SEASSI 2010 Film Series

 


Tuesday, July 27, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.    Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
SEASSI film series image Tain Tway Thwar Tae Lann (On the Trail of Clouds), 2009. dir. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi. 152 min.
     When it comes to Burmese films released in Burma, it’s hard to define “popular,” so it’s hard to determine exactly whether this movie technically fits into our theme this year of “Popular Southeast Asian Movies”. There has been some positive feedback on this film on the web (where I first heard about it), both in terms of storyline and especially production values. SEASSI Burmese instructor Than Than Win points out that the dialog is mostly carried out in literary, not colloquial style, and that there’s a subtle critique of the government at the end of the film.
     Story-wise, “Trail of Clouds” is a murder mystery/courtroom drama, involving a mysterious wealthy, powerful woman accused of murdering her business partner. She then hires an attorney to defend her, who must go up against his girlfriend, the prosecutor, in the courtroom. The main interest in this film for SEASSI students, though, is that it’s a rare chance to see a Burmese movie intended for local audiences which has English subtitles...most Burmese films we show for SEASSI film night are documentaries, just because subtitled narrative films are so hard to come by. So come out and see one more film this summer, to close out our film series! In Burmese with English subtitles.

 

Poster of SEASSI 2010 Film Series


SEASSI film series image Tuesday, June 15, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.    Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
Yam Yasothon (Lao)
      Yam Yasothon is the Lao entry in the SEASSI Film Series this summer. While the film was made in Thailand, virtually all of the dialogue in the film is in Lao, albeit the variety of Lao (commonly called "Isan," which means northeast) spoken as a native language by the close to 20 million ethnic Lao who are Thai citizens and come from the northeastern part of the country. To give you an idea of just how "Lao" the film is, when it appeared in Thai theaters, the entire movie was subtitled in Thai!
     Yam Yasothon (Yam is the name of the lead character in the film; Yasothon is the northeast province in which it takes place...nevertheless, the official English title of the film is "Hello Yasothon") is a musical romantic comedy typical of the well-known television and film performances of its director and star, Petchtai Wongkamlao (popularly known as Mum Jokmok).
     While a plot of frustrated/embattled young love definitely anchors the movie, the story unfolds more as a series of discreet comedy sketches typical of Thai TV comedy shows. Despite the overall light-hearted flavor of the film, a wide range of important social themes are addressed: language use in Thai society, class stratification, romantic love vs. "arranged marriage," urban/rural tensions (particularly germain to the recent political conflict in Thailand), attitudes toward skin color/beauty, and the phenomenon of rural Isan Thais migrating to Bangkok for economic reasons--a trend that was really only just beginning in the 1960s, but is in full flower today.
     The film is set in 1967, but is shot in a highly exaggerated, super-saturated world of color and outlandish "mod" fashions, and achieves a visual feel not unlike the filmic look established by Thai "new wave" director Wisit Sasanathieng ("Tears of the Black Tiger," "Citizen Dog"). Unlike the "art house" films of Wisit, however, this is strictly local fare, hugely popular with Thai audiences.


SEASSI film series image Tuesday, June 22, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.    Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
Nhung Co Gai Chan Dai ("Long-legged Women"), dir. Vu Ngoc Dang, 2004. 95 minutes. Vietnamese with English subtitles.
      Robert Altman's film "The Player" hilariously parodies the terse, "give-em-your-idea-in-as-few-words-as-possible" style in which ideas for potential Hollywood movies are pitched to producers. The pitch for "Nhung Co Gai Chan Dai" might go something like this: "Flashdance, set in Saigon, only with fashion models".
     Students of film will be quick to point out the many visual and verbal cliches used in this movie, and it's easy to compare it to the work of American directors like McG and dismiss it as little more than a feature-length music video, heavy on image and light on substance. But once one accepts all of that, it's a charming and highly watchable film. And, in keeping with the theme of this year's SEASSI film series, the film was hugely popular in Vietnam.
    "Nhung Co Gai Chan Dai" is historically important in modern Vietnamese cinema as well. Along with Gai Nhay ("Bar Girls," 2003) it signaled the appearance of a new, realist wave of films playing to popular desires and interests and pushing government censorship to the limit. While this film falls far short of the gritty, hard-hitting, quasi-documentary feel and subject matter of the excellent "Gai Nhay," it nevertheless is notable for dealing with issues of traditional versus popular culture., family duty versus personal aspiration, and women's "proper" behavior in Vietnamese society. It's also the first Vietnamese film in which a gay relationship was openly portrayed, though what happens to that relationship in the course of the film makes the portrayal ultimately something of a double-edged sword. .
     The film also offers some great slices of life from modern Ho Chi Minh City, and Beginning Vietnamese students will be encouraged by the fact that they can understand many snatches of dialog, spoken not by their teachers but by the actors, in naturalistic [Saigon] dialect, after only studying one week at SEASSI!


