Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Thai Cinema Uncensored
My first book, Thai Cinema Uncensored, went on sale today. Published by Silkworm Books, it is the first full-length history of Thai film censorship, and one of only a handful of English-language books on Thai cinema. The book examines how Thai filmmakers approach culturally sensitive subjects—sex, religion, and politics—and how their films have been banned as a result.

Thai Cinema Uncensored also features interviews with ten leading Thai directors: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Nontawat Numbenchapol, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Yuthlert Sippapak, Ing Kanjanavanit, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Kanittha Kwunyoo, and Surasak Pongson. Films under discussion include Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ), Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ), This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), Insects in the Backyard (อินเส็คส์ อิน เดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด), Shakespeare Must Die, (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย), Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง), Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป’ไทย), Thibaan: The Series 2.2 (ไทบ้านเดอะซีรีส์ 2.2), Karma (อาปัต), and Birth of Golden Snail (กำเนิดหอยทากทอง).

Tucker Carlson Tonight

A Manhattan court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of the Southern District Court in New York ruled on 24th September that comments made by Carlson on his Tucker Carlson Tonight show were “merely rhetorical hyperbole” and thus did not meet the standard of ‘actual malice’ required in defamation cases involving public figures.

The lawsuit was filed by Karen McDougal, who received payment of $150,000 from the National Enquirer to prevent her from publicising her alleged affair with Donald Trump. (This and other so-called ‘catch-and-kill’ payments were made by the supermarket tabloid as part of a business arrangement with Trump.) McDougal sued Carlson after he accused her of extortion in an episode of his show broadcast on 10th December 2018.

Carlson did not refer to McDougal by name, though he stated that two women were paid by Trump. (McDougal and Stormy Daniels are the women in question.) Carlson began his discussion of the case by saying: “Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed. Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. Now, that sounds like a classic case of extortion. Yet, for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom.”

In its defence of Carlson, Fox News argued that his comments “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts”, and that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”. This apparent admission that Carlson should not be taken seriously is all the more surprising given that Carlson characterised his remarks as “the facts of the story.”

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Fatherland

Fatherland
Yuthlert Sippapak’s controversial film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ) received rare public screenings late last night and early this morning at the 14 October 73 Memorial in Bangkok. The film, a drama about the insurgency in southern Thailand, was commissioned by the military, though they withdrew their backing when it became clear that it wasn’t the propaganda vehicle they were expecting. When I interviewed Yuthlert for my forthcoming book, Thai Cinema Uncensored, he told me that Prayut Chan-o-cha asked him a lot of “stupid questions” after watching the film. He also said that the military warned him it could be a dangerous film (“If you show this movie, somebody burns the theatre.”)

In that interview, Yuthlert explained the reason for the controversy: “The [part] that’s so sensitive is ‘เหตุการณ์สงบงบไม่มา’—‘if no war, no money’. Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military. I said that, and I don’t want to take that out. That’s the truth. And they don’t want the truth. I want the truth.” The film addresses this point directly, when a Muslim cleric says: “The violence that is happening is benefiting almost every side. There’s a lot of money. But what we can do is, we can make Thai people understand that what is happening here now is not a religion conflict.”

The film has been in limbo since its completion in 2012. At one stage, Yuthlert even considered building his own cinema in order to show it, though that plan never came to fruition. He has also retitled and repeatedly recut it, though no distributor has agreed to release it. It was screened (free of charge) last night, and shortly after midnight this morning, under the new title Rachida (ราชิดา). (Several early scenes highlight the soldiers’ lack of understanding of local Muslim culture, and the eponymous Rachida—a professor of Islamic studies—is brought in to teach the military about Islam.) Post-production is not yet finished: some shots have a “CG incomplete” caption, and there are no end credits.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา

This morning, police seized 50,000 copies of a booklet before it could be distributed at a pro-democracy protest. The booklet, ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา ข้อเรียกร้องว่าด้วยสถาบันกษัตริย์ (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August: calling for discussion of the monarchy’), contains speeches by four protest leaders—Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Anon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and Panupong Jadnok—including Panusaya’s unprecedented ten-point manifesto on reform of the monarchy.

The four speeches were all delivered at Thammasat University on 10th August, and the booklet was due to be sold at Thammasat, where another protest is taking place today. It was published by the protest organiser, United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration. (Copies of an anti-military booklet published by a similar organisation, the New Democracy Movement, were seized in 2016.)

PDF

Monday, 14 September 2020

Stephff

No More 1976
An exhibition of cartoons by Stephane Peray (known as Stephff) opened last week at the FCCT in Bangkok. Peray’s cartoons were published by The Nation for more than a decade, until the newspaper ended its print edition last year. The works on show at the FCCT are previously unpublished responses to the recent anti-military protest movement, and are even more biting than his usual satirical (and sometimes controversial) cartoons. The exhibition runs from 11th to 24th September.

A highlight is No More 1976, which appropriates Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre. The original photo depicted a vigilante preparing to hit the corpse of a student, though in Peray’s version the power dynamic between the two figures is reversed. The victim has been replaced by a cartoon student (giving a defiant three-finger salute), who towers over his diminutive attacker. (Headache Stencil and Manit Sriwanichpoom have also superimposed images onto Ulevich’s photo.)

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Act สิ Art

Act Art
Act Art
Act Art
In recent years, the space in front of Bangkok’s BACC has served as an ideal stage for anti-government performances by students and other progressive groups. The Free Arts collective continued that tradition with Act สิ Art, an art fair and concert held there yesterday afternoon.

The event was a collaboration between artists (such as Pisitakun Kuntalaeng) and musicians (Rap Against Dictatorship, amongst others). It included art from Speedy Grandma (sketches mocking the military, with coded references to the monarchy) and Unmuted Project.

