20 February 2024

Shakespeare Must Die


Shakespeare Must Die

The ban on Ing Kanjanavanit’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, 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.

The Supreme Court’s decision is a vindication of Shakespeare Must Die and a rejection of the censors’ initial view that the film’s references to 1976 were liable to cause division in society. But the verdict does not reject the principle of state censorship itself. The court ruled that audiences were aware of the historical context surrounding the 1976 massacre, therefore the film was not politically divisive, and thus it should not be banned. The unstated implication is that if another film were deemed to be divisive, it could be legally banned.

The director was interviewed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, and the book details the full story behind the ban. (It also includes an insider’s account from a member of the appeals committee, who was obliged to vote to uphold 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.”

13 February 2024

Arcadia Rooftop Cinema
Blade Runner


Blade Runner

Bangkok’s Arcadia bar celebrates its second anniversary on 17th February with a rooftop screening of its signature film, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. (Arcadia’s logo uses the same typeface as the Blade Runner poster, and some of the bar’s décor, designed by owner Todd Ruiz, was also inspired by the film.)

Arcadia first screened Blade Runner in February last year. It was also shown at House Samyan last year, at the Jam Café in 2019, and at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017.

10 February 2024

100 Greatest Films Ever


Weekend The Godfather

Daily Mail film critic Brian Viner has compiled a list of the 100 greatest films ever made, in a cover story for today’s issue of the newspaper’s Weekend magazine supplement. The list skews towards mainstream titles, as Viner readily acknowledges: “I’ve deliberately left out some of the mighty early silents, and there aren’t too many foreign-language films because this has to be an accessible collection.” Another stipulation is that all titles are available on streaming platforms, thus disqualifying some esoteric arthouse films. (The Mail published a previous list of Viner’s 100 favourite films in 2020.)

The 100 Greatest Films Ever are as follows:

100. Oliver!
99. Thelma and Louise
98. Raiders of the Lost Ark
97. Goldfinger
96. In the Heat of the Night
95. This Is Spinal Tap
94. To Kill a Mockingbird
93. The Sting
92. The Vanishing
91. When We Were Kings
90. Twelve Angry Men
89. It Happened One Night
88. Chariots of Fire
87. Shane
86. Kes
85. The Exorcist
84. High Noon
83. All the President’s Men
82. Parasite
81. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
80. Rear Window
79. The Night of the Hunter
78. Get Out
77. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
76. The Best Years of Our Lives
75. Gone with the Wind
74. City Lights
73. Sunset Boulevard
72. Zulu
71. Chinatown
70. The Shining
69. Henry V
68. His Girl Friday
67. Shakespeare in Love
66. The Third Man
65. West Side Story
64. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
63. The Lives of Others
62. Toy Story
61. Spartacus
60. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
59. Apollo 11
58. Deliverance
57. The Elephant Man
56. Tokyo Story
55. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
54. No Country for Old Men
53. The Producers
52. Schindler’s List
51. Boyhood
50. Dr Strangelove
49. The Conversation
48. The Searchers
47. Duck Soup
46. Rome, Open City
45. Nashville
44. On the Waterfront
43. Bicycle Thieves
42. Top Hat
41. All About Eve
40. Vertigo
39. Seven Samurai
38. 2001: A Space Odyssey
37. The Deer Hunter
36. Taxi Driver
35. There Will Be Blood
34. The Bridge on the River Kwai
33. The General
32. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
31. It’s a Wonderful Life
30. Pulp Fiction
29. Raging Bull
28. Annie Hall
27. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
26. Alien
25. The French Connection
24. The Maltese Falcon
23. The Silence of the Lambs
22. Kind Hearts and Coronets
21. The Sound of Music
20. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
19. The Banshees of Inisherin
18. Double Indemnity
17. Brief Encounter
16. Modern Times
15. Shoah
14. The Apartment
13. Singin’ in the Rain
12. Apocalypse Now
11. Bonnie and Clyde
10. Citizen Kane
9. The Graduate
8. Lawrence of Arabia
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
6. Casablanca
5. Some Like It Hot
4. Jaws
3. Psycho
2. The Wizard of Oz
1. The Godfather

(Note that Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the unrelated 1939 comedy. The Maltese Falcon is the John Huston remake, rather than the 1931 original version.)

05 February 2024

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


Red Poetry
Red Poetry

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 and Salaya.

30 January 2024

Metropolis


Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis will be shown at the Three Layer cafe in Bangkok on 3rd February, accompanied by live music performed by Kachisak Sa-artsri. The film will be introduced by Phassarawin Kulsomboon, director of Khon Boys (เด็กโขน).

Metropolis was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2019, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. It has been shown twice at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, in 2003 (with a live orchestra) and in 2014.

27 January 2024

Thailand Biennale


Cinema for All
The Open World

As part of the Thailand Biennale in Chiang Rai, the Thai Film Archive’s mobile cinema truck will be screening classic Thai films in the grounds of the province’s historic City Hall. The Cine Mobile event begins today, with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), and runs until 7th February.

A virtual reality version of Apichatpong’s installation A Conversation with the Sun (บทสนทนากับดวงอาทิตย์) is also part of the Biennale, on show at the Kotchasan building from 25th to 29th January. The director will take part in a Q&A at the venue today.

Apichatpong’s short film Emerald (มรกต) will be screened daily from 16th January until 9th February, in the What Lies Beneath: Notes from the Underground programme, part of an ongoing Cinema for All (ซีเนม่า ฟอร์ ออล) season at Ban Mae Ma school. (Apichatpong took part in a Q&A with Tilda Swinton at Ban Mae Ma on 5th January.)

The Biennale opened on 9th December last year and ends on 30th April. The theme is The Open World (เปิดโลก).

21 January 2024

Doc Club Festival


Doc Club Festival

Doc Club and Pub will host its first Doc Club Festival in Bangkok next month, from 2nd to 11th February. The schedule includes two screenings—on 6th and 8th February—of Napasin Samkaewcham’s short film A Love Letter to My Sister, a deeply moving documentary about the volatile relationship between his parents. A Love Letter to My Sister was previously shown in last year’s Short Film Marathon 27 (หนังสั้นมาราธอน 27), and at the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27).

Another recent documentary short, Vichart Somkaew’s 112 News from Heaven, is screening on 5th and 7th February. On the film’s soundtrack, an announcer reads a bulletin of royal news—a daily staple of the Thai airwaves—and this is juxtaposed with captions documenting the convictions of activists charged with lèse-majesté (article 112 of the criminal code). 112 News from Heaven was also shown yesterday in Phatthalung.

On 10th February, there will be a mini retrospective of Nutcha Tantivitayapitak’s documentary shorts: Mr. Zero (คนหมายเลขศูนย์), บันทึกสุดท้าย ‘ดา ตอร์ปิโด’ (‘the final record of ‘Da Torpedo’’), and Red’s Scar (บาดแผลสีแดง). The three films all profile individuals accused of crimes against the state: a writer charged with lèse-majesté, a lèse-majesté convict who died shortly after she was interviewed by Nutcha, and a protester falsely accused of arson following the 2010 military massacre. The Director in Focus retrospective will be followed by a Q&A with Nutcha.

The festival also includes three videos from 2022, all of which commemorate violent episodes from Thailand’s modern history. Sumeth Suwanneth’s Lost, and Life Goes On (เลือนแต่ไม่ลืม) features interviews with relatives of the victims of the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre. In Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s ชวนอ่านภาพ 6 ตุลา (‘invitation to read images of 6th Oct.’), Octobrists and current students interpret photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre. Chanasorn Chaikitiporn’s Dawn of a New Day (ก่อนฟ้าสาง) traces the history of the student protest movement from the 14th October 1973 uprising to the 1976 massacre. Sumeth and Chulayarnnon’s films will both be screened on 5th and 7th February, and Chanasorn’s is screening on 4th December as part of a Director in Focus retrospective.

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.

15 January 2024

January Sing-alongs!


January Sing-alongs!

Neighbourhood, the Bangkok community mall that began regular outdoor film screenings last year, will show a season of musicals this month. January Sing-alongs! includes the classics The Wizard of Oz on 21st January and The Sound of Music on 27th January.

The Sound of Music had a previous outdoor, sing-along screening as part of the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival, at Benchasiri Park. The Wizard of Oz had an outdoor screening last year, at Benchakitti Forest Park.

The Wizard of Oz also had a theatrical rerelease last year. It was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2018, 2019, and 2020. It has also been screened at the Scala, Cinema Winehouse, Bangkok Community Theatre, and Jam Café.

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.

30 December 2023

Nednary


Nednary

“WHAT’S YOUR DEMOCRACY, THOO?”
“DEMOCRACY? IT’S MY KIND OF DEMOCRACY.”

Seven boy scouts arrive at an abandoned camp. One of them is the son of a poacher who shot a rare black panther (in a reference to disgraced businessman Premchai Karnasuta). In the past, the others have all killed domestic cats for fun. Their karma catches up with them as a girl scout and a mysterious man hunt them down. In this supernatural horror film from Yuthlert Sippapak, the girl scout is a reincarnation of the dead cats and the man is the spirit of the panther.

The nicknames of the seven boy scouts are the same as those of right-wing Thai politicians—Thoo (Prayut Chan-o-cha), Thay (Mongkolkit Suksintharanon), Pom (Prawit Wongsuwan), Nooh (Anutin Charnvirakul), Tape (Suthep Thaugsuban), Nu (Wissanu Krea-ngam), and Mark (Abhisit Vejjajiva)—and the girl scout’s nickname, Booh, is the same as Yingluck Shinawatra’s. So the film is a political satire, with Yingluck getting her revenge on the coup-makers and protest leaders who brought down her government. (Thaksin Shinawatra’s nickname is Maew, the Thai word for ‘cat’, so the girl scout character perhaps represents both Yingluck and Thaksin.)

Thoo is the most aggressive of the boy scouts, knocking Booh unconscious, tying her up, and repeatedly punching her in the face when she regains consciousness. The real-life parallel is that Prayut led a coup against Yingluck’s government, and she has been legally persecuted ever since. (She was fined, impeached, and convicted of dereliction of duty.)

Nednary

The film was shot in 2019, though it was initially shelved by its studio, Phranakorn Film, due to concerns about its political content. Yuthlert has since added an over-saturated colour filter to the image (to disguise the fact that it was shot on his iPhone), and retitled the film from Seven Boy Scouts to Nednary (อวสานเนตรนารี). The new title translates as ‘girl scout’, shifting the focus onto the female protagonist, in the same way that Yuthlert retitled another long-delayed film from Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ) to Rachida (ราชิดา).

Interviewed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, Yuthlert described Nednary as “a political satire. Finding a way to fight back in a film in the mainstream.” The director has been politically active since the 2014 coup, and Nednary is his personal response to the last decade of Thai politics. The violent plot is also somewhat cathartic, as he explained in his Thai Cinema Uncensored interview: “No one grows up, because I kill them all!”

After this year’s election, the studio finally felt comfortable to release the film. In fact, rather than minimising the political angle, it’s emphasised in the trailer and opening title sequence, with the scouts’ nicknames shown in very large letters. (The English spellings of the nicknames in the trailer are more accurate than those in the film’s subtitles: Tu, rather than Thoo, for example.)

In case viewers miss the political allusion, it’s hammered home when the boy scouts argue about who should lead them. Thoo insists it should be him—Prayut clung onto power unconstitutionally for nine years—and the others accuse him of being undemocratic. Thoo’s reply is a Thai pun that’s not translated in the subtitles: he says that his kind of democracy is “ประชาธิปตู่.” The Thai word for ‘democacy’ is ‘ประชาธิปไตย’, though he replaces the final syllable with his own nickname; the English equivalent would be ‘Thoo-ocracy’.

