Indie Movies Dominate Thailand's National Film Awards

Mary is happy, Mary is Happy Still - H 2013

Mary is happy, Mary is Happy Still - H 2013

Small budget pictures "Tang Wong" and "Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy" took all of the top categories, while "Pee Mak," which grossed a record $35 million last year, won only for art direction.

Independent filmmakers stole the night at Thailand's 23rd Subhanahongsa Awards Sunday, winning in all of the major categories and leaving the big local studios with a few consolation technical trophies. 

Organized by the Federation of Thai Film Producers, the honors are known variously in English as the Thailand National Film Association Awards, the Golden Swans or the "Thai Oscars." 

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At the red carpet awards show, held this year at the Royal Cliff Hotel in the coastal city of Pattaya, writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's youth drama Tang Wong was the big winner, taking best film, best director, best screenplay and best supporting actor, for one of the film's young stars, Nattasit Kotimanasvanich.

The film follows four teenagers who are forced to study traditional Thai dance after making a pledge to a Buddhist shrine. With a wry sense of humor, the film explores the apathy of contemporary Thai society and the country's conflicted relationship with its rich cultural past. The movie was partially financed by Thailand's Culture Ministry. 

Young director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy -- another coming of age film casting a sidelong glance at changes among Thai youth -- won best actress (Patcha Poonpiriya, in her first film role), best supporting actress (Chonnikarn Netjui), best editing, and best cinematography. Nawapol, who won the Busan International Film Festival's New Currents Award in 2012, based his inventive screenplay on 410 consecutive tweets from the Twitter account @marylony. 

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Nadech Kugimiya, a 22-year-old Thai-Austrian actor who was raised by Japanese parents, won the best actor trophy for his widely praised performance in period drama Khu Kam, in which he plays a Japanese soldier who falls in love with a Thai woman during World War II. The film also won the best costume honor. 

Thailand's biggest budget and highest grossing films from last year triumphed only in production categories. Thailand's highest grossing film ever, Pee Mak Phrakanong, which pulled in $35 million last year, took the best art direction prize. Meanwhile, Tony Jaa action vehicle Tom Yum Goong 2 (The Protector 2), which was Thailand's biggest budget film ever at $20 million, saw some of its spending rewarded with wins in the best visual effects, best song mixing, and best sound recording categories. 

According to the Federation of Thai Film Producers, this years awards were determined by a vote made by a panel within the organization, mixed with an open vote from Thai industry professionals, with the two decisions given equal weighting to determine winners.