‘Suriyothai’ adds heat to brisk biz

Thai cinema hits stride, picks up pace

BANGKOK — The Thai film industry is planning an increase in activity to build on the box office success of historical epic “Suriyothai” and the international pickups of two other local pics.

In its third week of release, “Suriyothai” reportedly is closing in on earning back the $15 million invested in it by Thailand’s royal family.Earlier this year, Miramax paid $500,000 for spaghetti western “Tears of the Black Tiger,” which writer-director Wisit Sartsanatieng made for $430,000, and Strand Releasing nabbed the gay-themed “Iron Ladies,” which cost Tai Entertainment just $267,000.

“Tears” was released Aug. 24 in the U.K. and grossed $34,657 on 17 screens in its opening week. “Ladies,” which opened Sept. 7 in New York on one screen and on three screens in San Francisco the following week, has pulled in $12,359. Last weekend, it opened on 92 screens in Los Angeles.

The numbers may be modest by U.S. standards, but the Thai film industry is taking its success to heart. Having released only eight local pics in 2000, that number will rise to 12 by the end of this year.

Industry mainstay Saha Mongkol Films, whose production arm has been dormant for years, plans to greenlight five films for production by year’s end. Music leader Grammy Entertainment has retooled its film unit and greenlighted four pics, including “Honeymoon to Nowhere” (working title), which in its development stage has been selected by the Pusan Intl. Film Festival for regional promotion at its PPP film market this November.

“Suddenly there is work for everyone,” said independent helmer Nicky Tamrong.

Pics in the pipeline include many by first-time directors — including Mongkol’s “999,” an Asian ghost story being helmed by Peter Manos. Film critic Sutthakorn Santithawat also will try his hand at directing, with plans to update Cherd Songri’s classic “The Scar.”

Sheer numbers aren’t the only measure of the maturing industry. Established directors such as Nonzee Nimbutur and Bandit Ritthakol are challenging the limits of Thai censors.

Nonzee’s erotic love story “Jan Dara” had been set to preem uncut at last week’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival, but was one of many pics unable to be delivered to the fest due to the stoppage of air travel in the wake of terrorist attack on New York and Washington. The director, who sits on the censor board, was forced to cut scenes for the pic’s local release.

Ritthakol’s “Moon Hunter” is the story of the 1973 student-led political uprising that brought down the Thai military dictatorship.

Thai censors have routinely frowned on local pics with political themes. Both pics are due to open at home in October.

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