02 September 2021

A Minor History

A Minor History
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย) opened yesterday at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok. The work is a video triptych, filmed at a derelict cinema in Kalasin and other locations along the Mekong river. Apichatpong has previously written of his attachment to stand-alone cinemas in an essay for Unknown Forces (สัตว์วิกาล), reprinted with an English translation in Once Upon a Celluloid Planet (สวรรค์ 35 มม). The Mekong directly inspired his films Mekong Hotel (แม่โขงโฮเต็ล) and Cactus River (โขงแล้งนำ), though he has also filmed numerous other projects in the region.

A Minor History also includes a short story in text form, which describes a dream featuring Patiwat Saraiyaem (using his nickname, Bank). Patiwat is an actor and mor lam singer who was jailed for his performance in the play เจ้าสาวหมาป่า (‘the wolf bride’) and was subjected to further lèse-majesté charges after he took part in an anti-government protest on 19th September last year. He previously appeared in Apichatpong’s segment of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand, and Wittawat Tongkeaw recently painted his portrait, titled The Unforgiven Blues (หมอลำแบงค์).

A Minor History was originally scheduled to open on 19th August, though it was delayed due to the coronavirus lockdown. Attendance is currently by appointment only, again due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the exhibition will close on 14th November. A second phase opens on 25th November, and runs until 27th February next year. 100 Tonson, previously a commercial gallery, became a non-profit foundation last year.

Apichatpong’s latest feature film, Memoria, won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film received a standing ovation, after which Apichatpong memorably declared: “Long live cinema!” With coronavirus vaccines in short supply and the registration system in disarray, he also used his Cannes acceptance speech as an opportunity to call on the Thai government to “please wake up, and work for your people, now.”

17 August 2021

“พบกระสุนปืนค้างอยู่บริเวณก้านสมอง”

Rajavithi Hospital
Yesterday, after the 9pm coronavirus curfew, clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters continued at Sam Liam Din Daeng in Bangkok. Police deployed rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon to disperse the protesters, as they have on an almost daily basis throughout this month (most recently on 15th August). Last night, however, police at Din Daeng also fired live ammunition, shooting at least two people.

One of the victims, a boy aged only 15, was hit in the neck. He is currently in a coma at Rajavithi Hospital, and the hospital issued a written statement this morning to confirm that they had discovered a bullet lodged in his brain stem (“พบกระสุนปืนค้างอยู่บริเวณก้านสมอง”). When the statement was issued, his name and age were not known, though he was identified by his mother this afternoon.

Late last night, Din Daeng Police denied using live ammunition. This morning, they claimed that live rounds were fired by an unknown civilian, though there is no evidence of any such assailant. Live bullets were last deployed by police in Bangkok on 18th February 2014, after PDRC protesters fired at them. Abhisit Vejjajiva directed the army to use live ammunition against red-shirt protesters in April and May 2010, leading to the deaths of almost 90 people.

15 August 2021

“We will not try to defeat riot police.
We will defeat General Prayut.”

Voice TV
Riot police have fired rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in Bangkok for the fourth time this week. As on previous occasions, this evening’s clashes took place at Sam Liam Din Daeng, when protesters were blocked by shipping containers from reaching Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence. A relatively small group of protesters threw small explosives (including fireworks, as photographed by Voice TV) at police, who deployed rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon to disperse them.

Today’s main rally was a Car Mob event organised by Sombat Boonngamanong and red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar, though the stragglers at Din Daeng were not part of this event. Once clashes between demonstrators and police began, Nattawut left the Car Mob to urge the protesters to leave, saying: “We will not try to defeat riot police. We will defeat General Prayut.” Riot police also fired rubber bullets at the same spot on 10th, 11th, and 13th August, and they have now been used on ten occasions this year.

14 August 2021

Thalu Fah

For King and Country
Riot police have fired rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in Bangkok for the third time this week. On all three occasions—10th, 11th, and 13th August—protesters gathered in the afternoon at Victory Monument before marching towards Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence on Vipavadee Rangsit Road. With access blocked by shipping containers at Sam Liam Din Deang, the protesters threw firecrackers, while riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.

Yesterday’s protest was organised by Thalu Fah. Although the rally officially ended shortly after 5pm, some stragglers remained and fought street battles with riot police. They also burnt a police booth at nearby Ratchathewi. Again, these events were a carbon copy of those on 10th and 11th August.

One protest leader, Tanat Thanakitamnuay, was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet. In 2010, he drove his Porsche into a crowd of red-shirt protesters, though he recently switched sides and joined the anti-Prayut movement. He appeared in the 2014 Vice News documentary For King and Country, which followed him and his fellow overprivileged, spoilt young royalists as they drove around aimlessly in their supercars.

11 August 2021

Thalu Fah

Yet again, riot police have fired rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in Bangkok, for the fourth time in less than a fortnight. This afternoon, protesters gathered at Victory Monument, where they threw paint at police. Rubber bullets and tear gas were used to disperse the crowd, some of whom attempted to march to Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence on Viphavadi Rangsit Road. The road was blocked by shipping containers, and the protesters set fire to a police truck at the Sam Liam Din Daeng intersection nearby.

The rally was organised by Thalu Fah, a protest group led by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, who was the first person to be convicted of lèse-majesté during the reign of King Rama X. Rap Against Dictatorship’s single Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า) was named after the group (using an alternate spelling). Jatupat was arrested along with eight other protest leaders a few days ago, and they were all denied bail.

The use of rubber bullets by riot police is now becoming a daily occurrence. Today’s events were a repeat of yesterday’s, and rubber bullets were also deployed at six previous rallies this year, on 28th February, 20th March, 2nd May, 18th July, 1st August, and 7th August.

10 August 2021

#ม็อบ10สิงหา

Free Youth
Riot police have fired rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in Bangkok for the third time this month. This afternoon, several hundred protesters gathered at the Sam Liam Din Daeng intersection, and set light to a police booth. Riot police responded with rubber bullets, water cannon, and tear gas. Some of the protesters retreated to Victory Monument, where another police booth was burnt down. They also threw rocks and firecrackers at police.

Elsewhere in Bangkok, a protester splashed pig’s blood onto a sign at Sino-Thai Tower, headquarters of Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction (seen in this photograph by protest group Thalu Fah). Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who has been accused of corruption and incompetence, is a former president of the company. Blood was also used by protesters a decade ago, when it was poured onto the ground outside Government House and used to paint a banner at Democracy Monument.

Clearly, the government has no interest in negotiating with the protest leaders, most of whom are currently being detained without bail. Instead, rubber bullets are now deployed by riot police as standard practice rather than as a last resort. They were used at six previous rallies this year, on 28th February, 20th March, 2nd May, 18th July, 1st August, and 7th August.

Such is the frequency of the anti-government rallies that protesters and the media use daily hashtags to describe them. Today’s hashtag is #ม็อบ10สิงหา (‘mob 10th Aug.’), a significant date as it marks the first anniversary of Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul’s speech outlining the protesters’ ten-point manifesto for reform of the monarchy.

No God, No King, Only Humans

No God, No King, Only Humans
No God, No King, Only Humans
The young Thai rapper Elevenfinger has released an album on CD to raise money for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The lack of sufficient welfare support or vaccine provision from the government has left many Thais in dire straits, and Elevenfinger will donate the proceeds from No God, No King, Only Humans (ไม่มีพระเจ้า ไม่มีกษัตริย์ มีแค่เพียง มนุษย์ เท่านั้น) to his local community in Khlong Toei.

The album is limited to 100 copies, each signed by the artist. It includes his single เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’), a no-holds-barred condemnation of Prayut Chan-o-cha and others in authority.

รุ้ง

Rung
This morning, The Commoner released their new single, รุ้ง (‘rainbow’). The title is Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul’s nickname, and the song is a tribute to her on the first anniversary of her speech calling for reform of the monarchy. (Booklets that reprinted the speech were later seized by police.)

The song’s lyrics highlight the moment when Panusaya broke a longstanding taboo by reciting the protesters’ ten-point manifesto: “คืนที่รุ้งทลายเพดาน” (‘the night when Rainbow shattered the ceiling’). The music video is mostly animated, with drawings of yellow ducks (symbolising the protesters) and riot police. A monstrous spider, with a recognisable face, makes a brief appearance.

