In case you haven't heard, the Chinese film that has just broken the all-time box-office record in mainland China, surpassing even Avatar and all those swashbuckling nationalistic epics, is a small comedy set mostly in Chiang Mai called Lost in Thailand. Released on Dec 12, it has hurtled past the 1 billion RMB mark. (4.8 billion baht). Featuring _ from what we've seen and from what our reporter in Beijing reports _ two odd buddies on a madcap trip, a lot of beautiful temples, ladyboy gags, Muay Thai vs kung fu (no panda), a couple of elephants and one particularly hissy cobra, the slapsticky film has been a surprise phenomenon in China and has reportedly spurred a rush of Chinese tourists to the northern Thai city.
We'll have a full report on the film, straight from Beijing, next Friday. For now, let's say that the film skirts the lurid pitfalls of Siamese stereotype into which a number of movies shot here fell _ Lost in Thailand has all those superficial "Thai icons", from monks to elephants and temples and showgirls, and yet it sticks steadfastly to the two Chinese characters and their Journey to the West-like quest _ not to obtain a sacred text but a business contract (after all, this is 21st century China!).
It's a coup de theatre for the filmmakers no doubt, but also for the policy to promote Thailand as a movie set. When The Hangover 2 came here, we made quite a big deal about it, and here's a smaller flick, perhaps even crazier, with no marquee stars, but one that's done the same if not more to capture Thailand in its variety, bad and good.
So far there's no word about the film being released here. We'll keep you posted.
January is a slow month for Thai films _ the multiplexes are clearing the way for the parade of Oscar hopefuls opening over the next few weeks. The only Thai film slated to open on Jan 31 is a slasher flick, Thongsook 13 (the title is a pun on Friday the 13th). The title character, Thongsook, is a black sheep among his friends, and on Friday the 13th they all get trapped on a small island where strange and sanguinary things start to happen to them. Directed by Taweewat Wanta, the film is produced by a new outfit called Wave Pictures.
In February, however, quite a few interesting Thai titles are scheduled to hit the cinemas (depending on how you define "interesting"). For starters, we'll have the second part of the Jan Dara saga, an erotic escapade of a teenage boy in a hothouse of carnal excess. The first part, released a few months ago, provoked varying responses, from giggles to yawns to raised eyebrows. We look forward to the concluding episode anyway. Then there's indie film The Cure, about two teenagers who set themselves up as vigilantes and go about murdering "bad people". It's likely to open next month.
Most exciting of all is the new film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang. The director is finishing a documentary called Prachathipathai _ a pun on "democracy", with a fitting English title Paradoxocracy. Basically made up of interviews with scholars, activists, firebrands, past and present, yellow and red _ almost 20 of them _ the film is survey of the evolution, the detour and the rugged path of Thai democracy over the past seven decades. We'll have more updates on it very soon.
The Thai independent film 36 had a good run last year, and the journey continues. At the International Film Festival Rotterdam later this month _ the first significant cine-event of the year _ the movie is in the Tiger Competition, a crucial tournament for first-time filmmakers. Director Nawapol Thamrongratanarit bagged a major prize from the Busan International Film Festival, Asia's premier film jamboree, last October and from the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival. A show at Rotterdam will surely increase the profile of the film and the filmmaker; and indeed Thai directors often have their stars aligned with the Dutch event. Two Thai films won the big prize in the past four years, including Wonderful Town by Aditya Assarat and Mundane History by Anocha Suwichakornpong, while Agrarian Utopia by Uruphong Raksasat won a Netpac critics' award.
The official line-up at Rotterdam will be announced next week. There will be more Thai films included in the programme, though we'll have to wait for official confirmation before printing the titles on this page.
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor