Saturday, December 23, 2006

Message from Sanney Leung

Sanney has sent out an update on his condition and I thought others would be interested as well. Sanney and his old website "Hong Kong Entertainment" are very much missed, but thankfully look to be on the mend. My very best wishes to Sanney and his continued improvement. Hearing this good news is the best present I could have receieved this Christmas.

Brian
==================================================================

My fellow HK entertainment fans, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Around this time last year, I was diagnosed with stage 2B nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Known colloquially as the "Chinese cancer" because 65% of new cases each year are diagnosed in people originating from the Guangdong province - Hong Kong region, a malignant tumour had grown behind my nose in the nasopharynx and had spread to some lymph nodes on the left side of my neck. In between the time of my diagnosis and the beginning of my radiation and chemotherapy treatments, I was caught in a whirlwind of tests, scans and appointments. As a result, I didn't have the time or, quite frankly, the inclination to write an announcement on my website about my condition. It had been my intention to let everyone know about my situation when things slowed down as I began my treatments. My oncologists told me that I would have about two weeks before I would start to feel the harsh side effects of chemoradiation. Therefore, I had planned to use those two weeks to tie up the loose ends on the site. However, on day two of my treatments, chemotherapy threw my body chemistry out of whack and I was hospitalized with an enzyme imbalance that caused me to constantly throw up. The inauspicious beginning ushered in eight turbulent months during which I suffered through various problems brought about by the treatments. There were events that I anticipated -- such as the installation of a feeding tube in my abdomen because the radiation and chemotherapy heavily damaged cells in my mouth and throat -- and events that I didn't see coming -- a six-week hospital stay initiated by an infection and an addiction to the painkillers that were prescribed to help me deal with my mouth pain.

Nevertheless, suffering through the slings and arrows of the treatments was worth it because I am happy to report that, for now, my doctors think that I am free of cancer. The primary tumour behind my nose has completely disappeared. Also, I had precautionary surgery two weeks ago to remove the infected lymph nodes in my neck. Pathology tests for the removed nodes came back "benign" so it appears that the treatments have "cured" me. I put "cured" in quotes because my doctors never talk about cures. Instead, they like to talk about "cancer control" as in "we believe the cancer is now effectively controlled". I won't be out of the woods until I pass the five-year mark -- recurrences do occur after five years but the likelihood is minimal. As things stand now, I will be watched closely with scans and examinations for the next few years but there is a 70% chance that the cancer will not come back again. To me, those are very good odds.

Now, all that's left for me to do is heal. My mouth and throat are still feeling the effects of the treatments so eating remains a little bit of an adventure. I lost forty-five pounds during the treatments and, because of my eating problems, I have only managed to regain ten of those pounds. The weight loss means I lost a lot of muscle so I currently have the strength of an eight year-old. I started physiotherapy to help me rebuild my body but have had to stop temporarily as my neck heals from the surgery. I am told that it will probably be March or April before I feel fully "normal".

Besides the physical problems, I have had to deal with a dulling of my mind. From March to September, I was on a lot of painkillers and anti-emetics. The drugs had me feeling very dopey so I spent most of the time in a fog -- sleeping sixteen hours or so each day. During this time, I didn't have the mental energy to read the paper or even, gasp!, watch TV. My "mind-grapes" withered from disuse so when I started weaning myself off the drugs, I found it very hard to focus and think. Coupled with having been completely out of touch with what was going on in the world, I felt somewhat disorientated when I started re-engaging "life". I am slowly getting my bearings and my mental edge back as I read more and more, start watching a bit more TV and generally get caught up with what happened in the past few months. Still, quips don't come as quickly and writing remains a bit of a struggle. I am confident, however, that as I write more and use my brain more, I'll be back to my normal wisecracking self in no time.

Thanks to everyone who wrote me a "get well" e-mail. Thanks especially to those of you who got together to send me that fantastic "get well soon" card and that delightful gift basket. I'm not yet at the "getting back on the Internet regularly" phase of my recovery so my apologies for not responding to your e-mails and thanking each of you personally. On the subject of e-mails, 16,824 unread e-mails have accumulated in my personal e-mail account and 57,160 e-mails have accumulated in the site's e-mail account. Consequently, I am tempted to forego the process of sorting through the mess by deleting everything in the mailboxes and starting from scratch. If I go this route, I apologize in advance for not getting back to you and I invite you to write again when I get re-established on the net. Speaking of which, the domain name for my website lapsed while I was in my drug-induced fog. When I tried to renew it, I learned that someone else had bought the rights to it. Does anyone out there know how I can go about getting the domain name back? If so, please send any suggestions to sleung1027@yahoo.ca. You can also get in touch with me through that address. I can't guarantee a quick response -- I'm currently only on the Internet for a couple of hours a week -- but I promise that I will get back you eventually.

In case any of you were wondering, I have been completely out of touch with the goings-on in the HK entertainment circle. I have only heard about a few things through phone conversations with my HK relatives. Things like:

- The deaths of veteran actors Bao Fong, Kwan Hoi-Shan and Bill Tung Biu. As Uncle Junior says: "these things come in threes." It's also another reminder of how quickly time passes.

- The marriage of Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi and Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung. I don't want any bad karma so I'm not going to join in on the speculation of how long this marriage will last.

- The de-pantsing of Yumiko Cheng Hei-Yi during TVB's annual hospital charity show. I hate to say it but it smells a little bit like a publicity stunt to me. My cousin sent me the video and a few articles on the incident and publicity stunt is what comes to mind. Starlets in the HK entertainment cirlce usually take full precautions to prevent any accidental exposures. Remember Kenix Kwok wearing bicycle shorts under her mini-skirt back in the day? As a result, I find it hard to believe that Yumiko Cheng's pants would fall down so easily. Besides, she's managed by those micromanagers at EEG so I find it hard to believe that she revealed anything she didn't want to reveal.

- Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin shaving off his hair to play Huo Yuanjia in a TV series. This is a definite Samson situation. Cheng's hair does 90% of the acting for him. Without his hair, how is he going to emote?

- Gong Li's cleavage in the North American poster for CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. Apparently, over here in the West, her cleavage gets a higher billing than Jay Chou.

I am looking forward to getting back in touch with all of you and sharing our interest in the HK entertainment circle. I'm not a fortuneteller so I can't say that will be. However, I'm sure I'll be back on the net in some shape or form in 2007. In the meantime, my best wishes to all of you for the New Year. Thanks again for your thoughts, your prayers and your support. Words cannot adequately convey the depth of my appreciation for the warmth and well-wishes that I received.

Happy Holidays,
Sanney Leung

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Link to Bookmark

Some of you may recall YTSL who often reviewed films on my site, View from the Brooklyn Bridge. She has set up her own blog and muses upon various subjects from her love for Hong Kong to the sad passing of sociologist Clifford Geertz to her love for food and football. Take a look and give her some feedback.

http://webs-of-significance.blogspot.com/

Two from the Shaw Brothers

Starlets for Sale

http://brns.com/pages4/shaw6.html

The Stud and the Nympho

http://brns.com/pages4/shaw7.html

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Time for a Cheesecake Break


Love Asia

Director: Barbara Wong
Producer: Maggie Q
Starring: Maggie Q, Almen Wong, Lin Chi Ling, Zhou Qiao Queenie, Mayuko Kawamata, Lee Ka Hye (Kae), Aysha Bashir, Jacqueline Alblas, Yo, Grace Tagle

Yes, it’s that time again for the dreaded Asian Film Blog Sweeps and in a sordid attempt to raise the rating numbers of this blog’s readership, I am resorting to the oldest trick in the book – sex. Plus, I think after dutifully reporting on serious film content for weeks now that this blog needs to wallow in cheesecake for a while. And what better cheesecake than this DVD that I came across in Hong Kong but that is no doubt available to all healthy males across the globe. And if you have pangs of guilt for buying such a sexist trifle, you can tell yourself that you are only following the directing work of Barbara Wong Chun-chun who has previously helmed films such as “Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat” and “Six Strong Guys”. This film will no doubt go to the head of her fine resume.

Produced and coordinated by none other than Maggie Q, this actress brings together a collection of nine models from all over Asia for a beauty shoot in various locales of Malaysia including Langkawi beach and Kuala Lumpur. The models are all leggy and lovely but my special interest was in “Her Name is Cat” Almen Wong who comes along and expresses shock that she was included with all these “fresh, young models”. Sure there are lots of scenes of these models in skimpy bikinis contorting their bodies into complicated poses that will keep their chiropractors busy for weeks, but this film goes oh so much deeper than that as it explores the complex troubled psyche of super models. In fascinating interviews with them it delves into their reflective thoughts on careers, insecurities, sex and love. It’s got to be tough at times being beautiful, young and successful and all this angst and vulnerability is on the screen for us to witness. It is just heartbreaking and inspirational at times.

What kind of a dream man are they looking for? Sweet, career minded and funny. Thankfully for most of us they all seem to agree that size doesn’t matter – in fact Queenie from China mentions that being too big can be painful though the model from Indonesia says she sure doesn’t want a “1 minute noodle”. The Japanese model Mayuko tells us confidentially that “when I don’t have a boyfriend I feel like rubbish”. I felt like crying. These are just young women – who want to make as much money as they can before they hit their expiration date. Almen being a single mom is a bit different – for those interested she is looking for a husband who is athletic, loves her kid, is funny and is attracted to her. Well, at least I fit the last requirement.

