Thailand ready for first and last laugh

First World Comedy Film Festival opens Wednesday

BANGKOK -- Bangkok's first ever World Comedy Film Festival gets underway Wednesday in the Thai capital.

There may not be much to laugh about right now, given the country's recent political turmoil, the global financial difficulties which have badly hurt the country's tourism industry and a pair of high-profile film industry deaths. But maybe that's the point. Audiences need cheering up.
More than 50 feature-length comedies from some 25 countries will be screened, along with variety of shorts, representing all forms of the genre -- from slapstick to dark comedies. There will also be a special stand-up comedy night at a nearby hotel.

Expected on the red carpet are Keenan Ivory Wayans, Eric Roberts, Verne Troyer ("Austin Powers"' Mini Me) and Brittany Daniel ("White Chicks," "The Game"). What they make of the opening film will be interesting to record.

Opening the fest is "The Wedding Game," a Singapore-set, comedy romance made by Thai director, Ekachai Uekrongtham ("Beautiful Boxer"). Focusing on the runup to a celebrity marriage, the film stars Singapore's best-known celebrity pair Christopher Lee and Fann Wong. The couple last month celebrated their nuptials for real after a nine year courtship.

Like other festivals in Thailand, the comedy festival has been buffeted by politics and money issues. It was previously set to have taken place at the end of April, but when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in nearby Pattaya was disrupted by a mob, the festival was called off.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand, the governmental arm which has previously been the main funder of the - perhaps rival -- Bangkok International Film Festival has contributed approximately $750,000 to the comedy festival. Private sector sponsorships and trade deals have upped the "value" of the festival to around $2 million, according to festival director, Jareuk Kaljareuk.

And, while the multiplexes housed within Bangkok's two most prominent shopping centers, Siam Paragon and Central World, have competed fiercely to host the BKKIFF, the comedy festival has found an unusually diplomatic solution. Most films will play at both venues.

In addition to contemporary movies, the festival will include retrospectives of Thai comedies from the 1960s to the present, another on Soviet-era Russian comedies and a tribute to Singapore's most famous director, Jack Neo ("Money No Enough," "Money No Enough 2".) An international jury will award prizes at the end ahead of a screening of Andrew Lau's "Look for a Star."

The Thai capital is planning more film events this year. Kaljareuk said that the much buffeted BKKIFF is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 24-30 and will have a special focus on animation. The other major film festival the World Film Festival of Bangkok, this week announced that it will hold its seventh edition on Nov. 6-15.