Sunday, 24 November 2019

“It’s the Prime Minister.
Let’s show some respect...”

The Cave
Death Wave
The Cave (นางนอน), based on the true story of last year’s miraculous cave rescue, opened in cinemas this week. The film sticks solidly to the facts, with several key participants playing themselves. It’s tense and dramatic, and begins in medias res: the very first line of dialogue is “Let’s go to the cave.” There’s a moment of Ace in the Hole-style social commentary—a vendor selling lottery tickets at the cave entrance—though one scene stands out as comic relief: the arrival of the Prime Minister.

Before the PM appears, he’s formally announced: “It’s the Prime Minister. Let’s show some respect.” Though while he was on-screen, there were chuckles from the cinema audience. The character has a close physical likeness to Prayut Chan-o-cha, and he serves no purpose other than to give gift baskets to the divers. He also uses broken English (like Prayut himself), telling one diver: “Oh! You marry her, visa no problem.”

The Cave is one of only a handful of films to feature Thai Prime Ministers, due to censorship of political content and public apathy towards politics. A biopic of Plaek Phibunsongkhram was abandoned in 1988 due to a lawsuit from his estate. Similarly, a Sarit Thanarat biopic—provisionally titled จอมพล (‘marshal’)—was vetoed by the censors in 2002. Sarit did feature briefly in the horror movie Zee Oui: The Man-Eater (ซี-อุย), ordering the swift execution of Zee Oui for political expediency.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป’ไทย) discusses Thaksin Shinawatra, and the film’s distributor asked the director incredulously: “How can you put a film with Thaksin in the cinema?” Sulak Sivaraksa makes a similar point in the documentary itself, saying: “Your movie shouldn’t waste too much time on Thaksin.” (That line received applause at cinema screenings.)

In Ing Kanjanavanit’s banned Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย), Macbeth is reimagined as a Thaksin-like figure, and the similarity is noted self-referentially when a policeman says: “Your actor looks like our Dear Leader. Is this intentional?” Wisit Sasanatieng’s The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) features a Prime Minister who abandons his principles once he assumes office, reneging on a pre-election pledge to ban nuclear power. Wisit claims that he “didn’t set out to criticise any particular prime minister... I only want to mock those who began as good guys fighting for the poor, then, like Darth Vader, they become villains once they have power.” That sounds awfully like a description of Thaksin.

The disaster movie Death Wave (13-04-2022 วันโลกสังหาร) features Thailand’s most ludicrous cinematic Prime Minister, portrayed as a holier-than-thou figure who selflessly sacrifices his career for the greater good: “the lives and safety of my people are more valuable than my assumed position... I’m willing to lose everything in exchange for the lives of my people.” He even becomes an action hero, rescuing a busload of drowning children while a news reporter praises “our Prime Minister’s fearless courage.” Needless to say, that PM was entirely fictional.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Epic December

Cleopatra
Ben-Hur
Following this month’s Judy Garland Focus, next month will be Epic December at Bangkok Screening Room. The season begins with Cleopatra, the last gasp of the Hollywood studio system and one of the most expensive films in cinema history. Another highlight is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, winner of a record eleven Oscars. And no epic season would be complete without the ultimate Hollywood classic, Gone with the Wind.

Cleopatra is showing on 1st and 28th December. Ben-Hur will be screened on 21st and 29th December. Gone with the Wind is playing on 7th and 15th December. Back in 2010, Gone with the Wind was the last film ever screened at Siam Theater; it was also shown at Scala in 2017, and at Lido (with Ben-Hur) in 2007.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Judy Garland Focus

The Wizard of Oz
Meet Me in St. Louis
Bangkok Screening Room will be showing some classic Judy Garland musicals this month. The Judy Garland Focus season includes The Wizard of Oz (screening tomorrow and 23rd November) and Meet Me in St. Louis (on 16th and 24th November).

Monday, 4 November 2019

Never Again

Never Again
Never Again
Never Again
Never Again
Thai political protesters of all persuasions have used clothing and accessories as markers of political identity. Medallions were distributed at the funerals of 13th October 1973 massacre victims. (Reproductions were issued with a book commemorating the event.) The UDD and PAD movements are both better known by the colour of their respective clothes—red-shirts and yellow-shirts—and both groups also used plastic hand-clappers at their rallies. Later, the PDRC protesters were nicknamed whistle-blowers, not because they were exposing corruption but because they blew whistles at their protests.

These simple artefacts are souvenirs of protests attended, and symbols of the deeply polarised nature of modern Thai politics. A collection of more recent political emphemera is currently on show in Bangkok, at the Never Again exhibition. The items on display, including UDD calendars and water bowls, were all declared illegal by the junta in the years following the 2014 coup. The exhibition also features a large collection of anti-junta t-shirts.

The main exhibit is the white shirt worn by New Democracy Movement member Sirawith Seritiwat when he was attacked by thugs on 28th June. His bloodstained shirt highlights the violence of the attack, and serves as a potent reminder of the anti-democratic vigilantism that has existed in Thailand for more than forty years. (Stickers from the New Democracy Movement are also included, though their banned ‘seven reasons to vote no’ leaflet is missing.)

Never Again: Seize, Trample, Repeat, Change (หยุด ย่ำ ซ้ำ เดิน) was organised by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO that also published the recent book ราษฎรกำแหง (‘dissident citizens’). The exhibition was previously held at Chiang Mai University (from 11th to 16th August), and is now at WTF Gallery (from 1st to 10th November).

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Short Film Marathon

Short Film Marathon
Short Film Marathon
100 Times Reproduction of Democracy
The annual Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน) began yesterday at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya. More than 400 films will be screened, in alphabetical order, until 12th December, and the cream of the crop will be selected for the forthcoming 23rd Short Film and Video Festival. Attendees at yesterday’s launch were given bib numbers, just like a real marathon. (Fortunately, no actual running was required.)

The first programme included Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s new film 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้). The film begins with a self-reflexive commentary on artistic reproduction: 100 Times Reproduction of ‘A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar’ (การผลิตซ้ำภาพยนตร์สั้นเรื่องไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่งจำนวน 100 ครั้ง), which itself incorporates A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar (ไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่ง), Chulayarnnon’s award-winning entry at the 17th Short Film and Video Festival. Scenes from that film (a patient with arthritis exercising and visiting her doctor) are repeated, and the director sells 100 DVD copies of it and gives away 100 copies of his award certificate.

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy then transitions into the equally repetitive issue of Thai politics: the cycle of coups has been reproduced a dozen times since the democratic revolution of 1932. The film shows how one symbol can be replaced with another, with the removal of a plaque commemorating the revolution. Chulayarnnon also filmed the PDRC’s ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ rallies—as he did in Myth of Modernity and Here Comes the Democrat Party (ประชาธิปัตย์มาแล้ว)—and Rap Against Dictatorship’s performance of Which Is My Country (ประเทศกูมี) earlier this year. The song is juxtaposed with footage from Children’s Day of toddlers posing with tanks and machine guns, showing how militarism is inculcated at an extremely young age.