30 April 2021
30 October 2020
The film’s title has a double meaning. It’s now monsoon season in Thailand, and the rumbles of thunder on the soundtrack are a daily occurrence. But there have also been rumblings of a different kind this month: protests calling for a democratic government and reform of the monarchy. Riot police used water canon to disperse a peaceful protest in central Bangkok on 16th October, and more rallies have since been held around the capital. (The latest, at Silom Road yesterday, featured a red catwalk and a satirical fashion show.)
In his director’s statement (edited from an interview on the Polygon podcast), Apichatpong directly addresses the political situation: “I was initially more aware of my own suffering, in terms of my inability to express my freedom in my own country and the role of the military or the monarchy or whatever in creating these feelings. But then you realize there are others suffering much more in the Covid time and you see these really huge gaps in equality and the power of this struggle both in this time and the struggle that has been going on for decades.”
October Rumbles will be available online until 12th November. Apichatpong’s other online short films include Prosperity for 2008, Mobile Men, Phantoms of Nabua, For Alexis, 2013, Cactus River (โขงแล้งน้ำ), and For Monkeys Only (ทำให้ลิงดูเท่านั้น).
28 October 2020
Bangkok’s House Samyan cinema is celebrating Halloween with 717: The Haunted House, a seven-day season of seventeen ghost films. The season includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), which will be shown on 29th and 31st October, and 3rd November.
717: The Haunted House runs from 29th October to 4th November. Uncle Boonmee was also shown earlier this year at Bangkok Screening Room (marking the film’s tenth anniversary), and last year at the Thai Film Archive (as part of a mini Apichatpong retrospective).
29 September 2020
My first book, Thai Cinema Uncensored, went on sale today. Published in paperback by Silkworm Books in Thailand, it will also be on sale at the Thailand Book Expo in Muang Thong Thani) from tomorrow until 11th October, and at the Mini Book Fair in Bangkok from 7th to 16th December (at Lido Connect) and from 8th to 21st December (at CentralWorld).
Thai Cinema Uncensored is the first full-length history of Thai film censorship. The book examines how Thai filmmakers approach culturally sensitive subjects—sex, religion, and politics—and how their films have been banned as a result. It also features interviews with ten leading Thai directors: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Yuthlert Sippapak, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Nontawat Numbenchapol, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Ing Kanjanavanit, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Kanittha Kwunyoo, and Surasak Pongson.
It is in stock at Asia Books branches, Thammasat University Bookstore, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok; at Chiang Mai University Bookstore and Book Re:public in Chiang Mai; and at Mary Martin Booksellers in Singapore. Copies are available for browsing at Bangkok Screening Room, the Reading Room in Bangkok, and the Thai Film Archive in Salaya.
It will be released in the US by the University of Washington Press on 21st March 2021, and is available for pre-order at all major online book retailers. It is also available as an e-book (Kindle, Google Books, and Kobo). In Thailand, the cover price is ฿650, and the US edition will be $27.95.
26 August 2020
In September, the Thai Film Archive will host a month-long season of films about doctors and nurses, Medicines and Maladies (การแพทย์และโรคร้าย). The event offers a rare opportunity to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น) in Thailand. (It has been shown once before at the Archive, and Apichatpong held a private screening at a mobile cinema in Chiang Mai in 2018.)
Apichatpong did not submit the film to the Thai censors, and it has not been on general release here. When I interviewed him for my forthcoming book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he explained that, with the military still in power, a domestic release was too risky: “It’s a paranoid time. They’re willing to do a witch hunt, so I become paranoid of them in my own way, and I don’t want to risk it. As long as I manage to finish this film as I want, and show it, but not here.”
The film is so sensitive that Apichatpong removed one sequence from all DVD and blu-ray editions, just in case they found their way to Thailand. The scene in question shows a cinema audience standing as if paying respect to the royal anthem, though no music is heard. Apichatpong had planned to include the anthem in the scene, though he reconsidered after it was censored from another film: “I actually wanted to show the royal anthem, because it’s documentary-like. It’s what we do. But I know it’s impossible, because in the movie Soi Cowboy [ซอยคาวบอย], this was cut out. Censored. So, I said, ‘It’s impossible anyway.’ So, just silence.”
