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 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.”

19 February 2024

“He came to see us in a wheelchair... he looked critically ill to me.”


Thaksin Shinawatra

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was released on parole early yesterday morning, and today he appeared at the Office of the Attorney General to answer charges of lèse-majesté that were first filed in 2016. He was released on 500,000 baht bail, and the Attorney General will announce on 10th April whether he will be indicted.

The lèse-majesté case stems from an interview Thaksin gave on 21st May 2015 to The Chosun Daily (조선일보), a South Korean newspaper, during which he accused members of the Privy Council of orchestrating the 2006 and 2014 coups. (He had made similar claims in earlier interviews: on 20th April 2009, he told the Financial Times newspaper that the Privy Council “started the whole process” of the 2006 coup, a comment he repeated in Tom Plate’s book Conversations with Thaksin.)

The Chosun Daily video was not the first newspaper interview that led to lèse-majesté charges against Thaksin. In a 9th November 2009 interview with The Times, when King Rama IX was still on the throne, he agreed with the interviewer that the reign of Rama IX’s successor “will be a “shining” age”. As a result, lèse-majesté charges were filed against both Thaksin and Times journalist Richard Lloyd Parry.

When Thaksin was driven home from the police hospital after his parole, he was photographed wearing a neck brace, and with his right arm in a sling. After meeting him at the OAG this morning, Preecha Sudsanguan described the former PM’s health condition: “He came to see us in a wheelchair,” the director general of the criminal litigation department said. “His voice was barely audible when I talked to him and he looked critically ill to me.”

Suspicions were raised about Thaksin’s health when he was transferred to a police hospital on the very first night of his prison sentence, despite being well enough to fly back to Thailand that same morning. He remained in hospital for the entire duration of his sentence, yet after being paroled, he was sent home, apparently no longer needing to be hospitalised. Yet according to the OAG, his condition now appears even worse, despite his six-month hospital stay.

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. Prayuth Pecharakun, spokesman for the OAG, 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 accused members of the Privy Council of orchestrating the 2006 and 2014 coups.

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.

04 February 2024

2475
นักเขียนผีแห่งสยาม
(‘1932: the ghost writer of Siam’)


2475 Graphic Novel Rama VII

In the years following the 2014 coup, the military government set about removing public reminders of the 1932 revolution, when Thailand transitioned from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy. In the catalogue for his exhibition The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์), Wittawat Tongkeaw describes the disappearance of “physical components—names, plaques, monuments” commemorating the revolution. Similarly, in his chapter in Rama X (edited by Pavin Chachavalpongpun), Chatri Prakitnonthakan discusses “the destruction of significant buildings and monuments related to the memory of the People’s Party”.

Most notoriously, a plaque in Bangkok’s Royal Plaza was covertly replaced in 2017 with a new plaque honouring the monarchy. Leaders of the recent student protest movement created a new plaque with a democratic inscription, and installed it at Sanam Luang on 20th September 2020, though it was removed by the authorities almost immediately. Reproductions of the new plaque have been shown at various exhibitions, including Wittawat’s 841.594, and it appears prominently in Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s film 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้).

The new plaque is an indication of a political awakening among young Thais—known as ta sawang—and a renewed interest in the 1932 revolution specifically. One of the groups organising the recent protests is called Khana Ratsadon, in tribute to the political party of the same name that led the 1932 revolution. A new library of pro-democracy books is called 1932 People Space Library, its name referring to the year the revolution took place. Souvenir items from 1932 were displayed at the Revolutionary Things (ของ [คณะ] ราษฎร) exhibition in 2018. Charinthorn Rachuratchata’s exhibition Museum 2032 (พิพิธภัณฑ์ ๒๕๗๕) looked forward to the revolution’s centenary.

This revival of interest in the events of 1932 is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 2010, vox pop interviews for Abichon Rattanabhayon’s short film The Six Principles (สัญญาของผู้มาก่อนกาล) demonstrated the public’s apathy towards the revolution. But a few years later, in 2013, the change in attitudes was apparent when Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) achieved unexpected box-office success. (Paradoxocracy features an extended discussion of the revolution, and begins by reproducing the text of a 1932 manifesto railing against King Prajadhipok.)

The 1932 revolution is central to the plot of a new book, 2475 นักเขียนผีแห่งสยาม (‘1932: the ghost writer of Siam’), by Tanis Werasakwong (known as Sa-ard) and Podcharakrit To-im. The book tells the full story of the revolution in the form of a graphic novel, featuring prominent politicians of the period—and even King Prajadhipok—among its main characters. The project’s website describes the revolution as “an event in Thai history that has been erased from collective memory”, a point also made in Prabda Yoon’s short film Transmissions of Unwanted Pasts (วงโคจรของความทรงจำ).

