• Phuttiphong Aroonpheng talks to the audience following the screening of his feature "Manta Ray".
  • Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's contribution to HBO's Folklore series "Pob" was shown as part of the Primetime programme.

Through the eyes of the tiger

movie & TV September 20, 2018 01:00

By Donsaron Kovitvanitcha
Special to The Nation

6,624 Viewed

Asian films, among them three from Thailand, delight audiences at the just-ended Toronto International Film Festival

The 43rd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival drew to a close on Sunday after 11 days of screenings that included likely Oscar contenders Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” and Barry Jenkins’s “If Beale Street Could Talk”. 

The Grolsch People’s Choice Award went not, as expected, to “A Star is Born” but to Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen putting the director of the 90’s comedy hits “There’s Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber” in line as a possible winner at the Oscars. 

Though the buzz was mainly focused on the upcoming awards season, the festival also presented many Asian titles including three Thai films. 

Works from masters like Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang were among those presented. Pen-Ek, who was in Toronto last year with “Samui Song”, brought his 60-minute episode for HBO Asia’s Original drama series “Folklore” to the Primetime programme, a category dedicated to television series considered cinematic enough to be presented on a big screen. 

For “Folklore”, directors from six countries were assigned by HBO Asia to make an episode about ghosts or mythology in their own country with Singapore’s award winning director Eric Khoo serving as producer. The Thai contribution, Pen-Ek’s “Pob” uses the famous Phi-Pob as the main character. In his episode, which was filmed in black and white, a photojournalist visiting his mother in hospital has an encounter with this scary ghost. Also showing in this category was another episode in the series – “A Mother’s Love” by Indonesia’s Joko Anwar, whose latest release “Satan’s Slave” was a hit throughout Southeast Asia.


Kazakh director Emir Baigazin's "The River" examines the threat to paternalism from the arrival of technology.

Even though he has little experience in directing horror films, “Pob” is one of Pen-Ek’s best works in recent years. Audiences in Thailand can view it through AIS Play next month. 

The festival’s Wavelengths section, a showcase for the year’s best experimental cinema, saw Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new short film “Blue” screened in the Wavelengths 1: Earth, Wind & Fire segment. “Blue” was made as a part of the Paris Opera’s digital platform 3e Scene that invites artists from around the world to create and present their artworks. Unlike Pen-Ek, Apichatpong didn’t attend the festival. 

Venice Film Festival award winner Phuttiphong Aroonpheng screened his “Manta Ray” in TIFF’s Discovery section and was on hand, along with his producer Mai Meksawan, to witness its successful North American premiere.


Ho Wi Ding's "Cities of Last Things" was shot in his preferred 35 mm medium.

“I started this project back in 2009. It was a long time in development,” Phuttiphong told the audience during the Q&A session following the screening. 

“Compared to my previous works, I tried to focus on a wider-reaching topic like nationalism. I went to the border between my country and Myanmar and I travelled from the North to the South." The result was ‘Manta Ray’, the first Thai feature to have a Rohingya individual as the main character. In this film, a young fisherman saves an injured stranger and brings him back home. After the mysterious disappearance of the fisherman, and the sudden return of the fisherman’s wife, the stranger starts to act like him and replaces him in his life.”

Audiences in Toronto showed interest in the film and praised its high artistic standard. After Toronto, the film will continue its journey to San Sebastian, Vancouver, Busan and to other events on the festival circuit. 

In general, 2018 was a good year for Asian films in Toronto, with Malaysian filmmaker Ho Wi Ding winning the Platform Prize in the festival’s only juried competition section for feature films.


Filipino Carlo Francisco Manatad's "The Imminent Immanent" was in TIFF's Short Cut competition.

Ho Wi Ding, who has worked in Taiwan, Singapore and Mainland China and now resides in Taiwan was in Toronto for the first time with his new feature “Cities of Last Things”, which was shot in 35 mm. 

“I shot in 35 mm, because I was trained to shoot in 35 mm, and my first short film and first feature film were both shot in 35 mm.  People say that 35 mm is dead, but for me it is still alive. I feel confident in this medium. I don’t like people to tell me that the film is dead. We use expired film stock from Fuji, which is another way to be environmentally friendly,” Ho Wi Ding told the audience at the Q&A session. 


Vietnamese director Ash Mayfair's "The Third Wife" won the NETPAC award.

“Cities of Last Things” is similar to the films of Wong Kar-Wai in terms of colour and atmosphere,  but is considerably more violent. It tells the story of Zhang, a former policeman tormented by his relationship with his wife, and explores his life in reverse chronological order. It now travels to the Busan International Film Festival.

Another winner in the Platform competition was Emir Baigazin’s latest film ‘The River’, which won an Honourable mention. The new film by the young Kazakh director whose “Harmony Lessons” was screened in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, earlier won the Best Director prize in the Orizzonti section at Venice Film Festival.


A scene from Indonesian filmmaker Yosep Anggi Noen's latest short "Ballad of Blood and Two White Buckets".

“The River” talks about paternalism in Kazakh society and how it is being threatened by the arrival of technology and the modern world through the tale of a family in rural Kazakhstan, where the sons who are heavily controlled and monitored by their father encounter a new friend from the city who arrives with his iPad.

“The Third Wife” from Vietnam was another winner in Toronto, picking up the NETPAC Award from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema. Female director Ash Mayfair, who studied filmmaking at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, tells the story of Vietnamese women in the 19th century through May, who is chosen to be the third wife of Hung, a wealthy landlord and is forced to move into his mansion. 


Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new short film “Blue”

“The Crossing” by another female filmmaker Bai Xue also won an honourable mention from NETPAC. It focuses on a Chinese girl who decides to smuggle mobile phones across the border between Hong Kong and China in order to raise money for a trip to Japan with her friends.

The festival screened many other works by young Asian filmmakers, such as “Bulbul Can Sing”, a new film by female Assamese filmmaker Rima Das, who also presented her previous film “Village Rockstars” in Toronto. Filipino filmmaker Carlo Francisco Manatad brought his new short “The Imminent Immanent” to TIFF’s Short Cut competition where it screened alongside Indonesian filmmaker Yosep Anggi Noen’s latest short “Ballad of Blood and Two White Buckets”.

All of these titles will soon be travelling on the festival circuit and show, once again, that Toronto is not only about American films, but serves as a great platform for filmmakers from around the world.