Unusual places where they have had sex – the usual – while driving (Maggie Q), on the beach, at a party, while reading the “Asian Cinema - While on the Road Blog” at an internet cafe, doing the pledge of allegiance in the oval office, center court of Wimbledon, with the Harry Potter cast, the Sultan of Brunei’s mansion, on the set of “Generation Y-Cops”, in the front row at the New York Asian Film Festival, standing in line at an Elton John concert, on the set of “Mission Impossible 3”, on the floor of the Sistine Chapel, in Grand Central during rush hour, under a table at a Mother Teresa Memorial Dinner, in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louve, on the set of “Naked Weapon” and so on. In fact pretty much everywhere except sadly on this video. Almen fesses up to doing it on a plane and not in the bathroom to which Maggie Q expresses envy as if this is her last frontier to do. And I thought it was just a spilled coke that made my seat sticky the last time I flew. Oh Almen you she little minx!

Narrating throughout with Shakespearian eloquence is Terence Yin who sounds somewhere between an ad for a 1-900 Party Line and an obscene phone call with lines like “These girls really are . . . . . picture perfect” or “You can feel the wildness in her body can’t you?”. I never thought I would say it – but stick to acting Terence.

In the end you are left with this wonderful, warm feeling of women who just want to live normal lives and would give it all away for the right man. Just the girl next door – except this one looks really good, is having lots of sex, would never give you a second look and is probably having her apartment paid for by a much older man.

Maggie Q says her dream is to make “good films – ones that really effect people”. Well, this is an inspiring start. Keep it up Maggie Q!

Later in the week a return to Shaw Sleaze with reviews of such classics as:

Starlets for Sale
Sinful Adulteress
The Stud and the Nympho
Corpse Mania
Sex Beyond the Grave

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Viewing in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a special place of course for many of us - a homecoming of sorts where you feel like you are at the source of so many pleasurable and purifying moments spent watching their films bedazzle and bewitch you. Around you are constant reminders of this – posters with Andy, Sammi and Carina welcoming you with gigantic smiles or landmarks that nudge your memory of hazy scenes in some long ago seen film. The rough streets of the Young and Dangerous, the sad women standing on the corners of Temple Street, the glitzy neon lights of the hostess bars, the steep steps where Jackie fought off the villains in Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Hong Kong University where Hsu Chi fell in love in City of Glass, checking into the Evergreen Hotel as did Daniel Wu in One Night in Mongkok and eating at a table where Edison makes his first Hong Kong kill in Dog Bite Dog – all these images of past films wander through the city like ghosts – as much a part of it as the Star Ferry or the Night Market . These trips to Hong Kong are special even if I barely get to touch the surface – just small postcards to remind myself to return again someday.

Two more films seen in HK.

Still Life (China) 2006 – this was my first belated exploration of the works of director Jia Zhangke and after seeing this I feel rather foolish in having avoided his earlier films – “Platform” (2000), “Unknown Pleasures” (2002) and “The World” (2004). I am not really sure why I did so other than a mild prejudice against slow, static and socially relevant films which I assume these to be. Not that “Still Life” doesn’t fall squarely into this characterization. But rather than finding myself impatient with its skeletal plotting and thinly sketched characters I found it to be a powerful, fascinating and soulful look at the tumultuous social changes taking place in China as it rushes towards a free market economy – and the human cost of those left behind. In near documentary style, Jia captures a society that is becoming totally uprooted and mobile, where all the tenuous bonds of family and community are on the verge of disintegration. Shot on HD, the picture is astonishingly clean and clear and there is little artificial separation between film and audience – it is as if looking out your window and seeing this human and national drama take place.

Back in 1993 China embarked on a massive hydroelectric project on the Yangtze River in the Three Gorges area that would over time displace nearly 1.5 million people and cover up long standing communities in water. The price of progress say the authorities – a colossal human tragedy say its critics. Into this chaotic milieu comes Han Sanming looking for his wife and daughter who left him sixteen years previously. He is a coalminer from Shanxi (where the director grew up) and after all these years he has a yearning to see his daughter, but the address he has is now under water and he stubbornly attempts to track them down. To pay his way, he takes on the hard work of breaking down the buildings before the water comes and makes acquaintances with others who have either come from elsewhere to find work or those who are being forced out – one of them being an amusing Chow Yun Fat “A Better Tomorrow” imitator – but there seems little chance of a better tomorrow for these people. With the stunning landscapes of the Three Gorges as a backdrop and peculiar moments of fancy (a spaceship taking off or people dancing on a bridge), the film never feels heavy handed – rather it is a snapshot of history on the move and one that still has a long ways to go.

This film won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. Jia also made a documentary called “Dong” about the Three Gorges Dam and from what I read some of it leaks into the film with similar dialogue and an inn keeper who plays himself in the film. The town of Fengjie where the film was shot is now under water.

My rating for this film: 9.0

First Love (Japan) (Hatsukoi)

Director: Yukinari Hanawa
Year: 2006
Length: 114 minutes

http://brns.com/japan/pages1/japan44.html

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What I am Watching in Hong Kong

Just a quick note to say what films I have seen and what is still on the agenda to see while ensconced here in Hong Kong at the Evergreen Hotel. I picked up a load of HK film books at the HK Film Archives and the Kubrick book store as well as hundreds of pictures of many of my favorite actors at the Starlight Photo Store in North Point - well worth a visit if you are not claustrophobic and don't have nightmares about being killed by tons of pictures falling on you. This store has been here 25 years and is an amazing place crammed with literally thousands upon thousands of pictures in a place not much bigger than a shoebox. I will expand more later on these films but as its after 1 am now and as I have more movies to see tomorrow here is a quick rundown.

Heaven's Mission - Ekin as a reformed triad honcho (reputed to have been the fiercest!) who has literally seen the light and wants to do good, but the cops (Alex Fong) and his old gang (Ti Lung and Stephen Fung) won't believe him. A really solid group of actors and direction by James Yuen led me to have hopes for this even with a low rating from the local paper, but miscasting such as puppy dog like Fung as a nasty up and coming triad member did this film in and it just clunks along with way too many sub-plots and characters to care about.
Rating: 5.5

Mr. Three Minutes - Ronald Cheng goes for family values and a mainstream audience with this familiar mix of comedy and drama. There is nothing new here at all, but it is a pleasant outing as he plays a womanizer who finds a 10-year-old son that he didn't know about on his doorstep one day. Mom is dead and the aunt thinks its time for dad to care for his son. It pretty much goes right where you expect it to with little of the zaniness that Cheng is known for. But nice turns by Teresa Mo as Cheng's assitant, Richard Ng as his dad and the ever so lovely Cherrie Ying as the aunt made this slightly more than passable entertainment.
Rating 6.0

My Mother is a Bellydancer - this is another first time director work from the good people at Focus Films and it is terrific. I have never been a huge Andy Lau fan, but his support for young directors all over Asia is simply a great thing to be doing. This has hit a few fests and deserves it. With a completely unknown cast of actors, this quickly sucks you into a grimy world of low class tenements where the crying kids, peeling painted walls, crowded living space and every dollar perhaps being the last one feels very real. The story tracks the lives of four women who live in the scary face of total indifference - from their children, husbands and life - they are just there to serve and be invisible. When they begin to take lessons in bellydancing at the local community center, it gives them a spark of life and hope. Funny, touching, painful and wonderfully acted. It's so rare and so nice to see such great roles for "aunties" - women into their forties.
Rating: 8.0

Substitute Teacher - a sweet but rather innocuous film from China. A young woman from Shanghai journeys out into an isolated rural area to visit a woman for initially mysterious reasons. This woman turns out to be sick in the hospital and to be the only teacher to the children in a small one room school house. The young woman is convinced to take on the job until the other woman returns. Full of cute kids, moral lessons and nice landscapes.
Rating: 6.0

Still to possibly come - Still Live (China), Diary (HK), Time (Korea), First Love (Japan) and on Thursday Battle of Wits opens up.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Umrao Jaan, India - 2006


Sometimes beauty and tragedy don’t mix. That is perhaps why this tragic tale of a 19th century courtesan never quite works. Played by Aishwarya Rai, one can never really feel her emotional pain because you are so overwhelmed by her luminous beauty. Sure the character’s life is full of disappointments and hardship but she always looks so good and dresses so well that you can’t really feel sympathy for her plight. Particularly when she is crying (which she does often) and the camera lens lights up those glistening moist sad eyes like beacons of vulnerability. The eyes of Aishwarya Rai are legendary. Emerald green like a south sea lagoon, they dominate the screen at times like a Panzer division invading France. If watched on the big screen they are as large as a country house and more inviting as she uses them like stealth bombers to entrance and dazzle the audience with their sheer brilliance. But though they can make us tremble, they can’t make us cry and that is the issue here.

Based on a classic novel and having been made once already starring the great Rekha, this female centered story feels like an unusual choice for director J.P. Dutta who has previously made his fame and fortune with macho action stories. Perhaps he goes too far in escaping those traits as he creates a somewhat laborious and sanitized world of the courtesan life. The film luxuriates leisurely in its stunningly lush interior details, glamorous fashions, period look and lyrical mood, but does so at a snail’s pace that seems happy just to be. Running over three hours in length, the film at times feels like it needs a good kick in the pants to send it on its way. But at the same time it does look so damn fine that you really don’t mind all that much.

