Thailand's multiplex operators had put their eggs into one basket for this week's opening of Fast and Furious 7, positioning it as the sole major release of the week, a major tentpole roped up by tomorrow's fifth-cycle birth-anniversary celebrations for Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. In other words, the Princess, affectionately referred to as Phra Thep, is 60. There's also a huge new mall opening in Bangkok.
As in other territories outside the U.S., Fast and Furious has been an immensely popular franchise in Thailand, with fans drawn by the fast cars, gyrating women, over-the-top action scenes, Vin Diesel's gravelly voice and the muscles of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
This seventh film in the car-chase series is extra-special because it is the last one featuring star Paul Walker, who died in November 2013 in a car crash that took place during a break in filming. He's been with Fast and Furious since the beginning in 2001, only taking a break for the third part, Tokyo Drift.
And making Fast and Furious 7 even more special for Thailand is the casting of martial-arts actor Tony Jaa in a small supporting role as a villain. Jaa is making his much-anticipated Hollywood debut, after toiling for years in the Thai studio system, where he made such movies as Ong-Bak and Tom-Yum-Goong.
But a week before today's release, Jaa's former employer Sahamongkol Film International got the Civil Court to issue an injunction to temporarily ban Fast and Furious 7 in Thailand, legal action taken because of a contract dispute with Jaa. Sahamongkol contends the actor is still under contract and by going to work for other studios, he's in breach of that. Jaa insists the contract is not valid, and he's moved on to pursue his long-held dream of working in Hollywood.
Anyway, on Monday, the movie's distributor UIP managed to get the temporary ban lifted, with the court reasoning it was unfair to the other actors in the film. I mean, poor Jordana Brewster!
And all along, it seemed like the injunction wasn't really having any effect, as the movie was still being promoted and if you didn't know anything about the injunction, you'd assume everything was proceeding as normal. The whole ordeal is covered in a post on that other blog.
So what's the movie about? Does it matter? Well, sure. Why not? Dominic Torreto (Diesel) and his gang of car-racing high-stakes thieves have settled into comfortable lives following their last caper. But they are forced to fight back when they are targeted by a highly trained British black-ops assassin (Jason Statham), who is out for revenge for the death of his brother. It is basically Die Hard 3, but with cars that fly.
James Wan, who previously helmed sickenly raw horror movies like Saw and Insidious, takes over as director. The bulk of the series has been directed by Justin Lin, who has moved on to Paramount's Star Trek, captaining the Simon Pegg-penned entry that might actually save the rebooted sci-fi marque. Furious 7 also features Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and, hey, Lucas Black.
Critical reception is crazily positive. At least when I last looked. It's in fake 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX and IMAX Digital. Rated 15+
Outcast – Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen star in this made-for-China historical action fantasy as a pair of Westerner warriors who seem weirdly out of place in the ancient Eastern realm. They come to the aid of an heir to the throne and his sister who are targeted for assassination by their older brother. Yifei Liu and Andy On also star. Nick Powell, who has overseen stunts on a wide range of movies including the action-packed Hot Rod and slick-as-heck Resident Evil: Retribution, directs. This was supposed to open last Thursday, but didn't appear on the schedules when I checked, but by Saturday Outcast had been added to the roster, so now I'm listing it here. Critical reception is mostly negative. But come on! Nic Cage! Rated 15+
Ode to My Father – South Korea's second-highest-grossing film of all time is a historical epic covering three tumultuous decades, from the 1950s Hungnam Evacuation during the Korean War, to the government's decision to send nurses and miners to West Germany in the 1960s, and South Korea's mostly unsung participation in the Vietnam War, as seen through the eyes of a man named Deok-Su. Yoon Je-kyoon (Sex Is Zero) directs. It was well received on the festival circuit, but as with all things Korean, it's been contentious. Critical reception is mixed, with some viewers turned off by an idealized view of authoritarian South Korean regimes of the past. Sounds familiar. It's in Korean with English and Thai subtitles. Rated 13+ Opens Thursday.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! – In wartorn 1940s Calcutta, a young private detective takes on his first case, which pits him against an evil genius who is out to destroy the world. Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari and Swastika Mukherjee star. Super stylish, it's adapted from a series of detective novels by best-selling Bengali writer Saradindu Bandyopadhyay. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Rama III and Cineplex Pattaya. Opens Friday.
The Friese-Greene Club – April's schedule features Werner on Wednesdays, Woody on Thursdays, cult indies on Fridays, great westerns on Saturdays and French classics on Sundays. Tonight, Klaus Kinski is an explorer in the rugged epic Aguirre, the Wrath of God, the first of several collaborations between Herzog and his volatile muse. Purple Rose of Cairo is this week's Woody. Friday's cult indie is Miracle Mile, a 1988 film that captures the coming apocalypse in Los Angeles in real time. Saturday, it's the most epic of the epic spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach searching for a hidden cache of Confederate army gold. Equally epic is Sunday's French film Playtime, Jacques Tati's ambitious look at alienating modern architecture. Leone blew up bridges, Tati built an airport. You decide. And next Wednesday is another Herzog, Nosferatu, the Vampyre, in which Kinski really is Count Dracula. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the under-renovation Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. For more details, check the club's Facebook page.
Alliance Française – There are two free French offerings this week. First up on Saturday is something for young (and old) viewers, the highly influential animated feature Le Roi et l'oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird), directed by Paul Grimault, who took some 30 years to realize the project to full fruition, finally bringing his definitive version to the screen in 1980. It's in French with English subtitles at 2pm on Saturday, April 4 at the Alliance. Next Wednesday's offering is geared for more mature audiences, L'amour est un crime parfait (Love is the Perfect Crime), starring Mathieu Amalric as a university professor with a reputation for sleeping with his female students. It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, April 8 at the Alliance. Please take note that there will be no free French film on Wednesday, April 15, owing to the long Songkran holiday, from April 13 to 15.
As statEMd at the top of this piEMce, thrEMrEM is aEMn EMMENSE EMnew shoppiEMng EMall iEMn BaEMngkok, thEM EMQuartiEMr oppositEM thEM EMporiuEM at PhroEM PhoEMng EMBTS statioEMn, iEMn what is bEMiEMng toutEMd as thEM "EM District".
I will stop now.
Along with the usual high-end boutiques, coffee shops and gourmet pretzel stands, this huge new mall has an ultra-luxurious theater operated by Major Cineplex, the Quartier CineArt, which opens today. According to a story in The Nation, the Quartier CineArt is aimed at the well-heeled expats who live in the pricey neighborhood, and has the same higher prices that you'll find at Paragon. There's yet another Em-themed EMall to go up across the park on the site of the former Washington Square, with more of the same. But here's a suggestion: put in a fair-priced cinema (and/or cabaret show) to replace the one that was ripped down there.
An eight-screen multiplex, the CineArt has the Toyota IMAX, which is yet another of the mini-IMAX screens that have cropped up in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai in recent years. Do not be fooled by these "IMAX Digital" screens as they are called – the only authentic full-size IMAX screen is the Krungsri IMAX at Paragon, an important distinction if you want the true IMAX experience.
This was set to be a weird week even without the legal brouhaha over Furious 7.
Fast and Furious 7 opens a day earlier than usual, then adding to the confusion is one more film opening tomorrow, the South Korean offering Ode to My Father, which looks to be at Major Cineplex. And there's a Bollywood movie, opening on Friday as they usually do.
I am just going to post this today and hope the movies will materialize as advertised, and that no other unannounced movies will suddenly crop up. I will keep an eye out for changes, and will note them on Twitter. See you here EMnEMxt Thursday.