Banned from China after 1997's Seven Years in Tibet, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud was welcomed back into the country to make Wolf Totem, an epic historical drama about a young man from Beijing who bonds with a wolf cub when he is assigned to teach nomads in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution in 1967.
It's a fact-based adventure epic, based on an autobiography by Lu Jiamin, about a young man caught between the advancing forces of modernising China, the traditional ways of Mongolian nomads and the wolves of the wilderness.
The project took many years to plan and complete, and involved the raising and training of a wolf pack, specifically for the movie. Working with animals is something of a trademark for Annaud, who previously made The Bear as well as Two Brothers, which was filmed in Thailand and involved tiger cubs.
Initially tipped as China's entry to next year's Academy Awards (China ended up submitting the Chinese production Go Away Mr. Tumor), the French-Chinese produced Wolf Totem screened in China during the Lunar New Year holiday. Critical reception is mostly praiseworthy. It's at Apex in Siam Square.
Runpee (รุ่นพี่, a.k.a. Senior) – Writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng returns to the scene with a boarding-school horror romance for the M-Thirtynine studio, It's about a schoolgirl (Ploychompoo Jannine Weigel) who has a special gift for smelling out ghosts. This leads her to meet a mysterious senior ghost boy and to investigate a murder that happened at the school 50 years before. It's the first feature in five years from Wisit, one of the important writer-directors of the New Thai Cinema movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and whose films include two of that era's classics, Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog. Rated 15+
Khun Thong Daeng: The Inspirations (คุณทองแดง The Inspirations) – In celebration of His Majesty the King's 88th birthday this Saturday, here is an animated feature with stories that are inspired by His Majesty's favorite pet dog Khun Thong Daeng. Produced by music-festival promoter Vinij Lertratanachai, with concepts overseen by movie-marketing strategist Dr Head, The Inspirations has three stories about pooches from three animation studios. Imagimax Studios has Mah Wad (Mid-Road), about a tough injured stray who is adopted by an elderly monk, and unites the temple's dog pack to protect the place from thieves. The Monk Studio contributes Tong Lor, which deals with the relationship between a blind girl, her grandmother and their pet dog. And Workpoint Studios is still in the world of robots, similar to the company's animated feature Yak a few years ago, with Little Copper, about a boy robot who gives new life to his robot pet. The three tales are tied together by live-action segments involving a girl who wanted her uncle (comedian "Nong" Choosak Iamsook) to buy her a foreign pure-breed dog, and he instead came up with a Thai mutt, played by the talented four-legged actor Richard, who has been the canine star of many Thai movies, TV shows and commercials. There is more about the movie in an article in The Nation. Rated G
Suffragette – Women are beaten and thrown into jail for demanding the right to vote in this historical drama, which covers the fight for suffrage in England in the early 20th century. Carey Mulligan stars as a young laundry worker who is swept up in a suffragettes' protest and is eventually inspired to take up the cause. Helena Bonham-Carter plays an activist who befriends Mulligan's character. Meryl Streep also stars, portraying the historical figure Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the women's suffrage movement. Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, Village at the End of the World) directs. Critical reception is generally positive. Expect to be hearing more about Suffragette as awards season gets underway. Rated 13+
In the Heart of the Sea – Director Ron Howard is hunting Oscars in this fact-based high-seas adventure drama about the wreck of the whaling ship Essex, which was smashed to bits by a huge sperm whale, leaving the crew marooned. Chris Hemsworth stars as First Mate Owen Chase, whose book about the ordeal is said to have inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick. Others in the male-focused cast are Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson (he's also in Suffragette) and Ben Whishaw. Critical reception is just starting to spout. Rated G
Krampus – Frustrated with his family's bickering during the festive season, a boy somehow summons the demonic spirit of Krampus, the Satan-like being from European Christmas lore who accompanies St. Nicholas and punishes children who are bad. This is a horror-comedy, with Adam Scott, Allison Tolman, David Koechner and Toni Collette among the stars. It's directed by Michael Dougherty, who previously wrote and directed the Halloween comedy Trick 'r Treat. Critical reception was unknown as this was being written, but it could be another holiday classic. Rated 13+
Baby Steps – Two dads are in focus in this Taiwanese-U.S. family comedy-drama about an Asian-American man and his Caucasian boyfriend seeking to have a child together. While Danny and his partner Tate deal with finding a surrogate mom, Danny's overbearing mother (veteran Taiwanese actress Kuei Ya-Lei) takes control of the proceedings. Barney Cheng writes, directs and stars as Danny. Among the producers is Hsu Li-kong, whose past credits include many Ang Lee movies, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet, which Baby Steps pays tribute to. Rated 15+
The Friese-Greene Club – "Cool Britannia" on Wednesdays, "Woody Allen's favorite films" on Thursdays, "Not Such a Wonderful Life" on Fridays, restored classics on Saturdays and "Christmas cheer" on Sundays are the themes for December. Tonight, it's The Bicycle Thieves, which Allen said was "the supreme Italian film and one of the greatest films in the world". Tomorrow's anti-wonderful entry is the pardon-my-French film Baise-moi while Saturday has James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Sunday's bit of Christmas cheer is 1951's Scrooge, the classic adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, starring Alistair Sim as the greatest humbug of them all. And next Wednesday's British film is Underground, covering a night in the life of a teenage drug dealer. From 1998, it's the first feature from FGC proprietor Paul Spurrier. And yes, it's cool. 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.
Two films by Lav Diaz – Filmvirus, the group of Thai cinephiles and academics, have a special event this holiday weekend, bringing in more films by Filipino auteur Lav Diaz, thanks to generous support from the Japan Foundation. They are his Locarno prize winner From What Is Before, showing on Sunday at House, and the Typhoon Yolanda documentary Storm Children, screening on Monday at the Chinatown art space Cloud. The screenings were announced late last week by the Filmvirus crew and spaces went fast. Monday's event, which includes a talk by Diaz himself, is full, but the Sunday film screening still has a few spaces left. Check the Facebook post for details.
German Open Air Cinema – The aristocratic von Lengefeld sisters are both in love with the firebrand writer-philosopher Friedrich Schiller in Beloved Sisters, a sweeping historical drama that won German Film Awards for costumes and makeup. The show is at 7.30pm on Tuesday, December 8, outdoors at the Goethe-Institut on Sathorn Soi 1.
Alliance Française – With his previous missing-persons case ending in tragedy, a nearly retired police inspector takes one last case, to track down details about a mysterious mute man who was discovered unconscious on a French beach with no identification. It's La Dune, a 2013 comedy-drama. The show is at 7pm on Wednesday, December 9, at the Alliance.