China’s submission for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, December 2, 2010
… through Wednesday, December 8
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: The Social Network. Aftershock. Harry.
Earthquake aftermath in
This is Issue Number 5 of Volume 6 of these listings, in our sixth year! Back issues are available on the blog.
Luang Prabang Film Festival in Luang Prabang: Dec 4 to 11. Open air, free.
The Bangkok International Film Festival has been cancelled for this year.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Aftershock / Tangshan dadizhen / 唐山大地震: China, Drama/ History – 2 hrs 15 mins – By Feng Xiaogang. We know of one film for sure that will be up for Best Picture at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on 27 February (Hollywood time – Monday 28 February here in Thailand). It’s this one! Though, to be sure, this is in the best foreign film category. It’s China’s official entry, released in China on July 22, of this year, and is considered to be the first "big commercial IMAX film" created outside the US.
Based on the Tangshan Earthquake in 1976, the story concerns Li Ni who returns home only to find out that her 7-year-old twins are buried under the debris. She's left with a dilemma on deciding whom she chooses to save, her son, Fonda, or her daughter, Fan Teng. She chooses to save her son in the end without knowing that Fan Teng overheard the decision being made. Miraculously, the little girl manages to survive but suffers from the painful memory of her mother’s decision. Later, a young couple adopts her but she remains traumatized by this childhood experience. Generally favorable reviews: 64 out of 100. At Vista only, with the original Chinese soundtrack, and Thai and English subtitles – the way movies like this should be presented!
Twitch, Al Young: Director Feng Xiaogang is poised to bring audience to tears this summer in China's major blockbuster film Aftershock. Budgeted at somewhere between $10-25 million, the disaster drama is based on the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that claimed the lives of at least 240,000 people and severely injured a further 164,000, making the tragedy the largest earthquake of the 20th century by death toll. It deals with the heartbreaking fallout between a mother (Fan Xu) and her quake surviving daughter (Jingchu Zhang) and their eventual reconciliation.
When a mother is informed by the rescue team that, as her 7-year old twins are buried under the debris close to each other, digging one out would result in further collapse of the wreckage on the other, she is forced to make the most difficult decision of her life. As the clock ticked away, she finally ended her struggle and chose to save the boy, and though heartbroken, she had no idea her decision was overheard by the daughter. Deemed as a dead person, the little girl miraculously survived and was rescued after being buried under for days. Suffering from the emotional shock of the disaster and the painful memory of her mother's choice, she refused to reveal who she was. She was adopted by a young couple and later moved to the US, but shadowed by the traumatic experience from her childhood, she forever remained emotionally closed up.
When the Sichuan earthquake takes over 80,000 lives in 2008, she volunteers to join the rescue team and returns to her homeland, China. As she witnesses the tribulations people go through when a natural disaster takes place, she finally unlocks the pain she had felt all these years and finds forgiveness. She finally reunites with the mother and twin brother she had parted from after 32 years. A human drama about finding forgiveness, Aftershock depicts not only the fatal tragedy that is brought on by a natural disaster of great levels, but also the strength and courage that is demonstrated when we are in face of extreme and devastating situations.
Twitch, Eight Rooks: It's frustrating following Feng Xiaogang's transformation into the Chinese Steven Spielberg. This isn't innately a bad thing. He's still a talented director capable of doing astonishing things with moving images. It's just a huge disappointment seeing Aftershock come so close to being something extraordinary only to waste far too much of its potential on saccharine melodrama and nationalist chest-beating, with a climax which feels completely unearned.
Based on the Chinese-language novel of the same name, Aftershock was released to tie in with the relief efforts following the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The film tells the story of a family in Tangshan, beginning more than three decades earlier, when the great earthquake of 1976 devastated that city, killing nearly a quarter of a million people.
The family become separated in the chaos following the quake, when a dreadful misunderstanding sees the mother, Li Yuan Ni (Xu Fan, One Foot Off the Ground, A World Without Thieves) giving her daughter up for dead. Rescued by the army, the daughter, Fang Deng is adopted but remains haunted by memories of the disaster, while the son Fang Da - now crippled - struggles to balance what he wants out of life with his mother's expectations of him as her only surviving child.
Feng is clearly out to make a piece of matinee entertainment aimed first and foremost at mainland domestic viewers, and in many respects he succeeds admirably. By Hollywood standards the budget was minute (around $22m) and much of the production design funded by donation drives, but the money was largely well spent.
The introduction is a slick, polished bit of sun-drenched nostalgia, lulling the viewer with childhood horseplay and idealized scenes of family life in a bygone decade. The quake itself, while not up to the breadth and scope of contemporary disaster porn, is still a hugely impressive set piece. Parts of the CG are overly showy and somewhat rough around the edges, but much of the destruction is physical effects work which comes across as terrifyingly realistic.
