Monday, May 31, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: 'Remember the Siam' benefit screenings, June 3-9, 2010

Four Japanese movies that were screened at the burned Siam Theatre will be shown at the Lido in a benefit screening from June 3 to 9.

Proceeds will go to assist the merchants who lost their businesses in the Siam Square arson fires.

The movies are Nana at 12.15, Nobody Knows at 2.30, Always: Sunset on Third Street at5 and Be With You at 7.30. The screenings are daily from June 3 to 9 except on Saturday.

Always: Sunset on Third Street was shown at the Siam in 2006. Directed by Takashi Yamzaki, it's a nostalgic look back at the characters in a close-knit Tokyo neighborhood in the late 1950s.

Another one from around 2005 or '06 is Nana, a comedy-drama about two young women who meet by chance, share the same name, have opposite personalities but strike up a friendship anyway. Kentaro Otani directs with Mika Nakashima and Aoi Miyazaki as the two Nanas.

Be With You, from 2004, is a drama about a widower father with a young son, struggling to cope with the death of his wife. They bring a young homeless woman with amnesia into their life.

And another from 2004 is Nobody Knows, director Hirokazu Kore-eda's drama about a 12-year-old boy left alone in an apartment by his irresponsible mother to care for his three younger sisters. Child-actor Yûya Yagira won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his debut starring role.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 27-June 2, 2010

Sin Sisters 2

After finally seeing the release of his studio-banned 2003 katoey sports horror-comedy Phee Tum Tim (ผีตุ๋มติ๋ม) last year, Sukij Narin now follows up his controversial cult-hit 2002 sex comedy Sin Sisters (ผู้หญิง 5 บาป, Phu Ying Ha Bap) with Sin Sisters 2.

No longer hindered by police censorship, Sukij seeks to take full advantage of Thailand's new motion-picture ratings system and make the movie he presumably wanted to make eight years ago.

Sin Sisters 2 has the rather dubious distinction of being the first commercially released Thai film to receive the 20- rating (unofficially stated as 20+) . This is the only restricted rating in the system, with I.D. checks at the theater supposed to be mandatory.

Previous 20- releases include Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (the first) and Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (yet to be commercially released in Thailand – it had a festival screening only).

The premise of Phu Ying Ha Bap 2 is roughly the same as the first -- five saucy women confess the sexual secrets they are least proud of. Only here, instead of sitting around in an apartment as in the first film, there are five women being held captive under torturous conditions by a mysterious person who urges them in a devilish voice to spill their secrets. It all looks rather exploitive, in a "Women in Prison" sort of way.

With the censorship panel being beefed up, it's anybody's guess whether more films like this will be allowed.

There's an English-subtitled trailer at YouTube.

It appears to only be playing at SF Cinemas. Rated 20-


Hrithik Roshan stars in this Western-flavored Bollywood hit as Jay, a Hindi dance teacher in Las Vegas who's about to marry the daughter of a casino owner. In the past, Jay had a business of marrying immigrant women so they could get their permanent resident permit – popularly known as the green card.

It turns out Jay's future brother-in-law is about to marry one of Jay's past clients, a Mexican woman portrayed by Bárbara Mori. The brother-in-law is abusive and Jay wants to save the woman. Sparks fly and the star-crossed lovers have to go on the run.

Kangana Ranaut, Kabir Bedi and Nicholas Brown also star.

Shot on location in Las Vegas and the southwest American desert, Kites became the first Bollywood movie to crack the top 10 on the U.S. and Canada box-office chart when it opened last weekend.

Critical reception is mixed, leaning to favorable.

It's playing at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit on Friday at 5 and at Major Cineplex Rama III on Sunday at 4. Call (089) 488 2620 or visit

Take note

Following the deadly May 19 crackdown on the red-shirt political protesters, a curfew remains in effect through Friday night, from midnight to 4am on Saturday morning, and there is much uncertainty and worry that Thailand's CRES state-of-emergency overlords might extend the curfew through the weekend and maybe next week.

The reduced hours are curtailing movie-going. In order to give cinema staffs the time to clean up, close down and make it home before midnight, the last shows start at around 6pm. This doesn't leave much flexibility when planning a night out at the movies. And if you stay out too late, there's the danger of getting caught out by extortionist taxi drivers.