The band’s EP สามัญชน (‘commoner’) was released in 2019. Panusaya performed guest vocals on their single Commoner’s Anthem (บทเพลงของสามัญชน) earlier this year. She also appeared in Paeng Surachet’s music video กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’).

Today marks the first anniversary of her speech. On Monday, another core protest leader, Arnon Nampa, was charged with lèse-majesté following a speech he gave on 3rd August marking the first anniversary of a rally he organised. Arnon was denied bail, along with several other protest leaders (including Parit Chirawak and Panupong Jadnok) who were also arrested over the past few days.

07 August 2021

Free Youth

Free Youth
Riot police in Bangkok have fired rubber bullets at anti-government protesters for the second time this week. They also deployed tear gas and water cannon against the demonstrators, some of whom responded by throwing firecrackers. A police van was set on fire.

A rally organised by Free Youth was planned for this afternoon at Democracy Monument, though almost 6,000 riot police were stationed there to prevent protesters gathering in the area. Marches to the Grand Palace and Government House were called off, as both routes were blocked by shipping containers.

Instead, around 1,000 protesters assembled at Victory Monument and began marching towards Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence on Viphavadi Rangsit Road. Police blocked this route also, forcing the protesters to retreat back to Victory Monument. The nearby BTS SkyTrain station was closed, and photographs by Voice TV show police firing rubber bullets from the elevated station.

The use of tear gas, water cannon and even rubber bullets is now routine for Thai police, as their crowd-control measures have become increasingly and disproportionately violent. Rubber bullets were used only six days ago, and were deployed at four other rallies earlier this year, on 28th February, 20th March, 2nd May, and 18th July.

02 August 2021

Car Mob

Car Mob
Rap Against Dictatorship
Riot police in Bangkok have used rubber bullets against pro-democracy protesters for the fifth time this year. At yesterday’s Car Mob rally, protesters formed a convoy of cars and motorcycles, to maintain social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Similar demonstrations were held simultaneously in more than two dozen other provinces.

Early yesterday evening, after the protest ended, some stragglers remained near the Viphavadi Rangsit Road military barracks, and threw projectiles and firecrackers at police. Riot police deployed water cannon and tear gas to disperse them.

Rubber bullets were first used on 28th February against protesters on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, then on 20th March at Sanam Luang, and on 2nd May outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court. On 18th July, rubber bullets were used again, near Government House.

The Car Mob movement is led by former red-shirt activist Sombat Boonngamanong. Thais on both sides of the political divide use the word ‘mob’ to refer to the protests; this is not necessarily a reappropriation of the term by the protesters.

The music video for Rap Against Dictatorship’s Budget (งบประมาณ) was filmed at a Car Mob protest. The single (one of several recent anti-government songs) excoriates Prayut Chan-o-cha and his government for increasing the military budget while failing to provide sufficient vaccines or adequate healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic.

19 July 2021

“Good vaccines, not
rubber bullets or tear gas!”

Free Youth
Riot police fired rubber bullets at protesters in Bangkok yesterday afternoon. Police also deployed tear gas and water cannon against the protesters, after they attempted to breach road blocks set up to prevent them from marching to Government House.

More than 1,000 protesters gathered at Democracy Monument, where they displayed a guillotine splattered with symbolic blue paint. Later, at nearby Nang Loeng intersection, they burnt Prayut Chan-o-cha in effigy. The event marked the one-year anniversary of Free Youth’s 18th July 2020 protest, which began the current student-led campaign against Prayut’s government.

Protesters at yesterday’s demonstration called for Prayut’s unconditional resignation, the reallocation of royal and military funding to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, and the procurement of mRNA vaccines (such as Pfizer or Moderna) rather than Sinovac. Today, Free Youth issued a statement in Thai and English condemning the police violence and reiterating one of their key demands: “Good vaccines, not rubber bullets or tear gas!”

This marks the fourth time that police have fired rubber bullets at protesters this year. They were first used on 28th February against protesters on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, then on 20th March at Sanam Luang, and on 2nd May outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court.

