Movies from across the Asean Economic Community will be shown in the second edition of the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, which opens to the public on Friday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. It's put on by the Ministry of Culture, with support from SF cinemas, the Thai Film Archive and the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand.
The selection has recent acclaimed movies from all the Asean member states plus three "Asean Classics", films that date back to the 1950s and 1970s. The entries are a mix of gripping drama, romance, comedy, action and a moving documentary. Here is the line-up:
- The Snake Man (Pous Keng Kang, a.k.a. The Snake King's Wife) – An icon of Cambodian cinema's lost "golden age", Tea Lim Koun's inventive special-effects-laden fantasy is the tragic story of a girl who is destined to be the wife of the Snake King. The doyenne of the Cambodian stage and screen Dy Saveth is among the stars, and she is due to put in an appearance at the festival. Made in 1972, the film was released across Asia, including Thailand. Unfortunately, the first 10 minutes are missing. Also, it is Thai-dubbed only and there are no English subtitles, the only one in the fest where that is the case. But it's still worth a look if you are interested in Cambodian cinema and weird B-movie fantasies.
- After the Curfew – From 1954 and directed by Usmar Ismail, this social drama is regarded as a classic of Indonesian cinema. It's about a former soldier who takes up a vigilante cause against corrupt officials.
- Manila in the Claws of Light – Directed by Filipino cinema titan Lino Brocka, this much-acclaimed 1975 social drama follows a young man who has left behind his rural hometown and work as a fisherman to move to the big city and in search of new opportunities and a better life. He should have stayed in the countryside.
- Yasmine, Brunei – Not many films come out of Brunei. And Yasmine is only the second Bruneian film I've ever heard of. Even more unusual, is that Yasmine centers on a young woman who goes against conservative society to join competitions in the Malay martial art of silat. It won prizes at the Asean International Film Festival and Awards and at the Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland.
- 3.50, Cambodia – Chhay Bora directs this drama about Cambodia's illegal sex trade, as seen through the eyes of an American woman who is making a documentary film and becomes determined to change the country's cruel ways.
- A Copy of My Mind, Indonesia – Top indie talent Joko Anwar turns to romance with this drama about a woman who works in a beauty salon who falls for a subtitler of pirated DVDs. Their love turns problematic amidst turbulent politics. The film was in competition at the Venice fest last year and has been a frequent entry of festivals around the region.
- Above It All, Laos – Outside of the Lao PDR, it's kind of hard to describe how groundbreaking this film is. But it is the first Lao film to have a gay main character, a medical student who is struggling to come out of the closet to his strict father. It also deals with a young Hmong woman who wants to break away from the tribal tradition of arranged marriages. Directed by Anysay Keola, one of the leading figures of Laos' burgeoning film industry, Above It All premiered at last year's Luang Prabang Film Festival.
- Day and Night, Malaysia – This is a compilation of segments by three talented independent Malaysian filmmakers, who all offer their reflections on the state of contemporary Malaysian society. The segments are Trespassed by Ho Yuhang, Bite by Charlotte Lim and Bedside Manners by Yeo Joon Han.
- Kayan Beauties, Myanmar – The often-exploited "giraffe neck" women of Myanmar's and Thailand's tribal regions are thrust into the spotlight in this 2012 feature, which has been shown at many festivals around the Asia-Pacific and won awards. The adventure story involves three young Kayan women who take up the search for a girl abducted by human traffickers. The Nation has an article from a couple years ago.
- Taklub, Philippines – Brillante Mendoza, the chief purveyor of the gritty so-called "poverty porn" films of the Philippines, directs this documentary-style drama about families attempting to pick up the pieces after their community was devastated by Supertyphoon Yolanda in 2014. Veteran actress Nora Aunor stars. It won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes last year.
- 3688, Singapore – Celebrated filmmaker Roystan Tan's movies generally have numbers in their titles and tend to be musical tales about starry-eyed dreamers. His latest is about a parking attendant who wants to be a singer just like her famous namesake, the Taiwanese "queen of hats" Fong Fei Fei.
- The Songs of Rice (พลงของข้าว, Pleng Khong Kao), Thailand – Talented director and cinematographer Uruphong Raksasad wraps up a trilogy of farming documentaries with The Songs of Rice, which is a tuneful look at the rites of rice cultivation across the Kingdom. Winner of many prizes, Uruphong's film vividly captures such unique scenes as the water buffalo races in Chon Buri and the rocket festival in Yasothon, along with parades, prayer ceremonies, alcohol-fueled festivities and beauty pageants. It was one of my favorites of 2014.
- Bitcoins Heist, Vietnam – Ham Tran, who made his worldwide breakthrough with 2006's post-war drama Journey from the Fall, is now solidly part of Vietnam's commercial film industry. His latest is a high-tech action thriller about a disparate squad of crooks and con artists who are tasked with tracking down a cyber-criminal. Out of all the films in this fest, this is the one I most want to see.
All films will have English and Thai subtitles (except for Cambodia's The Snake Man). After Bangkok, the fest will travel to SF cinemas in Khon Kaen from April 28 to May 4, Surat Thani from May 6 to 12 and Maya Chiang Mai from May 13 to 19.
In addition, the Film Archive will have a special screening of the Asean Classics on May 1.
Admission is free, with tickets handed out at a special table 30 minutes before the shows. Line up well before then to ensure you get a decent seat. For the schedule, please check the website. For more details, see www.SFCinemaCity.com.