Who's scared of Phoonk?

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The year 2008 came to a somewhat strange end in this part of the world. While the entry into 2009 has been rather mild, here are some oddities that have occurred here in Asia over the few months.

An Indian film enthusiast rented out an entire cinema to disprove a director's claim that his horror movie is so scary, no one can watch it alone. Pavin Ponanna booked all 227 seats at an unnamed movie theatre in Bangalore for a screening of Phoonk, the story of a happy family suddenly beset by the evil forces of black magic. Ponanna asked cinema staff to have a doctor on call—just in case.

Emerging from the movie declaring, "I never felt scared, not even for a moment," Ponanna asked for his money back from director Ram Gopal Verma. "It cost me 47,000 rupees [$1,405] for nothing," he complained.

No word yet on whether Verma will honor the horror buff’s payback request.

A Movie and a Wedding
Over to Thailand, where Pranee Sitthipairojkul and Wasin Kalayanamitr (the latter the nephew of a very high-ranking army general) married just before the end of the year.

So what was so unusual about the lavish wedding? The ceremony marked the beginning of a new fad beginning to catch on here—nuptials in movie theatres where you can catch a romantic movie and have a catered wedding party afterwards.

No, I am not kidding. Major Cineplex, Thailand's largest theatre circuit, has packaged wedding parties for their Paragon Cineplex. It will be interesting to see what kind of business they do for Valentine's Day.

Vogels Celebrates UIP Success
Every year around this time, I touch base with Anthony Vogels, topper of UIP in Thailand. Anthony ,who has been stationed here close to five years now (How time has flown!), has worked tirelessly in the Thai market trying not only to maximize returns on UIP’s blockbusters, but to diversify the marketplace by introducing films like No Country for Old Men, The Kite Runner and Atonement, which ordinarily would have passed by Southeast Asia.

Anthony called not only to personally invite me to a press party that will preview their openings for the coming year, but also to crow a bit about the company's performance in 2008.

For MPA companies in Thailand, UIP in 2008 had a 44.2% market share, releasing 24 pictures and taking in 650 million baht (US$18.6 million), the company's highest-grossing year in its history of Thai operations.

Additionally, they released the highest-grossing film in Thailand last year, The Mummy Returns, which earned 122.3 million baht (approximately $3.5 million). But what really makes Anthony jump for joy is Paramount's Iron Man taking in 78 million baht ($2.2 million), beating out Warner's The Dark Knight.

Enthusiastic about his ’09 lineup, Anthony declared, "With all the talk about a downturn, there still is life in the market. People want value for their money and filmed entertainment provides that."

He then added, "However, we have learned that we have to be more businesslike in our approach to the market. Gone are the days of ordering 200 prints. We are smarter now with our releases. This also helps with the piracy problem, which has not gotten any better here. We've gone to more day-and-date releases, which means we now have to work harder from day one."

Anthony, "Good on ya, mate," from someone who has watched the total movie market in Thailand grow over the last 16 years. UIP’s growth in our market certainly owes a lot to your understanding and hard work.

Chan Joins China Association
Finally, if you missed the announcement (and you probably did since it was caught up in the end of the year revelry), Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan was named vice chairman of the China Film Association based in Beijing in late December. Chan is the first Hong Kong resident to be chosen for the Chinese equivalent of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. CFA sponsors the annual Hundred Flowers Film Festival, which presents the prestigious Golden Rooster Awards, China's equivalent of the Oscars.

Also joining Chan at CFA are fellow Hong Kong residents, actor Andy Lau (Protégé) and directors Peter Chan (The Warlords) and Gordon Chan (Painted Skin).

Contact Asia-Pacific bureau chief Scott Rosenberg with your news items at (662) 982-4525, by fax at (662) 982-4526, or by e-mail at scott.rosenberg@gmail.com.