18 June 2024

A Sleepless Entity
(or The Thai’s Prometheus)

A Sleepless Entity Watcharin Niamvanichkul
BangLee Everything Everywhere Horror in Pink No. 2
Hidden Agenda No. 5 Spanky Studio
Sun Rises When Day Breaks By the Time It Gets Dark
Deja vu Selfie Series

Naphat Khunlam’s short film A Sleepless Entity (or The Thai’s Prometheus) is a dystopian fantasy about a student filmmaker who dreams of expressing her creative freedom but is oppressed by the conformist education system. The film is notable for its references to photographs of war and political conflict, in both Thailand and Vietnam: the gunman who hid his weapon in a Kolk popcorn bag, army snipers shooting people sheltering at Wat Pathum Wanaram, and the famous Eddie Adams photograph of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing the Viet Cong soldier Nguyễn Văn Lém.

A Sleepless Entity

A Sleepless Entity is the latest of several films, videos, and artworks to recreate Kraipit Phanvut’s photograph from 6th October 1976 of police colonel Watcharin Niamvanichkul aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Manit Sriwanichpoom inserted his Pink Man character into the image for Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู), a technique parodied by Anuwat Apimukmongkon. Spanky Studio superimposed a clown’s head over Watcharin’s face. In Déjà vu (เดจาวู), Headache Stencil replaced the pistol with a futuristic ray gun. For his Selfie Series (เซลฟี่ ซีรีย์), Chumpol Kamwanna depicted himself taking a selfie while adopting the same pose as Watcharin. The pose was also restaged in Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and View from the Bus Tour’s music video Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ). Pornpimon Pokha’s Hidden Agenda No. 5 (วาระซ่อนเร้น หมายเลข 5) recreated the image in watercolour.

15 June 2024

Yesterday Is Another Day

Yesterday Is Another Day

Koraphat Cheeradit’s short film Yesterday Is Another Day will be shown at this year’s Isan Creative Festival (เทศกาลอีสานสร้างสรรค์), being held at Khon Kaen between 29th June and 7th July. The festival’s theme is Proud of Isan (สะออนเด้).

Yesterday Is Another Day is part of the Short Film Short Cut programme, taking place from 24th to 30th June as a prelude to the main festival. The films will be shown on a bus travelling around the city, and Yesterday Is Another Day is being screened on 27th June.

Yesterday Is Another Day

In Yesterday Is Another Day, a high school student plays hooky and meets his girlfriend in a woodland. They take a walk, and joke about their future together, seemingly without a care in the world. But there are ominous signs of impending threats: they find a discarded handgun, and Koraphat inserts shots of a JCB digging up the forest.

Eventually, we learn that the student is being charged with lèse-majesté, merely for sharing Facebook posts. His court hearing is the following day, and he is likely to be jailed. (The film doesn’t state directly that he’s facing royal defamation charges, though it’s clear from the couple’s conversation: he explains that the sentence is three years per offence, which is the minimum jail term for lèse-majesté.)

The prospect of criminal charges for posting on social media is a reality for hundreds of people in Thailand today, many of whom are students. As the boy in Koraphat’s film says to his girlfriend, he has to face changing from “being a teenager to being a prisoner.” The film is a powerful and moving reminder of the severe consequences of lèse-majesté, and what it must feel like to be criminalised at a young age for expressing opinions online.

Yesterday Is Another Day was previously shown at the Chiang Mai Film Festival (twice), and in the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน). It was first screened in Silpakorn University’s programme The Political Wanderer.

Photography Never Lies

Photography Never Lies

Photography Never Lies (ภาพถ่ายไม่โกหก) opened on 30th May at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, and runs until 8th September. The exhibition explores the impact of technology on the authenticity of images.

Photography Never Lies features a selection of works from one of the biggest names in AI photography, Boris Eldagsen. Eldagsen coined the term ‘promptography’ to describe the results produced by generative AI software based on prompts typed by the artist.

The Macht (‘power’) series, by Patrik Budenz and Birte Zellentin, is another highlight. Photographs of each country’s heads of state are superimposed over each other, with the longest-serving leaders dominating each composite portrait.

