Thai co-production wins Germany’s Grimme Award

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The 2014 German-Thai co-production Patong Girl won this year’s prestigious Grimme Award in the category “Best Fiction.” The awards are sometimes also dubbed “Germany’s Golden Globes,” as they exclusively honor productions for television. But while Patong Girl was originally broadcast on German television station ZDF and received generally good reviews, Bangkok-based co-production company De Warrenne Pictures also decided on a limited theatrical release across Thailand in response to the award.

Patong Girl premiered on April 21 in Patong, a resort town on the holiday island of Phuket notorious for its sometimes raunchy nightlife, and which lent its name to the film’s title. The movie also was shot in large parts in Patong and around Phuket, taking advantage of the island’s stunning topical backdrops.

The Grimme Awards ceremony was broadcast live in Germany on April 8, with the film’s lead actress Aisawanya Areyawattana especially flown in to accept the trophy onstage. Local audiences reportedly acted rather surprised when they eventually learned that charming and sexy Aisawanya is in fact a transgender woman. But this reaction befittingly echoed the resolution of Patong Girl: The Schroeders are spending their last family vacation in Thailand before youngest son Felix is off for college. In the sleazy bar alleys of Patong, Felix soon meets lovely Fai and hopelessly falls in love with her. Despite his concerned parents’ warnings that Fai certainly must be a prostitute and he should keep clear of her, Felix continues meeting her and even elopes with Fai to her home village on the Thai mainland... where certain things reveal themselves.

“The movie is a very realistic and honest depiction of the German-family-abroad experience. While the parents and older sons want to see the island and engage with the locals, youngest son Felix, like many young males vacationing in Thailand, meets and falls in love with a beautiful Thai woman. From there it gets complicated, as Fai is not exactly your average Thai lady. That's where the fun starts, as [the film] explores the intercultural and cross-sexual differences of these two young people,” Tom Waller, the movie’s co-producer and founder of De Warrenne Pictures, told FJI.

China Suspends License of IP Man 3 Distributor

China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), the country’s all-powerful regulator for all matters concerning the movie business, has suspended the license of local distributor firm Dayinmu. The official Xinhua news agency reported that the company had been accused of fraudulently inflating the box-office figures of Hong Kong-produced martial-arts film IP Man 3.

The movie opened in Mainland theatres on March 4, 2016, but soon suspicions spread in the press and social media that its supposed phenomenal earnings of well over 500 million RMB (approx. $77.32 million) within just four days might be false. During the course of an investigation instigated by SAPPRFT, Dayinmu, also known by its alternative company name Beijing Max Screen, admitted that it had indeed bought tickets worth 56 million RMB in order to artificially spruce up the box-office results. “Additionally, the [company] fabricated more than 7,600 screenings of the film, which it claimed earned another 32 million RMB in ticket sales,” Xinhua reported. A local film trade broadsheet, China Film Newspaper, confirmed in a report that SAPPRFT had ordered Dayinmu to suspend its distribution activities for one month.

Various Chinese distributors and individual theatre chains have been accused on several occasions in the past of falsifying ticket sale volumes in an effort to create interest for new releases and attract moviegoers. Sometimes, even financial incentives may play a role. According to China Film Newspaper, Dayinmu apparently is affiliated with Hong Kong-listed company Shifang, which is entitled to receive 55 percent of IP Man 3’s Mainland revenues. On the day of the movie’s China premiere, Shifang’s shares suddenly soared to a five-year high on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. They plummeted sharply again after news of the fraud investigation broke.

Malaysia’s 1MDB Denies Having Funded Wolf of Wall Street

Malaysia’s scandal-ridden state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), has denied having partially financed Martin Scorsese’sThe Wolf of Wall Street (2013) through an intermediary production company. In early April, The Wall Street Journal claimed that in 2012 some $155 million of 1MDB money had been diverted to U.S.-based production firm Red Granite Pictures via various offshore shell companies in order to be subsequently used to finance The Wolf of Wall Street. The newspaper quoted in its report unnamed sources familiar with investigation teams in at least two countries that are currently probing the money flow. But 1MDB has denied through an official statement received by Reuters and other global news agencies that it had ever invested in or transferred funds to Red Granite Pictures. “We, therefore, deny any suggestion that 1MDB [has] funded the production of The Wolf on Wall Street, or had any involvement with the film in any capacity, as has been alleged or implied in some recent media reports,” the 1MDB statement said.

The state fund was launched in 2009 by Malaysia’s current prime minister, Najib Razak, who also is its chairman. Red Granite Pictures was established in 2010, and on its website names Razak’s stepson Riza Aziz as the company’s co-founder and co-chairman. Almost since its inception, 1MDB has been tainted with allegations of graft, money-laundering and general mismanagement. The most prominent case involved the reported deposit of $681 million of alleged 1MDB funds into Razak’s personal bank account, which prompted calls for the prime minister’s resignation earlier this year. Razak has since been cleared by Malaysia’s attorney general after Saudi Arabia’s finance minister in mid-April declared that the amount in question had actually been a “genuine donation” from the Saudi royal family to Razak—and thus had not been illegally diverted from 1MDB. For various other irregularities the fund is currently nevertheless subject to criminal investigations in Luxembourg, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.