Issue 9: Summer 2012
Mysterious Objects From Thailand
Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa / Chulayarnnon Siriphol / Chayanin Tiangpitayagorn / Jit Phokaew / Kanchat Rangseekansong
In January of this year, Experimental Conversations invited noted Thai blogger and cinephile Jit Phokaew to contribute a piece of writing outlining the situation of experimental film in Thailand. His extraordinary response, far exceeding our greatest hopes for the piece, was to enlist four colleagues and compile what amounts to a sort of encyclopedia of independent contemporary Thai art film. Due to the scope of this work, it will be published in three sections over three issues.
"I do not know what 'film' is and I don't think it is important because once you are able to clearly point out what it is, it becomes an established idea which is no longer of interest to me." Sasithorn Ariyavicha (1)
In the article below, the word 'film' denotes all kinds of moving images. The article below does not focus on the experimental cinema in Thailand, but on the Thai arthouse cinema in general, because, as in the films of Apichatpong, somehow we don't know the line which separates experimental cinema from other kinds of cinema. Window (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 1999, 12 min) is undoubtedly an experimental film, but what about Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002)? So instead of trying to separate Thai experimental films from other kinds of arthouse films, we think we would rather write about them altogether, though experimental films may get a bit more emphasis here.
For us, the Thai writers of this article, the month of July and the early part of August each year is the sacred period, because it is the time when the Thai Film Foundation holds an event which is informally called "The Marathon Film Festival". This film festival screens every new Thai film submitted to the foundation. About four hundred short films and a few feature films are shown each year. The screening is held 6 days a week for about 6 weeks. The screening is arranged according to the alphabetical order of the film titles. After that, about 75 films in the Marathon Film Festival will be selected for the competition in the Thai Short Film and Video Festival in late August.
For us, the Thai cinephiles, one of our most blissful experiences is when we sit in the darkness of the screening room of the Marathon Film Festival, seeing short films made from nearly every province of Thailand, finding new kinds of visuals and sound, new stories, new ways of telling stories, unexplainable things, the crudeness of film production, the audacity, and even the naivete in the representation of serious topics in these films. It is certain that not every film in this festival is a diamond in the rough from a faraway land. Some films in this festival are made by a high school student who uses a camera for the first time in her life. Some films are made by an ordinary person who has never had any film education before. Some films are made just to entertain the family of the director. Some films are originally made to be shown in an organization or a corporation that the director belongs to. Some films are made just because the director found something surprising in his life and wanted to record that moment. Some films are made by students as a homework. Some films are even made to teach moral lessons to the audience. The exhilaration, the ennui, the bawdy humor, and the carefree attitude of these films in the Marathon Film Festival make us realize the power of the cinematic medium. This medium can now finally escape from the hands of the professionals, film students, financial backers, studios, equipment owners or any experts. We can say that films have now fallen from heaven into the hands of common people with the aid of new technology which makes filming equipment cheaper and easier to operate. Everybody can make films now.
Though some may believe that most films shown in the Marathon Film Festival are carelessly made, worthless, like a nonsensical toy of the director, like a joke made by some mentally-ill kids, or have nothing interesting in them, we think differently. In our eyes, the Marathon Film Festival is the golden treasure of new visuals and new sound. The visuals and sound in these films are often unpolished, but full of adventurousness and sincerity. Many films in this festival capture the images of ordinary life, and treat people who appear in the films as human beings, instead of characters like in most mainstream films. Many films in this festival reflect what is going on right now in our contemporary society much faster than most mainstream films, and also reflect many subcultures and marginal groups of people which are often underrepresented in mainstream films. The films in this festival become the voice of people who are often overlooked or who are often allowed to speak only in stereotypical ways. The films in this festival allow us to experience new kinds of aesthetics and teach us new ways to experience the same old world. The beautiful diversity of the films in the Marathon Film Festival amazes us. To see these films is like to be dazzled by the luster of some special unpolished diamonds. These diamonds are special, because the more they are cut, the more they may lose their radiance.
Many Thai directors in the list below used to send their short films to the Marathon Film Festival. Many films made by these directors were not selected to enter the competition in the second round, but impressed us tremendously. The directors in the list here cannot represent the overall picture of the Thai experimental cinema or Thai arthouse cinema. There are many great Thai directors who are not included in the list here, both well-known directors, such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and unknown directors, because we are not able to write about all of them within this limited time and due to the limited access of many Thai short films. What you are going to read now is nothing more than some opinions of some ordinary viewers who appreciate the diversity of moving images. We hope that the kinds of visuals and sound we are going to describe below may help the readers to get to know some experimental or arthouse filmmakers who don't deserve to be overlooked among the flooding streams of moving images today.
THAI CONTEMPORARY ARTHOUSE FILM DIRECTORS
(in alphabetical order)
1.Aditya Assarat (born 1972)
Aditya became famous with his thesis film Motorcycle (2000, 14 min), which deals with an old villager who receives the message that his son was killed in a motorcycle accident in Bangkok. Instead of crying out loud, the villager goes into a forest to hunt for some animals, so that he can earn some money to pay for the funeral of his son. Motorcycle won the R.D. Pestonji award in the 4th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. One of the jury was Apichatpong Weerasethakul. What is interesting in Motorcycle is its understated drama. The characters in the film bear great pain, but they keep it all inside, and show us only 10% of their pain. Understated drama, understated conflicts, or understated climax can be found in some other films of Aditya, too. In his Wonderful Town (2007, 92 min), the film focuses on the atmosphere of a tsunami-ravaged town, and the repetitive daily activities of the townspeople/characters. The film, some of its characters, and the town seem to be under some somnambulistic spell, except near the end of the film when a dramatic thing happens. Aditya's masterpiece is Hi-So (2010, 102 min), which tells a story of a handsome rich guy whose American girlfriend gets frustrated while visiting him in Thailand. Later, he has a Thai girlfriend, but his Thai girlfriend cannot quite fit in with his society of party-loving, rich, foreign, or mixed-race friends. Hi-So shows Aditya's keen observation of human behavior and little gestures, such as in the scene in which some Thai guys try to take advantage of the protagonist's American girlfriend while they are taking pictures together. Many little gestures in Hi-So reveal very interesting things about people's prejudice, culture clash between Thais and foreigners, and some aspects in the relationship between the rich and the poor.
The relationship between Thais and foreigners/mixed-race people is also dealt with in Aditya's Phuket (2009, 30 min) and Bangkok Blues (2009, 20 min) (2), but in Bangkok Blues, what is more interesting than this topic is the thought-provoking quality of it. Some films of Aditya, such as Wonderful Town, Bangkok Blues, and 6 to 6 (2010, 20 min), seem to not spell out clearly what the films are trying to say. These films let us observe the mostly unimportant activities of the characters, and allow us to interpret freely or make meanings out of these activities by ourselves. And sometimes you don't have to interpret anything at all. Just to observe the characters will be enough, such as in Aditya's My Rabbits (2011, 2 min), which shows us the unimportant activities of his three rabbits, while the frame of the picture moves up and down from time to time.
2.Anocha Suwichakornpong (born 1976)
Anocha's master's thesis film from Columbia University, Graceland (2006, 17 min), was selected for the 59th Cannes Film Festival's Cinefondation program. It was the first Thai short film selected for the Cannes Film Festival. After that she made Like. Real. Love (2008, 38 min), a trilogy which is about three kinds of love--love between a dead mother and her daughter, love between a man and a woman, and love of humanity. The last part of this trilogy is partly inspired by Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory (Louis Lumière, 1895), and poses some interesting questions about the relationship between film and reality. Anocha had dealt with this relationship once before in Ghosts (2005, 35 min). The first half of Ghosts is about an audition of an aging actress, while the second half is about Anocha's mother. Some scenes in this film blend reality and fiction together in a very memorable way. Her debut feature is Mundane History (2009, 82 min), a family drama about the friendship that develops between a young paralyzed man from a wealthy Bangkok family and his male nurse from the northeastern part of Thailand. The film is also a commentary on Thailand's class-based society and the frailty of life. It premiered at the 2009 Pusan International Film Festival, where it was in the New Currents competition, and also opened the World Film Festival of Bangkok. It made its European Premiere in the Tiger Awards competition at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and was among the three films in the 15-title line-up that won the Tiger Award. Featuring a scene of full-frontal male nudity and masturbation, it was the first Thai film under Thailand's motion-picture rating system to be given the most restrictive 20+ rating. Other notable works by Anocha include Kissing in Public (2009, 3 min)(3), and 3-0 (2006, 8 min), which is Haneke-like in its cold observation on its characters. 3-0 is about three people who try to walk, but in the end they cannot walk very far. The film has its political meanings, and is actually about three important political moments in recent Thai history, including the massacre in Bangkok on October 6, 1976, the Black May event in 1992, and the coup d'état on September 19, 2006. Anocha co-founded her production company, Electric Eel Films, in Bangkok in 2006. Her company is the space for group of up-and-coming young Thai filmmakers, for example, Wichanon Somumjarn (In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire) and Tulapop Saenjaroen (After the Wind, Distinction).
3.Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook (born 1957)
Araya is undoubtedly the most important Thai video artist who has kept on making great gallery-based videos since 1998. She is also a writer, a lecturer, and a multidisciplinary artist who started making prints in the early 1980s and installation art in the early 1990s. Her first videos deal with various activities she does with real corpses, for example, reading to corpses in Pond (1998), Reading for Three Female Corpses (1998), Reading for Male and Female Corpses (1998), Lament (2000), and Reading Inaow for a Female Corpse (2001); singing for corpses in Thai Medley (2002); walking through a morgue in A Walk (2002); dressing up a female corpse in I'm Living (2002) and Sudsiri and Araya (2002); talking to corpses in Conversation (2005); teaching corpses in The Class (2005); and having some music played in the cemetery in Glome Pee, the Crying of the Earth (2006). These videos change the perceptions of the viewers towards the death issue. In these videos, death is not something disgusting anymore, but it is treated as an undeniable fact, a part of our lives, or something which we must accept with calmness and not try to avoid. Araya deals with death again in In a Blur of Desire (2006, 19 min, three-channel video), which records the slaughter of a pig, a cow, and a buffalo. What is interesting in In a Blur of Desire is the calmness of the tone, which is in contrast to the frightening tone of Pig's Stories (Amrit Chusuwan, 2011), a multi-channel video installation which also deals with the slaughter of animals. This is because the purposes of these two video installations are different. In a Blur of Desire may focus on the transition of life to death, while Pig's Stories may focus on the brutality we try to avoid thinking about while we consume meat.
Apart from the death topic, Araya also deals with other social taboos in her other videos, for example, The Nine-Day Pregnancy of a Single Middle-Aged Associate Professor (2003), which makes us aware of the prejudice in society towards women's behavior and private lives; The Insane (2006), which records the monologues of eleven insane women, but in the end makes the viewers aware that these mental patients are not much different from us, because they also have love, fear, dreams, ambitions, anxiety, and have suffered a lot from many obstacles in their lives like us; and Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Beheading Holofernes, Jeff Koons' Untitled, and Thai Villagers (2011), in which a Thai monk tries to teach moral lessons to villagers by using these two paintings, which some might judge beforehand as inappropriate to be placed in a Buddhist temple.
However, some of Araya's best videos don't have to deal with social taboos. In This Circumstance, the Sole Object of Attention Should Be the Treachery of the Moon (2009) is a captivating video showing many people walking up and down a green field. In the Pool of Still Water, There is a Yearning for the Torrential Flow of the Big River (2009) shows us a person lying on a bed near a pond. His/her body is wrapped around in a white blanket. The person moves his/her body around, while the light gets dimmer and dimmer until the picture is in complete darkness. It is one of the most powerful of Araya's videos. Araya's masterpieces also include the videos in The Two Planet Series (2008), such as Manet's Luncheon on the Grass and the Thai Villagers (2008), Millet's the Gleaners and the Thai Farmers (2008), and Van Gogh's the Midday Sleep and the Thai Villagers (2008). In these videos, Araya lets Thai villagers comment freely on the highly-regarded paintings in the titles. These videos open up many interesting questions, such as the questions about how to appreciate art, whether art education is really necessary, what is beauty, and whether the reactions of the villagers towards the paintings reflect the reactions of the video-installation viewers towards the villagers in the videos?
Araya can be considered the most important Thai video artist because she creates great videos frequently, while other Thai multidisciplinary artists turn to use video medium only from time to time, or not as frequently as Araya. Other multidisciplinary female artists in Thailand who create great gallery-based videos or video installations from time to time include Preeyachanok Ketsuwan, Suchada Sirithanawuddhi, Sudsiri Pui-Ock, Tuksina Pipitkul, Wantanee Siripattananuntakul, and may also include Varsha Nair, a Uganda-born, India-graduated artist who resides in Thailand.
As for Thai male artists, the ones who create great video art or video installations from time to time include Amrit Chusuwan, Arin Rungjang, Chol Janepraphaphan, Kamol Phaosavasdi, Montri Toemsombat, Navin Rawanchaikul, Noraset Vaisayakul, Pan Pan Narkprasert, Prateep Suthathongthai, Sakarin Krue-on, Sathit Sattarasart, Suebsang Sangwachirapiban, Suparirk Kanitwaranun, Suporn Shoosongdej, and Thaweesak Srithongdee.
