Sunday, 30 August 2020

Unmuted Project

Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
The Unmuted Project exhibition opened yesterday (monitored by a handful of police officers) at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok. The exhibition is part of a wider pro-democracy movement, and includes pieces by 200 artists. Many of the artworks on show feature Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, alongside satirical portraits of junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha. At least one image directly criticises the monarchy, something that would once have been unthinkable.

Several of the works make reference to the 6th October 1976 massacre. A painting inspired by Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the event is partially obscured by a banknote featuring Prayut’s face. In a sketch by Dipthroat, the ‘chair man’ in Ulevich’s photograph is replaced by Prayut wielding a lectern, with Future Forward founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit depicted as the victim.

Most of the featured artists are anonymous, though some of the works are familiar. An image from Chalermpol Junrayab’s The Amazing Thai-Land is included, as are Harit Srikhao’s The Coronation of Brukhonenko’s Dog (the first photograph from his Whitewash photobook) and Nathee Monthonwit’s digital print World of Wrestling (โลกมวยปล้ำ). The exhibition runs until 5th September, and ends with a screening of the documentary Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง).

Traces of Ratchadamnoen

Traces of Ratchadamnoen
Traces of Ratchadamnoen
Traces of Ratchadamnoen
The Traces of Ratchadamnoen (ล่องรอยราชดำเนิน) exhibition explores the cultural history of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the grand boulevard at the heart of Bangkok’s political landscape. The interactive exhibition includes newspaper front pages from the 14th October 1973 pro-democracy protests at Democracy Monument, audio recorded at the Royal Hotel during the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre, and hand-clappers used by red-shirt protesters (who painted Democracy Monument in blood).

The exhibition opened at Museum Siam on 1st July, and closes today, though it will transfer to the new Bangkok City Library from 6th September to 31st October. A free exhibition booklet features a fifty-page, fully-illustrated history of Ratchadamnoen. The exhibition guest-book shows that Ratchadamnoen remains politically sensitive today: it includes entries that contravene Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, and it’s perhaps a sign of the times (following recent student protests) that visitors would write such comments despite the potential consequences.


Friday, 28 August 2020

Do or Die

Do or Die
The Last Monument
Do or Die, Headache Stencil’s latest solo exhibition, opened at the FCCT in Bangkok on 31st July. (His previous exhibitions include Uncensored and Thailand Casino last year, and Propaganda Children’s Day earlier this year.) Do or Die was originally scheduled to close today, then extended until 18th September, though it will now close on 10th September. Some of the artworks were changed after the first few weeks, replaced with more directly satirical pieces.

The Last Monument is certainly the most provocative work on show: it depicts Bangkok’s iconic Democracy Monument, with the constitution replaced by a crown. This commentary on the power structures underlying Thai politics reminded me of the ending of the short film Re-presentation (ผีมะขาม ไพร่ฟ้า ประชาธิปไตย ในคืนที่ลมพัดหวน): an artist unsuccessfully attempts to draw Democracy Monument, and tears up his sketch to reveal a drawing of a Rama V statue on the page beneath.

Other artists have also appropriated Democracy Monument. Tang Chang drew rifles that formed Calligrammes of the Monument, indicating the military’s involvement in Thai politics. Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Karaoke: Think Kindly (คาราโอเกะ เพลงแผ่เมตตา) ends with a vintage photograph of the Monument under construction, symbolising Thailand’s incomplete transition to democracy. Citizen (ผู้อาศัย), a music video by Hockhacker (who was arrested this week after joining recent pro-democracy protests) shows the Monument on fire. In Thunska Pansittivorakul’s film Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), it appears upside down, a metaphor for the topsy-turvy state of Thai politics.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Medicines and Maladies

Medicines and Maladies
emetery of SplendourC
In September, the Thai Film Archive will host a month-long season of films about doctors and nurses, Medicines and Maladies (การแพทย์และโรคร้าย). The event offers a rare opportunity to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น) in Thailand. (It has been shown once before at the Archive, and Apichatpong held a private screening at a mobile cinema in Chiang Mai in 2018.)

Apichatpong did not submit the film to the Thai censors, and it has not been on general release here. When I interviewed him for my forthcoming book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he explained that, with the military still in power, a domestic release was too risky: “It’s a paranoid time. They’re willing to do a witch hunt, so I become paranoid of them in my own way, and I don’t want to risk it. As long as I manage to finish this film as I want, and show it, but not here.”

