04 February 2021

“If things go wrong,
the government cannot sue...”

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is now facing another lèse-majesté charge, relating to a television interview he gave to Al Jazeera English broadcast on 29th January. Thanathorn highlighted a hypothetical consequence of the deal between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience to produce coronavirus vaccines in Thailand. He noted that—as Siam Bioscience is a Crown Property Bureau company, and thus ultimately under the King’s prerogative—“if things go wrong, the government cannot sue the owner of the company.”

Thanathorn made similar comments in a Facebook Live video on 18th January, and is facing lèse-majesté and Computer Crime charges as a result. He was also charged under the Computer Crime Act in relation to another Facebook Live video, streamed on 29th June 2018. After his Future Forward Party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court last year, it was rebranded as Move Forward, a progressive movement calling for military reform, which may explain the continuing intimidation of Thanathorn by the authorities.

02 February 2021

A Good True Thai

Sunisa Manning’s debut novel, A Good True Thai, is set during one of Thailand’s brief spells of democratic rule, a period bookended by the massacres of 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976. The book’s title is a reframing of the traditional notion of ‘Thainess’, the insistence that ‘good’ Thais (khon dee) value nation, religion, and monarchy above all else, while progressives are regarded as unpatriotic.

The novel’s three central characters (friends Det and Chang, and their mutual love interest, Lek) are university students caught up in the intense political atmosphere of the period. For example, Lek reacts to the infamous Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper’s headline accusing Thammasat students of lèse-majesté: “It must be a mistake! Lek brandishes the page at her brother... No wonder the city roils. They think the students have staged a hanging of the Crown Prince.”

A Good True Thai was published in October 2020, when a new generation of students were demonstrating against the military and the monarchy: as it was in the 1970s, ‘Thainess’ is currently being challenged and redefined. Although it was written before the recent protests, the book is therefore extremely timely.

A Good True Thai has superficial similarities with other novels set during periods of political instability. Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), for example, takes place against a backdrop of the 1991, 2006, and 2014 coups. Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘unspoken dreams’) is set during the PDRC protests. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, Win Lyovarin’s Democracy, Shaken and Stirred (ประชาธิปไตยบนเส้นขนาน) traces sixty years of Thailand’s modern political history.

The book has more in common with films such as Anocha Suwichakornpong’s By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Pasit Promnampol’s พีเจ้น (‘pigeon’). Both Manning’s book and Anocha’s film are self-referential, featuring protagonists who are also writing a book and making a film, respectively. Pasit’s short film, like Manning’s novel, dramatises a student’s decision to join the Communist insurgency.

28 January 2021

ร่างของปรารถนา

Uthis Haemamool
Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), published in 2017, follows the sexual and political awakenings of an art graduate from Silpakorn University (where Uthis himself studied painting). The novel’s frank sexual content is combined with commentary on Thailand’s three most recent coups (1991, 2006, and 2014).

Some passages are printed in a new typeface—ปรารถนา (‘desire’)—commissioned especially for the novel, with letter forms that resemble sexual positions. In a nod to the book’s risqué content, its pages are sealed with a perforated strip that must be torn off before reading.

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.

21 January 2021

Hakom

Hakom
Remembrances of Red Trauma
Charuphat Petcharavej’s short story Hakom (ห่าก้อม) was first published in an anthology of Isaan literature, มวลดอกไม้ในยุคมืด (‘flowers in a dark age’). It was translated into English last year, and reprinted in Remembrances of Red Trauma: The Tenth Anniversary of the Political Violence of 2010 (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), a collection of articles reflecting on the 2010 massacre and “Thai society’s deep-rooted culture of impunity.” (Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s Ten Year project also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the massacre.)

Hakom is a supernatural tale of a phi pob spirit possessing an Isaan villager, though the story is also a political metaphor. The fictional village of Dong Bong is a microcosm of Thailand, and its former headman, Wan, is a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra. Charuphat writes that Wan became persona non grata: “A group of villagers had driven him out of the village, forcing him to make a new home for himself on a hill, far away from the village.” This mirrors Thaksin’s self-exile following the 2006 coup against his government.