In similar fashion to “Memoirs of a Geisha”, the story concerns itself with a young girl named Ameeran who is kidnapped from her loving family and sold into a brothel in the city of Lucknow. This is not just any brothel though, but the top of the line kind where the women not only bowl men over with their beauty but also with their ability to charm and entertain. The brothel owner (Shabana Azmi) welcomes the newly purchased girl into her caring “family” with loving words and a change of name to Umrao. She is handed into the care of a childless couple to bring up in the proper courtesan way where she will learn how to snag a man’s heart with poetry, singing and dancing as well as of course with seduction – all the characteristics that we men find so appealing in courtesans and are so hard to find nowadays.

As she grows up, she turns into a glorious butterfly in the form of Aishwarya and though in truth the over-30 Aishwarya is perhaps too old to play this fledging girl on the cusp of womanhood it is hard to imagine anyone else in current day Bollywood taking on this role. It is one of such immaculate grace and porcelain beauty that it seems made for her. Finally, the day comes for Umrao to have her virginity sold to the highest bidder – and the anxious Umrao only worries that her innocence will be purchased by an old man. She is presented to the local elite in an artistic dance performance that stuns them and makes her the talk of the town. The bids are in and the lucky winner is . . . Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan) - come on down - who has become totally smitten with her and is all too easily persuaded to hand over large gobs of cash to be with her. He woos her with his casual smile, lap dog eyes and an ability to stab a rude man through the stomach – and she quickly returns his affection and they both promise to love each other forever. They also of course have sex and she gets to add Jaan (beloved) to her name. If love could only be so easy, but things unravel after he is disinherited by his father leaving him penniless and the noxious mascara-eyed Faiz (Suniel Shetty) begins to fawn over her.

But this supposed grand love story never takes hold – it has no weight and seems very small in this otherwise large scale film. It happens so quickly and seems so obviously doomed from the onset that the audience isn’t given time to climb on board and care - and the Nawab is in truth rather a shallow lad who loves lavishly on the wealth of his father. The only real emotion that impacts is when years later Umrao returns to her small hometown to visit her family but as Thomas Wolfe puts it, you can never go home again. Clearly the center of the film is this unfulfilled love but it is everything else that surrounds it that is of much more interest – the courtesan life, the finery, the life style, the political brothel infighting, the entertainment, the poetry, her brothel “family”, the mutiny but that all gets pushed far into the background for most of the film.

Aishwarya actually does a fine job here and it’s no fault of hers that her beauty makes everything else feel small by comparison. Her dancing needless to say is divine and her costumes are ornate exclamation points. The music from Anu Malik is solid on an individual level – each of the many songs are lovely poetic ghazals – but as a mix their needed adherence to fit into a period film makes them all sound too similar in style and after a while they sort of begin to blend together. This is a beautiful film to gaze at and immerse yourself in the loveliness of Aishwarya, but it will rarely touch your heart or inspire you.

My rating for this film: 6.5

The Village Album (Mura no shashinshû), Japan


http://brns.com/japan/pages1/japan43.html

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ada Apa dengan Cinta? (What’s Up with Love?)


Director: Rudy Soejarwo
Indonesia
2002


A couple of years ago I came across a screener of this youthful romance and found it more than a little charming and have hoped ever since to find it in digital form. Thus it was a pleasant surprise when I saw it had come out on VCD with English subtitles. Indonesian cinema is a black hole to most people outside of the country for a couple of reasons – there isn’t that much of it, what there is tends to be low budget dramas, romances and comedies and it’s content is severely censored in terms of sexual matter and violence – all things that generally lessen interest in the West, which still tends to approach Asian cinema for its exotic, violent, erotic and fantastic elements. But the prime reason that this cinema is so difficult to access is an even more basic one – similar to its next door neighbor Malaysia – the DVD format is not being utilized to any extent with nearly all their films being released only on VCD with English sub-titles being a rarity. This is primarily for financial reasons as most local consumers can’t afford DVDs and the VCD format fits them fine. Still it’s a shame as other countries in Asia have shown that giving their films international exposure has been a great boost for the local film industry and the easiest way to do this outside of film festivals is through the sub-titled DVD where people from all over the world can begin to appreciate and promote various films over the Internet.

This film is a perfect example of one that could capture a fan base outside of Indonesia with its utterly sweet, literate and touching story of young love. In many ways the film could take place anywhere with teenagers that have many of the same interests as those all over the world – hanging out in malls, going to concerts, practicing dance routines, playing basketball, first love, enduring friends and that getting ready for the first date ritual. Woven subtly within are issues of class, politics and abuse, but it is primarily concerned with love and friendship – the two driving factors of so much angst during our high school days. The film was a huge box office hit – not only in Indonesia but in Malaysia as well – and it generated a tremendous amount of controversy for one shocking scene – shocking I tell you - a kiss between the two main characters. Yes, a kiss. One kiss if I recollect. Apparently, this was the first film in decades in which an onscreen kiss was allowed and it brought in hordes of anxious teenagers to see it. I say recollect because much to my dismay it was censored out of the VCD! I guess someone thought it was necessary to filter out such evil going-ons which young people might see in the privacy of their homes and go on an insane kissing rampage. So if you should buy the VCD just imagine a lingering innocent kiss that occurs near the end of the film at the airport.

Taking place I think in present day Jakarta, it features five extremely close female friends going through the pain of high school. Their motto is “The problem of one is the problem of all and the enemy of one is the enemy of all”. When Cinta (which means “love” and who is played beguilingly by Dian Sastrowardoyo) loses in the school poetry competition to an unknown boy named Rangga (Nico Saputra), she is extremely disappointed until she reads his poem and is overwhelmed by it. She seeks him out for an interview for the school paper, but is immediately rebuffed by his aloof and surly attitude. She tells her compadres that he is to be put in the “must avoid” category in their collective journal, but of course she can’t as she finds herself drawn to this loner who seems so disinterested in the school life around him. And eventually, he to her. As one side character says “It’s like a 70’s romance. Love begins with books and goes to Saturday night”. But her romance begins to interfere with her clique chemistry and after near tragedy strikes, she feels she has to decide between love and friendship. Sweet and charming from the beginning to the end (with a nice soundtrack thrown in), this may feel all too familiar in many ways – even including a mad dash to the airport - but for those who can take one more innocent tale of first love this is a total winner.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Two More Thai Fim links

Here are two articles from Kong Rithdee who writes so well about Thai films for the Bangkok Post. The first is on the actor who plays the title role in the upcoming epic, The Legend of King Naresuan.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/Realtime/10Nov2006_real001.php

and the second article is a brief look at films still to come this year and a criticism of the total lack of political content in recent Thai films.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/Realtime/10Nov2006_real006.php

I also have to congratulate the American people for finally waking up from their 6-year apathetic and unquestioning slumber to send the Republican's packing. It's rather a shame though that it took the lives of 3,000 American soldiers and God knows how many Iraqi's to do so. To paraphrase Pelosi - the elections are over, now let the investigations begin. I truly believe this administration is the most corrupt, immoral and inept in our history and I think the American people and the global community have a right to all the facts. So much hubris for such small minded men and it's time for an accounting.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Unseeable (Pen Choo Kab Pee) from Wisit Sasanatieng


Wisit Sasanatieng's latest film "The Unseeable" has just been released in theaters in Thailand and here is an interview that was printed in the Bangkok Post. At the end of the article it makes mention of his next project - a martial arts film along the lines of the Shaw Brothers!

http://www.bangkokpost.com/Realtime/03Nov2006_real01.php

http://brns.com/thaifilms/pages/thairev90.html

Monday, October 30, 2006

Angkor Wat and Thai Films


After some five days of walking around the wonders of Angkor Wat and surrounding areas, I returned to Bangkok and almost immediately rushed off to the multiplexes to catch up on two Thai films before they vanish from the screens. Both were enjoyably entertaining even though nothing that will likely long remain in my head. Not so with Angkor Wat and before I get to those films I just want to urge each and everyone of you to make a side trip to Siem Reap the next time you are in Asia or if you are already there.

I had been there some seven years ago when they were still clearing landmines from the fields and there weren’t any good hotels or restaurants. There also weren’t many tourists and I often had some of the sites all to myself. Cows were still grazing on the grass at Angkor Wat and riding on the backs of motorcycles was practically the only way to get around. All that has changed and the area is now very tourist friendly with loads of hotels, bars, eateries and your chances of stepping on a landmine are about equal to mine of dating Hsu Chi. This has of course brought a huge increase in tourists – busloads from Korea and Japan especially seem to dominate (but along with this are of course Japanese and Korean restaurants) – but it is still very manageable and not overly crowded – especially in the outer sites.

There are some 72 different historical sites around the area from the huge and splendid to some small ones with not much remaining. These magnificent temples (Buddhist and Hindi) were all built during the Khmer Empire which spanned from the 9th to the 15th centuries and they will often take your breath away with their symmetrical clean design, mounted stone splendor and intricate detailed craftsmanship. You just marvel at how these were built and wonder at what cost. At night after many hours of trekking about in hot weather you gladly retire to one of the many bars offering shade and cold Angkor beer. Everywhere you go you are pursued by small eager adorable children trying their very best to sell you postcards, books, shawls and sodas with the most astonishingly good English. One small cutie even gave me her email address after I bought her an ice cream cone! This is a country still recovering from years of nightmares – the US incursion and bombing, the Khmer Rouge, the occupation of the Vietnamese – but I have rarely come across such friendly outgoing waving people and I was at times overwhelmed by the resilience of the human spirit and the smiles of the children. As for a hotel I can easily recommend the small very friendly Indochine Pavillion and for food the Indian restaurant called Little India was delicious and had tasty icy lime juices to guzzle.

