Thursday, 3 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, ทะลุฟ้า (‘through the sky’), 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”).

Tuesday, 1 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.

Monday, 3 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.

Tuesday, 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.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

ไข่แมวX

Khai Maew
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. He even created Happy Boy, a plastic model of the smiling child seen in Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Friday, 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.

Monday, 1 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.

Monday, 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.

Wednesday, 7 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.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Unmuted Project

Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Boundary
The Unmuted Project exhibition opened yesterday (monitored by a handful of police officers) at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok. The exhibition is part of a wider pro-democracy movement, and includes pieces by 200 artists. Many of the artworks on show feature Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, alongside satirical portraits of junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha. At least one image directly criticises the monarchy, something that would once have been unthinkable.

Several of the works make reference to the 6th October 1976 massacre. A painting inspired by Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the event is partially obscured by a banknote featuring Prayut’s face. In a sketch by Dipthroat, the ‘chair man’ in Ulevich’s photograph is replaced by Prayut wielding a lectern, with Future Forward founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit depicted as the victim.

Most of the featured artists are anonymous, though some of the works are familiar. An image from Chalermpol Junrayab’s The Amazing Thai-Land is included, as are Harit Srikhao’s The Coronation of Brukhonenko’s Dog (the first photograph from his Whitewash photobook) and Nathee Monthonwit’s digital print World of Wrestling (โลกมวยปล้ำ). The exhibition runs until 5th September, and ends with a screening of the documentary Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง).

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Give Us a Little More Time

Give Us a Little More Time
Give Us a Little More Time
Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s exhibition and video installation Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน) closed earlier this month, though the exhibition catalogue is now available from Bangkok CityCity Gallery. The six loose-leaf volumes are housed in a slipcase, published in an edition of thirty signed and numbered copies (mine being no. 2).

Chulayarnnon used newspaper clippings to produce a satirical A4 collage every day from the 22nd May 2014 coup until the 24th March 2019 election, creating a daily critique of mainstream media coverage of the junta. Only ten of these were on display at the exhibition, though the catalogue serves as an archive of all 1,768 collages.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Absolute Coup

Absolute Coup
Absolute Coup
Absolute Coup
Artist and musician Pisitakun Kuntalaeng’s new album Absolute Coup, released today, features seven tracks, named after seven sectors of society that, according to Pisitakun, created the conditions for Thailand’s many coups. The album is available on a gold-coloured, bullet-shaped USB drive (limited to fifty copies), symbolising the Thai military’s vast wealth and lethal force. It’s also available on cassette (limited to eighty copies).

The album’s first three tracks are also the most controversial: MoMoNarNar!!Chy, ArArMyMy, and ConConStituStitutionalCourt. (Disregard the repeated syllables, and the subjects become clear.) There are laws protecting each of these institutions from criticism in Thailand (namely lèse-majesté, article 44, and contempt of court), so Pisitakun is walking a legal tightrope.

MoMoNarNar!!Chy (and the album itself) begins with the Thai royal anthem played on a traditional phin (a type of lute), in a rare (and perhaps unique) appropriation of the anthem. ArArMyMy features samples of a speech by junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, and a roll call of cadets such as Phakhapong Tanyakan who died during military training. The album also comes with seven highly provocative stickers, based on paintings by Pisitakun, representing the subjects of the seven tracks as bug-eyed monsters.

Pisitakun’s work is currently on show at WTF Gallery as part of the group exhibition Conflicted Visions Again. His 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic] box set (limited to fifty copies, available at WTF) commemorates the tenth anniversary of the military massacre of reds-hirt protesters in 2010. The first issue of his Risographed comic zine Future of Cunt (limited to thirty copies) is available at another Bangkok gallery, Speedy Grandma.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Give Us a Little More Time

Give Us a Little More Time
Give Us a Little More Time
Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s exhibition Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน) opened today at Bangkok CityCity Gallery. Every day from the 2014 coup until the 2019 election, Chulayarnnon created a different A4 collage from Thai newspaper clippings. There are more than 1,000 of these satirical collages, collected in a six-volume catalogue, and ten of them are on show at the exhibition as enlarged reproductions.

The main gallery space is occupied by a four-screen video installation, showing a twelve-minute montage of overlapping newspaper headlines and photos. This rapid-fire video collage remixes and distills six years of mainstream press coverage of the military government.

