01 February 2024

‘Jack the giant slayer’


Democracy Monument

Two petitions have been filed with the Election Commission of Thailand today, calling for the dissolution of the Move Forward Party, following the Constitutional Court’s unanimous verdict yesterday that Move Forward’s proposal to amend the lèse-majesté law was tantamount to treason. (The court ruled that the party violated article 49 of the constitution, according to which it is forbidden “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.”)

Article 92 of the Organic Act on Political Parties (2017) states that the ECT, “when having believable evidence that any political party performed any of the following actions, shall file a petition to the Constitutional Court to dissolve such political party.” The first of those actions is: “To overthrow the democratic form of government with the King as head of state”, of which Move Forward was found guilty yesterday.

Political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana petitioned the ECT this morning, citing article 92 of the Organic Act. Ruangkrai is known as ‘Jack the giant slayer’, as his complaint against Samak Sundaravej resulted in the former prime minister being dismissed from office. (He had accused Samak of receiving private income from a TV cookery show, ชิมไปบ่นไป/‘tasting while grumbling’.) Theerayut Suwankesorn, who filed the petition that led to yesterday’s court verdict, has also petitioned the ECT this morning, citing the same article as Ruangkrai.

The ECT is now obliged to refer the case to the Constitutional Court, which will rule on whether Move Forward should be dissolved. If the court’s previous judgements are any guide, dissolution seems inevitable, as other anti-establishment parties—Thai Rak Thai, People Power, Thai Raksa Chart, and Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward—have all met the same fate.

Despite winning last year’s election, Move Forward’s prime ministerial nominee was blocked by the Senate. With the junta-appointed senators’ terms of office expiring in May, thus increasing Move Forward’s chances of gaining power at the next election, today’s petitions can be seen as a preemptive measure: an alternative mechanism to prevent the party from exercising its mandate.

31 January 2024

“The law is not a fax paper sent from God...”


Democracy Monument

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the Move Forward Party’s pledge to amend the lèse-majesté law violated article 49 of the constitution, according to which it is forbidden “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” The court has ordered Move Forward and its former leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, to cease all activities and campaigns related to lèse-majesté reform.

The court’s investigation into Move Forward began in July last year, when a petition was filed by Theerayut Suwankesorn, lawyer for the disgraced former monk Suwit Thongprasert. (Last week, in an unrelated case, the court ruled that Pita’s ownership of shares in a defunct media company was not unconstitutional.)

Theerayut’s petition did not call for Move Forward’s dissolution, though now that the court has deemed the party’s agenda tantamount to treason, others may take the opportunity to do so. Since the election, there has been a concerted effort to muzzle Move Forward, and the Constitutional Court has a long history of dissolving anti-establishment parties, namely Thai Rak Thai, People Power, Thai Raksa Chart, and Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward.

Move Forward is not a republican party, and had not sought to abolish the lèse-majesté law, only to reduce the fifteen-year maximum sentence for offenders, and to restrict those who can press charges. This was a key policy in Move Forward’s election-winning manifesto, though today’s verdict will significantly restrict the party’s progressive agenda.

At a press conference today, before the verdict was announced, former Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said: “The law is not a fax paper sent from God. It’s written by human hands, therefore people can amend it”. (Thanathorn was disqualified as an MP by the Constitutional Court in 2019.)

The Showman:
Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelensky


Time / The Showman

Simon Shuster’s superb new book The Showman: Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelensky, published last week, is a unique profile of Ukraine’s President, from a writer who has spent more time with Zelensky and his inner circle than any other journalist. Shuster has reported on Zelensky for Time magazine since 2019, and his dispatches throughout the Russia-Ukraine war have been essential reading. He was embedded in the presidential compound for months on end, yet his reporting on Zelensky has remained scrupulously objective.

Zelensky cooperated with Shuster to such an extent that the President’s staff raised objections to it, as the author explains in his prologue: “Some of Zelensky’s aides, in particular the ones responsible for his security, did not always appreciate the access the president gave me, especially on the days when he invited me to travel with him to the front. He never explained his reasons for doing that. His staff only said that he trusted me to write an honest account.” When Shuster initially proposed the book—under the working title The Fight Is Here: Volodymyr Zelensky and the War in Ukraine—the President, with a degree of modesty, “felt he had not lived or achieved enough to be the focus of a biography.”

Shuster praises Zelensky’s bravery as a wartime leader, and admires the President’s genuine and selfless concern for his people. But although this is an authorised biography, it’s certainly not a hagiography. Shuster makes clear, for example, that Zelensky was at fault for Ukraine’s lack of preparedness when the war began: “He had spent weeks playing down the risk of a full-scale invasion and assuring his people that all would be fine. He had refused the advice of his military commanders to call up all available reserves and use them to fortify the border. Apart from the calamity of the invasion itself, the president would need to face his own failure to foresee it.”

Rather than the exaggerated Churchillian comparisons made by some other journalists, Shuster’s assessment of Zelensky is surprisingly ambivalent. He even admits to being “worried” about the President’s potential commitment to democracy in a post-war Ukraine, once restrictions on the media are eventually lifted: “I don’t know how Zelensky will handle that fraught transition, whether he will have the wisdom and restraint to part with the extraordinary powers granted to him under martial law, or whether he will, like so many leaders throughout history, find that power too addictive.”

30 January 2024

Metropolis


Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis will be shown at the Three Layer cafe in Bangkok on 3rd February, accompanied by live music performed by Kachisak Sa-artsri. The film will be introduced by Phassarawin Kulsomboon, director of Khon Boys (เด็กโขน).

Metropolis was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2019, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. It has been shown twice at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, in 2003 (with a live orchestra) and in 2014.

