Thailand Awaits ‘Last Executioner’
Thai cinema certainly has come a long way, as production values have soared considerably over the years. As a result, quite a few Thai movies have earned kudos and accolades on the international film festival circuit, not to mention a slew of prestigious prizes. But hardly any other local feature film before it has been more impatiently anticipated—and received more pre-release media fanfare—than this year’s The Last Executioner, which is scheduled to premiere in Bangkok on June 19, 2014.
Directed by Tom Waller and produced by Waller and Michael Pritchett, the film tells the story of Chavoret Jaruboon, who over the course of his 19 years as Thailand’s official executioner dispatched 55 condemned inmates by machine-gun shots through their hearts before the country changed its execution method to lethal injection in 2003. However, describing his movie as a “biopic based on true events,” Waller was quick to point out that Chavoret was deeply emotionally torn over his position, because it clashed with his Buddhist beliefs. “He always wanted to be a musician and in fact played clubs with his guitar. But this didn’t earn him enough money to raise his three children, so when the previous executioner suddenly retired, he very reluctantly accepted to replace him. After all, he would be paid 2,000 baht per execution, which was a considerable amount of money at the time,” Waller elaborated.
It is this inner conflict—leading a double life as a devoted family man on one side and carrying out state killings on the other—which the film depicts in stark, often harrowing visuals. “He can coolly pull the trigger on the same day he plays with his granddaughter, whom he absolutely adores. Yet it becomes clear to the audience that deep inside Chavoret is a troubled man, whose music often is his saving grace and who tries through his Buddhist faith to reconcile his torn conscience by making merit whenever he can,” explained Waller.
Although the scenes in the execution chamber—which was painstakingly recreated in a studio with the help of photographs taken on location at Bang Kwan Central Prison, the infamous “Bangkok Hilton”—are generally unsettling, the film’s defining moment is perhaps the scene where a female convict inexplicably survives the initial burst from the machine gun. “When she later comes to in a neighboring room, she has to be dragged back to be executed a second time, crying, screaming and kicking all the way. This surreal incident really happened and haunted Chavoret for the rest of his life,” said Waller.
Apart from its unusually high production values, The Last Executioner also greatly benefits from a meticulous screenplay written by veteran journalist Don Linder, who on several occasions had met Chavoret prior to his passing away in 2013, and also extensively talked to his family and colleagues.
Entirely privately financed, the film has been submitted to various international film festivals and is currently under consideration. It is distributed in Thailand by Handmade Distribution (Waller: “a new, smaller company we felt comfortable with”) and will open on a total of 30 screens initially. Waller’s production company DeWarrenne Pictures is currently also urgently looking for potential North American and European distributors. Interested parties can contact Tom Waller through the movie’s website.
17th SIFF Mega Event Kicks Off
From its very inauguration, the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) has been the single largest event of its kind in the entire Asia-Pacific region. This year, the 17th SIFF will take place June 14-22, promising to top all previous ones. While last year’s event showcased more than 800 movies from around the world and attracted over 300,000 film buffs, SIFF 2014 is expected to present even more movies this time round, although the exact program was not yet released at press time. Dubbed “International Film Panorama,” these public screenings will take place in almost 30 designated theatres across the city.
But the festival also comprises several competition sections, including the Golden Goblet Awards, arguably Asia-Pacific’s most prestigious international film prize, which will be awarded across several categories. Introduced in 2004 by SIFF, another competition section, the Asian New Talent Award (ANTA), solely focuses on Asian filmmakers and “aims at discovering and promoting young Asian directors through either their debut or second feature film.” As in previous years, ANTA will award a trophy to the winners in the Best Film and Best Director categories, which are both tied in with a cash prize. A third competition section, Mobile SIFF, will make its debut at this year’s event and was created exclusively to honor international short films.
Altogether, more than 2,000 films from over 100 countries have reportedly been entered in the various competition sections this year. As usual, the selection represents not only big names, but also directors who are not yet well-known internationally. “Regardless of varied topics and styles, the films stimulate and inspire emotionally by showcasing different cultures through stories and images,” according to the organizing committee.
In addition to the regular prizes, special awards for Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Film and Outstanding Artistic Achievement in Chinese Film will be presented during the opening ceremony on June 14, 2014. The gala awards ceremony, during which the winners in the other competition sections will be announced, will be held on June 22. Both galas take place at the posh Shanghai Grand Theatre.
Also new this year will be a public screening section showcasing 4K restored movies. The program will feature films such as Taxi Driver (1976), The Godfather Part II (1974), Philadelphia (1993), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1998), Les Misérables (1935), The Children of Heaven (1997), Purple Noon (1960), and La Reine Margot (1994), among others. “Today’s audiences have come to expect spectacular, technology-driven production value, and 4K represents the highest definition available among UHD digital films. During the festival, audiences will have the opportunity to appreciate classic masterpieces that are rarely shown on the big screen,” SIFF’s official website noted.
The highlight in this section will without doubt be the screening of Chinese classic Two Stage Sisters, which was directed by the late Xie Jin in 1964. Thanks to financial support from Swiss luxury watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre and the collaboration of L’Immagine Ritrovata film restoration lab in Italy, it was possible to restore the badly deteriorated movie using 4K full-color technology. Two Stage Sisters chronicles in stunning photography the fortunes of two actresses in pre-revolutionary China, who are separated by money and politics. Following the success of this restoration project, the SIFF’s organizing committee has already announced the 4K restoration in 2015 of yet another regional classic, the John Woo-directed A Better Tomorrow (1986). For screening time and venue of Two Stage Sisters and other festival inquiries, please consult the official website.
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