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It's a wrap

The entertainment year in review

  • Published: 23/12/2009 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Outlook

It seems like we've blinked our eyes twice only, and 2009 is nearing its end. It's hard to believe that an entire year has passed already and the decade is also coming to a close. As always, it's been fun-filled year with ups and downs. Some months were quiet while some were action-packed.

Before getting all giddy over Christmas and New Year's presents, 'Outlook' would like to take some time to reflect on the passing year. We've selected our top five in local music events, movies and the performing arts.

MUSIC

Lomosonic at the Fat Festival

Let's be brutally honest here. The Fat Festival, in its 9th year, has been waning for the past few years now. It is losing its charm as the biggest local music festival. There aren't enough interesting acts, and they simply put anyone who cares to apply on stage. Fewer gimmicks and more quality acts might help. But those who ventured out this year shouldn't have missed the one band that was worth checking out. Lomosonic is also one of a very few new bands that was worth our time this year. At the Fat Festival, they simply went ballistic with face painting, crazy dance moves and stage jumping, crawling and climbing. Not weighed down by sound-system hiccups, Lomosonic took the stage with a sense of controlled chaos usually seen in much more experienced bands. With the lead singer from Brand New Sunset as a guest, it was a falsetto battle while guitar riffs and drumbeats flew off as loudly as machine guns. You really needed to be shielded from such intensity. We're looking forward to more from these boys.

Moderndog's 15th Anniversary Concert

We will not deny that we have had a long love affair with these three luminaries. Seriously, what's not to love? They've given us great music, amazing artwork, a captivating world view and smashing sense of fashion. All you ever need in a lover has been rolled into one with this band. Celebrating their 15 years in the industry in style, Moderndog staged two rounds of a stadium show. It was a heart-warming occasion, for the band didn't just go through motions, repeating the back catalogue. They aimed to please but didn't forget what it was that made them get to where they are today. For the first time in 15 years, Moderndog allowed an unusual number of guests to share the stage, and you could tell that they had been carefully picked. The 20th anniversary can't come fast enough.

Culture One Dance Music Festival

They were back for the second time around after the overwhelming success of the first year. With four stages, there was a little something for everyone, from trance to bassline. The second year was even more packed than the first, and it was a good spirited gathering of party people who share a love for good times and beatific tunes. The atmosphere was jolly and relaxed while the deejays battled it out intensely to capture the fluctuating audience attention. Local talents got a chance to play alongside big international names. We like how organised the festival was, as it was easy to hop from one stage to another thanks to the moderate size of the location. To our delight, the third installation is coming back on January 30. It should be bigger and better.

Buzzcocks

The seminal punk rockers were really in town. It was great to see that there are promoters committed enough to the live performance scene to bring a band as awesome as the Buzzcocks. Honestly speaking, we prefer Magazine but the forefathers of pop punk (in a good way) did not disappoint even if they made us wait three full hours for an interview that didn't happen since they weren't ''in a mood'' to talk. Pete Shelley was probably bored fielding questions regarding his bisexuality and other run-of-the mill deals. But never mind the Buzzcocks because when show time rolled around, Shelley and Steve Diggle were a joy to see even if the years haven't been kind to their exteriors. The Buzzcocks' brand of melodic punk still resonated loudly days later. Too bad that younger Thais didn't find the gig interesting enough to join in the fun, leaving the floor to be filled with middle-aged, balding foreigners who probably went home to nurse broken bones after the moshing.

Drop the Lime

It is definitely harder making 30 people dance than 3,000. That was what Drop the Lime, or Luca Venezia, did. Well known internationally for his deejaying skills, performance extravaganzas, as well as original dance floor destroyer tracks, Drop the Lime sure wasn't accustomed to empty clubs. That, however, didn't seem to deter him from giving it his all as if he were in front of a 10,000-strong crowd. Built like a Dior Homme model, dressed like a '50s rocker, Drop the Lime swirled around the small crowd in Bangkok with his blend of techno, electro, fidget, ethno-techno and doo-wop, finishing with You Take My Breath Away for good humour. We don't really know why Bangkok didn't turn up in force. Be sure to catch him if he ever comes back.

MOVIES

Sawan Banna (Agrarian Utopia)

Uruphong Raksasat's experimental documentary is as beautiful as it is bitter, and it will become a harrowing post-agricultural prophecy once all Thai farmers (hopefully they won't) finally give in to the force of rotten politics and preying capitalism. Uruphong shot the entire film in the Chiang Rai village where he grew up, where he returned in 2008 and asked two families to come live and farm on a plot of rented land so he could film them. What we see is a sky so blue, a land so breathtakingly green, the entire poetry of the rice farming ritual and above all the increasing hardship of struggling agricultural workers. Agrarian Utopia screened twice at the Bangkok International Film Festival in September, and it will be released soon in regular cinemas.

Nang Mai (Nymph)

The biggest surprise of Nymph, the new film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang released in July, was the performance of sexy girl-group singer Vanida ''Gibsy'' Termthanaporn. Not only can she act, she can act beautifully with nuanced modulations and delicacy that stunned those who believed she was only a vacuous corporate vehicle in insufficient outfits. Vanida plays a wife who discovers that her husband may be having an affair with a tree, or the female spirit of a tree. Co-starring her is Nopachai Jayanama, another talented actor whose previous role was that of a general in Legend of King Naresuan. Pen-ek guided them to become quality performers who lift his film about a slowly disintegrating marriage into something like a quiet wonder.