Wan’s sister, Buaphan, thus represents Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, and the story describes her futile efforts to protect the village from its attackers: “Against these poisonous animals and fierce beasts out on the streets in a show of full force, the villagers [had] little at their disposal to fight back. So many of them went to see Nang Buaphan for help. But she had nothing to match the power of the attackers. She could only tell the villagers to endure this crisis until one day, the monsters would run out of energy and leave.”

This vivid description of a village under siege echoes the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010, and the 2014 coup against Yingluck’s administration. Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s short film The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ) also employs a phi pob as a metaphor for political violence. In Ukrit’s film, an elderly woman is beaten by her fellow villagers, who believe her to be possessed by a phi pob. Like Hakom, The Pob’s House was also a response to the 2010 massacre.

01 January 2021

ปฏิทินพระราชทาน

Khana Ratsadon
Yesterday, a member of the pro-democracy group Khana Ratsadon was arrested at home and charged with lèse-majesté. Police also confiscated 174 desk calendars, which had been sold online by the group since Boxing Day.

The calendars feature cartoon drawings of yellow ducks, which became a pro-reform symbol after protesters used inflatable rubber ducks to defend themselves against water cannon on 17th November last year (as seen in Sorayos Prapapan’s short documentary Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship). Khana Ratsadon’s fake banknotes featuring a similar yellow duck symbol are also under investigation.

The lèse-majesté charge stems from the calendar’s title and two of its illustrations. According to the police, the title—ปฏิทินพระราชทาน (‘royal calendar’)—implies that the calendar is an official publication rather than a parody. One drawing features the words “กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’), spoken by King Rama X during a walkabout on 23rd October last year. The other controversial picture shows a yellow duck with a bead of sweat on its beak: a reference to King Rama IX, who was photographed with a bead of sweat on his nose, symbolising his hard work.

This is the fourth calendar to be investigated by the Thai authorities in recent years. Wall calendars featuring greetings from Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawawtra were seized in 2018 and 2016. In 2010, a wall calendar by the beer company Leo, featuring models in body paint, was accused of promoting alcohol in contravention of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.

28 December 2020

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
The Technicolor musical The Wizard of Oz wasn’t originally considered a Christmas film, though for generations of British children it’s become an annual Christmas TV tradition. Its first UK television broadcast was on Christmas Day in 1975, and it’s been shown during the Christmas holiday almost every year since. It’s fitting, then, that Bangkok Screening Room will be showing The Wizard of Oz just after New Year, on 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 16th, and 17th January 2021.

The film has been shown at Bangkok Screening Room before, last year (as part of the Judy Garland Focus season) and in 2018. It also played during this year’s World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) season at the Scala, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. There was a sing-along screening at the Bangkok Community Theatre in 2013, and later that year it was shown as part of Jam Café’s Dark Side of the Rainbow double-bill accompanied by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album.

12 December 2020

ANIMAL KINgDOM

Animal Kingdom
A House in Many Parts
Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship
Shadow and Act
Prelude of the Moving Zoo
A House in Many Parts (บ้านเเหวกศิลป์), the arts festival being held at various Bangkok venues from 1st to 16th December, continued yesterday at N22 with ANIMAL KINgDOM, a selection of short films programmed by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa. The outdoor screening was divided into two sections: ANIMAL and KINgDOM (the lower-case ‘g’ indicates a double meaning: human kinship with animals, and the kingdom of Thailand).

The ANIMAL programme included two new films: Taiki Sakpisit’s Shadow and Act and Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo. Both feature sequences shot at Dusit Zoo, which was closed by royal decree in 2018. (The zoo was situated on Crown Property Bureau land, which King Rama X reclaimed.)