29 December 2023

Short 27 Awarded Film Screening


Best of Short 27
Open World Cinema

The 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27) took place from 16th December until Christmas Eve, after the preliminary online Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน). At next month’s Short 27 Awarded Film Screening, the winning films will be shown again at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya.

Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s feature-length documentary Khon Boys (เด็กโขน) will be shown on 6th January next year, for its final screening in Thailand for the foreseeable future. Another documentary feature, Supamok Silarak’s Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง), is screening on the following day, as is Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s short drama The Physical Realm (ภูมิกายา).

The Physical Realm will also be shown at a Best of Short 27 (โปรแกรมผลงานชนะรางวัลจากเทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้น ครั้งที่ 27) screening at Chiang Rai International Art Museum on 10th February. The screening is part of the Open World Cinema programme of the Thailand Biennale in Chiang Rai.

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand


Apocalypse Now

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand, by Neil Pettigrew and Philip Jablon, is—to borrow the adjective from its title—an amazing book. Featuring more than 500 posters, including many full-page reproductions, it’s the most extensive guide to Thai film posters ever published.

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand includes a brief history of Thai film poster production, paying particular tribute to Somboonsuk Niyomsiri (also known as Piak Poster), “[t]he father of Thailand’s style of hand painted movie posters”. The Thai poster for Apocalypse Now, painted by Tongdee Panumas, is singled out as “a contender for being the greatest film poster of all time. Not just from Thailand but from any country.”

The book also features the most comprehensive roster of Thai poster artist biographies ever compiled. The entry for Somboonsuk highlights his design for the French film Temptation (L’Île du bout du monde), which “revolutionised the look of Thai cinema posters in 1959 by using an offset printer which allowed for more richly colourful artwork.” (An exhibition of Somboonsuk’s work was held at the Thai Film Archive last year.)

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand / Thai Movie Posters / Bai Pid / Starpics

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand is published by the founder of the horror film magazine The Dark Side, thus it focuses heavily on horror and exploitation posters. The final few chapters are devoted to gory and erotic posters, including one for the Hong Kong film A Gambler’s Story (邪斗串), described as “perhaps the all-time most explicit movie poster ever produced in Thailand.” (These posters—displayed in seedier cinema lobbies, not on public view—were more graphic than the films they advertised, as discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored.)

Co-authors Pettigrew and Jablon are both Thai poster collectors. (Jablon is also a dealer.) Pettigrew has previously written about Thai horror and sexploitation posters in The Dark Side (no. 167, 168, and 180). Jablon organised a poster exhibition at this year’s Singorama Film Festival, and wrote the excellent Thailand’s Movie Theatres.

Gilbert Brownstone’s Thai Movie Posters (Affiches de cinéma thaï/โปสเตอร์ภาพยนต์ไทย), published in 1974, was the first survey of Thai film posters. After almost fifty years, another book on the subject was long overdue, and The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand was well worth the wait.

Starpics magazine released a special issue (no. 3) on the history of Thai film posters in 1997, which is also a great resource. There are catalogues to the Bai Pid (ใบปิด) and Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย) exhibitions, and other poster exhibitions include Eyegasm and Rare Thai Movie Posters (ลับแลโปสเตอร์ ภาพยนตร์ไทย). There is a short essay on Thai film posters in Thai Cinema (Le cinéma thaïlandais), and vintage posters are illustrated in Dome Sukwong’s A Century of Thai Cinema.

26 December 2023

The Exorcist Legacy:
50 Years of Fear


The Exorcist Legacy

The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear was published earlier this year, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of William Friedkin’s classic horror film The Exorcist. Author Nat Segaloff was Friedkin’s authorised biographer, and he covers the making of the film in considerable detail, with chapters on the three stages of production and the film’s release.

