The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in Bangkok By Hubert Niogret

in 4th Bangkok Film Festival

by Hubert Niogret

Even with cancellations, programming changes, impossible screenings (King Naresuan, still in shooting), the Bangkok International Film Festival 2006, managed by an American company for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, succeeded in presenting a large number of films from many countries, and of all genres. If some American features seem to be there only as promotion, many of the other films programmed (features, some shorts, documentaries) gave the Thai audience a chance to see something other than the American or Thai films that fill the numerous luxurious multiplexes of Bangkok during the year. Sympathy For Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-woo (awarded Best Director), Water by Deepa Mehta, awarded Best Film, or Bride of Silence (Hat Mua Roi Bao Lau), winner of the FIPRESCI award, have little chance of finding distributors in Thailand.

Bride of Silence by Doan Minh Phuong and Doan Thanh Nghia is a co-production between Vietnam (private backers), Germany and Australia, while Journey From the Fall (Vuot Song) by Ham Tran is a co-production between Vietnamese backers in the States. Both Doan, brother and sister living in the States for rather a long time, returned to Vietnam in order to make their film about a bride suffering in silence in a man’s world. Ham Tran, now in the United States, has chosen to focus on the Reform Camps of the Boat People in North Vietnam. Les Acteurs du théâtre brûlé (The Burnt Theatre) by Rithy Panh (France, Cambodia) is also a testimony to survival in Cambodia today, half destroyed by war.

In a world of political waves, Gie by Riri Riza (Indonesia), builds up a very interesting portrait of a young journalist who doesn’t succeed in finding his way in the new Indonesia of the ’60’s; refusing to go with the Communists or the Catholics. From the Far-East today, struggling against the terrorism of Jangadilla groups in Malasia, Monday Morning Glory by Woo Ming Jin is unable to choose clearly between reconstruction and fiction.

From Thailand, The Tin Mine (Mahalai meung rae), the second film by Jira Maligoog, is a classical and precise “biopic” of a young man, who having failed in his studies, is trained to work in a tin mine. Even with some narrative problems, the film succeeds by its visual quality and psychological depth.

Of the other features selected in the Asean Competition for the FIPRESCI Award, the very interesting The Gravel Road (Chemman Chaalai) by Deepak Kumaran Menon (Malaysia) and Magdalena: The Unholy Saint (Santa Santita) by Laurice Guilen (Philippines) were already screened in New Delhi 2005. The others were commercial mediocrity, following up Bend It as Beckham (Goalposts & Lipsticks / Gol & Gincu, by Haris Hue, Malaysia), impossible projects on karma (Ahimsa Stop to Run / Ahingsa jiggo mee Kum, by Kittikorn Leosakun, Thailand), “cliché” comedy (Joni’s Promise / Janji joni, by Joko Anwar, Indonesia), naïve drama (The Masseur / Masahista, by Brillante Mendoza, Philippines), unconvincing humour (Unarmed combat, by Han Yew Kwang, Singapore), and total amateurism (3 Brides / Mamee, Thailand).

Outside of the FIPRESCI selection, except for some rather interesting Indian films (including the beautiful Bengali Parineeta / The Married Woman by Pradeep Sarkar), all the films selected were a mix of interesting international features (Allen to Clooney…) but which were no discoveries, and local productions from the Far East including very bad commercial Thai features (Art of the Devil II, The King Maker…). Hopefully, Invisible Waves, by Pen-ek Ratanaruang (from Thailand, The Netherlands, Hong-Kong, Japan, Korea), the festival’s opening film, shows that a personal way is possible for a director, in a strange vision of Asian “film noir”, crossing different cultures.