08 May 2022

The Evil of Time's Growth


The Evil of Time's Growth

The Evil of Time’s Growth, a feature-length documentary marking the first anniversary of the Thalufah anti-government protest group, was screened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok yesterday. It’s now available on the group’s Facebook and YouTube channels. The documentary, which is more than 2½ hours long, includes footage of Thalufah marches and demonstrations filmed throughout last year, and interviews with group members and supporters. The most violent incidents from the protests—rubber bullets fired by riot police, and arson by demonstrators—are not included.

Thalufah was founded by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and his interview was filmed in front of a large painting by Lucky Leg, which the artist donated to the group. The film was shown as part of The Battle Wound of Thalufah, an exhibition organised by the group, which opened on 31st March. Thalufah previously organised the Specter exhibition, which was later expanded. Rap Against Dictatorship’s single Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า) was a tribute to the group, as was the zine Break Through published last year.

[The Evil of Time’s Growth’s Thai title, การเติบโตของปีศาจแห่งการเวลา, is the direct equivalent of the English version, and includes the Thai word ปีศาจ (‘evil spirit’). But when promoting the film, Cartel Artspace replaced the letter with , a typo that changed the word’s meaning to ‘court’. In the English title, Growth is stylised as “GROIIITH”, a reference to the three-finger salute adopted by the protest movement.]

04 May 2022

Shadow Dancing:
Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times?


Shadow Dancing

The group exhibition Shadow Dancing: Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times? opened on 17th March at the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok. It’s the second in a series of exhibitions that explore the aftermath of the Cold War, after last year’s Future Tense. This time, the emphasis is on Taiwan and Thailand, and the highlights are two video installations: Paths to Utopia by Ting-Ting Chen and ANG48 by Chulayarnnon Siriphol.

Ting-Ting Chen is Taiwanese, though the various elements of her Paths to Utopia installation have a global and specifically Thai focus. The video was inspired by the movie The Beach, which portrayed Thailand as both a tropical paradise and as the centre of a violent drug trade. (When The Beach was released in Thailand, a group of MPs called for it to be banned, and there were protests at its Thai premiere.) The artist juxtaposes idyllic shots of Phi Phi island (where The Beach was filmed) with a collage of news footage of anti-government protests, showing that achieving utopia is a contested process and that picture-postcard scenery doesn’t reveal the whole truth.

Chulayarnnon’s ANG48 is a two-channel video installation whose full title is ANGSUMALIN48 / ANG48 / Alliance of Nippon Girls 48 (อังศุมาลิน 48 หรือ เอเอ็นจี 48 หรือ พันธมิตรสตรีนิปปอง 48). Like Paths to Utopia, it was also inspired by an existing movie—Sunset at Chaophraya (คู่กรรม)—and clips from that film are repurposed to create a new narrative. (Sunset at Chaophraya, based on a classic Thai novel, has been remade numerous times, though ANG48 uses footage from the original 1988 film version. On the Art Center’s website, one letter—อ—is missing from the full title of Chulayarnnon’s video.)

Chulayarnnon often creates fictional characters, or appropriates them from existing sources, giving them new biographies—most elaborately in his Museum of Kirati exhibition and the accompanying book Kirati Memorial (หนังสืออนุสรณ์กีรติ). In ANG48, he conjures up a new science-fiction backstory for Angsumalin, the heroine of Sunset at Chaophraya, which he combines with his short film Birth of Golden Snail (กำเนิดหอยทากทอง). That film was banned from the Thailand Biennale, and ANG48 includes clips from it alongside a new voice-over by the female protagonist, who explains that Thai soldiers forbade her from making Japanese desserts: “from now on the mochi I made would be a forbidden sweet. No consumption, production, or sale... I was very sad but had to keep my feelings inside.” This metaphor for the censorship of Birth of Golden Snail is followed by a shot of the rejection letter from the Biennale.

Like Planetarium, his segment of 10 Years Thailand, ANG48 is a summation of Chulayarnnon’s recent video works. Along with clips from Birth of Golden Snail, it also incorporates footage from his music video The Internationale, his short film Golden Spiral, and his Parade of Golden Snail (ขบวนแห่หอยทากทอง) performance. Birth of Golden Snail will be available to stream from 4th to 6th May, and ANG48 on 6th May, both as part of the online event Re/enacting History and Decolonizing Genteel Romance in Thailand and Asia. Shadow Dancing closes on 5th June.

