Bangkok International

Film Festival 2003

Nigel Watson

Talking Pictures alias






About Us



Opening Ceremony
Gala Night
Stunts and Fights
Bangkok and the River
Closing Events
Web References


The 5th annual Bangkok International Film Festival (10 to 21 January, 2003) was planned to highlight the very best in global filmmaking under the theme Masters to Present. Call me mad but when I was invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand  to attend the festival I was not very keen on going. With a bit of gentle persuasion I filled in their forms and waited to see if it was a misguided wind-up. I could not believe I was really going until I got my airline tickets at Heathrow airport. 

The 11 hour long flight was very pleasant (I'm used to travelling with my young children - not for the faint hearted) and it gave me a chance to do some uninterrupted reading. I didn't know what to expect but I need not have worried. Coming from the cold and wet countryside of Devon where I live to the hot sprawling city of Bangkok was something of a shock to the system especially combined with jet lag, but I enjoyed every minute of it. 

On returning to Britain I've read one description of Bangkok as being an Asian version of Birmingham - I think that was intended as an insult. Sure the place is congested and polluted like most cities but it has lots to offer for the tourist and for the film-goer there are plenty of first-class air-conditioned multiplex cinemas in and around the Siam Square district.

It took me a couple of days to orientate myself but the tourism authority staff and volunteers were extremely helpful although I don't think they always understood what I was saying (sometimes I don't even understand what I'm saying). At the newly opened Conrad Hotel where I had a fine room with a view, and the various festival events, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with fellow film journalists from Australia, Taiwan, France and Scandanavia. It was good to compare notes and discover that they were equally knocked out by the fine food, music and hospitality given to us in Bangkok. All this, plus films and film stars, made this an outstanding festival.

Patrick de
                  Bokay at the opening ceremony.Besides gala banquets and premieres the festival held a wide range of cultural events, conferences, industry workshops, lectures and the presentation of the first annual Golden Kinnaree Awards. An international jury judged the Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Film during the festival’s five-day Golden Kinnaree Competition. Based on an ancient and revered Thai mythological figure, the Golden Kinnaree Award (designed by renowned Thai artist Asst. Prof. Preecha Thaothong, Dean of the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts of Silpakorn University) is hoped to become the most highly regarded prize for filmmaking in Southeast Asia. 

“We anticipate that the Golden Kinnaree Competition will become to Asia the equivalent of Cannes’ Palme d’Or in Europe,”said Patrick de Bokay, worldwide Executive Director of the festival. 

The films that competed in the Golden Kinnaree Awards were:

A Tale of a Naughty Girl (India) – directed by Buddhadeb Dasgupta, starring Tapas Pal and Ramgopal Bajaj.

Dirty Deeds (Australia) – directed by David Ceasar and starring Bryan Brown, Barry Ryan, Toni Collette and John Goodman.

Dolls (Japan) – directed by Takeshi Kitano and starring Miho Kanno and Hidetoshi Nishijima.

Frida (USA) - directed by Julie Taymor and starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, Edward Norton and Geoffrey Rush.

Fureur (France) – directed by Karim Dridi and starring Samuel Le Bihan, Yu Nan and Samart Payakarun, Yann Tregout

Small Voices (Philippines) – directed by Gil M. Portes, starring Dexter Dorta, Alessandra de Rossi, Gina Alajar and Amy Austria.

Quiet American (USA) – directed by Phillip Noyce, starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. 

Suplement (Poland) – directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, starring Pawel Okraska and Monika Krzywkonska.

The Man Without a Past (Finland) – directed by Aki Kaurismaki, starring Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Juhani Niemela and Annikki Tahti.

Kedma (Israel) directed by Amos Gitari, starring Andrei Kashkar, Helena Yaralova and Yusuf Abu-Warda.

Talk to Her (Spain) – directed by Pedro Almodovar, starring Rosario Flores, Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti and Leonor Watling.

Mekhong Full Moon Party (Thailand) – directed by Jira Maligoll, starring Anuchid Sapanphong, Tidarat Chareongchaichana and Noppadol Duangporn.

Evelyn (USA) – directed by Bruce Beresford, starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianna Margulies (in the process of final confirmation).

A major highlight was a special tribute to French director Agnes Varda (Cleo de 5 a 7, Les Cents et une Nuits, Sans Toit Ni Loi, Le Bonheur) that was held during the festival. 

Prior to the start of the Golden Kinnaree Competition, the festival began on 10 January with the opening of four films: 8 Woman, , Blue Gate Crossing, and a Thai film. Following the opening, the first seven days of the festival included Anima 2003, a screening and competition of animated films, and the Bangkok Short Film Festival. 

On 20 January the festival hosted a celebrity golf tournament: an exclusive and lavish event designed for its VIP guests. Golfers enjoyed the finest golf experience in all of Thailand at the Rajpreuk Club, a club boasting an international standard 18-holes. They spared no expense here, this course was great rivalling that of some of the finest golf courses and Miami hotels we see on TV.

The festival closed on 21 January with the presentation of the Kinnaree Awards and the screening of a Thai film, Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, a celebration of Thai Martial arts, which is expected to be one of next year’s local blockbusters.

In addition to the films being screened, a highlight of the festival was a lavish gala dinner on 18 January. The event presented an evening of music, exquisite cuisine and traditional Thai entertainment. Academy Award-winning composer Maurice Jarre conducted the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra in a concert of film scores following the festival’s theme Masters to Present.

The Muay Thai Boxing Tournament, was held on 19 January, and was another exciting activity offered to the public. The legendary Muay Thai Champion Samart Payakarun hosted the tournament which also included stunt packages featuring images of next year’s blockbusters in action genre. The film Fureur in which Mr. Payakarun stars also had its world premiere in Bangkok.

Two unique workshops were also be held at this year’s festival. The first on 18 January  was a Digital Cinema Workshop exploring how digital cinema enhances and impacts the creative process. Moderated by Scott Ross, Chairman and CEO of Digital Domain, the workshop also discussed the ins-and outs of digital distribution and featured exclusive first-look clips of James Cameron’s 3D IMAX film Ghosts of the Abyss, a documentary that uses new underwater digital technology to capture never-before-seen images inside the sunken Titanic. Other participants confirmed on the panel included Susan O’Leary from Fox Searchlab and Ellen Eliasoph from Warner Bros.

Opening Ceremony

The BIFF officially opened on Friday, 17 January 2003 at the Scala Cinema, Siam Square, Bangkok, where a huge crowd gathered outside to watch the stars and celebrities arrive.

Outside the Scala at the
                  official opening ceremony.TV crews and photographers were everywhere. There was excitement at the spectacle of limousines bringing familiar Asian and international stars to the red carpet that led to the Scala entrance. Jennifer Tilley, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damee were the main international film stars to appear.

After much waiting around the ceremony began with choreographed dance featuring women dressed as the mythical Kinnaree creature. The Kinnaree has the head and torso of a human with the body and legs of a bird. As it is known for its graceful form and skills at song and dance it was seen as the appropriate symbol for this festival’s newly inaugurated Golden Kinnaree Awards.This ceremony was a sight to see, the extravagance of this ceremony was something you would see at the best Chicago hotels or banquet halls in Hollywood. Like most opening ceremonies there were speeches and tributes given by valued and honoured guests.

Jennifer Tilly at
                  the opening ceremony.At the opening ceremony there was a sugary and embarrassing tribute to the Grandmother of the French New Wave cinema, Agnes Varda. After this glowing speech about her contribution to world cinema she came on stage and modestly accepted her Golden Kinnaree Lifetime Achievement Award with a simple thank you.

The opening film for the festival was Frida (dir. Julie Taymor, USA, 2002). This is based on the life story of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Although full of tragedy and incident, it just seemed overwhelmingly glossy and lacked the substance and guts of its subject.

Afterwards there was what they called a ‘heavy cocktail’, which consisted of a buffet, cocktails and a choice of lots of other drinks as well. The most I remember is that there was a huge crash of plates and glasses from a shelf that couldn’t take the strain. Seconds afterwards a man passed by me muttering “I’m not paying for it.”

Just before the screening I saw the figure of Steven Seagal surrounded by fans. The Bangkok Post a few days later rather cruelly called him over-weight and past-his-prime. Later on Jean-Claude Van Damme made an appearance at the heavy cocktail, but the significance of this only came apparent when somebody told me that Seagal and Damme hate each other and won’t stay in the same room. So if you saw Seagal you knew Damme would be absent and vice versa! Ah, these stars!

Gala Night

Jean-Claude Van Damme at the Gala Night.The Gala Ball evening took place at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre on Saturday,  18 January. It was an opulent celebration of film and Thai culture. Maurice Jarre conducted the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra who played his most famous soundtrack compositions (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia). Between the selections of music he told several humorous anecdotes about the tribulations of being a film composer. He told us that one film director asked him if he could score music for a film, but to save money he only wanted a trumpet to be used. That was bad enough but as he was leaving the director’s office he had the cheek to ask if Jarre could play the trumpet!

During the interval we were whisked to a sumptuous buffet of Thai food and cocktails. Then we attended the Gala Ball Dinner itself, which was attended by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. There was music by a traditional Thai group (Fongnam) and a ‘Fashion Show Magnifique, Magnifique’ by Nagara/Jim Thompson.

As we ate the fine food the music filled our ears and the dancers literally twirled, spun and flew above the stage. If that was not enough there was a short but spectacular firework display on the terrace outside the Convention Centre. It was certainly worth putting my dinner jacket on for and I even got to photograph Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Stunts and Fights

                  Characters Visit Siam Square.Siam Square is a shopping centre and a place where you will find a clustering of many of Bangkok’s best cinemas. Most of these cinemas were used for the festival (e.g. the Scala, the Lido Marketplace and EGV Discovery multiplex. The nearby Major Cineplex at the World Trade Center and SF Cinemas at the Maboonkrong Center were also used for the screenings).

On Sunday afternoon, 19 January they held a film stunt show and Muay Thai Boxing Tournament in the Siam Discovery Plaza. It was a long afternoon that began with Warner Bros. cartoon characters appearing from the specially built stage. Daffy Duck, The Tasmanian Devil, Tweety Pie and Sylvester appeared but Bugs Bunny must have been otherwise engaged. By ‘coincidence’ a brand new Warner Brothers Studio Store was being opened just across the road.

Stuntman On Fire.After that there were several demonstrations and shows featuring Muay Thai boxing and action stunts. In the latter case there was a fight with burning torches that culminated in a stunt man being set on fire. Unfortunately,  they had trouble dousing his flames. Long seconds passed as they tried to extinguish the flames. The man finally leapt from the ground and seemed to be ok. He and the rest of the team left looking suitably shocked by this turn of events. This showed just how dangerous such stunts are and I’m sure that in the making of most action movies many hides are burnt and bones broken (animals seem to be better protected).

Sitting at the side-lines sipping cold beer I enjoyed the show and I appreciated the help of Rakjit Kittikamron of the Tourism Authority of Thailand for translating the proceedings when necessary.

Closing Events

Scala Cinema,
                  Bangkok.The festival officially ended where it began, at the Scala cinema. Again a large crowd, TV crews and photographers gathered to view the guests and celebrities make their red carpet arrivals.

Inside the cinema the first presentation of prizes was given to 17 people who had been part of a film viewing marathon. For continuously viewing films for 64 hours and 58 minutes they will earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

After that Mr Somsak Techaratanaprasert, President of the Federation of National Film Association of Thailand gave an award for the Best Asian Movie to A Tale Of A Naughty Girl (dir. Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India, 2002).

This was followed by a short closing speech by Mrs Juthamas Sirlwan the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. She said that this festival showed that Thailand is truly a centre of cinematic excellence and creativity. The “festival was phenomenally successful” and she went on to say that “we will look back at January 2003 as a significant date”. In conclusion, the Bangkok International Film Festival was “a job well done.”

The stars and director of the closing movie of the festival, Ong-Bak, then assembled on the stage for the benefit of the TV cameras and photographers. The director, Prachya Pinkaew, acknowledged the inspiration of action movies and stars like Bruce Lee.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior is full of fighting and action sequences. The plot of a village boy going to Bangkok to retrieve the head of a Buddha statue taken from his village’s temple is thin. Yet, this does not really matter as the action sequences are excellently staged and shot. Besides lots of running, fighting with fists, feet, knives, and all manner of furniture, there is an exciting chase through the city using lots of Tuk Tuk taxis.

After all the action in Ong-Bak we took a calmer trip on a coach to the Golden Kinnaree Awards Presentation at the Oriental Hotel. As this was in the early evening when the traffic is even more congested than usual a police motobike escort guided us to the event.

Golden Kinnarees
                  In The Flesh.The opulent Oriental served as a grand setting for the awards ceremony, which was attended by Princess Ubolratana at the top table.

The young women dressed as the Golden Kinnaree made another appearance, and gave a surreal feel to the event as they danced and mingled with the guests.

The Golden Kinarees were awarded to:

Best Feature Film: Talk To Her (dir. Pedro Almodovar)
Best Director: Pedro Almodovar
Best Actress: Kati Outinen (The Man Without A Past)
Best Actor: Michael Caine (The Quiet American)
Best Script: Aki Kaurismaki (The Man Without A Past)

I was surprised that no envelopes were opened to announce the winners and that there were no acceptance speeches. This was due to the fact that none of the winners were present. Representatives of the winners did collect the Golden Kinnares from the Princess; except in the case of Michael Caine whose representative was also absent when the time came to collect the award!

For future presentations it would be good if they showed a clip of the winning film accompanied by a few words about why it was chosen before the award is given.

Web References

For information about events in Thailand use the TAT link.

The Age has an article 'Bangkok finds its Golden Kinnaree' by Ruth Hessey that provides a critical but fair overview of the festival and the state of Thai filmmaking in general.

I have also written about film festivals in general: The Sense and Sensationalism of Film Festivals.
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Material Copyright © 2003 Nigel Watson