13 June 2024

Breaking the Cycle


Breaking the Cycle

In Breaking the Cycle (อำนาจ ศรัทธา อนาคต), the new documentary charting the rise and fall of Future Forward, party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit complains that one of the party’s campaign leaflets focuses too much on him personally. The same could be said for Aekaphong Saransate and Thanakrit Duangmaneeporn’s film, as Thanathorn is on camera almost all of the time.

Future Forward was a progressive alternative to the military establishment that had entrenched itself following the 2014 coup. Only a year after its launch, the party came third in the 2019 election, after a wave of support for its charismatic leader. Just a few months later, Thanathorn was disqualified as an MP by the Constitutional Court, due to his ownership of shares in a media company. In 2020, the court dissolved Future Forward, ruling that it had violated party funding rules by accepting a ฿191 million loan from Thanathorn.

The documentary follows Thanathorn throughout all of these events, though it begins in 2014 with his determination to end the vicious cycle of military coups that has characterised Thailand’s modern political history. This mission gives the film its title, and party co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul asks: “Why is Thailand stuck in this cycle of coups?” Like Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Breaking the Cycle features stunning drone shots of Democracy Monument to symbolise the country’s fragile democratic status.

Breaking the Cycle
Homogeneous, Empty Time

The film ends with the caption “THE CYCLE CONTINUES”, which is sadly accurate. History looks likely to repeat itself this year, as Future Forward’s successor, Move Forward, is facing almost certain dissolution. Move Forward won the 2023 election, though it was excluded from the governing coalition by Pheu Thai. The Constitutional Court has already ruled that Move Forward’s manifesto pledge to amend the lèse-majesté law constituted an attempt to overthrow the monarchy.

Breaking the Cycle is a complete record of the Future Forward movement. But the events of 2019 and early 2020 have already been overtaken by the even greater election result achieved by Move Forward last year. The sustained opposition to Move Forward and its idealistic leader, Pita Limjaroenrat—from Pheu Thai, the military, the Senate, and the Constitutional Court—is arguably a more significant subject than that of Future Forward, though Move Forward is mentioned only in the film’s final few minutes.

As one of the documentary’s interviewees says: “This is the beginning of the next chapter.” If Breaking the Cycle is a prologue to the story of Move Forward, hopefully its eventual sequel will feature a new iteration of the party gaining power after the 2027 election. That’s something Thanathorn half-jokingly predicts in the film: “In three elections we’ll be the government.”

Breaking the Cycle was commissioned by Future Forward, so it’s not an objective portrait of the party. Thanathorn is interviewed, but he’s not asked about either his media shares or his party loan. Internal party disagreements, such as that between Thanathorn and Piyabutr, aren’t mentioned. Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich does admit that the party was politically naive, a description that arguably applies even more to Pita’s Move Forward.

Breaking the Cycle is one of the very few feature-length political documentaries to go on general theatrical release in Thailand. Like Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย), Breaking the Cycle has been a box-office hit with politically engaged young people, which is hardly surprising given the unprecedented support that Future Forward (and Move Forward) received from Millenials and Gen Z. (There will be a Q&A with Aekaphong and Thanakrit at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 30th June.)

Yesterday, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon filed a complaint at the Central Investigation Bureau in Bangkok, calling for a police investigation into Breaking the Cycle on charges of sedition (article 116 of the Thai criminal code). Mongkolkit, former leader of the Thai Civilized Party (a right-wing microparty), accused the film of presenting a one-sided account of Future Forward. (This is true, but of course it isn’t a crime.)

Mongkolkit also complained that the film discussed the 2014 coup without explaining the reasons why the junta seized power, as if any explanation could justify the military’s power grab. It’s deeply ironic that film directors are facing potential charges for discussing the coup, while the generals who orchestrated the coup have avoided prosecution.

07 June 2024

Baby Reindeer



Fiona Harvey is suing Netflix for defamation, and seeking $170 million in damages, after its drama series Baby Reindeer portrayed her as a convicted stalker. Netflix claims that the show, released on 11th April, is a true story, which Harvey’s lawsuit describes as “the biggest lie in television history.”

Baby Reindeer is based on writer Richard Gadd’s experiences of being harassed by Harvey. Her name was changed—to Martha Scott—and her character is eventually convicted of stalking Gadd amongst others, though Harvey insists that, in real life, she has not been found guilty of a criminal offence. In a statement, she said: “I have never been charged with any crime, let alone been convicted, still less pleaded guilty and of course I have never been to prison for anything.”

02 June 2024

Shakespeare Must Die


Shakespeare Must Die

Ing K.’s Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) will finally be released in Thai cinemas on 20th June, after more than a decade in legal limbo. The film was banned by the Ministry of Culture in 2012, and the ban was upheld by the Administrative Court in 2017. Ing’s battle with the censors, documented in her film Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย), went all the way to the Supreme Court, which lifted the ban in February following the liberalised censorship policy announced by the National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) at the start of this year.

Shakespeare Must Die is a Thai adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Pisarn Pattanapeeradej in the lead role. The play is presented in two parallel versions: a production in period costume, and a contemporary political interpretation. The period version is faithful to Shakespeare’s original, though it also breaks the fourth wall, with cutaways to the audience and an interval outside the theatre (featuring a cameo by the director).

In the contemporary sequences, Macbeth is reimagined as Mekhdeth, a prime minister facing a crisis. Street protesters shout “ok pbai!” (‘get out!’), and the protests are infiltrated by assassins listed in the credits as ‘men in black’. Ing has downplayed any direct link to Thai politics, though “Thaksin ok pbai!” was the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s rallying cry against Thaksin Shinawatra, and ‘men in black’ were blamed for instigating violence in 2010. Another satirical line in the script—“Dear Leader brings happy-ocracy!”—predicts Prayut Chan-o-cha’s propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

The parallels between Mekhdeth and Thaksin highlight the politically-motivated nature of the ban imposed on the film. Ironically, the project was initially funded by the Ministry of Culture, during Abhisit Vejjajiva’s premiership: it received a grant from the ไทยเข้มแข็ง (‘strong Thailand’) stimulus package. The Abhisit government was only too happy to greenlight a script criticising Thaksin, though by the time the film was finished, Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in power, and her administration was somewhat less disposed to this anti-Thaksin satire, hence the ban.

Although the film was made twelve years ago, its message is arguably more timely than ever, as Thaksin’s influence over Thai politics continues. He returned to Thailand last year, and his Pheu Thai party is now leading a coalition with the political wing of the military junta.

The film’s climax, a recreation of the 6th October 1976 massacre, is its most controversial sequence. A photograph by Neal Ulevich, taken during the massacre, shows a vigilante preparing to hit a corpse with a chair, and Shakespeare Must Die restages the incident. A hanging body (symbolising Shakespeare himself) is repeatedly hit with a chair, though rather than dwelling on the violence, Ing cuts to reaction shots of the crowd, which (as in 1976) resembles a baying mob.

Ing was interviewed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, and the book details the full story behind the ban. Ing doesn’t mince her words in the interview, describing the censors as “a bunch of trembling morons with the power of life and death over our films.” Thai Cinema Uncensored also includes an insider’s account from a member of the appeals committee, who said he was obliged by his department head to vote against releasing the film: “I had to vote no, because it was an instruction from my director. But if I could have voted freely, I would have voted yes.”

Ing’s film My Teacher Eats Biscuits (คนกราบหมา) was also subject to a long-lasting ban, which was overturned last year. Shakespeare Must Die will be screened at Cinema Oasis, where My Teacher Eats Biscuits and Censor Must Die were both shown last month. There will also be an exhibition of costumes and props from Shakespeare Must Die and My Teacher Eats BiscuitsHow to Make a Cheap Movie Look Good (ทำอย่างไรให้ / หนังทุนต่ำ / ดูดี?)—at Galerie Oasis from 20th June.

29 May 2024

“The attorney general has decided to indict Thaksin on all charges...”


Chosun Media

The Office of the Attorney General confirmed today that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be indicted for lèse-majesté and violation of the Computer Crime Act, in relation to an interview he gave in South Korea almost a decade ago. An OAG spokesman said this morning: “The attorney general has decided to indict Thaksin on all charges”. Thaksin was not present to answer those charges, as he tested positive for coronavirus yesterday. His hearing has been postponed until 18th June.

The charges relate to a short video clip from The Chosun Daily (조선일보), recorded on 21st May 2015, in which Thaksin implied that privy councillors were behind the 2014 coup. Thaksin has made similar claims in previous interviews, without being indicted for lèse-majesté: on 20th April 2009, he told the Financial Times that the Privy Council plotted the 2006 coup, and he made the same allegation to Tom Plate in Conversations with Thaksin. Likewise, on 27th March 2008, he publicly accused Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Council leader at the time, of masterminding the 2006 coup.

Thaksin’s passports were revoked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 27th May 2015, in a preemptive decision pending a police investigation into the Chosun Daily video. Two days later, lèse-majesté charges were filed against Thaksin on behalf of Udomdej Sitabutr, army chief at the time (raising questions about the politicisation of the military). After Thaksin was indicted today, his lawyer Winyat Chartmontri said: “Thaksin is ready to prove his innocence in the justice system.” That stance may change if the case goes to trial, as those accused of lèse-majesté almost always enter guilty pleas. (Defendants pleading guilty often receive reduced sentences.)

When Thaksin returned from self-imposed exile on 22nd August 2023, it seemed that he and the military had reached a mutually beneficial truce. However, the military giveth and taketh away: Thaksin has been wrong-footed several times, and every act of leniency granted to him has come with strings attached. He was released on parole on 18th February, yet the very next day he appeared at the OAG (in a wheelchair) after the Chosun Daily case was suddenly revived. His application for a royal pardon was accepted, though it only partially commuted his prison sentence. Senators endorsed Srettha Thavisin, the leader of his proxy party, as Prime Minister, though a group of forty senators has now petitioned the Constitutional Court to investigate Srettha.

Srettha is accused of violating article 160 of the constitution by appointing Pichit Chuenban, Thaksin’s disgraced former lawyer, as Prime Minister’s Office Minister. Pichit was jailed for six months in 2008 after blatantly attempting to bribe a judge on Thaksin’s behalf with ฿2 million in cash. Article 160 states that government ministers must “not have behaviour which is a serious violation of or failure to comply with ethical standards”, which would seem to apply in Pichit’s case. (It’s worth noting, though, that exceptions can be made: the court ruled that Thammanat Prompao was qualified as a minister in the 2019 military-backed government despite his criminal record for heroin smuggling, as he was convicted outside Thailand.)

The court accepted the petition against Srettha on 23rd May. With both Thaksin and Srettha now under investigation, it seems clear that a warning message (at the very least) is being sent, reminding Thaksin that his deal with the military was not made on equal terms. Thaksin upheld his side of the Faustian pact when his proxy party Pheu Thai prevented the anti-military Move Forward Party from forming a government, but Move Forward is now facing the prospect of dissolution by the Constitutional Court. This would be a more effective neutralisation of MFP, and could be achieved without Thaksin, who may therefore become surplus to the military’s requirements.

17 May 2024

Red Poetry


Wildtype Middle Class 2024

Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok, Lorem Ipsum in Hat Yai, and Alien Artspace in Khon Kaen on 26th May, as part of the Wildtype Middle Class 2024 season. It will also be screened at Chiang Mai University on 4th June, at dot.b in Songkhla on 6th June, at Vongchavalitkul University in Korat on 7th June, at the University of Phayao on 13th June, and at Bookhemian in Phuket on 23rd June. The documentary is a profile of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who co-founded the group Artn’t. A shorter version of the film—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—had its premiere at Wildtype 2022.

Red Poetry shows the intense endurance and commitment Vitthaya invests in his protest art. A durational performance—sitting near Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate for nine full days—led to his collapse from exhaustion. In another action, he climbed onto Chiang Mai University’s main entrance, repeatedly slapped himself in the face, and jumped into a pond. Before reporting to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station.

The film ends with Vitthaya’s most extreme action: he carved “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges he faced after exhibiting a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021. He was convicted of lèse-majesté last year, and received a suspended sentence.

Supamok’s film was screened three times as part of the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27): in the online Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), at the main festival itself, and in the Short 27 Awarded Film Screening programme. It has previously been shown in Chiang Mai (most recently in February), Salaya, and Phatthalung.

09 May 2024

Super Soft Power



Thai police are investigating a Netflix special hosted by the popular stand-up comedian Udom Taephanich, following complaints about his show Super Soft Power (ซูเปอร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์), which was released on 1st May. Udom is accused of mocking King Rama IX’s notion of ‘sufficiency economy’, and charges against him have been filed by Sonthiya Sawasdee and disgraced former MP Parina Kraikupt (both of whom were previously members of the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party).

The ‘sufficiency economy’ concept simply encourages people to live within their means. In his show, Udom doesn’t challenge the notion of ‘sufficiency economy’ itself; instead, he criticises the hypocrisy of influencers who falsely claim to adhere to ‘sufficiency economy’ principles. Sonthiya has accused Udom of spreading misinformation about ‘sufficiency economy’, while Parina has filed lèse-majesté charges against him.

Sonthiya has previously filed charges against four singers for mild political satire, and against a former Miss Thailand Universe for disrespecting the national flag. Two years ago, Udom was investigated after complaints about the political content of his previous Netflix special, Deaw 13 (เดี่ยว 13).

30 April 2024

Cannibal Error:
Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s


Cannibal Error

David Kerekes and David Slater followed Killing for Culture, their definitive history of real death on screen, with See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy, a comprehensive account of the ‘video nasty’ phenomenon, published in 2000. Both books have since been expanded and updated, more than twenty years later: a new edition of Killing for Culture appeared in 2016, and a second edition of See No Evil was released last month, retitled Cannibal Error: Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s.

‘Video nasty’ was a pejorative coined by the UK press in the early 1980s, when violent horror movies like Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust were released uncensored due to a lack of regulation over the emerging videocassette industry. After a campaign by the tabloids, police began charging video distributors under the Obscene Publications Act, and a list of thirty-nine actionable films was compiled by the Director of Public Prosecutions. In 1984, legislation was introduced requiring certification of all videos by the British Board of Film Classification.

See No Evil was the only book to cover every aspect of the ‘video nasties’ controversy: the films themselves, the moral panic whipped up by the media, the police prosecutions, the debate surrounding the influence of film violence, and state censorship of films on videotape. There have been other books on the subject—notably the academic study The Video Nasties, edited by Martin Barker; and John Martin’s chronology of press coverage, The Seduction of the Gullible—but See No Evil told the full story for the first time.

The second edition, Cannibal Error, is almost 200 pages longer than See No Evil. The main text has not been updated, but there are some new appendices, including a guide to the current availability of the original ‘video nasty’ films (by David Hinds) and interviews with senior BBFC staff. The new title—which will take some getting used to—is a pun on the film Cannibal Terror (Terreur cannibale), and a reference to the misinformation surrounding the ‘video nasties’.

Kerekes also edited the influential counter-culture journal Headpress, and his other books include Sex, Murder, Art (a monograph on director Jörg Buttgereit). Jake West (Video Nasties) and David Gregory (Ban the Sadist Videos!) have both made ‘video nasty’ documentaries, the Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 51, no. 610) published an analysis of the DPP’s list by Julian Petley and Kim Newman, and Newman wrote a concise history of the ‘video nasties’ in Sight and Sound (vol. 31, no. 5).

29 April 2024

Censor Must Die


Censor Must Die

It’s fair to say that Ing K. has had her battles with the film censors. In an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, she described the state censorship board as “a bunch of trembling morons with the power of life and death over our films.” Two of her films were banned in Thailand—My Teacher Eats Biscuits (คนกราบหมา) in 1998, and Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) in 2012—though both bans have recently been lifted, and the films will be screened later this year.

Ing’s documentary Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย) shows producer Manit Sriwanichpoom receiving the censor’s initial verdict on Shakespeare Must Die, and follows him as he appeals against the ban at the Ministry of Culture and files a case with the Office of the National Human Rights Commission. (The documentary was made in 2013, though it was another decade before the ban was finally revoked, following a judgement by the Supreme Court.)

Censor Must Die’s most revealing scene takes place at the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture: in the lobby, a TV plays a video demonstrating the traditional Thai method of sitting in a polite and respectful manner. The video encapsulates the Ministry’s didactic and outdated interpretation of Thai culture, and it was parodied by the mock instructional video “How to Behave Elegantly Like a Thai” in Sorayos Prapapan’s film Arnold Is a Model Student (อานนเป็นนักเรียนตัวอย่าง).

The documentary premiered at the Freedom on Film (สิทธิหนังไทย) seminar in 2013, was shown a few months later at the Thai Film Archive, and had private screenings at Silpakorn University and the Friese-Greene Club. It was last shown at Cinema Oasis, the cinema Ing and Manit founded in Bangkok, on 20th March 2020. Censor Must Die returns to Cinema Oasis this week, screening on 3rd, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 11th May.

15 April 2024

“ข่าวสารเรา control ไม่ได้ แต่หนังเรา control ได้”
(‘we can’t control the news, but we can control movies’)


Dog God Ministry of Culture

Ing K.’s film My Teacher Eats Biscuits will finally be shown in Thailand, more than twenty-five years after it was banned. Ing re-edited the film in 2020, and this director’s cut—ten minutes shorter than the original version—was approved by the film censorship board last October. It will go on general release on 16th May. Although its Thai title (คนกราบหมา) remains the same, its English title has been changed to the more prosaic Dog God.

My Teacher Eats Biscuits was banned on the eve of the inaugural Bangkok Film Festival in 1998, along with the Singaporean drama Bugis Street (妖街皇后). On the opening night of the Alternative Love Film Festival later that year, Ing showed a video of her meeting with a parliamentary committee discussing My Teacher Eats Biscuits, and screened Bugis Street in defiance of the ban. Police raided the Saeng-Arun Arts Centre during the screening of Bugis Street, though they left the auditorium shortly afterwards.