A shrine-like installation by Yada Kinbaku featured a blue folding chair tied up with red rope. The chair is a reference to Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre, though the piece also refers to the colours of the Thai flag and their symbolic meanings.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Tenet

Tenet
“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

That advice, part of a briefing given to a CIA agent known only as the Protagonist, is well worth following. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is—at least, on first viewing—very confusing indeed, and the sometimes inaudible expository dialogue adds to the confusion. Nolan is rightly praised for making smart blockbusters requiring audience concentration, and I’m sure that Tenet’s plot is watertight on paper (unlike, for example, The Big Sleep), but in this case the narrative feels too convoluted.

As in Nolan’s greatest films, Memento and Inception, time itself is a key element in Tenet’s non-linear plot. The central conceit here is ‘inversion’, a single-word concept like ‘inception’, and a motif from Memento’s opening sequence—a gun being fired in reverse—reappears in Tenet. (The ending borrows a time-travel plot device from The Terminator and a classic quote from Casablanca.)

Tenet is a James Bond movie in all but name, with sharp suits, exotic locations, and a cartoonish villain (“How would you like to die?”). The film features a series of inconsequential MacGuffins, including a nine-part algorithm with unfortunate echoes of the infinity stones from The Avengers. As always, Nolan uses practical special effects, though Tenet lacks the spectacle of Inception or Dunkirk: yes, he bought a 747, but the real plane crashes into a fake building.

Tenet (like several of Nolan’s previous films) was partially shot with IMAX cameras. It’s on theatrical release in multiple formats: IMAX 70mm and IMAX digital laser screenings are projected in the full 1.43:1 IMAX ratio, while IMAX xenon digital screenings are framed at 1.9:1. Non-IMAX 70mm and digital prints are 2.2:1, and 35mm prints are in the standard 2.39:1 widescreen format. The Paragon Cineplex IMAX cinema showed Tenet in IMAX 70mm for the first two days of its release, though the projector broke on the third day (29th August), and subsequent screenings have been digital.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Tears of the Black Tiger

Tears of the Black Tiger
Bangkok’s Alliance Française will screen the Thai New Wave classic Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร) on 9th September. The film was Wisit Sasanatieng’s directorial debut, and it became a cult classic due to its uniquely over-saturated colour palette, its ‘spaghetti western’ violence, and its lakorn-style melodrama. Tears of the Black Tiger has previously been shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017, TCDC in 2016, BACC in 2012, and the Thai Film Archive in 2009 and 2010.

Wisit’s other feature films are Citizen Dog (หมานคร), The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี), The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง), and Senior (รุ่นพี่). He directed the music video เราเป็นคนไทย, the short film Norasinghavatar (นรสิงหาวตาร), and segments of the anthology films Sawasdee Bangkok (สวัสดีบางกอก) and Ten Years Thailand. He also wrote the treatment for Slice (เฉือน), and the screenplays for Nang Nak (นางนาก) and Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง).

The Governance of China III

The Governance of China III
The Governance of China III is the third volume of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s collected speeches, featuring English translations of his official statements delivered between October 2017 and January 2020. Like the previous volumes, published in 2015 and 2017, the book is clearly a propaganda exercise, though it does at least provide a guide to China’s political direction.

Sales of six million were claimed for the first volume, which was published in nine languages. Volume two, published only in Chinese and English, apparently sold thirteen million copies. The true sales statistics are much more modest, however: less than a hundred copies of volume two were sold in the UK. The third volume has not been released there, presumably to avoid similarly embarrassing sales figures.

Volume three follows exactly the same format as its predecessors, and Xi’s remarks offer little commentary on the most significant issues of the day. For example, after the National People’s Congress removed the term limits on his presidency, Xi’s address to the Congress was a bland tribute to the “character and endowment of the Chinese people”. There is no reference to the Hong Kong protest movement, only a reminder that Hong Kong should “integrate into the overall development of the country, and share the glory of a strong and prosperous motherland.”

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has reprinted several Mohammed cartoons on the cover of this week’s issue. The magazine, published today, features the headline “TOUT ÇA POUR ÇA” (‘all that for this’), in reference to the terrorists who killed a dozen of its editorial staff in 2015.

The trial begins today of fourteen people charged with assisting the killers. The cartoons on today’s cover were first published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, sparking worldwide protests. Charlie Hebdo’s first Mohammed cover, published in 2006, was one of many cartoons created in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, published by magazines and newspapers including Weekendavisen, France Soir, The Guardian, Philadelphia Daily News, Liberation, Het Nieuwsblad, The Daily Tar Heel, Akron Beacon Journal, The Strand, Le Monde, Nana, Gorodskiye Vesti, Adresseavisen, Uke-Adressa, Harper’s, and the International Herald Tribune (in 2006 and 2012).

Charlie Hebdo subsequently published increasingly provocative Mohammed cartoons. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after it released a special edition ‘guest-edited’ by Mohammed. In 2012, it depicted him naked on its back page. In 2013, it created a comic-strip biography titled La Vie de Mahomet, followed by a sequel and an expanded version. In 2014, a cover depicting Mohammed being beheaded led to the 2015 terrorist attack on its offices. A week after the killings, the magazine defiantly printed another Mohammed cover.

The documentaries Je suis Charlie, “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons”, and the BBC’s Bloody Cartoons all discuss Charlie Hebdo and the Mohammed cartoons controversy. The magazine’s 2015 Mohammed cover was reprinted by various newspapers and magazines, and several of its Mohammed caricatures appear in the Japanese book Are You Charlie? (イスラム・ヘイトか、風刺か).