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How is the anti-government demonstration affecting the cinema business? Plus news of another protest by Thai filmmakers

  • Published: 30/04/2010 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Realtime

With the plot thickened and Rama I Road transformed into a protest site, the cinemas around Siam Square have had to hold their breath. Earlier, Paragon Cineplex screened movies but the last show was around 6pm. Now the whole store is closed, with no reopening scheduled. Lido, Siam, and Scala were closed on Wednesday when we checked _ the man (he's always there) who answered the phone sounded wary. Before that, the three cinemas opened as usual though the last show was also at 6pm and even the horde of loyal Lido fans have thinned out for weeks.

Rama I Road outside Siam Square has become a protest site, forcing cinemas to close.

Do the protestors drop by to see film? ''No, hardly,'' the operator said.

No question about SF CentralWorld and EGV Metropolis at Big C, they have barred their doors since Ratchaprasong was sealed off. The only multiplex in the area that bears no effect is SF MBK. There are still late-night screenings and the crowd is still flowing.

Reality is more pressing than cinema, so let's pray this is a small glitch. As the country heads towards the Unknown Unknown, the inconvenience of not being able to go to Lido seems minor, even trivial, at least to movie-goers who have plenty of other choices.

I tried to check the sales of DVDs to gauge if it has reaped a windfall from the situation, but the figures aren't ready. Big Hollywood films that opened in the past few weeks _ and that would have earned a hefty portion from the downtown cineplexes that are forced to close _ suffered a fall in revenue of around 20 percent, such as in the case of the marquee release Clash of the Titans. Meanwhile, a couple of Thai films breezed through the crisis, partly since their fan base is in the outlying districts. Saranae Sib Lor, a crazy comedy, pushed past 50 million baht, a sizeable amount.

Horror-thriller 9 Wat (Secret Sunday), which opened during Songkran, made over 20 million baht, also a good sum for a small film during a tense atmosphere.

For distributors of American films, they're hoping that the siege would end soon, since the summer blockbusters _ the oil that lubricates the mighty wheel of Hollywood _ are queuing up for release. This week there's Iron Man 2 as the curtain-opener. In mid-May we'll see Nightmare on Elm Street (Isn't that an ironic title? Aren't we living in a be-nightmared city?) and Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.

On May 20 it's Shrek Forever After _ yeah, hearing Eddie Murphy dubbing Donkey again is all we need to get through this. On May 27 it's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, an Arabian adventure starring Americans, led by Jake Gyllenhaal as the scythe-wielding prince. Then in June, we have Sex and the City 2, The A-Team, Toy Story 3D, and the remake of Karate Kid. And in July, it's Twilight 3: Eclipse. If the mess is still with us then, the thought of an oversensitive vampire is enough to kill us all.

Protest against funding

The plot also thickens in the local film industry. This week, a group of filmmakers and audience members prepared to sign a petition letter to the Ministry of Culture to express their disagreement over the distribution of the 200-million-baht film funding under the Creative Economy campaign. Of the 200 million, half has been alloted to support just one film, Legend of King Naresuan 3.

The conflict descended into a comedy when, on Wednesday, one of the ministry's judging committees went on air to say that the 100 million baht slated to be given to the film would be used to film just ONE scene _ the elephant battle between King Naresuan and a Burmese prince. Even Avatar didn't spend 100 million baht on one scene.

The protest gained momentum on the Internet _ though there are also people who just love Naresuan 1 and 2 so much that they come out to defend their need to watch the third and fourth movies, or maybe the 35th, like Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th.

I support the protest because the distribution of the tax money is seriously lopsided, even though the ministry keeps saying that King Naresuan has to return the 100 million baht (By when? How? And why does this film get special treat ment?) The protest is led, however, by filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who's named as a recipient of the funding, and Manit Sriwanichpoom, an independent filmmaker who questions the process and fairness of the whole enterprise. (For the record, I also applied for the funding and didn't receive it.)

Before the petition letter was submitted, Culture Minister Thira Slukpetch extended an opportunity to talk. So the date is set for Monday, May 3, for everyone who has questions about the criteria of the funding, especially the case about King Naresuan 3. The minister himself will come to meet with filmmakers to clarify the matter.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Real Time Reporter

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