27 January 2024

E. Jean Carroll:
“Donald Trump assaulted me, and... he said it never happened.”



Donald Trump has been ordered to pay E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in damages, after Carroll sued the former US president for libel. Carroll had accused Trump of sexually assaulting her, and that claim was vindicated last year when Trump was found guilty in a civil trial. Despite the guilty verdict, Trump continued to deny ever having met Carroll, compounding his defamation of her.

The damages awarded yesterday, determined by a jury in New York, include $65 million in punitive retribution, as a punishment for Trump’s repeated denials that the assault took place. Giving evidence in court, Carroll said: “I’m here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened.” (Trump is also counter-suing Carroll, over an interview she gave to CNN last year.)

Thailand Biennale


Cinema for All
The Open World

As part of the Thailand Biennale in Chiang Rai, the Thai Film Archive’s mobile cinema truck will be screening classic Thai films in the grounds of the province’s historic City Hall. The Cine Mobile event begins today, with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), and runs until 7th February.

A virtual reality version of Apichatpong’s installation A Conversation with the Sun (บทสนทนากับดวงอาทิตย์) is also part of the Biennale, on show at the Kotchasan building from 25th to 29th January. The director will take part in a Q&A at the venue today.

Apichatpong’s short film Emerald (มรกต) will be screened daily from 16th January until 9th February, in the What Lies Beneath: Notes from the Underground programme, part of an ongoing Cinema for All (ซีเนม่า ฟอร์ ออล) season at Ban Mae Ma school. (Apichatpong took part in a Q&A with Tilda Swinton at Ban Mae Ma on 5th January.)

The Biennale opened on 9th December last year and ends on 30th April. The theme is The Open World (เปิดโลก).

24 January 2024

Pita Limjaroenrat ‘not guilty’


Democracy Monument

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled that former Move Forward party leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s ownership of shares in iTV did not violate the constitution. The verdict allows Pita to resume his position as an MP, though it’s a Pyrrhic victory as his suspension from parliament last year prevented him from being renominated for the position of prime minister.

Article 98 of the constitution forbids MPs from holding shares in media companies, and Pita inherited a small stake in iTV from his father. His ownership of the shares was not in question: the dispute centred instead on the legal status of iTV itself. The TV station lost its broadcasting licence in 2007, and Pita argued that it should not, therefore, be deemed a media company in its current form. Today, eight of the nine Constitutinal Court judges agreed with him.

As leader of the party that won last year’s election, Pita was nominated as PM, though on the eve of the vote, in a decision timed to cause maximum impact, the Election Commission of Thailand referred the iTV case to the Constitutional Court. Then, on the morning of the second prime ministerial vote, the Constitutional Court suspended Pita from parliament pending its investigation. Again, the timing was hardly coincidental, and it prevented Pita from being renominated as PM.

Move Forward is a reincarnation of Future Forward, whose leader was also accused of illegally owning media shares. In that case, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was found guilty of owning a stake in V-Luck Media. Future Forward was ultimately dissolved by the Constitutional Court, and Move Forward may yet face the same fate: the court will decide on 31st January whether Move Forward’s manifesto pledge to reform the lèse-majesté law was itself unconstitutional.

22 January 2024

Memes of Dissent:
Thai Social Media During the 2020–2021 Student Uprising


Memes of Dissent Memes of Dissent

An exhibition of satirical memes and online political cartoons opens this week at All Rise (the offices of iLaw) in Bangkok. Memes of Dissent: Thai Social Media During the 2020–2021 Student Uprising (โซเชียลเน็ตเวิร์คในท่ามกลางการประท้วงของนักศึกษาไทยระหว่างปี 2020–2021) features anti-government GIFs and other digital artwork shared via social media in support of the student protest movement that began in 2020.

The exhibition was previously held at Artcade in Phayao, where it was on show for almost two months (from 3rd August to 1st October 2023), though it will only be open for three days in Bangkok, from 26th to 28th January. Organised by the University of Phayao’s School of Architecture and Fine Art in association with the Museum of Popular History, the Bangkok exhibition will also include memes created after last year’s election (when the winning party was sidelined and the military remained in government).

Copies of คนกลมคนเหลี่ยม Live in Memes of Dissent (‘round people and square people live in memes of dissent’) will be given away at the exhibition. The booklet—limited to fifty copies—reprints a dozen cartoons from the คนกลมคนเหลี่ยม (‘round people and square people’) Facebook page, in solidarity with the cartoonist, who is facing lèse-majesté charges in relation to four cartoons he posted on the page in 2022. (Another Facebook cartoonist, BackArt, has also been charged with lèse-majesté, in relation to two cartoons he posted in 2021.)

นิทรรศการรำลึกการต่อสู้คนเสื้อแดง
(‘exhibition commemorating the red-shirts’ struggle’)



An exhibition documenting the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protest movement opens today at Thammasat University. Organised by the students’ union, it will be held at the Thammasat Museum of Anthropology, on the university’s Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani.

นิทรรศการรำลึกการต่อสู้คนเสื้อแดง (‘exhibition commemorating the red-shirts’ struggle’) runs until 2nd February. It features t-shirts, magazines, newspapers, VCDs, banners, and other red-shirt media and ephemera. A smaller display of similar items, titled 10 April and Beyond, will be on show at Arai Arai in Bangkok from 29th March to 7th April.

A similar exhibition was mounted at Pheu Thai HQ on 23rd April 2010, organised to present the events of 10th April 2010 from a red-shirt perspective to an invited audience of western diplomats. At that event, VCDs with English subtitles were distributed, one of which—Truth 10th April: Who Is the Real Killer—was played for the visiting dignitaries.

