Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A Coup For The Rich

A Coup For The Rich
A Coup For The Rich
Giles Ji Ungpakorn's book A Coup For The Rich: Thailand's Political Crisis has been banned by the Thai police. In his introduction, Ji writes: "The coup of 2006 can only be understood as a "Coup for the Rich" against the interests of the poor." Thammasat University Bookstore, the only outlet where the book was on sale, has received a letter from the police to the effect that the book is being investigated for lèse-majesté (due to eight paragraphs in its first chapter) and must therefore be removed from sale.

Monday, 28 January 2008

To Catch A Thief

To Catch A Thief
To Catch A Thief is in many ways a typical Alfred Hitchcock film, though it doesn't have the tension or cinematic sophistication of much of his other work. The sophistication on display here relates to the costumes and locations, rather than the camerawork or editing. The pace is extremely slow, with excessive establishing shots of scenery and grand buildings, and over-long helicopter shots and chase sequences.

Cary Grant, one of Hitchcock's favourite actors, plays John Robie, a cat burglar who has retired to the French coast. Grace Kelly, probably Hitchcock's favourite actress, plays Frances Stevens, who falls in love with him. Robie is that archetypal Hitchcock figure, the persecuted innocent: he gave up burglary years before, though he is framed for a spate of recent jewellery thefts. To prove his innocence, he must catch the real burglar himself. The final revelation of the burglar's identity is hardly a surprise, and the whole plot is rather flimsy.

There are some amusing double-entendres, including Kelly asking Grant if he wants "leg or breast" (she's talking about pieces of chicken). Apparently, these moments were improvised by Kelly and Grant. Interestingly, Grant's character explains that he travelled around Europe performing in a circus during his youth - which is exactly what Grant did in his own youth. Grant is always a superbly suave actor, though he was better in Hitchcock's North By Northwest and Notorious. In this film his skin is alarmingly dark; his tan actually makes it difficult to recognise his face in some scenes.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Artspace Germany

Artspace Germany
Joseph Kosuth
Artspace Germany, organised by the Goethe Institut of Bangkok, is an excellent opportunity to see works by highly influential modern artists. Arguably the highlights of the show are the sculptures by Nam June Paik and Joseph Kosuth.

Paik is regarded as the father of video art: in 1965, he and Andy Warhol, working independently, were the first artists to incorporate video footage into their work. Two of Paik's iconic video sculptures, constructed from TV monitors, are included in this exhibition: Internet Resident and Candle TV.

Kosuth's work demonstrates the principles of semiotics, with a real object exhibited alongside a photograph and dictionary definition of the object. Kosuth first demonstrated this concept in 1965, with a real chair, a photograph of the chair, and a written definition of 'chair' presented side-by-side. In this exhibition, the same principle is applied to a frying pan (One & Three Pans).

Artspace Germany is showing at PSG (Silpakorn University) from 6th-27th February.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

"Joining the government
won't be a problem..."

The formation of a coalition government is now almost complete. Following the dissolution of TRT, it was reincarnated as the People Power Party, led by Samak Sundaravej, and the PPP won last month's election though without an overall majority. Samak is now likely to become Prime Minister, taking over from Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed by the coup-makers. (The country also has a new constitution, as the the draft charter was endorsed by 57.81% of voters in last year's referendum.)

Before the election, candidates and factions were grouping and regrouping on a daily basis, with seemingly no consideration of party ideology whatsoever. In the end, every other political party except the Democrats has joined in a PPP coalition. The final coalition partners, Puea Paendin and Chart Thai, announced their membership yesterday, after more than two weeks of negotiations; they had used the mourning period following the death of Princess Galyani to buy themselves more time. Chart Thai's leader, the slippery Banharn Silpaarcha, announced that "joining the government won't be a problem".

The Thai Supreme Court yesterday dismissed six cases against the PPP and the Election Commission. The New Aspiration Party had alleged that the Commission was not authorised to organise absentee ballots and advance voting before the election. Democrat candidate Chaiwat Sinsuwong claimed that the PPP was not legally allowed to contest the election, as it is a TRT nominee, Samak is a Thaksin proxy, and PPP candidates distributed Thaksin VCDs. All of these complaints have been dismissed by the Supreme Court. (The Democrats had actually asked Chaiwat to withdraw his allegations, though he has now resigned from the party.)