The film was banned on the grounds that it satirised religion. As the director explained in an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored: “This is like banning John Waters’ Pink Flamingos for bad taste!” In other words, the religious satire was the whole point of the film. (In that interview, Ing alleged that one member of the censorship board, a Chulalongkorn University professor, dominated the board and led the decision to ban the film. Another reason for the ban was that the censors misinterpreted a character, Princess Serena, as an impersonation of Princess Galyani.)

Like Pink Flamingos, My Teacher Eats Biscuits is a low-budget, independent movie shot on 16mm. (Coincidentally, Pink Flamingos was also passed by the Thai censors last year.) A plot synopsis—a monk catches another monk in the act of necrophilia, and a woman establishes a cult of dog worshippers—gives the false impression that My Teacher Eats Biscuits is offensive or blasphemous. In fact, the film has a camp sensibility (which it shares with Pink Flamingos), and its tone is clearly parodic.

Dog God

The film begins with a voice-over by Ing, describing her character’s previous incarnation as a devout monk. He reports the necrophile monk to his abbot, who seems completely unconcerned. Disillusioned by Buddhism, he burns his saffron robe, and is reincarnated as a woman, Satri, played by the director. At the end of the film, Satri explains her rejection of organised religion in an extended monologue: “I had to free myself from the pollution of the yellow robe, which, in my eyes, became a symbol of corruption.”

Satri’s cult is exposed as a fraud by two undercover investigators, though the film presents Buddhism as equally hypocritical. When an investigator tells a senior monk (who drinks whiskey) about the cult, his response is: “A dog in a monk’s robe is not so bad.” Reflecting on this, the investigator concludes: “With monks like him, no wonder the image of Buddhism gets worse and worse.” We are later informed that he has left to investigate “a drunken orgy with seven senior monks.”

After the ban, My Teacher Eats Biscuits was rarely seen, either in Thailand or elsewhere. As critic Graiwoot Chulpongsathorn wrote in 2009, it is “a film so controversial that it has been ‘disappeared’ from history.” It was shown at the Goethe-Institut in Bangkok in 1998, and at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science on 17th December 2009. At the Chulalongkorn screening, Ing explained that the necrophile monk character was based on a news story about a real monk, and that when she told this to the censors, their candid answer was: “ข่าวสารเรา control ไม่ได้ แต่หนังเรา control ได้” (‘we can’t control the news, but we can control movies’).

The film had three European screenings in 2017. It was shown at the Close-Up Film Centre in London; at the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt, Germany; and at the Cinéma du réel (‘cinema of the real’) festival in Paris. To celebrate the film’s return to Thai cinemas, Ing has designed t-shirts with the slogan “กราบหมาเถิดลูก” (‘bow down to the dog’).

When Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) was banned in 2012, Ing had the dubious distinction of being the only Thai director with two films banned simultaneously. Now both films have been passed by the censors—the Shakespeare Must Die ban was lifted in February—and they will both return to Thai cinemas this year. My Teacher Eats Biscuits and Shakespeare Must Die appear to be early beneficiaries of a liberalised censorship policy announced by the National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) in January.

19 March 2024

“You don’t find it offensive that Donald Trump has been found liable for rape?”



Donald Trump has filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News and George Stephanopoulos, after Stephanopoulos asked Republican politician Nancy Mace why she had endorsed Trump as a presidential candidate despite Trump having been “found liable for rape.” Stephanopoulos interviewed Mace on The Week, in a segment broadcast on 10th March.

Stephanopoulos began the interview with a reference to a civil prosecution in which Trump was found guilty of sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll: “You’ve endorsed Donald Trump for president. Donald Trump has been found liable for rape by a jury. Donald Trump has been found liable for defaming the victim of that rape. It’s been affirmed by a judge.”

Mace, who is herself a rape victim, stated that she found the premise of the interview “disgusting.” Stephanopoulos again asked her to justify her endorsement of Trump: “I’m asking a question about why you endorsed someone who’s been found liable for rape.” Mace accused Stephanopoulos of victim-shaming her, and Stephanopoulos attempted to clarify: “I’m questioning your political choices, because you’re supporting someone who’s been found liable for rape.”

Stephanopoulos then pressed Mace again to answer his initial question: “why are you supporting someone who’s been found liable for rape?” She replied that the question was offensive, to which Stephanopoulos responded: “You don’t find it offensive that Donald Trump has been found liable for rape?”