4. Arthawut Boonyuang
One of the first films by Arthawut is Wake Up (2008, 3 min), which is inspired by the literary works of Kanokpong Songsompan. But Wake Up is an unimpressive atmospheric film. It is a good film, but it is not so much different from many Thai atmospheric short films made at that time. However, Arthawut succeeded in creating a name for himself when he made Women in Democracy (2009, 6 min), in which we see a woman giving an interview about how she lost her husband during the crackdown on the red-shirt protesters in Bangkok in April, 2009. What is interesting in this film is the texts which run at the bottom of the screen all through the film. The texts alternately tell us about gossip news on Thai stars/celebrities and old news about the important political events in Thailand since 1932, including some events which many Thai people don't want to talk about. Women in Democracy became one of the bravest Thai films made that year. Arthawut made a sequel to this film called I Remember (2011, 90 min), which is partly about the massacre in Bangkok on May 19, 2010, and also about his trip to a beach with his close friends and other things he wants to remember from the year before. One distinctive quality found in some of Arthawut's films is the extreme slowness, or scenes which let us observe something for a long time, while the story doesn't move forward. These scenes can be found in I Remember, Space (2009, 5 min), Scar (2010, 12 min), and Time to Tear (2011, 10 min). Arthawut's masterpiece is Time to Be... (2009, 12 min), in which we see a woman carrying a cremation urn, while the texts on the screen tell us about a man who loses his old father. The film is very intriguing and provokes the audience to interpret what the film really means.
5. Chaloemkiat Saeyong
Some may say that Chaloemkiat's films are weird and look like they were made by someone who doesn't know how to make films. Some may also say that Chaloemkiat's films are inferior, because his films are full of texts on the screen, instead of telling stories by the editing of scenes. But what is interesting is that Chaloemkiat's films actually play with texts and the limits of texts in the cinematic medium. Chaloemkiat's texts are both a narrator and interruptor who pulls the audience away from the narrative. In Peru Time (2008, 18 min), which shows us the images of a rice farm in several long static takes, we can see a lot of texts on the screen, but none of them is readable. In Politically Lawyer and Narrative Cinema (2009, 27 min), the texts play many roles. In some scenes, we see a university toilet, but the texts say, "This is an airport toilet." In another scene, we see university students, but the texts say, "These are airhostesses." The texts also tell us about a highly convoluted murder mystery. Sometimes we see almost nothing on the screen, except long texts from the dialogue of the characters. Sometimes the texts appear at the bottom of the screen as subtitles, while the characters directly comment on the subtitles we see. In Politically Lawyer and Narrative Cinema, the texts play the role of narrator, telling us that we should regard the image of a classroom as the image of an airport, and parody themselves at the same time, such as in the scene in which the texts say, "This is a pirate DVD." In Chay, Gayvah-rar 'n' the Machupicchu (2010, 21 min), the texts create some stories which may not be connected to the images we see. The texts and the images in this film are like the superimposition of images of different roads, which sometimes conjoin each other, and stimulate the viewers to reinterpret the images in the film. Chaloemkiat's use of texts is pushed to the limit in History in the Air (2009, 58 min), which shows that texts are a problem which needs to be eliminated. In a way, we can say that texts in Chaloemkiat's films play the role of a narrator in films which don't care much about telling stories, because these films regard stories as a problem obstructing the use of images.
Most of Chaloemkiat's films are perplexing, especially Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory (2010, 31 min). Chaloemkiat uses extreme darkness as the core of this film. In a scene in this film, we see two women use flashlights to look at a photo shown in the darkness in the Museum of Light. This scene is replayed a few times, with a slight difference each time it is replayed. Most of his films also concern politics, but hide the political implications in an interesting way. His films have the qualities of experimental films, films made by inexperienced film students, and films made by someone who tries to destroy the rules of cinema at the same time. In a place between the cinema of weak storytelling and the cinema of challenging filmmakers, that's where the eccentric films of Chaloemkiat are situated, shouting out his love for the memory of people, moving images in which things barely move, and a mysterious atmosphere which is hard to find elsewhere.
6. Chonlasit Upanigkit (born 1990)
Among numerous film students in Thai universities now, one of the most distinguished film students is Chonlasit, who is going to graduate from Silpakorn University soon. This university has been teaching films for only a few years, but has now created many interesting filmmakers.
While most film students make short films which are not longer than 30 minutes, the three great films of Chonlasit do not conform to this standard. These three films are Distance (2010, 55 min), Night Blind (co-directed with Rasika Prasongtham, 2010, 40 min), and Siam Park City (2011, 45 min), and that makes him comparable to Chookiat Sakveerakul, because when Chookiat was a university student, he also liked to make films which are bigger in production and longer than films made by other Thai film students. What Chookiat did 10-12 years ago did not conform to the norm of Thai film students at that time, but his films have since become examples used in Thai film classrooms, and he has now become one of the most successful Thai mainstream film directors.
As for Chonlasit's films, Distance is about a male friend who is secretly in love with a lesbian friend. The film is full of natural-looking long takes, instead of slick-looking ones. Night Blind is a romantic film about a woman who cannot see well at night. Some cinephiles may like this film less than other films of Chonlasit, but it is the only film of Chonlasit which garnered an award at the 15th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, while his other films lost in the first round of the competition.