07 April 2022

The Greatest Movies of All Time


The Greatest Movies of All Time

The Greatest Movies of All Time, published in 2016, features a list of classic films selected by Lorri Lynn, Melody Bussey, and Peter Murray. The number of titles (eighty-eight) seems fairly arbitrary, and there are no foreign-language or silent films on the list. The introduction, which refers to “a lifetime all best movie designation” [sic], could have been written by AI software.

Each film has a double-page spread, with a single paragraph of rather simplistic text opposite a glossy full-page photograph. The photos are the book’s only redeeming feature, though their quality is variable: the stills and posters are well-reproduced, though many are merely DVD covers and one (The Unforgiven) is from the wrong film. The book is not recommended, and is included here only in the interests of completism, as Dateline Bangkok reviews every greatest-film list available in print.

PDF

18 March 2022

Mob 2020-2021


Mob 2020-2021

Supong Jitmuang’s documentary Mob 2020-2021 will be shown this afternoon at the Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok. The film is the first to provide a full record of the current student protest movement, and is simultaneously epic in scope (at almost two hours long) and intimately personal (Supong described it to me as a “handmade” film).

Mob 2020-2021 was previously screened online during the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), as part of the 25th Short Film and Video Festival, on 19th November last year. Today’s screening will be its theatrical premiere, and free postcards will also be available.

20 February 2022

Memory of Filmmaking


Memory of Filmmaking

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Memoria will have its Thai premiere on 24th February. The screening at Bangkok’s SF World cinema will be followed by a Q&A with Apichatpong and actor Tilda Swinton. The following day, Apichatpong will take part in another Q&A when Memoria is shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, before it goes on general release on 3rd March.

On 26th February, the Film Archive will host a masterclass by Apichatpong, Memory of Filmmaking, moderated by Sompot Chidgasornpongse (a key member of his Kick the Machine production team) and Nottapon Boonprakob (director of Come and See/เอหิปัสสิโก). Apichatpong has previously given similar presentations at the Film Archive—ตัวตน โดย ตัวงาน (‘self-expression through work’) in 2011—and elsewhere: What Is Not Visible Is Not Invisible at BACC in 2017, Indy Spirit Project at SF Cinema City in 2010, and Tomyam Pladib (ต้มยำปลาดิบ) at the Jim Thompson Art Center in 2008.

Memoria received its world premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. The second phase of Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย ภาคสอง)—subtitled Beautiful Things (สิ่งสวยงาม)—opened at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok on 18th February, and runs until 10th April.

30 January 2022

“I’ve killed too many communists...”


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Anatomy of Time
The Edge of Daybreak

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s most celebrated work, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), was also his first political statement on film. Boonmee—a former military officer who fought the student Communists radicalised after the 6th October 1976 massacre—is dying of kidney disease, and wonders aloud whether he is being punished: “I’ve killed too many communists.” His sister tries to reassure him—“But you killed with good intentions... You killed the commies for the nation, right?”—though Boonmee is unconvinced, and the conversation peters out; a brutal guerrilla war has become a faded memory, both for Boonmee and the country as a whole.

Two recent Thai films also portray former military men on their deathbeds. In the opening line of Taiki Sakpisit’s The Edge of Daybreak (พญาโศกพิโยคค่ำ), a man narrates his role in the anti-Communist purge: “I was leading my unit into the woods to catch the students.” Similarly, Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Anatomy of Time (เวลา) begins with a flashback in which a military officer leads an attack on Communist insurgents. In both films, the unnamed men remain largely bedridden, tended by nurses and family members, though their violent reputations have not been forgotten: in The Edge of Daybreak, the man is smothered with a pillow; and in Anatomy of Time, the man’s nurse wishes him a “slow and painful” death. (On the other hand, like Boonmee’s sister, one of his military colleagues believes he “made many sacrifices for the country.”)