The exhibition’s ironic title is a line from a propaganda song released by the junta, Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย), part of which is sampled on the video soundtrack. Arnont Nongyao’s video Ghost Rabbit and the Casket Sales (กระต่ายผี กับ คนขายโลง) also samples the song, as does Thunska Pansittivorakul’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Chulayarnnon’s recent film 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้) is another post-coup political critique, and will be shown at CityCity on 9th August, when the exhibition closes. (Give Us a Little More Time was originally scheduled for 25th April to 21st June, though the opening was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Propaganda Children’s Day

Propaganda Children's Day
Propaganda Children's Day
Uncle Red Panda
The Sound of Elite
Yesterday was Children’s Day in Thailand. This annual event sees various institutions organise fun activities for children and families. One of those institutions, the military, allows toddlers to sit in tanks and pose with guns on Children’s Day, instilling positive feelings towards the armed forces from a very young age. To highlight the military’s disturbing grooming of kids, Headache Stencil held an alternative Children’s Day event this weekend at the Jam Factory in Bangkok.

His subversive Propaganda Children’s Day (วันเด็กชั่งชาติ), which took place yesterday and today, featured a life-sized tank decorated with anti-military graffiti. Inside the tank was a mini gallery with paintings such as Uncle Red Panda, depicting Prayut Chan-o-cha’s face with footprints over it (also available on t-shirts and stickers). Other paintings on display included The Sound of Elite, a collage featuring the background from Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre and a publicity still from The Sound of Music.

Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s documentary 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้) also highlights the military’s exploitation of Children’s Day. Headache Stencil organised a similar exhibition of political art, Uncensored, at the same venue last year, and his Thailand Casino exhibition was equally satirical.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

“The Prime Minister.
Show a bit of respect...”

The Cave
Death Wave
The Cave (นางนอน), based on the true story of last year’s miraculous cave rescue, opened in cinemas this week. The film sticks solidly to the facts, with several key participants playing themselves. It’s tense and dramatic, and begins in medias res: the very first line of dialogue is “Let’s go to the cave.” There’s a moment of Ace in the Hole-style social commentary—a vendor selling lottery tickets at the cave entrance—though one scene stands out as comic relief: the arrival of the Prime Minister.

Before the PM appears, he’s formally announced: “The Prime Minister. Show a bit of respect, guys.” Though while he was on-screen, there were chuckles from the cinema audience. The character has a close physical likeness to Prayut Chan-o-cha, and he serves no purpose other than to give gift baskets to the divers. He also uses broken English (like Prayut himself), telling one diver: “Oh! You marry her, visa no problem.”

The Cave is one of only a handful of films to feature Thai Prime Ministers, due to censorship of political content and public apathy towards politics. A biopic of Plaek Phibunsongkhram was abandoned in 1988 due to a lawsuit from his estate. Similarly, a Sarit Thanarat biopic—provisionally titled จอมพล (‘marshal’)—was vetoed by the censors in 2002. Sarit did feature briefly in the horror movie Zee Oui: The Man-Eater (ซี-อุย), ordering the swift execution of Zee Oui for political expediency.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป’ไทย) discusses Thaksin Shinawatra, and the film’s distributor asked the director incredulously: “How can you put a film with Thaksin in the cinema?” Sulak Sivaraksa makes a similar point in the documentary itself, saying: “Your movie shouldn’t waste too much time on Thaksin.” (That line received applause at cinema screenings.)

In Ing Kanjanavanit’s banned Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย), Macbeth is reimagined as a Thaksin-like figure, and the similarity is noted self-referentially when a policeman says: “Your actor looks like our Dear Leader. Is this intentional?” Wisit Sasanatieng’s The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) features a Prime Minister who abandons his principles once he assumes office, reneging on a pre-election pledge to ban nuclear power. Wisit claims that he “didn’t set out to criticise any particular prime minister... I only want to mock those who began as good guys fighting for the poor, then, like Darth Vader, they become villains once they have power.” That sounds awfully like a description of Thaksin.

The disaster movie Death Wave (13-04-2022 วันโลกสังหาร) features Thailand’s most ludicrous cinematic Prime Minister, portrayed as a holier-than-thou figure who selflessly sacrifices his career for the greater good: “the lives and safety of my people are more valuable than my assumed position... I’m willing to lose everything in exchange for the lives of my people.” He even becomes an action hero, rescuing a busload of drowning children while a news reporter praises “our Prime Minister’s fearless courage.” Needless to say, that PM was entirely fictional.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Never Again

Never Again
Never Again
Never Again
Never Again
Thai political protesters of all persuasions have used clothing and accessories as markers of political identity. Medallions were distributed at the funerals of 13th October 1973 massacre victims. (Reproductions were issued with a book commemorating the event.) The UDD and PAD movements are both better known by the colour of their respective clothes—red-shirts and yellow-shirts—and both groups also used plastic hand-clappers at their rallies. Later, the PDRC protesters were nicknamed whistle-blowers, not because they were exposing corruption but because they blew whistles at their protests.

These simple artefacts are souvenirs of protests attended, and symbols of the deeply polarised nature of modern Thai politics. A collection of more recent political emphemera is currently on show in Bangkok, at the Never Again exhibition. The items on display, including UDD calendars and water bowls, were all declared illegal by the junta in the years following the 2014 coup. The exhibition also features a large collection of anti-junta t-shirts.

The main exhibit is the white shirt worn by New Democracy Movement member Sirawith Seritiwat when he was attacked by thugs on 28th June. His bloodstained shirt highlights the violence of the attack, and serves as a potent reminder of the anti-democratic vigilantism that has existed in Thailand for more than forty years. (Stickers from the New Democracy Movement are also included, though their banned ‘seven reasons to vote no’ leaflet is missing.)

Never Again: Seize, Trample, Repeat, Change (หยุด ย่ำ ซ้ำ เดิน) was organised by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO that also published the recent book ราษฎรกำแหง (‘dissident citizens’). The exhibition was previously held at Chiang Mai University (from 11th to 16th August), and is now at WTF Gallery (from 1st to 10th November).

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Short Film Marathon

Short Film Marathon
Short Film Marathon
100 Times Reproduction of Democracy
The annual Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน) began yesterday at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya. More than 400 films will be screened, in alphabetical order, until 12th December, and the cream of the crop will be selected for the forthcoming 23rd Short Film and Video Festival. Attendees at yesterday’s launch were given bib numbers, just like a real marathon. (Fortunately, no actual running was required.)

The first programme included Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s new film 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้). The film begins with a self-reflexive commentary on artistic reproduction: 100 Times Reproduction of ‘A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar’ (การผลิตซ้ำภาพยนตร์สั้นเรื่องไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่งจำนวน 100 ครั้ง), which itself incorporates A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar (ไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่ง), Chulayarnnon’s award-winning entry at the 17th Short Film and Video Festival. Scenes from that film (a patient with arthritis exercising and visiting her doctor) are repeated, and the director sells 100 DVD copies of it and gives away 100 copies of his award certificate.

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy then transitions into the equally repetitive issue of Thai politics: the cycle of coups has been reproduced a dozen times since the democratic revolution of 1932. The film shows how one symbol can be replaced with another, with the removal of a plaque commemorating the revolution. Chulayarnnon also filmed the PDRC’s ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ rallies—as he did in Myth of Modernity and Here Comes the Democrat Party (ประชาธิปัตย์มาแล้ว)—and Rap Against Dictatorship’s performance of My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) earlier this year. The song is juxtaposed with footage from Children’s Day of toddlers posing with tanks and machine guns, showing how militarism is inculcated at an extremely young age.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Dog of God

Dog of God
Democrazy
Dog of God is the debut EP by Thai band Dogwhine, and is available on CD from the Ageha café in Bangkok. The EP includes a couple of overtly political tracks: Leader is a dig at unelected Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (“Leader must come from election”), and Democrazy comments on the country’s cycle of military violence (“Nowhere to hide, no way to run / Not your first time to see the dictator”).

The animated promo video for Democrazy features the folding chair and hanging corpse from Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre. (The video’s director is credited only by his nickname, Jung.) The song’s Democrazy pun echoes the name of Bangkok’s Democrazy Theatre Studio and the titles of the short films Democrazy.mov (by Thunsita Yanuprom and Sarun Channiam) and Demockrazy (by Duangporn Pakavirojkul).

Dogwhine are part of a wave of musicians using protest songs to comment on contemporary Thai politics. Rap Against Dictatorship’s anthemic My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) is the most prominent example, though others include The Commoner’s EP สามัญชน (‘commoner’), P9d’s single Section 44, and the จะ4ปีแล้วนะ (‘four years already’) and BNK44 concerts.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

The Amazing Thai-Land

The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land
The Amazing Thai-Land, is graphic artist Chalermpol Junrayab’s debut solo exhibition. (The title is an ironic reappropriation of the Tourist Authority of Thailand’s slogan ‘Amazing Thailand’.) Chalermpol creates parodies of comic-book covers on his iPad, satirising Thai politics.

Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is caricatured in several of Chalermpol’s prints. In Final Curve, for example, the 24th March election campaign is depicted as a dodgem race, which Prayut (car number 44) wins with the help of a turbo engine representing the 250 senators he appointed. Another print, Buddha Man, refers to the recent Ultraman Buddha controversy, with an inset portrait of the Buddha wearing Ultraman’s costume.

The Amazing Thai-Land opened on 12th October at Sathorn 11 Art Space in Bangkok. Free copies of Chalermpol’s 2019 desk calendar are available at the exhibition, which runs until 25th October. (Political calendars caused controversy in 2016 and 2018, when calendars promoting Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra were seized by the military.)