Chonlasit shows how sharp-eyed and how talented as a cinematographer he can be in Siam Park City, his experimental documentary. He made this film by walking around some public parks in Bangkok and recording people's activities in the parks from early afternoon until sunset. This film lets us observe some kinds of "cultures" inherent in the park users, and his skill at cinematography and editing make the film really riveting. However, some teachers, directors, and mainstream film viewers always accuse his films of being too slow.
Chonlasit's main strength is the fact that he can tell stories about people who are close to him very convincingly. Most of his films rely on the improvisation of the actors, most of whom are his friends. That's why he can convey the feelings and emotions in his films in such a natural way that other romantic Thai films have rarely done before. His films are very touching because of the emotional authenticity in them.
As of now, March 2012, Chonlasit is in the process of making a thesis feature film called W. He hasn't finished making it yet due to some unpredictable problems concerning a main actor. This is the first film in which he doesn't use people close to him as the main actor. The film will be 162 minutes long, and Chonlasit says that the inspiration for this film comes from The Love of Siam (Chookiat Sakveerakul, 2007, 150 min) and films by So Yong Kim. W is about the lives of two female students and the confusion inside their heads while they are studying in the Faculty of Sport Sciences, which has never been represented in Thai films about teenagers before. W is the most ambitious project by Chonlasit, and it forces him to work much harder than his college friends. He also made Call (20 min) as a workshop for the two main actors in W.
Apart from making his own films, Chonlasit also works as a cinematographer, editor, sound mixer and colorist for other directors' short films, music videos, or commercials. He works frequently for Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit. Chonlasit is a filmmaker to watch right now. He has a lot of potential to be a big figure in the Thai mainstream film industry in the future.
7. Chulayarnnon Siriphol (born 1986)
We can divide Chulayarnnon's films into two groups: earlier and later films. His earlier films include Hua-Lam-Pong (2004, 12 min), which he made while he was studying in a high school and which made him famous, Golden Sand House (2005, 19 min), and Sleeping Beauty (2006, 40 min). In Hua-Lam-Pong, Chulayarnnon observes an old man who likes to take a picture of himself at Hualampong terminal station. In Golden Sand House, he remade a soap opera TV series by casting his family members and his maid as the actors and using his house as the location. A middle-aged maid from Myanmar took on the role of a beautiful heroine. Chulayarnnon's father took on the role of an aristocratic handsome hero. The film focuses on the shyness these unlikely actors feel in front of the camera and also on their unnatural acting. The viewers have to figure out by themselves who plays which role in this film. Sleeping Beauty is like the meeting place between Hua-Lam-Pong and Golden Sand House, because in Sleeping Beauty, Chulayarnnon secretly recorded the daily activities of his family members, including the time when they were asleep, and lets the viewers create a story by themselves. These earlier films of Chulayarnnon focus on mundane activities of people. The scenes in these films are a mix between secretly-recorded scenes and partially-staged scenes. These observational scenes may not look special, but the clues in the titles of the films encourage the viewers to imagine a story by themselves out of the images from the films.
After that, Chulayarnnon's films become more experimental. The later period of his films starts from Ghost Orb (2007, 2 min), which is semi-video art capturing reflections from camera. Then he made Danger (Director's Cut) (2008, 14 min), one of his bravest and most sarcastic films. This film reflects his uncomfortableness with film education in Thailand. He made this film by combining Danger, his thesis film, with his teachers' harsh commentaries on Danger. In every scene of Danger (Director's Cut), the viewers can simultaneously watch Danger and read the texts from the teachers' commentaries on the scene. Danger (Director's Cut) shows us both how predictable mainstream films are and how narrow-minded film education in Thailand is, because it does not allow students to be really creative. The film ends with the photo of Chulayarnnon in student uniform slowly burning.
Chulayarnnon's later films become more political, too. Karaoke: Think Kindly (2009, 5 min) satirizes the conflicts between the red shirts and the yellow shirts in Thailand in a rather innocent way. However, in Thai Contemporary Politics Quiz (2010, 8 min), Chulayarnnon became more cunning in dealing with political topics, because this film comes in the form of a quiz in PowerPoint style. The film asks the viewers many questions about contemporary Thai politics, but doesn't gives us any answers. After that, Chulayarnnon made A Brief History of Memory (2010, 14 min), which is an extremely powerful and brave documentary. Instead of attacking the red shirts, the yellow shirts, and the colorful shirts, this film focuses on an interview with a woman in Nang Lerng community in Bangkok. This woman lost her son during the red shirt crackdown in April 2009, because her son, who tried to protect his own community, was shot by a red shirt supporter. In this film, we see black-and-white images of Nang Lerng community while mysterious round objects keep appearing on the screen. These mysterious objects act as if they are spirits floating in the air of the community. We also hear the sad voice of the mother, who doesn't blame any sides of the political conflicts. It is just the voice of a woman who lost her son forever.