01 February 2024

‘Jack the giant slayer’


Democracy Monument

Two petitions have been filed with the Election Commission of Thailand today, calling for the dissolution of the Move Forward Party, following the Constitutional Court’s unanimous verdict yesterday that Move Forward’s proposal to amend the lèse-majesté law was tantamount to treason. (The court ruled that the party violated article 49 of the constitution, according to which it is forbidden “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.”)

Article 92 of the Organic Act on Political Parties (2017) states that the ECT, “when having believable evidence that any political party performed any of the following actions, shall file a petition to the Constitutional Court to dissolve such political party.” The first of those actions is: “To overthrow the democratic form of government with the King as head of state”, of which Move Forward was found guilty yesterday.

Political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana petitioned the ECT this morning, citing article 92 of the Organic Act. Ruangkrai is known as ‘Jack the giant slayer’, as his complaint against Samak Sundaravej resulted in the former prime minister being dismissed from office. (He had accused Samak of receiving private income from a TV cookery show, ชิมไปบ่นไป/‘tasting while grumbling’). Theerayut Suwankesorn, who filed the petition that led to yesterday’s court verdict, has also petitioned the ECT this morning, citing the same article as Ruangkrai.

The ECT is now obliged to refer the case to the Constitutional Court, which will rule on whether Move Forward should be dissolved. If the court’s previous judgements are any guide, dissolution seems inevitable, as other anti-establishment parties—Thai Rak Thai, People Power, Thai Raksa Chart, and Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward—have all met the same fate.

Despite winning last year’s election, Move Forward’s prime ministerial nominee was blocked by the Senate. With the junta-appointed senators’ terms of office expiring in May, thus increasing Move Forward’s chances of gaining power at the next election, today’s petitions can be seen as a preemptive measure: an alternative mechanism to prevent the party from exercising its mandate.

31 January 2024

“The law is not a fax paper sent from God...”


Democracy Monument

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the Move Forward Party’s pledge to amend the lèse-majesté law violated article 49 of the constitution, according to which it is forbidden “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” The court has ordered Move Forward and its former leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, to cease all activities and campaigns related to lèse-majesté reform.

The court’s investigation into Move Forward began in July last year, when a petition was filed by Theerayut Suwankesorn, lawyer for the disgraced former monk Suwit Thongprasert. (Last week, in an unrelated case, the court ruled that Pita’s ownership of shares in a defunct media company was not unconstitutional.)

Theerayut’s petition did not call for Move Forward’s dissolution, though now that the court has deemed the party’s agenda tantamount to treason, others may take the opportunity to do so. Since the election, there has been a concerted effort to muzzle Move Forward, and the Constitutional Court has a long history of dissolving anti-establishment parties, namely Thai Rak Thai, People Power, Thai Raksa Chart, and Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward.

Move Forward is not a republican party, and had not sought to abolish the lèse-majesté law, only to reduce the fifteen-year maximum sentence for offenders, and to restrict those who can press charges. This was a key policy in Move Forward’s election-winning manifesto, though today’s verdict will significantly restrict the party’s progressive agenda.

At a press conference today, before the verdict was announced, former Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said: “The law is not a fax paper sent from God. It’s written by human hands, therefore people can amend it”. (Thanathorn was disqualified as an MP by the Constitutional Court in 2019.)

The Showman:
Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelensky


Time / The Showman

Simon Shuster’s superb new book The Showman: Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelensky, published last week, is a unique profile of Ukraine’s President, from a writer who has spent more time with Zelensky and his inner circle than any other journalist. Shuster has reported on Zelensky for Time magazine since 2019, and his dispatches throughout the Russia-Ukraine war have been essential reading. He was embedded in the presidential compound for months on end, yet his reporting on Zelensky has remained scrupulously objective.

Zelensky cooperated with Shuster to such an extent that the President’s staff raised objections to it, as the author explains in his prologue: “Some of Zelensky’s aides, in particular the ones responsible for his security, did not always appreciate the access the president gave me, especially on the days when he invited me to travel with him to the front. He never explained his reasons for doing that. His staff only said that he trusted me to write an honest account.” When Shuster initially proposed the book—under the working title The Fight Is Here: Volodymyr Zelensky and the War in Ukraine—the President, with a degree of modesty, “felt he had not lived or achieved enough to be the focus of a biography.”