Back to the movies. Thailand is still ga-ga over horror films and there are no signs that this is letting up any time soon. A large percentage of their films fall into this genre and many of the foreign films they show are of this nature as well. I am not sure quite where this fascination comes from but nearly all the shows I have been to have been full of Thai’s jumping at every scary moment. Also, in the theaters right now is the very anticipated new film, “The Unseeable”, from Wisit Sasanatieng (Tears of the Black Tigers and Citizen Dog) and this too is a horror film. It is strangely only playing late at night with its first showing of each day at 10 p.m. but I expect to get to it very soon.

Victim (Pee Kon Pen)

http://brns.com/thaifilms/pages/thai88.html

The Passion (Ammahit)

http://brns.com/thaifilms/pages/thai89.html

Sunday, October 22, 2006

World Film Festival of Bangkok - Final Report


By being involved in the New York Asian Film Festival I know how hard it can be to fill seats for a festival with limited resources. There are certain films where you know that even if the tickets were free along with a coke and popcorn it would still be a struggle. Hell, if we had thrown in a blind date with Aishwarya Rai, I still don’t think anyone would have come to the Ram Gopal Varma films. But how much harder would it be I wonder if the prints we showed were all sub-titled in Italian. That is basically what this fest has going against it. All the prints are sub-titled in English and nothing else. Good for me. Not so good for the population of Bangkok. So the small target market are farangs and English speaking Thai’s who are interested in foreign art films and that might explain why of the seven films I have seen the audience has been somewhere between 30 and 60 people. Most of them are in fact farangs with a smattering of Thai’s. Rather odd and almost pointless it seems to me, but not being experienced with international film festivals I don’t know if this is the norm or not.

It is also a festival that seems devoid of personality – all the films are being shown in huge multiplexes with very little presence from the people behind the event. There are no introductions, no program books and no one there if things go wrong with the screenings – like starting the film literally just as they let people in or showing one of the short films two times! Probably the only thing the NYAFF has going for it are Grady’s frantic and excitable introductions and the fact that we are all there to be pelted by the angry crowds if need be. The folks behind the programming here are also of the old school of festival programming – back when a film had to be slower than a hot day at the beach to be considered “worthy”. Not that these films are bad – I have enjoyed nearly all of them but after watching three of these back to back to back as I did the other day I felt like I could have used a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Here are some very brief comments on what I have seen the last few days.

Climates

This is from the renowned Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan who won the Grand Prix three years ago in Cannes for “Uzak” and won the Fipresci Award this year at Cannes for this film. Now honestly I have no idea what the Fipresci Award is for but I assume it is of merit. I also admit to knowing absolutely nothing about Turkish films as this was my first one and I have no idea if this is in any way representative of them (I hope to convince a friend to begin a blog on Turkish films so that I can learn more about them). I came away with a few broad impressions of the film – it feels very European to me – in particular Italian or French with its slow calm intimate exploration of a souring relationship and everyone in Turkey seems to spend an enormous amount of time drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes!

It is beautifully shot (in HD video) with some stunning landscapes but primarily in stark close-up’s with the faces of the actors practically imploding on the screen. A relationship between a middle aged professor (played by the director) and his younger TV actress girlfriend (played by the director’s wife, Ebru Ceylan) is dissected and laid bare with a particular focus on the male psyche. The film begins in the summer with the two of them on a long needed holiday to the seashore, but this is a relationship clearly in trouble weighed down and sinking with a past indiscretion as the obvious culprit. But it is deeper than just that and by the time the holiday is over so are they and they return to their separate lives in Istanbul, where the man again takes up with his previous indiscretion. In a scene that was really surprising to me (as I had assumed that Turkey might have some strict censorship rules around sexual content – the Ministry of Education just censored out a picture of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” from school textbooks), the couple engages in some very rough and revealing sex (at which time a number of folks walked out) and the viewer begins to rework their assumptions about this guy. He can’t shake his former girlfriend out of his system though and follows her to a TV shoot into the snowy east of Turkey where neither of them can really express what they want or really seem to know what they need.

The film is very slow and in truth very little happens but it has such a sense of blemished reality to it that you feel like you are almost a voyeur. It is an honest and intriguing portrait of a man who is seemingly fairly solid and mature but at his core somehow very hollow and incomplete. The film has been picked up for US distribution by Zietgist Films.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone

This latest film from director Tsai Ming-Liang is a return to his very minimalist style after the rather outrageous, offensive and I thought quite wonderful “The Wayward Cloud”. In a film almost deplete of dialogue except as background noise, he painstakingly etches a melancholy scene of urban loneliness, longing and our need for human contact. Full of long static takes in which I sometimes felt I could take a coffee break and not miss much, the story inches along like an earthworm but still manages to build in its wake an overriding sense of empathy and poignant fragility. The ending is perhaps absurd and rather cinematic but touching and hopeful.

The urban setting is not his usual Taipei, but Tsai instead shifts it to the impoverished backstreets of Kuala Lumpur. This may seem like an odd choice for the director, but Tsai is actually from Malaysia and on a trip back last year he felt inspired to make a film there. Using a series of short wordless shifting scenes, Tsai gradually depicts a group of disparate characters in a desolate and loveless landscape. A homeless Chinese foreigner (played by his usual actor of choice, Lee Kang-Sheng) is set upon and beaten by a group of conmen and left damaged in the streets. He is spotted by a group of poor Bangladesh workers who have found a used mattress in the garbage and they take both discarded items back to their barely functional apartments. Rawang (Norman Atun) nurses Hsiao back to health – washing his body, standing him upright to urinate – and a suspected sexual wanting begins to possibly surface.

In another parallel thread, a waitress (Chen Shiang-Chyi) has to care for the paralyzed son (also played by Lee) of the owner of the place where she works and she too in similar fashion to Rawang has to wash him down and in one instance is shown by the mother how to jerk him off. The three of them slowly close this circle and their distance apart in their desperate desire to simply feel something other than isolation. Though I admit to at times feeling frustrated by the glacial pacing of the film, it pays off finally and the film received a very nice hand of applause at the end. Though the settings of the film are little more than an abandoned building, a cesspool, dark alleys and patchwork apartments, Tsai and the cinematographer do wonders as they lavish this world with stunning and striking visuals – at times there are some truly beautiful shots such as the older mother looking at herself in an aging mirror, a butterfly landing on a bare back or a dream like scene of people encased in gasmasks (because of the smoke from fires in Indonesia) eerily standing outside a store watching an Indian music video on TV. There are moments of sly humor as well – two of the characters trying to make love with those gasmasks on and frantically trying to kiss and breathe at the same time. Funny on one level, but it is also an urgent cry for love. As is this film.

Isabella

I had previously seen “Isabella” on DVD and thought it enjoyable but a bit derivative. On this second viewing though it picked up some true resonance for me and left me feeling rather wistful and rueful by the end. In my review of Edmund Pang’s last film, “AV”, I stated that as entertaining as his films could be it felt to me as though he was sliding by on his wit and cleverness and that I thought he needed to aim for something with more depth. I assume he read my review and this is his answer. That was sarcasm by the way. In “Isabella” Pang for the most part plays it straight without indulging in parody or slight of hand and gives the audience a melancholy tinged look at a mildly corrupt and empty man coming to terms with what he has become over time. It works nicely because of the natural slow rhythm of the narrative and two finely honed performances.

The one obvious criticism that can be aimed at this work is that it often seems overwhelmingly influenced by the style of Wong Kar-wai. These influences appear everywhere from the musical choices, the lighting, the camera angles, the mood and the pacing. Wong Kar-wai casts a giant creative shadow over Hong Kong and his enormous international stature must make it difficult for any young director to escape his influence – especially for those that are attempting to make “serious” artistic films. It feels that when Pang decided to move in this direction with a more personal story he turned to Wong as an inspiration – whether intended or not. Even with this aura wafting through the film though, it still maintains enough of its own identity with a wry sense of humor, affection for its protagonists and its gentle humanity.

Pang replaces Wong’s 1960’s Hong Kong with the old sections of Macau and in similar fashion he uses this backdrop to create an intimate mood of melancholy, nostalgia and decay. Filming on its winding narrow cobblestone streets and within decrepit paint peeling apartments, Pang infuses his sets with various shades of omnipresent greens and natural light. One night Shing comes face to face with his past when a young girl, Bik-yan, follows him into a bar and hits him over the head with a bottle. Thinking that he had slept with and paid for her the previous night, Shing attempts to silence the underage girl but is truly taken aback when she declares that she is his daughter from a past relationship and that her mother has recently died. The guilt he still feels for having long ago abandoned his girlfriend at the abortion clinic as a teenager comes to the surface and he takes Bik-yan into his apartment and his life. He is a cop and as he admits to her not a completely honest one and he may have to soon take a fall. With the Handover to China looming it is perhaps an opportunity for him (and Macau) to start over again. As their relationship and affection for one another grows he starts to examine his life.

With only a skeleton of a plot, this slowly paced and gently told story nearly becomes a mood piece set to music, colors and shadows. Pang injects moments of humor into the film such as Bik-yan putting off all Shing's’s girlfriends with lies and tough talk or him teaching her the proper way to hit someone with a bottle (you need follow through). Both actors – the usually comic Chapman To and the fresh faced and long- legged Isabella Leung – give fine understated performances - something that Pang seems very able to elicit from his actors. Though I believe the film didn’t do nearly as well at the box office as some of his previous work – in particular “Men Suddenly in Black” - I hope Pang continues to push in this direction and that he will eventually establish his own identity.

Silence Will Speak

I gave this new Thai film some forty minutes of my life and felt that was enough of a sacrifice for art. I felt some guilt at walking out of a film from a young filmmaker, but there are times you want to make a show of protest – but I did it silently in homage to the film! This felt (and may be) like a student project and not a very good one – abstract and pretentious and badly shot on video. It has zero dialogue and when there was a fifteen minute continuous static take of a man making an origami bird in a traffic jam I knew I was in trouble. It didn’t get any better. Maybe this director will be the next Tsai Ming-liang with his minimalistic style, but I will wait until then I think.

12:08 East of Bucharest

This Romanian film from director Corneliu Porumboiu is a slyly amusing deadpan look at the state of the country sixteen years after the revolution forced Ceausescu to leave power and brought an end to Communism. The “12:08” of the title refers to the time of day that Ceausescu announced he was leaving and the “East of Bucharest” refers to the location of the film. It is an unnamed small sized city that is unrelentingly drab and gray in the dull winter light. The anniversary of that day in 1989 – 12/23 – is being seized upon by a TV talk show host to ask the question whether this city participated in the revolution or whether it only celebrated the revolution that took place elsewhere in Romania.

His supposed guests all take a hike on the day of the show and so he has to quickly replace them with a school teacher who enjoys his drinking and an old man who use to play Santa Claus. The teacher tells how he and three other co-workers began the revolution in the town by going to the Communist headquarters to protest and getting into a fight with security, but soon calls start coming in saying he was actually drunk on the day and nowhere near the place. The old man begins his story of the day by talking about his now dead wife and the fight they had and the flowers he bought her – and the talk show host sinks lower and lower. It is quite funny in a gentle low key way, but one senses that behind the humor the director is asking his audience “where did the revolution go?” The final caller simply telephones to tell them that it is snowing outside – big lovely flakes and they should enjoy them now because by tomorrow they will turn to mud and this seems like an apt metaphor for the revolution.

Sugarless

This is another independent debut work from a young Thai director that was shot on video, but there is actually a story attached to it. Now this film very likely will never show up in the multiplexes here or ever be released on DVD because of its somewhat sordid depiction of Bangkok and its offsetting urban fairy tale search for true love. Let’s just say that the “happy ending” of this one won’t be found in Cinderella.

Long ago Withit came from the countryside to look for his girlfriend who had left for Bangkok seven years previously and disappeared. He assumes she went into prostitution and so he becomes a taxi cab driver in hopes that one day he will pick her up and so nightly he trawls along the streets where they work. He is thirty-five years old though and needs to find a wife. So when he reads a letter in the Lonely Hearts section of the newspaper from Beau asking for a good man to take care of her and her education he replies. With just a few lies. He tells her that he is a wealthy owner of a chili paste factory and is looking for his true love. After a period of time, they agree to finally meet in the park on New Year’s Eve.

But Withit isn’t the only one with a few fabrications to answer for. Beau isn’t a first year student at university but in fact is a male transvestite who has been selling his body since he was a teenager. When asked by one customer why he does this, Beau tells him that when his customers orgasm he is truly happy. But he wants love and so enters into this correspondence with a man and sends a picture of a woman to him. On the day they are to meet Beau beams with happiness and it never really occurs to him that Withit might be somewhat disappointed.

But they never are able to find each in the large park and both go back to their lonely lives thinking they have been jilted. Later that night the cab driver picks up Beau working the streets and they go for a little ride. While the film first picks up with Withit it is fairly light and sets the viewer up for a sweet romance, but at the halfway point when it switches its narrative to Beau the story sobers up quickly as it follows his rather dismal life. It is a strange but intriguing film of sad people looking for love in all the wrong places.

Monday, October 16, 2006

World Film Festival of Bangkok

Well anybody who is anybody is in Pusan right now ploughing through the multitude of offerings at the Pusan Film market and Pusan Film Festival. Follow this by reading Grady's blog at:

http://www.kaijushakedown.com/

Then there is me. I stumbled across this much smaller and less prestigious festival here in Thailand. It has caused a bit of a ruckus of sorts because most of the film people here apparently can't even understand why it exists. They don't think that Thailand needs two international film festivals and they already have the grander Bangkok International Film Festival in January. I say the more the merrier - there are certainly enough films being produced in the world today to support two festivals I would guess. Look at New York City that has a few fests pretty much every weekend it seems. The folks at the BIFF claim that they will be bigger than Pusan within five years, but somehow I doubt it. I just don't think Thailand has the film culture to support a giant film festival, but they do get loads of money to put on the shindig - last year 10 million dollars. It sounds kind of like wrestling federations but the WFFB says they are all about the films, while the BIFF is all about celebrity. I hate to say it but celebrity will always win that battle.

At any rate they have some decent offerings that can be found here:

http://www.worldfilmbkk.com/index.php

Interestingly, I could not find an American film within the bunch. "The Banquet" was the opening film, but I already saw that in Malaysia. I picked up tickets today to see "Isabella" (HK) which I already saw on DVD but have wanted to see again and this will be perfect, "Sanctuary Rhapsody" - a Thai premiere, "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone" the new one from Tsai Ming Liang, "Climate" - which I believe will be my virgin Turkish film, "Silence will Speak", another Thai premiere, "12:08 East of Bucharest" and "The Caiman" from Italy. Wow - two totally non-Asian films!

Today I checked out a series of Thai shorts that had a theme around them of peace and conflict.

http://www.worldfilmbkk.com/films/schgroup.php?cid=05&schid=293

Thailand has been troubled greatly over the past few years with a conflict in their south in which Muslims have been seeking more autonomy and often using violence as their means. A number of the short films addressed this issue. "Dream Team" for example is a story about a new friendship created by their mutual interest in the Liverpool football team between a young Muslim man and a Buddhist novice monk - but in the end the Muslim leaves to join the fray. A documentary "Wat Na Proe School" shows how a small village with a mix of both religions has made an effort to learn how to live together and to protect each other from extremists from both sides. "Weight of a Gun" was perhaps the most creative film from a technical slant - a jittery black and white shot film about paranoia and fear. The most enjoyable film by far though was the comic "Hamburger Boy" which has four school boys and their classmates receieving an assignment to put together a menu and cook it in class. The boys decide to cook a hamburger because no one in their rural town has had one. When the dog eats the bun, they have to get creative. A very sweet film and director Siwadol Rathee might be someone to keep an eye on.

The fest ends with a showing of "Battleship Potemkin" on the 23rd, but I will happily be on my way to Angkor Wat to meet up with another Asian film crazy fan! We may even find time to visit a couple of those old ruins! But before that I should have some follow-ups on the films I see here. Who needs Pusan!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Singapore Cinema by Raphael Millet


Singapore Cinema

By Raphael Millet
2006
151 pages
Hard Cover

Thanks to this work from Raphael Millet, a large veil of obscurity has been lifted from the films and film industry of this small city state tucked away at the end of the Malay peninsula. My guess is that when most people even bother to think about Singapore’s film industry they think of it only in terms of the recent spate of small films that have achieved some international exposure over the past five years. In fact as this book makes clear Singapore once had a thriving rich film industry with a large audience base, well known production companies and their own gallery of stars and directors.

There is to some degree a large crossover between Singapore cinema and Malaysian cinema since Singapore was once part of Malaysia until it became independent in 1965, but the writer defines Singapore cinema as films that were produced by companies that were housed in that city even though most of the talent came from outside of the city as well as much of the actual shooting. The growth and development of Singapore cinema had of course an enormous impact on the cinema of another city to its north – Hong Kong. Indeed one could speculate that without Singapore, the Hong Kong film industry would have been a very different animal. Three Singapore companies that first were in the exhibition and distribution business with theater chains around Malaysia eventually went into film production in order to supply themselves with a steady stream of films. These were the Shaw Brothers, Cathay and Kong Ngee (a major producer of Cantonese films in the 1960’s with their stable of stars such as Patrick Tse and Connie Chan). The films that these companies produced for a Chinese audience are not really the subject of this book though – those he considers as Hong Kong films – but before moving into Hong Kong film both Shaw and Cathay for a number of years made films for their local Malay audiences.

These local films have an interesting parentage – financed by Chinese owners, the acting talent was primarily Malay and some Indonesians, the language of the films was Malay and many of the directors were Indian or Filipino. Their marketing area was Malaysia and Indonesia, while the overseas Chinese living in these countries were basically ignored in these films and few films were made for that audience – though Chinese films were continuously imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan for them to see. This was the basic arrangement until 1965 whereupon Malay films began being made in Kuala Lumpur and the films that began to be made in Singapore were made for the 70% Chinese audience in the city.

I sighed in relief when I read the author’s introduction, “This work is not an academic dissertation. Nor is it loaded with gender, postcolonial, post-structuralist or modernist analyses”. Thank god. Instead it is simply a very well-researched and well-written narrative of the history of Singapore cinema. The book is divided into six sections – “Early Days 1902 – 1945”, “The Studio Era 1947 – 1972”, “Decay and Oblivion 1973 – 1986”, “From Survival to Revival 1987 – 2005”. These sections are followed by a filmography of many films with some credits and a summary if he knows it. Many of the early films like everywhere else have been lost for good and are impossible to see. The final section is a page on how to find and watch some of these films. There are also many pictures included which is always a big plus for me! I purchased it in the Kinokuniya Book store in the KLCC mall in Kuala Lumpur for 85 Ringits ($23), but it is available on the Internet as well. It is a great addition to the steady flow of books on Asian cinema and one I highly recommend.