A set of postcards is available, featuring some of the key photographs from the exhibition. The set’s stylish packaging reproduces the camera aperture motif of the exhibition logo.

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.

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.

08 June 2024

Gallery Movie Night:
A Night of Cinematic Exploration

Gallery Movie Night

A retrospective of short films by Taiki Sakpisit took place this evening at SAC Gallery in Bangkok, followed by a Q&A with the artist. Gallery Movie Night: A Night of Cinematic Exploration featured four of Taiki’s previous films—Shadow and Act, A Ripe Volcano, Seeing in the Dark, and The Age of Anxiety—and one new production, The Spirit Level. Like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย), The Spirit Level tackles the tragic discoveries of the bodies of murdered political dissidents in the Mekong river.

Shadow and Act

Shadow and Act—like Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง)—features sequences shot at Dusit Zoo, which was closed by royal decree in 2018. Shadow and Act also includes shots filmed at another prestigious institution from a bygone age, the Chaya Jitrakorn photography studio, panning slowly around the studio’s fixtures and fittings, settling upon dusty portraits of Cold War dictator Phibun Songkhram and other kharatchakan (‘civil servants’).

A Ripe Volcano

Similarly, in A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), the camera prowls elegiacally through the empty corridors of the Royal Hotel, another example of Bangkok’s faded glory. The hotel became a makeshift field hospital in 1992 during ‘Black May’, and its lobby was stormed by the military. A Ripe Volcano evokes the violence of the event through indirect signifiers, such as a fire engine (several of which were set ablaze in 1992), creating an uncanny sense of foreboding. Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Zombie Citizens and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) also evoke Black May with shots of the hotel.

Seeing in the Dark

Seeing in the Dark opens with contemplative, static images of Khao Kho, a mountainous region in northern Thailand with a potent political legacy: Phibun hid the country’s gold reserve—and the Emerald Buddha statue—from the Japanese there during World War II, and the area was a base for Communist insurgents throughout the 1970s. There are shots of the Sacrificial Monument compound, which memorialises the ‘sacrifices’ of the soldiers who fought the Communists, rather than the thousands of insurgents who were killed.

Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism website notes that Khao Kho was once “a red area smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies. Khao Kho was considered a forbidden land that ordinary people should not get too close to because it was considered extremely dangerous. But as time passed, the conflict ended and Khao Kho transformed into one of Phetchabun’s most striking and beautiful tourist areas.”

A similar reputational whitewashing took place at other sites of anti-Communist violence, such as Santikhiri and Nabua, a process examined in Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Apichatpong’s A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ). Khao Kho, Santikhiri, and Nabua are, to use Dutch artist Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’: tranquil spaces that bear silent witness to historical violence.

In Seeing in the Dark, an ominous rumble on the soundtrack hints at the continued presence of this past menace. The film ends with footage of anti-government protests from October 2020, a reminder—to quote the Ministry of Tourism again—that Thailand is still “smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies.”

The Age of Anxiety

The retrospective concluded with The Age of Anxiety which, with its rapid-fire editing and screeching soundtrack, captured the anxious atmosphere during the twilight of King Rama IX’s reign. The film’s English title reflects the national mood while Rama IX was hospitalised, though its Thai title (รอ ๑๐) has an additional resonance, with a reference to his successor.

Dark Was the Night

Dark Was the Night

Yesterday’s event was part of Taiki’s Dark Was the Night (ผีพุ่งไต้) exhibition, which opened on 9th May and runs until 6th July. The exhibition features a two-channel video installation, also titled Dark Was the Night, projected at opposite ends of the gallery. On one side are shots of the Thammasat University campus, which initially seem to contrast with the theme of the exhibition. But these images are metaphorically rather than literally dark, reminders of the 6th October 1976 massacre that took place at Thammasat, making the campus another ‘guilty landscape’. The exhibition also includes three photographs from Taiki’s Thammasat University series.

05 June 2024

No Way Out —
From the Backstop to Boris

All Out War / Fall Out / No Way Out

Tim Shipman’s weekly ‘long reads’ in The Sunday Times have, for the past decade, provided the most incisive running commentary on British politics. His first book, All Out War, was the definitive account of the Brexit referendum. Its sequel, Fall Out, covered the aftermath of the Brexit vote and the 2017 general election. His new book, No Way Out—“the third in what is now a four-part sequence of books designed to tell the full story of the most explosive period of domestic British politics since the Second World War”—is an exhaustive record of Theresa May’s ill-fated efforts to negotiate a Brexit deal.