In conclusion, what is great in Chulayarnnon's films include his experiments on images, the space of imagination that he gives to the viewers, and the sharp criticism on some topics. These qualities make him a real director to watch. His website is here: http://www.chulayarnnon.com/ .
8. Ing K
In the 1990s, many people knew Ing K, or Samanrat Kanjanavanit, as a serious environmental activist, because she was involved in protesting against the shooting of The Beach (Danny Boyle, 2000) at Maya Bay, and because she made documentaries against big businesses, such as Thailand for Sale (1991), Green Menace: The Untold Story of Golf (1993, 58 min) and Casino Cambodia (1994). There was also another important event happening in her life then: the banning of her first feature film My Teacher Eats Biscuits (1997, 120 min) when it was going to be shown in the First Bangkok Film Festival in 1998. The reasons for the banning included insult to Buddhism, because this cult film has such characters as the sect leader, played by Ing K herself, and because the film questions some Buddhist teachings via such scenes as one in which a monk is having sex with a corpse and a senior monk deems this act righteous because it is a male corpse! My Teacher Eats Biscuits was abruptly pulled out of the Festival after a mysterious fax had been sent to the police complaining about this film.
After that incident, Ing K stopped making films for about ten years. During that period, she continued doing her other activities as an independent artist, painter, and writer. She also operates Kathmandu Gallery together with Manit Sriwanichpoom, her partner who is a famous photographer and one of the directors of an experimental political film called Land of Laugh (1992, 13 min). And then she decided to make a film again. She collaborated with Manit and Kraisak Choonhavan, a Thai politician, to make a documentary called Citizen Juling (2008, 222 min), which explores the myths and discourses about violence in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand. The film focuses on the incident in which some villagers abducted Juling Pongkunmul, a teacher who came from Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand, and held her hostage until some people beat her severely. This incident became big news, and Juling died after almost eight months in a coma. The film was shown in film festivals both inside and outside Thailand. What is interesting in the film is the way Ing uses the camera to pose some serious questions, and shows us some myths about "the otherness" in Thai society. The film explores the feelings and emotions of people both in the southernmost and the northernmost parts of Thailand, including people who were close to Juling.
Ing's latest film is Shakespeare Must Die (2012, 170 min), which tells two overlapping stories. One is about the tyrant of a fictional country and his wife. The other is about a theatre which stages the play Macbeth to convey some political messages (4). What is interesting about this film is whether it will deal with any important institutions in Thailand again or not, because My Teacher Eats Biscuits deals with beliefs and 'religious' institution, and Citizen Juling deals with the concept of 'nation'. So it is highly likely that Shakespeare Must Die also deals with some important things in Thailand, too.
While some Thai films try to reflect the political conflicts in Thailand which are getting more and more dangerous, Ing's films stand out from many other Thai political films because they don't focus on flowery techniques or hidden symbols. Her films talk to us straightforwardly, openly, and fiercely. After tackling religions with biting humor in My Teacher Eats Biscuits and posing some controversial questions in Citizen Juling, Ing caused some controversy again when Shakespeare Must Die was banned by the Culture Ministry's National Film Board on April 3, 2012, on the grounds that the film may disrupt the unity of Thailand. Like its predecessors Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006) and Insects in the Backyard (Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, 2010) which were also banned in Thailand, Shakespeare Must Die unintentionally reminds us of what Nicole Brenez said in Cinespect.com, "Censorship is the rewarding testimony that a film is important. For an activist filmmaker, it's a label of quality."(5)
9. Jakrawal Nilthamrong
Jakrawal Nilthamrong holds a MFA in art and technology studies from Chicago Art Institute. His works have the qualities of narrative short films, experimental films, and video art at the same time. He adapts some concepts of Buddhism to fit his films and video works. Most of the characters in his works can be represented as humans who are still in 'karma' and 'cycle of life', such as the characters in Man and Gravity (2009, short), and Immortal Woman (2010, short). Moreover, he is also interested in concepts of 'past and future' and 'reincarnation', which can be found in A Voyage of Foreteller (2007, 8 min), and Patterns of Transcendence (2006, 49 min). His debut feature Unreal Forest (2010, 70 min) was screened in International Film Festival Rotterdam.
10. Korn Kanogkekarin
Korn made great films which no one understands. The power of his films come from the juxtaposition of scenes which are not connected to each other, or come from scenes which need some explanation, but the explanation will never be given. Popular (2009, 16 min) shows us a transvestite dissecting a frog and smoking a cigarette in split screens, but it doesn't tell us why the director wants us to see it. Are You Ready? (2010, 6 min) shows us the back of a woman's head, Korn lying impatiently on green grass, and someone standing naked on a flush toilet. Good Day of Kornly (2010, 4 min) presents Korn trying to mow the lawn by using an axe. Korn's masterpiece is Why Do You Jump? (2011, 19 min), which shows someone surfing TV channels, Korn dancing weirdly in his room, Korn shaking his hair in slow motion for a long time while the sound of someone making love is heard, and images of the body of Korn bisected by some visual effects and manipulated into something which looks like a sculpture of a pagan goddess. The last part of this film also features a very appropriate use of electronic music, because the manipulated images of Korn keep changing in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the soundtrack. No one may understand Why Do You Jump?, including Korn himself, but this film is undeniably very powerful.
In a way, Korn can also be called the Thai Candy Darling, because he also acts in some great films by other Thai directors, and his queer charm is the main reason why those films become memorable. His queer charm can be appreciated in Essence de Femme (Chama Lekpla, 2011, 15 min), in which he plays a naked transvestite trying to cook some food, and In Train (Boripat Plaikeaw, 2011, 84 min), which is a documentary about Korn and his gay friends going on vacation. In In Train, Korn carries an upper torso of a naked male mannequin with him all through the trip, not caring any more what other people may think of him.
11. Manussak Dokmai
Manussak Dokmai is one of the best essayistic filmmakers in Thailand. Many of his films present his social or political ideas and are the hybrid between documentary, fiction, and experimental films. His most famous film is Don't Forget Me (2003, 10 min) (6), which combines footage from the massacre on October 6, 1976, at Thammasat University, with the narration from a documentary about Mlabri people. The combination result is as haunting as Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955). Other great essayistic films of his include Dialogue (2001, 7 min), Way of Thingking 1: Laotian Soldiers Would Like to Change Thai People's Ideas (2002, 8 min), Dream Watch for Anyone Who Is Believed to Violate Good Morality (2007, 14 min), and Sport News: Those Bastards Are Leaving and Will Be Replaced by Evil Spirits (2008, 3 min).
Manussak is an ultra-low budget filmmaker. He used to live with only 13 baht (0.42 US dollar) a day and suffered a lot from hunger at that time. He made Dialogue, Gay Megadance (2001, 6 min), The Devil Rules Metropolis (2001, 13 min), and Moment of Distraction (2001, 8 min) with the budget of 80 baht (2.60 US dollars) each and with a camera borrowed from someone. The ultra-low budget of his films mean they don't have big production values, but are made in a simple style that most filmmakers don't do. For example, Gay Megadance (2001) consists of a static shot of a man looking at the camera, then he bows down out of the frame, revealing a poster of a bare-chested Brue Lee behind him, and then he raises his head, and we see some white stain on his mouth. Dialogue (2001) consists of a static shot of two people talking, though we don't see the faces of these two. The Truth about Mr. Dome Sukvong: Episode -- Invisible Threat (2005, 13 min) simply interviews Dome Sukvong, the director of Thai Film Archive. There are nothing to see in this film except Dome's face while he is talking. But what makes this film special is the love and respect Manussak has for Dome. This love is in the air of the film. Dome appears again in one of the best scenes of Manussak's films. It is the scene near the end of Dream Watch for Anyone Who Is Believed to Violate Good Morality, in which we see Dome waking up at his table, and we hear him talking about his strange dream about Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. It is hard to describe why this scene is special. Let's just say there's something unexplainably touching in this scene.
12. Michael Shaowanasai (born 1964)
Michael is a multidisciplinary artist who has made many films dealing with gay issues, such as KKK (1996, 6 min), in which he plays a rent boy; EXOTIC 101 (1997, 7 min), in which he teaches the audience how to be a male go-go dancer; and in the trilogy comprising The Adventure of Iron Pussy, Episode I (1997, 8 min), The Adventure of Iron Pussy II: Bunzai Chaiyo (1999, 22 min), and The Adventure of Iron Pussy III: To Be or Not to Be (2000, 30 min). In this trilogy, he plays a man who can transform into a superhero after he has put on some makeup and dressed himself up as a woman. The superhero's main mission is to save the male go-go dancers in a red light district in Bangkok. He reprises this role again in the musical feature film The Adventure of Iron Pussy (co-directed with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2003, 85 min), but the character's mission is changed and the character's gender becomes even more ambiguous.
