10 March 2021

“I have realized the wickedness of a
person who calls himself a scholar...”

Nattapoll Chaiching
Nattapoll Chaiching
Historian Nattapoll Chaiching’s book ขุนศึก ศักดินา และพญาอินทรี การเมืองไทยภายใต้ระเบียบโลกของสหรัฐอเมริกา 2491-2500 (‘feudal warlords and the eagle: Thai politics and the United States 1948-1957’), about Thailand’s relationship with the US during the Cold War, was a runaway bestseller among liberals and political enthusiasts when it was published last year. His earlier work, ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ ความเคลื่อนไหวของขบวนการปฏิปักษ์ปฏิวัติสยาม (พ.ศ. 2475-2500) (‘I dream an incredible dream: the anti-Siamese revolutionary movement 1932-1957’), published in 2013, also saw a revival in sales after it was among five titles seized by police from the offices of the publisher, Same Sky Books.

Nattapoll has been heavily criticised by conservatives, culminating in a lawsuit issued on 5th March. In December last year, Chaiyand Chaiyaporn, a professor at Chulalongkorn University, accused him of falsifying references in the Ph.D. thesis on which his Cold War book was based. A week later, an ultra-royalist former monk, Suwit Thongprasert, accused him of lèse-majesté: “I have realized the wickedness of a person who calls himself a scholar and has got a Ph.D. who dared to develop a thesis with false information... harmful towards the royal institution.” (Suwit’s statement was issued under his monastic title Buddha Issara, though he was defrocked in 2018 as a result of his role in the 2014 PDRC protests.)

Last week, aristocrat Priyanandana Rangsit sued Nattapoll and Same Sky Books for defamation, seeking ฿50 million in damages. According to the lawsuit, Nattapoll’s books incorrectly assert that her grandfather, Prince Rangsit Prayurasakdi, sought an improper political influence over Phibun Songkhram’s government in the 1940s. She argues that this misrepresentation of her ancestor—who died seventy years ago—tarnishes her family name, and is thus defamatory to her personally.

01 March 2021

REDEM

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

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

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

05 February 2021

“Smartmatic seeks to recover
in excess of $2.7 billion...”

Smartmatic, the voting technology company whose systems were used in Los Angeles County to process votes in last year’s US presidential election, is suing Fox News and three of its hosts for $2.7 billion. The company’s lawsuit, filed in New York yesterday, states: “Smartmatic seeks to recover in excess of $2.7 billion for the economic and non-economic damage caused by Defendants’ disinformation campaign as well as punitive damages.”

The lawsuit, which is almost 300 pages long, argues that Fox News presenters Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Jeanine Pirro spread outlandish conspiracy theories in the weeks after the election, seeking to cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory by falsely alleging fraudulent voting in Democratic states. This fake news campaign began in earnest on 12th November 2020, when former President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was interviewed on on Lou Dobbs Tonight and falsely claimed that “this was a stolen election.”

Of course, these allegations were also repeated on a daily basis by Trump himself, who refused to concede the election. The ultimate impact of such dangerous misinformation, and the culmination of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in American institutions, came on 6th January with the unprecedented storming of the US Capitol.

Fox News defended another of its most popular hosts—Tucker Carlson—against defamation charges last year, arguing that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”, though Fox Business has decided to cancel Lou Dobbs Tonight, its highest-rated show. Giuliani is also named as a defendant in the Smartmatic case, and in a separate defamation lawsuit by another voting technology company, Dominion.

“Malicious communications...”

Stop New Normal
Piers Corbyn, brother of former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, was arrested yesterday and charged with “malicious communications and public nuisance” after he distributed leaflets containing dangerous misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. The leaflets included a drawing of the Auschwitz concentration camp gate, with its infamous “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (‘work sets you free’) sign replaced by the Evening Standard newspaper headline “VACCINES ARE SAFE PATH TO FREEDOM”. The drawing, by Alexander Heaton—who was also arrested yesterday—falsely implies that vaccine safety is as deceptive as the Auschwitz slogan.