Below I have a short timeline of some of the key events in Singapore cinema gathered from this book – to get more detail, please buy the book.

1902 – The first public screening of a film in Singapore by a Parsi exhibitor.

1904 – The Paris Cinema became the first legitimate cinema hall

1925 – Runme Shaw moves to Singapore to open the distribution business of the family films being produced in Shanghai

1926 – The first film is shot in Singapore and produced by Liu Peh Jing. It was called “Xin Ke” and was about Chinese immigrants in the city. It was one of the last films shot using the Chinese language and Chinese actors for decades.

1927 – Run Run Shaw joined his brother and they formed the Hai Seng Company – they soon opened their first theater – by the end of the 30’s they owned 139 theaters in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indochina

1934 – “Leila Mujnun” was released and is considered the genesis of the Malay focused films for the next 35 years. It was directed by B.S. Rajhans – brought from India which began a tradition of Indian directors for years to come. It also began a well used theme of films about lovers in different social strata and their difficulties. It had a number of other Indian film influences as well such as songs and dances. Most of the actors came from the “bangsawan” (Malay opera) world.

1935 – Cathay (then called Associated Theaters) entered the exhibition business and began to build and buy theaters around the region.

1938 – The Shaw’s begin producing Malay films and made eight features between this year and the advent of WWII. They initially employed Chinese directors from the Mainland but did not have a lot of success with them as they didn’t understand the Malay culture.

1939 – The Cathay building goes up – used as the logo in their HK and Malay films.

1941 – The Japanese occupy Singapore and Malaysia and most film production comes to a stop.

1946 - The first film after the end of the war was produced and directed by B.S. Rajhans – “Seruan Merdeka” for an independent company. It was unsuccessful though because the theater chains owned by Shaw and Cathay would not show it – a major reason that no independent film scene ever really took off in these years.

1947 – Shaw formed Malay Film Productions which became their arm for making Malay films. By the time they closed in 1968 they had made about 160 Malay films. B.S. Rajhans became their in-house director and made their first7 films.

1953 – The Cathay-Keris production company was formed by Loke Wan Tho and another successful theater owner, Ho Ah Loke. Under this name they begin producing Malay films. They too were to use Indian directors at first.

1955 – P. Ramlee directs his first film, Penarek Becha, and this multi-talented singer, songwriter and actor begins a trend of a slow shift from Indian to Malay directors.

1955 – Cathay forms MP&GI in Hong Kong to make Chinese films. Kong Ngee at the time was a distributor and exhibitor of Chinese films in Singapore and decided to also get into the production game by forming a company in Hong Kong to make films in Cantonese.

1957 – The first of the Pontianak series produced by Keris-Cathay and directed by B.N. Rao. This Malay version of a female vampire has endured over the decades and was the subject of a big hit in Malaysia in 2004. The first few in the series starred Maria Menado, an Indonesian actress, and this brought her much fame.

1958 – Orang Minyak (Oily Man) – cult horror film directed by L. Krishnan for Keris-Cathay. Other Orang films were to follow and many years later The Shaw Brothers were to make their own version in Hong Kong.

1960 – Merdeka Studio set up in Kuala Lumpur by Ho Ah Loke. This was the beginning of the shift away from Singapore to Malaysia for Malay films. The Shaws were later to buy it and kept producing Malay films until the late 70’s.

1961 – Shaw opens their studio in Hong Kong

1966 – The first in a series of Singapore like Bond films were made – starring Jefri Zain in “Gerak Kilat”. Two of the sequels were shot by none other than Lo Wei!

1968 – Shaw closes their studio in Singapore

1972 – Cathay closed down their studio in Singapore

1973 – First independent film made in the decade – “Ring of Fury”, a kung fu film starring Peter Chong. It was banned though in Singapore due to its portrayal of gangsters and supposed advocacy of vigilantism. From this point on films produced in Singapore were targeted at the Chinese audience.

1977 – Filipino producer Bobby Suarez begins a series of B action films made in Singapore and Malaysia– the most famous being “They Call Her . . . Cleopatra Wong” – starring the lovely 19-year old Marrie Lee from Singapore. This though was the death knell for Singapore films and nothing else was made in Singapore until the early 90’s.

1991 – “Medium Rare” was the first local film made in Singapore since Cleopatra Wong, but it starred an American and was directed by a Brit.

1995 – Eric Khoo makes the seminal “Mee Pok Man” and this begins the revival of the Singapore film industry. He follows this up with “12 Storeys” (1997) and “Be with Me” (2005). He also helped produce films that brought forth other film talent – Jack Neo and Roystan Tan.

1998 – The comedy “Money No Enough” starred Jack Neo and became the biggest box-office hit in Singapore history. Other similar films were to follow – “That One No Enough” (directed by Neo).

2002 – “I Not Stupid” directed by Neo receives a fair amount of international exposure. “Homerun” in 2003 did the same.

2003 – Another young director, Roystan Tan, receives much international publicity for his film “15” that delves into the dark side of Singapore.

2005 – “The Maid” a horror film is directed by Kelvin Tong and is picked up by US distributors.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Don - the CD



Knock knock knock, “Yes, who is it?”; “Don”

When I first heard that the classic 1978 Bollywood film, “Don” was being remade it made my heart sink a bit, but after listening to the soundtrack I have hopes that it won’t be a complete travesty. The music is playful with an intentional nod to the original. Not only does it incorporate two of the songs into the soundtrack, but gives the whole sound a slick 70’s groove that has echoes of disco, funk and Bond wafting through it.

Remaking classics is dangerous business and it’s hard to think of any that come close to the original – maybe “King Kong”? Or what about “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”! “Don” in particular will be a tough one to better. From what I have read, this version will be updated with lots of stunts, higher velocity action and loads of hi-tech gadgets – but that rather misses the point of “Don”. “Don” was all about being cool without even realizing it and so provided the viewer with an onslaught of enormous pleasure from the initial “Superfly” beats and the exploding briefcase to the chaotic head spinning kung fu finale. It also starred the two coolest actors in Indian film history – Amitabh Bachchan in his double role as the ruthless crime lord and also as the beetle nut chewing simpleton who has to impersonate him – and Zeenat Aman as the kung fu kicking femme fatale. And as an added bonus, Helen makes an appearance when she tries to seduce Don in order to set him up. How to seduce a man? By singing and dancing to the lilting undulating tune of “Ye Mere Dil” of course!

This one shifts its locale from India to Malaysia as evidenced by the Petronas Towers in the picture above, but much of the basic plot apparently remains the same. This is definitely no cheap rip-off though by any means as it brings in some of the top talent in the film business. At the helm is Farhan Akhtar who rushed to fame in his debut film, “Dil Chahta Hai”, but stumbled with his follow-up film, “Lakshya”, about a military conflict between India and Pakistan. So there is definitely nothing in his short filmography to make one overly confident that he can handle this sort of film, but “DCH” did show a casual irreverent streak that may do him well here. Standing in for Amitabh is the second coolest male actor in Indian history (O.k. maybe the third after Shammi), Shahrukh Khan. This may not be his typical romantic role of late, but in his earlier films he was more action oriented and “Main Hoon Na” of a few years ago showed that he can fake action as well as most! Let’s face it – no current actress can replace Zeenat Aman, but if I had had to choose one for her role from the current crop of actresses it probably would have been the sexy vivacious Priyanka Chopra and that is who in fact they got. She spent months in martial arts training for the film. Of course, I just thought of Mallika Sherawat who impressed in her short action role in Jackie Chan’s “The Myth”, but Priyanka is a better actress I believe. Rounding out two of the other roles is Isha Koppikar (the item girl in “Company”) as Don’s girlfriend and Kareena Kapoor takes on the big challenge of stepping into the dancing shoes of Helen. The film is opening world wide on October 20th and I sure hope that it appears wherever I happen to be.

From the CD soundtrack ( Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy; Lyrics: Javed Akhtar) it appears that the film will have six songs – the CD has added two mixes as well – and I like them all.

It begins with “Main Hoon Don” that starts out simply with a catchy funky guitar riff and then it slowly builds to a full orchestral sound that is reminiscent of some of the big brassy Bond themes in the Roger Moore films.

Next is a techno driven re-do of “Ye Mera Dil” that was originally sung by Asha Bhosle and is now sung by Sunidhi Chauhan. The arrangement is a bit busy at times, but this is such a great tune that it still works and the vocals are fine. I can’t wait to see Kareena dance to it.

“Mourya Re” is the most traditional song of the bunch – a percussive driven beat and great vocals by Shankar and one envisions some fast-footed choreography around it.

Taken again from the original is the next song “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” and for me it is the high point of the soundtrack – extremely playful and rhythmic with some vocals contributed by Shahrukh but primarily sung by Udit Narayan.

Sounding as if it could have fit into “Disco Dancer” is “Aaj Ki Raat” with its beginning drum beat that then surrenders to the synthesizer and velvet vocals – I can see the spangles and hot pants now!

The final number “Don the Theme” is interestingly an instrumental other than the words uttered at the beginning of this review – it is a great piece of music that takes in various influences and goes from Curtis Mayfield funk to Bond.

Most of the time I admit to wanting remakes of classic films to fail – unless you can do better what is really the point? But I hope that this is a good one and different enough not to really compare it to the original. But somehow you know that it will never match up on the most basic level with the original – the total fun factor – that I would guess was as much accidental as intentional – that kind of thing just can’t be planned.