03 June 2021

“Do you hear the people sing?”

Reform
The Commoner
Ta Lu Fah
Paeng Surachet
In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship’s single My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) encapsulated the frustrations of anti-coup protesters. In 2020, when the protests expanded to include calls for reform of the monarchy, the band released Reform (ปฏิรูป), a song whose lyrics address Prayut Chan-o-cha and King Rama X directly. (Lines such as “pawns have a king captured” in the song’s official English translation are even more blunt than the Thai original.)

The video for Reform—blocked by the government on YouTube—was filmed at Siam Square in Bangkok on 16th October 2020, and includes footage of riot police using water cannon to disperse the protesters. The music video for Elevenfinger’s เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’) was also filmed during the protests, and is even more confrontational than Reform. Elevenfinger hurls insults at Prayut and others, and lyrics such as “ละควรรีบๆตาย” (‘hurry up and die’) are as subtle as a brick through a window.

The lyrics of another recent song are addressed directly to Rama X: Paeng Surachet’s กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Its title is an ironic appropriation of a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020, and its lyric video features animated yellow ducks in reference to the inflatable ducks used by protesters to protect themselves from water cannon.

Paeng’s song takes the form of a breakup message to an unfaithful lover, with lines such as “ประนีประนอมได้ไหม ไม่ compromise นะถ้าทำตัวเเบบนี้” (‘Can we compromise? No, I won’t compromise if you behave this way’). ‘Compromise’ is a reference to a comment by the King on another walkabout: on 2nd November 2020, he told a reporter that “Thailand is the land of compromise.” Paeng later released a music video for the song, featuring protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul and Parit Chirawak in angel costumes.

Panusaya and Parit also performed guest vocals on a new version of The Commoner’s track Commoner’s Anthem (บทเพลงของสามัญชน), released last month with a music video featuring footage of pro-democracy protests. (Parit was recently hospitalised after going on hunger strike for forty-six days, and was released on bail on 11th May; Panusaya was bailed on 6th May.) The Commoner’s video คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (‘you know who’) also features protest footage, and Parit and Panusaya are name-checked in the lyrics of Hockhacker’s song Pirates (โจรสลัด).

Protesters have also reappropriated existing songs. Do You Hear the People Sing? (from the stage musical Les Misérables) was sung at several of last year’s protests in place of the national anthem. Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan performed his hit single 12345 I Love You at a protest near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 14th November 2020, leading the crowd in chants of “ai hia Tu” instead of “I love you” during the chorus. (Ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) Chaiamorn was released on bail on 11th May, after burning a portrait of Rama X outside Bangkok’s Klongprem prison on 28th February.

Chaiamorn also performed 12345 I Love You outside Thanyaburi Provincial Court on 14th January, with Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, leading to lèse-majesté charges being filed against both of them. Whereas Chaiamorn usually sang Prayut’s nickname during the chorus, at Thanyaburi they used a nickname for the King instead. Phromsorn was also charged with lèse-majesté for singing three traditional royalist songs at the same event—สดุดีมหาราชา (‘praise the King’), ต้นไม้ของพ่อ (‘father’s tree’), and ในหลวงของแผ่นดิน (‘the king of the land’)—which he performed with altered lyrics.

Ai hia Tu” also appears in the lyrics of Rap Against Dictatorship’s latest single, Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and another line—“Burn this image”—is also a reference to Chaiamorn. The ‘sky’ in the title is metaphorical, and the lyrics refer indirectly to “someone in the sky. Fuck knows he’s alive.” (This is a reference to a recent rumour that went viral online.) The music video, directed by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan, includes footage of recent REDEM protests, which also feature in the lyrics (“Gunshots from the police as REDEM marches in line”).