Cemetery of Splendour will be shown at the Archive, on 4th and 18th September, in its uncut version. The screenings are free of charge.
18 June 2020
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ) will return to the big screen for tenth anniversary screenings starting next week. It will be shown at Bangkok Screening Room on 23rd, 24th, and 30th June; and 1st, 4th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th, and 15th July. (Uncle Boonmee was one of the first films ever shown at Bangkok Screening Room, playing there the day after the cinema opened.)
22 April 2020
19 January 2020
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s photography exhibition Almost Fiction opened on 21st December 2019. The exhibition is divided into two halves: in one room are works from Apichatpong’s Insomnia series, with larger images from his Soldier series in an adjacent room.
The Insomnia series includes several shots taken on the set of Apichatpong’s short video Blue (ตะวันดับ). The most startling work is a diptych titled Bullet, showing a bullet emerging from an elderly woman’s mouth. (The woman in question is Jenjira Pongpas, who has appeared in many of Apichatpong’s films and videos.)
For the Soldier series, Apichatpong photographed young soldiers and obscured their faces with white light. Soldiers have featured as characters in several of Apichatpong’s films, perhaps indicating the military’s persistent influence over Thai society and politics. The Soldier series includes three large photographs (Group Portrait, A Young Man at Twilight, and Embrace) and a smaller image displayed in a lightbox (Mirage Boy).
Almost Fiction runs until 21st February at Gallery Seescape in Chiang Mai. The popular café next door, SS1254372, is also highly recommended.
17 September 2019
Tropical Malady: The Book, published this month, is a deluxe facsimile of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด) shooting script. The full-size reproduction includes the film’s dialogue, directions, and storyboards, all annotated by the director. In addition to the lavishly reproduced screenplay, it also features an interview with Apichatpong and a booklet of English and Japanese translations. (A different copy of the script was featured in the exhibition The Serenity of Madness.)
Internationally, Tropical Malady is one of Apichatpong’s most acclaimed films, though it had only limited distribution in Thailand. When I interviewed him in 2017, he discussed its disappointing domestic theatrical release: “I think, from Tropical Malady, there’s this issue of releasing the film, and marketing, that I don’t like. And also the studio was not interested in the film, anyway, because there’s no selling point: there’s no tiger, there’s no sex, so it’s very personal.” Tropical Malady: The Book is an attempt to raise the film’s Thai profile.
As in the novel S., simulations of various documents have been inserted between the pages: a handwritten letter (from Keng, one of the film’s protagonists), a Risograph print of a fantastically lurid comic (สมิงมนต์คนอาคม/‘possessed by a tiger’), a temple booklet (พื้นเสือสมิง/‘tiger spirit tales’), a magazine serial (นารายณ์ทรงปืน/‘Narai with a gun’), and a poster. The premium edition also comes with a sticker and tote bag, both featuring the book’s calligram logo. The book is housed in a custom cardboard box with the same design.
Tropical Malady: The Book was edited by Sonthaya Subyen and Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa. This superb tribute to one of Thailand’s greatest films is the last of Sonthaya’s Filmvirus books, a long-running series that also includes Once Upon a Celluloid Planet (สวรรค์ 35 มม.: เสน่ห์วิกหนังเมืองสยาม) and another Apichatpong Weerasethakul monograph, Unknown Forces (สัตว์วิกาล).
11 January 2019
The inaugural Isan Creative Festival (อีสาน ครีเอทีฟ เฟสติวัล) opened yesterday at TCDC in Khon Kaen. The three-day event began with directors Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Surasak Pongson discussing their films made in the Isaan region.
Apichatpong grew up in Khon Kaen, and his most recent feature, Cemetery of Splendour, was filmed in the city. (It's Thai title, รักที่ขอนแก่น, translates as 'Love in Khon Kaen'.) Song of the City, his segment of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand, was also filmed in Khon Kaen.
