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Thai film at a turning point
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    THAI FILM AT A TURNING POINT
    by Joe Cummings

    This year finds us at perhaps the most important juncture in the history of Thai cinema. Until recently focusing primarily on films for domestic consumption, Thailand's film industry has captured global attention following a three-year streak of film hits at cinema festivals around the world. Now, more than ever before, fans of world cinema have come to appreciate what Thai directors have to offer.

    Thailand began experimenting with film very early in the history of world cinema. Within five years of the Lumi?re brothers' historic first public film showing in 1895, Siam's Prince Sanbhassatra imported film-making equipment and began documenting the royal ceremonies of his elder brother, King Rama V.

    In 1922, Hollywood director Henry MacRae was hired to direct the silent Nang Sao Suwan, which used Thai actors for all roles and was released in Thailand in 1924. The storyline followed the tribulations of a beautiful young Thai girl with too many suitors. Unfortunately no viewable print of this early film appears to have survived.

    Bangkok Film kicked off the domestic film industry with the launch of the first Thai-directed silent movie, Chok Sorng Chan, in 1927. In Thailand, silent films proved to be more popular than talkies right into the 1960s, and as late as 1969 Thai studios were still producing them from 16mm stock. Perhaps partially influenced by India's famed masala movies (which gained a strong following in post-WWII Bangkok), film companies blended romance, comedy, melodrama, and adventure to give Thai audiences a little bit of everything.

    The arrival of 35mm movies in Thailand around this same time brought with it a proliferation of modern cinema halls and a surge in movie-making. During this era, Thai films attracted more cinema-goers than nang farang (as the Thais called movies from Europe and America), and today many Thais consider the 60s to be a golden age of Thai cinema.

    Over half of the approximately 75 films produced annually during this period starred the much-admired onscreen duo of actor Mit Chaibancha and actress Petchara Chaowaraj. One of the last and most famous films of the era was Mit-Petchara's Mon Rak Luk Thung, a musical rhapsodizing Thai rural life. The 1970 film played in Bangkok cinemas for a solid six months, its popularity spurred by the film's best-selling soundtrack album and Mit's accidental death while filming another Thai production, Insee Thong.



    Despite the founding of a government committee that same year to promote Thai cinema, Thai film production in the 70s and early 80s was mostly limited to inexpensive action or romance stories. Among notable exceptions, 1983's Child of the Northeast (Luk Isan), based on a Thai novel of the same name, followed the ups and downs of a farming family living in drought-ridden Isan. Luk Isan became one of the first popular films to offer urban Thais an understanding of the hardships endured by many northeasterners, and initiated a social drama sub-genre that continues to this day.

    Butterfly and Flower (Peesua lae Dokmai), again drawn from a popular Thai novel of the time, highlighted the hardships faced by a boy forced by economic circumstance to smuggle rice across the Thai-Malaysian border. Aside from once again exposing Thai audiences to regional poverty, the 1985 movie broke new ground by portraying a Buddhist-Muslim romance. Butterfly and Flower delighted the Thai public when it earned a Best Film award at the 1986 East-West Film Festival in Honolulu.

    Despite this budding acclaim, the Thai movie industry almost died during the 80s and 90s, swamped by Hollywood extravaganzas and the boom era's taste for anything imported. From a 1970s peak of a couple hundred releases per year, the Thai output shrank to an average of only 10 films a year by 1997.

    While the Southeast Asian economic crisis that year threatened to further bludgeon the ailing industry, a lack of larger budgets coupled with the need to compete with foreign films brought about a new emphasis on quality rather than quantity. The current turn-of-the-millennium era sees a new generation of seriously good Thai directors, several of whom studied film abroad during Thailand's 80s and early 90s boom period.

    Recent directorial efforts have been so encouraging that Thai and foreign critics alike speak of a current Thai 'new wave'. Avoiding the soap operatics of the past, the current crop of directors favor gritty realism, artistic innovation, and a strengthened Thai identity. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Fun Bar Karaoke, a 1997 satire of Bangkok life in which the main characters are an ageing Thai playboy and his daughter, received critical acclaim for its true-to-life depiction of modern urban living blended with sage humor. The first feature-length outing by a young Thai who is fast becoming one of the kingdom's most internationally noted directors, the film played well to international audiences but achieved only limited box-office success at home. Similarly Nonzee Nimibutr's Dang Bireley's Young Gangsters (2499 Antaphan Krong Meuang) was hailed abroad - winning first prize at the 1997 Brussels International Film Festival - but only modestly successful in Thailand




    A harbinger of things to come for the Thai film industry arrived with Nonzee Nimibutr's 1998 release of Nang Nak, an exquisite re-telling of a Thai spirit tale that had seen no fewer than 20 previous cinematic renderings. Nang Nak not only featured excellent acting and period detailing, but managed to transform Nak into a sympathetic character rather than a horrific ghost. The film became the largest-grossing film in Thai history, out-earning even Titanic, and earned awards for best director, best art director, and best sound at the 1999 Asia-Pacific Film Festival.

    Hot on the heels of Nang Nak's success came the 2000 film Satree Lex (Iron Ladies), which humorously dramatized the real-life exploits of a Lampang volleyball team made up almost entirely of transvestites and transsexuals. At home, this Yongyoot Thongkongtoon-directed film became Thai cinema's second largest-grossing effort to date, and was the first Thai film ever to play the art house cinemas of Europe and America in general release.

    The next Thai film to garner international attention was 2000's Suriyothai, an historic epic directed by Prince Chatri Chalerm Yukol. Forty months and US$15 million in the making, the three-hour film lavishly narrates a well known episode in Thai history in which an Ayuthaya queen sacrifices herself at the 1548 Battle of Hanthawaddy to save her king's life. Recently legendary American producer-director Francis Ford Coppola agreed to re-edit the film to create a shorter, more internationally palatable version for general release.

