Paradoxocracy, the new film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Pasakorn Pramoolwong, is a documentary charting the progression (and frequent regressions) of Thai politics since the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Pasakorn is the founder of A Day magazine; Pen-ek's previous films include Ploy, Nymph, and Headshot.
Paradoxocracy has a surprisingly conventional documentary structure: chronological narrative, voice-over narration, and talking heads (fourteen prominent Thai academics, not identified until the final credits). One fast-cut montage of newspaper clippings is accompanied by Beethoven's 9th Symphony, as in A Clockwork Orange.
The film's title reflects the paradoxical nature of the 1932 revolution, as noted by Thongchai Winichakul: it supposedly replaced absolute monarchy with democracy, though it also paved the way for Thailand's military to seize power. The transition is discussed at length, as are the massacres of 1973 and 1976.
The roles of the military and the monarchy are, to say the least, highly sensitive topics in Thailand. The army is essentially a law unto itself, and acts with impunity; the monarch is shielded by the lèse-majesté law. The film begins with Pridi Banomyong's criticism of King Rama VII, though the subsequent roles of Rama VIII and IX are not discussed in the documentary at all. (Saying The Unsayable does debate the monarchy's political influence, however.)
Unfortunately, the fact that the protagonists of recent Thai political dramas are still alive means that Paradoxocracy doesn't include any criticism of them. Prem Tinsulanonda's 'Premocracy', for example, is noted only as a time of economic boom, though its somewhat undemocratic nature is glossed over due to his current status. Similarly, Black May 1992 is not dwelt upon, as Chamlong Srimuang is still politically active. This self-censorship prevents the documentary from fully exploring Thailand's tumultuous political history.
Thaksin Shinawatra does feature, though only his relatively uncontroversial first term in office is covered. (At one point, Sulak Sivaraksa says, "Your movie shouldn't waste too much time on Thaksin", which received a round of applause at the screening I attended.) Thus, the film omits arguably the most fascinating period in Thai politics: the PAD's provocations, the nullification of the 2006 election, the 2006 coup, the 2007 military constitution, the disqualification of Prime Minister Samak, the dissolutions of TRT and the PPP, the UDD riots, the red-shirt protests, and the 2010 massacre.
Thunska Pansittivorakul's documentaries This Area Is Under Quarantine and The Terrorists are much bolder in their criticism of contemporary Thai politicians, though consequently they were not classified for distribution in Thailand. Paradoxocracy's release was also delayed due to censorship issues, and a few quotes by Worajet Pakeerat and the typically straight-talking Sulak Sivaraksa have been muted. (A previous Sulak interview, in Same Sky, was also censored.)