Shipman characterises the five most recent Conservative prime ministers (David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Rishi Sunak) respectively as “a blasé public schoolboy, an indecisive introvert, a self-centred extrovert, an untrammelled ideologue, and the school swot with little feel for politics.” He interviewed three of them for No Way Out, along with an incredible thirty-nine cabinet ministers. The book has taken six years to finish, as he explained in a Sunday Times article published on 21st April: “Every time I thought the end was in sight, Westminster erupted into a fresh round of psychodrama.”

No Way Out (subtitled Brexit: From the Backstop to Boris) shows once again that Shipman has the best sources of any current political journalist. (For a 24th March 2019 Sunday Times story, he spoke off-the-record to eleven serving cabinet ministers who all called for May to resign as PM.) The book includes a minute-by-minute reconstruction of the decisive Chequers cabinet meeting that led to Boris Johnson resigning as Foreign Secretary in 2018, and another ministerial resignation that year provides one of No Way Out’s most memorable quotes: after Phillip Lee defected to the Liberal Democrats, a “mild-mannered aide branded him ‘the Godzilla of cunts’.”

The book’s conclusion is titled Theresa May: A Study in Failure, and Shipman leaves no doubt that May’s uncommunicative leadership style led directly to the Brexit stalemate that defined her time in office. (She admits as much in The Abuse of Power: “I know in my heart of hearts that the political reality is that my premiership will always be seen in the context of Brexit and my failure to get a deal through the House of Commons.”) His next book, Out, will tell the full story of the last five tumultuous years of Conservative government.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

22 May 2024

Murdered Justice

Murdered Justice Ten Years Ago

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the 2014 coup. Just two days after the military takeover, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights was established to provide pro bono legal support for activists detained by the junta (what was euphemistically described as ‘attitude adjustment’) or prosecuted for lèse-majesté.

The Murdered Justice (วิสามัญยุติธรรม) exhibition at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre marks ten years of both the coup and TLHR. It includes casings from rubber bullets fired by riot police, the bloodied shirt worn by New Democracy Movement member Sirawith Seritiwat when he was attacked by thugs in 2019—previously shown at the Never Again (หยุด ย่ำ ซ้ำ เดิน) exhibition—and a 2016 leaflet campaigning against the constitution drafted by the junta.

Land of Compromise

The first section of the exhibition is headed “Land of Compromise”, in reference to a quote from an impromptu interview during a royal walkabout. The wall text describes the phrase as “the expression that, at least after the 2014 coup d’état, beneath the “smile” lies the enforcement of laws and violence to thwart change.” (This is also quoted in the PDF exhibition catalogue, p. 87.) At the exhibition, and in the catalogue, “Land of Compromise” is juxtaposed with a large portrait of Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a pro-democracy protester who died in prison this month after going on hunger strike.

‘Land of compromise’ has previously been quoted by several artists to make the same point as the Murdered Justice exhibition. Videos by Elevenfinger and Petchnin Sukjan both flash the words “LAND OF COMPROMISE” on screen accompanied by the sound of rubber bullets being fired. The phrase also appears in Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s exhibition A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise, and in the lyrics to songs by Paeng Surachet and Speech Odd.

Murdered Justice opened yesterday, and runs until 26th May. The exhibition coincides with the launch of a new book, Ten Years Ago (ผู้ต้องหาเสรีภาพ 1 ทศวรรษ รัฐประหาร 2557 กับการต่อสู้ของผู้ต้องคดีการเมือง), edited by Veerapong Soontornchattrawat and Noppon Archamas, which profiles some of the political prisoners assisted by TLHR. Noppon is also the editor of Dissident Citizen (ราษฎรกำแหง)

18 May 2024

Tawee Ratchaneekorn:
A Retrospective Exhibition 1960–2022

Tawee Ratchaneekorn

Tawee Ratchaneekorn: A Retrospective Exhibition 1960–2022 (ทวี รัชนีกร: ปรากฏการณ์แห่งอุดมการณ์) was held at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in 2022, accompanied by a lavish exhibition catalogue signed by the artist. The catalogue includes an interview with Tawee, and essays (in Thai and English) on his art and its political context.