Likely because of the curfew, it's a bit of a slow week at the cinemas, with only one new wide release for the multiplexes. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was due to open this week, but it's been postponed until June 10.

Good news is the cinemas around Siam Square have reopened – with the exception of the Siam (long live the Siam).

The Apex circuit's Lido and Scala are open, says the man who always answers the phone at the Lido.

Paragon Cineplex has re-opened and the Krungsri IMAX is offering 100 baht tickets on Iron Man 2: The IMAX Experience, with some action scenes filmed in the larger IMAX format. The IMAX is also playing the 3D Shrek Forever After, but you'll have to pay full price to see it.


I'll buy tickets for the first two people to meet me at Siam Square's Lido cinemas on Sunday, May 30, for the 4.30 screening of A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop.

I've been trying to see it since it opened in Bangkok in early April, but the red-shirt protests prevented that from happening.

Directed by Zhang Yimou, who's better known for his lavish and sweeping Chinese historical dramas like, Raise the Red Lantern and Hero, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop is a comedy. Also called A Simple Noodle Story, it's a remake of the Coen Brothers' 1985 debut, Blood Simple, transplanting their story from 1980s Texas to the dust-blown Chinese desert of 100 years ago.

I'll likely be hanging out at the coffee stall in the cinema lobby. Come out and see a movie with me, reclaim Bangkok's classic cinemas and if you're lucky, you might get in free.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 20-26, 2010

Sam Yan

The first project from RS Promotion's new film-production shingle Film R Us is a comedy collaboration by three directors: Yuthlert Sippapak, Ping Lumprapleung and Jaroenporn “Kotee Aramboy” Onlamai.

Sam Yan (สามย่าน) is one of at least six projects the busy and prolific filmmaker Yuthlert has going like spinning plates on poles. Comedian Ping has previously directed Dreamaholic and Loveaholic and the ubiquitous comic Kohtee previously helmed his own picture, the 2008 horror comedy Headless Family.

Opened yesterday, the three stories of Sam Yan, take place the Sam Yan neighborhood of Bangkok.

One has comedian Kom Chuanchuen as a bus driver who finds a dead body on his coach and tries to dispose of it. Another is about two hapless thieves (Kiatisak Udomnak and Thongphoom Siripipat) on the run from a hitman after a failed robbery.

And the third has Kotee has a director making a film with a famous but troubled actor, portrayed by Sompong Kunaprathom, better known as Eed from the Ponglang Sa-on folk-music-and-comedy troupe. His bandmates Lulu and Lala are there for support.

Other supporting actors include Adirek "Uncle" Wattleela, again playing a policeman as he's done in many movies, but this time, sadly, he's a solo act.

"Giftza" Piya Pongkulapa also stars, following her Girly Berry bandmate Gybzy into the film world.

The trailer is at YouTube. Rated 18+.

Also opening

I Love You Phillip Morris -- Jim Carrey stars in this fact-based comedy, based on book by Steven McVicker. Carrey plays Steven Russell, a straitlaced Texas police officer, church organist and family man. He undergoes a dramatic lifestyle change after a car wreck. Ditching his wife and taking up with his gay lover, Russell becomes a con artist and is eventually sent to prison. There he falls in love with a fellow inmate, Phillip Morris (Ewan MacGregor). He then concocts a series of outlandish plots to escape from prison with the idea of freeing Morris so the two can have a perfect life together. Critical reception is mostly positive, with plenty of praise for the performance by Carrey. Rated 18+.

Shrek Forever After -- More pop-culture references that only parents will get and gentle toilet humor for the kiddies is mined in this fourth and possibly final outing for Shrek, the big green ogre who heads the flagship franchise of Dreamworks Animation. Here, Shrek is going through mid-life crisis and is tired of his domesticated life. He wonders what it would like to again be a real ogre. He makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin that turns sour and changes time so that Shrek never existed and everything in the Land of Far Far Away is different. His wife Fiona doesn't know him and hates his guts, his best friend Donkey doesn't recognize him and the dashing swordsman Puss-in-Boots is a lazy fat cat that doesn't even wear boots. The voice cast is all back -- Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas. Critical reception is mixed. In 3D in some cinemas. Rated G.