21 January 2024

Doc Club Festival


Doc Club Festival

Doc Club and Pub will host its first Doc Club Festival in Bangkok next month, from 2nd to 11th February. The schedule includes two screenings—on 6th and 8th February—of Napasin Samkaewcham’s short film A Love Letter to My Sister, a deeply moving documentary about the volatile relationship between his parents. A Love Letter to My Sister was previously shown in last year’s Short Film Marathon 27 (หนังสั้นมาราธอน 27), and at the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27).

Another recent documentary short, Vichart Somkaew’s 112 News from Heaven, is screening on 5th and 7th February. On the film’s soundtrack, an announcer reads a bulletin of royal news—a daily staple of the Thai airwaves—and this is juxtaposed with captions documenting the convictions of activists charged with lèse-majesté (article 112 of the criminal code). 112 News from Heaven was also shown yesterday in Phatthalung.

On 10th February, there will be a mini retrospective of Nutcha Tantivitayapitak’s documentary shorts: Mr. Zero (คนหมายเลขศูนย์), บันทึกสุดท้าย ‘ดา ตอร์ปิโด’ (‘the final record of ‘Da Torpedo’’), and Red’s Scar (บาดแผลสีแดง). The three films all profile individuals accused of crimes against the state: a writer charged with lèse-majesté, a lèse-majesté convict who died shortly after she was interviewed by Nutcha, and a protester falsely accused of arson following the 2010 military massacre. The Director in Focus retrospective will be followed by a Q&A with Nutcha.

The festival also includes three videos from 2022, all of which commemorate violent episodes from Thailand’s modern history. Sumeth Suwanneth’s Lost, and Life Goes On (เลือนแต่ไม่ลืม) features interviews with relatives of the victims of the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre. In Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s ชวนอ่านภาพ 6 ตุลา (‘invitation to read images of 6th Oct.’), Octobrists and current students interpret photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre. Chanasorn Chaikitiporn’s Dawn of a New Day (ก่อนฟ้าสาง) traces the history of the student protest movement from the 14th October 1973 uprising to the 1976 massacre. Sumeth and Chulayarnnon’s films will both be screened on 5th and 7th February, and Chanasorn’s is screening on 4th December as part of a Director in Focus retrospective.

18 January 2024

Phatthalung Micro Cinema 0.5


Phatthalung Micro Cinema
112 News from Heaven

The first independent film event organised by Phatthalung Micro Cinema will be held on 20th January at Swiftlet Book Shop in Phatthalung. For this soft launch, no. 0.5 in their screening programme, they will show three short films, including the premiere of Vichart Somkaew’s documentary 112 News from Heaven.

On 112 News from Heaven’s soundtrack, an announcer reads a bulletin of royal news, a daily staple of the Thai airwaves. This is juxtaposed with captions documenting the convictions of activists charged with lèse-majesté (article 112 of the criminal code). Vichart’s Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป) used a similar technique, with captions honouring victims of political injustice.

Today saw the harshest sentence ever given to a lèse-majesté convict, as Mongkhon Thirakot received a fifty-year jail term. He was found guilty last year, in relation to fourteen Facebook posts, and was originally sentenced to twenty-eight years: two years per conviction, to be served consecutively. He appealed the verdict, and today the Appeals Court added an extra twenty-two years to his sentence.

15 January 2024

January Sing-alongs!


January Sing-alongs!

Neighbourhood, the Bangkok community mall that began regular outdoor film screenings last year, will show a season of musicals this month. January Sing-alongs! includes the classics The Wizard of Oz on 21st January and The Sound of Music on 27th January.

The Sound of Music had a previous outdoor, sing-along screening as part of the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival, at Benchasiri Park. The Wizard of Oz had an outdoor screening last year, at Benchakitti Forest Park.

The Wizard of Oz also had a theatrical rerelease last year. It was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2018, 2019, and 2020. It has also been screened at the Scala, Cinema Winehouse, Bangkok Community Theatre, and Jam Café.

14 January 2024

Pac-Man:
Birth of an Icon


Pac-Man

The Japanese arcade video game Pac-Man (パックマン), designed by Tōru Iwatani, was released by Namco in 1980, at the height of the so-called golden age of video arcades. In the 1970s, Atari’s Pong and Taito’s Space Invaders (スペースインベーダー) had defined video games in the public consciousness, though Pac-Man would supersede them both to become arguably the most iconic video game in history.

Pac-Man’s initial appeal came from Iwatani’s creation of what Steven Poole (in his book Trigger Happy) calls “[t]he first videogame ‘character’ of all”. In their book Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon, Arjan Terpstra and Tim Lapetino argue that the game’s distinctive mascot is now a ubiquitous cultural symbol: “Pac-Man’s appeal as a character transcended arcades and moved into the wider realm of popular culture.”

Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon, published in 2021, is the definitive history of Pac-Man, covering every aspect of the game’s development and release. It’s both a coffee-table book with beautifully-reproduced illustrations (including numerous documents from the Namco archive) and a meticulously researched, comprehensive account of the game’s history.

Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon

One indication of the book’s attention to detail is that its title also appears in Japanese (パックマン:アイコンの誕生). Appendices include a complete Pac-Man gameography and the first English translation of Iwatani’s Japanese-language memoir, Pacman’s Method (パックマンのゲーム学入門).

Retro Gamer magazine (no. 61) also covered the making of Pac-Man (which it called “gaming’s most iconic videogame character”), but Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon is the first book on the history of the entire Pac-Man phenomenon. Leonard Herman’s Phoenix was the first general history of video games, and Tristan Donovan’s Replay is the most comprehensive guide to the subject. Push > Start was the first visual history of the medium.