    The year 2000 also introduced the Oxide brothers, Danny and Pang, to Thai and foreign film festival audiences with the release of Bangkok Dangerous (Krung Thep Antharai). Influenced in equal parts by Hong Kong director John Woo and American writer-director Quentin Tarantino, this story of a deaf-mute hit man who finds love won a Discovery award at the Toronto Film Festival and Best Director, Runner-Up, in Seattle. Although the Oxides hail from Hong Kong, Thailand has become their main cinematic inspiration.

    In 2001 Nonzee Nimibutr returned with Jan Dara, a cinematic rendition of Utsana Pleungtham's controversially erotic 1966 novel of the same name. Filmed almost entirely on soundstages save for outdoor scenes shot in Luang Prabang, Laos, the film was critically compared with Vietnam's famous Scent of Green Papaya. The Globe & Mail called it a "sultry melodrama with a Thai twist."

    Encouraged by critical acclaim abroad and box office receipts at home, Thai producers nearly tripled their output from a total of 12 Thai-language movies in 2001 to around 30 new productions in 2002. Quality continues to improve as well, as Thai films have assumed a newly favored identity on the international film scene. The Vancouver International Festival, for example, increased its screening of Thai films from three in 2001 to five in 2002.


    For indications that Thailand's role in world cinema will continue to expand, one need look no farther than Pen-Ek's latest effort, Mon Rak Transistor. This acclaimed film broke ground by seizing a thoroughly Thai movie theme - the tragic-comic odyssey of a young villager who tries to crack the big time luk thung music scene in Bangkok - and upgrading production values to the highest international standards. The 2001 release was honored with a special Directors Fortnight showing at Cannes 2002, and went on to earn Best Asian Film at Seattle 02 and the Audience Award at Vienna 02.

    One of Thai cinema's finest moments arrived when Cannes 2002 chose Blissfully Yours (Sut Sanaeha) for the coveted Un Certain Regard (Of Special Consideration) screening, an event that showcases notable work by new directors. Helmed by 31-year-old Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the film echoes Butterfly and Flower in its presentation of a budding romance between a Thai woman and an illegal Burmese immigrant.

    Another favorite on the 2002 festival circuit, and a blockbuster in Thailand as well, Jira Malikul's Mekhong Full Moon Party (15 Kham Deuan 11), juxtaposes folk beliefs about mysterious 'dragon lights' emanating from Mekong River with the skepticism of Bangkok scientists and news media, as well as with Thai Buddhism. As with Mon Rak Transistor, the film affectionately displays everyday Thai culture for the whole world to enjoy. It's also the first Thai feature film where most of the script is written in the Isan dialect, thus necessitating standard Thai subtitles.

    Another watershed occurred when the 2002 London Thai Film Festival screened 16 Thai films over a one-week period, becoming the first such event outside of the country. The only way an event like this has become feasible is because so many Thai films are now released with English subtitles, something almost unheard of even five years ago.

    Just as significantly, the prestigious CineAsia convention and trade show, which focuses on the Asia-Pacific film marketplace, shifted to Bangkok last year after eight years residence in Hong Kong. One of the reasons cited for the move was the availability of over 300 quality screening venues in Bangkok.

    The January 2002 inauguration of the Bangkok International Film Festival, exhibiting more than 70 new features from around the world, further demonstrates that Thailand lies at the epicenter of a growing film industry.

    With more Thai films filling cinema houses outside of Asia, and with more films seeing screens in Thailand then ever before, it would appear that a new golden age for Thai movies has begun.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR - JOE CUMMINGS

    Born in New Orleans, Joe Cummings began travelling in South-East Asia shortly after finishing university. Before writing became a full-time job, he volunteered for the Peace Corps in Thailand, where he taught English at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology. After returning to the USA, he earned a master's degree in Thai language and art history. Joe has authored or contributed to more than 35 guidebooks, atlases, phrasebooks, pictorials, culinary guides and other works dedicated to travel and culture in Southeast Asia.

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    INTERNATIONALLY-RECOGNISED AWARD-WINNING THAI FILMS 1997-2002

    TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (Fah Talai Jone)

    Production company: Film Bangkok
    Released: September 22, 2000
    Producer: Nonzee Nimibutr
    Director: Wisit Sasanatieng
    Scriptwriter: Wisit Sasanatieng
    Director of Photography: Nattawut Kittikhun
    Art Director: Ake Aimchuen

    Cast:
    Chartchai Ngamsan
    Stella Malucchi
    Supakorn Kitsuwon
    Arawat Ruangvuth

    Tears of the Black Tiger, Fah Talai Jone in Thai, is the tragic love story of Rumpoey, daughter of a noble family, and Seua Dum (The Black Tiger), an outlaw and pawn of fate. The two lovers first met when Rumpoey's family evacuated Bangkok during World War II.

    Ten years later, they meet again at college in Bangkok. Once more, Dum steps in to protect Rumpoey, and old memories are transformed at last into full-fledged love.

    Will love win out? Or will the heavens strike the heart of the thief one final time?

    BLISSFULLY YOURS

    Production company: Kick The Machine / La-ong Dao Co.Ltd
    Released: 2002
    Director/ Screenwriter: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
    Producers: Eric Chan, Charles de Meaux
    Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

    Cast:
    Kanokporn Tongaram
    Min Oo
    Jenjira Jansuda

    Award won: Un Certain Reguard - Cannes Film Festival

    Roong, Min, Orn and Tommy. Four individuals who spend a day picnicking in the jungle . Roong longs to be with Min, her illegal immigrant lover. Roong pays Orn to look after Min while she seeks out a place for them to share . Tommy, a colleague of Orn's husband, is in the jungle with her, and provides the only pleasure she knows. With storm clouds gathering, we wonder if such happiness could possibly have any side effects.