The Losers -- Members of an elite military unit -- Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan from Watchmen), Roque (Idris Elba from The Wire), Jake (Chris Evans from Cellular), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Óscar Jaenada) -- are betrayed and left for dead in the jungles of Bolivia. They survive and are joined by a shadowy operative named Aisha (Zoe Saldana from Star Trek and Avatar). Their enemy is an arms dealer named Max (Jason Patric from Speed 2), who has dastardly plans of making the world into a high-tech battleground. Directed by Sylvain White, it's based on a comic-book series. Critical reception is mixed, but if you're in the mood for a big loud action comedy, The Losers seems to be just the thing. Rated 15+.

Take note

Through Saturday there is a 9pm to 5am curfew on under the crackdown against the red-shirt political protests. Most malls that are open are closing at around 6. The Skytrain and subway are expected to remain closed at least through Saturday.

Once some semblance of routine is restored, folks will find their way back to the movie theaters, though one that won't be showing movies ever again is the Siam Theatre, destroyed by arsonists.

(Photo via Twitpic by Babyfishie)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: The Siam Theatre is burned

It's another opening day for movies in Bangkok cinemas, but I don't feel much like giving my usual rundown of the new releases this week. Besides, there's a curfew and many cinemas are closed as a precaution.

I'm saddened by the loss of the Siam Theatre in Siam Square. But I am also happy to report that the sister cinemas, the Lido and the crown jewel of Siam Square, the Scala, are apparently unharmed.

The Siam, an 800-seat single-screen cinema of the Apex chain, was torched by arsonists yesterday. Fires erupted around Bangkok after an army crackdown forced the collapse of the red-shirt anti-government protests. For more than a month, the red-shirts had occupied central Bangkok's Rajprasong intersection and shut down the area's shopping malls and hotels.

The burning down of the old movie theater is insignificant in comparison to the loss of life -- as of yesterday, the Erawan Emergency Medical Center reported seven killed and 81 injured on May 19, with a total of 43 deaths and 365 injured during the clashes from May 14 to 19.

And as BobThailand pointed out on Twitter yesterday, building new shopping malls and movie theaters will be a much-easier task than trying to rebuild Thai society. There are wide divisions that became even greater with Wednesday's violence.

But the Siam Theatre contributed greatly to the culture of Bangkok movie-going and will be missed. Along with the Lido and the Scala, the Siam played an eclectic mix of first-run Hollywood movies as well as independent features that couldn't be found anywhere else. The Siam was a particularly good place to catch the latest hit movie from Japan, as well as Korean, Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese movies. I especially appreciate the Apex cinemas for running "foreign language" movies with the original soundtrack and English and Thai subtitles.

So many good memories. I think the last movie I saw at the Siam was Bodyguards and Assassins -- Hong Kong martial-arts and drama. A great memory of a grand theater.

Also apparently lost is the SF World multiplex at the CentralWorld shopping center, which was also lit on fire by arsonists in Wednesday's mayhem. Bangkok's biggest multiplex with 15 screens, the loss of the SFW will be inconvenient, but it can be rebuilt.

However, the Siam is an irreplaceable loss. Cinemas like that one are no longer built.

Update: More photos and thoughts about the Siam at the Southeast Asian Movie Theater Project.

Update 2: The Nation says farewell to "our beloved Siam Theatre" and notes the area was "up for demolition next year ... according to the master plan ... to be replaced by a modern shopping complex."

Update 3: Film critic Kong Rithdee comes to bury the Siam in the obituary in the Bangkok Post, remembering the theater for its "cavernous foyer, manual ticketing, dank concession stand and heavy, possibly unwashed curtains guarded by yellow-jacketed ushers as ancient as the place itself."

(Photo cross-published at the Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 13-19, 2010

Ip Man 2

The life story of martial-arts grand master Yip Man -- famed as the mentor of martial-arts-movie legend Bruce Lee -- continues, picking up where the 2008 first installment left off.