12 January 2024

Lust and Love


Lust and Love

Ark Saroj’s photobook Lust and Love was released yesterday. The book was inspired by New York photographer Peter Hujar’s monograph Love and Lust and, like Hujar, Ark photographs his friends and former lovers: “They are real people and with some of them I have shared intimate moments.” One of Lust and Love’s most explicit images—a black-and-white double-page spread—was shown at the KinkyBKK exhibition at Silom’s Pulse Gallery from 8th to 30th September last year.

An essay by artist Oat Montien in Lust and Love compares Ark and Hujar’s nude portraits: “They give us the license to really meditate on their very graphic material on a deeper level beyond the immediate shock and taboo.” The same also applies to other photographers, such as Ohm Phanphiroj and Shotbyly, whose work demonstrates the increasing visibility of LGBT representation in contemporary Thai art.

05 January 2024

“Only movies with content that may affect the monarchy will remain prohibited...”


Democracy Monument

Thailand’s film censorship system is likely to be liberalised this year, after an announcement from the government’s National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) yesterday. According to the NSPSC, more representatives from the film industry will be permitted to sit on the film censorship board, and the board’s focus will shift from censorship to classification.

The NSPSC, chaired by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, was established on 13th September last year. It assesses policy recommendations submitted by its subsidiary, the National Soft Power Development Committee (คณะกรรมการพัฒนาซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ), chaired by Paetongtarn Shinawatra (the leader of Pheu Thai).

Yesterday, Paetongtarn announced that sensitive themes such as sex and religion will no longer be subject to censorship: “Only movies with content that may affect the monarchy will remain prohibited from being screened in Thailand.” (Unsurprisingly, the issue of lèse-majesté remains untouchable.)

Thai Cinema Uncensored, the first comprehensive history of Thai film censorship, documents the arbitrary nature of film regulation in Thailand, and the inconsistencies of the censorship board’s judgements. The proposals unveiled yesterday appear to address many of these problems inherent in the state censorship system, though they fall short of the self-regulation called for by the film industry.

04 January 2024

Pat Yingcharoen:
Collective Convalescence


Pat Yingcharoen: Collective Convalescence

Collective Convalescence is the first monograph on the young Thai artist Pat Yingcharoen, whose paintings combine tragic images of violence from art history and photojournalism. The elegantly designed book features an essay by Panu Boonpipattanapong and an interview with the artist by Korn Karava. (Korn also edited and published the book, which is the second volume in a series that began with No God No King Only Human.)

Like many artists of his generation, Pat experienced a political awakening following the 2014 coup. It was this newfound awareness, known in Thai as ta sawang, which first led him to transition from “conducting painting experiments to focusing more on the historical aspects.” (Novelists Uthis Haemamool and Veeraporn Nitiprapha have also discussed their ta sawang experiences, and it was a recurring theme in interviews with film directors for Thai Cinema Uncensored.)

In particular, Pat often incorporates elements from photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre, which he regards as “among the most iconic depictions of Thai history”. In his essay, Panu explains that these images of hanged and desecrated bodies are juxtaposed and decontextualised, so that “new dimensions of history that may have been previously suppressed are discovered.”

Images of the 1976 massacre are depicted prominently in several of Pat’s works. In Sacred Punishment, one of the victims is transposed into a reproduction of William-Adolphe Bouguerau’s Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La flagellation de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ). In Beater, Neal Ulevich’s infamous image of a man holding a folding chair is superimposed over a detail from the same Bouguerau painting. In Martyrs, another victim is placed in the centre of Andrea del Sarto’s Disputation on the Trinity (Disputa sulla Trinità).

The artist’s other visual references to the massacre are more subtle. Onlookers from the background of Ulevich’s photograph appear in Under the Blue Moon (shown at his Blue Rhapsody exhibition at Number One Gallery last year) and From Jesus to the Void. The distinctive tree trunk from which a victim was hanged in Ulevich’s picture appears in the backgrounds of Imaginary Horizon—a reproduction of Bouguerau’s First Mourning (Premier deuil)—and Cain and Abel. (Another young Thai artist, Pachara Piyasongsoot, also painted the same tree trunk, in The Garden.)

Pat Yingcharoen: Collective Convalescence was published last month, in an edition of 300 (mine being no. 294). Each copy is numbered and signed with a flourish by the artist. (Curiously, he spells his first name Patt, while the book uses an alternative English spelling, Pat.)

30 December 2023

Nednary


Nednary

“WHAT’S YOUR DEMOCRACY, THOO?”
“DEMOCRACY? IT’S MY KIND OF DEMOCRACY.”

Seven boy scouts arrive at an abandoned camp. One of them is the son of a poacher who shot a rare black panther (in a reference to disgraced businessman Premchai Karnasuta). In the past, the others have all killed domestic cats for fun. Their karma catches up with them as a girl scout and a mysterious man hunt them down. In this supernatural horror film from Yuthlert Sippapak, the girl scout is a reincarnation of the dead cats and the man is the spirit of the panther.

The nicknames of the seven boy scouts are the same as those of right-wing Thai politicians—Thoo (Prayut Chan-o-cha), Thay (Mongkolkit Suksintharanon), Pom (Prawit Wongsuwan), Nooh (Anutin Charnvirakul), Tape (Suthep Thaugsuban), Nu (Wissanu Krea-ngam), and Mark (Abhisit Vejjajiva)—and the girl scout’s nickname, Booh, is the same as Yingluck Shinawatra’s. So the film is a political satire, with Yingluck getting her revenge on the coup-makers and protest leaders who brought down her government. (Thaksin Shinawatra’s nickname is Maew, the Thai word for ‘cat’, so the girl scout character perhaps represents both Yingluck and Thaksin.)

Thoo is the most aggressive of the boy scouts, knocking Booh unconscious, tying her up, and repeatedly punching her in the face when she regains consciousness. The real-life parallel is that Prayut led a coup against Yingluck’s government, and she has been legally persecuted ever since. (She was fined, impeached, and convicted of dereliction of duty.)

Nednary

The film was shot in 2019, though it was initially shelved by its studio, Phranakorn Film, due to concerns about its political content. Yuthlert has since added an over-saturated colour filter to the image (to disguise the fact that it was shot on his iPhone), and retitled the film from Seven Boy Scouts to Nednary (อวสานเนตรนารี). The new title translates as ‘girl scout’, shifting the focus onto the female protagonist, in the same way that Yuthlert retitled another long-delayed film from Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ) to Rachida (ราชิดา).

Interviewed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, Yuthlert described Nednary as “a political satire. Finding a way to fight back in a film in the mainstream.” The director has been politically active since the 2014 coup, and Nednary is his personal response to the last decade of Thai politics. The violent plot is also somewhat cathartic, as he explained in his Thai Cinema Uncensored interview: “No one grows up, because I kill them all!”

After this year’s election, the studio finally felt comfortable to release the film. In fact, rather than minimising the political angle, it’s emphasised in the trailer and opening title sequence, with the scouts’ nicknames shown in very large letters. (The English spellings of the nicknames in the trailer are more accurate than those in the film’s subtitles: Tu, rather than Thoo, for example.)

In case viewers miss the political allusion, it’s hammered home when the boy scouts argue about who should lead them. Thoo insists it should be him—Prayut clung onto power unconstitutionally for nine years—and the others accuse him of being undemocratic. Thoo’s reply is a Thai pun that’s not translated in the subtitles: he says that his kind of democracy is “ประชาธิปตู่.” The Thai word for ‘democacy’ is ‘ประชาธิปไตย’, though he replaces the final syllable with his own nickname; the English equivalent would be ‘Thoo-ocracy’.

29 December 2023

Short 27 Awarded Film Screening


Best of Short 27
Open World Cinema

The 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27) took place from 16th December until Christmas Eve, after the preliminary online Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน). At next month’s Short 27 Awarded Film Screening, the winning films will be shown again at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya.

Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s feature-length documentary Khon Boys (เด็กโขน) will be shown on 6th January next year, for its final screening in Thailand for the foreseeable future. Another documentary feature, Supamok Silarak’s Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง), is screening on the following day, as is Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s short drama The Physical Realm (ภูมิกายา).

The Physical Realm will also be shown at a Best of Short 27 (โปรแกรมผลงานชนะรางวัลจากเทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้น ครั้งที่ 27) screening at Chiang Rai International Art Museum on 10th February. The screening is part of the Open World Cinema programme of the Thailand Biennale in Chiang Rai.

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand


Apocalypse Now

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand, by Neil Pettigrew and Philip Jablon, is—to borrow the adjective from its title—an amazing book. Featuring more than 500 posters, including many full-page reproductions, it’s the most extensive guide to Thai film posters ever published.

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand includes a brief history of Thai film poster production, paying particular tribute to Somboonsuk Niyomsiri (also known as Piak Poster), “[t]he father of Thailand’s style of hand painted movie posters”. The Thai poster for Apocalypse Now, painted by Tongdee Panumas, is singled out as “a contender for being the greatest film poster of all time. Not just from Thailand but from any country.”

The book also features the most comprehensive roster of Thai poster artist biographies ever compiled. The entry for Somboonsuk highlights his design for the French film Temptation (L’Île du bout du monde), which “revolutionised the look of Thai cinema posters in 1959 by using an offset printer which allowed for more richly colourful artwork.” (An exhibition of Somboonsuk’s work was held at the Thai Film Archive last year.)

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand / Thai Movie Posters / Bai Pid / Starpics

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand is published by the founder of the horror film magazine The Dark Side, thus it focuses heavily on horror and exploitation posters. The final few chapters are devoted to gory and erotic posters, including one for the Hong Kong film A Gambler’s Story (邪斗串), described as “perhaps the all-time most explicit movie poster ever produced in Thailand.” (These posters—displayed in seedier cinema lobbies, not on public view—were more graphic than the films they advertised, as discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored.)

Co-authors Pettigrew and Jablon are both Thai poster collectors. (Jablon is also a dealer.) Pettigrew has previously written about Thai horror and sexploitation posters in The Dark Side (no. 167, 168, and 180). Jablon organised a poster exhibition at this year’s Singorama Film Festival, and wrote the excellent Thailand’s Movie Theatres.

Gilbert Brownstone’s Thai Movie Posters (Affiches de cinéma thaï/โปสเตอร์ภาพยนต์ไทย), published in 1974, was the first survey of Thai film posters. After almost fifty years, another book on the subject was long overdue, and The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand was well worth the wait.

Starpics magazine released a special issue (no. 3) on the history of Thai film posters in 1997, which is also a great resource. There are catalogues to the Bai Pid (ใบปิด) and Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย) exhibitions, and other poster exhibitions include Eyegasm and Rare Thai Movie Posters (ลับแลโปสเตอร์ ภาพยนตร์ไทย). There is a short essay on Thai film posters in Thai Cinema (Le cinéma thaïlandais), and vintage posters are illustrated in Dome Sukwong’s A Century of Thai Cinema.