Mace’s answers, and Trump’s libel claim, hinge on the fact that Trump was convicted of sexually assaulting Carroll, rather than raping her. Trump’s lawsuit quotes Stephanopoulos on previous broadcasts referring to sexual assault, in an attempt to prove that Stephanopoulos was aware of the distinction and had used the word ‘rape’ in the Mace interview either recklessly or maliciously.

Trump also sued Carroll for the same reason, after she accused him of rape despite the sexual assault conviction. That lawsuit was dismissed, however, as the judge in the sexual assault case issued a written clarification: “that Ms. Carroll failed to prove that she was “raped” within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump “raped” her as many people commonly understand the word “rape.” Indeed... the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”

Unlike the recent interview with Mace, the previous references by Stephanopoulos to sexual assault were all made prior to 19th July 2023, when the judge’s clarification was published. Stephanopoulos was thus using the term ‘rape’ “as many people commonly understand the word”, meaning that yesterday’s lawsuit against Stephanopoulos and ABC will almost certainly be dismissed.

22 February 2024

Mokelung Rimnam


Mokelung Rimnam Mokelung Rimnam

Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, co-founder of the Mokelung Rimnam activist group campaigning for human rights and equality, has been charged with defamation after he distributed flyers resembling ‘wanted’ posters calling for the arrest of numerous senators. (Sopon is currently serving a jail sentence for lèse-majesté.)

On 1st August 2023, Sopon handed out flyers at the Seri Market in Bangkok, alleging that senators including Seree Suwanpanont were acting undemocratically. (The protest came shortly after the vast majority of senators refused to endorse Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister.) Seree sued for libel, claiming that the allegations damaged his reputation.

20 February 2024

Shakespeare Must Die


Shakespeare Must Die

The ban on Ing K.’s film Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) has finally been lifted by the Supreme Court. The court also ruled today that the Ministry of Culture, which banned the film in 2012, must pay 500,000 baht in damages to the filmmaker after her twelve-year crusade to reverse the ban, a campaign documented in her film Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย). The ban was upheld by the Administrative Court in 2017, though times have since changed, and Shakespeare Must Die appears to be an early beneficiary of a liberalised censorship policy announced by the National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) last month.

Shakespeare Must Die is a Thai adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Pisarn Pattanapeeradej in the lead role. The play is presented in two parallel versions: a production in period costume, and a contemporary political interpretation. The period version is faithful to Shakespeare’s original, though it also breaks the fourth wall, with cutaways to the audience and an interval outside the theatre (featuring a cameo by the director).

In the contemporary sequences, Macbeth is reimagined as Mekhdeth, a prime minister facing a crisis. Street protesters shout “ok pbai!” (‘get out!’), and the protests are infiltrated by assassins listed in the credits as ‘men in black’. Ing has downplayed any direct link to Thai politics, though “Thaksin ok pbai!” was the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s rallying cry against Thaksin Shinawatra, and ‘men in black’ were blamed for instigating violence in 2010. Another satirical line in the script—“Dear Leader brings happy-ocracy!”—predicts Prayut Chan-o-cha’s propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

The parallels between Mekhdeth and Thaksin highlight the politically-motivated nature of the ban imposed on the film. Ironically, the project was initially funded by the Ministry of Culture, during Abhisit Vejjajiva’s premiership: it received a grant from the ไทยเข้มแข็ง (‘strong Thailand’) stimulus package. The Abhisit government was only too happy to greenlight a script criticising Thaksin, though by the time the film was finished, Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in power, and her administration was somewhat less disposed to this anti-Thaksin satire, hence the ban.

Although the film was made twelve years ago, its message is arguably more timely than ever, as Thaksin’s influence over Thai politics continues. He returned to Thailand last year, and his Pheu Thai party is now leading a coalition with the political wing of the military junta. Not uncoincidentally, his prison sentence for corruption was commuted, and he was released on parole last weekend.

The film’s climax, a recreation of the 6th October 1976 massacre, is its most controversial sequence. A photograph by Neal Ulevich, taken during the massacre, shows a vigilante preparing to hit a corpse with a chair, and Shakespeare Must Die restages the incident. A hanging body (symbolising Shakespeare himself) is repeatedly hit with a chair, though rather than dwelling on the violence, Ing cuts to reaction shots of the crowd, which (as in 1976) resembles a baying mob.