Still in his twenties, Surasak is already one of the most important figures in the Isaan film industry, thanks to the commercial success of his Thibaan comedies. His latest film, Thibaan: The Series 2.2 (ไทบ้านเดอะซีรีส์ 2.2), hit the headlines after shots of a crying monk were censored. It was shown at a free open-air screening last night, along with Ten Years Thailand, on Isan Creative Festival's opening night.
10 January 2019
This evening, Apichatpong Weerasethakul took part in a Q&A at the Isan Creative Festival (อีสาน ครีเอทีฟ เฟสติวัล) in Khon Kaen. Before the event, I did some sightseeing around the city, including a visit to a statue of Sarit Thanarat. (Sarit was a Cold War-era dictator, and his statue is an ominous presence in Song of the City, Apichatpong's segment of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand.) By coincidence, while I was photographing the statue, Apichatpong was driving past it, and he photographed me.
03 January 2019
The Thai Film Archive at Salaya will be screening several films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul this month, to celebrate his recent FIAF Award. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ) will be screened on 5th January, Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) on 20th January, and Blissfully Yours (สุดเสน่หา) on 27th January. (Blissfully Yours will be shown in 35mm.)
Next month's highlights at the Archive include Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) on 23rd February, and the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand on 24th February. All screenings are free.
26 December 2018
This Saturday, the Thai Film Archive at Salaya will host a free double bill of two exquisite films: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด) and Anucha Boonyawatana's Malila: The Farewell Flower (มะลิลา). After the screenings, Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn will give a talk about the cinematic forest.
12 December 2018
Ten Years Thailand had its gala premiere yesterday at the Scala cinema in Bangkok (followed by a Q&A with three of its four directors: Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, and Chulayarnnon Siriphol). A portmanteau of four short films, it offers a dystopian vision of Thailand a decade from now, and represents a voice of dissent in a time of military rule. Thai history seems destined to repeat itself, stuck in an endless cycle of political instability. Thus, the future predicted by Ten Years Thailand is also a commentary on Thailand's past and present.
The film's first segment, Aditya's black-and-white Sunset, is based on an event that occurred last year. In the film, a group of soldiers inspect an art gallery and order the removal of 'inappropriate' images from a photography exhibition. The film's artist (Sirikanya Thomson) and exhibition (I Laughed so Hard I Cried) are fictional, though in 2017 a group of soldiers demanded the removal of photographs from Harit Srikhao's Whitewash exhibition at Gallery VER in Bangkok. For added verisimilitude, Aditya's restaging of the military's art censorship was filmed at Artist+Run, a gallery adjacent to Gallery VER. As an in-joke, Artist+Run's gallerist Angkrit Ajchariyasophon plays one of the soldiers in the film.
In Wisit's quirky Citizen Dog (หมานคร), city dwellers all grew tails. Catopia, his segment of Ten Years Thailand, is a much darker variant on the theme: almost everyone has (CGI) cat's heads, and the few remaining humans are hunted and killed. The film critiques Thailand's traditional values of social conformity and unity, and also echoes the country's anti-Communist paranoia of the 1970s, when suspected Communists and left-wing students were attacked by militia groups. Yet, despite its political satire, and some full-frontal female nudity in Wisit's segment, Ten Years Thailand was passed uncut by Thailand's censors, and even received a surprisingly lenient '13' rating.
In Chulayarnnon's science-fiction segment, Planetarium, citizens demonstrate loyalty by standing to respect their leader, and those who lie on the ground in protest (as in Chulayarnnon's short film Planking) are detained. The kitsch design elements (neon pyramids, an animated stargate, and pink costumes) are a mask for an authoritarian regime, just as Thailand's repressive junta pledged to 'bring back happiness to the people'. The leader and her minions all wear Scout uniforms, recalling the Village Scout vigilantes that instigated violent attacks on students in 1976. In Chulayarnnon's dystopian vision, the entire country has been taken over by this royalist militia.
