From June 4-9, UCLA will host the film series, Bangkok: Cinema City. The program includes:
Friday, June 4 ^ 7:30 pm
MY GIRL ^ (Fan Chan) ^ (2003) Directed by Komgrit Threewimol, Songyos Sugmakanan, Nithiwat Tharatorn, Vijja Kojew, Vithaya Thongyuyong, Adisorn Tresirikasem ^ Six directors—film school friends from Chulalongkorn University—collaborated to make this engaging tale of puppy love and gender difference that was a box-office smash in Thailand. Best friends since infancy, Jeap and Noinah run into pre-teen trouble when Jeap finds himself embarrassed to be seen playing house with the girls while the neighborhood boys are out racing bikes, kicking soccer balls and furiously kung fu-fighting. Bookended by a twentysomething Jeap preparing to attend Noinah’s wedding, the film is sweet but never treacly. The young actors are allowed to be natural—eloquently awkward when emotions run high, full of goofy bluster when playing—and the directors observe their stories in keen and funny detail. A bubblegum Thai song acts as the madeleine that sets Jeap’s memory in motion, and the clever integration of Thai pop throughout imbues the film with the easy charm and catchiness of a John Hughes favorite.
Saturday, June 5 ^ 7:30 pm ^ MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON ^ (Dogfahr Nai Meu Man) ^ (2000) Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul ^ Apichatpong Weerasethakul shakes up the boundaries between documentary and fiction in this hypnotic and deeply affecting film. Following the idea of the surrealist “exquisite corpse,” Weerasethakul journeys all over Thailand asking ordinary people (a fishmonger, a boxer, a posse of schoolchildren, and so on) to contribute episodes to a chain story that begins with a mysterious object rolling from underneath a teacher’s skirt, and unfolds into an increasingly bizarre tale of aliens, impostors, demons and plane crashes. In a striking demonstration of cinema as waking dream, the unfinished story is brought immediately to life in a surprisingly delicate fictional enactment of the rapidly morphing events. The exquisite pleasure of this film derives from the subtlety and wit with which it fragments and reassembles the narrative threads, as well as the gritty b&w photography that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.
BLISSFULLY YOURS ^ (Sud Sanaeha) ^ (2002) Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul ^ This Cannes Un Certain Regard award-winner is just as idiosyncratic and mysterious as director Apichatpong’s debut feature. The film’s minimalist plot tracks a young Thai woman and her taciturn Burmese boyfriend, an illegal immigrant in need of a forged ID, as they venture out to the countryside for a bucolic idyll punctuated by some matter-of-fact sexual interludes. Composed of long takes, the film is casually erotic, playful—the opening credits appear 45 minutes in—and gently ruminative. A serene, pastoral character study not without an oblique political conscience (the devastated Thai economy and Burmese military junta lurk in the deep background), BLISSFULLY YOURS prompted film critic Tony Rayns to remark, “It is clear that something rich and strange is happening in the Thai film culture.”
Producers: Eric Chan, Charles de Meaux. Screenwriter: Apitchatpong W. Cinematographer: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Editor: Lee Chatametikool. With: Kanokporn Tongaram, Min Oo, Jenjira Jansuda, Sa-gnad Chaiyapan. 35mm, in Thai with English subtitles, 125 min.
Sunday, June 6 ^ 7:30 pm ^ THE TESSERACT ^ (2003) Directed by Oxide Pang ^ A flashy adaptation of Alex Garland’s celebrated novel, THE TESSERACT follows the interlinked fates of four strangers in and around a seedy Bangkok hotel. Director Oxide Pang vividly evokes an urban demimonde populated by drug mules, hookers, crime lords and hired killers. The film’s edgy visual style is complemented by some clever narrative tricks, as multiple storylines intersect and even double back on themselves to repeat key scenes from a different character’s vantage. Slick, moody and nothing if not cool, THE TESSERACT betrays a beating heart in its touching portrayal of a British psychologist (Saskia Reeves) bent on saving a brutalized street urchin (Alexander Rendel).
Tuesday, June 8 ^ 7:30pm ^ BEAUTIFUL BOXER ^ (2003) Directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham ^ Based on an amazing true story, this absorbing and heartfelt film follows a young kickboxer who rises to the top of his sport in order to pay for a sex-change operation—his own. BEAUTIFUL BOXER inventively brings together the conventions of the sports movie and the coming-out story as exciting kickboxing sequences alternate with vignettes from the athlete’s life. Thai tolerance towards transsexuality has led to a string of films with transgendered protagonists, with IRON LADIES (also a sports film based on a true story) the best-known example in this country. Unlike many of these films, the hero here is not a comic figure but an inspiring individual.
NANG NAK ^ (1999) Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr ^ A TITANIC-sized hit in Thailand and a critical success abroad, NANG NAK breathes new life into a haunting Thai folktale about undying love. After recovering from the brink of death, Mak returns home from war to be greeted by his wife Nak and their newborn son—only something isn’t right. Evoking the ethereal beauty of rural Thailand, director Nonzee builds a mounting sense of unease and danger as Mak comes to realize what the audience already knows: his wife and child died months before. An epic romance by way of a chilling ghost story, NANG NAK was hailed by Tony Rayns as “a landmark of Southeast Asian cinema.” The same production team went on to make the delirious homage to the Spaghetti Western, TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (2001).
Wednesday, June 9 ^ 7:30 pm ^ BANGKOK DANGEROUS ^ (Krung Thep Antharai) ^ (2000) Directed by Oxide and Danny Pang ^ A virtuosic exercise in pan-Asian neo-noir and action aesthetics, BANGKOK DANGEROUS lifted the co-directing Pang brothers to international prominence and heralded the resurgence of the Thai film industry. Centered around a classic silent assassin—deaf-mute hitman Pawarith Monkolpisit—the plot traces an iconic pattern as the inscrutable hero seeks redemption in the arms of an innocent pharmacy clerk (Premsinee Ratanasopha) but is ultimately thrust back onto a path of retributive violence. Hyperkinetic in the manner of Hong Kong maestros John Woo and Wong Kar-wai, BANGKOK DANGEROUS thrives on rapid-fire cutting, skewed angles and restless camera moves—stylistic effects that brilliantly convey the pulse, the romance and, of course, the seductive danger of the titular Thai capital.
6IXTYNIN9 ^ (1999) Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang ^ What would you do if a box stuffed full of cash mysteriously appeared at your front door? When this actually happens to the introverted Tum, she finds the right answer isn’t so simple. Thanks to the Asian financial crisis, she was rudely laid off the day before. Easy money, of course, is never what it seems, and director Pen-ek Ratanaruang crafts a tight, darkly comic thriller around the escalating chaos set off by Tum’s ethical hesitation. Before she can decide what to do, a parade of drug dealers, cops and nosy neighbors converge on her cramped apartment with Pen-ek whipping up as much absurdity as vertiginous suspense when Tum finds herself at the center of an all-out gang war.
All films will screen at the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall, located on the northeast corner of the UCLA campus, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue.
For more info, visit the UCLA Film & Television Archive website.