The book also discusses the various Exorcist sequels, which are of interest only to completists. Segaloff’s synopses of all these spinoffs are largely superfluous. Fortunately, though, the first half of the book is devoted to the original 1973 film.

Mark Kermode’s book on the film, from the BFI Film Classics series, remains the definitive study, and Segaloff interviewed him for The Exorcist Legacy. In fact, Kermode has become such an authority on The Exorcist that Segaloff dedicates his book to him alongside Friedkin and William Peter Blatty (who wrote the original novel).

24 December 2023

Damnatio Memoriae


Damnatio Memoriae

Thunska Pansittivorakul’s latest documentary, Damnatio Memoriae (ไม่พึงปรารถนา), had its world premiere at this year’s DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in South Korea. Thunska’s films often contain found footage, though with Damnatio Memoriae he has taken this a step further, producing a collage film comprised almost entirely of repurposed news and propaganda clips. (It begins with a montage of violent episodes from modern world history: the Holocaust, the Zapruder film, 9/11.)

Structurally, the film is a series of stark juxtapositions between fantasy and reality: propaganda videos (either directly or indirectly state-sanctioned), followed by atrocities committed by those states. Thus, the jolly Duck and Cover public information film is intercut with footage of Japanese A-bomb victims. Most of the examples are drawn from Asia during the Cold War era: Chinese Communist propaganda films, followed by the Tiananmen Square massacre; the Seoul Olympics opening ceremony intercut with autopsy photographs of Gwangju Uprising victims.

Thai political history is central to Thunska’s filmography, and Damnatio Memoriae is no exception. Here, clips from the historical romance Sunset at Chaophraya (คู่กรรม) are juxtaposed with footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre, with the love song Angsumalin (อังศุมาลิน), performed by heartthrob Nadech Kugimiya, on the soundtrack. (Sunset at Chaophraya is based on a novel by Thommayanti, who denounced students as Communists in the buildup to 1976. Video artist Chulayarnnon Siriphol has also appropriated footage from Sunset at Chaophraya.)

Explicit sexual content is another key component of the director’s work, used most provocatively in The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), when a man is shown masturbating while captions describe the victims of the 1976 massacre. As Thunska explained in Thai Cinema Uncensored, this scene was a condemnation of what he views as the military’s quasi-sexual impulse to destroy its opponents: “That massacre is like masturbation... They need to feel good and happy, but it’s really cruel.”

Damnatio Memoriae features a similar sequence: a young man masturbates in the shower, while captions describe “the Red Drum killings of more than 200 civilians (unofficial accounts speak of up to 3,000) who were accused of supporting communists in Phatthalung, southern Thailand.” The graphic metaphor for military violence is an echo of The Terrorists, though there is an added layer of significance: the actor in the shower comes from Phatthalung, where the killings took place decades before he was born.

Nudity is also used for comic effect, in an irreverent comment on royally-appointed Thai prime minister and statesman Prem Tinsulanonda. Prem is shown preparing to deliver a speech at the White House, in recognition of Thai-US military cooperation during the Cold War, and just as he is about to speak, the film cuts to a close-up of an erection.

The shower sequence is an out-take from Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), and Damnatio Memoriae also features brief clips from Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์). Thunska’s previous films include Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Reincarnate (จุติ), and This Area is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน).

09 December 2023

Rare Thai Movie Posters


Rare Thai Movie Posters Rare Thai Movie Posters

Today and tomorrow, vintage Thai film posters will be on display, and on sale, at the Woof Pack building in Bangkok. The Bai Pid (ใบปิด) exhibition—held at the same venue last year—featured reproductions of classic poster artwork, whereas this weekend’s fair, Rare Thai Movie Posters (ลับแลโปสเตอร์ ภาพยนตร์ไทย), focuses on original posters.