01 June 2021

Democracy.exe

Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them
Democracy.exe
White Bird
Aomtip Kerdplanant
The Untitled for Film group held a screening of short films on 29th May, providing a platform for young, independent directors to respond to seven years of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The event, Democracy.exe, was originally to form part of the Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them season at the RDX Offsite gallery in Bangkok. The season was scheduled to run from 3rd April to 24th May, with the Democracy.exe films to be shown from 2nd to 8th May, though the screening ultimately took place online (streamed via Facebook Live) due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme began with Panya Zhu’s White Bird, in which an origami bird (representing a dove of peace?) is seen at various locations around Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong, the 14th October 1973 Memorial, Democracy Monument, and Thammasat University. These are all sites with histories of political violence and are thus, to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’. (Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Planking and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s painting What a Wonderful World feature similarly ‘guilty landscapes’, silent witnesses to past traumas.) Prayut’s announcement of his coup is heard on the soundtrack, and the film ends with the lowering of the Thai flag, symbolising the country’s political regression.

Democracy.exe also featured four short documentaries by Ratakorn Sirileark, filmed at anti-government protests last year. 21 October 2020: The Event Nearby the Government House and 8 November 2020: The Unintentional Mistake (8 November 2020: มือลั่น) were, like the others in the series, filmed in black-and-white. In 17 November 2020: Tear Gas and Water Canon [sic], Ratakorn documents the grossly disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannon by riot police, with Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. (This is also the subject of Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship.) The title of Ratakorn’s 26 October 2020: The Owner of the Mutt is a reference to King Rama X, who has a pet poodle.

The final film in the programme was Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’), a drama in which three student protest leaders debate their tactics in the aftermath of the 2014 coup: should they apply for a protest permit, or not?; should they organise a flashmob, or a large-scale rally? The three students could, of course, be substitutes for Arnon Nampa (released on bail today), Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Parit Chirawak; they also resemble the protagonists of Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

16 ตุลา shows how the students’ lives have changed in the years since their initial campaign, indicating how seasoned protesters can become disillusioned, and how Prayut has become entrenched in Thai politics. The title is a conflation of two massacres, on 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, which have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people believe they are synonymous. The film ends with a written caption endorsing the three demands of the real-life student protest movement: Prayut’s resignation, a democratic constitution, and reform of the monarchy.

03 May 2021

REDEM

REDEM
A protest by REDEM (Restart Democracy) outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court yesterday evening ended with riot police firing rubber bullets at protesters for the third time this year. REDEM protesters gathered at Victory Monument yesterday afternoon, and marched to the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road. They had intended to march past the military barracks on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, where rubber bullets were used against them on 28th February, though access was blocked and the protest route was diverted.

When the protesters reached the Criminal Court, REDEM handed out tomatoes and eggs, which were thrown at the Court entrance. REDEM announced the end of the short demonstration at 6pm, and most protesters dispersed, though some stragglers remained, throwing firecrackers at the Court building. They later retreated to nearby Ratchadaphisek Soi 32, where they were confronted by riot police armed with water cannon and rubber bullets.

Rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon were also used against REDEM protesters at Sanam Luang on 20th March, after they pulled down shipping containers erected to block access to the Grand Palace. Several journalists reporting on the demonstration were also hit by rubber bullets, and clashes with riot police continued late into the night.

20 April 2021

Lets Kill

Thai experimental noise band Gamnad737’s album Lets Kill [sic] includes several tracks with anti-government titles: Kill the Government, Kill the Dicktatorship, and Kill the Section 44. Section 44 is a reference to article 44 of the interim constitution, which granted absolute power to the 2014 military junta. Similarly, P9d’s rap album RAW Jazz Effect includes the track Section 44, which begins with the unambiguous line “Fuck the section 44”.

Lets Kill is available on cassette and CD, and in a unique CD edition splattered with founding member Arkat Vinyapiroath’s blood. (The blood-splattered edition also comes complete with two vials of Arkat’s blood, and it remains unsold almost three years after its release.) Gamnad737’s latest release is the Drilling Technique cassette EP (which includes a grisly photo of a Jeffrey Dahmer victim). Arkat is also the bassist for thrash metal band Killing Fields, whose most recent EP is Death to Dictator.

18 April 2021

ไข่แมวX

Khai Maew
Happy Boy
ไข่แมวX, by the anonymous Facebook cartoonist Khai Maew, was released this month. The book features the best of Khai Maew’s satirical cartoons from the past four years, including several parodies of the 2019 election campaign. Minimal context is provided alongside each cartoon (as Khai Maew’s work is usually presented without captions, to allow for multiple interpretations), including a reprint of the manifesto for monarchy reform also published in ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’).

