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 (‘signs of the night’).

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 about Thai film censorship (with photographs by Nattawat Tangthanakitroj), on pages 216-219.

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, which also includes a comprehensive filmography.

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, with a revised list of recommended films. 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).

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.

25 October 2021

Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds


Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds

Who is Viriyaporn Boonprasert? She has submitted quite a few films to the Thai Short Film Festival, though the organisers have no idea who she is. Her short films, with their ironic juxtapositions of found footage, satirise the elitism and nationalism of the Thai political establishment.

Viriyaporn’s Ghost of Centralworld, from her Develop Blessing Giant Dhamma in Three Worlds (เจริญพรมหาธรรมใน 3 โลก) series, was made in response to the 2010 military crackdown. It features an emotional account from the father of Kittipong Somsuk, whose death was caused by arsonists who burnt the Zen department store, followed by news footage of the store’s reopening, when tragedy and political controversy were swept away in the name of consumerism.

Viriyaporn Boonprasert is a pseudonym, and presumably she disguises her identity because her work deals with Thai politics and touches on the ultra-sensitive issue of the monarchy. One of her short films, พ่อจ๋าหนูอยากกลับบ้าน (‘daddy, I want to go home’), submitted to Filmvirus Wildtype, was too controversial even for that progressive group, and the organisers reluctantly declined to screen it. (The film features photographs of King Rama X and his youngest son living in Germany.)

The mysterious tale of the anonymous filmmaker is told in the short documentary Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds (เจริญวิริญาพรมาหาทำใน 3 โลก), which was released on YouTube yesterday. Director Kanyarat Theerakrittayakorn interviewed various film experts—including Chalida Uabumrungjit, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Jit Phokaew, and Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa—who speculate on Viriyaporn’s real identity. They even begin to suspect each other, as Thai cinephiles are a close-knit group and she seems to be an insider. This leads to bemused denials by some contributors, and Viriyaporn remains an enigma.

22 October 2021

Danse Macabre


Danse Macabre Remember Supernatural

“Thunska who makes everything sexy.”
“But I’m talking about death in this one...”

From Eros to Thanatos: Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) begins with director Thunska Pansittivorakul explaining to a dance choreographer that his new documentary explores darker territory. Unlike his last film, the sexually frank Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์), Danse Macabre juxtaposes accounts of violent deaths with interpretive dance routines.

The film was codirected by Phassarawin Kulsomboon, and will have its world premiere at the Doclisboa film festival in Lisbon on 27th October. Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) was named best film at Doclisboa in 2019.

As the proverb says, death is the great leveller. But in Thailand, one of the world’s most unequal societies, not even death can rupture the social hierarchy. Danse Macabre highlights the disparity between the deaths of royals and commoners: kings receive lavish state funerals followed by prolonged periods of enforced national mourning, whereas murder victims become objects of public spectacle as undignified crowds of gawping onlookers gather freely at crime scenes.

The starkest contrast is that between King Rama VIII (who died from a bullet wound in 1946) and Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (a human rights activist nicknamed Billy who was murdered in 2014). The King’s corpse was placed in a golden urn atop a gilded chariot. Porlajee’s body, however, was stuffed unceremoniously into an oil drum. (Pin Sasao’s installation ถังแดง​: ความตายของบิลลี่—‘red barrel: the death of Billy’—also addresses Porlajee’s murder.)

In Thunska’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), one interviewee mentions “soldiers getting beaten to death during training” and shortly after that film was completed, army cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan died during a training exercise. Danse Macabre has an equally tragic topicality: on 20th July, just a few days after the rough cut was finished, three people dropped dead on the streets of Bangkok, and their bodies were left in situ for hours. (Thunska added an epilogue highlighting these recent cases.)

Danse Macabre also deals with Thai state violence, from the massacres of October 1976—also covered in The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย)—May 1992, and May 2010, to the recent student protests. Footage of riot police firing water canon last year is cut to the beat of the Subtitle Project’s song Remember. The track’s Thai title, วน, literally translates as ‘loop’, indicating the cyclical nature of violent state oppression. (Thunska directed the music video for Remember when it was released as a single.)

Like Thunska’s Reincarnate (จุติ), Danse Macabre begins with a written prologue explaining the Thai law under which “a film may be banned as unsuitable for public exhibition” and then proceeds to deliberately flout those rules. I interviewed Thunska about this law for Thai Cinema Uncensored, and one of his early features, This Area is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), was the first film to fall foul of it. Thunska uses explicit sexual content as a political commentary in many films, and Danse Macabre is no exception: it includes photos from vintage porn magazines to show how Thailand has since become more culturally—and, by implication, politically—conservative.

Even more provocatively, the indirect allusions to the monarchy in his sci-fi dystopia Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ) are replaced by a direct account of modern Thai royal history, including a subliminal image hinting at an explanation for the death of Rama VIII. Three men were executed for the King’s murder on 17th February 1955, and coded references to that date appear in Danse Macabre, Supernatural, and the Remember music video.

13 October 2021

The Year of the Everlasting Storm


The Year of the Everlasting Storm

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

A promotional clip from Memoria attracted attention in Thailand for its political meaning: Tilda Swinton’s character performs a magic trick with a red, white, and blue handkerchief, making the blue colour disappear. Blue has a symbolic meaning on the Thai flag, and in an online Q&A with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, Apichatpong confirmed: “I chose the colours.” Last week, the film’s distributors announced that it would never be available on any video format, and instead would remain an exclusively theatrical presentation.

Apichatpong’s short film Night Colonies also premiered at Cannes, as part of the anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm. Night Colonies combines two of the director’s consistent themes, light and the natural world, as it features insects buzzing around neon lights. The film begins with a poem paying tribute to “distant friends, and those who had disappeared”, a reference to pro-democracy campaigners self-exiled or abducted following lèse-majesté charges.

The poem continues: “The young leaves unfold, flushed with memories in the year of the everlasting storm.” In addition to giving the portmanteau film its title, these lines are also a metaphor for the student protesters campaigning for reform of the monarchy. In fact, the film’s soundtrack includes audio recorded at protests in Bangkok on 27th July and 20th August 2020.

Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย)—now on show at 100 Tonson in Bangkok—also addresses the murder of lèse-majesté suspects, and the title of his short film October Rumbles (เสียงฟ้าเดือนตุลา) hints at the rumblings of dissent from the student protesters. He co-directed the video installation Silence—shown at 100 Tonson last week—which refers directly to the tragic “memories” mentioned in the Night Colonies poem.

07 October 2021

The Mystery of Picasso


The Mystery of Picasso

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic documentary The Mystery of Picasso (Le mystère Picasso) will be shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 8th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 18th, 20th, 21st, and 26th October. The film has been screened in Thailand a few times before, at TCDC, Smalls, Warehouse 30, and the Thai Film Archive.

06 October 2021

45 ปี 6 ตุลา


Burning Sky Lucky Leg

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. There is no official 6th October exhibition at Thammasat University this year (apparently due to pressure from the government), though a large painting by Lucky Leg was displayed on campus today. (It depicts a monk tying a chord around a dead man’s neck, in reference to Kittivuddho Bhikku, the monk who encouraged the killing of Communists.) More of his work is currently on show at the Specter (ปีศาจ) exhibition, and there have been plenty of other artistic responses to the anniversary.

5 ตุลาฯ ตะวันจะมาเมื่อฟ้าสาง (‘5th Oct.: sun rises when day breaks’), the team behind the recent ‘museum in a box’, released a half-hour documentary at midnight this morning. The film, Dawn of a New Day (ก่อนฟ้าสาง), traces the history of the student protest movement from the 14th October 1973 uprising to the 1976 massacre. As in the short film Pirab (พิราบ), the violence of 6th October is represented in sound only, over a blank screen. It ends with footage of water cannon being used against students on 16th October 2020—showing that the mantle of pro-democracy protest has passed to a new generation—and a list of the names of the 6th October victims.

Silence, a three-channel video commemorating 6th October, opened today at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok. The video—co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, Chatchai Suban, and Pathompong Manakitsomboon—is part of Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย), and will be on show until 10th October. Silence includes autopsy photographs of 6th October victims, and graphic footage of the desecration of their corpses. It also shows how prejudice is inculcated, with flashcards of pejoratives such as ‘หนักแผ่นดิน’ (‘scum of the earth’) and ‘ควายแดง’ (‘red buffalo’).

Rap Against Dictatorship released a new music video today, which also refers to 6th October. The video—Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), directed by Skanbombomb—features a hanging corpse shown in silhouette, and ends with a caption commemorating the massacre. The silhouette echoes Rap Against Dictatorship’s most famous video, My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), which included a mannequin hanging from a tree.

A music video by T_047—ความฝันยามรุ่งสาง (‘dreaming at dawn’), directed by Yanna—also released today, begins with a toddler watching footage of 6th October on multiple TV screens. Another music video released today, หัวใจเสรี (‘free heart’) by TaitosmitH, has no content directly related to 6th October, though it was released in solidarity with the movement to commemorate the massacre; directed under a pseudonym (อัมรินทร์ อินทารักษ์, meaning ‘Ammarin defender’) it features footage of recent anti-government protests in Bangkok, filmed at Siam Square and Democracy Monument.

03 October 2021

They Will Never Forget


They Will Never Forget

Yesterday, the Thai Film Archive screened the documentary They Will Never Forget on its YouTube channel. (It was previously shown at the Archive in 2017.) The film, which documents a strike by female workers at the Hara factory in Bangkok, was originally released in 1977. Directed by Ooka Ryuuchi, it was a co-production between independent filmmakers in Thailand and Japan.

The circumstances of the film’s production were similar to those of the Thai docudrama Tongpan (ทองปาน). Both films were celebrations of workers’ rights, made during the brief spell of democracy that followed the 14th October 1973 uprising. This period of optimism ended in a violent coup on 6th October 1976, which appears as a tragic epilogue in both films.

Following the 1976 coup, state censorship increased dramatically, though postproduction of They Will Never Forget was completed in Japan, giving the filmmakers more freedom in their political commentary. The film condemns military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn, “whose hands were stained with the blood of at least seventy-six patriots,” and its assessment of the coup is equally honest and unrestrained: “The reign of violence and injustice was back.”

It also includes a surprisingly direct reference to student actors whose mock hanging led to the 6th October massacre. The film mentions media reports that an actor playing a hanging corpse “resembled the Crown Prince,” an issue that remains unspoken in Thailand even today. In contrast, the 2014 documentary Different Views, Death Sentence (ต่างความคิด ผิดถึงตาย ๖ ตุลาคม ๒๕๑๙) claimed only that students were accused of “severe ill-will to the Crown Prince”, without reference to the hanging; and the 2011 film The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) referred only to “the hanging of an important person in effigy.”

In hindsight, They Will Never Forget’s title was somewhat idealistic, because the massacre was indeed forgotten for twenty years, as Thongchai Winichakul discusses in his book Moments of Silence. Unfortunately, the titles of Napat Treepalawisetkun’s short film We Will Forget It Again (แล้วเราจะลืมมันอีกครั้ง) and Vasan Sitthiket’s video Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง) are more accurate comments on the whitewashing of Thai history.

17 September 2021

New Abnormal


New Abnormal

In a series of static shots and long takes, Sorayos Prapapan’s satirical short film New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) takes aim at Prayut Chan-o-cha and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. In one sequence, a paramedic reveals the scale of the problem: “It’s already mid-2021, our country’s people is still only less than 10% vaccinated.” Sadly and shamefully, the statistic is accurate.

Another scene eavesdrops on a meeting between Prayut, deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, and a civil servant. When the bureaucrat asks about bailouts for businesses affected by the lockdown, an irritable Prayut barks back: “Why do you always hand me problems? It’s tiring enough acting as Prime Minister, you know!” Meanwhile, Prawit remains slumped in his chair, fast asleep (as is often the case in parliament). Prayut is played by Phayao Nimma, who also portrayed the PM in The Cave (นางนอน); in the credits, he’s described as “Stupid Prime minister who did coup” [sic].

The film ends with a recreation of an anti-government protest (on a small scale, given the low budget), which is dispersed by riot police with water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets (the latter heard but not seen). In the last shot, wisps of tear gas swirl slowly around a solitary rubber duck. The end-credits song is an anti-government anthem based on the Hamtaro (とっとこハム太郎) anime theme tune.

Sorayos’s equally satirical Prelude of the Moving Zoo premiered at ANIMAL KINgDOM last year, as did his documentary Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. His parody Dossier of the Dossier (เอกสารประกอบการตัดสินใจ) was shown at the 30th Singapore International Film Festival, and his comedy Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้) played at the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

15 September 2021

Signes de Nuit


Signes de Nuit

This week, Documentary Club is hosting Signes de Nuit (‘signs of the night’), a festival of short films and documentaries. The event, now in its seventh year, will take place predominantly online due to the coronavirus pandemic, though some films will be shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok.

Doc Club and Pub is the new venue for Documentary Club, after its previous collaborations with Warehouse 30, Lido Connect, and House Samyan. Documentary Club took over the space from Bangkok Screening Room, which sadly closed in March.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us will be shown at Doc Club and Pub on 19th and 20th September. Chaweng’s powerful film features an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand.

Please... See Us was also shown as part of Wildtype 2021 earlier this month. Signes de Nuit begins online today and runs for a week. (Films at Doc Club and Pub are currently screened on a large TV in the café/bar, as cinemas in Bangkok are still subject to the coronavirus lockdown.)

04 September 2021

Wildtype 2021


Wildtype 2021

Wildtype 2021, a weekend of film screenings curated by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, takes place today and tomorrow on YouTube. The screenings will also be shown at Ar(t)cade, a venue at the Arcade Market in Phayao. Both days include Politix, a selection of short films commenting on Thai political events.

This evening’s Politix strand begins with Veerapong Soontornchattrawat’s Official Trailer (อนุสรณ์สถาน), which intercuts footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre with clips from Love Destiny (บุพเพสันนิวาส), a popular historical lakorn. This is followed by a film referencing another massacre: Nil Paksnavin’s Rajprasong (ราชประสงค์), which ends with a black screen and the jolting sound of eighty-seven gunshots, representing the victims of the 2010 military crackdown in downtown Bangkok. (Rajprasong was previously shown at Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, another two-day film event programmed by Wiwat.)

The highlight of the evening is a more recent film, Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo, which begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention. (It was previously shown at ANIMAL KINgDOM, also programmed by Wiwat; and it was selected for the 24th Short Film and Video Festival.)

Wildtype concludes tomorrow, and the second Politix strand includes Prap Boonpan’s The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (ความลักลั่นของงานรื่นเริง), in which a group of yellow-shirted Bangkokians murder a man merely because he disagrees with their ideology. Less than a year after it was first shown, this dystopian satire became a reality when Narongsak Krobtaisong was beaten to death by PAD guards in 2008.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us, which highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities, will also be shown tomorrow. This new film includes an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. It will also be shown later this month as part of Signes de Nuit (‘signs of the night’), hosted by Documentary Club.