28 December 2023

Museum 2032


Museum 2032 Museum 2032

Charinthorn Rachuratchata’s exhibition Museum 2032 (พิพิธภัณฑ์ ๒๕๗๕) looks simultaneously into the future and the past, while commenting on the present. Charinthorn transports us forward ten years, as visitors to a 2032 exhibition commemorating 100 years of democracy in Thailand. (Absolute monarchy was replaced with parliamentary democracy in 1932.) Photographs of an unsuccessful royalist rebellion led by Prince Boworadet ninety years ago are juxtaposed with images of the student protest movement that began in 2020.

Though separated by time, the two events are connected by the active involvement of Thai citizens in fighting for democracy. In 1933, students and other young Thais supported the newly-formed democratic government in suppressing Boworadet’s rebellion. In 2020 and 2021, students campaigned for reform of the monarchy and an end to military rule. Displaying four black-and-white images of each event facing each other on opposite walls of the gallery, Charinthorn draws parallels between them and shows that the democratic struggle continues.

Museum 2032 Museum 2032
Museum 2032 Museum 2032

Each of the photographs has been torn and restored using the Japanese kintsugi method, whereby gold lacquer is used as a bonding agent. Rather than producing conventional seamless repairs, kintsugi highlights the seams as an integral aspect of the repaired object. When applied to the photographs in the exhibition, the technique emphasises that the events depicted are worthy of preservation, and also that Thai democracy remains imperfect.

Charinthorn’s previous photographic series, The Will to Remember, featured images of the recent student protest movement alongside photographs of the massacre of Thammasat University students in 1976. The prints were also repaired via kintsugi, though in The Will to Remember the kintsugi seams symbolised resilience against the erasure of the massacre from the collective memory.

Museum 2032 opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok on 21st October, and was originally scheduled to run until 30th December. It has now been extended until 7th January next year.

26 December 2023

Yingluck Shinawatra ‘not guilty’


Democracy Monument

Today, Thailand’s Supreme Court dismissed a criminal case against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The verdict of not guilty was unexpected, given the numerous legal and extra-constitutional penalties issued against Yingluck over the past decade. (Her government was deposed in a coup, and she was fined, impeached, and convicted of dereliction of duty.)

Today’s verdict relates to Yingluck’s removal of Thawil Pliensri as head of the National Security Council in 2011, shortly after she became PM. Thawil was replaced by the chief of police, and Priewpan Damapong became the new police chief. Priewpan is a brother-in-law of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, and Yingluck was accused of sacking Thawil for nepotistic reasons, to create a vacancy for Priewpan.

Thawil alleged that his demotion “involves acts of the prime minister that are unconstitutional”. Article 266 of the 2007 constitution prohibited “the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer... of a Government official” if such action was performed “for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party”.

The Central Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court both ruled that Thawil’s transfer was a violation of the constitution, and their judgement was upheld by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The Constitutional Court’s guilty verdict resulted in Yingluck’s dismissal as PM, which created a power vacuum filled by the military junta.

Despite its highly consequential guilty verdict, the Constitutional Court’s judgement was rather nuanced. The court ruled that, although Yingluck had not acted “in accordance with moral principles”, she was legally authorised to transfer Thawil. This distinction ultimately paved the way for today’s verdict of not guilty from the Supreme Court.

The National Anti-Corruption Council recommended criminal charges against Yingluck in relation to the Thawil case in 2020. By that point, Yingluck was already living in self-imposed exile, after fleeing the country in 2017. Thaksin also fled into exile, though he returned to Thailand this year following a quid pro quo arrangement with the military, and it’s possible that today’s acquittal of Yingluck is another phase of Thaksin’s deal.

The Art of Origami Books:
Origami, Kirigami, Labyrinth, Tunnel and Mini Books —
By Artists from Around the World


The Art of Origami Books / The Art of Cutting / The Art of Pop-Up

The Art of Origami Books: Origami, Kirigami, Labyrinth, Tunnel and Mini Books by Artists from Around the World, by Jean-Charles Trebbi, was originally published in French (as L’art du livre origami) in 2021. It includes numerous examples of origami books by contemporary artists, though the most interesting chapter, by Jacques Desse, gives a brief illustrated history of ‘leporello’ books. The chapter on ‘tunnel books’ also includes illustrations of vintage examples.

Trebbi’s previous books include The Art of Cutting (L’art de la découpe) and The Art of Pop-Up (L’art du pop-up). The Century of Artists’ Books, by Johanna Drucker, covers the related topic of books designed by artists, and John Smith’s Notes on the History of Origami is a concise history of origami as an art form.

Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons


Britain's Best Ever Political Cartoons
The Plum-pudding in Danger

Tim Benson, Britain’s leading authority on political cartoons, compiled an anthology of Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons in 2021. Almost 200 cartoons are included (mostly in black-and-white), from the satirical prints of James Gillray (such as The Plumb-pudding in Danger) to The Guardian’s Steve Bell. Benson’s introduction gives a concise history of British political cartoons, and he cites David Low as “[t]he greatest political cartoonist of the twentieth century”. The book concludes with a selection of recent cartoons, reproduced in colour.

Rude Britannia, The Offensive Art, and The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921 also feature examples of classic British political cartoons. The Rude Britannia exhibition catalogue includes one of Gerald Scarfe’s best Margaret Thatcher caricatures. (Thatcher is underrepresented in Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons, and Scarfe’s work is omitted.) Victor S. Navasky profiled key political cartoonists in The Art of Controversy.

The Exorcist Legacy:
50 Years of Fear


The Exorcist Legacy

The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear was published earlier this year, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of William Friedkin’s classic horror film The Exorcist. Author Nat Segaloff was Friedkin’s authorised biographer, and he covers the making of the film in considerable detail, with chapters on the three stages of production and the film’s release.

The book also discusses the various Exorcist sequels, which are of interest only to completists. Segaloff’s synopses of all these spinoffs are largely superfluous. Fortunately, though, the first half of the book is devoted to the original 1973 film.

