Sun, 03 Aug 2003

Thai short film directors going to the big screen

Kenny Santana, Contributor, Bangkok

Never mind if you never watched the colossal Thai movie, The Legend of Suriyothai, or the popular comedy flick of a volleyball team consisting of transvestites called The Iron Ladies.

Never mind if your knowledge of Thai "films" is based on the soap operas aired by local TV stations where the artists speak in dubbed Indonesian accents. Also, never mind if the only Thai guy you know is Greg Uttsada Panichkul, a.k.a. Utt.

Now you have the chance to beef up your knowledge on this Thai popular art. Six Thai short films are on show at the ongoing Bali International Film Festival.

Among them are works by Banjong "Tong" Pisanthanakun, 24, the director of Colorblind, and Parkpoom "Aoe" Wongpoom, 23, the director of In the Eyes and Luang Ta.

Tong's third short film featured in the festival, Colorblind takes a look at the life perspective of someone who is colorblind. The film keeps the curiosity of the viewer until the end. Made in four months from January until April 2002, Tong said, "It's my best short film, considering the production and the direction".

Another short movie, Luang Ta, made by Aoe, has a controversial theme involving a monk. In a world full of dishonesty, Luang Ta shows it all in sharp focus.

Aoe's fourth short film In the Eyes is also guaranteed to grab the audience's attention; they will wish it were feature-length instead. Voyeurism, a horny teenager, a sexy woman in the shower -- need I say more?

These movies have shown their strength in international festivals. Colorblind gained several awards, including second prize for the audience award in the Asian Film & Culture Festival in Lyon, France, while in the same festival, In the Eyes, won Best Short Film.

Luang Ta itself was selected as the Best Short Film in 2000's Bangkok Film Festival.

With these awards, several short films and countless TV commercials on their resume, what's next for the duo? It turns out that they are just on the way to realizing their dreams with their first big screen feature this year.

It's true that the fast growth of the Thai movie industry has opened up opportunities to aspiring young filmmakers, and these two are lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

The Shutter, a Thai horror movie produced, written and directed by the two friends, is an achievement for two directors who are not even 25 years old yet. The learning process as assistant directors for TV commercials has paid off.

In an interview with The Jakarta Post, Tong and Aoe acknowledged that everything had happened so fast. The project started late last year when their working company Phenomena was searching for good projects to be made into the company's first feature film.

After finishing the first draft, it took two months from writing to make a presentation for Phenomena. Their idea of a mysterious ghost appearing in photographs caught the attention of Phenomena's board of directors, who then pitched the idea to Gmm Pictures.

It took only one month for Gmm, which is famous for producing and releasing big Thai movies like Mekong Full Moon Party, to decide to proceed with the project.

"We hope that it will be very scary, with the strong visuals that we want to create and invent some new scary moments on the screen," they said. The Shutter is scheduled to be released in Thailand in February 2004.

Right now, Tong and Aoe are still dealing with preproduction, followed by production starting in early August. After the movie wraps, they do not plan to forgo making the short films they grew up with and that they have made their mark.

"But of course, we need to find the good scripts for that," they said in unison.

Just like other regular guys, during free time they enjoy movies or sitting in a cafe, sipping coffee and talking about film for hours.

"It's nice to discuss things in a cafe since we like the atmosphere. But of course, it can't be too noisy," Tong said.

When they are not busy making movies, they love to watch films from Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang, famous for his movies like 6ixtynin9, Fun Bar Karaoke and the latest one, Mon Rak Transistor.

"We love his direction, he always made the actors act naturally with a vision to create a good movie and great editing too," they said.

Internationally, they consider directors David Fincher (Panic Room), Alejandro Amenabar (The Others), Julia Roberts and Billy Crystal as their idols.

Becoming idols themselves may still be far off, but for now they just want simple things. Asked what they expect from Bali audiences when seeing their short films, they answered quickly, "What can we expect? We just want them to enjoy the films."

A few months from now, when the feature film finally opens, they might give the same answer to that question. We will wait until next year, while in the mean time their short films will continue to do just great in making their name.

The Bali International Film Festival runs until Aug. 8. More information at