    THE IRON LADIES (Satree Lex)

    Production company: Tai Entertainment Co., Ltd.
    Released: March 3, 2000
    Producer: Visute Poolvoralak
    Scriptwriter: Visuthichai Bunyakarnjana, Jira Malikul
    Yongyooth Thongkonthun
    Director of Photography: Jira Malikul
    Editor: Sunit Asvinikul
    Art Director: Narucha Vijitvarit

    Cast:
    Jesadaporn Pholdee
    Sahaparp Virakamintr
    Ekachai Buranapanich
    Iojo Mioxshi
    Chaichan Nimpoolsawasdi
    Kokkorn Benjatikul
    Sirithana Hongsophol

    The Iron Ladies tells the true story about the Thai male volley-ball team that won the Thai national championships in 1996 with the team consisting mainly of gays, transvestites and transsexuals. Although their everyday lives are a challenge, in the finals, they fight back with dignity and honour to emerge as true champions. They demonstrate to their opponents and to the nation what true sportsmanship and respect for oneself is all about.

    BANGKOK DANGEROUS

    Production company: Film Bangkok
    Released: November 29, 2000
    Executive Producers: Pracha Maleenont, Brian L. Marcar,
    Adirek Wattaleela
    Scriptwriter: Nonzee Nimibutr
    Directors: Oxide and Danny Pang
    Story and screenplay: The Pang Brothers
    Cinematography: Decha Srimantra
    Production designer: Wut Chaosilp
    Art Director: Noppadol Nopsuwanchai

    Cast:
    Pawalit Mongkolpisit
    Premsinee Ratanasopha
    Patharawarin Timkul
    Pisek Intrakanchit
    Korkiate Limpapat
    Piya Boonnak

    Kong, a professional killer, has been mute since childhood. He plies the city's bittersweet streets, with silence his only response to the killings and assassinations he performs. He is deadly. He is dumb. He enacts his grizzly tasks with a sociopathic coldness - his steady, impersonal revenge on the world. Ultimately, the chance for his transformation, (and redemption), finally arrives in the form of a girl able to provide the only tenderness and warmth he has ever known. It could save him. It could kill him.

    GOAL CLUB

    Production company: Film Bangkok
    Released: April 28, 2001
    Producer: Adirek Wattaleela
    Director: Kittikorn

    Cast:
    Theeranai Suwanhom
    Boriwat Yuto
    Surattanawee Suwiporn

    A group of teenagers become involved in the underground world of football gambling.

    FUN BAR KARAOKE

    Production company: Five Star Production
    Released: 1997
    Producer: Charoen Iamphungporn
    Director: Pen-Ek Ratanareung
    Scriptwriter: Pen-Ek Ratanareung
    Director of Photography: Charnkit Chamnanwikaipong
    Editor: Pattamanadda Yugala
    Music: Paisan Jamnong and Begary Music

    Cast:
    Ray McDonald
    Fay Asawade

    Pu, a misfit young woman has a recurring dream about her dead mother building a miniature house. One day, Pu meets a fortune-teller who predicts that her father will die when the house in her dream is completed. Her father, who frequents a popular karaoke bar, is involved with a bar hostess who is also a mistress of a Chinese Mafioso. He is warned to stay away from the woman, but refuses and is beaten up. Meanwhile, Pu meets and falls in love with Noi, a half-Thai, half-American gangster who dreams of emigrating to the United States, no matter what the cost. Things take a dramatic turn for the worse when Noi is given a difficult assignment.

    JANDARA

    Production company: Applause Pictures
    Cinemasia
    Released: November 28, 2001
    Producers: Peter Chan - Executive producer
    Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui - Producer
    Duangkamol Limcharoen - Producer
    Nonzee Nimibutr - Producer
    Screenplay: Nonzee Nimibutr
    Sirapak Paoboonkerd
    Novel: The Story of Jan Dara Utsana Phleungtham
    Director: Nonzee Nimibutr

    Cast:
    Eakarat Sarasuk
    Christy Chung

    Jan Dara
    Jan Dara is the long-anticipated new film by Thailand's favourite director Nonzee Nimibutr. Based on the most controversial novel in all of Thai literature (written in 1966), Jan Dara tells the story of a young man who moves into adulthood with terrible burdens thrown upon him in his youth. His mother died while giving birth to him, causing his father to resent him deeply - by the time he was 13, he was kicked out of his house, accused of a rape he did not commit. Cut to years later, Jan Dara returns home bent on seeking revenge against his father. But although he has always hated his father's riotous ways, hateful demeanor and his treatment of women - he has memories of his father in compromising positions with his nanny - it seems he might be destined to repeat the past in order to conquer it. The film unfolds as he fights his demons amidst an environment of obsession and comes to grips with three women in his life, each exerting control over him in their own unique ways.


    SIXTY NINE (69)

    Production company: Five Star Production
    Released: 1999
    Producer: Charoen Iamphungporn
    Scriptwriter: Pen-Ek Ratanareung
    Director of Photography: Charnkit Chamnanwikaipong
    Editor: Pattamanadda Yugala
    Art Director: Saksiri Chantaransri

    Cast:
    Lalita Panyopas

    When her company starts to fail, Tum and her officemates must draw sticks to see who gets laid off. Tum picks the fatal stick, and she returns home dejected. Things turn around when she finds a box of instant noodles with a fortune in cash sitting in front of her apartment door. She decides not to keep the cash, but not without dire consequences. Hoodlums show up at her apartment, then cops, then neighbours, and soon bodies start piling up, with Tum as the unwitting investigator of this chain of fatalities. Tum, who must also console her best friend with boyfriend problems, decides to finally take control of her life and confront her absurd situation.

    MON RAK TRANSISTOR

    Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

    The story follows the odyssey of a young luuk thung folk music singer who tries to make the big time in Bangkok and in the end realizes, predictably, that there's no place like home.


    [bHIGHLY ACCLAIMED BOX OFFICE TOP PERFORMERS [/b]

    SURIYOTHAI

    Directed/Screenplay/Edited: MC Chatrichalerm Yukol
    Executive Producer: Kamala Yugala
    Director of Photography: Igor Luther, Stano Dorsic
    Music composer: Richard Harvey

    Cast:
    ML Piyapas Bhirombakdi
    Saranyu Wongkrajang
    Pongpat Warchirabunjong
    Johnny Anfone
    Mai Charoenpura

    Told by the Portuguese soldier, Domingus de Sesus, Suriyothai reflects the social and political background of the Ayutthaya empire as it faced internal dispute and external threats from 1526 - 1541.

    MEKHONG FULL MOON PARTY

    Production company: Film Bangkok
    Released: 2002
    Director: Jira Malikul
    Scriptwriter: Nonzee Nimibutr

    Cast:
    Anuchit Sapanpong
    Thidaratana Charoernchaichana
    Boonchai Lim-Atibul
    Surasri Padham
    Noppadol Duangporn
    Somchai Sakdikul

    More than 100,000 people gather by the Mekong River in Northeast Thailand on the November Full Moon each year. After sunset, mysterious fireballs rise up from the river and disappear into the sky. While the locals still adhere to the traditional myth of the dragon, Great Naga, making a sacred offering to Buddha, Western visitors take a more skeptical stance: Dr. Norati sets out to prove that the fireballs are natural; Dr. Surapol wants to prove the phenomenon a hoax. Meanwhile, temple-custodian Abbot Loh believes his monks have been responsible for the "miracle" for the past 30 years. The movie was well-received at its world premiere at the Vancouver Film Festival.


    BANG RAJAN

    Production company: Film Bangkok
    Released: December 29, 2000
    Producer: "Uncle" - Adirek Wattaleela
    Director: Thanit Jitnukul
    Director of Photography: Wichien Reungwichayakul
    Editor: Sunit Asavinikul, Thanin Tienkaew
    Art Director: Buntin Tuikaew
    Music: Chatchai Pongprapapan

    Cast:
    Winai Kraibutr
    Bongkot Kongmalai

    In the third month of the "Year of the Rooster", Buddhist era 2308 (1765), the Burmese army surrounded the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya. During the siege, the Burmese general, Ne Miawsrihabodi, ordered his soldiers to pillage the surrounding countryside to murder the Siamese villagers and take the village women captive. Brutalised and outraged, the villagers rallied together to oppose the Burmese. A small band of men thus began a skirmish at the sidelines of the siege of Ayutthaya that captured the hearts and minds of the Siamese for all time.

    KILLER TATOO

    Production company: Avant
    Released: April 5, 2002
    Producer: Rachane Limtrakul
    Scriptwriter: Yoothlert
    Director of Photography: Sutad Inrtanupakorn
    Editor: Mahasak Tasanapayak
    Art Director: Kirati Jenporamakit

    Cast:
    Sutep Phongam
    Somchai Kemklad
    Pethtie Wongkumlao
    Pongsak Pongsuwan
    Sorsutha Klanmalee

    The unexpected encounter of the greatest of outlaws. Played by four of Thailand's most famous comedians who do not expect laughter from the audience.

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    THAI FILM PRODUCERS
    Introducing the Key Players

    TAI ENTERTAINMENT


    Key executive:

    Visute Poolvoralak
    Managing Director
    As a producer of Thai films, Tai Entertainment has an established track record with a series of notable box office successes and international standard award-winning films that attracted international attention and paved the way for the international sales of Thai films.

    In 1997, one of its releases, Dang Beiley and the Gangsters sparked a revival of the Thai film industry at a time when Thai films had hit the lowest point between 1992 and 1995 as a result of an influx of foreign films. Dang Beiley and the Gangsters grossed 75 million baht at the box office setting a new record for the highest revenue generated by a Thai film. The trend continued with Nang Nak bringing in 150 million baht in 1999, followed by The Iron Ladies grossing 99 million in 2000.

    The organisation is also noted for its pioneering efforts in promoting up and coming new generation Thai film directors. This in turn has contributed to higher visibility and awareness of Thai films overseas. Following its phenomenal success at home, Nang Nak went on to gain international fame, while The Iron Ladies made its way to several offshore markets including in Hong Kong, Japan, United Kingdom, Taiwan and Korea.

    Tai Entertainment also operates EGV movie theatres- the largest network of modern movie theatres in Thailand with 84 locations throughout Thailand.

    Filmography:
    Dang Beiley and Gangsters (1997)
    Fear Faith Revenge (1998)
    Nang Nak (1999)
    The Iron Ladies (2000)
    Mae Bia (2001)
    Jan Dara (2001)


    Contact information:
    Tai Entertainment
    79/23 Srinakarin Road,
    Nongbon, Pravej,
    Bangkok 10260, Thailand
    Tel: 66-236-60373/5
    Fax: 66-236-60377

    AVANT (RS FILM)

    Key executive:
    Rachane Limtrakul
    Avant, a subsidiary of RS Promotion, a music label, was established in April 1992 with Rachane Limtrakul as its managing director.

    As manager of the Creative Department of RS Promotion, Rachane Limtrakul made his directorial debut when he was entrusted with overseeing the production of Romantic Blues (Loke Tang Bai Hai Nai Khon Deow), the first film venture produced under the RS Film banner.

    Released in 1995, Romantic Blues was extremely well-received and set a new record for Thai films. Generating 60 million baht at the box office, its revenue was at least double the industry average at the time (which was approximately 20-30 million baht). Romantic Blues turned out to be an award-winning film that went on to represent Thailand and Thai films at several international film contests.

    With the phenomenal success of this first film, combined with Rachane Limtrakul's wide-ranging talents, his extensive experience in producing music videos, his creative insight, directorial ability and expertise in editing films, and in advertising and promotion, these factors prompted a decision by RS Promotion to establish Avant, a creative and film production studio engaged in the production of films, TV dramas and commercials. It was a move that fitted neatly with future plans for RS to become a full scale entertainment conglomerate.