Mark Kermode’s book on the film, from the BFI Film Classics series, remains the definitive study, and Segaloff interviewed him for The Exorcist Legacy. In fact, Kermode has become such an authority on The Exorcist that Segaloff dedicates his book to him alongside Friedkin and William Peter Blatty (who wrote the original novel).

24 December 2023

Damnatio Memoriae


Damnatio Memoriae

Thunska Pansittivorakul’s latest documentary, Damnatio Memoriae (ไม่พึงปรารถนา), had its world premiere at this year’s DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in South Korea. Thunska’s films often contain found footage, though with Damnatio Memoriae he has taken this a step further, producing a collage film comprised almost entirely of repurposed news and propaganda clips. (It begins with a montage of violent episodes from modern world history: the Holocaust, the Zapruder film, 9/11.)

Structurally, the film is a series of stark juxtapositions between fantasy and reality: propaganda videos (either directly or indirectly state-sanctioned), followed by atrocities committed by those states. Thus, the jolly Duck and Cover public information film is intercut with footage of Japanese A-bomb victims. Most of the examples are drawn from Asia during the Cold War era: Chinese Communist propaganda films, followed by the Tiananmen Square massacre; the Seoul Olympics opening ceremony intercut with autopsy photographs of Gwangju Uprising victims.

Thai political history is central to Thunska’s filmography, and Damnatio Memoriae is no exception. Here, clips from the historical romance Sunset at Chaophraya (คู่กรรม) are juxtaposed with footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre, with the love song Angsumalin (อังศุมาลิน), performed by heartthrob Nadech Kugimiya, on the soundtrack. (Sunset at Chaophraya is based on a novel by Thommayanti, who denounced students as Communists in the buildup to 1976. Video artist Chulayarnnon Siriphol has also appropriated footage from Sunset at Chaophraya.)

Explicit sexual content is another key component of the director’s work, used most provocatively in The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), when a man is shown masturbating while captions describe the victims of the 1976 massacre. As Thunska explained in Thai Cinema Uncensored, this scene was a condemnation of what he views as the military’s quasi-sexual impulse to destroy its opponents: “That massacre is like masturbation... They need to feel good and happy, but it’s really cruel.”

Damnatio Memoriae features a similar sequence: a young man masturbates in the shower, while captions describe “the Red Drum killings of more than 200 civilians (unofficial accounts speak of up to 3,000) who were accused of supporting communists in Phatthalung, southern Thailand.” The graphic metaphor for military violence is an echo of The Terrorists, though there is an added layer of significance: the actor in the shower comes from Phatthalung, where the killings took place decades before he was born.

Nudity is also used for comic effect, in an irreverent comment on royally-appointed Thai prime minister and statesman Prem Tinsulanonda. Prem is shown preparing to deliver a speech at the White House, in recognition of Thai-US military cooperation during the Cold War, and just as he is about to speak, the film cuts to a close-up of an erection.

The shower sequence is an out-take from Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), and Damnatio Memoriae also features brief clips from Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์). Thunska’s previous films include Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Reincarnate (จุติ), and This Area is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน).

15 December 2023

Tang Chang (1934–1990):
Non-Forms


Non-Forms

Tang Chang, one of Thailand’s greatest modern artists, is the subject of a retrospective that opened earlier this year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Tang Chang (1934–1990): Non-Forms (subtitled Non-Formes in French) features his iconic self-portrait from 1973: the painting shows the artist with no eyes or hands, his symbolic self-mutilation a desperate response to the massacre of pro-democracy protesters that took place that year. The bilingual (English and French) exhibition catalogue (bound in the Japanese stab style) quotes his description of the work as a tribute to those “rising in anger against the military dictatorship on 14 October 1973.” Several of his concrete poems (กวีรูปธรรม), commenting on the massacres of 1973 and 6th October 1976, are also included.

09 December 2023

Rare Thai Movie Posters


Rare Thai Movie Posters Rare Thai Movie Posters

Today and tomorrow, vintage Thai film posters will be on display, and on sale, at the Woof Pack building in Bangkok. The Bai Pid (ใบปิด) exhibition—held at the same venue last year—featured reproductions of classic poster artwork, whereas this weekend’s fair, Rare Thai Movie Posters (ลับแลโปสเตอร์ ภาพยนตร์ไทย), focuses on original posters.

Rare Thai Movie Posters and Bai Pid are among only a handful of exhibitions devoted to Thai movie poster art. Others have included Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย; 1984) in Bangok, and Eyegasm (2012) in Palm Springs, California. Philip Jablon exhibited some posters from his collection at this year’s Singorama Film Festival in Songkhla.

Gilbert Brownstone’s Thai Movie Posters (Affiches de cinéma thaï/โปสเตอร์ภาพยนต์ไทย), published in 1974, was the first book on the subject. A new survey, The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand by Jablon and Neil Pettigrew, was released earlier this year. Starpics magazine issued five special issues devoted to film posters; most focused on Hollywood posters, and no. 3 covered 100 years of Thai cinema.

08 December 2023

112 News from Heaven


112 News from Heaven

Vichart Somkaew’s short documentary 112 News from Heaven juxtaposes news that’s broadcast on all channels every day with news that goes unreported by mainstream outlets. On the soundtrack, an announcer reads a bulletin of royal news, a daily staple of Thai television and radio. This is contrasted with captions documenting news of “victims of the Thai state”. Vichart’s previous film Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป) used a similar technique, with captions honouring victims of political injustice.