Throughout his sixty-year artistic career, Tawee’s work has consistently drawn attention to socio-economic inequality. Walking around the exhibition, a surprising motif became apparent: many paintings, none of which were flattering portraits, featured golden crowns. Other paintings satirise self-serving Thai politicians and military generals.

Tawee Ratchaneekorn

The catalogue includes an erratum slip correcting a mistake in one of its essays: both the Thai and English versions mention the ‘14th and 16th October incidents’. As the erratum slip makes clear, this should refer to 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, the dates of two historical massacres. Another essay in the catalogue makes a similar error—citing the ‘16th and 19th October incidents’—though this has not been corrected.

Highlighting these errors might seem like nitpicking, but they are not mere typos. Although the two massacres are among the most notorious events in modern Thai history, they have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people cannot tell them apart. The title of Aomtip Kerdplanant’s short film 16 ตุลา (‘16th Oct.’) comments on this by conflating the two dates. Similarly, the book Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย) describes “accounts which confuse the two events, often fusing them into one”.

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.

10 May 2024

Mango Art Festival 2024

Mango Art Festival 2024

The Mango Art Festival 2024 at River City in Bangkok (running from 7th to 12th May) includes a new series of paintings by Wittawat Tongkeaw. As in his exhibition 841.594, the colour blue dominates his recent work. (On Thailand’s tricolour flag, blue symbolises the monarchy.) His paintings are for sale, and each price ends with 112. (Lèse-majesté is article 112 of the criminal code.)

In Wittawat’s exhibtion The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์), paintings of sunsets represented a desire for transition. Displayed at the Mango Art Festival are paintings of sunrises, with orange skies signifying the rising popularity of the progressive Move Forward Party (whose logo is orange). Titles include Blue vs. Orange (showing the sky split between the two colours), Blue to Orange (in which the sun is rising over the sea, implying that the almost entirely blue sky will become orange), and Hope (a sky filled with blazing orange light).

Blue vs. Orange / It's Just the Sky, Nothing More / Hope / Orange to Blue

Wittawat’s work over the last decade has been dominated by political symbolism, which has the potential to arouse scrutiny from the authorities. But another painting at the Mango Art Festival gives the artist some plausible deniability: depicting clouds in a blue sky, it’s wittily titled It’s Just the Sky, Nothing More. Wittawat used a similar painting of a sky in his provocative installation Creation-Conclusion (เริ่ม-จบ) at The L/Royal Monument.

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.

21 April 2024

Once Upon a Time at Sanamluang...

A Long Time Ago at...

Preecha Raksorn’s Once Upon a Time at Sanamluang... opened yesterday at VS Gallery in Bangkok, and runs until 23rd June. The exhibition explores the 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasat University from two opposite perspectives: revisionist history and state propaganda. Preecha focuses on a single image of the event: the famous photograph by Neal Ulevich of a vigilante preparing to hit a hanged man with a folding chair.

Last year, Preecha created A Long Time Ago at..., a large, brightly coloured painting based on Ulevich’s black-and-white photo. The painting reproduces the original image meticulously, with one exception: the noose around the dead man’s neck is missing. This omission, which effectively brings the victim back to life, hints at the revisionist nature of the exhibition.

Preecha reproduced his painting as a line drawing on A4 paper, and gave copies to sixteen people representing a range of ages and occupations, asking them to colour in the drawing in their own styles. With this series, Let’s Color, the artist sought to discover people’s attitudes towards the massacre, and the extent of their knowledge about it, given that Thai school textbooks make only minimal reference to the event.

Once Upon a Time at Sanamluang...Once Upon a Time at...
Hang Me, Oh Hang MeHistory Lesson of October 6th

Of the the sixteen Let’s Color respondents, only five added the missing noose to their illustrations, suggesting that the state’s suppression of information about the event has been successful. One person, Kwanchai Sinpru, ignored the lines of Preecha’s template and instead overlaid his own paintings of the incendiary media coverage that led to the massacre: a จัตุรัส (‘square’) magazine interview with the monk Kittivuddho Bhikku (29th June 1976), and a Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper headline. The most creative response was by Apisit Sitsuntiea, who cut out the drawing to create a paper sculpture in the shape of a crown.