At the back of the book are a handful of new cartoons that are too sensitive to publish on the artist’s Facebook page (though even the cover illustration is also potentially taboo-breaking, albeit indirectly). The book’s final image borrows a motif from The Last Monument by another anonymous satirist, Headache Stencil.

Like Chalermpol Junrayab’s Amazing Thai-land series, Khai Maew combines superhero characters and political figures in his satirical cartoons. Both artists’ works are distributed primarily on Facebook, and they have both branched out with exhibitions, calendars, and books. Khai Maew’s first exhibition, Kalaland, was held in 2018, and Chalermpol’s took place a year later.

Khai Maew has also produced satirical merchandise, including soft toys and other items based on his recurring Thaksin Shinawatra and Prayut Chan-o-cha characters. In 2016, he created Happy Boy, a miniature plastic model of the smiling child seen in Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

12 March 2021

Coup, King, Crisis

Coup, King, Crisis
After “Good Coup” Gone Bad, Pavin Chachavalpongpun has turned his attention to the 2006 coup’s more repressive sequel: the 2014 coup (from Bad to worse, as it were). Coup, King, Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand, edited by Pavin, focuses on Thai politics under the junta and the succession from Rama IX to Rama X. (After the Coup is an earlier anthology of essays on the 2014 coup.)

Pavin’s introduction summarises the 2019 election anomalies and the “political earthquake” of Thai Raksa Chart and Princess Ubolratana, though these really require their own chapters. Sarah Bishop writes about the Thai Raksa Chart dissolution, refuting the notion of ‘judicial coups’, though her argument is unconvincing as she ignores the Constitutional Court’s disqualifications of Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat, Yingluck Shinawatra, and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. (For a more persuasive analysis of the politicised judiciary, see Eugénie Mérieau’s chapter in Military, Monarchy and Repression.)

The most interesting contributions are Kevin Hewison’s chapter on the royal succession, Paul M. Handley’s updating of The King Never Smiles, Tyrell Haberkorn’s discussion of Mor Yong, a primer on military factions by Paul Chambers (co-editor of Khaki Capital), and an account of self-censorship by David Streckfuss (author of Truth on Trial in Thailand). Streckfuss discusses the use of metaphor by writers and artists as a strategy to evade censorship, noting the “tension between letting readers in on the joke and somehow concealing it from the authorities”, citing the short story Hakom and the film Cemetery of Splendour as examples.

01 March 2021

REDEM

REDEM
Restart Thailand
Riot police fired rubber bullets last night, when a protest near Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence turned violent. The police also deployed rubber batons, tear gas, and water cannon against the protesters. More than 1,000 people had gathered at Victory Monument in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, before marching to the Viphavadi Rangsit Road military barracks where Prayut resides. They attempted to remove shipping containers that the authorities had installed as a barrier, and threw rocks and other projectiles at the police. There were injuries on both sides, and a police officer suffered a fatal heart attack.

The protest was organised by REDEM (Restart Democracy), a rebranding of the Free Youth movement. (Free Youth had previously relaunched as Restart Thailand, though their RT logo, with its Communist hammer and sickle design, raised concerns among other pro-democracy groups.) REDEM issued a manifesto on 24th February, with three demands: a reduction in state spending on the monarchy, the removal of the military’s political influence, and a welfare state to ensure economic equality.

Last night represents an escalation of tensions between protesters and the authorities, and marks the first use of rubber bullets by the police since the protests began last year. It also indicates a more aggressive approach by elements of the protest movement, which is increasingly fragmented and leaderless. The various protest groups have differing demands, some of which are viewed as too extreme by potential allies. Protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Arnon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and Panupong Jadnok, amongst others, are facing multiple charges including sedition and lèse-majesté.

25 January 2021

1410

1410
1410
1410
Like several other Thai filmmakers, Yuthlert Sippapak has become more politically engaged as a result of the long-running political crisis that has polarised Thai society for more than a decade. (This political consciousness is known in Thai as ta sawang.) When I interviewed Yuthlert for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he said: “I never gave a shit about politics. But right now, it’s too much.”