Rare Thai Movie Posters and Bai Pid are among only a handful of exhibitions devoted to Thai movie poster art. Others have included Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย; 1984) in Bangok, and Eyegasm (2012) in Palm Springs, California. Philip Jablon exhibited some posters from his collection at this year’s Singorama Film Festival in Songkhla.

Gilbert Brownstone’s Thai Movie Posters (Affiches de cinéma thaï/โปสเตอร์ภาพยนต์ไทย), published in 1974, was the first book on the subject. A new survey, The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand by Jablon and Neil Pettigrew, was released earlier this year. Starpics magazine issued five special issues devoted to film posters; most focused on Hollywood posters, and no. 3 covered 100 years of Thai cinema.

08 December 2023

112 News from Heaven


112 News from Heaven

Vichart Somkaew’s short documentary 112 News from Heaven juxtaposes news that’s broadcast on all channels every day with news that goes unreported by mainstream outlets. On the soundtrack, an announcer reads a bulletin of royal news, a daily staple of Thai television and radio. This is contrasted with captions documenting news of “victims of the Thai state”. Vichart’s previous film Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป) used a similar technique, with captions honouring victims of political injustice.

The Thai monarchy is often associated with the sky, symbolising the high reverence in which it is traditionally held, and lèse-majesté is article 112 of the criminal code, hence the title 112 News from Heaven. The film’s captions feature 112 headlines from a 112-day period, detailing the custodial sentences given to those convicted of lèse-majesté and the bail denied to those awaiting trial.

After its litany of legal persecution, the film ends with a clip from an impromptu TV interview Rama X gave during a walkabout. Asked for his message to pro-democracy protesters, the King offers words of reassurance: “We love them all the same.”

The film’s structure recalls D.H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers. The bulk of that book describes the misery of the protagonist’s life, though it ends on an unexpectedly uplifting note: “He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.”

Can the book’s final few optimistic sentences negate the oppressive narrative of its previous 500 pages? Or does the apparently hopeful ending represent a false dawn? The same questions are raised by 112 News from Heaven, in relation to the state’s attitudes towards political dissent.

Again, there is a similarity with Cremation Ceremony. After detailing various state injustices, that film also ends on a positive note, with a final caption welcoming the news that pro-democracy parties “emerged victorious” in this year’s election. But after the film was released, it became clear that the election result was another false dawn, as the winning party was sidelined and the military remained in government.

27th Thai Short Film and Video Festival


27th Thai Short Film and Video Festival

The 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27) runs from 16th December until Christmas Eve at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya. The annual Short Film and Video Festival is Thailand’s longest-running film event, providing a unique showcase for independent filmmakers.

Over seventy films will be screened in competition, chosen from more than 600 titles submitted. Almost all of the submissions were shown online during the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน) earlier this year.

A Love Letter to My Sister
The Physical Realm

A Love Letter to My Sister, video journalist Napasin Samkaewcham’s deeply personal account of the volatile relationship between his parents, is surely the most powerful film at this year’s event. This moving and often heart-rending documentary will be shown on 17th December.

Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s short drama The Physical Realm (ภูมิกายา) will have its Thai premiere on 16th December. The film includes a subtle tribute to the leaders of the student protest movement, when a man speculates on the name he might have given to a child his former girlfriend never had. He considers the names Anon, Panassaya, and Jathupat, which refer to Arnon Nampa, Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, respectively. (The references are slightly disguised, as the film’s subtitles spell the names phonetically.)

Other highlights include Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s Khon Boys (เด็กโขน), screening on 16th December; Supamok Silarak’s Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง), on 17th December; Kawinnate Konklong’s แค่วันที่โชคร้าย (‘unfortunately’), also on 17th December; and video artist Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s ANG48 (เอเอ็นจี48), on 23rd December. Award winners will be announced on Christmas Eve.