And 2012 this is not. While it's doubtful anyone could get away with glamorizing Tangshan in front of a mainland audience, Feng still deserves plaudits for making the aftermath look like hell on earth. While it's not especially explicit, the images of shell-shocked survivors stumbling blankly through the wreckage are harrowing stuff.
While Aftershock never again becomes quite so gut-wrenching, the conviction from everyone involved lends even the most melodramatic passages a great deal of power. The terrible choice that sets up the rest of the film is obviously contrived, but it never feels entirely implausible, and the cast sell much of the psychic fallout from it admirably.
Zhang Jingchu looks a little too old to play the teenage Fang Deng, but other than that it's a joy to see her in something where she's not wasted. Chen Daoming is also exceptional as her adoptive father, particularly as an old man. The veteran actor conveys a great deal with body language and wordless gestures without ever turning his character into a cartoon.
But the problem with Aftershock is Feng insists on playing to the crowd almost from start to finish. Again, the propaganda elements in many mainland films aren't necessarily wholly bad, but here they slowly drag the film down, cheapening what should be something genuinely compassionate and humanist through the sheer volume of treacly schmaltz.
It starts with the scenes immediately after the quake, where the score feels horribly inappropriate for something so raw, and Feng keeps piling on the big moments until they start to lose their impact. Fang Deng's new family squabbles are not especially convincing, her subplot at university is well-intended but feels like a pale echo of Li Shaohong's masterpiece Stolen Life and Xu Fan as her mother begins to dial her reactions a little too high as the film drags on.
And the way Feng ties the story into the Sichuan earthquake is about as ham-fisted a mis-step as might be feared. Every last beat of the epilogue is hammered home with a crushing lack of subtlety when only the most oblivious viewer would fail to see the parallels with the opening.
Aftershock is a marked improvement on the over-rated Assembly, and it does contain some absolutely enthralling moments of populist cinema. But it returns to the well for naked appeals to Chinese nationalist pride one too many times to feel like anything more than an exercise in flag-waving at the expense of credible character development or lasting emotive power, and can only be cautiously recommended.
* Samurai Ayothaya / Yamada The Samurai of Ayothaya / ซามูไร อโยธยา: Thai, Action/ Drama – 1 hr 30 mins – Based on a true historic figure during Ayothaya Era, the film depicts the life of Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese adventurer who gained considerable influence in Thailand and became the governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat province in southern Thailand. At Airport Plaza only.
Watch out for this one! I haven’t seen such violence in a long while, and this was just in the trailer. Way too much breaking of bones for my taste, seemingly photographed in loving detail, with sounds of snapping and crunching that leaves nothing to the imagination. Too violent for me, and should be for you.
* Cool Gel Attacks / Kra Deub / กระดึ้บ: Thai, Comedy/ Sci-Fi – 1 hr 30 mins – Pa and Maow are neighbors who have hated each other for a long time. But, when an unidentified gel-like object falls from the sky in their neighborhood, and it turns out to be a deadly creature from outer space, the two foes abruptly team up to get rid of the alien one-eyed slug. Directed by and starring Jaturong Mokjok. No doubt with the usual Thai light comedic touch. Oh, and of course, with the ever-present Kohtee Aramboy. English subtitles only at Airport Plaza.
* Kapi / กะปิ ลิงจ๋อไม่หลอกจ้าว: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – 1 hr 30 mins – An orphan boy lives with a mischievous monkey in his coconut field by the sea. When his coconut field is intruded by some selfish villagers, the boy and his monkey team up to compete in a monkey contest to save their territory from being occupied. English subtitles only at Airport Plaza.
Wise Kwai: The tradition of coconut growers and their trained monkey coconut pickers is harvested for family friendly comedy in Kapi Ling Jor Mai Lork Jao, yet another tentpole Thai studio release set for this King's Birthday holiday weekend.
The first movie to come out of the 2007 round of the Thailand Script Project, Sahamongkol Film International picked this up, and added comedy vets Thep Po-ngam, Mum Jokmok, Kom Chuanchuen and "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom to the cast – as if a cheeky macaque and a little boy aren't laughs enough already.
The kid Tong (Richard Ghaini) lives with his ailing uncle (Thep Pho-ngam) and mischievous pet monkey on an idyllic coconut plantation by the sea. They put up a fight against a rich developer who wants to build wind turbines. Nitivat Cholvanichsir directs.
Kapi was picked out of the 2007 Thailand Script Project alongside E-Nang Ei (White Buffalo), about Isaan women who marry foreign men, which has been backed by the Culture Ministry’s Strong Thailand fund, and a third winning script, also in development, called Pee Kanoon, referring to the woman who hang around the outdoors at night, under jackfruit trees.
