SE Asia brings wide range of films to Cannes
The region makes the most of attention given to Brillante MendozaVietnam looks to carve out a piece of the business
The diverse lot of Southeast Asian filmmakers landing in Cannes this week are riding high on hopes sparked by their regional compatriot, Filipino Brillante Mendoza, who in 2009 took the best director award home from the Croisette. Leading the way in 2010 is Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives." The Spanish-German-French-British co-production that deals with the theme of animist beliefs and reincarnation.
"Uncle" is represented by the Match Factory, who is in Cannes to promote the film's May 20 press screening, and its May 21 gala premiere, an event the five-time Cannes veteran director says he will be barred from attending by his producers.
"Always, there are lot of boos, which I've gotten used to over the years. But at the gala screening, I don't really care about audience reaction because the screening in the main theater has some of the best projection. I'm so engrossed in my film that that's my main concern," says Weerasethakul, who sometimes goes simply by "Joe" to offset his tongue-twister of a typically Thai long name for the foreign press.
Next up, from Singapore, debut director Boo Junfeng brings his coming of age feature "Sandcastle" as an Official Selection to Critics' Week. In the film, Joshua Tan plays a young man unraveling his late father's role as an activist during the city state's politically heated formative years of the 1960s.
Represented by Fortissimo Films, "Sandcastle" will premiere on May 13. Fortissimo's Hong Kong-based director, Michael Werner, says Golden Village will release the film in Singapore and that there is already "lots of interest and curiosity" about the film for which he expects "to close sales in the Chinese-speaking territories as well as in some key European markets" at Cannes.
One of the first films to come out the New Feature Film Fund announced by the Media Development Authority and the Singapore Film Commission at Cannes last year, "Sandcastle," by the 26-year-old Boo, adds weight to the argument for greater government support in growing the region's creative industries.
Kenneth Tan, director of the Singapore Film Commission and Film, Animation and Publishing at the Media Development Authority said "Sandcastle" was the result of years of work, both to get Singaporean films noticed overseas and to bring foreign co-productions to the Southeast Asian city state of roughly 4 million people.
"Our work will get Singapore and international co-productions a much wider distribution footprint," says Tan, citing as an example "Bait," a 3D shark movie that is the first official feature made under the Singapore-Australia co-production treaty.
The $15 million film about international tourists trapped and attacked by sharks in a Gold Coast resort flooded by a tsunami, "Bait" was presold by Arclight to 24 territories even before principal photography is set to begin in June, Tan said. Singapore companies will contribute 3D production equipment and personnel, cast members and postproduction help.
"Bait" was the first film to get underway with the help of the Singapore government's International Film Fund, announced at Cannes 2009, which chose six films from 47 applicants to receive up to $3.6 million per project. A second call for entries will be announced this year at Cannes.
Another Singapore government fund-backed project to get the greenlight is "Neon Sign," a film about a Korean pop star tired of the paparazzi who flees to Yunnan in China on a road trip and falls in love. Now in its final script stage, the film, directed by Pil Gam-sung ("Hansel & Gretel"), is being co-produced by CJ Entertainment of Korea, Poly Bona of China and Bang Prods. of Singapore.
Outside the Official Selections, in the Marche du Film, Southeast Asian moviemakers will jockey for buyers' attention, led by titles from Thailand such as the much-anticipated "Ong Bak 3" action film from kickboxing legend Tony Jaa and Sahamongkol Films.
"This is our biggest title, our biggest piece of business at Cannes," says Sahamongkol vp Gilbert Lim, who sold the previous two "Ong Bak" films widely around the world and is confident that Thailand is in a position to continue to attract attention both from a co-production finance and a sales standpoint despite a period of political unrest.
Though Bangkok anti-government riots recently saw several deaths and the temporary closure of five of the capital's key shopping mall multiplex cinemas, Lim says the film industry is resilient. "People in general who have to work there or live there are really affected, but in many ways life goes on as usual," he says. "People need to go to the cinemas and people need to shop and they have the option of going other places."
Also from Thailand this year is "Slice," a gory thriller ambiguously treading the line between homoerotica and homophobia from director Wisit Sasanatieng and Five Star, soon to be released by Wild Side in France after being selected to compete in Rotterdam and Hong Kong. At Cannes, Five Star also will show footage of Ananda Everingham starring as "The Red Eagle" in the superhero action film which Sasanatieng is set to premiere this autumn.
From Vietnam, the Vietnam Media Corp. will show footage of "Floating Lives," by director Quang Binh, a tale of infidelity, revenge and forgiveness in a modern family living in the Mekong River Delta. Made for $800,000 -- a big budget in Vietnam -- the film stars Vietnamese-American actor Dustin Nguyen ("Heaven and Earth," "21 Jump Street").
The film is based on the award-winning 2005 short story, "The Boundless Rice Field," by Nguyen Ngoc Tu, which was translated into English and Korean. In Cannes to promote "Floating Lives" will be co-stars actress Do Thi Hai Yen and actor Tang Thang Ha. The film is due to finish postproduction in Thailand or South Korea with financing from Mega Media of Singapore, hopefully in time for the first Vietnam International Film Festival (see sidebar).
"We are hoping 'Floating Lives' will convince international audiences that Vietnamese stories and films can be of universal interest," says Ngo Bich Hanh, senior international sales executive of VMC.
From Indonesia, Riri Riza's "The Dreamer" is sure to garner sales attention after having taken third place in the audience awards at the recent Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy. Rise previously won a bronze medal at Udine for "Rainbow Troops" in 2009.