this year in South Korea. The action involves an illegal arms deal and a "ghost" agent (Ha Jung-woo). Watching it all go down are an embattled South Korean intelligence chief (Han Suk-Kyu), the North Koreans and the Americans, all at odds about whose side the ghost is on. Rated 18+.

All About My Wife – This 2012 South Korean romantic comedy is about a guy (Lee Seon-gyoon) who is desperate to divorce his stubborn nagging wife of seven years (Lim Su-jeong). He asks his womanizing neighbor (Ryoo Seung-yong) to seduce her in hopes she will be wooed away. At Major Cineplex, including Paragon, Mega and Esplanade. Rated 13+.

Love 911 – In this 2012 romantic comedy-drama, a widowed, guilt-ridden firefighter is increasingly taking more risks as he mourns his wife who died while he was helping others. He is thrown together in rocky romance with a doctor who is fighting the loss of her medical license. Han Hyo-joo and Ko Soo star. It's also part of the South Korean films package at Major Cineplex. Rated 15+.

Kamen Rider × Super Sentai: Super Hero Taisen – Big in Japan and popular with youngsters here, this 2012 costumed-and-masked hero adventure combines the forces of two popular teams from the tokusatsu suitmation franchises. Rated G.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – Bollywood's answer to Chariots of Fire recalls the deeds of the "Flying Sikh", runner Milkha Singh, who represented India in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics during a time of great upheaval in his Punjab homeland (now part of Pakistan). Farhan Akhtar and Sonam Kapoor star. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Paragon, Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Major Rama III. Opens Friday.

D-Day – And here's another Bollywood film – a crime-thriller about officers charged with going to Pakistan and bringing back India's most wanted man. Irrfan Khan and Arjun Rampal star. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Paragon, Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Major Rama III. Opens Friday.

Also showing

Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง, Fahtum Pandinsoong) – Indie director Nontawat Numbenchapol had originally planned a more-extensive release for his embattled documentary on the Thai-Cambodian border conflict. But he had to scale back due to a controversy over another politically sensitive film, Paradoxocracy, which Major Cineplex came under pressure for showing and actually discouraged customers from seeing. Under his unusual arrangement with the theater chain, Nontawat is hiring out the hall and selling tickets himself, with the Bangkok release running for only four days at Esplanade Cineplex Ratchadaphisek. Showtimes are at 7 nightly until Sunday. For more details, see the movie's Facebook page.

BiguineThe Alliance Française screens free movies with English subtitles at 7.30pm every Wednesday. Next week's show is a 2004 musical that recounts the lively dancehall scene in Martinique in the 1870s.

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