Set in the 1950s, Ip Man 2 depicts Man's move with his family from the mainland to Hong Kong where he sets about trying to reform the Triad-run martial-arts schools and unite them against foreign influences.

Donnie Yen reprises the role of the sole practitioner of a discipline called Wing Chun. His hands move at lightning speed and his fists strike with crushing blows. It's amazing stuff.

Joining the cast in part two is Sammo Hung -- the heavyset martial-arts star better known to Thai audiences as Hong Jinpao for his string of martial-arts movies in the 1980s like Spooky Encounters, The Magnificent Butcher and Knockabout. He portrays a master of a rival discipline, Hung Gar.

Expect to see more of the fireworks Sammo and Donnie set off when they first met onscreen in 2005's SPL: Sha Po Leng.

Wilson Yip, who's worked with Donnie on a string of recent movies including SPL, Flash Point, Dragon Tiger Gate and the first Ip Man, is back directing this one.

It's Thai-dubbed in most cinemas, but you can catch it with the Cantonese soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles at House. Rated 15+.

Robin Hood

It opened the prestigious Cannes Film Festival last night and now it's playing in Bangkok. I wish more of the movies from Cannes would come here this fast.

In director Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, Russell Crowe joins a long line of actors who've taken up the bow-and-arrow of the altruistic outlaw of ancient England. Others who've robbed from the rich and given to the poor include Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Carey Elwes, John Cleese and Daffy Duck. But this Robin Hood is different: No tights. He's wearing leather breeches and chain mail.

The movie has been derided as Gladiator 2, even though this is a different place and different time.

Scott seeks to tell "the untold story behind the legend". An origin tale, it's set in late 12th century England, with Crowe as an archer in King Richard the Lionheart's crusading army in France. Made an outlaw for an infraction against the king -- speaking the truth when the king asked for it -- Robin takes to the forests with his band of merry men. Assuming the identity of a dead nobleman, he eventually finds his way back to England and heads to Nottingham to fulfill a promise to the nobleman and to hopefully shake loose suppressed memories of his own childhood. He takes up with Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett) in a struggle against the tyranny of King John (Oscar Isaac), but the new king also faces a plot against him by a turncoat friend (Mark Strong) who's sided with the French and is playing both ends against the middle.

With more epic battles than swashbuckling or feats of derring do, this is a different kind of Robin Hood.

Max von Sydow, Danny Huston, William Hurt and Mark Addy (The Full Monty) also star.

Critical reception is mostly flat. But Crowe doesn't care. Rated 15+.

Also opening

A Nightmare on Elm Street -- The long-running horror franchise, which has spawned eight films since the original in 1984, is rebooted with a new crop of sleep-deprived teens who fear nodding off because they are haunted in their dreams by a disfigured, blade-fingered psychopath named Freddy Kruger. Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen, Semi-Pro) takes over the role of Freddy from Robert Englund. Critical reception is mostly negative. Rated 18+.

The Bounty Hunter -- Gerard Butler tries on a horrible American accent in this action comedy in which he's teamed up with Jennifer Aniston. They are former husband-and-wife. He's a bounty hunter assigned to bring her in. She's a journalist covering a murder case that has ties to the mob. Soon the pair have murderers after them. Andy Tennant (Hitch, Sweet Home Alabama) directs. Critical reception is overwhelmingly negative. This movie was a lot funnier when they made it with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. It was called Midnight Run. Rated 15+.

Furry Vengeance -- Brendan Fraser stars in this comedy as a real-estate developer who's planning to build a shopping mall on a tract of Oregon wilderness. The animals, including a raccoon, a bear and skunks, fight back. Critical reception is overwhelmingly negative. The premise sounds remarkably similar to the better-received 2006 animated feature, Over the Hedge. Rated G.

Take note

The red-shirt anti-government protesters are still occupying Rajprasong, but the government is making moves to evict the protesters by shutting off their water and power and blocking access to the site.

Malls and cinemas around the Rajprasong and Siam Square areas -- CentralWorld, Metropolis and Paragon will likely remain closed. Apex in Siam Square might be open. Call first.