Yuthlert’s ta sawang moment came when the military withdrew its support for his film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ). Far from the propaganda vehicle the military was expecting, the film instead exposed military corruption in southern Thailand. As Yuthlert told me: “Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military. I said that, and I don’t want to take that out. That’s the truth. And they don’t want the truth. I want the truth.”

Since then, Yuthlert has turned to political activism, campaigning against Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. On 27 August 2019, he criticised the Constitutional Court on Twitter—“สงสัยว่าศาลรัฐธรรมนูญ เสือกอะไรกับประชาชน ก็ได้เหรอ?” (‘what gives the Constitutional Court the right to intrude on its citizens?’)—and he was summonsed to apologise for contempt of court.

Last year, he faced a Computer Crime charge after criticising minister Puttipong Punnakanta via another Twitter account on 20 April 2020: “รัฐมนตรีเฟคนิวส์ อยู่เบื้องหลังสาเหตุของการตายของม้าในประเทศไทย” (‘the minister of fake news is behind the horse deaths in Thailand’). That tweet was from his NMG (No More General) campaign against Prayut.

Yuthlert’s latest provocation is 1410, a proposed new political science-fiction film starring Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, whose hit single 12345 I Love You was appropriated by anti-government protesters. Yuthlert held a press conference with Chaiamorn on 18th January at the Jam Factory in Bangkok, announcing a plan to crowdfund the budget for 1410 through online donations.

He is also currently working on two political satires: Seven Boy Scouts (a horror film in which the evil characters share their nicknames with Thai politicians) and The Last Dictator (อวสาน ร.ป.ภ; a comedy in which a filmmaker dying from COVID-19 vows to assassinate a coup leader). Whereas Seven Boy Scouts is almost complete, The Last Dictator seems to be on the back burner. Yuthlert is also working on another (shorter) edit of Fatherland, for a future Netflix release, though real-life political protests are taking up most of his time.

1410’s title is a reference to the 14th October 1973 student protest that led to the (brief) restoration of democracy, though Yuthlert hasn’t revealed any specifics about its characters or plot. The tagline for the film’s teaser poster is “ภาพยนตร์บันทึกอดีตอันเลวร้าย ถ่ายทอดความเสื่อมทรามของปัจจุบัน เพื่อต่อต้านเผด็จการโสมมในอนาคต” (‘a film about a terrible past and a worsening present, to prevent corrupt dictators in the future’).

A 1410 exhibition is on show at the Jam Factory from 18th to 27th January. A large mural (with stylised typography by PrachathipaType) features the slogan “ศักดินาจงพินาศ ประชาราษฎร์จงเจริญ” (‘may feudalism be defeated; may the people prosper’), and a dartboard uses Headache Stencil’s portrait of Prayut as a bullseye. This is Yuthlert’s third appearance at the Jam Factory: he was a guest speaker at the Uncensored event there in 2019; and The Land We Call Home, an exhibition of Sira Twichsang’s photos from Fatherland, was held there in 2014.

07 October 2020

Siamese Talk

Siamese Talk
Siamese Talk
Siamese Talk
Siamese Talk
Kritsana Chaikitwattana’s exhibition Siamese Talk opened at Bangkok’s Jam Café on 25th September. Kritsana has covered newspapers and news magazines with plain paper, strategically torn to reveal photographs of Thai government ministers. The artist applied gold leaf to the images, a gesture that mocks the politicians rather than venerates them.

Gold leaf is usually applied to Buddha statues as an act of worship, though Kritsana is using it satirically. The gold makes the newspaper clippings glint like illuminated manuscripts, and it obscures the faces of Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cronies. The exhibition also includes images of King Vajiralongkorn, though Kritsana has used gold leaf only on the backgrounds of these photographs, not on the King himself.

In one piece, only a fragment of a headline is visible: “6 ตุลา” (‘6 Oct.’), i.e. the 6th October 1976 massacre. Siamese Talk also features paintings by Kritsana, including an image of the Buddha as Ultraman (พระพุทธรูปอุลตร้าแมน), a reference to the controversy surrounding Suparat Chaijangrid’s similar portraits last year. The exhibition runs until 25th October.