    Filmography:

    Romantic Blues (1995)
    Bullet Teen (1997)
    Killer Tattoo (2001)
    Taxi
    Extreme Game
    Where is Tong? (2001)
    Bangkok Haunted (2001)
    Girl Friends (2002)
    Talumphook (2002)

    Contact information:
    Avant
    419/1 Chetchotisak ,
    Soi Jompon, Ladprao 15,
    Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900,
    Thailand

    Tel: 66-2511-2024, 2511-2101, 2511-2401
    Fax: 66-251-12324

    FILM BANGKOK

    Key executives:
    Pracha Maleenont
    Brian L. Marcar
    Adirek Wattaleela / "Uncle"
    Film Bangkok is a division of BEC-TERO Entertainment Co., Ltd., an enterprise headed by Pracha Maleenont and Brian L. Marcar.

    Film Bangkok was founded with the objective of seeing Thai films evolve into a professional industry, with films being screened on an ongoing basis, offering Thai film viewers, variety and novelty in concept and quality.

    Film Bangkok has been actively involved in several initiatives to help strengthen the Thai film industry such as personnel development, particularly the development of high calibre personnel within the industry.

    With many talented directors in its fold, such as Adirek Wattaleela, Nonzee Nimibutr, Thanit Jitnukul, Oxide and Danny Pang, and Kittikorn Laiwsirikun, Film Bangkok has contributed to the expansion of the market for Thai films by promoting greater awareness and visibility of Thai films overseas and by adopting a systematic and sustained approach to the promotion of Thai films in the international arena.

    Filmography:

    Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)
    Bangkok Dangerous (2000)
    Bang Rajan (2001)
    Goal Club (2001)
    Khun Pan (2002)
    Nothing To Lose (2002)
    Saving Private Tootsie (2002)

    Contact information
    Film Bangkok
    662 Emporium Tower, 14th Floor,
    Sukhumvit Road,
    Klong Tan, Klong Toey,
    Bangkok 10110, Thailand

    Tel: 66-2262-3850
    Fax: 66-2262-3831

    SAHAMONGKOL FILMS

    Key executives:
    Somsak Techaratanaprasert
    President


    Avika Tacharatanaprasert
    Sales & Maketing Manager

    Jatusom Tacharatanaprasert
    Marketing Manager

    Chomsagee Tacharatanaprasert
    Sale & Promotion Manager

    With a steady output of no less than 20 films produced in each year, Sahamongkol Film is the biggest and the most productive studios in Thailand. It also an importer of foreign films and operates one of Thailand's top three movie theatres.

    There are three companies under the Sahamongkol Film corporate banner namely Sahamongkol Films which produces Thai films; Mongkol Film focuses on film imports from Hong Kong; while Mongkol Major specialises in films from Hollywood.

    Filmography

    Behind the Painting (2001)
    Kwan-Riam (2001)
    Body Jumper (2001)
    Suriyothai (2001)
    999 (2002)
    Three (2002)
    The Eye (2002)
    Tigers of King River (2002)

    Contact information :
    Mongkol Film
    Mr Somsak Techaratanaprasert
    President
    388 Room 3B IBM building,
    Phaholyothin Road,
    Samsen-nai, Payathai,
    Bangkok 10400

    Tel: 66-2273-0930/9
    Fax: 66-2273-0989

    FIVE STAR PRODUCTION

    Key executive:
    Mr Chareon Iamphungporn
    President
    One of the pioneers of the Thai film industry, since its founding some 29 years ago, Five Star Production has focused exclusively on the production of Thai films.

    Five Star Production has been turning out films of exceptional quality that include such hits as Wai Olawon, Rak Otaloot, and popular classics such as Boonchu.

    Today, Five Star Production is heralded as a producer of award-winning films that have spurred an interest in Thai films overseas such as Fun Bar Karaoke, 69 - Sixty Nine, Mon-Rak Transistor, and Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah Talai Jone).

    Filmography

    Fun Bar Karaoke (1997)
    69/Sixty-Nine (1999)
    Stang (2000)
    Mon-Rak Transistor (2001)
    Moonhunter (2001)
    Sherry Anne (2002)

    Contact information:
    Five Star Production Co., Ltd.
    61/1 Thaveemit 2,
    Rama 9, Bangkok 10310,
    Thailand

    Tel: 66-2246-9025/9
    Fax: 66-2246-2105

    GMM PICTURES

    Key executive:
    Paibool Dumrongchaithum
    President
    As Thailand's leading music label, music remains GMM Grammy's core business. However, the corporation's venture into film production under GMM Pictures is seen to be a logical extension of its business/entertainment portfolio.

    Grammy draws on the celebrity value and popular appeal of its artists and its expertise in the marketing and promotion of music to effectively promote its films. GMM Pictures' ventures in adolescent films such as The Red Bike Story and O-Negative, featuring artists under the Grammy label, caught the attention of the Thai film industry.

    More recently, GMM Pictures' support for new talent has provided a creative outlet for a new generation of promising Thai directors, with Mekhong Full Moon Party leading the way. Lauded in film reviews as being 'hugely popular' and 'crowd-pleasing', and often cited as 'the best film' in 2002, Mekhong Full Moon Party, a joint production between GMM Pictures and Hap Ho Hin, grossed 52 million baht at the box office.

    New GMM Picture offerings in the pipeline for 2003 are - Beautiful Boxer, One Night Husband, and February.

    Filmography

    The Red Bike Story (1997)
    O-negative (1998)
    Boy Will Be Boys, Boys Will Be Men (2000)

    Contact information:
    GMM Pictures
    34th floor, 50 GMM Grammy Place
    Asok Road, (Sukumwit 21),
    Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110

    Tel: 66-2669-9000
    Fax: 66-2669-9009

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    PERSPECTIVES on
    The State of Thai Films ~ In Thailand and Overseas
    How do you see the situation with regard to Thai films and/or the Thai film industry, in Thailand, and overseas?