The film is so sensitive that Apichatpong removed one sequence from all DVD and blu-ray editions, just in case they found their way to Thailand. The scene in question shows a cinema audience standing as if paying respect to the royal anthem, though no music is heard. Apichatpong had planned to include the anthem in the scene, though he reconsidered after it was censored from another film: “I actually wanted to show the royal anthem, because it’s documentary-like. It’s what we do. But I know it’s impossible, because in the movie Soi Cowboy [ซอยคาวบอย], this was cut out. Censored. So, I said, ‘It’s impossible anyway.’ So, just silence.”

Cemetery of Splendour will be shown at the Archive, on 4th and 18th September, in its uncut version. The screenings are free of charge.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Thai Film Archive

Thai Film Archive
The Housemaid
The Graduate
Black Silk
This year’s World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) season has been on hiatus for a few months, not only because of the coronavirus pandemic but also due to the closure of the Scala cinema. Fortunately, one of the season’s highlights, The Housemaid (하녀), will be shown instead at the Thai Film Archive on 29th August. This South Korean classic (originally scheduled for 16th August) will play in a double bill with Parasite (기생충), which is screening in a director-approved black-and-white version. (The Housemaid is also showing at the House Samyan cinema in Bangkok, on 30th August.) Next month, the World Class Cinema season continues with The Graduate, originally scheduled for 19th April at Scala, now showing at the Archive on 19th and 27th September.

In October, the Archive will show The Hero Never Dies, a month-long season of films to commemorate fifty years since the death of Mitr Chaibancha. (In his book A Century of Thai Cinema, Archive founder Dome Sukwong describes Mitr as “the greatest star in the history of Thai films”. Cultures at War includes an extended political analysis of Mitr’s films, and his most iconic role—the Red Eagle action hero—was remade by Wisit Sasanatieng in 2010.)

There will also be several screenings of one of Thailand’s greatest classics, Rattana Pestonji’s Black Silk (แพรดำ). At a time when most Thai films were dubbed 16mm quickies—a mode of production initiated by the commercial success of Criminal Without Sin (สุภาพบุรุษเสือไทย)—the film noir thriller Black Silk was shot on 35mm with synchronised sound. It was also Thailand’s first CinemaScope production. A new 4k restoration of Black Silk will be shown on 4th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 18th October; and at House Samyan in Bangkok from 12th to 18th November. All film screenings at the Archive are free of charge.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Give Us a Little More Time

Give Us a Little More Time
Give Us a Little More Time
Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s exhibition and video installation Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน) closed earlier this month, though the exhibition catalogue is now available from Bangkok CityCity Gallery. The six loose-leaf volumes are housed in a slipcase, published in an edition of thirty signed and numbered copies (mine being no. 2).

Chulayarnnon used newspaper clippings to produce a satirical A4 collage every day from the 22nd May 2014 coup until the 24th March 2019 election, creating a daily critique of mainstream media coverage of the junta. Only ten of these were on display at the exhibition, though the catalogue serves as an archive of all 1,768 collages.


The Dua Lipa song Levitating has been remixed by The Blessed Madonna (DJ Marea Stamper’s stage name), and features guest vocals by Madonna and Missy Elliot. The remix was released earlier this month as a one-sided 12” single on The Blessed Madonna’s record label, We Still Believe. It also appears on Dua Lipa’s digital remix album Club Future Nostalgia.

Madonna and Missy Elliott previously collaborated on Into the Hollywood Groove, recorded for clothing store Gap. (While Madonna sang excerpts from her singles Hollywood and Into the Groove, Elliott was reduced to rapping about how much she loved her Gap jeans.) They also performed together at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

เพลง ธงชาติ

This morning, the Thai government’s Public Relations Department (PRD) removed a music video from its YouTube channel, only a few hours after posting it. The video had received overwhelmingly negative feedback, not only for its divisive content but also because it was produced with public funds.

The video was reminiscent of the clips played on television to accompany the national anthem: beatific images of soldiers, monks, and farmers. Such imagery has been a mainstay of state broadcasting for decades, reinforcing the traditional royalist-nationalist ideology of ‘nation, religion, king’. The PRD’s video also featured an overtly patriotic song on its soundtrack: เพลง ธงชาติ (‘song of the national flag’), sung by the Wattana Little Angels children’s choir. (The recording is from a 2012 PBS TV performance, and the choir was misnamed “Little Angles” [sic] by the PRD.)

The backlash against the video was sparked by a line from the song, “นานแค่ไหนที่เหมือนคนไทยลืมรักชาติ” (‘for how long have Thai people forgotten to love their country?’), accompanied by footage of recent anti-government protests at Thammast University and Bangok’s Democracy Monument. This juxtaposition vilified the protesting students as unpatriotic, in an attempt to undermine public support for their pro-democracy campaign.