The Thai monarchy is often associated with the sky, symbolising the high reverence in which it is traditionally held, and lèse-majesté is article 112 of the criminal code, hence the title 112 News from Heaven. The film’s captions feature 112 headlines from a 112-day period, detailing the custodial sentences given to those convicted of lèse-majesté and the bail denied to those awaiting trial.

After its litany of legal persecution, the film ends with a clip from an impromptu TV interview Rama X gave during a walkabout. Asked for his message to pro-democracy protesters, the King offers words of reassurance: “We love them all the same.”

The film’s structure recalls D.H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers. The bulk of that book describes the misery of the protagonist’s life, though it ends on an unexpectedly uplifting note: “He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.”

Can the book’s final few optimistic sentences negate the oppressive narrative of its previous 500 pages? Or does the apparently hopeful ending represent a false dawn? The same questions are raised by 112 News from Heaven, in relation to the state’s attitudes towards political dissent.

Again, there is a similarity with Cremation Ceremony. After detailing various state injustices, that film also ends on a positive note, with a final caption welcoming the news that pro-democracy parties “emerged victorious” in this year’s election. But after the film was released, it became clear that the election result was another false dawn, as the winning party was sidelined and the military remained in government.

27th Thai Short Film and Video Festival


27th Thai Short Film and Video Festival

The 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27) runs from 16th December until Christmas Eve at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya. The annual Short Film and Video Festival is Thailand’s longest-running film event, providing a unique showcase for independent filmmakers.

Over seventy films will be screened in competition, chosen from more than 600 titles submitted. Almost all of the submissions were shown online during the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน) earlier this year.

A Love Letter to My Sister
The Physical Realm

A Love Letter to My Sister, video journalist Napasin Samkaewcham’s deeply personal account of the volatile relationship between his parents, is surely the most powerful film at this year’s event. This moving and often heart-rending documentary will be shown on 17th December.

Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s short drama The Physical Realm (ภูมิกายา) will have its Thai premiere on 16th December. The film includes a subtle tribute to the leaders of the student protest movement, when a man speculates on the name he might have given to a child his former girlfriend never had. He considers the names Anon, Panassaya, and Jathupat, which refer to Arnon Nampa, Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, respectively. (The references are slightly disguised, as the film’s subtitles spell the names phonetically.)

Other highlights include Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s Khon Boys (เด็กโขน), screening on 16th December; Supamok Silarak’s Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง), on 17th December; Kawinnate Konklong’s แค่วันที่โชคร้าย (‘unfortunately’), also on 17th December; and video artist Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s ANG48 (เอเอ็นจี48), on 23rd December. Award winners will be announced on Christmas Eve.

Khon Boys
Red Poetry

A Love Letter to My Sister and แค่วันที่โชคร้าย both had their debut screenings during the Short Film Marathon. Khon Boys premiered at Jumping Frames (跳格) in Hong Kong. The Physical Realm premiered at Film Fest Gent in Belgium on 19th October. Red Poetry has previously been shown in both Chiang Mai and Salaya. ANG48 was shown previously at ใช้แล้ว ใช้อยู่ ใช้ต่อ (‘I’ve used it, I’m using it, I’ll keep using it’), Wildtype 2023, and Shadow Dancing.

07 December 2023

Khon Boys


Khon Boys

Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s new documentary Khon Boys (เด็กโขน) will be shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 16th December, in what is expected to be its only public screening in Thailand. The film had its world premiere on 15th September at Jumping Frames (跳格), the Hong Kong International Movement-Image Festival 2023.

Khon Boys follows a group of students as they learn the Thai dramatic art of khon dancing. The film opens with an introduction to the history of khon and its associations with Thai royalty: khon was traditionally performed exclusively at royal functions, and its principal characters are gods and kings. The ten kings of Thailand’s current Chakri dynasty share their name with Rama, protagonist of the khon drama Ramakien (รามเกียรติ์), and the film highlights the parallels between khon’s warrior kings and the past 200 years of Thai history.

Captions describe the Ramakien’s plot: “Rama returns home for his coronation, and his reign is one of peace and happiness.” Cut to: Sanam Luang, “15 months after King Rama X’s coronation,” where protesters gathered in September 2020 to call for reform of the monarchy. Later, there is footage of riot police firing rubber bullets at REDEM protesters at Sanam Luang in March 2021, and an impressive drone shot of 10,000 protesters assembling at Democracy Monument in August 2020. The film describes the epic Ramakien as a “great battle between Good and Evil,” and it presents the current confrontations between demonstrators and the establishment in the same terms.

Khon Boys

Khon Boys is Phassarawin’s solo directorial debut, though he previously codirected Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) and the short film Dance of Death (แดนซ์ ออฟ เดธ) with Thunska Pansittivorakul. He also worked as cinematographer on Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล). Khon Boys is similar to the latter film, as they both include interviews with high-school boys about contemporary politics.

Khon Boys perfectly captures the tension between tradition and change. Just as youthful protesters in a hierarchical society are challenging conservative elites, the young khon students are participating in a royalist art form yet simultaneously questioning the ideology it represents. The film shows a social studies class that appears to be a straightforward propaganda exercise, with a writing project titled “Missing the King in Heaven”. Meanwhile, when interviewed by the director, the students criticise the lèse-majesté law and the military. As one student puts it succinctly: “Soldiers aren’t the nation’s fence. They are the king’s shield.”

Some of their comments on lèse-majesté were self-censored by the director, with photos of CGI dinosaurs to mask the forbidden opinions. (Homogeneous, Empty Time also includes a self-censored discussion of lèse-majesté.) One student resorts to a thinly-veiled metaphor, namely a fictional location in the Japanese manga series One Piece (ワンピース): “Let me talk about the country of Wano. Lord Kaido is the country’s big boss. He thinks he has limitless power and can do anything to people like us.”