SEASSI film series image Tuesday, June 29, Note Time Change 6:45 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.    Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
Quickie Express, 2007 dir. Dimas Djayadiningrat. 2 hrs. Indonesian with English subtitles.
      Quickie Express is a madcap comedy which did very well at the Indonesian box office. It’s set in the urban nightlife and high society of Jakarta, and follows the adventures of Jojo, a down-on-his-luck 20-something working class male. He finds his new calling as a sex worker servicing wealthy socialite women, along with new-found sidekicks Piktor and Marley. Some of the humor is subtle, much of it is “lowbrow”. At times, the film feels like part “Boogie Nights”, part “Le Femme Nikita”, and part “Pretty Woman”.
     Our “non-politically correct” disclaimer for this year’s SEASSI film series is definitely relevant here, not the least of which for the fact that the film portrays sex work as largely light and fun (of course, this has been done before...see “Risky Business”). Nevertheless, some interesting issues related to sex work do come up, which we can certainly discuss following the film. And don’t think this film is at all a “one-trick pony;” some plot twists that come late in the picture steer the story into some very, er, original and unexpected comic territory. Written by Joko Anwar, a well-respected modern Indonesian director of popular and critically acclaimed films such as Janji Joni.
    Note: because of the length of this film, if everyone could please try to show up by 6:45, we can start it early and have some time left over for discussion before we get kicked out of Ingraham Hall!

 


SEASSI film series image Tuesday, July 6, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.    Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
Tum Teaw, 2003. dir. Fay Sam Ang. 1hr. 44min. Khmer with English subtitles.
      Our film this week is based on a Khmer legend local to the province of Kampong Cham. Many swear it to be a representation of actual events, but there’s no historical evidence to back this up. Still, the story is an important and highly popular one in Cambodia, involving a young monk who falls in love with a woman and, against predictions from the abbott of his monastery, leaves the monkhood for her.
     The story was first written down in the early 1800s in the court of “literary king” Ang Duong, and until the 20th Century--as was the case with all Khmer literature--existed only in verse. The specific plot of the story and what happens to the two lovers is noteworthy as well, as it signals--along with other epic poetry of this era--a questioning of long-standing institutions and traditions. In the 1900s, the story was written out in narrative form, adopted into comic book and song-based karaoke versions, and finally made into an extremely popular film. It has also been translated into French and English (the latter version by a former SEASSI Khmer student, as his PhD dissertation!).
    Now, in order to ensure this film’s success, certain elements were mingled with the traditional story, not the least of which a great deal of slapstick and (lightly) bawdy humor. While these elements put the film firmly in the camp of all successful Khmer movies, the production values are quite a bit higher than usual, and, despite the not-too-great English subtitles (you’ll get the main idea, believe me), it’s entertaining to watch and a rare insight for non-Khmer-speakers into several important facets of Khmer culture and literature.


SEASSI film series image Tuesday, July 13, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.    Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
Fan Chan (My Girlfriend), 2003. dir. Vitcha Gojiew, Songyos Sugmakanan et. al. (a total of 6 co-directors). 109 min. Thai with English subtitles.
     Fan Chan was the biggest domestic movie of 2003 in Thailand. It’s been available on DVD for some time now, but only this year was it finally released with English subtitles. Fan Chan tells the story of a Thai man heading back to his home town for the wedding of a childhood friend, the daughter of a neighboring barber who was in competition with the man’s father, also a barber. As he drives to the wedding, in flashbacks we see the story of his childhood and friendship with the girl.
     Fan Chan is very nostalgic for Thais who grew up during the 1980s (when the childhood adventures portrayed in it take place), and features a soundtrack of popular hits from that era. It’s similar in this way to American films such as American Graffiti (for those who grew up in the 50s), The Big Chill (for those who grew up in the 60s), Dazed and Confused (70s), etc. A light-hearted and charming romantic comedy, similar in spirit to the above films with a little “Stand By Me” thrown in.

 

SEASSI film series image
Tuesday, July 20, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.
   Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
Daim Duab, 2008. dir. Tong Thao. 2 hrs. 3 min.
     Daim Duab is a film by up-and-coming Hmong-American director Tong Thao. We’re grateful to him that he sent it to us to show at SEASSI. Set in Fresno, California, Daim Duab is an action/suspense movie with lots of violence, a quite menacing, seemingly unstoppable bad guy, and a love story (and strong lead female character) as well.
     The cinematography and fight-scene choreography is very good for a low-budget, independent production, and the plot, while not incredibly deep or sophisticated, is always kept moving along by the frequent action. The dialog is also mostly quite decent, as is the acting by the lead characters, though there are some rough spots when it comes to minor players. All-in-all a very satisfying and impressive film that accomplishes what it sets out to do. One warning, though: the subtitles are extremely small...so if you can’t speak Hmong, make sure you sit in the front row! In Hmong and English, with English subtitles.


SEASSI film series image

 

Tuesday, July 27, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, 206 Ingraham Hall.    Free and open to the public with discussion following the film.
Mister Suave, 2003. dir. Joyce Bernal. 100 min.
     Mister Suave is a very silly (and very popular when released) Filipino comedy. The loose plot follows the travails of renowned lady’s man Rico Suave and how his friends try to help him out secretly when he loses some of his mojo. In Filipino with English subtitles.

- SEASSI 2009 Film Series

- SEASSI 2008 Film Series

- SEASSI 2007 Film Series
- SEASSI 2005 Film Series

 

 

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Contact Us!
Please direct any questions to the SEASSI Program Coordinator:

Jinda Moore
Center for Southeast Asian Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison
207 Ingraham Hall
1155 Observatory Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
phone: (608) 263-1755 email:
seassi@seasia.wisc.edu