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By Corey Pein
25 January 2006 17:35
The more we hear about February’s film festival, the more we like

Sombat Metanee, the patriarch of Thai screen actors, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Bangkok International Film Festival. Not that the 60s action star is lacking in recognition – as the festival organizers point out, he once held the Guinness world record for most filmed appearances, starring in more than 600 movies.

“With as many women seduced as deadly stunts performed, [Sombat] is undeniably the standard for Thai action heroes,” says a festival announcement.

Sombat’s appearance in 2000’s Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah Talai Jone, 2000), which has been described as a 50s-era American western melodrama set in contemporary Thailand, was a kind of homage to the swashbuckling roles that made him famous.

A rare screening of that film will close a retrospective of his work at the festival, staged in conjunction with the National Film Archive of Thailand. The Sombat showcase will open with The Blood Sun (Tawan Lang Lued, 1963), his first action film. One of his directorial efforts will also be screened, 1975’s action comedy The Holy Hoodlum (Nuk Leng Tewada).

This year’s Bangkok International Film Festival is shaping up to be a big, hypeworthy event. Coming on the heels of last year’s ramped up World Film Festival of Bangkok, it is another sign, perhaps, that other countries – or, at least, the film-festival crowd abroad – are beginning to take Thai films more seriously.

Of course, the festivals aren’t in direct competition, the more the merrier, and so forth.

But there’s one arena in which the International festival already has the World festival beat: the, uh, arena. Sponsor Siam Paragon will house the entire event.

Not just a few films. Not just the press conferences and the afterparty. The whole freaking festival.

The importance of this singular venue is difficult to understate. Not because the new mall is an especially great place to watch movies – in fact, as of now, Paragon’s 15-screen cineplex, like many of its promised retail stores, has yet to open.

The location is crucial because festival-goers won’t have to trek across town for screenings at different theaters. In a city with traffic as maddening as Bangkok’s – I am frankly surprised that the police don’t find more suicidal commuters slumped over their steering wheels – asking people to trek from Lat Phrao for one movie and to Ratchayothin for another is sure to limit a festival’s appeal and make grumps out of an eager audience.

The mall’s fifth-floor Royal Paragon Hall will be the festival’s headquarters for schmoozing, ceremonies, seminars and the Bangkok Film Market for Asian films.

ThaiDay reported last week that some big-name movie types could appear at the festival. Now, organizers have released a list of “confirmed” appearances by celebrities and directors.

Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in the last (also the first) two Star Wars movies, will be a “guest.” Luckily for Bangkok, George Lucas will not.

But grave old Christopher Lee, who played Dracula and the Mummy in the 50s and evil wizard types in both Star Wars Episode II and The Lord of the Rings, will also be on hand. Lee is a frightfully prolific actor, and he may have taken Sombat’s place of note in the Guinness Book.

Vanessa Redgrave, though not quite as old as Lee, rounds out the “vintage” end of the celebrity lineup.

Willem Dafoe – who struggled to find a character within the lamest of all Spiderman villains, the Green Goblin, gave a brilliant performance in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and played none other than Jesus Himself in The Last Temptation of Christ – will be here promoting Before It Had a Name, along with the unknown lovely Glada Colagrande.

‘The Giant Buddhas,’ by Switzerland’s Christian Frei, will compete in the international documentary section.
Helen Mirren, who’s done some Shakespeare and was the Mrs of Teaching Mrs Tingle, will also be a guest.

Director and certifiable genius Terry Gilliam will teach a master class. This is a greater coup than the World Film Festival’s enlistment of Roman Polanski. Gilliam is the man responsible for Brazil (brilliant) and the most astonishingly accurate film adaptation ever, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His recent film The Brothers Grimm wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. If you see him, salute or wai.

Another class will be led by Bruce Beresford, the director, most notably, of Driving Miss Daisy.

Other behind-the-camera types will attend, but not teach classes. Chris Columbus made the (largely panned) film adaptation of Rent, which will close the festival. But, more importantly, he wrote the screenplay for The Goonies.

Local director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang will be here, supporting his new film Invisible Waves, which opens the festival. So will his cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, who also made Jet Li’s Hero look so nice.

Let’s not forget Taylor Hackford, who produced and directed Ray, the Oscar-winning biopic of Ray Charles. And Fernando Meirelles, director of much-buzzed 2005 flick The Constant Gardener.

At this point the “names” on the guest list start to thin out.

Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine co-directed Ballet Russes, about Russian ballet pioneers, which will screen at the festival, but I’m more curious about their 1994 effort Frosh: Nine Months in a Freshman Dorm.

Indian director Deepa Mehta, of Earth and Fire fame, will be on hand to promote her new film Water. She is not to be confused with Krzysztof Kieslowski, the Polish director of the French trilogy Blue, White and Red. He will not be in attendance.

But Fred Schepisi will be here. You might remember him as the director of the 80s Steve Martin vehicle Roxanne.

Then there are a raft of movie people whose names are little-known, but have a nice ring to them. They include Ken Mitsuishi (actor, Invisible Waves), Nadine Monfils (director, Madame Edouard) and Carlo Nero (director, The Fever).

Locals may remember short film jurist Nancy Kwan from her role in Angkor: Cambodia Express. She also played in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and something called Mr P’s Dancing Sushi Bar.

The Bangkok International Film Festival runs February 17-27 at Siam Paragon. Visit

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