The Festival–The Films, Part 3
This brilliant film by Chinese director Wang Fen about whom I can find little information, is a modest little masterpiece reminiscent of the early British films of Alfred Hitchcock. (Note: I find comparisons to Hitchcock as tiresome as the next clogger, but in this case, the comparison is approproate.) Lead actor Wang Sefei–who bears an uncanny resembalnce to Christopher Walken–delivers a stoic comic performance as a hen-pecked husband who lives under the watchful eye of his jealous, overbearing wife. As proprietors of a boarding house, there are plenty of opportunities to stray. He also lives in fear of his brother-in-law, a bullying (a possibly corrupt) cop who takes every opportunity to belittle him. When Wang finds a suitcase filled with dismemberd body parts, he hides it in his own little sanctuary. Matters are complicated when a mysterious, flirtatious femme fatale, and her nebbish of a husband, arrive to the bording house. Perfectly balancing suspense, mystery and dark humor, this dry, wry, and patient film makes me keen to see more work by Wang Fen.
The latest epic from director Chatrichalerm Yukol (a member of the Thai royal family), King Naresuan is the continuation of story he told in Suriyothai, a sprawling historical 14th Century epic–over three hours long, a Shakepearean tale of power, royalty, war, double-crosses, affairs, illegitmate children. Like it’s predecessor King Naresuan is also an elaborate, sweeping, epic. Told in two parts–each clocking in at over 2 and a half hours–(Part III is expected to be released on December 5, 2007, in celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 80th birthday)–the films feature a cast of thousands, jaw dropping (and CGI free?) battle sequences complete with elephants, fire hurling catapualts and massive sets. The films represent the kind of Cecil B. DeMille or D.W. Griffith Intolerance style filmmaking. The grand epic moments are, of course, balanced with intimate sequences, chamber pieces really, in which we learn about the formation of character of a great unifing leader. The kind of film you just don’t see anymore, the movies have been remarkably popular in Thailand–but have had little succcess abroad. (In 2003, Suriythai was released in the U.S. in a truncated (and less coherent) version, recut by Francis Ford Coppola, Chatrichalerm’s sometime UCLA classmate.
Forest of Death
A trifle from Danny Pang–half of the Pang Brother duo poised for international cross-over success with an American remake of their 1999 film Bangkok Dangerous starring Nicholas Cage–Forest of Death is a silly film about the mysterious lure of the woods where a journalist is sent to investigate a series of inexplicable cultish suicides. The brothers, who also mastered suspence and horror with The Eye aspire to the creepyness in the woods feeling of films like Evil Dead, but the result instead is closer to the mystical corniness of M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. I was more scared by trees in The Wizard of Oz.
This year in the life documentary by Thai director Soraya Nakasuwan follows a group of high school students through challenges of school and social life in their senior year. Told verite style, with no voice over, the subjects occasionally break the fourth wall to directly address the filmmakers–some nervousness as they begin to show stress while cramming for the SAT-like national exams that will determine their University placement. One subject–with the nickname big truck–drops out of production midway. In the mold of films like Spellbound or David Zeiger’s Senior Year, Final Score offers a peak into the universal trials of adolescence–and the distinct quirks of Thai educational system.
I deliberately chose to concentrate my time sampling the selection of Asian films, honoring the spirit of the programmers’ decision to shift the focus to the Pacific Rim. As a result, I bypassed many worthy titles, including top prize-winner XXY. (Sidenote: some of the Asian titles, including the Thai features King Naresuan and The Final Score, bwere available for sale on DVD–legally!–from area video retailers, while other titles,–Spider Lilies, Forest of Death, Exiled–were spied for sale from vendors on the streets of Bangkok in pirated versions.)
The Bangkok line-up also included festival favorites with a robust docs line-up that includes Black Gold, This Film is Not Yet Rated, Who Killed the Electric Car?, and Slamdance prize-winner Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story. Also showcased were features currently in release or on DVD like Broken English, Shortbus, This In England, and Renaissance.
By their own account, the festival was a success:
“It can be seen that the festival has been successful in the support of the Thai film industry in both the film production and the cinema business sides. The festival has played a part in the development of Thailand’s modern cinemas, regarded by many as the best in the world. It has also spurred other countries to organize their own film festivals, further strengthening the reputation of Southeast Asia as a hotbed for cinematic ingenuity.“