Due to sexual content, 'Manee' went straight to disc

BANGKOK — Aiming to cash in on the booming DVD/VCD market, Thai producers are churning out low-budget features that go direct to video and bypass cinemas altogether.

The trend started late last year, almost by accident, when exhibs refused to screen local pic “Phra Aphai Manee” due to its explicit sex scenes. So instead the producers released the pic on DVD and VCD, selling 500,000 copies and racking up a hefty $1.2 million.

Subsequently, RS Promotion, Thailand’s second-largest entertainment company, announced plans to make 30 direct-to-video titles this year, with four releases each month, starting in June.

The largest company, Grammy Entertainment, immediately fought back, declaring it would produce and release 20 features on video, also in 2003. Grammy signed noted director Apichatpong Weerasethakul to helm one telepic (as they are called locally) and asked the Pang brothers to do another.

As many as 50 smaller companies are now aiming to get a piece of this bonanza by making direct-to vid films. Usually, a pic will recoup its production costs once it sells 50,000 discs, making $125,000. The most popular genres are the same for theatrical features, such as horror pic and even transvestite themes. Producers garner more revenue by selling TV rights to local broadcasters.

Inferior product

But there is a danger of this market being oversaturated with product, much of it of poor quality. “It is possible that audiences will get bored with (inferior) products,” said Andrew Suteestarpon, managing director of SP Pictures Intl. “By that time, I believe consumers will differentiate products and only the good ones will sustain.”

The government launched a crackdown on video piracy in May, forcing many suppliers of counterfeit product to turn into legitimate operators. At the same time, distribs cut prices so discs became more affordable. VCDs cost less than $3 and DVDs go for $8, and the cheapest disc players are priced below $30.

Recent increases in cinema ticket prices also turned off a lot of patrons. Ducats cost $3-$7, which is pretty steep considering the minimum daily wage is just $4.

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