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. (Another Facebook cartoonist, BackArt, has also been charged with lèse-majesté, in relation to two cartoons he posted in 2021.)

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 smaller display of similar items, titled 10 April and Beyond, will be on show at Arai Arai in Bangkok from 29th March to 7th April.

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.

26 December 2023

Yingluck Shinawatra ‘not guilty’


Democracy Monument

Today, Thailand’s Supreme Court dismissed a criminal case against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The verdict of not guilty was unexpected, given the numerous legal and extra-constitutional penalties issued against Yingluck over the past decade. (Her government was deposed in a coup, and she was fined, impeached, and convicted of dereliction of duty.)

Today’s verdict relates to Yingluck’s removal of Thawil Pliensri as head of the National Security Council in 2011, shortly after she became PM. Thawil was replaced by the chief of police, and Priewpan Damapong became the new police chief. Priewpan is a brother-in-law of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, and Yingluck was accused of sacking Thawil for nepotistic reasons, to create a vacancy for Priewpan.

Thawil alleged that his demotion “involves acts of the prime minister that are unconstitutional”. Article 266 of the 2007 constitution prohibited “the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer... of a Government official” if such action was performed “for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party”.

The Central Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court both ruled that Thawil’s transfer was a violation of the constitution, and their judgement was upheld by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The Constitutional Court’s guilty verdict resulted in Yingluck’s dismissal as PM, which created a power vacuum filled by the military junta.

Despite its highly consequential guilty verdict, the Constitutional Court’s judgement was rather nuanced. The court ruled that, although Yingluck had not acted “in accordance with moral principles”, she was legally authorised to transfer Thawil. This distinction ultimately paved the way for today’s verdict of not guilty from the Supreme Court.

The National Anti-Corruption Council recommended criminal charges against Yingluck in relation to the Thawil case in 2020. By that point, Yingluck was already living in self-imposed exile, after fleeing the country in 2017. Thaksin also fled into exile, though he returned to Thailand this year following a quid pro quo arrangement with the military, and it’s possible that today’s acquittal of Yingluck is another phase of Thaksin’s deal.

Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons


Britain's Best Ever Political Cartoons
The Plum-pudding in Danger

Tim Benson, Britain’s leading authority on political cartoons, compiled an anthology of Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons in 2021. Almost 200 cartoons are included (mostly in black-and-white), from the satirical prints of James Gillray (such as The Plumb-pudding in Danger) to The Guardian’s Steve Bell. Benson’s introduction gives a concise history of British political cartoons, and he cites David Low as “[t]he greatest political cartoonist of the twentieth century”. The book concludes with a selection of recent cartoons, reproduced in colour.

Rude Britannia, The Offensive Art, and The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921 also feature examples of classic British political cartoons. The Rude Britannia exhibition catalogue includes one of Gerald Scarfe’s best Margaret Thatcher caricatures. (Thatcher is underrepresented in Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons, and Scarfe’s work is omitted.) Victor S. Navasky profiled key political cartoonists in The Art of Controversy.

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).

15 December 2023

Tang Chang (1934–1990):
Non-Forms


Non-Forms

Tang Chang, one of Thailand’s greatest modern artists, is the subject of a retrospective that opened earlier this year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Tang Chang (1934–1990): Non-Forms (subtitled Non-Formes in French) features his iconic self-portrait from 1973: the painting shows the artist with no eyes or hands, his symbolic self-mutilation a desperate response to the massacre of pro-democracy protesters that took place that year. The bilingual (English and French) exhibition catalogue (bound in the Japanese stab style) quotes his description of the work as a tribute to those “rising in anger against the military dictatorship on 14 October 1973.” Several of his concrete poems (กวีรูปธรรม), commenting on the massacres of 1973 and 6th October 1976, are also included.

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.

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

I’m Starving Artbook:
Sweets and Politics


I'm Starving Artbook

Comic artist Kwanrapee’s I’m Starving Artbook: Sweets and Politics (เดี๊ยนหิว!!! Artbook: ขนมหวานและการเมือง), published earlier this year, is a record of the stickers, fleurons, and illustrations she created between 2019 and 2022. This was a period of protest against Thailand’s military government, and the book’s title has a clever double meaning: “If this artbook accurately depicts my hunger, then I also hunger for freedom and democracy.” (Similarly, on the cover of the fourth edition of Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit’s A History of Thailand is Thienchai Nokngam’s painting Seafood, which also makes “a comparison between democracy and food... Everyone likes eating deep-sea fish and deep-sea shellfish, in the same way they want to have a deep, full-blown version of democracy.”)

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.

01 December 2023

Chiang Mai Film Festival 2023 Part II


Chiang Mai Film Festival 2023

Highlights from this year’s Chiang Mai Film Festival will be shown tomorrow on the rooftop of the city’s Mantana Building. Vichart Somkaew’s Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป), Koraphat Cheeradit’s Yesterday Is Another Day, and Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Nostalgia are all included in the Chiang Mai Film Festival 2023 Part II programme.

Cremation Ceremony was also shown recently at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok, and at Wildtype 2023. Yesterday Is Another Day has been screened at Silpakorn University. Both films were part of this year’s Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน). Nostalgia has previously been shown at Bangkok University, Future Fest 2023, Wildtype 2022, and the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 26).

26 November 2023

The Fabulist:
A Novel


The Fabulist

Uthis Haemamool’s novel จุติ was published in English translation this year as The Fabulist: A Novel. The book describes the protest movement that emerged after the 2006 coup as a “new democratic spirit, which saw citizens as the rightful owners of the country, rather than the few high-ranking officers and aristocrats who governed as though they knew what the majority needed or didn’t need.”