The leaflets were produced by the Stop New Normal group, which organises ‘anti-vax’ campaigns and discourages the wearing of facemasks, despite the coronavirus pandemic. The politicisation of facemasks, and the spread of harmful and false vaccine conspiracy theories, are more widespread in the United States (following former President Trump’s refusal to endorse mask-wearing), though malicious groups such as Stop New Normal show the extent to which this toxic fake news is also spreading in the UK.

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.

27 January 2021

A Promised Land

Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, was published in November last year, barely a week after Joe Biden won the US presidential election. This is the first of two volumes, and covers most of Obama’s first term as President, ending with the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. As Obama explains, the book was intended to cover both terms of office in under 500 words, though this first volume alone is more than 700 pages long: “It’s fair to say that the writing process didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. Despite my best intentions, the book kept growing in length and scope—the reason why I eventually decided to break it into two volumes.”

Obama’s literary talents were evident long before his presidency, having already written two best-selling and highly acclaimed memoirs. So, as expected, A Promised Land is a remarkable book. One chapter, for example, ends with Obama musing on the fates of the letters he wrote: “Eventually the letter would fall into a drawer somewhere, forgotten under the acculumation of the new joys and pains that make up a life.” What other presidential memoir could describe correspondence in such poetic terms? (Certainly not George W. Bush’s Decision Points.)

It comes as no surprise that Obama distrusts Vladimir Putin, describing him as “the leader of what resembled a criminal syndicate as much as it did a traditional government”. As for Donald Trump and his disgraceful ‘birtherism’ lie, Obama is refreshingly direct: “the conspiracy theory he was promoting was racist.” A Promised Land is a reminder of the total contrast between Obama and his successor, a man not even fit to shine Obama’s shoes, let alone to fill them.

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.

18 December 2020

The Cost

The Cost: Trump, China, and American Revival, by Maria Bartiromo and James Freeman, was published a week before the US election. After reading a dozen books on the Trump presidency (the others being Rage, Fear, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, A Very Stable Genius, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, and Team of Five), I sincerely hope that this is the last Trump book I’ll ever read.

Bartiromo, like most of her fellow Fox News anchors, asks the softest of softball questions whenever she interviews Trump on television. In the most egregious instance, on 29th November she conducted the first post-election TV interview with Trump, encouraging him to rehash a stream of conspiracy theories and lies about election fraud. Bartiromo and Freeman also interviewed Trump for their book; he refers to former House speaker Paul Ryan as “a f______ disaster”, and says that he was on the verge of telling China: “Go f___ yourself”. [The authors censored the f-words.]

Unsurprisingly, Bartiromo and Freeman stick closely to the discredited Trumpian narrative, arguing that Trump was the victim of a deep-state conspiracy: “the abuse of federal investigative power against him is the greatest scandal of his era.” They also claim that the mainstream media is “unable or unwilling to report on Donald Trump objectively,” which is ironic given the biased, hagiographic nature of their own book.

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.

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.)

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.

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’.”

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).

29 October 2020

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed criminal defamation charges against the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the magazine is also under investigation by Turkish authorities for insulting the President, which is a crime in Turkey though not in France. This week’s issue of Charlie Hebdo, published yesterday, features a lecherous Erdoğan caricature on its cover, shown lifting a Muslim woman’s dress.

Legal action against the magazine is highly unlikely, though the controversy will further increase diplomatic tensions between Turkey and France. Last week, Erdoğan criticised French President Emmanuel Macron, after Macron defended a French school teacher who showed his pupils the Mohammed cartoons recently reprinted by Charlie Hebdo. (The teacher was beheaded in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, near Paris, in a shocking act of terrorism.)

Erdoğan has previously filed charges against the Turkish magazines Cumhuriyet (in 2004 and 2014), Penguen (in 2014), and Nokta (in 2015). He also sued the artist Michael Dickinson over the collages Good Boy and Best in Show. In 2016, Erdoğan sued a German comedian who recited a poem mocking him. (In solidarity with the comedian, his poem was read out in the German parliament, and The Spectator launched an anti-Erdoğan poetry competition that was won by Boris Johnson.)

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.