Prelude of the Moving Zoo, filmed on the last day of the zoo’s operation, begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention. Shadow and Act also includes shots filmed at another prestigious institution from a bygone age, the Chaya Jitrakorn photography studio. As in A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), Taiki’s camera pans slowly and elegiacally around the studio’s fixtures and fittings, settling upon dusty portraits of Cold War dictator Phibun Songkhram and other kharatchakan (‘civil servants’).

The KINgDOM segment included Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ), which was previously shown at Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, another film programme curated by Wiwat. In The Pob’s House, an elderly woman is attacked by villagers who believe her to be an evil spirit. Her granddaughter is also killed, and the child’s body is beaten in an echo of the mob violence of 6th October 1976. A little boy turns to the camera and grins, in reference to the smiling boy from Neal Ulevich’s famous 6th October photograph. The Pob’s House was made in response to another massacre, in 2010, and as Ukrit explains in a voiceover, his film is an allegory for the violence “buried in people’s minds.”

The evening ended with Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship, another new film by Sorayos, compiled from raw footage of riot police firing water cannon at protesters outside parliament on 17th November. The protesters used inflatable rubber ducks to protect themselves from jets of water laced with tear gas, and Sorayos was on the front line with the protesters, whereas most news camera crews were behind the barricades.

10 December 2020

14 ตุลาคม

Thai PBS
14 ตุลาคม: 40 ความทรงจำเดือนตุลาคม (‘14th October: forty years of memories’), a four-part Thai PBS documentary on the 40th anniversary of the 14th October 1973 massacre in Bangkok, was released on DVD in 2014. The series, broadcast in 2013, was the first substantial 14th October documentary since historian Charnvit Kasetsiri’s 14 ตุลา (‘14th Oct.’), which was released on VHS to commemorate the twentieth anniversary in 1993.

Charnvit’s hour-long documentary was later released on VCD under the English title October 14 Thai Student Uprising 1973, and repackaged with the docudrama Tongpan (ทองปาน) and the 6th October 1976 massacre documentary พ.ศ. 2519 (‘2519 B.E.’). Episodes relating to 14th October from the บันทึกเมืองไทย (‘save Thailand’) documentary series were also released on VCD in 2001.

09 December 2020

Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us

Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Jirat Prasertsup’s exhibition Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us (คิดถึงคนบนฟ้า) opened on 5th December (Thai Father’s Day and the late King Rama IX’s birthday) at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 24th January 2021. Appropriating indirect royal iconography recognisable to generations of Thais (a pair of glasses; a squeezed toothpaste tube), the exhibition parodies the propaganda and myth-making associated with the Thai state.

The gallery has been fitted with a false ceiling, with one tile missing: visitors climb a stepladder to poke their heads into the loft space and peer at a large bust of a dog (Tongdaeng?). This installation constitutes almost the entire exhibition, though there are also some small line drawings near the skirting boards. (The beatific smiles in the drawings are reminiscent of Joan Cornella’s satirical cartoons.)

27 November 2020

Khana Ratsadon

Police have launched an investigation into the mock banknotes that were distributed to protesters at an anti-government rally on 25th November. 3,000 of the coupons were issued at the protest, outside the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank in Bangkok. Each coupon had a face value of ten baht, and could be used to purchase food from street vendors.

The coupons were produced by Khana Ratsadon, one of the groups leading the recent protest movement. (Its name is a tribute to the political party that launched the 1932 revolution, transforming Thailand from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional democracy.) The fake banknotes may result in counterfeiting charges, though—bearing an image of a bright yellow duck—they could hardly be mistaken for legal tender. (The duck is wearing a crown and a crop-top, which may also lead to charges of lèse-majesté.)

The rally itself was peaceful, though a man threw a ping-pong bomb while the crowd was dispersing. Shots were fired shortly afterwards by another man, wounding one of the protest guards. (Earlier this month, shots were fired at protesters outside parliament, injuring six people. At that rally, protesters used inflatable ducks to shield themselves from water cannon.)