Ten Years Thailand begins with a quotation adapted from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four ("Who controls the past... controls the future"), and Planetarium is the film's most Orwellian segment. Its vision of surveillance and obedience is shared with Thunska Pansittivorakul's Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), which used the same Orwell quote as its tagline.
Ten Years Thailand concludes with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Song of the City, in which a man attempts to sell a "Good Sleep Machine" guaranteeing peaceful sleep. Throughout his sales pitch, a statue of military dictator Sarit Thanarat looms over him, indicating the perpetuation of the country's militaristic ideology. Sarit's ominous presence is also felt in Apichatpong's Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), as his portrait hangs on a canteen wall. In that film, which was also made under military rule, soldiers suffer from a mysterious epidemic of sleeping sickness: for Apichatpong, sleep is a metaphor for an oppressive society, and a source of escapism for the oppressed.
11 December 2018
Pachara Piyasongsoot's exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ) is currently on show at Bangkok's Artist+Run gallery. On the surface, Pachara's paintings depict tranquil landscapes, though they also contain hidden meanings relating to Thailand's violent political heritage. To use Dutch painter Armando's term, they are 'guilty landscapes', silent witnesses to past traumas.
Pachara's works are divided into two exhibitions: Nabua (นาบัว) and Sequence (ผลสืบเนื่อง). The paintings in the Nabua series, which were on show from 24th November to 7th December, feature incongruous objects situated in natural landscapes, such as a temple gate on the seashore. These works allude to Nabua's legacy as a site of state-sanctioned anti-Communist purges.
Specifically, the gate refers to a local temple where Communists were detained in 1965. A slogan painted on the gate (No Happiness Other than Serenity) conceals the site's sinister legacy, and Pachara uses the slogan as the painting's ironic title. (Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม) also examines anti-Communist violence at Nabua.)
The Sequence series opened on 8th December, and runs until 20th December. The works in this exhibition allude to further acts of state violence and military dictatorship: the 6th October 1976 massacre and the 2006 coup d'état.
What a Wonderful World: Parallel Side of the Red Gate (another deeply ironic title) is the most powerful painting in this series. It was inspired by the documentary The Two Brothers (สองพี่น้อง), about two men who were hanged by police from a gate in 1976 for the 'crime' of campaigning against Thanom Kittikachorn's return from exile. Pachara's painting shows the view from the gate, representing the men's last sight before their deaths.
Similarly, The Sun Is Gone but I Have a Light also shows the final viewpoint of a hanged man: that of a taxi driver who hanged himself in protest at the coup. The landscape has been obscured with white paint, rendering the image abstract and literally whitewashing the man's martyrdom.
Another work also refers to a specific victim: Undergrowth with the Lovers features a portrait of Ampon Tangnoppakul, who died in jail while serving a twenty-year sentence for lèse-majesté. (Another Apichatpong connection: his film Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น) features a journal entry ("ขอให้อากงได้ออกมา") calling for Ampon's release.)
The Anatomy of Silence catalogue, with essays by the artist and Thanavi Chotpradit, also includes some of Pachara's earlier works, such as The Garden. This painting features the distinctive tree trunk from Neal Ulevich's photograph of the 1976 massacre.
02 November 2018
Apichatpong Weerasethakul will show his most recent feature film, Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), at the Thai Film Archive on 19th November. The film was shown internationally in 2015, though it did not receive a Thai release.
Apichatpong's film Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) was cut by the Thai censorship board, and he therefore decided not to submit Cemetery of Splendour to the censors, meaning it could not be shown in Thai cinemas. Once bitten, twice shy (though he did arrange a low-key screening for an invited audience at a mobile cinema in his home town of Chiang Mai on 23rd February).
It is, of course, a sad irony that one of the world's most acclaimed directors feels unable to show his work in his own country. When I interviewed Apichatpong in 2016, he explained that he had been inexplicably singled out by the censors: "I think that whatever I do, I will be targeted. Either a ghost movie, or whatever. It's a paranoid time. They're willing to do a witch-hunt, so I become paranoid of them in my own way, and I don't want to risk it. As long as I manage to finish this film as I want, and show it, but not here."