To demonstrate how the massacre is whitewashed by the national curriculum, the exhibition includes a reproduction of a passage from a history textbook that makes only fleeting references to the event. The page (History Lesson of October 6th) has been placed on a lectern, behind which are three framed paintings of massacre victims (Hang Me, Oh Hang Me). This installation resembles a traditional classroom, although in Thai classrooms the three frames would hold portraits of kings and queens instead.

The exhibition was inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, in which Tarantino rewrites the Manson Family murder of actress Sharon Tate, creating a fictional happy ending in which Tate survives and Manson’s followers are killed. Preecha uses similar dramatic licence, drawing a comic strip of twenty-six panels, Once Upon a Time at..., in which the hanged man removes the noose from his neck, fights back against the vigilante, and escapes. Over the years, many artists have reproduced elements from the Ulevich photograph, though Preecha’s comic responds to it in a unique and original way.

18 April 2024

Ten Years to Save the West:
Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room

Ten Years to Save the West

Liz Truss is, by a country mile, the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister in history, in office for only forty-nine days. The Economist magazine (15th October 2022) calculated that the Truss premiership had “roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce”, and the Daily Star newspaper proved that an actual lettuce could stay fresh throughout her entire term of office. (Harry Cole and James Healey wrote an excellent Truss biography, Out of the Blue.)

Truss has written a new memoir, Ten Years to Save the West: Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room (subtitled Leading the Revolution Against Globalism, Socialism, and the Liberal Establishment in the US). But it’s not a conventional account of her premiership: “I do not see it as simply a chance to tell the detailed inside story of my time in government and justify every decision I made while I was there.” (Similarly, Theresa May wrote that her book was “not an attempt to justify certain decisions I made in office or to provide a detailed retelling of historical events.”)

Instead, Truss expresses her grievances about everything from the trivial (why would nobody help her book a haircut?) to the critical (why did economic institutions oppose her reckless fiscal policies?). Apparently, nothing was her fault: even though she asked Jeremy Hunt to become Chancellor before informing her close friend Kwasi Kwarteng that he was being sacked, she blames a leaker for revealing Hunt’s appointment on Twitter, where a shocked Kwarteng read about his replacement.

Summarising her premiership, Truss writes: “Things did not work out as I had hoped. My time in Downing Street was brief, and I did not have the chance to deliver the policies I had planned.” That first sentence brings to mind Hirohito’s famous understatement, when his country surrendered in 1945: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

07 April 2024

Nitade Experimental Shorts:
The Other Cinema

Nitade Experimental Shorts

Weerapat Sakolvaree’s short film Nostalgia will be shown at Chulalongkorn University on 10th April at a screening organised by Nitade Movie Club. The event, Nitade Experimental Shorts: The Other Cinema, features two sessions—Deconstructing Emotions and Decolonized by Time—each lasting exactly 100 minutes. Nostalgia will open the second session. It has previously been shown at the Chiang Mai Film Festival (twice), Bangkok University, Future Fest 2023, Wildtype 2022, and the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 26).

26 March 2024

High Voltage x Speech Odd

High Voltage / Speech Odd
Watching You

Speech Odd’s second album is out now on cassette and CD (limited to fifty copies of each format), with an LP release to follow later this year (limited to 100 copies). The album is a collaboration with High Voltage, and each band has contributed four songs.

Advertisement, the standout track from Speech Odd, is about state propaganda: “lying to gain power... you must be punished by people!” High Voltage’s lyrics are even more political: their tracks criticise an unnamed leader who falsely compares himself to a Buddhist deity. Seek the Power is written from his perspective: “i seek the power (power to rule)” [sic], and No Perfect Man accuses him of “pretending to be god”.

Speech Odd’s debut album was Oddworld, and they have also released the EP Promo 2022 and the single Control. Their merchandise includes a Die mo cracy t-shirt released earlier this year, a reference to the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in 2010.

