Monday, November 27, 2017

Butterfly Man - A film.

Aged 23 I had to see the world.
I had a  friend traveling through South East Asia and she'd send me postcards and letters from Laotian paddy fields and tropical beaches – handwriting slanted slightly to the left, tales of opium dens, and body massages, it seemed magical, mysterious, partially undiscovered, I had to know more..
Secretly I  made plans to travel East.  
I read The Beach as did most of the other rat racers that summer and decided to hit the road. Consumed guidebooks at the rate Trump consumes cheeseburgers. India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, a plan was hatched. By September 2001, just after the twin towers were struck, I was packed, all set, and ready to leave the West behind forever.

Sixteen years and a couple of months flash by and I’m sitting in the nine seat cinema at the Friese Green film club awaiting Kaprice Kea’s Butterfly Man - a film about a young man encountering Thailand for the first time. Also celebrating are a fair sized audience some of whom were involved in the original production. So we had all pretty much been here for the long haul, looking back on how things were a decade and half before, perhaps a little too rose-tintedly.

Adam arrives in Bangkok with his girlfriend and they abruptly split-up over a minor disagreement, but the relationship’s been on the slide for a while and when Adam finds his significant other in the guesthouse room next door with a dreadlocked sandal seller we know the honeymoon is truly over. Thailand has a habit of testing Western boy-girl-relationships and in this case the couple split in less than 24 hours.  

The lovers split their separate ways and Adam heads to Ko Samui, determined to see out his holiday. Here he meets a character many of us know (and if we don’t know one we might just be him) - the middle-aged boozy expat not above dalliance with indigenous females – Joey - played brilliantly in this case by Francis Magee. Joey convinces Adam to visit a massage joint where we're introduced to Em the beautiful masseuse who Adam falls for and thus begins the vortex, the downward spiral, the lies, the mistruths, the deceptions that often follow an East West relationship.
Em retains her typical Thai conservative streak, hoping perhaps Adam will hold out for marriage and the house in the village. Inpatient and frustrated Adam hooks up with Noi one of the many bargirls on the beach and has to confess to Em that he has suddenly metamorphosed into a straight up, genuine Butterfly Man – a lover who goes from lady to lady, taking a piece of pollen from each as he so does. But Lady Fate doesn’t smile on those men who spread it about on the islands, things continue to spiral down for Adam his triangular love affair leading to him being drugged, and robbed and finally having to beg on the beach in a charming sequence of som nom na – serves’ you right.

Our old friend Joey returns and offers Adam a chance to make some quick cash on the neighboring Ko Phangnan. After some indecision he makes it over to meet a character named No Name, a statuesque blond, played by Abigail Good who pedals a shady sideline. 

Adam uncovers a human trafficking ring and rescues Em by stowing her away on a boat where she lies in his arms, having married him in a brief ceremony conducted by the charmingly Thai boat captain. Events unfold in a tragically entertaining fashion and this is all weaved together seamlessly as the final twist and turns lead Adam to Em’s Isaan village where he is making a new life for himself in the real Thailand.

Overall a rewarding picture. The score by Stephen Bentley-Klein is worth mentioning along with the title track by Skye Edwards (formerly of the band Morcheeba). Producer Tom Waller did a sterling job putting it all together and the cinematography was at times sublime. The acting from the foreign cast was impressive throughout and a few roles really shone. A film entitled Butterfly Man was bound to have the odd Thai / foreigner cliché, and was at times charmingly naïve, but that doesn’t take anything away from the movie. This is in many ways a better, more honest movie than Danny Boyle’s adaptation of The Beach and for those who first came to the Kingdom before the omnipresent mobile telephone, cyber stickers, and emjois Butterfly Man is a nostalgic treat full of personal memories and hidden rewards and it is well worth hunting down a copy or a download. 

You can buy the DVD HERE

Monday, September 4, 2017

Ghost House

There’s just something about a packed cinema theater in the center of town. We’d arrived just after the billed show-time and have settled for front row seats – that's me, and and my eleven-year-old son Louie, who is underage for this 15 rated movie, but what are dads there for if not for smuggling underage kids into theaters to watch adult horror movies? 

GHOST HOUSE begins with a gorgeous shot - tangerine sunset, airplane landing on Bangkok concrete and we know we are in pretty safe hands with director Rich Ragsdale's team.
Julie and Jim are on a romantic holiday in exotic Thailand. They get engaged using somewhat expository dialog, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. It's a bit clunky but it looks great and sounds good and the story is set up early on. We know that Julie's camera and her curiosity aren't leading anywhere pleasant.  
Julie busies herself with photographing spirit houses (what could go wrong there, then?) when the couple meet two fellow travelers who are out to trick them

Fast forward to a night out in Bangkok's (or was that shot in Pattaya?) and the following morning spells a trip to a spooky forest where an ancient curse is transferred to Julie. She's swiftly possessed by an angry ghost and before long Julie is laid down in Gogo's relative's shack as the local monks try to unsuccessfully dislodge the spirit from her.
Their driver and guide Gogo is played by talented Bangkok actor Michael New who sparks some Thai fun and humor into proceedings. Russell Geoffrey Banks cheekily plays Robert the untrustworthy fellow traveler, and, Mark Boone Jr plays the jaded expat who has some local knowledge. 