The Social Network: US, Biography/ Drama/ History – 2 hrs – By David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac, Panic Room). A terrific film in my opinion, though I think the main protagonist an ugly, amoral being who I would want to have nothing to do with. I think what comes off the worst in the film is Harvard University – including its president. Makes me feel rather happy I didn’t end up going there. Bunch of spoiled juvenile snobs! Anyway, the film is about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook, and the main instigator is the lowest of the low human beings, a person nobody would want to be friends with. Yet he founds a gigantic enterprise based on friendship! Or maybe fake friendship! Reviews: Universal acclaim: 95/95 out of 100.
See this mesmerizing film for its portrayal of the type of person you apparently have to be to make it in the world of internet marketing. You won’t be pleased, but you will be gratified at some of the turn of events. Excellent performances, and a very unsettling one from the lead.
Studio synopsis: “On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.”
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Impeccably scripted, beautifully directed, and filled with fine performances, The Social Network is a riveting, ambitious example of modern filmmaking at its finest.
Unstoppable: US, Action/ Drama/ Thriller – 1 hr 38 mins – Exciting thriller starring Denzel Washington taming a runaway train, and it might just be the most entertaining movie you will see this year. Seems everybody is enjoying this one, I certainly did. Denzel is a real talent. I remember seeing him play Richard III in New York’s Shakespeare in the Park one summer. Just think of all the films you’ve seen him in. And he’s a very big-hearted man as well. You catch glimpses of a kind and generous man in his performance in this film. It’s comforting and a pleasure to see him act, and this one was just fun all the way through – if you’re in the mood for a runaway train movie, and who isn’t now and again? Generally favorable reviews: 67/68 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: As fast, loud, and relentless as the train at the center of the story, Unstoppable is perfect popcorn entertainment -- and director Tony Scott's best movie in years.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I: UK/ US, Adventure/ Fantasy/ Mystery – 2 hrs 26 mins – The first of the two-part conclusion to the series; Part II due in July of 2011 – both directed by David Yates, who has directed the last two Harry Potter films. You know you’re going to have to see it, so why fight it. And you know what you’re in for: a superbly told tale, with some of the finest British character actors. Shown in two versions at Vista at Kad Suan Kaew, both regular 2D, but one is English with Thai subtitles and the other is strictly Thai-dubbed only. Shown in three versions at Airport Plaza: a regular 2D version, a digital 2D version – but not 3D, and a Thai-dubbed non-digital 2D version. Digital is better than the usual film in most people’s opinion (though definitely not all). Whether it’s worth the added price of admission is your decision. Generally favorable reviews: 68/71 out of 100.
Originally to be released in 3D, this decision was scrapped just weeks before release, “due to the difficulty of converting the film into the format.” And therein lies a story. There’s been a growing controversy about last-minute or even some not-so-last-minute conversions from regular 2D to 3D, generally seen as a means of charging more at the box-office and cashing in on the 3D “wave.” Some of these conversions have been dreadful, such as last summer’s Clash of the Titans and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – but even the best fall far short of a film designed from the start for 3D using 3D cameras at every step. So at the very, very last minute, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the conversion job, fearing it might result in an ignoble end to a noble series. By doing so they as much as admitted that the conversion process available for transforming 2D to 3D is simply inadequate at the present time. However, they are still saying they plan on using the conversion process for the second part next summer, hoping maybe that the process will improve enough in the meantime to be acceptable. Stay tuned!
Paranormal Activity 2: US, Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 1 hr 31 mins – After experiencing what they think are a series of "break-ins", a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realize that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem. I’ve seen this, and if you’re up for another “found amateur film” where you’re asked to believe these things actually happened to regular people who happened to tape them, then this film will offer a few really off-the-wall scary moments, when you least expect them. And you’ll be asking yourself what did you really see happen in the last few minutes. But you have to really want to suspend belief and hang in there during the nights when the camera was taping and nothing happened. Great believable acting by the family dog. Rated R in the US for some language and brief violent material; only 13+ in Thailand. Mixed or average reviews: 51/61 out of 100. At Vista only.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Paranormal Activity 2 doesn't cover any new ground, but its premise is still scary -- and in some respects, it's a better film than the original.
Scheduled for December 9
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: US, Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – 1 hr 55 mins – Lucy and Edmund Pevensie return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace where they meet up with Prince Caspian for a trip across the sea aboard the royal ship The Dawn Treader. Along the way they encounter dragons, dwarves, merfolk, and a band of lost warriors before reaching the edge of the world. I’ve learned that it’s going to be a post-production 3D job, which has been bad news so far.