The Thai military has a long history of demonising citizens who oppose its political influence. In 1976, military radio stations broadcast the propaganda song หนักแผ่นดิน (‘scum of the earth’), labelling students as traitors and provoking the 6th October massacre of Thammasat students by right-wing militia groups. In 2010, pro-democracy ‘red-shirt’ protesters were branded terrorists to justify the massacre at Ratchaprasong.

Monday, 17 August 2020

The Kingmaker

The Kingmaker
Silom Complex
Two screenings of the American documentary film The Kingmaker, about the life of Imelda Marcos, have been cancelled in southern Thailand after pressure from local authorities. The film was due to be shown on 14th August at the A.E.Y. Space gallery in Songkla, and on 19th August at Lorem Ipsum, a co-working space in Hat Yai. Both are small venues, with seating capacities of only thirty and twenty people, respectively.

Contrary to reports in the Bangkok Post newspaper and elsewhere, the film (directed by Lauren Greenfield and released last year) has not been banned in Thailand. In fact, it was passed uncut by the censors, and is currently showing at cinemas in Bangkok without incident. The ‘ban’ is similar to that of By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง), both of which were also subject to arbitrary local censorship: a Bangkok screening of By the Time It Gets Dark was stopped by police in 2017, and the military government prevented a Chonburi university screening of Boundary in 2015.

In the case of The Kingmaker, the authorities’ overzealous attitude highlights the state’s unease over recent anti-government protests. Several thousand students attended a rally at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 18th July organised by Free Youth. More than 10,000 people rallied there yesterday, and a smaller protest (with a Harry Potter and Voldemort theme) took place on 3rd August. At a Thammasat University protest on 10th August organised by United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, student Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul read out a ten-point manifesto calling for greater oversight of the monarchy.

This unprecedented public questioning of the monarchy’s role broke a long-standing taboo in Thai society, leading the authorities to clamp down on potentially inflammatory material, in this case The Kingmaker’s title and poster. The screenings were scheduled for a few days after Thai Mother’s Day (12th August), which is celebrated on Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s birthday, and the poster does bear some similarities to one of her official portraits. These are mere coincidences, however, and the authorities’ paranoid reaction has turned what would have been a tiny event into an international headline.

Sunday, 16 August 2020


Thesis Exhibition 2020
Radflection, a short documentary about Rap Against Dictatorship, was shown yesterday at Lido Connect in Bangkok, as part of Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Information and Communication Technology Thesis Exhibition 2020. The event, titled สุดขอบคุณ (‘thank you’), continues today.

Rap Against Dictatorship’s anthemic single and music video My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) perfectly encapsulated the frustrations of anti-military protesters. Radflection, directed by Patchamon Khemthong, also includes an interview with Neti Wichiansaen, director of the controversial documentary Democracy After Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย).

“They were very abusive...”

Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the opposition Labour Party in the UK, is being sued for libel by pro-Israel activist Richard Millett, after comments Corbyn made in a BBC1 interview with Andrew Marr. Millett had attended a parliamentary meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on 15th January 2013—organised by Corbyn—at which Palestine’s ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, was a guest speaker.

In the interview on The Andrew Marr Show, broadcast on 23rd September 2018, Corbyn accused two attendees of disrupting the PSC meeting: “The two people I referred to had been incredibly disruptive. Indeed, the police wanted to throw them out of the meeting.” Corbyn also claimed that they had accosted Hassassian after his speech: “They were very, very abusive to Manuel. Very abusive.”

On 10th July, a judge determined that Corbyn was “clearly making factual allegations” rather than expressing an opinion. Although Corbyn did not refer to Millett by name, the judge noted that Millett had been named in the media before the interview. The case will now go to trial later this year.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Bangkok Screening Room

The Passion of Joan of Arc
Blue Velvet
Bangkok Screening Room will bring three very different classics back to the big screen this September. The Passion of Joan of Arc (La passion de Jeanne d’Arc), Blue Velvet, and Rashomon (羅生門) will be shown on 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, and 13th September. The Passion of Joan of Arc is billed with Rashomon on 15th September, and with Blue Velvet on 10th and 19th September. Blue Velvet and Rashomon are also showing on 9th and 20th September. There are also screenings of The Passion of Joan of Arc on 1st, Blue Velvet on 8th, and Rashomon on 16th September.

The silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc has been shown several times before in Bangkok: an open-air screening in 2018 at Bangkok Underground Cinema, a gala Silent Film Festival screening at Scala, at Jam Ciné Club, and a 2012 Design Nation open-air screening. Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Rashomon was shown at Jam Ciné Club in 2015, and at the Kurosawa 100 Years Retrospective in 2010.