High Voltage released their EP Watching You on CD in 2019, with a cover photo of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s eyes. Its title track is a reworking of Every Breath You Take, with the lyrics adapted to comment on state surveillance: “Be careful of what you do / Thai junta is watching you”. The music video for Vicious Circle, another track on the EP, includes newsreel footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre. (Wee Viraporn’s paper sculpture Watch! also implied that Prayut was monitoring Thai citizens.)

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.

17 March 2024

Dawn of Revolution

2475 Dawn of Revolution

Thailand’s Political History, by B.J. Terwiel, is an authoritative history of Thai politics that challenges Thailand’s royalist-nationalist historical narrative. Terwiel argues, for example, that Rama VII is traditionally portrayed as “the king who wanted to present his people with a true democracy but was forestalled by the coup d’état of 1932.” As he demonstrates, this is a false characterisation, though it remains persistent: it can be seen most recently in the new feature-length animation 2475 Dawn of Revolution (๒๔๗๕ รุ่งอรุณแห่งการปฏิวัติ). The film (directed by Wivat Jirotgul) dramatises the 1932 coup launched by Khana Ratsadon, which introduced nascent democracy to Thailand, though the story is told from a distorted royalist-nationalist perspective.

2475 begins by summarising Rama VII’s attitudes prior to the 1932 coup: “King Rama VII believed in the ideas of the parliament system and the constitution.” This is in direct contrast to Terwiel’s book, which points out that “the king ruled out a parliamentary form of government”. The film credits Rama VII as an instigator of democratic reform, intent on “giving the constitution to the people of Siam.” This interpretation—in which democracy is bestowed as a generous royal gift—is again at odds with Terwiel, who makes clear that Rama VII “indicated that he himself was firmly of the opinion that Siam was not ready for a representative form of government.”

The film’s framing device features three modern-day students, one of whom livestreams an anti-government protest, who go to the library to research a history project on the 1932 coup. The message—that today’s students should read more about Thai history—is both condescending and inaccurate, as history books by Nattapoll Chaiching, amongst others, are bestsellers. The film’s ending is particularly dismissive of the student characters: they visit Democracy Monument, and observe that democracy “dies over and over again, it gets torn apart with coup d’état so many times.” At which point, they burst into giggles, as though—despite their research and their previous political activism—they have no interest in the subject whatsoever.

2475’s credits include a list of individual donors, some of whom gave as little as ฿100 each. The bulk of the budget was provided anonymously, though Prachatai reported earlier this week that the film’s production company, Nakraphiwat, was paid almost ฿4m by the army between 2020 and 2022. While this doesn’t prove that the film was funded by the military, it does raise questions about their involvement in this production that discredits Khana Ratsadon, especially given that public commemorations of the 1932 revolution have recently been removed by the military regime.

13 March 2024

“The Election Commission... has decided unanimously to ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Move Forward party.”

Democracy Monument

The Election Commission of Thailand has petitioned the Constitutional Court, calling for the dissolution of Move Forward, the progressive party that won last year’s election but was excluded from government. If, as expected, the court rules against Move Forward, the party’s fourteen million voters will be further disenfranchised, and the governing coalition will have no meaningful opposition in parliament.

The ECT’s decision was a response to a Constitutional Court ruling in January that Move Forward’s manifesto 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.” Citing the court’s ruling, the ECT announced yesterday: “There is evidence that Move Forward undermines the democratic system with the king as the head of state”.

Yesterday’s petition to the court was inevitable, as 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 by the Constitutional Court in January.

In its statement released yesterday, the ECT said: “The Election Commission has considered and analysed the Constitutional Court verdict and has decided unanimously to ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Move Forward party.” The court will deliberate for several months, though a verdict of dissolution is highly likely, 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.

Today, the ECT also announced that it would begin an investigation into Bhumjaithai, a member of the current coalition government, after a former Bhumjaithai MP was found guilty of asset concealment by the Constitutional Court. On 17th January, the court ruled that Saksayam Chidchob, while serving as transport minister in Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, had awarded twenty-three state infrastructure contracts to Burijarearn, a construction firm he owned. (Saksayam is the brother of Newin Chidchob, known as the godfather of Buriram.)