Shuster praises Zelensky’s bravery as a wartime leader, and admires the President’s genuine and selfless concern for his people. But although this is an authorised biography, it’s certainly not a hagiography. Shuster makes clear, for example, that Zelensky was at fault for Ukraine’s lack of preparedness when the war began: “He had spent weeks playing down the risk of a full-scale invasion and assuring his people that all would be fine. He had refused the advice of his military commanders to call up all available reserves and use them to fortify the border. Apart from the calamity of the invasion itself, the president would need to face his own failure to foresee it.”

Rather than the exaggerated Churchillian comparisons made by some other journalists, Shuster’s assessment of Zelensky is surprisingly ambivalent. He even admits to being “worried” about the President’s potential commitment to democracy in a post-war Ukraine, once restrictions on the media are eventually lifted: “I don’t know how Zelensky will handle that fraught transition, whether he will have the wisdom and restraint to part with the extraordinary powers granted to him under martial law, or whether he will, like so many leaders throughout history, find that power too addictive.”

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.)

24 January 2024

Pita Limjaroenrat ‘not guilty’


Democracy Monument

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled that former Move Forward party leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s ownership of shares in iTV did not violate the constitution. The verdict allows Pita to resume his position as an MP, though it’s a Pyrrhic victory as his suspension from parliament last year prevented him from being renominated for the position of prime minister.

Article 98 of the constitution forbids MPs from holding shares in media companies, and Pita inherited a small stake in iTV from his father. His ownership of the shares was not in question: the dispute centred instead on the legal status of iTV itself. The TV station lost its broadcasting licence in 2007, and Pita argued that it should not, therefore, be deemed a media company in its current form. Today, eight of the nine Constitutinal Court judges agreed with him.

As leader of the party that won last year’s election, Pita was nominated as PM, though on the eve of the vote, in a decision timed to cause maximum impact, the Election Commission of Thailand referred the iTV case to the Constitutional Court. Then, on the morning of the second prime ministerial vote, the Constitutional Court suspended Pita from parliament pending its investigation. Again, the timing was hardly coincidental, and it prevented Pita from being renominated as PM.

Move Forward is a reincarnation of Future Forward, whose leader was also accused of illegally owning media shares. In that case, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was found guilty of owning a stake in V-Luck Media. Future Forward was ultimately dissolved by the Constitutional Court, and Move Forward may yet face the same fate: the court will decide on 31st January whether Move Forward’s manifesto pledge to reform the lèse-majesté law was itself unconstitutional.

22 January 2024

Memes of Dissent:
Thai Social Media During the 2020–2021 Student Uprising


Memes of Dissent Memes of Dissent

An exhibition of satirical memes and online political cartoons opens this week at All Rise (the offices of iLaw) in Bangkok. Memes of Dissent: Thai Social Media During the 2020–2021 Student Uprising (โซเชียลเน็ตเวิร์คในท่ามกลางการประท้วงของนักศึกษาไทยระหว่างปี 2020–2021) features anti-government GIFs and other digital artwork shared via social media in support of the student protest movement that began in 2020.

The exhibition was previously held at Artcade in Phayao, where it was on show for almost two months (from 3rd August to 1st October 2023), though it will only be open for three days in Bangkok, from 26th to 28th January. Organised by the University of Phayao’s School of Architecture and Fine Art in association with the Museum of Popular History, the Bangkok exhibition will also include memes created after last year’s election (when the winning party was sidelined and the military remained in government).

Copies of คนกลมคนเหลี่ยม Live in Memes of Dissent (‘round people and square people live in memes of dissent’) will be given away at the exhibition. The booklet—limited to fifty copies—reprints a dozen cartoons from the คนกลมคนเหลี่ยม (‘round people and square people’) Facebook page, in solidarity with the cartoonist, who is facing lèse-majesté charges in relation to four cartoons he posted on the page in 2022.

นิทรรศการรำลึกการต่อสู้คนเสื้อแดง
(‘exhibition commemorating the red-shirts’ struggle’)



An exhibition documenting the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protest movement opens today at Thammasat University. Organised by the students’ union, it will be held at the Thammasat Museum of Anthropology, on the university’s Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani.

นิทรรศการรำลึกการต่อสู้คนเสื้อแดง (‘exhibition commemorating the red-shirts’ struggle’) runs until 2nd February. It features t-shirts, magazines, newspapers, VCDs, banners, and other red-shirt media and ephemera.