The PPP's last obstacle was Yongyuth Tiyaphairat, one of the Party's deputy leaders. He was among many PPP candidates accused of vote-buying, and he has been under EC investigation. The EC must endorse at least 95% of MPs before a new parliamentary term can begin. Thus, the EC were under pressure to complete their vote-buying investigations as soon as possible. Fearing demonstrations from PPP supporters, the EC delegated the Yongyuth investigation to a sub-committee. Then, when Yongyuth was invited to view the evidence against him (an incriminating VCD), he missed the appointment. However, Yongyuth has now received EC endorsement. Indeed, the EC rushed to endorse some twenty-nine candidates yesterday, in order to meet the deadline. Previously, candidates had been endorsed in dribs and drabs, averaging three per day, so the investigations into the final twenty-nine were extremely hurried.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Japanese Film Festival 2008

Japanese Film Festival 2008
Gion Bayashi
The Ghost Of Yotsuya
Repast Sound Of The Mountain
The 2008 Japanese Film Festival, organised by the Japan Foundation, takes place from 18th-25th January in Bangkok. The event's subtitle is The Hidden Treasures Of Japanese Cinema: Masterpieces From Its Golden Age - 1950s-1960s.

The 1950s were indeed a golden age for Japanese film (as, previously, were the 1920s), with Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon introducing international audiences to Japanese cinema for the first time. However, the cinema of Japan does not begin and end with Kurosawa. The Japanese Film Festival emphasises the lesser-known directors of Japanese cinema's second golden age.

The schedule includes Gion Bayashi (Saturday) by master director Kenji Mizoguchi, and the historical drama Wild Geese by Shirou Toyoda (Sunday). Also included is The Ghost Of Yotsuya (Sunday), a classic interpretation of Japan's most famous ghost story by its greatest horror director, Nobuo Nakagawa. (The legend of Yotsuya is the Japanese equivalent of the Thai folk tale Mae Nak, on which Nang Nak was based.) There are also two films by Mikio Naruse: Repast (Thursday) and Sound Of The Mountain (Friday). All films will be screened, free of charge, at the Grand EGV cinema, Siam Discovery Center.

Saturday, 12 January 2008


Hostel was directed by Eli Roth, one of a group of contemporary directors known as the Splat Pack due to the graphic violence of their horror films. The films themselves have been called 'torture porn', such is their emphasis on blood and gore.

Hostel begins with a group of three male backpackers, who are told about an Eastern European hostel full of attractive women. When they arrive at the hostel, they do indeed meet three ladies, though what they don't realise until far too late is that they have been drawn into a honeytrap. The women are prostitutes, hired by a Russian company called Elite Hunting, who bring the men to a derelict factory where they are to be tortured and killed by the company's paying clients. (Elite Hunting was supposedly inspired by a Thai organisation whose website Roth saw.)

The torture scenes are dank, dark, and hard to watch the first time. (I saw the unrated edition, which is slightly longer than the theatrical version.) During subsequent viewings I always have to look away when Josh's ankles split open. Jan Vlasak, who plays a Dutch businessman who uses Elite Hunting's services, gives a chilling, casually sadistic performance.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Prosperity For 2008

A new short film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul is available online. The film, Prosperity For 2008, is a beautiful, abstract work, in which a dot of light travels slowly across a black background (and is perhaps a firework in the night sky).

Wednesday, 2 January 2008


The Seduced exhibition catalogue presents representative images covering all aspects of the exhibition (Seduced: Art & Sex From Antiquity To Now) alongside contextualising essays by Marina Wallace, Martin Kemp, and Joanne Bernstein.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Jackass II

Jackass II
I had seen neither the Jackass MTV series nor the original Jackass film, so I had little idea of what to expect from this sequel. Basically, it's a group of raucous men daring each other to perform a variety of risky stunts, directed by Jeff Tremaine.

What surprised me was how scatological many of these activities were - bodily fluids (both human and animal) were required (and ingested) for several stunts. The version I saw was the unrated DVD, and I don't know how much of this material was missing from the theatrical version.

The team are so over-enthusiastic that it's difficult to laugh at them too much, though it is genuinely fascinating in a disgusting kind of way, if only to wonder at how they cleaned up and recuperated afterwards. Also, there's a cameo by director John Waters, whose film Pink Flamingos rivals Jackass II for sheer abjection.