In all three films, the men’s karma is directly cited as the reason for their sickness. In an extended flashback in Anatomy of Time, the man’s wife asks: “Dad, is it true that we all have to pay for our sins?” Her father explains that, according to Buddhist teachings, karma does indeed exist. Likewise, Boonmee tells his sister: “You know, this is a result of my karma.” In The Edge of Daybreak, the man’s family believe that they are cursed and, as if to confirm this, the exquisite black-and-white camerawork lingers on images of decay, such as rotting food and their crumbling home. The legacy of violent suppression is also a curse on the country itself, and these three films offer a reckoning with Thailand’s past and a commentary on its continuing military rule.

05 January 2022

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021:
The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats


VideoHound

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021: The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus, is the final edition of the last remaining film guide in print. VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever first appeared in 1990 and was updated annually, though the 2022 edition was cancelled by the publisher. With reviews of almost 30,000 films released on video, and over 2,000 pages, the 2021 edition was approaching the physical limits of a manageable single-volume book. In fact, the total number of films in recent editions had been gradually declining, as obscure older films were deleted to make room for new releases.

The annual film guide format was pioneered in 1958 by Steven H. Scheuer, who reviewed 5,000 titles in his TV Movie Almanac and Ratings. A decade later, in 1969, came Scheuer’s first competitor, Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies, and after another decade Leslie Halliwell launched his Halliwell’s Film Guide. This triumvirate ruled the roost for another decade, until smaller guides such as Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video (by John Elliot) and The Virgin Film Guide were published in the late 1980s and early ’90s. (The Virgin guide was notable for its lengthy reviews of significant films. On the other hand, Elliot even stooped to reviewing some of the more outré ‘video nasties’.)

The next wave of film guides was dominated by major magazine publishers. The Empire Film Guide followed the Virgin formula, while the Time Out Film Guide and the Radio Times Guide to Films both aimed to be as comprehensive as possible. Time Out found room for more independent and arthouse titles, while the Radio Times adopted an even-handed reviewing style, perhaps to differentiate itself from the more opinionated Halliwell’s Film Guide. The Radio Times Film Guide also had a little-known predecessor: Derek Winnert’s Radio Times Film and Video Guide, which was pulped after a plagiarism lawsuit from the publishers of Halliwell’s.

After the boom came the bust, and—like other printed reference books—the annual film guide eventually became an endangered species. 1992 saw the final edition of Scheuer’s book (retitled Movies on TV and Videocassette). The Virgin and Empire guides ended in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The last Halliwell’s Film Guide came out—somewhat contentiously—in 2007, and the brand died an ignominious death the following year with The Movies That Matter. Maltin’s book was last updated in 2014 (retitled Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide). Time Out’s guide ceased publication in 2012, and the Radio Times’s followed suit in 2017.

31 December 2021

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli:
The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’


Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

There are six books on my shelves about the making of The Godfather: The Godfather Family Album, The Official Motion Picture Archives, The Annotated Godfather, The Godfather Notebook, The Godfather Book, and now Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’. As Seal acknowledges in his preface, “The Godfather has spawned its own massive field of study, a trove of books, articles, documentaries...” Some familiar production anecdotes are inevitably duplicated throughout these six books, though each title also provides ample original material, and each has a different approach to the making of the film.

What distinguishes Seal’s new book? Firstly, it has an extended interview with Francis Ford Coppola (who admits that, “at the root of it all, I was terrified”). Also, one chapter quotes extensively from a stenographer’s transcript of a six-hour pre-production meeting. This document is a valuable primary source, as it accurately records exactly what was said at the time, such as Coppola’s explanation of the film’s opening line: “Just starting with, ‘I believe in America,’ because it’s what the whole movie is about.” Previously, Seal wrote a Vanity Fair article on the making of the film for the magazine’s 2009 Hollywood issue, and an oral history of Pulp Fiction for the 2013 Hollywood issue.

29 December 2021

Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+


Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+

Suwaporn Worrasit’s short film Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+ was screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on Christmas Day, as part of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film shows builders constructing a reproduction of Democracy Monument, intercut with an anti-government protest at the real Democracy Monument in Bangkok on 20th September 2020. The title refers to 1939 (2482 in the Buddhist Era), the year that the monument was commissioned.

The reproduction of the monument was built for Bangkok World, a new tourist attraction due to open next year. Suwaporn’s film features exceptional footage of labourers carefully installing and painting the concrete reproduction, creating a scale model of the original. However, Democracy Monument is more than a mere architectural landmark; for decades, it has been a focal point for political rallies, and borne witness to military crackdowns. After the 14th October 1973 massacre, the bodies of the victims were placed on the monument. In 2010, red-shirt protesters wrapped it in banners painted with blood.

Once it’s completed, Bangkok World’s Democracy Monument will be a pristine simulacrum—the Disneyland version of Bangkok’s heritage—though it will reveal none of the original monument’s political and social significance. While it’s under construction, surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, the reproduction is a metaphor for the country’s unfinished transition to democracy. Similarly, vintage photographs of Democracy Monument under construction appeared in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine and in Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Karaoke: Think Kindly (คาราโอเกะ เพลงแผ่เมตตา), again symbolising the incomplete nature of Thai democracy.

28 December 2021

The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence


The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence

Kulapat Aimmanoj’s short film The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence was shown at the Thai Film Archive on 18th December, on the first day of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film is a drama—largely a two-hander—in which two young anti-government protesters argue about their tactics. Non is no longer an activist, though the more radical Mhee reminds him what they are fighting for. With its theme of personal and ideological tensions between protest leaders, Kulapat’s film is similar to Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’)—which was screened at the Archive on Christmas Day—and Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

Kulapat also released a black-and-white version, The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence: Noir, online earlier this year. The film begins with a reporter on Facebook Live describing the use of tear gas against protesters at major intersections in Bangkok. This respresentation of political protests via simulated media coverage also occurs in Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s feature film Snap, and I wrote about the use of similar distancing devices in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

23 December 2021

Wisit Sasanatieng


Tears of the Black Tiger

The Thai Film Archive will show a complete retrospective of Wisit Sasanatieng’s films next month. The season includes rare 35mm screenings of his classic Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร), marking the twentieth anniversary of one of the key films of the Thai New Wave. (Tears of the Black Tiger has been shown quite frequently over the years—at Alliance Française in 2020, at BKKSR in 2017, at TCDC in 2016, at BACC in 2012, and at the Film Archive in 2013 and 2009—though I last saw it in 35mm at Warwick Arts Centre on its original UK theatrical release.)

Each of Wisit’s films will be screened twice in January 2022: Tears of the Black Tiger on 15th and 22nd, Citizen Dog (หมานคร) on 22nd and 28th, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) on 11th and 28th, The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) and Senior (รุ่นพี่) on 5th and 19th, and Reside (สิงสู่) on 11th and 30th. All screenings are free. The season was originally scheduled for May this year, though it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Film Archive also held a smaller-scale Wisit retrospective in 2010.

Wisit’s latest film, The Whole Truth (ปริศนารูหลอน), premiered on Netflix earlier this month. He has previously directed the short film Norasinghavatar (นรสิงหาวตาร), the music video เราเป็นคนไทย (‘we are Thai’), and segments of the portmanteau films Sawasdee Bangkok (สวัสดีบางกอก) and Ten Years Thailand. He also wrote the scripts for Slice (เฉือน), Nang Nak (นางนาก), and Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง); and he designed the posters for the 2008 and 2009 Bangkok International Film Festivals.

18 December 2021

Seeing in the Dark


Seeing in the Dark

Taiki Sakpisit’s exhibition Seeing in the Dark opened at AC Gallery in Bangkok on 14th December and closes today. The exhibition includes regular screenings of Taiki’s video installation of the same name, which was filmed at Khao Kho, a mountainous region in northern Thailand. Khao Kho has a potent political legacy: Phibun Songkhram hid the country’s gold reserve—and the Emerald Buddha statue—from the Japanese there during World War II, and the area was a base for Communist insurgents throughout the 1970s.

Seeing in the Dark opens with contemplative, static images of Khao Kho, including the entrance to the cave where Phibun stored the nation’s treasures. There are also shots of the Sacrificial Monument compound, which memorialises the ‘sacrifices’ of the soldiers who fought the Communists, rather than the thousands of insurgents who were killed. Taiki’s earlier short films Shadow and Act and A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ) feature similarly meditative shots of locations with loaded political histories, and Shadow and Act has a direct link with Phibun, as it was partially filmed at the photography studio where his official portraits were taken. Shadow and Act, A Ripe Volcano, and The Age of Anxiety (รอ ๑๐) will be screened at the Thai Film Archive on Christmas Eve as part of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

On its website, Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism notes that Khao Kho was once “a red area smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies. Khao Kho was considered a forbidden land that ordinary people should not get too close to because it was considered extremely dangerous. But as time passed, the conflict ended and Khao Kho transformed into one of Phetchabun’s most striking and beautiful tourist areas.” A similar reputational whitewashing took place at other sites of anti-Communist violence, such as Santikhiri and Nabua, a process examined in Thunska Pansittivorakul’s film Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ).

Khao Kho, Santikhiri, and Nabua are—to use Dutch artist Armando’s term—‘guilty landscapes’. Seeing in the Dark revisits these ‘guilty landscapes’, tranquil spaces that bear silent witness to historical violence. As Max Crosbie-Jones writes in his cover story for the current issue of Art Review Asia, Taiki’s film channels “the presence of places upon which the inexorable movement of Thai history has left an indelible stain.” An ominous rumble on the soundtrack hints at the continued presence of this past menace, and the film ends with footage of anti-government protests from October 2020, a reminder that Thailand is still “smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies.”

17 December 2021

The Whole Truth


The Whole Truth

Wisit Sasanatieng’s new film The Whole Truth (ปริศนารูหลอน) premiered on Netflix earlier this month. It’s the director’s fourth supernatural horror film, meaning that ghost films now make up the majority of his filmography. His two most recent films, Reside (สิงสู่) and Senior (รุ่นพี่), were also about ghosts, though The Whole Truth is more satisfying than either of them. His first ghost film, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี), climaxed with a series of plot twists revealed in rapid succession, tying up all the loose ends at the last minute. Fortunately, the twists in The Whole Truth make more sense, and the ending is genuinely touching.

Two teenagers have to stay at their grandparents’ house after their mother is injured in a car crash, but after they arrive, a mysterious peephole appears, through which they see the apparition of a dead child. The film’s title is a pun on ‘whole’ and ‘hole’, as the hole is a portal revealing the whole truth of the family’s past. The figures on the other side of the hole are surprisingly clichéd, though: another long-haired ghost slowly crawling towards us, two decades after Ring (リング).

Wisit is a superb visual stylist, which is evident throughout The Whole Truth, especially in the establishing shots. He occasionally places the camera directly overhead, most effectively during a party sequence in a circular room, and these crane shots hint at the unsettling history behind the veneer of the grandparents’ neat and tidy house.

The film is most remarkable for its social commentary. Thai studios and TV networks generally err on the side of caution, partly to avoid Thailand’s criminal defamation law. Netflix, on the other hand, has produced several recent Thai dramas that tackle issues such as corruption and discrimination head-on. One of the plot twists in The Whole Truth concerns social attitudes towards disability, and the film is also a thinly-veiled dramatisation of the Vorayuth Yoovidhya hit-and-run case.

Driving while intoxicated, Vorayuth killed police officer Wichian Klanprasert in 2012, though the police investigation into the case was suspiciously delayed. This caused understandable public outrage, as it sadly demonstrates that, in Thailand, ‘influential’ families are above the law. After the car crash in The Whole Truth, the young son of another wealthy family brags about his immunity from prosecution: “The district police is on my father’s payroll anyway.” When confronted by the children’s grandfather, he boasts: “Thai law can’t touch me, don’t you know that?”

Other recent Thai Netflix productions have dealt with similar scandals. Minnie and the Four Bodies (มินนี่ 4 ศพ), an episode from the second season of Girl from Nowhere: The Series (เด็กใหม่ 2) was inspired by the case of Thephasadin Na Ayudhya, who killed nine people while driving underage in 2010 yet avoided jail thanks to her aristocratic connections. The episode features a similar crash, after which the young girl driver’s father is seen bribing the police chief, and the girl is tortured in a cathartic dream sequence. The show’s prologue gets straight to the point, describing Thailand as “a country where there’s no place for the poor, and no consequences for the rich”.

Another Thai Netflix drama series, Bangkok Breaking—directed by Kongkiat Khomsiri, who made the intense thriller Slice (เฉือน)—deals with corruption among the ‘body snatchers’ who transport accident victims to hospital. The show’s Thai title, มหานครเมืองลวง, translates as ‘city of deception’, which would surely have been changed by the censors if it was submitted for theatrical or video release.

06 December 2021

Oh My Ghost! 8


Oh My Ghost! 8

A scene from Oh My Ghost! 8 (หอแต๋วแตกแหก โควิดปังปุริเย่), the new comedy from Poj Arnon, has been censored. The Film and Video Censorship Committee gave the movie a ‘15’ rating, though only after an entire sequence featuring celebrity monk Paivan Wannabud was deleted. According to the censors, it’s inappropriate for a real monk to appear in an entertainment film, and all footage of him had to be cut. (Coincidentally, Paivan left the monkhood on 3rd December, the day after the film’s release, a technicality that might eventually allow Poj to show the film uncut.)

The censored material is completely innocuous, simply showing Paivan blessing the hotel in which the film is set. In real life, Paivan is famous for his camp mannerisms, which is in keeping with the rest of the film. Poj announced the censors’ decision on 25th November and, after being initially tight-lipped about what had been deleted, he uploaded part of the censored scene online five days later. Other clips from the sequence are included in the film’s trailer.

Surprisingly, a scene mocking Prayut Chan-o-cha escaped censorship. One character complains to another—“You’ve been managing for 7-8 years... You make people poorer and poorer, idiot!... Especially Covid-19, everywhere is fully vaccinated. Except here, only 1 jab or nothing”—who assumes that she’s talking about “Big Tu”. (Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) The film is full of topical references like this, one of which is shockingly insensitive: a parody of police chief Thitisan Utthanaphon’s suffocation of a suspect with a bin liner.

Representation of monks has long been a sensitive subject in Thai cinema, and I wrote a chapter about it in my book Thai Cinema Uncensored. Monks have been censored from recent films such as Kanittha Kwunyoo’s Karma (อาบัติ), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ), Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), and Surasak Pongson’s Thibaan: The Series 2.2 (ไทบ้านเดอะซีรีส์ 2.2). Similarly, paintings depicting monks were withdrawn from two exhibitions in Bangkok in 2007.

Oh My Ghost! 3 Oh My Ghost! 3 Oh My Ghost! 3

This is the eighth film in Poj’s Oh My Ghost! series, though it’s not the first to be censored. The teaser poster for Oh My Ghost! 3 was judged too risqué: a pair of trousers had to be superimposed over an actor’s skimpy underwear. (A much more modest image was used as the final release poster.) Oh My Ghost! 3’s Thai title was also changed by the censors, from หอแต๋วแตก แหกชิมิ to หอแต๋วแตก แหวกชิมิ. They objected to the word haek (แหก), meaning ‘spread apart’, and changed it to the more polite waek (แหวก). (Karma required a similarly negligible change to its Thai title.)

04 December 2021

25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival


New Abnormal / Please... See Us / Dance of Death

The finalists in the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival will be screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya from 18th to 26th December. The programme on 19th December includes three excellent short films, all of which address life-and-death social issues in Thailand: New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่), Please... See Us, and Dance of Death (แดนซ์ ออฟ เดธ).

The satirical New Abnormal, by Sorayos Prapapan, takes aim at Prayut Chan-o-cha and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Phayao Nimma plays an irritable Prayut, annoyed by a civil servant asking about bailouts for businesses affected by the lockdown. Other sequences address the inadequate supply of vaccines earlier in the year.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities. The film ends with an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a tragic metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. (It was previously shown this year at Wildtype and Signes de Nuit.)

Dance of Death is a condensed version of Thunska Pansittivorakul and Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s feature-length documentary Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), which juxtaposes accounts of violent deaths with interpretive dance routines. In Thailand’s unequal society, not even death can rupture the social hierarchy, and Dance of Death explores the disparity between the deaths of royals and commoners.

All screenings are free. Please... See Us and Dance of Death will be shown again on 1st January 2022. Last year’s event featured equally political entries, such as Sorayos’ Prelude of the Moving Zoo.

27 November 2021

The Art of Destruction:
The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt


The Art of Destruction

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt is the most comprehensive English-language study of the Vienna Action Group, the transgressive performance artists whose work explored “the body’s determinedly expelled elements: semen, excrement, urine and blood.” The book was first published in 2004, as Art of Destruction: The Films of the Vienna Action Group; the second edition was published last year.

Author Stephen Barber profiles each artist—Otto Muehl, Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler—individually, and analyses the films they made with experimental filmmakers including Kurt Kren. Amusingly, he claims that Brus was “habitually shy and polite,” which is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with the artist’s role in Kunst und Revolution (‘art and revolution’): “Before several hundred spectators, he undressed completely, incised his chest with a razor, urinated into a cup and drank it... he then reclined on his side, coated in excrement, and sang the Austrian national anthem.”

Muehl’s performances were equally provocative, and he was jailed alongside Brus after Kunst und Revolution. In Oh Sensibility, which Barber describes as “Muehl’s most notorious film”, a goose is decapitated. After initially filming various performances (or ‘actions’), rendered semi-abstract by rapid editing, Kren’s role became increasingly participatory, and he appeared with Muehl in orgiastic performances such as Scheißkerl (whose title is a German pejorative).

The book includes a complete filmography, which is essential as most Vienna Action Group films—aside from Kren’s Action Films DVD—remain unavailable. When they were screened at Warwick University twenty years ago, my partner and I were the only ones in attendance, so the projectionist played the 16mm reels in the order we requested, starting with Kren’s notorious 20. September. (That film inspired Vasan Sitthiket’s equally scatological video There Must Be Something Happen [sic].)

17 November 2021

A Day


A Day

The new issue of A Day magazine (volume 22, number 250) was published yesterday. The issue is entirely devoted to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, under the theme of “Apichatpong’s Universe”. It includes an interview with me about film censorship, on pages 216-219.

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03 November 2021

Transgressive Cinema


Un chien andalou

Un chien andalou, released almost a century ago, begins with one of the most horrific images in film history. There is a disconnect between the film’s antiquity and its graphic imagery, though what is most shocking is that the violence is clearly authentic: we see a razor slicing a real (bovine) eye.

The breaking of taboos on screen is all the more transgressive if the act is unsimulated. I’ve written an introduction to the representation of real death, sex, and bodily emissions in cinema, followed by a comprehensive filmography.

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28 October 2021

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

The 2021 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was published this month. The first edition, edited by Steven Jay Schneider in 2003, was reprinted with minor revisions in 2004, and the book has been updated annually ever since (in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

Eleven new films have been added to year’s edition, representing only 1% of the total list. With a single exception, the new entries were all released in the last few years: Tenet, The Vast of Night, The Assistant, Rocks, Saint Maud, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Soul, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Lovers Rock, and Nomadland. Again, with one exception, the corresponding deletions are all from the past decade: Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers Endgame (combined into a single entry), Birdman, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, The Handmaiden (아가씨), 13th, Blade Runner 2049, The Favourite, Hereditary, Sorry to Bother You, and Monos.

The exceptions are Lamerica from 1994 and The Blue Kite (藍風箏) from 1993. In last year’s edition, The Blue Kite was mysteriously deleted and replaced by Lamerica. This year, that decision has been reversed: Lamerica is out, and The Blue Kite is back in. Ian Haydn Smith, editor of recent editions, notes in his preface that the coronavirus pandemic resulted in “a multitude of smaller titles from around the world” gaining releases on streaming platforms, though the new entries in this edition are all English-language films (with The Blue Kite again being the only anomaly).

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27 October 2021

Nang Nak


Nang Nak

To celebrate Halloween, there will be a free screening of Nang Nak (นางนาก) at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 31st October. Nonzee Nimibutr’s horror classic broke domestic box-office records and became one of the key films of the Thai New Wave. It’s also arguably the most famous adaptation of the Mae Nak ghost story. It was shown at Lido Connect last Halloween, though the upcoming Thai Film Archive screening will be a rare opportunity to see it in 35mm.