Friday, January 11, 2008

Lights, camera ... CONFLICT

The Thai film industry came up with some great movies this year but censorship still casts a cloud over the future

Published on December 26, 2007

Lights, camera ... CONFLICT

‘The Legend of King Naresuan: Reclaiming Sovereignty’

The Thai film industry has undergone several changes this year so we're choosing not to focus on box office success in this end-of-year round-up but are selecting the films that we consider the most outstanding.

In most cases, our choices are based on the movies themselves. In one case, our award goes to filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul for having the courage to stand up for his beliefs and for refusing to give in to censorship and marketing constraints.

Chosen by Newsweek magazine's film writer David Ansen as the best movie of this year, avant-garde director Apichatpong's "Sang Sattawat" ("Syndomes and a Century"), a two-part story about doctors, was more mainstream than his earlier films but still unconventional enough to please his many fans.

Ironically, the film only got extensive coverage in Thailand when it hit a problem with the censors and, rather than have scenes cut, Apichatpong decided it wouldn't be shown here at all. The conflict over his movie led to filmmakers forming the Free Thai Cinema Movement and calling on lawmakers to classify films as part of the mass media thus allowing the industry to enjoy the same freedom as the press.

"Rak Hang Siam" ("Love of Siam") created something of a stir when it was released, with audiences either cheering or jeering when the two teen male characters share a passionate kiss. The contemporary drama quickly became the talk of the town following its November release and was the topic of much discussion on popular online community forum While gay films are not new in Thailand, director Chookiat Sakweerakul was brave to portray a gay relationship between teens in a family drama, thereby risking the censors' scissors.

"Muay Thai Chaiya" is the first solo work by low-profile director Kongkiat Komsiri, who sharpened his skills as scriptwriter for "Bang Rajan" and "Pen Choo Kab Pee" ("The Unseeable"). "Chaiya" is a brilliant movie with a strong story and great direction and acting - definitely one of the best action dramas to come out of Thailand in years.

Four years in the making, MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's first two episodes of "Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj" ("The Legend of King Naresuan") recount the story of Thailand's legendary warrior King Naresuan the Great. Unlike his previous epic, "Suriyothai", which followed more of a documentary style, Chatrichalerm injects greater drama and action to this big-budget movie, the final part of which is scheduled for release next year.

"Phra Buddhajao" ("The Life of Buddha") was a testament to the faith and perseverance of Wallapa Pimthong who spent Bt80 million of her own money and raised another Bt40 million from private donations to fulfil her dream. The film, which depicts the life of Buddha in Disney-style animation, is ideal for children although it probably won't teach most adults anything they don't already know.

Other films well worth watching included "Faed" ("Alone"), a horror flick about conjoined twins which did well on both the festival and film-market circuits after harvesting Bt65 million at the domestic the box office, and "May Narok Muay Yok Lor" ("Bus Lane"), a black comedy about travelling on a Bangkok bus from Kittikorn Liawsirikul.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang was back on form with the low-budget "Ploy", and rookie director Soraya Nakasuwan also entertained with her light-hearted documentary depicting a Mattayom 6 student's life, "Final Score".

For the filmmakers, the year ended on a sour note with the passage through the National Legislative Assembly on December 20 of a new film bill to replace the 1930 Film Act.

While there is good news in that Thailand now has a rating system, many regard the five different ratings as cumbersome classifications. Worse still, the new law still allows the Film Board to ban films in their entirety, as well as cut and edit any parts of movies they film unsuited for public viewing.

The top 10 Thai movies of 2007

1. Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Part II: "Prakad Issara Phab" ("The Legend of King Naresuan: Reclaiming Sovereignty"), Bt256 million

2. "Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Part I: "Ong Prakan Hongsa" ("The Legend of King Naresuan: Pegu's Hostage"),

Bt254 million

3. "Bodyguard Na Liam 2"

("The Bodyguard 2"), Bt98 million

4. "Teng Nong Khon Ma Ha Hia",

Bt91 million

5. "May Narok Muay Yok Lor",

Bt85 million

6. "Ponglang Sading Lumsing Sai Na" ("Ponglang Amazing Theatre"),

Bt71 million *

7. "Tud Soo Fud" ("Kungfu Tootsie"), Bt70 million

8."Sailab Jab Baan Lek" ("The Bedside Detective"), Bt70 million

9. "Faed" ("Alone"), Bt65 million

10. "Ma Mah See Kha Krub"

("Mid Road Gang"), Bt58 million

Sources: Film companies as of

December 21.

* Still showing in cinemas.

Parinyaporn Pajee

The Nation

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