These pro-democracy red-shirts were opposed by the pro-establishment yellow-shirts, in a prolonged political conflict that the novel calls “a chasm between two groups who held two completely different versions of the truth.” The protests ended in 2010, when Abhisit Vejjajiva authorised the use of live ammunition by the army. As the novel puts it: “Death and casualties among Red Shirt protestors erupted after the government—led by the prime minister with the pretty face—ordered the police to ‘secure the area’.”

Interviewed by Max Crosbie-Jones for the Nikkei Asia website this month, Uthis explained that the 2010 crackdown marked the beginning of his political engagement: “Prior to that I thought that art and literature was separate from politics, but seeing so many people killed changed me. And it was even more disappointing to see members of Thailand’s literary and art circles celebrating. Politics have been embedded in my work ever since.”

In his Nikkei article, Crosbie-Jones describes the 2010 massacre, which took place at Ratchaprasong in Bangkok, as “an event that galvanized many Thai artists, writers and filmmakers to address the country’s legacy of coups, military interference and autocracy”. Similarly, Sayan Daenklom coined the term “Post-Ratchaprasong art” to describe works produced in response to the crackdown, in the journal Read (อ่าน; vol. 3, no. 2).

Like Uthis, author Veeraporn Nitiprapha was also inspired to incorporate political subtext into her fiction writing after 2010, as she explained in an interview with the Electric Literature website: “I was overcome with a deep, painful bitterness seeing the fashionable, well-educated, well-paid people of the city feeling content about the injuries inflicted upon the poorer, less educated people who were mostly from the upcountry. And it was important to write about that bitterness.”

In Thailand, this political awakening is known as ta sawang. Film directors Pen-ek Ratanaruang (“me, who five years ago had no interest in politics”), Yuthlert Sippapak (“I never gave a shit about politics”), Chulayarnnon Siriphol (“I turned to be interested in the political situation”), Thunska Pansittivorakul (“I started to learn about politics”), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“I was politically naïve”), and Nontawat Numbenchapol (“I was a teenager, a young man not interested in politics”) all describe their ta sawang moments in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

25 November 2023

Doi Boy


Doi Boy

Nontawat Numbenchapol’s film Doi Boy (ดอยบอย) was released on Netflix yesterday. Nontawat’s documentaries—including Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง), By the River (สายน้ำติดเชื้อ), and Soil Without Land (ดินไร้แดน)—have highlighted sensitive political issues, and Doi Boy, his first feature film, is no exception.

Boundary and Soil Without Land both explored tensions on Thailand’s borders, and in both cases the documentaries focused on the experiences of a young soldier caught up in a larger conflict. Boundary follows Aod, a Thai soldier who returns to his hometown on the border with Cambodia. Jai, the main subject of Soil Without Land, is a stateless man living on the border between Myanmar and Thailand, who reluctantly joins the Shan State Army.

Sorn, the central protagonist of Doi Boy, is also a young man from Shan State conscripted into the military. After deserting, he crosses the border into Thailand, jumping from the frying pan into the fire. He is forced to totally transform his identity (from monk to soldier to sex worker) and, like other undocumented migrants in Thailand and elsewhere, he is exploited by almost everyone he meets, but particularly by Ji, a corrupt police officer with a guilty conscience.

Doi Boy begins with young Thai demonstrators chanting “For the people!” Clearly, this is meant to evoke the student protest movement that began in 2020, calling for reform of the monarchy, but the real-life slogans were presumably too sensitive for the film. Nontawat previously made Sound of ‘Din’ Daeng, a series of short documentaries about the demonstrators, and he recreates the atmosphere of the protests in Doi Boy.

Another slogan of the Doi Boy protesters is: “It could be you!”, a reference to the kidnapping and murdering of protest ringleaders. It soon becomes clear that the police are behind these crimes, as Ji suffocates a captured protester, Bhoom, with a bin bag. In 2021, corrupt police chief Thitisan Utthanaphon murdered drug suspect Jeerapong Thanapat in the same manner. (That case was also referenced, much less tastefully, in Poj Arnon’s comedy Oh My Ghost! 8/หอแต๋วแตกแหก โควิดปังปุริเย่.)

Doi Boy

At the end of the film, a somewhat ethereal body is shown, in a foetal position, apparently inside an oil drum. Again, this has real-life echoes: several anti-government activists, including Wanchalearm Satsaksit, are missing, presumed dead, and after Porlajee Rakchongcharoen was murdered in 2014, his remains were found in an oil drum. (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s exhibition A Minor History/ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย showed the disposal of the bodies of murdered political dissidents in the Mekong river.)

Doi Boy admirably addresses human rights abuses in a feature film, though it’s also very stylishly shot and edited. Phuttiphong Aroonpheng attempted a similar combination with Manta Ray (กระเบนราหู), though whereas Phuttiphong’s film was a case of style over substance, Doi Boy achieves exactly the right balance. This is immediately apparent from the audacious opening sequence, when Sorn performs a striptease wearing a rubber gimp suit, intercut with flashbacks to Ji’s suffocation of Bhoom.

23 November 2023

Red Poetry


Red Poetry

Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown in Salaya this weekend. The feature-length documentary is a profile of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who formed the group Artn’t with fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit. A shorter version—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—was screened last year at Wildtype 2022.

The documentary, filmed in 2021, 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. When he reported to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station.

The film ends with Vitthaya 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 earlier this year, and received a suspended sentence.

Red Poetry will be shown at Die Kommune on 25th November, at a screening organised by Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies. It has previously been screened in Chiang Mai earlier this year, and it had an online screening as part of this year’s Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน).