Hong Kong's celebrated directorial duo, the Pang Brothers, have returned to Bangkok to shoot the latest instalment of their martial arts fantasy Storm Riders
Storm Riders II is one of the biggest overseas productions to have used Thailand as a location this year.
Earlier this week, a large tyre warehouse in Pakkred morphed into a wintry landscape where two Chinese warriors crossed swords. Tiny flakes of fake snow got stuck in their long, grungy (and fake) hair as they fought their fantastic battle atop the grounds of a mossy, manufactured forest in an imagined dreamland. Beyond the the camera's field of vision, we saw serpentine, silver tubes pumping cool air into the muggy set and keeping everyone safe from Bangkok's murderous heat.
A 300-million-baht Hong Kong martial-arts fantasy film, Storm Riders II, will continue to use this warehouse as its stronghold until July. All shooting will take place in this cluster of warehouses tucked among the serene fields of Pakkred, close to the Chao Phraya River.
In the next warehouse, equally hangar-like, a team of Thai and Hong Kong craftsmen were busy altering costumes, designing props and constructing sets - mountaintops, a damp forest, mystical temples. Storm Riders II is certainly one of the biggest overseas productions to have used Thailand as a location this year.
This is entirely because of the filmmakers' long association with this country. Storm Riders II is directed by the Pang twins, Oxide and Danny, the prolific Hong Kong mavericks who worked at a film lab here in the late 1990s before making their iconic hitman opus Bangkok Dangerous in 1999 (the brothers also directed the Hollywood remake, starring Nicolas Cage, to be released in August).
"We feel comfortable working with the Thai crew," says the long-haired Danny Pang.
Then the short-haired Oxide chipped in: "Eighty percent of the crew are Thai. We wanted to shoot the whole film here because we trust them, and because it's probably cheaper than shooting in Hong Kong, even though we have to fly in some of the props and costumes."
"We have seven or eight major fight sequences in the film," says Danny. "And we will build them all in these warehouses. There's no location shooting involved; it's a fantastic film anyway."
The brothers - Asia's modest answer to the Cohens, perhaps - have shot most of their Hong Kong films in Thailand, including the Eye franchise; the supernatural thriller Recycle, which premiered at Cannes in 2006; the little-known Abnormal Beauty; and The Detective. The stories in these films are not necessarily about Thailand or Thai characters.
Over 523 foreign productions - from documentaries and TV commercials to feature films and music videos - chose to shoot in Thailand in 2007, according to the Thailand Film Office, the agency which oversees such activities. Japan leads the pack with 154 shoots in the Kingdom, followed by 102 from Europe and 92 from India. Only 22 US productions came here last year. One of them, though, was the remake of Bangkok Dangerous.
Our photogenic geography (and in certain cases, the equally photogenic city squalor) exerts the greatest pull for foreign location scouts. It's unusual, however, that an overseas production will come here to build sets and shoot in a closed environment, like Storm Riders II is doing.
One reason for the dearth is that Bangkok has a limited number of movie soundstages where you could build sets large enough for, say, ancient Rome or a Chinese fantasy kingdom. Right now, the two workable soundstages belong to WorkPoint Entertainment, which produces TV shows, and another one at Moonstar on Ratchadaphisek. While our technicians are renowned among international film producers, our selling points have so far been limited to beaches, jungles, temples and cityscapes. To become a hot spot for location shooting, Thailand needs to sell itself not only as Thailand, but as a place in which filmmakers can build any other cities, real or imagined, to serve the story in the script.
"We have this 100-metre-long and 10-metre-high warehouse, and it works all right," says a senior Thai production crew member working on Storm Riders II. "But it's not actually a soundstage; it's a place where manufacturers keep their inventory, and the facilities are not designed for shooting films."
Still, in this instance, the the manual wizardry of the Thai crew managed to turn the empty lot into a snowy landscape where ancient warriors in thick armour can ride off into a storm. Storm Riders II is slated for release in 2009.