tisdag 27 mars 2012

A meeting with Yodchai Meksuwan

During my trip to Thailand I had the pleasure to meet a lot interesting people inside the business and those that left the movies a long time ago. One of the highlights was to meet Yodchai Meksuwan, one of the most popular leading mean during the late sixties and seventies. After the death of Mitr Chaibancha,  Yodchai (which literary means “Superman”) was hailed as the new star of cinema. Good-looking and with excellent physique he handled this part without any problems, but the former shoe salesman had other plans – to be an artist. Since his youth he had been a skilled carpenter, painter and sculptor and during the eighties she slowly stopped taking big parts and focused on his dreams of being an artist instead. He’s still acting, but mostly in TV and in supporting parts – instead he spends most of his money on building a huge museum.
Tong shows Yodchai some vintage magazines with him.
We, me and Tong, took a taxi to his museum and a tall man with a protective hat stepped out in the sun to greet us. He’s bald, but not because of age – he’s playing a monk in a TV-series and keeps his head shaved all the time. I recognized him already in the shadows and he later asked me if he looks the same – “Yes you do, just with more experience” I answered. A few moments later one in his staff comes with two chilled coconuts and I give him my DVD release of The Killer Elephants – he plays the second lead, together with Sombat Metanee. This is the first time he’s will get the chance to see the international version of the movie and when I’m mentioning that I’m trying to locate a lot of lost Thai movies that was released in Sweden he’s extra interested.
The museum is still under construction, but one fantastic statue in bronze is in place, rich of details and almost unreal in the perfection. I also get a chance to take a quick look into the Buddhist temple, I guess, that’s connected to the museum – everything build and created by Yodchai. So far he has spent 80 million bath on the museum and next year it will open to the public. I’ll be there.
The impressive museum.

The front has a statue created by Yodchai.

Another piece of art.

Very impressive wax statue!
“Are you hungry?” – and of course we are, we’re not gonna skip the chance to eat together with Yodchai and we follow his Mercedes to a simple street restaurant down the road – where we eat the most delicious noodles I’ve tasted in a long time. Yodchai has made 200 movies so far, but it’s easy to see where his passion is: in art, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he in the future will be more known as the artist Yodchai and not the actor.
Yodchai with the magazines again.

He invited us to a very good restaurant nearby.

After the dinner we say good bye and decides that we will keep contact, because maybe some of his lost movies can be found in my collection… and it will be a pleasure to dig up movies that he can add to his collection. Or not only a pleasure, an honor!
Me and Yodchai!

söndag 25 mars 2012

Cool Gel Attacks (กระดึ๊บ, 2011)

A couple of years ago weird, gel-like objects started to fall over Thailand (and they have been seen all over the world) and caused a sensation. Cool Gel Attacks also begins with real headlines and TV-reports about these mysterious events and leads us to two neighbouring entrepreneurs in the Thai countryside. One manufacturers ice and the other one has a bakery. They hate each other and things get worse when their teenage kids falls in love with each other! One night more gel falls down in the area and soon an invasion of small, jelly, worm-like creatures spread like the plague and the only way to stop them is if the two men can be friends and work together with their families and employees!

Cool Gel Attacks is actually a very charming comedy with a thin storyline and a lot of sex-related jokes. Most of the jokes keep themselves way below the belt and works better than some of the American counterparts with the same kind of comedy. Of course the budget is much lower here and the effects goes from quite good to SyFy Channel quality. The movie doesn't take itself especially seriously and it's easy to buy the cheap effects when the pacing is high and the actors has the kind of charisma they have.

Like most Thai comedies made for a wider audience the acting is "colourful" and relies on funny voices, weird faces and lots and lots of slapstick. And funny sound effects. Now, I'm not a stranger to that kind of comedy - watch a normal pseudo-serious Bollywood movie and you'll hear "funny" sound effects when something "funny" is happening, but in this movie it's all the time. It's like watching a circus show with clown making sound effects to everything that happens. I'm not saying it's wrong, but I'm also saying that this is probably the most exotic thing with Cool Gel Attacks.

I'm not so sure this movie will do well in the rest of the world, but the 80 minutes it lasts is fun and not boring, but hardly perfect. And do I need to tell you that it's not out with English subs anyway?


Recently I visited Thailand and also had the pleasure to go to The Thai Film Archive. Great place, and to my surprise they had something that probably was used - but I didn't see it - in Cool Gel Attacks or maybe in the promotion around it. It was cool anyway and I had to immortalize myself with it! 