His hesitancy is due primarily to one sequence in Cemetery of Splendour, in which an audience stands in silence. Thai cinemagoers are required to stand for the royal anthem before film screenings, though the anthem cannot be included in films themselves, as Apichatpong told me: "I actually wanted to show the royal anthem, because it's documentary-like. It's what we do. But I know it's impossible, because in the movie Soi Cowboy [ซอยคาวบอย], this was cut out. Censored. So I said, 'It's impossible anyway.' So, just silence." Concerned that the silent scene could be misinterpreted, Apichatpong removed it from all DVD and blu-ray releases of the film, in case they were ever circulated in Thailand.
Like the director's other work, the film is not directly political, though it does include subtle visual references to Thailand's volatile political situation. A portrait of dictator Sarit Thanarat is visible in the background of one scene, implying the military's continued influence on Thai politics. (Similarly, a statue of Sarit looms over the characters in Apichatpong's short film Song of the City, part of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand.) Also, one of the characters keeps a journal, in which he writes that lèse-majesté convict Ampon Tangnoppakul should be released ("ขอให้อากงได้ออกมา"). (Apichatpong's short film Ashes includes footage of a demonstration by Ampon's supporters.)
Cemetery of Splendour will be screened free of charge, to celebrate Apichatpong receiving the FIAF Award from the International Federation of Film Archives. Previously, the Thai Film Archive screened his short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถึงลุงบุญมี) to mark his Palme d'Or win at the Cannes Film Festival. Last year, the Alliance Français organised an Apichatpong Weekend in honour of the director being named a Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
12 October 2018
Ghost:2561, a series of video screenings at galleries throughout Bangkok, began yesterday and runs until 28th October. (2561 in the Buddhist calendar equates to 2018 in the Gregorian calendar.) The event includes Blue (ตะวันดับ), a new video by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, in which his muse, Jenjira Pongpas, falls asleep in front of a series of theatrical backdrops. As Jenjira sleeps, a flame appears, and gradually the entire scene becomes engulfed in a blazing fire.
The liminality between sleeping, dreaming, and wakefulness is a recurrent theme in Apichatpong's work. He filmed his boyfriend asleep on three consecutive nights for Teem, and Dilbar shows a construction worker sleeping. Sleep is also central to Apichatpong's most recent feature film, Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), and his segment of the new portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand (Song of the City). The fire in Blue has echoes of his Primitive installation project, such as the burning football in Phantoms of Nabua.
Blue, showing at Bangkok's Gallery VER, is projected onto a large glass screen, hanging in the centre of the darkened gallery. This produces reflections of the images on the walls and floor, highlighting the film's theatricality and demonstrating Apichatpong's continued fascination with (and mastery of) the effects of light.
08 March 2018
In Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema, published in 2016, Arnika Fuhrmann provides detailed analysis of selected Thai films in terms of "Buddhist sexual contemporaneity, a conception in which sexuality is not solely a matter of citizenship and rights, freedom and prohibition, or nationally defined social convention, but is vitally informed also by Buddhist-inflected forms of representation, practice, and affect." (This extract gives some indication of the book's academic writing style.) There are chapters on Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak (นางนาก), Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด), and the video art of Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. An epilogue discusses Thunska Pansittivorakul's This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน).
04 March 2018
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, edited by James Quandt, is the first English-language book on Apichatpong. Published in 2009, it includes a comprehensive analysis of Apichatpong's feature films, interviews with the director, and an annotated filmography of his short films and features. The Thai Film Archive has published a pocketbook on Apichatpong, and Unknown Forces (สัตว์วิกาล) also includes a detailed filmography.
18 February 2018
In 2013, the Thai Film Archive launched a series of pocketbooks about contemporary Thai directors. The first in this ชั้นครู series was a book about Apichatpong Weerasethakul (ตัวตนโดยตัวงาน: อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล), which includes an interview partially translated into English.