    CHAKKRIT JUMSAI NA AYUDHYA
    Director of Cultural Activity
    Alliance Francaise

    Significant progress has been made in developing themes for Thai films. There has also been excellent response across all audiences and it can be said that Thai films are enjoying increased popularity.

    Internationally, we are witnessing the "dawn of Thai Films". Thai films are being unveiled and while the unique elements of Thai-ness have been retained, Thai films are indeed offering broader appeal and hence are attracting increased international attention and interest. Thai films are gaining in importance.

    The first issue for film makers is funding. If only Thai films were granted a increase of 50% in funding relative to American films, we will see many more Thai films participating in the world's film festivals as the "themes" presented in the films have been consistently developed and enhanced.

    YOSHIOKA
    Japan Cultural Center, Bangkok

    "Many of the professionals involved in the Thai film industry are of the view that the situation with regard to Thai films in Thailand is becoming better. However, it is important for us to bear in mind that we are comparing the situation with the worst era of the industry (from the mid-90s up to the late-90s). 'Better' might mean that the situation just returned to normal. We have to see if and how, the quality of films develop over the next 2 to 3 years. I understand that many of the old Thai films are also genuine masterpieces, not just in the term of the technical skill, but also in terms of the story or the theme.

    "As for the situation in Japan, there are some distributors who are eager to promote Thai films in Japan. Through their continued efforts, we, Japanese, will be able to enjoy some Thai films at a commercial theatre, even in Japan. But most of the films are screened at a so-called mini theatre, largely frequented by an art-oriented audience, and the number is still a few. But by introducing Thai films constantly over a couple of years, there is a great possibility that Thai films will become more widely welcomed by the Japanese audience."






    KONG RITHDEE
    Film critic and Columnist for Real Time, Bangkok Post

    "The Thai movie industry is entering a critical transition, especially in the year 2003-2004. The increase in the number of local productions is a good sign, but the significant increase in the number of films alone is not an indicator of the industry's health, because many producers are simply cashing in on the wave of success without trying to sustain long-term development. Meanwhile it will take some more time to win the confidence of the audience (local and international). In summary, the outlook is promising, but the industry must pursue the path carefully."

    ITTHISOONTORN VICHAILAK
    Award-winning Director, Look Ba Tieow La Soot

    "Thai films have been doing well abroad in the last 3 or 4 years. Proudly represented by the pioneering work of directors and producers such as Pen-ek and Nonsee, all of these were outstanding films - the product of intensive effort and meticulous attention devoted to content, production, script and other areas.

    "In the last 2 years, however, not all Thai films have achieved the standards set by the predecessors and this is a cause for concern. Some fear that the attempts to export Thai films in the hope that an offshore debut will somehow help drive local interest and market demand, or the pursuit of an opportunistic approach, will tarnish the impeccable track record previously achieved by Thai films.

    "The international success of Thai films will largely be determined by how seriously members of the Thai film industry pursue marketing efforts. What the industry lacks is a new generation with an interest in international networking - to establish international contacts and form international partnerships in order to market and promote Thai films overseas, either through participation in international film contests or film festivals.

    "Initially, the Thai films that were successful overseas were films that were outstanding and distinctive in their own right. Following the 'boom', not all who have followed in the footsteps have upheld the same high standards.

    "With the good reputation, integrity and credibility of the entire Thai film industry at stake, there should be some sort of pre-qualifying criteria set and a screening process or mechanism instituted to ensure that films destined for markets abroad are pre-screened.

    "With regard to the state of Thai films in the home market, the situation is the same as it has always been with success being influenced by many variables ranging from scheduling, traffic, floods, coverage and distribution, competition from foreign films, advertising and promotion budget and activities, funding, timing, promotional funds allocated, and the extend to which investors are willing to take financial risks to promote the Thai film to the same extent as a foreign film. With so many variables to take into account, it is difficult to forecast."


    PIMPAKA TOWIRA
    Programme Director of the Bangkok Film Festival 2001 &
    Director of One Night Husband

    "A positive development resulting from the international interest in Thai films is the increase in the number of Thai films being made. Problems do follow. With the proliferation of Thai films in the last 2 years, one cannot say with any certainty whether this trend will be sustained over the long-term, and whether it truly contributes to the strength of the Thai film industry.

    "The ever increasing number of Thai films is not the issue. What should be of greater concern for the industry is the lack of variety. Little investment is being made in developing new markets. For example, in exploring new approaches and breaking new ground. There is quantity, but little variety.

    "Both production and quality is good. However, Thai films trail behind in the development of content and by "content", I mean, in developing scripts and screen-plays, or in sourcing new materials or scripts that are interesting and different. Today, most of the Thai films being made are 're-makes' of old movies. In comparison to the number of films that have been made from original scripts or screenplays, featuring stories that have never been covered before, these are relatively few.

    "There will also be fewer and fewer movies hitting the 100-million mark at the box office. With films being screened at movie theatres for a much shorter time of no more than one week, the potential for a movie to generate revenue is significantly reduced. Competition will also be intense as Thai films compete for viewer interest and attention.

    "So unless the industry is built on a strong foundation, there is the danger of slipping back to a chapter in our past - the dark days of Thai film. (If we return to) producing movies in the same vein, the viewers will once again be bored and the vicious cycle will repeat itself.

    "The number of Thai films that have ventured offshore is a positive development that has encouraged the industry to produce more films and it is fact that there is a real increase in the demand for Thai films. For example, there is an increased interest in Thai films in the Japanese market, provided the films are interesting.

    "It is unrealistic to think that every single Thai film made will be exported - not all of them will succeed. Only some. We need to achieve a healthy balance between the two. (We need to ensure that) the Thai film industry is one that is founded on a strong foundation. We need to, first of all, strengthen the industry. To develop the variety and range of Thai films. This variety will in turn become the driving force that enables the industry to export Thai films as variety helps to create new demands and new markets, not just in Thailand, but also abroad. Both are interlinked and should not be viewed as separate elements.

    "We should pursue the making of Thai films with the goal of making them popular in Thailand, increasing the value offered by Thai films. Whatever it might be - comedy, tragedy, romance, rivalry - do it well, make it interesting, offer new perspectives, give importance to where it matters - the scripts and screenplays. These things will then contribute to the development of a sustainable industry."

    VISUTE POOLVORALAKS
    Managing Director - Tai Entertainment Co., Ltd.

    "These are some of the pros and cons that have emerged within the Thai film industry domestically.

    A new generation of Thai films is causing quite a stir in the domestic market and is attracting a high level of awareness, interest and excitement.


    Thai films are also attracting funding from interested parties.


    The productivity of Thai movie production companies has increased significantly with each company raising their output from 3 - 4 films a year to 10-12 films per year.


    The situation presents more opportunities and options for film directors to pitch their work according to the preferences of individual companies.


    Screen-writers are swamped and the Thai film industry is experiencing a shortage of quality screen and scriptwriters.


    Since there is a learning curve for new talent, film/production companies are competing for production teams that are talented and experienced.


    As a result of a greater number of films being available, the length of time in which a particular film is being screened at a movie theatre is now much shorter - no more than a few days per film. Films that fail to attract audience interest and fail to meet revenue targets will be taken off the programme quickly. Only those films that manage to truly attract movie-goers and make revenue targets will be screened for a longer duration.


    Increased competition among Thai films offers viewers/movie fans much greater choice.


    Given the rush to turn out films and bring them to screen, a decline in the overall quality of films is an inevitable outcome. While some films of outstanding quality will still remain, these will account for a relatively lower percentage of the total. For example, previously, out of a total of 10 films, let's say that hypothetically, 4 were outstanding and 6 were poor. The outstanding films accounting for 40% of the total. Today, while the total number of films has risen to 50, 10 are outstanding and 40 are poor. The percentage of outstanding films relative to the total is 20%.


    Video and VCR sales are booming, and are being offered at better prices.


    Film distribution pricing remains stable or is eroding slightly as a result of competing programmes, a limited number of movie theatres within a particular chain, or the inability to 'fit' all of the movies available on the market at any one time into the programming.


    The investment being made by film production companies per film has also increased significantly.


    This is matched by a marked increase in advertising and promotional expenses as a result of increased competition.


    Lab expenses have also increased as more copies of the film will have to be made to supply a larger number of movie theatres.


    Increase in actors' fees due to competitive pressure.
    "On the international level, there is a higher level of awareness and interest in Thai films. Good films, films of a high quality are being entered into film contests, while films that are of a more commercial nature, tailor-made for the market, will be offered at film markets.

    "There is no change in terms of the selection of films. Films will either be entered into film contests by the film production company itself, or film contests will be organised by the representative company in an attempt to encourage overseas investors to participate in joint funding ventures and forge investment partnerships, particularly now that Thai films are more widely accepted on the international arena."

    DUANGKAMOL LIMCHAROEN
    Managing Director - Film Hansa and Cinemasia

    "We have seen exponential growth in Thai films. In the last 2 years, Thai films have been attracting an increasing number of investors and increased investment. Thai films have also been enjoying increased market share, reflecting a shift from foreign films.

    "In spite of the growth, the progress made, and the positive image projected, there has been much debate and criticism arising from this development, such as the fact that there is a now a much shorter life-span for Thai films. They are in the movie theatre for just 3 days before they are removed from the programme. On this point, I personally believe that this has more to do with the nature of the "multiplex" system and the way it works. The same (rule) applies to foreign films, if they are not good films.

    "On the future of Thai films, the future is in our hands. We can do whatever we wish as long as we address the issues objectively, with logic and reason, and fix the right things. What is a cause for greater concern is the issue of standards. What are deemed to be the acceptable standards? There is also the issue of management processes, an area which (the Thai film industry) is just beginning to pursue, and issues of new legislation, censorship and other aspects. All of this is in our hands.

    Each and every single player in the Thai film industry has a voice and role, and can make things happen. It is a good thing if we begin to take things seriously. As Thai films evolve into a business, we will begin to see competition. Personally I believe that if one sees the world in a positive light, Thai films that offer quality will never fail to attract an audience. Movie go-ers are not dumb. You can't dupe them. Films need to be meaningful and offer value.

    "There are reasons behind box office successes. For example, because it is a film that cares about the viewers and takes an interest in what the audience wishes to see. We need to try to adjust to changes and the changing situation.

    "I believe that we will gradually see an improvement in the local market. The Thai local market shares many similarities with the market in Korea. Both have a unique local language and culture and there is tremendous potential for local films to gain increased market share over Hollywood and English language films. In Korea, Korean films enjoy a 50% market share. For example, in some weeks, out of a total of 10 films being shown, only 2 are Hollywood movies, the rest are Korean. In Korea, as in Thailand, some of the films being shown are also not that good. What is important to bear in mind is that, at this moment, the prevailing domestic situation is working in favour of Thai films and offers a great advantage. Thai films will continue to develop, and things will get better. It is up to us to build a solid foundation to foster the future growth and development of Thai films.

    "If the local market is of the view that because things are better because 2 years ago, we were able to export and sell Thai films overseas, and investors were speculating on what movies to make for export, we have seen that this just is not the case.

    "Overseas, the existing market is largely interested in (Thai films) that are art films. The sales volume of such films cannot be compared to the mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. In any case, first and foremost, film investors are more interested in the local market, than the market abroad.

    "In as far as the international market for Thai films is concerned, only 2 or 3 films are likely to succeed. These films can be viewed as the "heroes" of Thai films. They are films that did not perform well, financially, in the home market. It depends what you are after - recognition or revenue. It is possible that film studios in Thailand might contemplate making 2 or 3 films of this nature per year, and it might bring us honour and fame. While it may not be a money spinner, there needs to be some sort of return (on investment.) The situation is no different from the movies that are being made with the Hollywood Oscars in mind. Such films are made in the quest for honour and glory and are in a category of their own.

