It's been a strong year for Thai queer films, and one of the major pillars has been The Blue Hour (Onthakan, อนธการ), a coming-of-age romance and suspense thriller.
The story involves a teenager named Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas) who is bullied at school and unloved at home. He arranges to meet a stranger named Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang) at a spooky, abandoned swimming pool. There, amid the moldering surroundings, the two young men have rough sex and then talk about ghosts. A friendship forms, and it leads to extremely dark places.
Directed by Anucha Boonyawatana, The Blue Hour had its world premiere at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, alongside another queer-themed Thai entry, director Josh Kim's How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), a.k.a. P'Chai My Hero, which was released in cinemas here last month. Then there's a third gay romance, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Red Wine in the Dark Night, which was released a couple weeks ago.
In addition to Berlinale, The Blue Hour has been featured at other festivals, including Hong Kong, Seattle, Taipei, Toronto's Inside Out and Montreal's Fantasia fest. Critical reception has been very positive, and I've got my own review coming soon. In the meantime, here's a few words from the Fantasia Fest:
A stunning ghost story from Thai filmmaker Anucha Boonyawatana, The Blue Hour recalls the work of masters such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, while spinning its own fresh take on repressed queer sexuality, abuse and intolerance. Using the concept of haunting to tackle these issues, as well as the complex interplay between national identities and buried sexual desires, Boonywatana’s feature-length debut is nothing short of a masterpiece of tension, a revelation from this year’s Berlinale. Acutely observant, The Blue Hour’s ethereal and painterly cinematography is matched only by its terrifying set design and the stunning Thai countryside, which comes alive as the perfect mirror to the protagonists’ fragile psyches — and the traumatic and supernatural forces bubbling underneath their doomed romance.
It's only at some SF cinemas: SF World, SFX Central Rama 9, SFC The Mall Bang Kapi, SFC The Mall Ngamwongwan and SFX Maya Chiang Mai (sorry Pattaya).
For more details, check the film's Facebook page. Rated 18+
Fantastic Four – Marvel Comics have struggled for decades to bring Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's "first family" to the big screen. Attempts have included a low-budget unreleased 1994 effort, produced by Roger Corman solely to hold onto expiring rights to the property, and a pair of critically assailed, quickly forgettable big-budget efforts made about 10 years ago. There were hopes that maybe Hollywood would get it right this time, but the approach seems to have faltered right out of the gate, with a new origin tale that departs radically from the comics, which upsets people. There are controversies over this, but I don't want to address them here, because it's just so tiresome. Just give the movie a chance, I say, and let it stand on its own merits. Directed by Josh Trank, who got his big break with the pretty neat found-footage superhero tale Chronicle, this new new Fantastic Four stars Miles Teller (Whiplash) as brilliant scientist and group leader Dr. Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Kate Mara (House of Cards) as Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman, Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, The Wire) as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch and Jamie Bell (Jumper, Turn: Washington's Spies) as Ben Grimm/The Thing. Unfortunately, early critical reception is underwhelming, so this film faces a uphill battle. Could be back to the drawing board. Rated G
Dark Places – Twenty-five years after her family was massacred in a Kansas farmhouse, and her court testimony sent her brother to prison, the lone survivor reluctantly agrees to revisit the case with a group of true-crime enthusiasts who say they have uncovered new evidence. It's adapted from a book by Gillian Flynn, the novelist who became hot property last year with the success of Gone Girl. Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Corey Stoll, Chloe Grace Moretz, Drea de Matteo and Christina Hendricks star. Frenchman Gilles Paquet-Brenner directs. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 15+
Joe Hua Tangmo (โจ หัวแตงโม นักสืบออนไลน์) – Jirayu La-ongmanee is Joe, a computer hacker who creates an avatar that enables him to enter the online world to find out the real names of the people behind display names on social networks. Arikanta “Gypso” Mahaprukphong and Tanan Boonyatanapiwat also star. Industry veteran Kittikorn Liasirikun directs, blending live action with computer animation. Rated G
The Friese-Greene Club – August at the FGC has gotten underway with French actress-director Catherine Breillat's films on Wednesdays, Swedish titan Ingmar Bergman on Thursdays and Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci on Fridays. Saturdays are devoted to cult director and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam while Sundays have Frank Sinatra films. Tonight, it's Bergman's Autumn Sonata, his last effort for the cinema before he turned to television. It stars Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. The club lists a private event for tomorrow, but the heavy wooden door swings back open on Saturday for a special screening, not of anything by Gilliam, but for The World Made Straight. An indie crime drama set in 1970s North Carolina, it's directed by David Burris, who will be present. Burris is a producer on the TV series Survivor. Seating for this special event is first-come, first-served, so don't be late. Check Facebook for details. Sunday features Sinatra in his Oscar-winning role in the classic World War II drama From Here to Eternity. And next Wednesday's offering combines two of this month's themes, with Bertolucci directing Marlon Brando and Breillat in the controversial erotic drama Last Tango in Paris. 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.
Movies will be released a day earlier next week because of the public holiday for Her Majesty the Queen's birthday and Mother's Day.
And, owing to that, there will be no screenings at the Alliance Française. However, the following Wednesday, August 19, the Alliance will host a special screening of Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieslowski's Rouge (Red), with the film's star, actress Irene Jacob, coming to Bangkok for a "meet the artist" session.
Also next week is the start of the 19th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, an annual highlight of my movie-going calendar. Details are still being hammered together, but I'll aim to have more information soon.
It seems the shine has worn off 3D in Thailand, as Fantastic Four is released here in 2D only, despite having a 3D version available. The 3D conversions are mainly being done for China, where 3D is still being pushed heavily and seems to be preferred.