Oddly – or perhaps not - is that another classic Amitabh film is being remade – “Sholay” and Amitabh is in it as the villain! Once a film industry begins cannibalizing its own you know that it is in the middle of a creative crisis and that is certainly the case with Bollywood at the moment. Up until now they were primarily remaking Hollywood films by the bushel full but have now turned on their own. Not a good sign.

P.S. – I picked up a few DVDs and CDs of Indian films while in Little India in Kuala Lumpur. I had looked around till I finally found a store that looked like it was selling legitimate copies though for fairly inexpensive prices - $5 for the DVDs and $3 for the CDs – except for Don which went for $10. As it turns out, none of the DVDs could play and the CDs other than Don skip quite a bit – so be warned of cheap prices in Little India! But they did give me a free poster of Aishwarya!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hong Kong Tidbits

Here is some news/gossip about a few of our favorite HK stars that was reported in a Malaysian newspaper.

It seems that Ekin Cheng is now dating Yoyo Mung after his breakup with Gigi Leung a few months back. So its been from Maggie Siu to Gigi to Yoyo for Ekin - getting better all the time. Gigi is wasting no time either, but has reached out for something entirely different - a Frenchman called Sly. Somehow being with a Frenchman called Sly feels very temporary - so she should be on the open market fairly soon I would guess.

And Cecelia Cheung is hands off material as well - it appears that she and Nick Tse got married in the Philippines a few weeks ago though they haven't officially announced it yet but Nick did sort of confirm it when surrounded by the hordes from press. It is rumored that she may be with child. If that is so it is perhaps possible that she may be visible again in a few months. No one has been able to spot her since she got her weight down to 11 ounces and one has to wonder how a ceremony was performed.

Stephen Chow is having problems with yet another female protege of his. You may recall that there was a nasty falling apart between him and Eva Huang (Kung Fu Hustle). This time his starlet, Zhang Yuqi, for his next film "Yangtze River 7" went off and had surgery to remove her double eyelids and this pissed Chow off as she lost her natural looks for the film. So she may be replaced even though she offered to have the surgery reversed. Can't he just use cgi to make them double again?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Quick Update

Here is just a very quick update on my doings so that this blog doesn't get too rusty. I was off in the Malaysian rain forest of Taman Negara doing battle with leeches, bats, monkeys, boars, snakes and lizards - not to mention over priced beer and what felt like a mile long canopy bridge a few hundred feet in the air! Not really my thing but a real nice break from urban sprawl. For those who like just a touch of adventure without really roughing it I recommend trying it out if you ever land up in Malaysia.

Now I am back in Kuala Lumpur for a bit and have checked out two films - The Banquet and Rob-B-Hood. Both get my thumbs up though two films could hardly be more different.

R-B-H is Jackie light - very light - it's like a Disney family film with important moral lessons to boot (such as don't gamble, steal or be mean to your girlfriend!) - but it's quite entertaining at times. It is primarily a comedy with some totally corny and perhaps unneccessary melodrama and of course it contains the required action scenes that Jackie fans need a fix of. The action is more acrobatics than fighting and in truth nothing that comes close to his older stuff but hopefully no one is expecting that anymore. There are four action set pieces and all are solid- a few highlights stood out for me - Jackie hopping from one air conditioner to another in a high rise building to work his way down and a run-away baby carriage in traffic were great fun. And perhaps more from a sentimental side, the appearance of Yuen Biao in a nice role was a huge boost. I actually teared up seeing him in action again.

The film is extremely predicatable if you have seen any of the films it was based on - three crooks ending up with a baby on their hands - or even if you haven't - lots of baby poop, adorable baby expressions, making faces at the baby to stop it from crying, the baby in dangerous situations and of course three hard hearts being melted by the baby. It's all there, but a fairly funny script and energetic performances make it all very palatable as does a slew of familiar actors - look especially for a great cameo from Daniel Wu and Nicholas Tse as armoured truck drivers. In fact, the film has a real ensemble feel to it as Jackie gives lots of time to many other actors - two other sentimental favorites being Michael Hui as one of the crooks and his wife played by Teresa Carpio - and Louis Koo as the third member of their merry band hasn't been so convivial in a long time. Not only does Daniel Wu show up, but the three other "Heavenly Kings" pop up as well - Andrew Lin, Terence Yin and Conroy Chan. Other familiar faces are Charlene Choi, Cherry Ying and Ken Lo. It all adds up to a bit of a silly party.

If you broke it down by percentages it would be about 70% comedy, 15% melodrama and 15% action. After the grim New Police Story, Jackie just sets out to have a good time and take his audience with him. For those looking for old fashioned Jackie action - well keep looking because it's not here.

Rating: 7.0

The Banquet is getting scorched it seems by the critics but I am not sure I quite understand their comparing it unfavorably to the recent wuxia films like "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers". Those films were built around the action set pieces, while at its heart The Banquet is a serious drama (based as everyone probably knows on Hamlet) with a few action set pieces nibbling around the corners. The action is quite lovely, but clearly they are going more for art than adreneline and at times they reminded me of the action in the Korean film "Duelist" in which they came closer to dance than to fighting. Admittedly, the pacing of the film is at times dirge like and the mood is solemn with no attempts at any light moments but I found the court intrigue and multiple betrayals quite involving and eventually by the end rather tragic. Mainly though I suppose one will come away simply awed by the beauty of the film with their incredibly ornate sets and costumes. It does seem as if all these epic recent Chinese films - and throw in "The Promise" as well are definitely trying to out do each other in their granduer and The Banquet has upped the ante once again.

The big difference of course from Hamlet is that the mother character is played by Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Ziyi is by most standards a hottie - somehow Gertrude never struck me as a hottie - so this and the fact that having Zhang play the character forces the filmmakers to shift the focus of the film from the son (played by Daniel Wu) to mom.

Rating: 8.0

I may try and do longer reviews on these two films when I have my computer again - but then I may not!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Seasons Change (Thailand 2006)


http://brns.com/thaifilms/pages/thai85.html

Thai TV and Mum Jokmok


I was channel surfing through the 19 odd stations that my hotel has – most of which seem to be sports channels always showing golf or wrestling and a bunch of local Thai stations. If you think the TV is bad in the United States, spend a few hours trying to watch Thai TV and it will seem like paradise. It basically consists of loads of variety shows with dewy faced female singers performing saccharine ballads and an onslaught of nighttime soaps where someone is always on the verge of tears. But then a breath of fresh air tonight – another variety show truth be told but hosted by the wonderful Mum Jokmok, best known in the west as the comic relief and friend to Tony Jaa in Ongbak and Tom Yum Goong but a famous comic in his own right in Thailand. This show would last about fifteen minutes in the states with its low production values and paucity of star power, but he carries it with his frantic facial ticks and prancing about. I had no idea what he was saying in his mile a minute verbal jousting with guests but it was funny anyways.

Dressed in a bright red vest and red bow-tie he marches on to the stage in a fanfare of female dancers surrounding him and brings on his female co-host who looks a lot like a thinner younger Sandra Ng. The show doesn’t consist of much – a series of skits that had the female only audience from Suzuki in stitches and a few musical guests – but most of it was just Jokmok carrying on and cracking everyone up. Hey, and one skit has me learning how to count in Thai as guests had to make ever increasing funny faces on each count – neung, sawng, saam, sii – and then he breaks into a 2,3,4 cha cha cha. Maybe not Milton Berle but a silly and amusing hour.

Thai Film Moviegoing Experience

I had hoped to catch a number of Thai films while here, but that hasn’t been an easy task as there isn’t much to see. Like much of the world Hollywood films reign and most of the theaters are showing the likes of “Snakes on a Plane”, “Miami Vice”, “The Lake House” and “You, Me and Dupree” among other vastly forgettable films. There are certainly a few Thai films in rotation, but you have to move quickly or they may be gone. I had planned on seeing the superhero film “Mercury Man” that looked to be reasonable fun, but it came and went so quickly that I barely had a chance to blink.

It hasn’t been a great year for the Thai film industry as best as I can tell – not creatively or at the box office. This is a shame since a few years ago it appeared to be waking up after a long slumber with some marvelously inventive films, but little of that seems to be in evidence of late. It has become more difficult keeping up with Thai films because so few of them are suddenly getting international exposure other than the occasional horror film and now for some reason the vast majority of them no longer contain English sub-titles on the DVD releases. In trying to get a handle on what has been released this year I checked out three valuable Internet sources – the “Mojo Box Office”, “Wise Kwai’s Film Journal” and “All About Thai Cinema” and realized that I had barely even heard any discussion on any of the films (“Dorm” and “Invisible Waves” being the exceptions) and had not seen one of them.

As best as I can figure out some 28 Thai films have been released so far this year – in general a commercial mix of horror, action, comedy and romance with the only one that seems to be somewhat of an artistic stretch being “Invisible Waves” from Pen-Ek Rattanaruang but he seems to be doing a Wong Kar-wai by making films for the international film community and not his home country. Most of these films haven’t done particularly well at the box office – the majority making less than $1 million, a handful between 1 and 2 million and a couple that just breached the $2 million barrier – one a comedy called “Nong-Tong” and the other an animation film “Khan Kluay”. Poor “Mercury Man” made less than $200,000 even with lots of publicity. With those kinds of returns it is a huge gamble putting out a big budget Thai film.

The Thai movie going experience is much like that from anywhere else these days. The venues at least in Bangkok are generally multiplexes in their many modern malls and as plush as you would want – esp. the VIP theaters that cost more and seem to offer you more space between you and your neighbor. Malls though in Thailand are great – so much more fun than your typical mall in the states that are full of brand name department stores and large people rushing for sales. Here they have loads of small cubby sized stores that sell all sorts of things and seem to be the main hangout of students who overrun them in the afternoons with their white shirts and black trousers/skirt uniforms. That goes for the films as well and it seems unusual to see many people over twenty sitting in them. That partly explains the film programming that dominates the screens. It seems to be the same the world over now and the decline of cinema may some day be tracked back to the audience takeover of the cinema’s by the under 25 set.

You have to pick out your seat while buying the ticket (120 baht - about $3) and then peruse the concession stand that has the usual assortment of popcorn, soft drinks and candy before going into the theater that ranges from chilly up to meat locker frozen and try to find your seat number in the dark while stumbling over people already seated. You are soon surrounded by people and look nearby at big sections of empty seats but are afraid to move there. I did one time and sure enough someone came for that seat – then moved again – same thing – and again – till I finally found myself in the front row with frightening close-ups of actors crotches. I sadly looked back at my original empty seat but realized I would have to step on the feet of at least 20 people to get there and didn’t want to give us farang’s a bad name – so I came out with a sore neck instead. Then you have the assorted endless series of commercials and trailers by which time your snacks are long gone and the movie hasn’t even started yet. Finally, the national anthem is played and everyone stands up. It is kind of a catchy tune that sounds like something from the Pogues or some other Irish group and it always features the King and Queen making the rounds of Thailand. They are totally revered in this country and though he has little power by law, he has such a command of the hearts of the people that he can force a government to step down if needed – but he seems to be a very cool guy who stays out of politics unless a crisis is at hand.

A few days ago I was wandering down a street around 9 a.m. and suddenly realized that I was the only person moving in this frozen street tableaux of outdoor foodstalls and shoppers - sort of like Chungking Express in reverse – very strange that no one was moving I thought – was I freaking out - then I realized the anthem was blasting through some street speakers and I was thankful no one had whacked me one. It was bad enough that I wasn't wearing a yellow shirt on a Monday which it seems 90% of the population does in respect for the King. Finally the movie begins and the cell phones ring continuously. Just like being at home. My favorite mall and theater group is MBK where all the Thai films have English subs. Unfortunately, I think the Korean films are dubbed – unfortunate because “The Host” opens next week. I am just grateful that MBK has been rebuilt since it was destroyed by that giant Garuda!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sholay - The Making of a Classic



Sholay – The Making of a Classic

By Anupama Chopra

When Sholay was released in 1975 it initially looked like it was going to die a tragic painful death. The critics dumped on it with apparent glee as a big bloated disaster and audience numbers began to dwindle almost immediately as they sat through showings in total silence. The director and actors were shocked and dismayed at its reception as they thought they had made a classic film. Well, they had in fact and soon the tide began to turn like a tidal wave in the public’s reaction to the film as houses began to fill and everybody began talking about this new film that set new standards for Bollywood movies on so many levels. Within weeks people were quoting lines from the film (a record with the dialogue was a huge seller) and even the actors in small roles who barely register the first time through became cult icons and were swarmed by fans of the film everywhere. The film was to run for five years and it set a box office record that held up for almost twenty years until Hum Aapke Hain Kaun came out.

By any measurement it is the most popular and enduring film in Indian history and one that has fanatical adherents that will come close to violence if you disagree with the merits of the film. There is no comparable film in Hollywood in terms of its place in the hearts and minds of Indian film fans – maybe if you combined Gone with the Wind, Casablanca and Citizen Kane – but even that would likely fall short. To understand the impact of the film now one has to set themselves back in the 1970’s when most Indian films were romances with languid leading men and the few action scenes tended to be poorly shot and cheaply made. Sholay changed all of that – an enormous amount of money was poured into the project and action choreographers were hired from the U.S.A. to shoot and plan the fights – and most importantly the film didn’t really revolve around romance at all (though it still has its place in the film) but instead around two roguish crooks, an honorable Thakur and a villain who was to become the most despised (and thus loved) bad guy in Indian film. It is the relationships between these four that drive the film and made it feel so fresh and exciting to fans.

Personally, I had avoided the film until I finally bought this book and thought it would be silly to read it without having seen the film. I felt that there were just too many expectations placed on the film that it couldn’t possibly live up to and a few non-Indian friends who had seen it had shrugged it off with a basic “it’s ok but it’s all been done before” – and so this made me reluctant to take on this film as I suspected that I would feel the same. After seeing it, I would to some degree say that both camps are right – it had been done before and made no new strides in cinema if you take Hollywood into account – and yet it is very effective in what it does and is a terrific film in many ways. The writers, Salim-Javed, would be the first to admit that they were tremendously influenced by other films – in particular the Hollywood western (Sholay is often termed a “Curry Western”) where it is easy to spot the impact of films like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Magnificent Seven” on their thinking. They wanted to make a western, but within the Indian context and in the modern age. And it works.

There are certainly sections that just don’t play well any more (at least to me) – a couple comic bits that feel horribly stale (in particular a Charley Chaplinesque Hitler jailer that was painful to get through), but even these parts were very popular at the time. Another weakness is the pacing of the film that allows the tension to dissipate at times as our two heroes seem to forget what they were hired to do and lackadaisically wander about the small village totally unprepared for an attack. Even the action scenes are basically forgettable now – solidly made for sure but in truth nothing we hadn’t seen in dozens of westerns. What makes the film still work today are two relationships that are timeless in their power and sentiment. The wonderful chemistry and friendship of Veeru and Jai is one of the best portrayals of male bonding that I have seen on film – and this from a veteran of loads of Hong Kong male bonding films! Early in the film this is picturized and the mood set for their amiable and loyal friendship in the wonderful song “Yeh Dosti” as they travel along on a two-car motorcycle. The other relationship that takes a hold of you is a nearly unspoken one between Jai and the widow Radha that is practically nothing but a series of far away looks but they burn.

In case you haven’t seen the film, here is a very short summary. A Thakur, (Sanjeev Kumar) who was once a police officer, hires two small time crooks to capture a vicious dacoit (Amjed Khan) and his gang. The police have been unsuccessful in doing so and the Thakur feels these two men (who he knows to be tough and somewhat honorable from past experience) can do the job. They flip a coin and when heads comes up they accept. The gang has a terrifying hold on a small town in a barren desolate area – and Jai (Amitabh) and Veeru (Dharmendra) begin to put up some resistance to them. They also find time to fall in love – Jai with Radha (Jaya Bhaduri) and Veeru with the village chatterbox Basanti (Hema Malini). Mixed in are of course some great songs from R.D. Burman and a dance from Helen. If you haven’t seen the film you should – and then read this book from Anupama Chopra.

Anupama is the wife of filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra and she takes a very uncritical but highly enjoyable look at what took place behind the scenes to make Sholay work. It is a terrific read as she first explores the gestation period – two young not very well known writers named Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar came to Ramesh Sippy with an idea for a movie in four sentences. He liked the idea enough to ask them to write a script around it and soon he decided to take this film and make it a landmark in Indian film with enormous resources around it and the best talent in the industry.

Once the script was complete, they had to find the right actors to play the parts. Though he was much younger than his character everyone thought Sanjeev was perfect as the righteous Thakur looking for revenge and justice. Dharmendra was on a film roll at the time and was easily picked as the outgoing and jovial Veeru, but the choice to play Jai was a tough one. Ramesh was tempted by this tall brooding actor named Amitabh Bachchan, but most people in the industry warned him not to as Bachchan was considered box office poison after numerous flops – but Ramesh went with his instinct and took him on. Of course, by the time Sholay even began filming Amitabh had become a huge star with the release of Zanjeer. The two female roles were comparatively small, but Ramesh still wanted stars in them – and he persuaded both Hema and Jaya to accept them. The final major piece was the dacoit Gabbar Singh, who many felt was the most interesting character in the film with the best dialogue. Ramesh didn’t want to fall back on the usual actors who played villains and took on Danny Dengzongpa who had become a villain star in the recent Dhund. But the film took so long to get started that it began to conflict with another film Danny had accepted and he had to drop out – and with filming about to begin they looked around in panic for someone to step in – and finally chose a totally untested actor who was known on the stage but hardly at all in film – Amjad Khan – and his portrayal of Gabbar made him both a star and the bogeyman that mothers used to scare their children to sleep at night.

The filming ran into enormous logistic problems and expenses went way beyond budget and the film took a few years to shoot with numerous interruptions as stars went off to shoot other films – but Ramesh had a vision that he refused to budge from. The author writes of personal things as well – the married Dharmendra began to fall in love with Hema who reciprocated - but the pressure made him begin to drink and he would often show up at his shootings more than a little tipsy (later on in fact Dharmendra took her as his second wife). Right before shooting began Amitabh married Jaya and not long after she was pregnant - and shooting had to be delayed as she was looking too plump for her widow’s role. The most pressure was on Amjad to make this a role of a lifetime work and at first he could not make a go of it – and some such as Salim-Javed pushed for him to be replaced and then later for him to be dubbed with an actor with a stronger voice – but Ramesh stuck with him. In the end Ramesh made the film he wanted – though he was crushed when the Censors forced him to change and re-shoot the ending to a much less powerful one. He continued to make films of course but nothing ever came close to the success of Sholay.

The book is a breezy and affectionate read and one highly recommended.