Malaysia-Indonesia co-production to open Singapore Fest

Asia / Pacific Roundabout

A rare honor for two comparatively obscure and certainly underrated national film industries, a Malaysia-Indonesia co-production has been selected as this year’s opening film of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF). Director Dain Iskandar Said’s highly acclaimed “folkloristic film noir” (as he himself describes it) Interchange will chime in the festival’s 27th installment, which is scheduled to run Nov. 23 through Dec. 4.

Interchangewas inspired by a true incident a good century ago, when Norwegian explorer Carl Lumholtz traveled through central Borneo between 1913 and 1917. Among the plethora of photographs he took was one of a group of tribal women bathing in a river in an attempt to cleanse themselves of “evil” after having had their picture taken by Lumholtz, fearing that their souls had been trapped in the camera. However, the film characters are entirely fictional and the story is set in a modern urban landscape. Young forensics photographer Adam and his arrogant and gutsy colleague, detective Man, are on the trail of a series of macabre murders in the city. The mystery intensifies when Adam befriends his new neighbor, an enigmatic and alluring female shaman named Iva, who has been tasked with freeing the spirits of her Borneo tribal ancestors trapped inside antique glass-plate negatives. Bloodied corpses suspended from ceilings and feathers of an extinct hornbill species littering the ground only add to Interchange’s foreboding and dark atmosphere, which is further enhanced by Said’s technique of interlacing unbearably suspenseful scenes with deeply emotional pauses to blur the audience’s sense of reality.

“SGIFF has always championed Southeast Asian cinema. And this year’s opening film combines Dain Iskandar Said’s storytelling skills with a distinct Southeast Asian flavor, producing a unique thriller that could not have originated from anywhere else,” said SGIFF executive director Yuni Hadi in a statement. Interchange is Said’s third feature film to date and has already been successfully screened at this year’s film festivals in Locarno (Switzerland) and Toronto. His second movie, the equally dark Bunohan: Return to Murder (2011), won eight awards at the 25th Malaysian Film Festival five years ago and also was nominated as Malaysia’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 85th Academy Awards, although it didn’t make the shortlist.

Thai Films Make BBC’s “100 Best of the Century” List

Three independently produced Thai movies have made it into BBC’s recently released list of “The 21st Century’s 100 Greatest Films.” While celebrating might be a little premature as the current century is only 16 years old, local newspapers nevertheless printed proud headlines after the news broke. Even more remarkable, all three films hail from the same director, visionary “wunderkind” Apichatpong Weerasethakul. His cryptic fantasy drama Tropical Malady (2004) achieved place 52, being outscored by Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), which clocked in at a very respectable 37th place.

Little known and rarely screened outside Thailand, Syndromes and a Century (2006; original title: Sang Sattawat) settled for the 60th spot. Just like Tropical Malady, the film, which was inspired by both of Apichatpong’s parents being hospital physicians, brims with often difficult-to-interpret symbolism, which perhaps explains that it has never made any mainstream audience impact, neither at home nor abroad. However, praised for its almost surreal cinematography, Apichatpong’s earlier Tropical Malady was actually awarded the Jury Grand Prize at the 2005 Cannes International Film Festival.

Meanwhile, the most successful of the trio, Uncle Boonmee, grabbed the coveted Palme d’Or at the same festival in 2010, although it likewise was largely ignored by Thai audiences upon its release and was indeed only shown on one single screen in the capital Bangkok.

Despite his elusive commercial success, Apichatpong is regarded as the country’s most gifted and creative contemporary film director. In honor of his achievements, he’s been enrolled this year as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, thus having become the sole Thai national to date who can actually cast Oscar votes.

China Focuses on Increased Film Quality

China's film industry is striving to increase the quality of its cinematic output, pushing purely commercial considerations in the background, an official for the China Film Association has said. The Association’s Zhang Hong was quoted in local newspapers from his opening speech as organizing committee director of the recent 25th China Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival in Tangshan, Hebei province, that the country’s industry is shifting towards quality and market regulation and that local audiences are taking well to it.

As of August, total ticket sales had already exceeded CNY 30 billion ($4.5 billion), an unprecedented figure, proving that the industry is on the right course despite a slight box office slowdown in the second half of the year. Many studios now emphasize artistic value instead of only aiming at maximum profit with cheaply produced films, which would ultimately lead to a healthier and more prosperous Chinese film market. According to Zhang, China produced 686 feature-length films last year, which earned a combined box office of approximately CNY 44 billion ($6.6 billion).

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