Friday, August 28

StSA: Love of Siam to be released on Region 1 DVD

Thanks to Kevin for leaving a comment about the Region 1 DVD release of Love of Siam on my review of the film (which was written immediately after a viewing of the Director's Cut thus the emotional rambling).

A confession, Love of Siam is responsible for my exponentially growing love for Thai cinema. Equally devastating and buoyant, it is a deliberate drama about different aspects of love: familial, romantic, and to an extent, ascetic.

It is also one of the best depictions, if not the most emotionally accurate portrayal, of teen homosexuality. But this seems to have boxed the film into a convenient niche, which I think is a damn shame. The Region 1 DVD will be released by Strand Releasing, which is also distributing Bangkok Love Story, and Lino Brocka's Macho Dancer among others. It's the Theatrical Cut, and not the Director's Cut, that will be released. But I'm not complaining.

The Taiwan Special Edition English-subtitled release comes short in providing good subtitles. Grammatical errors, misspelled names; my copy also had a problem with the subtitle timing. A few lines flashed on the screen ahead of the dialogue and made it quite confusing: Why would Mew be asking Tong if he had already taken a bath? (A line that was supposed to be Sunee's, Tong's mom.) Kevin also pointed out an aspect ratio problem, which totally went over my head.

But it does provide a few extras for fans of the of the movie and the stars. Pchy Witwisit Hiranyawongkul's visit to Taiwan had no subtitles so I didn't get much of what was going on. The deleted scenes with the director's commentary have decent subs. Then there's the August Band mini-concert in Bangkok, in between Siam Discovery and Siam Center, which I quite liked.

Here's hoping Love of Siam sells well so we could have other Thai dramas on Region 1 DVD. It's a welcome glimmer of hope for us Thai cinema fans.

Sunday, August 23

Dorm (Thailand, 2006)

The kicked-up dirt, the caked mud on my leather shoes, and my rag-tag group---the overweight bully, the bespectacled math genius, the giggly volleyball players, the quiet Catholic that was me when I was in grade school---conquered after-school boredom with trips to dark corridors and empty classrooms. If we were feeling more daring than usual, we would go to the garden behind a Gothic, metal church where it was said the school's priests were buried. One time, we did see a ghostly figure, a thin old man who had ashen-gray skin, walking aimlessly around the garden. My friends screamed and ran, stumbling on rocks and shrubs. I was rooted to the ground. Because he had seen me. I remember my knees felt like buckling but I stood firm as the old man walked toward me. When he was less than a few feet away, he called out to me, "Hijo! Have you seen my nail cutter?" I shook my head, and suddenly ran away. I never told my friends that the old man was an almost senile priest.

Dorm (Dek Hor/เด็กหอ) is magical and horrifying this way. Horror with wide-eyed wonder, the kind that is an adventure shared with friends. Director Songyos Sugmakanan is a fantastic storyteller and starts the film with boyhood nostalgia quite similar to his early work along with other directors, Fan Chan, and Japanese thriller 20th Century Boys. Chatree (Charlie Trairat, also the lead of Fan Chan) is plucked from everything familiar and is sent to a boarding school where he is bullied by a gang of students. Songyos cloaks the dormitory in a mossy palette, giving it a more sinister, swampy feel as strange things begin to happen at night.

The frights are simple but ingeniously executed, and often aims to be evocative of childhood fears. The trips to the bathroom with every shadow stretched like clawed hands, the howling dogs, the school disciplinarian we imagined to be the devil incarnate (played delicately tethering to insanity by Thai veteran actress Chintara Sukapatana), the lock that seems to click into place by itself, unearthed forgotten jitters. Songyos doesn't aspire for grand. He is after our memory, and once the connection has been established, disbelief goes into suspended animation. I was a boy again wandering around corridors.

Horror turns to horrifying heartbreak when Chatree befriends Vichien (Michael Sirachuch Chientaworn), another loner who turns out to be a ghost. The hints were pretty obvious but the reveal was still a surprise, a reveal that was so unexpected and so refreshingly original that I gasped at both the anticipated plot twist and the surprising loneliness it meant.

Many would argue that Dorm isn't really a horror flick. Technically, it is. Horror in fiction is a disturbance in the human experience by supernatural forces. As a film, it does not go for the usual out-for-vengeance ghost with creaking bones. It may not frighten but it does horrify---seeing a friend die and decay is horrifying. Alienation, guilt, being unloved, more so.

With Dorm, Songyos attacks an old, familiar genre with such brutal grace that it is at once too beautiful and too painful to watch.

Rating: 5

Dorm (Dek Hor/เด็กหอ)
Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan (Fan Chan/Hormones)
Starring Charlie Trairat (Fan Chan/Hormones), Michael Sirachuch Chientaworn (Hormones), Chintara Sukapatana

Tuesday, August 18

Alternate poster to Buppah Rahtree 3.2

Not really. But I thought this was very witty and cute. Fits the horror-comedy feel of the film.

Sunday, August 16

Dear Galileo (Thailand, 2009)

Dear Galileo,

Betcha never imagined while musing about the motions of bodies that you would centuries later inspire a film about two silly girls who blindly embark on a journey to the other side of the(ir) world with only your theory (of objects falling in uniform acceleration independent of their masses) and a couple of rocks to put that theory into a test to guide them through life-changing decisions.

Consequently, there is a lot of falling in this movie. It begins with best friends Noon (Jarinporn Joonkiat) and Cherry (Chutima Theepanarth) bungee jumping off a bridge to seal their no-fear pact to set off for Europe; Noon hopes to get over a heartbreak, and the other wants to prove her school's decision to expel her wrong. The girls agree to tour and work across Europe indefinitely, and this is where the film takes a familiar turn, at least when it comes to Philippine cinema.

We actually have coined a name for illegal immigrants/workers: TNT or tago ng tago (literally, in English, err, hide and hide), which just goes to show how "ordinary" this has become to the Filipino experience. The similarities of practice---the girls working in restaurants, the running from migration officers, the street-smartness of saving up cash sometimes by cheating or in the movie's case, slipping through the subway turnstile---made me smile. And a little sad.

What makes this film different though is the light-heartedness, the teen-flickness of treatment. This is not some gritty drama about illegal immigrant workers; it's a winsome fairytale that sometimes gets a little too precious. In the Paris subway, Noon hears a dark, handsome stranger speaking in Thai and stalks him. It turns out that the guy, Pisit, played by Ray MacDonald with refreshingly relaxed (read: adult) cynicism, has been living in Paris for quite some time and is staying in a commune with other immigrants and artists. But it's all very wholesome, kiddies.

Joonkiati and MacDonald have a delightful chemistry (though I'm a little uncomfortable with age gap) and are responsible for one of the genuinely warm moments of the film: in a sea of a busy crowd, Noon and Pisit raise placards with questions, written in Thai, that read Raise your hands if you can read this, and my favorite Raise your hands if you miss home. A few passersby raise their hands shyly, some more enthusiatically, all very naturally that I have a feeling that the scene was not staged.

The film is as saccharine as it sounds and mostly gets by with charm and giggling but director Nithiwat Tharatorn has an incandescent eye for capturing the overwhelming grandness and melancholy of Europe's old cities and architecture. His camerawork is also fascinating. His hand held shots has fierce immediacy that gets you into the heat of the panic, especially that bit in the subway where the camera follows the girls running from the police, shaky and stumbling, then blinding daylight. It left me breathless. And it's a sign that Thanatorn can make a great movie if he really puts his mind, and camera, to it.

So, dear, dear Galileo, your theory turned out to be simplified metaphor on the gravity of consequences that was barely carried through until the end of the film but you will be glad to hear that, from the sighs and gleeful laughter that filled the cinema, you're now quite popular with the kids and I'm quite certain that we'll be seeing girls all across Bangkok invoking your guidance and dropping stones off bridges.

In motion,

Rating: 3/5

Dear Galileo (Nee Tam Galileo/หนีตามกาลิเลโอ)
Directed by Nithiwat Tharatorn (Fan Chan, Seasons Change)
Starring Pom Chutima Theepanarth (Hormones), Toey Jarinporn Joonkiat, Ray MacDonald (Fun Bar Karaoke)