    "I believe that we will also see an increase in the number of co-produced films or co-productions, taking the form of cooperation with Asian partners, or opportunities for Thai films to attract funding from Europe in support of such films. However, in terms of the actual dynamics of the film business, when it comes to co-production, it is the reputation and track record of a particular director that is the crucial factor in attracting foreign investment and funds, as is the case with internationally acclaimed Chinese and Indian directors. The director has to be an individual who is recognised and inspires confidence. There will come a day when Thai directors achieve this status and their names will be known to international film investors and film operators. If and when this happens, when the international investors think "Thailand", they will begin to think which Thai director best represents Thailand, and regardless of the film being made, whenever the name of this particular Thai film director appears, co-production funding will always be forthcoming. It is this particular aspect of the film business that most do not fully appreciate, but as soon as they come to realise that this is how the system actually works, they will quickly adjust and adapt. There is a built-in self-regulating mechanism and process to ensure balance."



    "UNCLE" ADIREK WATLEELA
    Managing Director - Film Bangkok

    "In the last 2 years, Thai films have begun to venture 'offshore' resulting in a greater awareness of Thai films than ever before.

    "A unique set of circumstances has brought about a convergence of timing and opportunity.

    "When the Thai film industry hit its lowest point, the industry was making only 6 or 7 films per year. When the going got tough, the opportunists bailed out leaving only the 6 or 7 who were the true players; those who dedicated life and soul to Thai films. Following years of disappointment, it just so happened that each of the 6 or 7 films were utterly unique in itself, and were of an acceptable standard.

    "Coupled with the worldwide economic downturn which also made its impact felt here in Thailand as it took its toll on the advertising industry, these developments paved the way for a new era in the Thai film industry.

    "Having been schooled in the art of film-making themselves, deep down, most advertising professionals have a soft spot for Thai films, but until now, lacked the opportunity to try their hand at serious film-making due to their professional commitments. With the economic slowdown, directors of commercials had time on their hands and turned their attention to film-making.

    "The entry of these "new wave" film directors - TV commercial directors by profession, into the Thai film circle marked a new page for Thai cinema, bringing with them a diverse views, perspectives and thoughts, strength and expertise, and a wealth of experience, confidence, passion and soul. This heralded a new generation of Thai films. Rich in content, thought-provoking inspirational, captivating in style and presentation, the films captured attention at home and abroad. At home, it renewed interest in Thai films.

    "Other external factors which worked in favour of the resurgence of the Thai film industry include the decline of the Hong Kong film industry following the hand-over of Hong Kong to China which triggered an exodus of high calibre directors and actors emigrating to the US, the saturation point of Hollywood blockbusters, movie-goers tiring of Hollywood special effects, audiences looking for an alternative to the Asian films featured in the film festival circuit. This, coupled with efforts to promote Thai films overseas positioned Thai films as an appealing alternative offering a new 'taste' for those seeking something new and different, presented an opportunity for Thai films and brought Thai films back to the forefront once again. The moment for Thai films had finally arrived.

    "Within Thailand, opportunity knocks. The future depends on where the Thai film industry goes from here - for example, in dealing with the proliferation of Thai films of varying standards growing from 6 to 25 to 50 in 2003, finding ways to accommodate and manage offerings, good and bad, within the principles of free trade."


    SOMSAK TECHARATANAPRASERT
    President - Sahamongkol Film

    "In Thailand, significant progress has been made. Thai films have been very well-received by the local audience.

    "Overseas, especially in Asia, Thailand has managed to successfully market and promote its films and depending on the film selection, is also making its entry into the European and American markets. The situation will improve. Things will get better."

    YOD SUKWIWAT
    Managing Director - International Film Festival Journal

    "The Thai film industry is undergoing a certain renaissance, with the number of titles growing each year due to mainly the stronger local demand for Thai films. Our audiences are growing because our "sight and sound" film presentation has become world-class, our production technique and output is so much greater now-a-days.

    "Over the last decade, the Thai audience has become more sophisticated, mainly due to the presentation of Hollywood blockbusters in state-of-the-art multiplex cinema theatres that have been developed by such companies as Major Cineplex, EGV and SF Cinemas.

    "These same audiences demand the same production value in Thai film which must play on the same world-class screens as international movies.

    "Our increasingly improved productions are a direct result of production budgets edging up. Where Thai pictures used to be produced with average budgets around $500,000 with little CGI, now they are costing upwards of $1 million using sophisticated special effects produced by local companies.

    "Another factor contributing to the growth of our industry are the multitude of stories that exist here in Asia that have not yet been exploited on the big screen. Asian culture, folklore, history are all ripe for exciting and dynamic screen plays which the Thai film industry and the film industries of the world have recognized and begun to develop."

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    These are great articles. My wife and I absolutely love the movies of Pen-ek Ratanaruang. We have yet to see "Talok 69", in fact we can't even find a copy! Even when we're in Thailand!!! I'm a big fan of Jaa Panom as well, though I've yet to see his latest feature. We saw the "new" Nang Nak- great! Suriyothai was well made but too long for me, lol! I preferred Bang-Rajan. Also, I didn't much like "Blissfully Yours", it was a little TOO artsy for me, but I'm glad it won awards in France and I am so happy when I see Thai cinema come to America.

    -mike
    fnord!

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    Re: Thai film at a turning point

    how can i get thai movies with english sub titles?

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    Re: Thai film at a turning point

    You can order Thai Movies as VCD with English Subtitles here:

    http://www.ethaicd.com/list.php?catid=725


    Here are Thai Movies as DVD; but you must read the infos for each Movie, not all have English Subtitles:

    http://www.ethaicd.com/list.php?catid=1040
    My interesting blog about Thailand at Thailand Blog ---> click here

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    Re: Thai film at a turning point

    how can i get thai movies with english sub titles?
    I see you're in the US...Netflix also has a small selection that you can reserve.

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