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.

06 March 2022

‘This madness must be stopped!’



On 2nd March, the offices of four local newspapers were raided by Russian police, who seized all copies before they could be distributed. Each paper had printed a front-page headline calling for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “ЭТО БЕЗУМИЕ ДОЛЖНО БЫТЬ ОСТАНОВЛЕНО!” (‘this madness must be stopped!’).

Russian media is heavily censored, and state television—which broadcasts Kremlin propaganda—remains the most popular source of news. Even terms such as ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ are forbidden in coverage of the Ukraine conflict, making the headlines all the more courageous. The four newspapers are: Вечерний Краснотурьинск (‘Krasnoturyinsk evening news’), Вечерний Карпинск (‘Karpinsk evening news’), ПроСевероуральск (‘Severouralsk news’), and Глобуса (‘the globe’).

02 March 2022

Homeland


Homeland

Rap Against Dictatorship released their latest music video, Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), yesterday. The song begins with a verse by Liberate P highlighting the generational divide between the nationalist establishment and the progressive youth movement. This is summarised by an algebra metaphor with a double meaning: “a negative X in a formula with a positive Y”.

Hockhacker (making a welcome return to the group, after taking time out to start a family) refers to a “village chief executive”, using ‘village’ as a microcosm. The song is even more confrontational than Rap Against Dictatorship’s previous single, Reform (ปฏิรูป), including insults such as “psychopath”.

There is also a line about the 6th October 1976 massacre, with Thailand described as “this land where they swing chairs on faces”. This is Rap Against Dictatorship’s fourth reference to the massacre, after their videos for Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), To Whom It May Concern (ถึงผู้มีส่วน เกี่ยวข้อง), and My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี).

21 February 2022

A Minor History, Part II:
Beautiful Things


Break Out of the Loop of National Conflict into Peaceful Nature A Minor History

Phase two of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย ภาคสอง) exhibition opened on 18th February at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok, and runs until 10th April. The second phase was originally due to begin on 25th November last year, though part one was extended until Boxing Day due to coronavirus restrictions. Like the first phase, part two—subtitled Beautiful Things (สิ่งสวยงาม)— features a vertical video installation with scrolling text documenting fragments of Apichatpong’s interior monologue.

Alongside the video and photographs by Apichatpong are two works by other artists, Methagod and Natanon Senjit. Methagod’s small sculpture Thep Nelumbo Nucifera is decorated with images of lotus flowers, whose seeds remain dormant for extended periods before sprouting. As curator Manuporn Luengaram writes in the exhibition press release, the sculpture therefore “reminds us of the perpetual resurrection of Thailand’s youth movements despite being time and again suppressed.”

Natanon’s Break Out of the Loop of National Conflict into Peaceful Nature, painted on two large boards, depicts the Mekong riverbank crowded with anti-government protesters, royalists, and military officers. One corner shows the murder of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, who was also the subject of Pin Sasao’s installation ถังแดง​: ความตายของบิลลี่ (‘red barrel: the death of Billy’). This echoes the underlying theme of A Minor History: the Mekong as a site for the disposal of the bodies of murdered political dissidents.

Last October, 100 Tonson also showed Apichatpong’s video installation Silence, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. His new feature film Memoria opens in Thailand this week, after its premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

07 February 2022

บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3



More than a decade ago, veteran political cartoonist Sakda Saeeow was accused of lèse-majesté and subjected to a three-year police investigation, after one of his cartoons was misinterpreted. The case—which has not been fully disclosed until now—stemmed from a newspaper cartoon published in Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) on 9th March 2009, showing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as a puppet of his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban. (Suthep was known to be the Democrat Party’s fixer, pulling the strings behind the scenes.)

The butt of the joke was Sondhi Limthongkul, portrayed as a toad complaining that he had been sidelined despite his PAD protests paving the way for Abhisit’s premiership. (This is a reference to the Thai idiom ‘คางคกขึ้นวอ’, literally ‘a toad carried on a palanquin’: rising above one’s station.) But it was the drawing of Suthep that caused the controversy. A reader reported the cartoon to the police, alleging that Suthep’s face resembled that of King Rama IX. As Sakda explained today, he was falsely accused of depicting “ในหลวงชักใยอภิสิทธิ์” (‘the King manipulating Abhisit’).

Under Thai law, defamantion is a criminal offence, and lèse-majesté (royal defamation) charges can be filed by anyone. The police examined all of Sakda’s work published six months before and six months after the cartoon in question. (He often caricatured Abhisit as a puppet, usually controlled by an unseen figure.) The political editors of four newspapers were also called to give evidence, and they all confirmed that the cartoon depicted Suthep, not Rama IX.

Even benign illustrations of King Rama IX were considered taboo, to the extent that children’s picture books—such as The Story of Tongdaeng (เรื่อง ทองแดง)—showed him only in silhouette. Somewhat trepidatiously, Stéphane Peray (known as Stephff) drew a respectful cartoon of the King ascending to heaven, published in The Nation newspaper to commemorate his death (reproduced in Red Lines). A hundred years ago, the political climate was very different: เกราะเหล็ก (‘armour’) printed a highly unflattering front-page caricature of Rama VI by cartoonist Sem Sumanan on 22nd November 1925 (reprinted in Woman, Man, Bangkok), and the newspaper was closed down—though it was back on sale six weeks later.


Sakda’s cartoon was reprinted in บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3 (‘a cartoon record of politics’), the third volume of his political cartoon anthologies, though its notoriety has not been revealed until now. (The book also includes cartoons mourning the victims of the 2010 military crackdown and, as the months go by, Abhisit’s caricature bears an increasing resemblance to Hitler.) In a more famous instance of state censorship, Sakda (who uses the pen name Sia) was summonsed by the NCPO junta on 4th October 2015, the day after Thai Rath published his cartoon mocking Prayut Chan-o-cha’s speech at the UN General Assembly.

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.

23 January 2022

10 ราษฎร


Family Club

Five plainclothes police officers made an unannounced inspection of the new 1932 People Space Library at Wat Thong Noppakhun in Bangkok today. They confiscated a copy of 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’), which features portraits by Chalermpol Junrayab of ten activists charged with lèse-majesté.

One of the officers returned the book a few hours later, claiming that he had merely taken it for his young son to read. 10 ราษฎร is part of a series of eight children’s picture books investigated by the Ministry of Education last year.

‘When an ox comes to the palace, it does not become a king...’



Turkish journalist Sedef Kabaş was arrested in the early hours of yesterday morning, on a charge of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The charge stems from her appearance as a panelist on the discussion show Demokrasi Arenası (‘democratic arena’), a weekly forum for political debate on Tele 1 TV. (Tele 1 had its broadcasting licence suspended for five days in 2020, along with another pro-opposition channel, Halk TV.)

When Kabaş appeared on the show on 14th January, she quoted a Turkish proverb: ‘Öküz saraya çıkınca kral olmaz. Ama saray ahır olur.’ (‘When an ox comes to the palace, it does not become a king. Instead, the palace becomes a barn.’) This coded reference to Erdoğan was the trigger for her arrest.

Erdoğan has previously filed defamation charges against the Turkish magazines Cumhuriyet (in 2004 and 2014), Penguen (in 2014), and Nokta (in 2015). In 2006, he sued the artist Michael Dickinson over the collages Good Boy and Best in Show. In 2016, he sued a German comedian who recited a poem mocking him. (The poem was read out in solidarity in the German parliament, and The Spectator launched an anti-Erdoğan poetry competition that was won by Boris Johnson.) In 2020, he filed charges against the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

20 January 2022

The Monarchy and Thai Society



Thai police raided the offices of Same Sky Books this morning, looking for copies of Arnon Nampa’s booklet The Monarchy and Thai Society (สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย). (Its English title comes from an authorised online translation by PEN.) Around thirty officers searched the premises; they didn’t find any copies of the booklet, though they obtained a court order to confiscate Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul’s mobile phone and computer instead.

10,000 copies of the booklet were seized from Same Sky last year, and their offices were also raided in 2020. Thanapol was one of many anti-military intellectuals subjected to ‘attitude adjustment’ in 2014, and he was also questioned by the military in connection with the distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra calendars in 2016.

The Monarchy and Thai Society is one of three booklets written by anti-government protesters, published in the colours of the Thai flag. The others are The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา; also translated by PEN) and บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’).

11 January 2022

10th April


Banner
The Men in Black

The new Jim Thompson Art Center opened in Bangkok last year, and its inaugural exhibition, Future Tense: Imagining the Unknown Future, Contemplating the Cold War Past, explores the legacy of the Cold War era in contemporary Southeast Asia. The exhibition opened on 27th November 2021, and runs until 28th February.

Future Tense includes Parinot Kunakornwong’s installation 10th April (๑๐ เมษายน), which examines the military massacre of red-shirt protesters on 10th April 2010. In a corner of the gallery is The Men in Black, a group of polystyrene mannequin heads in balaclavas representing the armed agitators who infiltrated the 2010 protests. (A powerful photograph of a ‘man in black’ was one of five images by Agnes Dherbeys censored from a BACC exhibition about the protests in 2010.)

To Service

Parinot attended a commemoration at Democracy Monument on the anniversary of the massacre last year. (His installation includes To Service, a candle and red-shirt scarf from the event.) He wiped a wet towel around the monument and collected soil samples from the area: traces from the site of the massacre, the residue of history. These were then photographed with a scanning electron microscope, to produce abstract images (The Cleaner, Banner, and O) exhibited alongside the physical artefacts themselves (Towel and Samples). The process is a combination of art and science, ritual and remembrance.

The shootings on 10th April 2010 were the prelude to a military crackdown resulting in the loss of almost 100 lives. Tawan Wattuya painted portraits of the victims for his Red Faces series, shown at the Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้) and Amnesia exhibitions in 2019. A book commemorating the victims, วีรชน 10 เมษา คนที่ตายมีใบหน้าคนที่ถูกฆ่ามีชีวิต (‘heroes of 10th April: the faces of the dead live on’), was published in 2011.

07 January 2022

#WhatsHappeningInThailand
และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ


#WhatsHappeningInThailand

#WhatsHappeningInThailand และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ (‘and then hope appeared’) is the first book to document the anti-government protest movement that began in Bangkok last summer. Journalist Karoonporn Chetpayark gives her reflections on covering the demonstrations, accompanied by Asadawut Boonlitsak’s photographs of the protests. The book covers a period of exactly a year, from the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2020 to the first anniversary of that event last year, when protesters were met with a much more violent police response.

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

Long Live the People


Long Live the People

Thai band Dezember released their new single, Long Live the People, on Christmas Eve, and the accompanying music video on Christmas Day. The title and one of the lyrics—“จำเอาไว้เราไม่ใช่ฝุ่น” (‘remember, we are not dust’)—both come from a speech by Parit Chirawak at Sanam Luang on 20th September last year. The video ends unambiguously with a falling guillotine blade.

The lyrics also include “ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน” (‘give us a little more time’), a line from Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย), a propaganda song released by the junta. Chulayarnnon Siriphol used the same line as the title of a video installation and exhibition catalogue, and it was sampled by Thunska Pansittivorakul in his documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Another lyric from Long Live the People, “7-8 ปีแล้วนะไอ้สัตว์” (‘it’s been 7-8 years, ai hia’), is essentially an update of the 2018 concert title จะ4ปีแล้วนะไอ้สัตว์ (‘it’s been 4 years, ai hia’). In both cases, ai hia is a strong insult aimed at the Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The King of Bangkok


The King of Bangkok

The King of Bangkok, the English-language edition of the Italian graphic novel Il Re di Bangkok, was published last month. A Thai edition was released last year, retitled ตาสว่าง (ta sawang). The book was written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, with illustrations by Sara Fabbri, and is the product of meticulous ethnographic and archival research into Thai political and cultural history. The English edition features several new appendices, including a timeline of political events giving extra context to the narrative.

There is also an extensive interview with the authors, in which they discuss their goal of counteracting the ‘Teflon’ effect, whereby Thailand’s violent political climate is so successfully expunged from its international image by the Ministry of Tourism, “one of the most effective propaganda machines in the country.” The interview also touches on the book’s slightly censored Thai translation: “The solution we finally adopted in Thai was to cover three particularly sensitive sentences with a black line, a strategy used by progressive Thai filmmakers to pass state censorship while indexing its presence and effects.”

The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence


The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence

Kulapat Aimmanoj’s short film The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence (คืนพิพากษ์) 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, and the original version will also be included in the portmanteau film Voices of the New Gen (เสียง (ไม่) เงียบ 2022). 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.

21 December 2021

แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย



แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย (‘Thai consonant textbook: contemporary politics edition’), PrachathipaType’s parody of an alphabet picture book, was launched at the Bangkok Art Book Fair last month. (In an installation at CityCity Gallery, people sat at wooden desks and posed as students reading copies of the book.) The project is a collaboration with Rap Against Dictatorship, who released a song—กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap [prostration]’)—and animated video based on PrachathipaType’s illustrations. (The song’s lyrics are printed at the back of the book.)

Each of the forty-four Thai consonants is represented by images satirising the government, the monarchy, and the justice system. Specific themes include mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, state budget allocations, and the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of popular political parties. Thammanat Prompao, surely the most disreputable Thai politician in recent memory, is namechecked for his insistence that the 3kg of heroin he was convicted of smuggling into Australia was actually flour. (Incredibly, the Constitutional Court ruled that he could still serve as a cabinet minister, as his crime was committed outside Thailand.)

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.”

11 December 2021

Unforgetting History


Unforgetting History

Ceramicist Sirisak Saengow’s first solo exhibition opened yesterday at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 20th January 2022. The show features painted tiles, ceramic sculptures, and installations, all of which address dark moments from Thailand’s modern history that those in authority would prefer us to forget.

The exhibition title, Unforgetting History, recalls Thongchai Winichakul’s book Moments of Silence, which is subtitled The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok. As in Wittawat Tongkaew’s 841.594, shown at Cartel last year, the exhibition is dominated by the colour blue, which has a symbolic meaning in Thailand on the country’s tricolour flag.

History of Guns

Occupying one wall of the exhibition, History of Guns consists of twenty-five rifles arranged in a triangle, with a pistol at its apex. These unglazed ceramic weapons are all stamped with numbers referring to the dates of violent episodes in Thai political history. The pistol, which is streaked with blue paint, is stamped 090689 (9th June 2489 BE, the day in 1946 that King Rama VIII was shot). A blue rifle is stamped 170298 (17th February 2498 BE, the day in 1955 that three men were executed for Rama VIII’s murder).

Stamps on the other rifles refer to military crackdowns in Bangkok. These are: 141016 (14th October 2516 BE, the 1973 massacre of anti-dictatorship protesters), 061019 (6th October 2519 BE, the 1976 massacre of Thammasat University students), 100453 (10th April 2553 BE, the shooting of red-shirt protesters at Phan Fah in 2010), and 190553 (19th May 2553 BE, the 2010 killing of red-shirt protesters at Lumpini and Ratchaprasong).

Other artists and filmmakers have also used numerical codes to refer to notorious dates in Thai history. In the music video Remember (วน), directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul, a man wears a jumpsuit with the number 1721955, another reference to the execution of the men convicted of Rama VIII’s murder. That number also appears as a password in Thunska’s film Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), and his new film Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) features two men with the numbers 1702 and 1955 on their respective running shorts. Similarly, the title of Arin Rungjang’s video and installation 246247596248914102516... And Then There Were None refers to 24th June 2475 BE (the 1932 revolution), the death of Rama VIII, and the 14th October 1973 massacre.

Censored

On another wall, a mosaic forms a surprisingly direct message that is only readable from a distance, as the letters are blurred in an act of self-censorship. (While the text is not immediately understandable, the impulse to self-censor certainly is.) The text is inverted in another mosaic underneath.

Blue Dust

In one corner of the gallery are sixteen tiles, collectively titled Blue Dust, a series of paintings of anti-government and monarchy-reform protesters being arrested by riot police last year. The police appear as blue figures, while the protesters are stippled like specks of dust, which also has a metaphorical meaning in Thailand. Riot police are also coloured blue in The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย), a children’s picture book under investigation by the Ministry of Education.

Unforgetting History Unforgetting History
Unforgetting History Unforgetting History

In another corner is an untitled installation recreating the artist’s desk. Strewn around the desk are ceramic renderings of various banned books, including The King Never Smiles (with a pixellated cover), the Thai translation of The Devil’s Discus, and the Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) journal. These are surrounded by blue bullet casings and photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre, which, like the books, are also realistically painted ceramic objects. There is also a folding chair, which has become an iconic symbol (or cliché) of the massacre. The King Never Smiles—or rather, its modified dust jacket—also featured in the Derivatives and Integrals (อนุพันธ์ และปริพันธ์) exhibition at Cartel earlier this year.

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.