Big-studio movies struggled while Thai audiences crowded in for smaller filmsIf the film industry's success can be measured by box-office takings, then 2012 must be considered a bad year for the Thai studios.
The sole blockbuster was the GTH comedy "ATM Er Rak Error", which earned more than Bt152.5 million. It was a lucky for GTH because "ATM" had been set for release in 2011, but was postponed to January because of last year's floods.
The first runner-up was "Rak 7 Pee Dee 7 Hon" ("Seven Something"), GTH's star-studded seventh-anniversary love poem to itself. It scored less than half, with just Bt70 million.
GTH has been Thailand's most successful studio in the last several years, with its releases usually managing earn at least Bt100 million.
They're also not averse to trying something new and have just released the psychological thriller "Countdown" to chill movie-goers into the new year. It's expected to close the year with Bt30 million in earnings, considered acceptable for something so far removed from the studio's signature "feel good" genre.
Despite being years in the making, Workpoint Entertainment's promising animation "Yak" failed to live up to box-office expectations, earning a middling Bt50.8 million. Critics said the look and feel was just too close to the Hollywood animation "Robots", even though the makers of "Yak" maintained they'd started their project long before the other movie was released.
Another animation, Kantana's "Echo Jew Kong Loke" ("Echo Planet") suffered even more. Despite the 3D innovations by director Kompin Kemgumnerd, the children's adventure tale pushed viewers away with its vague title and preachy environmental message. The marketing was so poor that many people knew nothing about the film until it was already in theatres. It earned less than 10 million.
On the bright side, social networks played a major role in helping independent films attract audiences without spending a bundle on promotion.
Kongdej Jaturanrasamee's "Tae Peang Phu Deaw" ("P-047") was a sleeper hit and a good earner despite being only a limited release. It's success was thanks largely to leading man Aphichai Trakulkraiphadejkrai, a cult figure in the alternative rock scene. His fans flocked to see it at Siam Square's Lido cinemas, and many were disappointed when they arrived to find no seats left. The movie also screened in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima and Hat Yai, with the sold-out screenings publicised mainly through Facebook.
Another indie film that was boosted by social networking was "36" by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit. He self-released the experimental film, shepherding it around himself to various venues and promoting it on Facebook. It did so well that RCA's House cinema added seats to meet audience demand.
Other major studios struggled. Sahamongkol Film International drew mixed reviews with its tentpole releases, which included the gangster flick "Antapal" and Nonzee Nimibutr's psycho-thriller "Khon Loke Jit" ("Distortion").
But the studio's biggest disappointment was erotic drama "Jan Dara Prathom Bote" ("Jan Dara: The Beginning"), which despite the promise of seeing actress Bongkote "Tak" Kongmalai nude, failed to draw audiences and earned just Bt35 million. Studio execs hope to do better with next year's release of part two of the saga, which is directed by ML Bhandevanov Devakula.
Five Star Production is looking to continue exploring the third dimension following last year's haunted aeroplane tale "407 Theiw Bin Phee" ("Dark Flight 407"), which was touted as Thailand's first feature filmed in stereoscopic 3D. They followed that this year with "Tee Sam 3D" ("3AM"), a trio of 3D ghost stories.
Perhaps the most talked-about movie was the one that didn't make it to the screen, despite being pegged on the calendar for December 5 - the fifth and final entry of MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's epic "Tamnan Somdet Phra Naresuan Maharat" ("The Legend of King Naresuan"). It'll be out sometime next year, the veteran director says. He'll then move on to another project - adapting "Phet Phra Uma", writer Phanomtien s beloved series of classic adventure novels that spans 48 instalments.
Promising projects for 2013 include the GTH comedy horror "Phor Mak Phra Khanong" directed by Banjong Pisantanakun and starring Mario Maurer.
Studio M-Thirtynine is planning a remake of "Khoo Kam" ("Destined Couple"), the classic "Sunset at Chao Phraya" love story involving a Thai woman and a Japanese soldier during the World War II. Heartthrob Nadech Kugimiya is set to play the soldier Kobori. "Leo" Kittikorn Liewsirikul directs.
Also yet to come is Sahamongkol's "Tom-Yum-Goong 2", with martial-arts star Tony Jaa strutting his stuff in 3D.
For decades, Thai independent films won awards and acclaim at film festivals overseas but were largely ignored at home. That has changed in recent years thanks to social networking, and in 2012, award-winning indie flicks had audiences flocking to limited releases in Bangkok cinemas. Here's a look at three of them:
Writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee's movies have always been oddball affairs, even when he's been restrained by the conservative studio system. For "P-047" ("Tae Peang Phu Deaw"), his first release with indie producer by Soros Sukhum, the veteran helmer spun a surreal tale that mused on the concepts of identity and possession. It screened at the ninth World Film Festival of Bangkok, held in January after being postponed during the November 2011 floods, and then had sold-out screenings in a limited run. Indie musician Aphichai Trakulkraiphadej stars as a taciturn locksmith who helps an aspiring writer (Parinya Kwamwongwan) break into apartments while the tenants are away. The pair hang out and "borrow" the lives of others. But the story takes an unpredictable turn after one apartment owner comes home too early.
After self-releasing his debut feature to sold-out shows in Thailand, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit hit the road with "36", winning the New Currents Award at the Busan International Film Festival, where the jury led by Hungarian filmmaker B?la Tarr hailed it as a new form of cinematic language. Nawapol, whose varied career includes making award-winning shorts and writing acclaimed mainstream studio screenplays, takes a uniquely spare and fragmented approach that reflects the story of a film-company location scout (Vajrasthira Koramit) who gets into a relationship with an art director (Wanlop Rungkamjad). After the guy moves on, she struggles to reconstruct those memories after a hard-drive crash erases the photos she took with him. Nothing, it seems, is the way she remembers. Earlier this month, Nawapol shared the best direct prize at the Cinemanila festival, and next year it'll be in competition for the Tiger Awards in Rotterdam.
In April the Following Year, There was a Fire
The long title might come off as pretentious, but it's really not. Lifted straight from a line of dialogue about a childhood tragedy, "In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire" ("Sin Maysar Fon Tok Ma Proi Proi") is a heartfelt and laid-back stream-of-consciousness recollection of filmmaker Wichanon Sumumjarn's own life growing up in Khon Kaen. It premiered early in the year at Rotterdam and toured the festival circuit before securing a limited release at House and the Esplanade Ratchada in Bangkok. Midway through his 70-minute debut feature, Wichanon switches from fictional narrative to documentary, interviewing his father as well as his brother, who bears the scars of a jellyfish attack. "You can't just tell it like that. You have to use some technique," the brother says in an unscripted moment as he's being quizzed about that painful incident at the beach.
WISE KWAI, THE NATION