The Damned Cruel Sea (ไอ้คลั่งทะเลโหด, 1979)

What I know The Damned Cruel Sea has no official English title, but after trying out a couple of different translation pages this seemed to be a quite accurate title. It could also be "I Love The Damn Mad Cruel Sea", but I have to stop somewhere. Not released officially on either DVD or VCD, this is a bootleg I found in Bangkok - probably sourced from a VHS (and not TV, thank heavens) release. The Thai's produced movies in every genre possible, but it was a very pleasant surprise to find out that this was a classic swashbuckling adventure-tale with a slightly bigger budget than I've seen in other Thai movies from the same time.

The storm is coming! And it is... and it hits with brutal force a small coastal village, ripping it apart with winds and water. A family manages to escapes, but the wife is pregnant and gives birth to a son on the boat. Just when they think everything is great a bunch of pirates shows up, brutally slaughters the family and crew - but decides to adopt the boy. He grows up to be Sorapong Chatree, the best pirate of them all! But others want to be the next pirate leader, among them famous baddies Dam Datsakorn and Rith Luecha! Sorapong realizes that he's actually kidnapped since he was a baby and changes side to take revenge on the man he thought was his father!

The Damned Cruel Sea is a damned fine movie also. The DVD looks kinda crappy, but watchable - but suffers from cropping and low quality and lack of details. But it's still easy to see what a magnificent adventure movie this is, with lots of extras, sea battles, fights, storms and volcano eruptions. Everything well made and with good production values. The disaster scenes looks very good, and I think they actually is made for this movie and not just "borrowed" stock footage from some random Japanese production.

Action is the key word for The Damned Cruel Sea, and it's some good stuff being shown. This was before traditional martial arts became popular in Thai movies and instead we get a lot of very classy fist- and sword-fights, often quite bloody and violent. But I'm a sucker for sea battles, boats ramming each other and pirates falling of the boats in dozens. That's what made Ben Hur such a great movie once, the sea battle - they could have cut the rest!

The story itself isn't bad and gives us a few surprises and twists along the way, very different from what an American production would have done with the same premise. What I find hard to understand is in which era this story is set. Is it modern pirates, just working far from civilisation or is it an historic movie? Some of the ships looks quite modern, but the rifles looks old and clumsy. But it really doesn't matter in the end, because it's a helluva good action movie with a splendid cast. As usual in many of these very "manly" movies the women are in the background, so even here - but at least we have the fantastic and talented Viyada Umarin in the cast!

It's a pity we don't have a restored version in correct ratio out on DVD or VCD, but maybe this is one of those movies that's lost and gone forever? That would be a shame, because The Damned Cruel Sea is one of my favorite Thai action movies from now on. Try to find it. I'm sure you won't regret it. 

onsdag 21 mars 2012

Out of the Darkness (มันมากับความมืด, 1971)

When Chatrichalerm Yukol directed Out of the Darkness in 1971 he wasn’t even thirty and had some experience from television. He wanted to make something that never been made in Thailand and decided for a sci-fi movie. This was way before Star Wars and all that bullshit, so of course sci-fi basically meant a good old monster movie. “It was terrible” Yukol said about his cinematic debut, but I think that’s not fair. Out of the Darkness is more or less a classic American monster movie from the fifties – just set in Thailand with a little bit more blood and Sorapong Chatree dressed in way too tight swimming trunks.
A meteorite falls from the sky and hits a small group of islands outside Thailand. Professor Thongchai and his assistant Sek (Sorapong Chatree) observes this and travels to the coast to investigate it. Soon people (including the typical young loving couple out on the beach for a night of sinful lust!) starts to disappear, killed and eaten by a tentacle blob! When Thongchai and Sek arrives to the island everyone in the village is dead, just the rotting skeletons is left! But the alien also takes control over people and transforms them to killing machines that shoots green lasers from their eyes! Will our hunky hero Sek be able to stop the alien invasion? Will he find the girl of his dreams? Just watch the movie and you’ll see…
Out of the Darkness might be silly, but it’s not sillier than any random American classic from the fifties. Instead the setting, actors and colors make it an interesting version of something that, at the time, was really outdated. Sorry to say, it was a big flop – but looking back at the movie it’s easy to see how competent and well-made it is, with wonderful cinematography and some good monster-moments. The creature itself is in the Roger Corman-school of monsters, not that movable and very cheap. But for once it’s actually kept in the darkness and that makes it a lot more effective in this case, with it’s big glowing eye and all the tentacles flying out to squeeze people to death.
The humans taken over by the alien is also quite cool, even if they mostly just walk around like robots. What makes it work is the visual effects, the glowing green eyes and the lasers. In a, for the time, original scene one of the humans is set on fire but continues to walk around shooting his eye-lasers! Yes, it reminded me of Terminator. But I doubt James Cameron ever saw this movie!
It runs two hours and twenty minutes and has song numbers and romance, but it flows fine and never get boring. The direction is flawless and intelligent, with nothing unnecessary shown – everything seem to have a purpose and the actors, especially a very young Sorapong, holds up the story both in the drama and action. In a supporting part future baddie  Dam Datsakorn impresses and if I’m not mistaken, veteran actor Sukon Koewliam has a small part but disappears after a while.
Nowadays Out of the Darkness is considered a minor Thai classic and I think the reputation will grow in the future.  I’m sure everyone who enjoys the old American sci-fi’s would love this movie and so every monster fan out there. If you can find the long OOP DVD, buy it directly. The quality is good and in correct ratio and has – surprise – English subs!

tisdag 20 mars 2012

A meeting with Sompote Sands

Say his name, and the mention of Sompote Sands makes fans both react with enthusiasm and anger. A controversial man since his days in Japan and he still creates controversy until this day. My first meeting with Sompote was Crocodile, the Dick Randall re-edited and dubbed version that was released in most part of the world – but the original Thai version, Jorrakay, is a superior creature feature and also is one of Sompote’s most even and commercially successful films.
Later I bought was very entertained by Yuk Wat Jang Pob Jumbo A, Hanuman VS 5 Masked Riders, The Noble War, Hanuman VS 7 Ultraman, Phra Rot-Meri, Tah Tien and the legendary Magic Lizard! The work of Sompote is like Toho on LSD, but in a very good way. We’re talking about full-blown craziness, packed with action, monsters and weird comedy. Even of the budgets was quite low, probably between 100000-200000 dollars (the budget for Tah Tien was 120000 dollars and Sir Run Run Shaw bought the Hong Kong rights for the exact same amount).
Sompote first came to Japan in the beginning of the sixties and got Akira Kurosawa as his mentor. He spent a lot of time inside Toho and learned the craft from the masters. When he later wanted to start his own film production in Thailand he worked with the Japanese and Eiji Tsuburaya became a close friend and inspiration. From the early nineties to the late eighties Sompote made moves featuring both local mythological monsters and Japanese characters like Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Sometime here the story about rights and licenses depart depending on which one you talk about, but I leave that to the lawyers. What I know is that I got a chance to meet Sompote Sands and visit his movie studio outside Ayuttaya, Chaiyo Studios – and very few other “farangs” have gotten that opportunity over the years.
I’m afraid I can’t show you so much from the inside of the studio – and a lot of it was destroyed by the recently floods in Thailand – but here’s the front and a couple of photos from the first studio. It’s not much left of it, but it’s still a fantastic place and a piece of movie history.

I met Mr Sands together with his daughter, Fon, and his secretary and together with walked through the inner sanctum of Chaiyo Productions - and boy, I wish I could show you the sights from there. But I can’t. Sorry. Not right now.
Instead I got a few hours of talk with Mr Sands and his knowledge about especially Japanese cinema is impressive. In his belongings is the camera that shot The Seven Samurais and King Kong vs Godzilla (he had a lot of very impressive behind the scenes photos from these movies also) and the love for cinema shines like I never seen it before. Forget all the rumors and talks, Sompote might be a clever businessman – but his love for cinema is so much bigger. What I especially liked about him is his geeky approach to monsters and supermen – he loves them, he cares about them. It’s like watching a twelve year old fan boy when he starts talking about the characters, showing photos and props.
Magic Lizard is one of his most talked-about movies, mostly because it totally lacks a coherent storyline and has a story so wacky that it’s hard to understand how it even came to be a real movie. Well, I asked him and Mr Sompote laughed a lot! Originally Magic Lizard was a TV-movie, a production ordered from a Japanese TV-station – and not intended for cinema in Thailand. “The Japanese has a very odd sense of humor”, Sompote said and laughed even more – joined in my the rest of the staff present. Yes, so even the man himself thinks Magic Lizard is a strange, wacky and odd movie. But there’s the answer, and it says it all: Japanese TV-movie. Nothing like that in the world.

I got a chance to meet Sompote the week, but this visit will still be one of the best memories ever from my geeky movie nerd life. I’m very happy that it happen and I hope and wish that Sompote’s new big plans will come into fruition!