The Japanese teen comedy Oppai Volleyball, about a young teacher who promises to flash her breasts to the sex-obsessed nerd boys on her volleyball team, has moved from Siam Square's Apex circuit over to House on RCA.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 5-12, 2010

Ong-Bak 3

Picking up right where 2008's cliff-hanging Ong-Bak 2 left off, Tony Jaa is back in Ong-Bak 3 (องค์บาก 3) for another martial-arts rampage through ancient times, promising more fights, more opponents and more elephants.

Here's the plot:

The legend of Ong-Bak 3> begins after Tien (Tony Jaa) has lost his fighting skills and his beloved stepfather at the Garuda’s Wing cliff from the raid led by Jom Rachan (Saranyu Wonggrajang). Tien is brought back to life with the help from [childhood friends] Pim (Primrata Dechudom) as well as Mhen (Petchai Wongkamlao) and the Kana Khone villagers. Deep into the meditation taught by [the monk] Phra Bua (Nirutti Sirijanya), Tien finally is able to achieve [the martial-arts discipline of] Nathayut. His talents are put to the test again when his rivals including the Golden-Armored King’s Guard (Supakorn ‘Tok’ Kijusuwan), the mysterious killers in black, and Bhuti Sangkha (Dan Chupong) return for the final massive showdown.

More about the movie is explained in a recent Nation article. It's the second prequel to the gritty urban 2003 original that made Tony Jaa a cult martial-arts sensation.

Directed, written, produced and starring Tony Jaa, Ong-Bak 3 has been made with none of the fuss that attended Ong-Bak 2, which controversially became bogged down in financial disputes between Tony and his producers at Sahamongkol Film International and stressed Tony out so much he walked off the set was said to have retreated to a meditation cave deep in a forest.

The production got back on track when Tony's long-time mentor and action choreographer Panna Rittikrai, who had initially been kept at arm's length, was brought in to co-direct.

Ong-Bak 3, by the looks of of the trailer, is all Tony all the time.

And it hasn't been without troubles, though, with Tony lamenting that two of his pet elephants died after succumbing to injuries sustained during the filming.

Behind-the-scenes photos reveal Dan Chupong gingerly touching his nose with crew surrounding him. Looks like took a hard strike from the business end of a foot or elbow. But injured actors are nothing new to the "no wires, no CGI" movies of Tony Jaa.

Rated 18+.

Also opening

A Brand New Life -- French-Korean filmmaker Ounie Lecomte directs this partially autobiographical drama about a girl who is abandoned by her father in a South Korean orphanage. A Brand New Life has been picking up acclaim around the festival and awards circuit, winning a special mention at the Berlin Film Festival. It also won the Best Children's Feature Film honors at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Child actress Sae Ron Kim was a nominee for best newcomer at the Asian Film Awards. It recently played in the Tribeca and San Francisco festivals and won the narrative feature award in Sarasota. It's at House on RCA.

The Hole -- Having moved into a creepy old house with their single mother (Terri Polo), young brothers (Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble) discover a mysterious door in the floor of their basement. With the help of a neighbor girl (Haley Bennett), they explore the hole and find it leads to pretty frightening adventures. Bruce Dern also stars. It's directed by Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins), his first feature in six years. This apparently hasn't been released in the U.S. yet, so there's not much in way of critical reception except for a favorable review at Twitch. In 3D only. Rated 15+.

Take note

Movies are opening a day earlier this week because of the Coronation Day holiday, which this year celebrates the 60th anniversary of the coronation of His Majesty the King.

As of this writing on Wednesday morning, there was an offer on the table by the government in which elections would held in November.

At first, there were murmerings that the red-shirt anti-government protesters might go for it.

And in a glimmer of optimism, the Skytrain has announced it will resume ordinary service, operating from 6am to midnight after a couple weeks of reduced hours.

But the red shirts are as resolution as ever. Sticking to their demand that Parliament be dissolved, they are not about to pack up and abandon their Rajprasong Intersection stronghold.

So until you hear different, expect that the malls and cinemas around the area -- SF World at CentralWorld, EGV Metropolis, Paragon Cineplex and likely even the Apex chain in Siam Square -- will remain closed as long as the red shirts are occupying the streets.