There's some sweet red filtered cinematography as the couple seek out Boone Jr in the seedy part of town. As it transpires the jaded expat knows some locals and they discover that the curse is like a ghostly hot potato that must be passed on to another if Julie is to be freed of the spell.

The film plays out predictably but satisfactory with some nice twists towards the end. The jump factor at the cinema was real enough with some screams coming from behind. I particularly enjoyed the circular plot pattern of Gogo meeting new tourists fresh off the plane - thus the horror will continue, 

My only real niggle with the story is that we don't get to understand the antagonist as much as I'd liked to. What makes her tick, what does she want? Will she come back?  

All in all GHOST HOUSE is a pleasant surprise for horror in the region and guess what? No CGI -  just a great film score, locations, excellent supporting cast, nifty make-up, overall a worthwhile cinema experience if horror is your thing.               

Playing at theaters in Bangkok now.  

Friday, August 25, 2017

On Something

THREE new books in a new series.

On Isaan chronicles my very first short stories.

On Pulp is a collection of the early pulp stories.

On Bangkok a number of articles written about my adopted home.

These are up for grabs on all the usual platforms.

On Bangkok is FREE on iTunes.

All are up for sale and all the usual platforms.

Picture by Mark Desmond Hughes

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Gong of the Pong

I’m late for the show I curse myself walking up the three flights of stairs.

Walls decorated with lucid graffiti, a black cat shimmies past, and that dubious odor bringing back inner-city memories of the council flat kind. There's an elevator leading up to where the Black Pagoda stands predatory above Pat Pong Two - but - we got no time to wait - through two industrial doors, towards the band who are launching into a familiar number:

Waiting for my Man.

The crowd are young, old, hipster, mobster, industrial, New Age, Asian, Pan Asian, Western, and alien. Go-go dancers mingle between the crooks and trannies in the crowd....

Matthew Ficsher and his Band launch into The Velvet Underground’s Waiting for my Man. 

I complemented Gary Boyle after this, their final song, and told him I dug his skillful rendition of John Cale’s sarcastic bass line from the debut banana record. “I just listened to the live double album a couple of days ago,” he smiled.

Of course Boyle is testing me - every schoolboy knows Doug Yule bothered the four strings on that live record.  John Cale left the group and stuck around in New York.

And who could blame him?  - Performing to strippers and Drag Queens at Andy Warhol’s Factory or middle road obscurity playing in an empty basketball court in Utah?

Which would you chose?

John Cale chose the dirty gritty gender bending underground, and tonight, ladies and gentleman, so have we.

Next on stage Murder Bizkitz

The four piece play a hybrid of death metal guitar, with punk sneer and snatches of melody that have the dancing girls, well, dancing. Singer Amy Anthrax works the stage well, and the band are tight and full of beans.

This is all looking promising...    

The fresh-faced singer for Penny Time looks pretty much at home in the The Black Pagoda. And so he should, the band have some tunes. The crowd are lifted, the dancers explore their options and the night whirls on to the rhythm of the Rickenbacker.

Progressive indie outfit Count the Thief are next on stage and blast through a flawless set, the crowd are liking it, we have the sense we're at an event. Singer Danny jokes with the crowd between songs as the night accelerates forward.

Degaruda are what the people have been waiting for. The band are playing another farewell gig in the city soon, and you'd be foolish not to catch them. Intricate guitar work, complex melodies, this is an intelligent, accomplished band performing at a top level and the perfect headline act for The Gong of the Pong.

Bar Manager and entrepreneur Joe Delaney has pulled off what might be a first for Bangkok - progressive live local bands performing back to back in a red light gentleman's club.      

It may be a new direction for Bangkok, but back in Europe it's wondrously old hat. The Beatles left their Merseyside stomping grounds to play a two year stint of gigs in German strip clubs.

Haven’t times changed?

Or have they?

The Beat Goes On ...

Next up at the Gong of the Pong is the Beatles Versus The Stones.
Check the page here for DETAILS

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sound and Vision.


The audio version of the book is just about to be released and here's a sneak preview. Read by Jon Wilkins, with music by Keith Nolan, and camera work by Alasdair McLeod....

The Beat Goes On....