Khon Boys
Red Poetry

A Love Letter to My Sister and แค่วันที่โชคร้าย both had their debut screenings during the Short Film Marathon. Khon Boys premiered at Jumping Frames (跳格) in Hong Kong. The Physical Realm premiered at Film Fest Gent in Belgium on 19th October. Red Poetry has previously been shown in both Chiang Mai and Salaya. ANG48 was shown previously at ใช้แล้ว ใช้อยู่ ใช้ต่อ (‘I’ve used it, I’m using it, I’ll keep using it’), Wildtype 2023, and Shadow Dancing.

07 December 2023

Khon Boys


Khon Boys

Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s new documentary Khon Boys (เด็กโขน) will be shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 16th December, in what is expected to be its only public screening in Thailand. The film had its world premiere on 15th September at Jumping Frames (跳格), the Hong Kong International Movement-Image Festival 2023.

Khon Boys follows a group of students as they learn the Thai dramatic art of khon dancing. The film opens with an introduction to the history of khon and its associations with Thai royalty: khon was traditionally performed exclusively at royal functions, and its principal characters are gods and kings. The ten kings of Thailand’s current Chakri dynasty share their name with Rama, protagonist of the khon drama Ramakien (รามเกียรติ์), and the film highlights the parallels between khon’s warrior kings and the past 200 years of Thai history.

Captions describe the Ramakien’s plot: “Rama returns home for his coronation, and his reign is one of peace and happiness.” Cut to: Sanam Luang, “15 months after King Rama X’s coronation,” where protesters gathered in September 2020 to call for reform of the monarchy. Later, there is footage of riot police firing rubber bullets at REDEM protesters at Sanam Luang in March 2021, and an impressive drone shot of 10,000 protesters assembling at Democracy Monument in August 2020. The film describes the epic Ramakien as a “great battle between Good and Evil,” and it presents the current confrontations between demonstrators and the establishment in the same terms.

Khon Boys

Khon Boys is Phassarawin’s solo directorial debut, though he previously codirected Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) and the short film Dance of Death (แดนซ์ ออฟ เดธ) with Thunska Pansittivorakul. He also worked as cinematographer on Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล). Khon Boys is similar to the latter film, as they both include interviews with high-school boys about contemporary politics.

Khon Boys perfectly captures the tension between tradition and change. Just as youthful protesters in a hierarchical society are challenging conservative elites, the young khon students are participating in a royalist art form yet simultaneously questioning the ideology it represents. The film shows a social studies class that appears to be a straightforward propaganda exercise, with a writing project titled “Missing the King in Heaven”. Meanwhile, when interviewed by the director, the students criticise the lèse-majesté law and the military. As one student puts it succinctly: “Soldiers aren’t the nation’s fence. They are the king’s shield.”

Some of their comments on lèse-majesté were self-censored by the director, with photos of CGI dinosaurs to mask the forbidden opinions. (Homogeneous, Empty Time also includes a self-censored discussion of lèse-majesté.) One student resorts to a thinly-veiled metaphor, namely a fictional location in the Japanese manga series One Piece (ワンピース): “Let me talk about the country of Wano. Lord Kaido is the country’s big boss. He thinks he has limitless power and can do anything to people like us.”

02 December 2023

It Is What It Is


It Is What It Is

Chatchawal Thongjun’s From Forest to City (อรัญนคร), one of the best Thai short films of the year, will be shown at Bangkok University’s School of Digital Media and Cinematic Arts as part of the It Is What It Is (ชีวิตก็เท่านี้) programme. The event, on 4th December, is the third screening in the Jubchaii (ถูกจับฉาย) series. Chatchawal’s film will also be shown online on 6th December in the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน).

From Forest to City is a black-and-white drama, though it has two flashes of colour: a red folding chair (symbolising the 1976 Thammasat University massacre), and a yellow t-shirt (as worn by anti-democratic People’s Alliance for Democracy supporters). In its final act, the film features a montage of footage from Thailand’s polarised political history, set ironically to รักกันไว้เถิด (‘let’s love each other’), a Cold War propaganda song whose lyrics call for national unity.