* = Coming soon (hopefully)
FS = Film Space
At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
The Alliance Française shows its series of French films in a small room in their building at 138 Charoen Prathet Road. The building is directly opposite Wat Chaimongkhon, near the Chedi Hotel. Tell your taxi "Samakhom Frangset" and/or "Wat Chaimongkhon." A contribution of 30 baht is requested; you pay outside at the information desk of the Alliance Française proper.
On Friday, December 3, 8 pm: La Grande vadrouille / Don't Look Now - We're Being Shot at (1966) by Gérard Oury – 132 mins – France/ UK Comedy. No English subtitles.
With Bourvil, Louis de Funès, Terry Thomas, Claudio Brook, Andréa Parisy, Colette Brosset.
Augustin Bouvet, painter and Stanislas Lefort, conductor at the Paris Opera, were leading a quiet life in wartime Paris. Until the day they take charge of three British airmen shot down over the city.
A British bomber is shot down over Paris by the Germans. Its crew (Terry Thomas as a flight captain) land there by parachute. With the help of some French civilians (Louis de Funès in the role of a conductor and Bourvil as a house painter) they try to escape over the demarcation line into the southern part of France, still not occupied by the Germans.
– Alliance description
Paris 1943. Three Allied parachutists land unexpectedly and turn upside-down the peaceful lives of Stanislas, a conductor, and Augustin, a decorator. The only way to get rid of their unwanted guests is to lead them to the free zone. This was the highest-grossing film in France for more than thirty years!
IMDb viewer: One of the most popular French movies of all time! Starring the famous Bourvil/Louis de Funes tandem it is a highly entertaining caper set in WWII German-occupied France, where these two unlikely heroes reluctantly must help some downed British airmen to escape.
A perennial favorite on French TV during the Christmas or Easter holidays it is one of those rare movies you can watch over and over again without getting tired of it. It runs more than two hours but moves along at an incredible pace. Movie relies big time on the clash of character between de Funes as the self-important musical director of the Opéra de Paris and Bourvil as the simple housepainter. But also the hilarious script, some spectacular set pieces (including a spielbergesque chase by German sidecars) and a surprising finale all add up to making Vadrouille one of the best and most entertaining French movies ever.
Made on a lavish budget by Gerard Oury who would go on to make some other highly successful comedies, mostly starring big French stars as de Funes and Bourvil, but also Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierre Richard and Christian Clavier. Up to that time movies made in France took war rather seriously, but La Grande vadrouille sparked of an endless string of farces set in WWII which almost invariably depicted the French as very clever and cunning, always outwitting the Germans in the end.
On Friday, December 10, 8 pm: No film showing – Holiday! – Constitution Day.
At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
December is “The Month of Animation” at Film Space.
Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Showings are in a classroom on the second floor or on the roof, weather permitting. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance – you should leave at least 20 baht. Well worth supporting. All films not in English are shown with English subtitles.
At Film Space Saturday, December 4, 7 pm: Harvie Krumpet (2003) by Adam Elliot – 23 mins – Australia, Animation/ Comedy/ Short/ Drama
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: Geoffrey Rush is the voice of the titular character in this short, clay-animated film about the life of a man with terrible luck. But even after being... Geoffrey Rush is the voice of the titular character in this short, clay-animated film about the life of a man with terrible luck. But even after being born with Tourette's Syndrome, losing a testicle, getting struck by lightning, and developing Alzheimer's, Harvie is still able to look on the bright side of life and understand the valuable things he has seen and learned along the way! Harvie Krumpet, which is the product of Australian director Adam Elliot, has won over 50 awards internationally, including Best Animated Short at the 2003 Academy Awards.
At Film Space Saturday, December 11, 7 pm: Waking Life (2001) by Richard Linklater – 1 hr 39 mins – US, Animation/ Drama/ Fantasy – A boy has a dream that he can float, but unless he holds on, he will drift away into the sky. Even when he is grown up, this idea recurs. After a strange accident, he walks through what may be a dream, flowing in and out of scenarios and encountering various characters. People he meets discuss science, philosophy and the life of dreaming and waking, and the protagonist gradually becomes alarmed that he cannot awake from this confusing dream. Rated R in the US for language and some violent images. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 82/76 out of 100.
At the Gay Film Series
Next showing December 12: The Lost Language of Cranes (1992). Films with a gay theme shown generally every two weeks, with very limited seating, in a private home. Reservations a must to attend films in this series. To reserve: send email to: Chiangmai.firstname.lastname@example.org, mark in subject area “reserve” with the number in your party. To be placed on the mailing list for advance notice of movies just put in the subject line: “mailing list.”