Chuen (Slice)

Granted, the film is far from perfect. But here's a rare breed of Thai serial-killer movie complete with grisly images and, surprisingly, a touching coming-of-age drama tucked neatly inside like a hidden petal. Arak Amornsupasiri plays an ex-cop/convict who's temporarily released from jail to help investigate grotesque serial murders whose victims are stuffed inside red suitcases. The suspect is the convict's childhood friend, and his memories of their childhood in a rural town hold the key to solving the puzzle. Director Kongkiat Khomsiri, working from a script by Wisit Sasanatieng, gives us both a crime story and a sweet, sensitive teen drama that depicts the cruelty faced by children and forgotten by adults. Veteran TV actor Chatchai Plengpanich chips in an impressive turn as a hard-nosed, silver-haired police detective. The film made ridiculously little money, but we hope that that won't lessen the chance of Kongkiat making another movie soon.

Polamuang Juling (Citizen Juling)

We featured this documentary a few times before when it was completed in 2008, but it was officially released on one screen in 2009, and we felt the need to record here that it's certainly one of the most important cinematic endeavours of recent times. Co-directed by Ing K, Manit Sriwanichpoom and Kraisak Choonhavan, the movie takes to the heart of darkness our southern conflict and shows the complex layers of pain, prejudice and injustice that are the nucleus of the ever-multiplying problem nobody in the government seems to know how to fix. We need more films like this.

Jao Nok Krajok (Mundane History)

This independent movie, by Anocha Suwichakornpong, screened at the World Film Festival of Bangkok in November, where it exploded with the atomic resonance of a new-found supernova. On the surface a family drama about a paralysed man and his estranged father, the film is actually about birth, death and rebirth _ of countries, civilisation, stars, universes and persons. In an oblique yet powerful way it addresses our current political woes and channels the frustration felt by many into a work of art that's enigmatic and truthful. It was almost banned by the censors.

Performing Arts

Yak Tua Dang (Red Demon)

Makhampom Theatre Group proves time and time again that accessibility and simplicity are achievable in a nuanced piece of art. Their latest likay production, adapted from Hideki Noda's play, Akaoni, was first performed at the Jim Thompson Art Centre during the Bangkok Theatre Festival, then travelled to Tokyo to be part of the Mekong Festival. Director and librettist Pradit Prasartthong daringly ventured into the dark tale of a persecuted outsider in search of a home. To turn a story so full of sorrow into a likay, a folk form so jolly, is a tough task, but in Yak Tua Dang, we felt the full impact of both the bliss and the pain of ignorance in a world that can no longer forgive such a crime.

Nang Nak: The Museum

Musical theatre juggernaut Scenario and the more modest Dreambox win an award for worst timing. Not only did they stage their musicals just a few months apart from each other, but neither could beat Nang Nak: The Museum in overall quality or entertainment value. So the honour for the best adaptation of the legend of the ghost of Mae Nak will have to go to New Theatre Society's uproarious creation that not only makes fun of our never-ending obsession with this spectre, but also of the musicals by the two aforementioned companies. Directed by Damkerng Thitapiyasak and starring a cast of top-notch local stage actors, Nang Nak: The Museum steers away from the tired dichotomy of whether the ghost is scary or whether she's nice. This Nang Nak is just downright naughty. What's haunting about this version of the legend is the level of shenanigans. Who could forget something that made you laugh so hard?

Begin Again

What a great beginning for the twenty-something director Nana Dakin, whose Bangkok directorial debut can easily be called one of the most sensitive and socially conscious works of the past few years. A physical theatre piece about three lost souls _ an urbanista, a Burmese migrant worker and a Rohingya refugee _ Begin Again brims with images of intersecting lines that form labyrinths and barricades. Yet the young director manages to dissolve any barrier between the three characters, elevating them from archetypes to humans _ and equal individuals. How refreshing it is to see something so serious, sad and meaningful from somebody so young.

Tistou Nak Pluke Ton Mai (Tistou)

In this charming collaboration between Crescent Moon Theatre and Kae Dam Dam Puppet Group, the world is transformed with the touch of a child's hands. Adapted from the French children's novel, Tistou les pouces verts, by Maurice Druon, this marionette and shadow puppet production is thoroughly delightful for both children and adults. Director and Sipathorn artist Sineenadh Keitprapai has been with the Crescent Moon from the time the company dealt heavily with political and social issues. Today Sineenadh, who's the current head of Crescent Moon, is actively providing space for new directors and writers. Although the works that the troupe has been supporting seem to lack real substance of late, this uplifting puppet production casts a new brighter light on the company. It's a far cry from what Crescent Moon once was, but its honesty and innocence are undeniably powerful and breathtaking.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Their Moon Water, staged at the Bangkok's 11th International Festival of Dance and Music, is nothing short of exquisite. However, the real highlight of this rare visit was the talk given by the company's founder and artistic director, Lin Hwai-Min. Wise, visionary and sardonic, this hardy artist not only chronicled the inspirational growth of his endeavour to a handful of listeners at Chulalongkorn University, he also made us see that Cloud Gate is not merely a dance company with an enviable repertoire. The fact that it's a great pride of the Taiwanese is hardly because of its international success, but more because of its insatiable hunger for movement and deep sense of responsibility towards thought, history and people.

About the author

Writer: Amitha Amaranand, Kong Rithdee and Onsiri Pravattiyagul