Ing was interviewed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, and the book details the full story behind the ban. Ing doesn’t mince her words in the interview, describing the censors as “a bunch of trembling morons with the power of life and death over our films.” Thai Cinema Uncensored also includes an insider’s account from a member of the appeals committee, who said he was obliged by his department head to vote against releasing the film: “I had to vote no, because it was an instruction from my director. But if I could have voted freely, I would have voted yes.”

12 February 2024

The Sarawak Report:
The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé



British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown has been sentenced in absentia to two years in jail by a Malaysian court. She was sued for defamation by Nur Zahirah, Sultanah of the Malaysian state of Terengganu, on 21st November 2018, a few months after the publication of her book The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé.

Rewcastle Brown’s investigative reporting exposed the 1MDB scandal that led to the imprisonment of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on corruption charges. Less than a week before Rewcastle Brown’s conviction on 7th February, Razak’s twelve-year sentence was reduced by half.

The Sultanah—wife of Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin—had originally sought 100m ringgit in libel damages, though the High Court ruled in Rewcastle Brown’s favour, dismissing the case. The Court of Appeal overturned that decision on 12th December last year, and awarded damages of 300,000 ringgit.

The case stems from a single sentence in The Sarawak Report implying that the Sultanah was instrumental in the establishment of 1MDB, referring to “the wife of the sultan, whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund” (p. 3). After the initial lawsuit, Rewcastle Brown clarified that she should have named the Sultan’s sister rather than his wife, and the text was changed in later editions. She also explained that the ambiguous pronoun “whose” referred to Sultan Mizan himself.

06 February 2024

Office of the Attorney General:
“The police notified Thaksin about the allegation...”


Chosun Media

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is expected to be paroled later this month, though in another twist to his legal drama, he also faces lèse-majesté charges that could extend his custodial sentence. Thaksin returned from self-imposed exile in August last year, and the Supreme Court sentenced him to an eight-year prison term for corruption and abuse of power.

However, on his first day in jail, Thaksin was transferred to a police hospital for unspecified medical reasons, and has remained there ever since. After he applied for a royal pardon, his eight-year sentence was reduced to one year, and the Department of Corrections confirmed last month that, given his age (seventy-four), he was eligible for parole. (These events were presumably not unrelated to Pheu Thai’s cooperation with the military’s political wing.)

This apparent leniency may have reached its limit, as the Office of the Attorney General announced today that an investigation will be opened into lèse-majesté charges first filed against Thaksin in 2016. An OAG spokesman said that “senior officials from the Office of the Attorney General and the police notified Thaksin about the allegation” on 17th January, and the charges relate to an interview he gave to South Korean media in 2015, when he implied that members of the Privy Council had orchestrated the 2014 coup.

05 February 2024

Red Poetry
ยังมีจิตใจจะใฝ่ฝัน
(‘still having a mind that will dream’)


Red Poetry
Red Poetry

After a screening last week in Chiang Mai, Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown in Phatthalung this weekend. The feature-length documentary is a profile of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who co-founded the group Artn’t. A shorter version of the film—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—was screened at Wildtype 2022.

The documentary shows the intense endurance and commitment Vitthaya invests in his protest art. A durational performance—sitting in front of Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate for nine full days—led to his collapse from exhaustion. In another action, he climbed onto Chiang Mai University’s main entrance, repeatedly slapped himself in the face, and fell into a pond. When he reported to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station.

The film ends with Vitthaya’s most extreme action: carving “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges he faced after he exhibited a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021. He was convicted of lèse-majesté last year, and received a suspended sentence.

Red Poetry will be shown at the Swiftlet Book Shop on 10th February, at an event titled Red Poetry ยังมีจิตใจจะใฝ่ฝัน (‘Red Poetry: still having a mind that will dream’). Swiftlet was also the venue for the inaugural Phatthalung Micro Cinema screening last month.)

Supamok’s film was screened three times as part of the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27): in the online Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), at the main festival itself, and in the Short 27 Awarded Film Screening programme. It has previously been shown in Chiang Mai, Salaya, and Phatthalung.

03 February 2024

To the Beloved


To the Beloved

Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will have an open-air screening today at Suan Anya in Chiang Mai, as part of a two-day event, To the Beloved (แด่ผู้เป็นที่รัก), in support of an amnesty for political prisoners. The documentary is a profile of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who co-founded the group Artn’t. A shorter version of the film—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—had its premiere at Wildtype 2022.

Red Poetry shows the intense endurance and commitment Vitthaya invests in his protest art. A durational performance—sitting near Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate for nine full days—led to his collapse from exhaustion. In another action, he climbed onto Chiang Mai University’s main entrance, repeatedly slapped himself in the face, and jumped into a pond. Before reporting to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station.