A similar exhibition was mounted at Pheu Thai HQ on 23rd April 2010, organised to present the events of 10th April 2010 from a red-shirt perspective to an invited audience of western diplomats. At that event, VCDs with English subtitles were distributed, one of which—Truth 10th April: Who Is the Real Killer—was played for the visiting dignitaries.

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.

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.

04 January 2024

Pat Yingcharoen:
Collective Convalescence


Pat Yingcharoen: Collective Convalescence

Collective Convalescence is the first monograph on the young Thai artist Pat Yingcharoen, whose paintings combine tragic images of violence from art history and photojournalism. The elegantly designed book features an essay by Panu Boonpipattanapong and an interview with the artist by Korn Karava. (Korn also edited and published the book, which is the second volume in a series that began with No God No King Only Human.)

Like many artists of his generation, Pat experienced a political awakening following the 2014 coup. It was this newfound awareness, known in Thai as ta sawang, which first led him to transition from “conducting painting experiments to focusing more on the historical aspects.” (Novelists Uthis Haemamool and Veeraporn Nitiprapha have also discussed their ta sawang experiences, and it was a recurring theme in interviews with film directors for Thai Cinema Uncensored.)

In particular, Pat often incorporates elements from photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre, which he regards as “among the most iconic depictions of Thai history”. In his essay, Panu explains that these images of hanged and desecrated bodies are juxtaposed and decontextualised, so that “new dimensions of history that may have been previously suppressed are discovered.”

Images of the 1976 massacre are depicted prominently in several of Pat’s works. In Sacred Punishment, one of the victims is transposed into a reproduction of William-Adolphe Bouguerau’s Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La flagellation de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ). In Beater, Neal Ulevich’s infamous image of a man holding a folding chair is superimposed over a detail from the same Bouguerau painting. In Martyrs, another victim is placed in the centre of Andrea del Sarto’s Disputation on the Trinity (Disputa sulla Trinità).

The artist’s other visual references to the massacre are more subtle. Onlookers from the background of Ulevich’s photograph appear in Under the Blue Moon (shown at his Blue Rhapsody exhibition at Number One Gallery last year) and From Jesus to the Void. The distinctive tree trunk from which a victim was hanged in Ulevich’s picture appears in the backgrounds of Imaginary Horizon—a reproduction of Bouguerau’s First Mourning (Premier deuil)—and Cain and Abel. (Another young Thai artist, Pachara Piyasongsoot, also painted the same tree trunk, in The Garden.)

Pat Yingcharoen: Collective Convalescence was published last month, in an edition of 300 (mine being no. 294). Each copy is numbered and signed with a flourish by the artist. (Curiously, he spells his first name Patt, while the book uses an alternative English spelling, Pat.)

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’.

28 December 2023

Museum 2032


Museum 2032 Museum 2032

Charinthorn Rachuratchata’s exhibition Museum 2032 (พิพิธภัณฑ์ ๒๕๗๕) looks simultaneously into the future and the past, while commenting on the present. Charinthorn transports us forward ten years, as visitors to a 2032 exhibition commemorating 100 years of democracy in Thailand. (Absolute monarchy was replaced with parliamentary democracy in 1932.) Photographs of an unsuccessful royalist rebellion led by Prince Boworadet ninety years ago are juxtaposed with images of the student protest movement that began in 2020.

Though separated by time, the two events are connected by the active involvement of Thai citizens in fighting for democracy. In 1933, students and other young Thais supported the newly-formed democratic government in suppressing Boworadet’s rebellion. In 2020 and 2021, students campaigned for reform of the monarchy and an end to military rule. Displaying four black-and-white images of each event facing each other on opposite walls of the gallery, Charinthorn draws parallels between them and shows that the democratic struggle continues.

Museum 2032 Museum 2032
Museum 2032 Museum 2032

Each of the photographs has been torn and restored using the Japanese kintsugi method, whereby gold lacquer is used as a bonding agent. Rather than producing conventional seamless repairs, kintsugi highlights the seams as an integral aspect of the repaired object. When applied to the photographs in the exhibition, the technique emphasises that the events depicted are worthy of preservation, and also that Thai democracy remains imperfect.

Charinthorn’s previous photographic series, The Will to Remember, featured images of the recent student protest movement alongside photographs of the massacre of Thammasat University students in 1976. The prints were also repaired via kintsugi, though in The Will to Remember the kintsugi seams symbolised resilience against the erasure of the massacre from the collective memory.

Museum 2032 opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok on 21st October, and was originally scheduled to run until 30th December. It has now been extended until 7th January next year.