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Thai Movies



What about Thai Movies

Part of a countries 'culture' is their national culture industry, in this case the movie industry. There is a lot of crap around in Thailand. In fact, I have yet not seen a Thai movie I would call a really good one. If you watch Thai TV, what's unavoidable in Thailand for there are everywhere TV sets running, even in the banks, the immigration offices and police stations, you get an impression of the mainstream. Soaps, livestyle, (bad) news, of course advertisements... all superficial nonesense. It does not look much better with Thai cinema movies. But, it's still better than Bollywood. And, is Hollywood that good?

Thai Movie Poster by Asienreisender

A Thai Movie poster at a cinema in Phattalung. Image by Asienreisender, 2012

When travelling in Thailand, one sees in all the a bit bigger places shops and street stalls selling DVD's and Video CD's. Bangkok's Khao San and it's side roads are notorious for that. Most of them contain Thai stuff, some of them Western or other stuff. They are relatively cheap and you don't know if it's running on your computer or DVD player. The quality differs between good and lousy. Also there is a certain risk to get a virus. Westerners of course tend to get cheap western stuff there.

If you go to a Thai cinema be aware that you have to stand up before the film is shown when the 'king's anthem' (the former national anthem) is played. Some people have really trouble being sued for not standing up. It's by law mandatory to stand up. I wouldn't wonder the authorities in Thailand would trouble Westerners as well, although Western Tourists enjoy a certain degree of freedom Thai's do not, in these matters.

Very few Thai movies get an international reputation. Most of them are just designed for the particular Thai taste. 'Ong Bak', an action movie, is a bit an exception. Less known is a historical movie, 'The Legend of Suriyothai', which is the story of a legendary Thai princess who was involved in one of the many wars between Burmese and Thai kingdoms in the past. In this example in the early 16th century. It's highly idealized but at least interesting to see. The costumes are authentic for the times and it gives one a general insight in Thai history. Director was Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now).


Censorship on Movies in Thailand

Also one should keep in mind that there exists a strict censorship in Thailand. Movies are controlled by the authorities. Many are criticized for containing 'illegal' content, coming in any way in conflict with 'lese majeste' or other Thai laws. Sometimes whole films are confiscated. So, there are many topics, Thai film makers can not deal with. Particularly when it comes to politics and to the religion. To make a political 'correct' movie in Thailand is an art itself. Because of that one can not expect really good movies 'Made in Thailand'.

Nontawat Numbanchapol

Nontawat Numbenchapol

Just recently the new Thai Movie 'Fahtum pandinsoong' (border) by director Nontawat Numbenchapol on the 2010 anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok and the border conflict with Cambodia was forbidden to be played in Thailand.

The movie was shown in February at the annual Berlin film festival 'Berlinale' 2013.

The official reason to ban the movie was that it would threaten the national security. The Bangkok May 2010 events are a politically sensitive topic in Thailand. 91 people died, some 1,000 were injured.

The documentary is following a Thai soldier, who was serving in Bangkok in May 2010 when the so called 'red shirts' demonstrated over months against the government and were beaten down then by the military. In 2011 he was deployed to the Thai/Cambodian border at Preah Vihear where bloody combats happened between the Thai and the Cambodian army. The border fights in April 2011 caused 18 deaths and thousands of villagers displaced.

The border conflict is at the moment processed at the UN international Court of Justice in Deen Haag, Netherlands.

That's just the latest example of the notorious censorship in Thailand. A great deal of promising Thai Movies who offer deeper views on social topics are censored. It's not always so that the whole movie get's forbidden. Often are parts of a movie banned and have to be cut out. The cutting frequently get's so far that the whole movie doesn't make sense then anymore.

Published on April 26th, 2013


OK Betong (2003) - โอเค เบตง

One of the better Thai movies is 'OK Betong'. It's a story about a young Thai monk (Tum) who's sister has been killed in a violent happening in the South of Thailand. He travels to the town where she lived, what is Betong, Yala Province, close to the Malaysian border. Here he has to make a few decisions about his life and to cope with the fact of fighting there. Despite Tum's sister was killed by Muslim insurgency, she was married with a Muslim man from a close by place on the other side of the border in Malaysia. She left a small daughter. Tum thinks about playing a role in bringing her up. Also he get's to know an attractive young woman from next door who was his sister's friend. The movie shows many details about temporary Thailand and is a story making one thinking. A story with a plot, what's not self-evident. But, as a Westerner, one has to be patient with the movie. It's all in Thai language. That requires another kind of watching and understanding.

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Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past Lives (2010) - ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ

Long, slow scenes and the rural life around Baan Nabua, a village in Phanom Nakhon province, northeast Thailand, called Isarn (Isaan), almost always emphasized 'the poorest region in Thailand', frame the story about an older Thai man. It's a quiet film about uncle Boonmee, who is suffering a kidney disease, knows that he will die soon and who has a particular gift: he can remember his past lifes and receive the ghosts of some already death as his former wife and his son, who appeares in a funny monkeylike costume (remember 'planet of apes'?). So you get witness of a mixture of Buddhist and Animist believes who are still in the head of the people in this region and generally in Southeast Asia, though any region has it's own, particular old believes. The story is based on a book of a Thai Buddhist abbot about former lives. Long walks into the forests and views into the Thai countryside come together with some scenes showing Thai houses interiours. At the beginning of the film one sees a longer sequence of a car drive. That all is very authentic according to what you see here in Thailand when travelling. These realistic parts of the film are contrasted with more or less spooky scenes of Boonmee's former lives.

It's not only a Thai Movie but an international cooperation including contribution from Britain, France, Germany and Spain. Though, the story and pictures are very Thai. And quite peculiar, after all. Length: 113 min. One of the last films shot on film, not been made digital.

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Tai Tang Klom

That's a really ugly horror picture. A male nurse kills his pregnant wife, two medicine students read an occult book and operate the killed women to get the embryo. With that they apply black magic. One of the guys get's therefore his exam well done, the other one can tempt women now and makes them sex addicted to him. But things are going all wrong for them and they drive crazy and get killed themselves. Additionally the killed pregnant woman appears repeatedly as a zombie and does no good. Easy plot, no depth, story get's from bad to worse. Really not a 'must see'.

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Yamada - The Samurai of Ayothaya (2010) - ซามูไร อโยธยา - 山田

It's the early 17th century. Yamada Nagamasa, a young Japanese Samurai, comes to Ayothaya and gets in trouble with a violent group of his own countrymen, living there as a defected gang of street gangsters. After a fight Yamada escapes injured, receives help in a Thai village (it looks so hygienic, you could eat there everywhere from the ground) from a Thai women (living together with her daughter who is the prototype of a spoiled middle- or upper-class brat; the actress of the woman was 'Miss Thailand 2007') and recovers. He comes then to a Thai monk (the king's monk in chief, a very peculiar guy!) who imparts him knowledge and training in Thai boxing (muang Thai). Yamada makes a career in martial art and has to fight a lot to gain respect from the other fighters / knights. Later Yamada and his friends become combatants of the Royal guards of King Naresuan, called 'the Great'.

In many of these Thai historical movies there are fightings against the Burmese, the eternal evil in the Thai mind. Here the 'heroes' fight against the Hongsawadee's warriors, the declared enemy of the King of Ayothaya (nowadays spelled as: Ayutthaya). Now the movie becomes more and more bloody, in fact Yamada and his friends wade through seas of blood to a big, 'heroic' victory against the evil enemy. A long fight in the jungle is shown. A feast of violence. After it Yamada is prepared to take revenge for the raid of the beginning of the movie, fighting these Japanese gangsters again and defeating them finally - but for the price of the loss of all his 'friends' - or better combatants.

An interesting detail is that Yamada's blood brother is killed in the last fighting scenes by a handgun - the only handgun which is shown in the entire movie. Gunpowder and guns are the emerging new weapon technologies of the time, classical martial arts and sword-fighting become outdated from now on. This theme is also part of the movie "The Legend of Suriothai".

The film is technically well-done, beautiful pictures, good actors, aestetics in it's way. Many scenes show backgrounds who look pretty much like done in nowadays ruins of Ayutthaya or Sukothai. The plot is, as in most martial arts movies, simple and focussed on violence and revenge. It's a typical black-and-white scheme, good against bad. It's all completely unrealistic as always, brutal, nationalistic, one-dimensional, grotesque, ridiculous... but who cares? Therefore it's politically correct and that excludes anyway any deeper considerations.

It's claimed that this Yamada Nagamasa was a real living historical person. He can not have then more than the name in common with the one in the movie.

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Published on April 15th, 2012
Last update on April 26th, 2013