Yet another free film festival is upon us with the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, organized by the Culture Ministry and the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand. Running from August 27 to 30 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, it will present films from each of the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Noteworthy entries include The Last Reel from Cambodia, Bwaya from the Philippines and Men Who Save the World from Malaysia. There are even films from two countries that don't really make that many movies, Laos and Brunei.
Here is the line-up:
- What's So Special About Rina? (Brunei) – One of the first feature films to come out of the oil-rich Muslim sultanate on the island of Borneo, Rina is an enjoyable romantic comedy by Harlif Haji Mohamad and Farid Azlan Ghani. It centers on a sad-sack advertising man named Hakim (Syukri Mahari) and his ladies-man roommate Faisal (Tauffek Ilyas). Hakim nervously attempts to catch the eye of his new co-worker Rina while Faisal competes for the affections of a waitress, who is also being wooed by an Elvis impersonator. Read more about it in an article in The Nation from a couple years ago.
- The Last Reel (Cambodia) – This much-buzzed-about title mixes contemporary Cambodian culture with the country's cinematic Golden Age of the past, all tinged by the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era. The drama involves a young woman (Ma Rynet) who learns that her aged, mentally ailing mother was an actress in the 1960s and 70s. Seeking to make a connection with her mom, Sophoun sets about recreating the lost final reel from one of her mother's most famous films. Mom is portrayed by Dy Saveth – one of Cambodia's best-known actresses and a starlet of the Golden Age. The debut film by Kulikar Sotho, The Last Reel has won several prizes, including the Spirit of Asia Award from the Tokyo film fest and the Black Diamond Audience Award from the Udine Far East Asian Film Festival.
- Siti (Indonesia) – Directed by Eddie Cahyohno, Siti is a 24-hour slice of life about a young mother who goes to work in a karaoke bar, against her fisherman husband's wishes, in order to support the family. It is filmed in black-and-white, in the old-style 4:3 ratio. Critical reception has been fair, and Siti has won awards, including best actress at the Singapore International Film Fest for star Sekar Sari and best script at the Shanghai fest.
- Real Love 2 (Laos) – Stifled for decades by the communist military rulers, commercial filmmaking is finally starting up in Laos, and one of the early adopters of this fledgling medium has been singer, comedian and TV host Jear Pacific, who last year made his film debut with the romantic comedy Huk Ey Ly, which offered various vignettes of young couples and their comical antics, all in a slapstick style designed to appeal to an audience whose main source of entertainment has been Thai television. The quickly made sequel Huk Ey Ly 2 offers more of the same, and it's been a big hit in Laos, which just opened its first modern multiplex, the Major Platinum Cineplex in Vientiane.
- Men Who Save the World (Malaysia) – Liew Seng Tat, who made his award-winning feature debut in 2007 with the sweet boyhood tale Flower in Pocket, returns with a satire on contemporary Malaysian society with Men Who Save the World. The story is centered in a remote village that is panicked by a haunted house, inhabited not by ghosts, but by a fugitive African immigrant. From appearances in festivals that include Hong Kong, Locarno and Singapore, critical reception has been mixed, but perhaps viewers with more than a passing knowledge of Malaysian culture will appreciate this film more.
- Golden Kingdom (Myanmar) – This is a drama, written and directed by American filmmaker Brian Perkins. It premiered at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, where it was a nominee for Best First Feature and the Crystal Bear Award in the youth-oriented Generation Kplus category. With many painterly, finely composed shots, it follows four young novice monks at a remote monastery, who are left to fend for themselves when their abbot is called away on temple business. Critical reception has been fair.
- Bwaya (Philippines) – A 2009 incident in which a girl was killed by a crocodile serves as the basis for this award-winning drama by Francis Xavier Pasion. Set in the Agusan del Sur water basin, the story involves a young mother (Angeli Bayani from Ilo Ilo) who is searching for her daughter's missing body. She has to navigate treacherous social terrain as she discovers that the worst predators are not in the water. Bwaya (Crocodile) has won many awards, including the Best Film-New Breed prize and Netpac Award at Cinemalaya and the Grand Prize at Tokyo FilmEx.
- 1021 (Singapore) – Despite a huge Tamil-speaking population, locally made Tamil films have been rare in Singapore, but there is a movement afoot to correct that. Following 2009's My Magic by Eric Khoo, now there's 1021, a family drama about a teenage girl who after the death of her mother goes to live with her father, a lonely, depressed man who has turned to drugs to cope. Local buzz has been positive.
- Latitude 6 – Thailand looks the Deep South for its contribution to the festival, with this drama that was released in cinemas in July. Directed by Thanadol Nualsuth, it weaves together stories in a tight-knit ethnically diverse community in Pattani. The characters include a Bangkok musician and computer technician (Peter Corp Dyrendal) who comes to Pattani to update the Islamic Bank's software. Along they way, he falls for a Muslim woman, who is the daughter of a stern, tradition-minded religious leader who frowns when he sees the guy's tattoos. There's also a young guy who wants to excel at Pencak Silat, against the wishes of his tradition-minded father, and a young woman who deejays for a community radio station, caught in a love triangle between two boys. And the Army's Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), who produced this bit of propaganda, is there to lend an amiable, helping hand.
- Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories – Another selection from this year's Berlinale, Big Father is the sophomore effort from director Phan Dang Di, who was much acclaimed for his debut Bi, Don't Be Afraid. Set in 1990s' Ho Chi Minh City, the story involves a youngster named Vu who arrives in Saigon to go to photography school. He falls in love with his roommate, a shady guy who wants to involve Vu in various schemes. Meanwhile, the boy's father pushes a village girl toward Vu for an arranged marriage, and she becomes a third leg in an awkward triangular romance. In addition to taking part in the top-tier Golden Bear competition in Berlin, Big Father was also a nominee for prizes at the Hong Kong fest.
In addition to those 10 films, there is a hidden 11th title in the mix, Mart Payak, a made-for-TV biographical documentary on famed boxer Samart Payakarun, "The Jade Faced Tiger". Part of The Great Muay Thai Fighter TV series produced by Krungthep Thurakij and the Now 26 television channel, with support from the Culture Ministry, it follows Samart from his start in the ring as a boy and his rise to the heights of the Muay Thai world. It screens just once, on Wednesday night in a gala invite-only opening ceremony.
Following its run in Bangkok, the Asean Film Festival will travel to SF branches in Chiang Mai from September 3 to 6, Khon Kaen from September 10 to 13 and Surat Thani from September 17 to 20.
Admission is free, with tickets handed out 30 minutes before the shows. You'll want to queue up for an additional 30 minutes or so to ensure you get a decent seat. For the schedule, please see the SF Cinemas website.