The film ends with Vitthaya’s most extreme action: he carved “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges he faced after exhibiting a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021. He was convicted of lèse-majesté last year, and received a suspended sentence.

Red Poetry was also shown at Suan Anya last year. It has since been screened at Chiang Mai University, and in Salaya. It was screened three times as part of the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27): in the online Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), at the main festival itself, and in the Short 27 Awarded Film Screening programme.

To the Beloved concludes tomorrow with a programme of short films, including the heartbreaking Red’s Scar (บาดแผลสีแดง), in which Nutcha Tantivitayapitak interviews a protester falsely accused of arson following the 2010 massacre. Tragically, the man’s mother and son both died while he was in jail. Red’s Scar was first shown at Wildtype 2022.

27 January 2024

E. Jean Carroll:
“Donald Trump assaulted me, and... he said it never happened.”



Donald Trump has been ordered to pay E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in damages, after Carroll sued the former US president for libel. Carroll had accused Trump of sexually assaulting her, and that claim was vindicated last year when Trump was found guilty in a civil trial. Despite the guilty verdict, Trump continued to deny ever having met Carroll, compounding his defamation of her.

The damages awarded yesterday, determined by a jury in New York, include $65 million in punitive retribution, as a punishment for Trump’s repeated denials that the assault took place. Giving evidence in court, Carroll said: “I’m here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened.” (Trump is also counter-suing Carroll, over an interview she gave to CNN last year.)

18 January 2024

Phatthalung Micro Cinema 0.5


Phatthalung Micro Cinema
112 News from Heaven

The first independent film event organised by Phatthalung Micro Cinema will be held on 20th January at Swiftlet Book Shop in Phatthalung. For this soft launch, no. 0.5 in their screening programme, they will show three short films, including the premiere of Vichart Somkaew’s documentary 112 News from Heaven.

On 112 News from Heaven’s soundtrack, an announcer reads a bulletin of royal news, a daily staple of the Thai airwaves. This is juxtaposed with captions documenting the convictions of activists charged with lèse-majesté (article 112 of the criminal code). Vichart’s Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป) used a similar technique, with captions honouring victims of political injustice.

Today saw the harshest sentence ever given to a lèse-majesté convict, as Mongkhon Thirakot received a fifty-year jail term. He was found guilty last year, in relation to fourteen Facebook posts, and was originally sentenced to twenty-eight years: two years per conviction, to be served consecutively. He appealed the verdict, and today the Appeals Court added an extra twenty-two years to his sentence.

05 January 2024

“Only movies with content that may affect the monarchy will remain prohibited...”


Democracy Monument

Thailand’s film censorship system is likely to be liberalised this year, after an announcement from the government’s National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) yesterday. According to the NSPSC, more representatives from the film industry will be permitted to sit on the film censorship board, and the board’s focus will shift from censorship to classification.

The NSPSC, chaired by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, was established on 13th September last year. It assesses policy recommendations submitted by its subsidiary, the National Soft Power Development Committee (คณะกรรมการพัฒนาซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ), chaired by Paetongtarn Shinawatra (the leader of Pheu Thai).

Yesterday, Paetongtarn announced that sensitive themes such as sex and religion will no longer be subject to censorship: “Only movies with content that may affect the monarchy will remain prohibited from being screened in Thailand.” (Unsurprisingly, the issue of lèse-majesté remains untouchable.)

Thai Cinema Uncensored, the first comprehensive history of Thai film censorship, documents the arbitrary nature of film regulation in Thailand, and the inconsistencies of the censorship board’s judgements. The proposals unveiled yesterday appear to address many of these problems inherent in the state censorship system, though they fall short of the self-regulation called for by the film industry.

02 December 2023

James Dyson v. Daily Mirror:
“The scope for honest comment... was very considerable indeed.”


Daily Mirror

James Dyson has lost his libel case against the Daily Mirror. Dyson had sued the newspaper over a column by Brian Reade published last year describing his business strategy as “screw your country, and if anyone complains, tell them to suck it up.”

The article was published on the Mirror’s website on 28th January last year, and appeared in the following day’s print edition (p. 19). Judge Robert Jay ruled that the column was an expression of personal opinion, and therefore not defamatory: “The scope for honest comment, however wounding and unbalanced, was very considerable indeed.”

Jay became famous as counsel to the 2011–2012 Leveson Inquiry into media ethics and practices, when his questioning of witnesses was televised. A year ago, Dyson lost another libel case, against Channel 4 and ITN.