Laughter and tears
The Thai movie industry
celebrates six months of profits
in the theatres, but outside,
copyright violations creep up
It's been an exciting six months for the local movie industry with internal and external factors conspiring to bring a mixture of tears and joy to players and spectators alike. Rookie directors - Kantana Animation's Kompin Kemgumnird and Work Point Entertainment's Phanit Sodsri - were the top scorers of the semester, with "Kan Kluay", Kompin's delightful tale of a baby pachyderm lost in the jungle who goes on to become King Naruesan's war elephant, raking in Bt98 million.
Phanit's likay comedy "Nong Theng Nakleng Phookhao Thong", which won critical acclaim for its set design, came a close second with Bt92.4 million.
Newcomers Tifa Company also released their debut flick "Laa Tha Phee" ("Ghost Game") starring the "Academia Fantasia" crew, and made Bt36 million before protests from Cambodia at the thinly veiled reference to a notorious Khmer Rouge death camp forced it to close.
A couple of months later and more aware of cultural sensitivities, GTH withdrew its comedy "Mak Te" ("Lucky Loser") following a diplomatic squabble between Bangkok and Vientiane. The film hypothesised about the Laotian national team qualifying for the World Cup.
Political tensions put a damper on horror flick "Dek Hor" ("Dorm"), as prospective viewers flocked to the demonstrations rather than to the theatres.
Directed by one of "Fan Chan's" six directors, Songyos Sukmakanan, it had been expected to match "Puan Sanit" ("Dear Dakanda"), the solo debut of another "Fan Chan" director Komkrit Treevimol. Instead, it left cinemas with takings of just Bt48 million.
With political calm restored, audiences flocked back to the movies, dividing their attention between comic spoof "Noo Hin the Movie" and romantic comedy "Ruk Jung" ("The Memory").
Producer Sahamongkol Films was so confident of taking in Bt80 million with "Noo Hin" that it threw a party to celebrate. The film finished with just Bt51.8 million.
A lack of cohesion in the storytelling and inexperienced actors were the main reasons for the disappointing results, although director Komkrit had only agreed to take on the project out of respect for acclaimed director and producer Nonzee Nimibutr, with whom he'd worked on "Nang Nak".
"Ruk Jung" ("The Memory") suffered a major setback before it even opened, when the star, Rattapoom "Film" Tokongsab, became involved in a scandal that had fans querying his sexual preferences. Fortunately, the three supporting actors from the popular Pong Lang Sa-on music band were sufficient to lure fans to the cinema.
What is clear from the 23 movies released so far this year is that Thai moviegoers prefer comedy first and horror second. Low-budget and so-called art films hold little appeal.
Pen-ek Ratnaruang's "Invisible Waves" was a flop commercially although it did well on the festival circuit and was the first Thai film selected for the competition category at the prestigious Berlin Festival.
But this semester hasn't just been about the making of movies. The Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand has also undergone some major changes.
After several disagreements between the federation, led by Somsak Techaratanaprasert, and three major companies - GTH, RS Films and Five Star Entertainment, the three firms left the federation and Somsak later resigned.
The break-up has all but destroyed the power of filmmakers in their fight against pirated products and once again income is being seriously affected.
Films are being copied in the theatres and the illegal copies are being released within hours of the movie, with people paying just Bt30 to Bt40 for a DVD rather than Bt100 for a cinema ticket.
However, the film industry is still marching on, and next month the City of Angels will be hosting a Hollywood crew for the shooting of "Bangkok Dangerous". Nicolas Cage stars in the remake of this film, which is again being directed by Hong Kong twins Oxide and Danny Pang.
Two more films from "Fan Chan" directors are also up for release this year. Nithiwat Tharathon has chosen a sentimental story about a young student in a music school getting ready for his solo debut.
Vithaya Thongyuyong directs "Kao" ("The Possible"), a movie with a cast of singers playing the Possibles, a popular band from the 1970s who time-travel to the present day where no one recognises them.
Sahamongkol Films offers a mellow drama by another rookie director, Phing Lumphrapherng, called "Krote Rak Eng Loei" ("Loveaholic"), which is scheduled for release on August 3.
Two movies from comedians-turned-directors are likely to fill cinemas. Phethai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao returns with "The Bodyguard 2", which he's billing as the prequel to his directorial debut "Bodyguard Na Liam", and GTH is the studio behind "Koy Ther Yom" ("See How They Run") directed by and starring Jaturong Mokjok.
On the King's birthday on December 5, acclaimed director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol will be back with his new epic "King Naresuan".
More than two years have gone into the filming and it's still not finished, but film fans can expect another cinematic marvel every bit as glorious as Than Mui's previous masterpiece "Suriyothai".