B.O. blows Thai high

Local biz pushes to keep momentum going

Key Thai industry players had good reason to celebrate 2005: A combined 36 homemade films exceeded the 1 billion baht ($25 million) milestone. Still, they’ve entered 2006 with caution, aware that the domestic market has reached a new level of competitive intensity, while the prospect of conquering the international arena remains an elusive possibility.

“We need to start ‘producing’ films, and not just ‘making’ films,” says Mingmongkol Sonakul, managing director of Dedicate, the Thai company behind co-production “Invisible Waves.” “A studio must greenlight a movie based on the quality of the project and to make sure that there’s a real creative effort in it. The shaky political situation and slow economy mean our first six months have been botched. The risk factors are being felt more sharply.”

“You can’t expect the Thai industry to take a big leap,” adds Wisute Poonworaluck, CEO of GTH, which produced last year’s hit “Dear Dakanda” and critics’ fave “The Tin Mine.” “The quantity of films produced, the market share, the box office returns — these numbers aren’t going to change drastically in one or two years. We made 1.1 billion baht in 2005, and hopefully we’ll see that figure again this year. But we can’t forget that the cost of production is getting higher, too.”

Despite having the strongest industry in Southeast Asia, Thailand has a dilemma on the international stage: A high-profile title such as actioner “Tom Yum Goong” might brew global buzz, but keeping that momentum going will be a challenge.

“To build a strong international reputation, we first need to build a strong domestic performance,” says Gilbert Lim, exec VP of Sahamongkol Film Intl. “There’s always an overseas market for action and horror movies from Thailand, but to maintain long-term growth we have to have local support.”

Still, certain local hits, such as first-quarter 2006’s top-grosser, period comedy “Nong teng nakleng phukhao tong,” would be hard pressed to transcend Thai borders and score overseas.

Being realistic and not getting caught up in false dreams of international fame is the ethos Thai producers should stick to, stresses Sonakul.

“The fact remains that we’re in the process of learning from our mistakes,” she adds. “Now every new Thai release is judged by its performance of the first three days, and that’s scary. That’s why our priority rests with the domestic market; international recognition, for now, should be viewed as a bonus.”

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