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Thai Cinema - Part 3

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Gay Films

Kathoey (transsexual/transvestite) or gays are often featured as comic relief or villains in mainstream Thai films, but there have been a number of films that make gays and katoey the main characters.


One of the first was Youngyooth Thongkonthun's Iron Ladies, or Satree lek, based on a true story about a transsexual/transvestite gay men's volleyball team that won a national championship in 1996. It was a huge hit on the international festival circuit. The 2000 comedy spawned a sequel in 2003, Satree Lek 2.


More loosely based on a true incident was the 2002 film Saving Private Tootsie, which tells the story of a group of gay and kathoey entertainers who are lost in rebel-held Jungle territory after their plane crashes . A squad from the Thai army, led by a gruff, homophobic sergeant played by veteran actor Sorapong Chatree, goes to the rescue.


And the life of transgendered Muay Thai champion Parinya Kiatbusaba (or Nong Tum) is related in 2003's Beautiful Boxer, directed by Ekachai Uekorngtham. Unlike The Iron Ladies, Beautiful Boxer was more serious in tone.


Even more serious is the 2003 film Tropical Malady, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It depicts a romance between a Thai army soldier and a local small-town boy. The narrative of the film then abruptly shifts in the middle to relate a folk tale about a tiger shaman, with the soldier alone in the Jungle, haunted by the tiger-shaman's spirit. The film won a jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.


Apichatpong also co-directed the low-budget digital movie, The Adventure of Iron Pussy, with artist Michael Shaowanasai, who portrays a transvestite secret agent. A musical, the movie also was an homage and a parody of the Thai films of the 1960s and '70s, with Shaowansai basing his character on the actress Petchara Chaowarat.


In 2005, Thai film Rainbow Boys, depicting a contemporary gay relationship, saw a limited-release screening. And in 2006 there was The Last Song, a remake of a 1985 Thai film about a transsexual cabaret dancer and her struggle to find acceptance and true love.


Historical Epics

Another staple of the Thai film industry, the biggest yet was 2003's The Legend of Suriyothai by Chatrichalerm Yukol. A followup epic is 2006's King Naresuan, about 16th century ruler King Naresuan the Great.


Other epics in recent years include Bang Rajan by Thanit Jitnukul, who's made several other historical battle epics, including Sema: Warrior of Ayutthaya and Kun Pan: Legend of the Warlord.


More recent history is depicted in The Overture, covering the life of a Palace musician from the late 1800s to the 1940s, and The Tin Mine, set at a mine in southern Thailand in the 1950s.



Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak in 1999 was a ghost story that had actually been depicted dozens of times throughout the history of Thai cinema and television. But it gave rise to a new crop of Thai horror and suspense films, including the Pang Brothers' The Eye, Nonzee's pan-Asian compilation Three, Bangkok Haunted, directed by Pisuth Praesaeng-Iam and Oxide Pang and the 2004 box-office smash Shutter by Banjong Pisonthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom.


Examples of slasher movies include Art of the Devil and a 2005 sequel (Long khong), as well as Scared and Narok (Hell), also in 2005.


The horror genre also has spawned a number of genre-blending horror comedies, most notably the films of Yuthlert Sippapak, Buppah Rahtree (featured at the Toronto International Film Festival) and a sequel, and Krasue Valentine. There has even been a zombie movie, 2004's SARS Wars.



The biggest hit musical was 1970's Mon Rak Lookthung (Magical Love in the Countryside), starring Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat. It was hugely popular, playing in cinemas for six months.


As a result, a whole genre of luk thung musicals, rhapsodizing Thailand's rural life in Isan was created. Another example was Dokdin Kanyamarn's 1971 musical comedy, Ai Tui (Mr. Tui), which starred Sombat Metanee and Petchara.


In 2001 there were two movies that celebrated luk thung, the singing-contest comedy Monpleng Luk Thung FM (Hoedown Showdown) and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's, Monrak Transistor, which paid tribute to the music of Suraphol Sombatcharoen. And in 2005, comedian-actor-director Petchtai Wongkamlao wrote, directed and starred in Yam Yasothon, a colourful homage to the 1970s musicals. It was one of top films at the Thai box office.



Weepy, sentimental romance stories are audience favourites. Historically, Cherd Songsri's 1970s film Plae Chow (The Old Scar) is a classic tale of star-crossed lovers, and was one of the first Thai films to be a success internationally.


More recent examples include The Letter: Jod Mai Rak, in which tissues were actually handed out at the cinemas.


Childhood romance was a hit with 2003's Fan Chan, which was made by six directors. One of the six, Komgrit Treewimol, went on to make the college-age romance, Dear Dakanda, a hit in 2005.



As a genre, teen films arose in the 1970s, with director Piak Poster's Wai Ounlawon, about a young man whose courtship of a teenaged girl puts him at odds with the girl's irascible father. That young couple, portrayed by the original actors, were revisited 30 years later as embattled parents in the 2005 sequel, Wai Ounlawon 4 (Oops ... There's Dad).


Music was an important component of the teen films, with a musical interlude featured prominently in the film and a soundtrack album that would be a popular hit. This was the case with both Wai Ounlawon and its recent sequel.


Another noteworthy film of this genre is Fake, which was the debut film by Thanakorn Pongsuwan. The film's modern, visual style offers a sharp-focus snapshot of the city of Bangkok and a plausible account of the mating game in its current forms.


Short Films

In the burgeoning independent film movement, many short films are being produced and featured in festivals. Graceland, a film by Anocha Suwichakornpong, about an Elvis impersonator, was featured in the Cinefondation competition at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Thai short film selected at Cannes. Short-film festivals in Thailand include the Thai Short Film and Video Festival by the Thai Film Foundation and the Fat Film Festival by Fat Radio. Thai short-film programs are also put together for the Bangkok International Film Festival and the World Film Festival of Bangkok.


Extracted from Wikipedia: Thai Cinema

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