19 November 2020

Avalon

Thunska Pansittivorakul’s new autobiographical documentary Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์) begins with a full-frontal sex scene between Thunska and his then-boyfriend Harit Srikhao. (Co-director Harit’s exhibition Whitewash was censored by the military in 2017.) Harit is twenty years younger than Thunska, and the dynamic between them recalls the similar opening sequence in Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo) by Carlos Reygadas.

Around half of Avalon’s one-hour running time consists of sex tapes recorded at different stages of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, including a ménage à trois with Itdhi Phanmanee, who co-directed sPACEtIME (กาล-อวกาศ) with Thunska and Harit. Few contemporary films are as revealing (both physically and emotionally) in their exploration of an artist’s sexual history, and Avalon has more in common with New York underground films of fifty years ago, such as Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses and Kathy Acker’s Blue Tape.

Although Thunska has included hardcore sequences in several of his previous films—Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา)—Avalon is his most explicit work. It’s also a logical extension of his increasingly participatory filmmaking style: in Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม) he attempted to pull down a man’s shorts, in the short film Unseen Bangkok (มหัศจรรย์กรุงเทพ) he touched a man’s penis while interviewing him, and in Reincarnate he masturbated one of his actors.

Avalon also includes scenes filmed at a housing project abandoned after Thailand’s 2011 floods. The floods were mismanaged by Yingluck Shinawatra’s incoming administration, though Avalon is less political than Thunska’s other recent films, such as Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ) and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล; also co-directed by Harit). (For Thunska, however, sex on screen is itself a political act.) The deserted location, with an empty swimming pool, could be a metaphor for the Avalon of the title: an idyllic and private space, like the island of Arthurian legend.

There is also a flipside, however: the film charts the disintegration of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, and the empty pool evokes Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques, with its own doomed love triangle. (The title sequences of Avalon and Les diaboliques both feature lingering shots of murky, stagnant water.) The accusations and recriminations resulting from the break-up (blocking each other on social media, etc.) are the least engaging aspects of the film.

Avalon received its world premiere on 28th October at the DOK Leipzig film festival in Germany. A Thai release would be impossible, though after his film This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน) was banned, Thunska has refused to submit any of his films for classification. As he told me in an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, “Since then, I decided not to show any of my films in Thailand.”

18 November 2020

“Thailand is the land of compromise...”

Yesterday saw the return of political violence in Bangkok for the first time in a decade. Anti-government protesters gathered near Sappaya-Sapasathan, the new parliament building on the bank of the Chao Phraya river, which had been surrounded with concrete barricades and razor wire. All afternoon, riot police used water cannon laced with tear gas to prevent the protesters from entering the parliament complex.

In the evening, the protesters breached the barricades, though they were met by a royalist counter-protest. Riot police did not intervene as the royalists, wearing yellow shirts, clashed with the anti-government protesters. Gunshots were fired, and projectiles were thrown by both sides.

This was the third deployment of water cannon by riot police in the past month—after similar anti-government protests at Siam Square on 16th October and near the Grand Palace on 8th November—though the use of live ammunition by royalist counter-protesters marks a significant escalation in the conflict. Another rally will take place this afternoon at Ratchaprasong, the site of a military crackdown on anti-government protesters a decade ago.

On 2nd November, King Maha Vajiralongkorn made his first public comments on the political tensions when Jonathan Miller, a correspondent for the UK’s Channel 4 News, interviewed him during a royal walkabout. (Miller’s scoop was regarded as somewhat audacious by the deferential Thai media.) The King called Thailand “the land of compromise”, though the possibility of negotiations between the govenment and the protesters seems increasingly remote.

17 November 2020

Insects in the Backyard

Insects in the Backyard
Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s film Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด) is showing at Lido Connect in Bangkok on 19th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th November. The 21st November screening will include หลังพรมภาพยนตร์ (‘behind the red carpet’), a talk by the director on fundraising for independent filmmakers.

Director Tanwarin, Thailand’s first transgender MP, was dismissed from parliament last month, accused of owning undeclared media shares. She won her seat at the 2019 election as a member of Future Forward, though the party was dissolved earlier this year. (It is now known as Move Forward.)

Insects in the Backyard premiered at the World Film Festival of Bangkok in 2010, though requests for a general theatrical release were denied, making it the first film formally banned under the Film and Video Act of 2008. When the censors vetoed a screening at the Thai Film Archive in 2010, Tanwarin cremated a DVD of the film, in a symbolic funeral. (The ashes are kept in an urn at the Thai Film Museum.) Tanwarin appealed to the National Film Board, which upheld the ban, so she sued the censors in the Administrative Court.

As Tanwarin told me in an interview for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, the censors condemned the entire film: “When we asked the committee who considered the film which scenes constituted immorality, they simply said that they thought every scene is immoral”. When she appealed to the Film Board, their reaction was equally dismissive: “we were told by one of the committee members that we should have made the film in a ‘good’ way. This was said as if we did not know how to produce a good movie, and no clear explanation was given.”

On Christmas Day 2015, the Administrative Court ruled that the film could be released if a single shot was removed. (The three-second shot shows a clip from a gay porn video.) Although the film was censored, the verdict represented a victory of sorts, as the Court rejected the censors’ view that Insects in the Backyard was immoral. As Tanwarin told me: “The Court’s verdict was that there are no immoral scenes in the film as it’s a film focussing on problems in Thai society.”

After the Administrative Court’s ruling, Insects in the Backyard was shown at Bangkok’s House Rama cinema in 2017. In 2018, it was screened at Bangkok Screening Room, Sunandha Rajabhat University, and ChangChui in Bangkok. It was shown at the Thai Film Archive in 2018 and 2020.

09 November 2020

Two Little Soldiers

Two Little Soldiers
Two Little Soldiers
Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang has produced a new short film for the Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่). The film, Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน), begins with an homage to Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, though in this case the body in the woods is only resting.

The film’s seemingly idyllic scenario, in which two young soldiers and a local woman relax by a river, is contrasted by its soundtrack: a government statement (heard via a transistor radio) announcing a crackdown on protesters at Phan Fah in Bangkok. (Except for the radio announcement, the film is silent, with intertitles rather than spoken dialogue.) The film’s release coincides with a new wave of anti-government rallies: yesterday, protesters marched from Democracy Monument to the Grand Palace, to deliver an open letter to the King, though riot police used water cannon to prevent them from entering the Palace grounds.

The crackdown at Phan Fah took place on 10th April 2010, with the military deploying automatic weapons against red-shirt protesters. Twenty-five people were killed. Two Little Soldiers shows how military propaganda misrepresented the incident, with the radio announcement accusing the protesters of “the intent to incite violence” and denying the use of live ammunition: “False rumors have been spread that the military have used live fire on protesters and that the prime minister has ordered the killing of civilians. These are not true.”

This form of propaganda, broadcast via military-owned radio and television stations, has been utilised by successive Thai miltary governments for the past fifty years. Just this afternoon, army chief Narongpan Jitkaewthae held a press conference at which he accused yesterday’s protesters of inciting violence. Like Two Little Soldiers, The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) also shows how Thailand’s military propaganda demonised red-shirt protesters. Like Sayew (สยิว) and The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน), Two Little Soldiers represents military crackdowns via radio broadcasts rather than reenactments.

Two Little Soldiers represents the first direct reference to contemporary politics in one of Pen-ek’s films. His documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) ended with Thaksin Shinawatra’s first term as Prime Minister, thus omitting the political crisis that followed his re-election. When I interviewed Pen-ek for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he expressed some solidarity with the red-shirt movement: “If the ‘redshirt’ people can separate themselves from Thaksin, then I would become completely a ‘redshirt’.”

04 November 2020

Thai Film Archive

2499
2499
2499
The Thai Film Archive at Salaya will screen two classic blockbusters, Jaws and Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง), later this year. The screenings are free of charge.

Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Jaws, one of the key New Hollywood films, broke box-office records in the US. Nonzee Nimibutr’s Dang Bireley’s is arguably its Thai equivalent, breaking the domestic box-office record and launching the Thai New Wave.

Dang Bireley’s will be screened on 28th November. It was previously shown at the Archive earlier this year, at the Scala cinema in 2018, and at Ramada Plaza in 2010.

Jaws will be shown on 5th and 13th December, as part of the World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) season. It was due to be screened at Scala earlier this year, though that screening was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

01 November 2020

Bangkok Art Biennale 2020

Bangkok Art Biennala 2020
Law of the Journey
Eros and Psyche
Donald Trump
The inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale’s theme was Beyond Bliss (สุขสะพรั่ง พลังอาร์ต), and this year the Biennale (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่) returns with a new theme: Escape Routes (ศิลป์สร้าง ทางสุข). The exhibition—occupying three floors of the BACC, and nine other venues around the city—opened on 29th October and runs until 21st February 2021 (extended from 31st January 2021).

The BACC’s Biennale exhibition is dominated by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Law of the Journey, an inflatable refugee boat that’s fifty feet long. The show also features a selection of works by provocative American photographer Andres Serrano, including Eros and Psyche from his Immersions series (a statue immersed in urine) and a pre-presidential portrait of Donald Trump from his America series.

Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang has produced a new short film for the Biennale, Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน). The film is accompanied by twelve black-and-white drawings by the director, and alongside each print is a QR code linked to a different online video clip, in which the actors (and Pen-ek himself) read from the Two Little Soldiers script. As in the film itself, there is a stark contrast between the calm narration and the disturbing events being described.

30 October 2020

October Rumbles

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest short film, October Rumbles (เสียงฟ้าเดือนตุลา), was released on the Polygon Gallery’s website yesterday. The film captures a rainstorm near Apichatpong’s home in Chiang Mai, and features several of the director’s recurring motifs: light, tropical foliage, and the ambient sounds of nature.

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

717: The Haunted House

717: The Haunted House
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
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).

26 October 2020

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy
100 Times Reproduction of Kirati 100 Times Reproduction of Kirati
Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s documentary 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้) will be shown next month at Bangkok Screening Room. It premiered at the Thai Film Archive last year, and it was screened at Chulayarnnon’s Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน) exhibition earlier this year. (Coincidentally, Give Us a Little More Time will be shown at the Archive on 10th November, as part of this year’s Short Film Marathon.)

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy examines the borderline between artistic authorship and ownership, and relates this to Thai political history. By distributing DVD copies of his short film A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar (ไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่ง), Chulayarnnon questions whether the film belongs to its director, the audience, or the organisation that funded it. Democracy in Thailand is similarly contested, with successive governments, the military, and Thai people all staking their claim. Chulayarnnon’s film discusses this in relation to the commemorative plaque that was removed from Bangkok’s Royal Plaza in 2017.

The film is particularly topical, as United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration protesters installed a replacement plaque at Sanam Luang on 20th September. The new plaque—which stated that Thailand belongs to its people and not to the King—was removed by the authorities almost immediately, though its design has since been reproduced on keyrings and other merchandise. (A reproduction of the new plaque is also part of the current 841.594 exhibition at Cartel Artspace.)

Anti-government protests are continuing, with thousands gathering at Ratchaprasong intersection yesterday and a march to the German embassy in Bangkok planned for today. In a televised speech on 21st October, Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that he was lifting the state of emergency that had been imposed six days earlier. 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy will be shown at Bangkok Screening Room on 6th, 13th, 14th, 20th, and 27th November; and 30th December. The 14th November screening includes 100 Times Reproduction of Kirati (หนึ่งร้อยสำเนาของกีรติ), a talk by Chulayarnnon.