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Viewers get a kick out of local Thai pix

60 productions announced or slated for release this year

BANGKOK — The Thai film industry is on the rise: Six local pics were released Feb. 14, an uncommon phenomenon. By contrast, just 15 domestic titles screened in 2001 and 23 last year.

So far this year, Thai kickboxing pic “Ong-Bak,” starring former stuntman Bhanom Yeerum, has grossed $2.2 million in three weeks. Comedy “Old Rock Man” has taken $1.8 million in three weeks, and GMM Pictures’ second production, the romance “February,” has earned $1.1 million in nine days.

Those perfs compare well with “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which has amassed $3 million in six weeks (beating the original’s $2.2 million). “Iron Ladies 2,” sequel to the pic which last year demonstrated the commercial potential for Thai films abroad outside of the fest circuit, will open March 7 on more than 100 screens. With top Thai star Jetsadaporn Pholdee aboard, hopes are high that it will draw crowds.

Some 60 local productions have either been announced or slated for release this year. The two most prolific producers, Mongkol Cinema and RS Film, each have 10 projects on their slates.

RS Film is an example of how local companies have benefited from the rising popularity of local films. Two years ago, the company diversified its production arm into three subsidiaries. This year, it expanded into seven: Avant, Aladdin House, Film Surf, Nakasia, POV, Yoho Film and RS Film & Distribution.

However some execs fear the boom cannot be sustained. “There is no long-term steadiness,” says Visoot Poolvoraruk, chairman of production company Tai Entertainment, whose family businesses include the biggest multiplex exhib Entertainment Golden Village. “As time goes by, there will be around 25 to 30 productions each year, no more 60 to 70 titles like this year,” he predicts.

The Thai B.O. is estimated to have totalled between $63 and $65 million last year, says Poolvoraruk. Thai cinema accounted for about $14.6 million or 23%, with Hollywood movies dominating with 75%. The rest was generated by films from other territories including South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong.