2006/Feb/05

Tsunami follies: a baker's dozen of Thai digital shorts

Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee reports on a program of Tsunami Digital Short Films, "shown in two programmes last week at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, glaringly lack is this ability to connect with the audience in any meaningful way. They feel detached, even removed from the real event.

"Each filmmaker - most of them young and upcoming, and not a single one from the tsunami-struck areas - had total freedom to do whatever they wanted in their under-20 minute piece. Each was welcome to make a personal movie from personal memories. But in light of such devastating tragedy, does that mean they can blithely bypass the collective memory of the rest of the nation? ... For example, a short called After Shock plunges headlong into the ecstasy of post-December 26 sensation, ending with a scene of a man masturbating in a boat, his body caked with mud and blood and maybe something else. Thunska Pansittiworakul, who directed the part, is Thailand's most radical provocateur; but I doubt if his brand of raw, risk-taking, politically incorrect movies is a jarring note here. Likewise with Santi Taepanich's Tits and Bums, the most enjoyable slice in the cake. The movie, also outstanding because it's the only one that doesn't include a single shot of the sea, is a hilarious spoof of a karaoke video featuring a sexy model in a cleavage-friendly costume." In an effort to find drama through fictitious, even experimental means, some filmmakers in this ensemble, talented as they surely are, have forgotten that reality, naked as it is, is the endless source of true, touching and relevant stories.

...After Shock plunges headlong into the ecstasy of post-December 26 sensation, ending with a scene of a man masturbating in a boat, his body caked with mud and blood and maybe something else. Thunska Pansittiworakul, who directed the part, is Thailands most radical provocateur; but I doubt if his brand of raw, risk-taking, politically incorrect movies is a jarring note here. Likewise with Santi Taepanichs Tits and Bums, the most enjoyable slice in the cake. The movie, also outstanding because its the only one that doesnt include a single shot of the sea, is a hilarious spoof of a karaoke video featuring a sexy model in a cleavage-friendly costume.

The raunchy laughter of Tits and Bums breaks away from the sombre mood that pervades the collection. I welcome that, and am aware of how talented Santi is as a crowd-pleaser. But at the end I still cant get over the feeling that the short is nothing but an exercise in irreverence - and irrelevance. Its a cool piece in an ensemble where coolness is not a virtue.

Two seasoned filmmakers, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pimpaka Towira, joined the procession with shorts that, at the least, wont take any bloom out of their reputations. Apichatpong, who serves as a project consultant, did Ghost of Asia, a cute, good-humoured video with just enough experimental edge. In it, we hear the voice of a boy issuing commands to a man ("run", "eat mango", "take a dump" etc) and as the man smilingly complies the short becomes a quirky record of a days trip to the sunny beach. In Pimpaka Towiras Sud Tang Rak, a woman drives around Phuket looking for something - a village, a person, a beach, we never know - until she reaches the end of the road at the edge of a cliff. We guess that what shes looking for was probably wiped out when the big waves came ashore; the film, I think, is about insisting that your memory still serves you right though in truth it may no longer do so.

The attempt to mix poetic drift (slow, long shots, wordless exchanges, etc.) with the post-tsunami motif results in some disastrous sections I wont discuss here. But fortunately, the same attempt reaches magical clarity in one movie, easily the best of the lot - cheekily called Tsu, the 20-minute short was made by former boy actor Pramote Sangsorn, now a flame-haired man whose first feature film I will breathlessly await to see.

In Tsu the hushed melancholia doesnt feel pretentious, and the transcendental shot of a wounded boy pulling his swan-boat back into the calm sea seems an effortless, natural revelation; Pramotes achievement, first and foremost, is to show that hes put his heart in to making the movie. The film opens with a five-minute-long tracking shot in which we see nothing but two skinny legs staggering across the shallows. Those legs, scarred and injured, belong to the boy who goes around changing the warning flags on the beach from green to red. Later, his legs will heal, but the final shot of the boy and his swan-boat is a reminder of how difficult, how heavy, it is for happiness to return.

Besides fiction shorts, the ensemble also features two hard-news documentaries. One of them, called Waves of Souls, was made by veteran newsman Pipope Panitchpakdi and supplies a dose of hard fact bypassed by most emotional pieces in the stock. I mention Waves of Souls because Im curious to see it in a longer, fuller form; Pipope went down to a small island off the coast and related the story of sea gypsies and how the majority of them have converted to Christianity after the tsunami, mainly in exchange for aid and benefits promised by the missionaries.

The subject, if explored in detail, couldve been more provocative than a live masturbation. In an effort to find drama through fictitious, even experimental means, some filmmakers in this ensemble, talented as they surely are, have forgotten that reality, naked as it is, is the endless source of true, touching and relevant stories.

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