Most of Michael's films are very hilarious, daring, outrageous, provocative, and concerned with some social or cultural issues. His masterpiece is Observation of the Monument (2008, 5 min), in which he plays a monument of a high-class lady where people go to pay respect. The film is extremely thought-provoking. He also performs a woman's role in Playgirl (2005), Long Night Short Film (2008, 8 min), and Le Cirque de l'homme (2008, 18 min), and it shows that his talent as an actor is as enormous as his talent as a director. In Playgirl, he plays two female celebrities, one tries to evade paparazzi, the other enjoys being followed by them. This film poses some interesting questions about our gossip-obsessed culture. In Long Night Short Film, he plays a lonely woman who resorts to masturbation, while in Le Cirque de l'homme, he shows us the cycle of life--being born, getting old, getting sick, and dying--in his particularly queer style. For example, he shows the state of getting old by wearing a dress which looks like a Mondrian painting and walking in a market. His dress looks out of place and may emphasize that the time when the character fit in has passed.
Michael plays a straight man, too. In Eastern Wind (1997, 9 min), he plays an Asian artist who becomes internationally famous because he has followed the rules to become famous, such as speaking a language that westerners don't understand, and having a curator as a wife. Though Michael performs in most of his films, there may be several films which he only directs, such as Shopping (2001), which shows three women walking back and forth in a market, smiling and observing the market. One of them wears a neck brace. Both Shopping and Playgirl were commissioned to be shown at certain high-class shopping centers in Bangkok. What is interesting is that both films seem to subtly criticize and parody the customers of those shopping centers, which are the target audience of the videos.
13. Napat Treepalawisetkun (born 1990)
What makes Napat famous since he was a high school student is the John Waters' spirit in his films and Nene, a ferocious actor who appears in many of his films and becomes his Divine. Napat made some crazy, bloody, cult films in the early phase of his filmmaking, including A Series of Salinee Event (2007, 14 min), Lamyong (2007, 6 min), His Blood Is Not Red! (2008, 5 min), Vogue (2008, 10 min), Rabid in Habitat (co-directed with Bongkodpass Pinsawaat, 2009, 15 min), and I Will Rape You With This Scissors (2008, 13 min), which is made to satirize the censorship of Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006). These cult films by Napat inspire other young filmmakers to make cult films, too. However, there is also a calmer side of Napat, which first revealed itself in The Dress (2008, 3 min), a minimalistic horror film. After making some cult films, he began making films which are more contemplative and explore the deeper side of his characters, including Seduction Lullaby (2009, 23 min), which is influenced by Michael Hanake. He always experiments with the boundaries and the styles of his films. The constant change and the ongoing development of his filmmaking styles are amongst of the most notable things about Napat. His styles have kept on evolving since 2007, and it can be said that he has his own particular filmmaking style now.
Almost all of Napat's films deal with the relationship between mother and daughter, which in a way reflects his intense feelings for his own family, especially in his later films in which his mother, Supatra Treepalawisetkun, is the main actress. Napat once said that family is the answer to every question, because everybody forms his own identity out of his own family, and the films he made are the products of the family environment which he has been living in all his life. Many characters in Napat's films ask some questions about family or are adversely affected by family conditions. These characters include the mother who hates chicken skin in I Will Rape You With This Scissors, a boy who is so mentally ill that his mother, love and sex cannot heal him in Seduction Lullaby, the mother who tries to feed lotus flowers to her paraplegic son and tries to teach him stick and sword fighting in It's Hard to Say How I Love You, Captain Hook (2009, 10 min), and the mother who was killed during the political massacre in May 2010 and comes back to haunt her two daughters in We Will Forget It Again (2010, 9 min).
His latest film is The Womb in Aquarium (2010, 23 min), which is a part of a big project called Bua: A Fantasy Journey of Absurd Woman in Surrealist World to the End of the Humanity, which he has been planning for a few years. The Womb in Aquarium shows that Napat has now crossed into a new area. The fact that this is a sci-fi film allows Napat to create a new concept of family. This film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. People in this film must ask for permission from the government if they want to "breed". The film focuses on three sisters, one of whom wants to have a child, which means she wants to have "a relationship between mother and child". But this desire leads to the horrifying ending. Napat is now making his thesis film, and it is likely that it will be a part of the Bua project, too.
14. Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (born 1984)
One of the most interesting things about Nawapol is the fact that he can work both for arthouse films and for mainstream film industry. He has been making independent films for eight years, and he has also written a few scripts for Thai mainstream film studios such as GTH, including the scripts for Bangkok Traffic Love Story (Adisorn Trisirikasem, 2009) and Top Secret (Songyos Sugmakanan, 2011). Nawapol can work very well for both worlds. He understands the market conditions when he works for the studios, but he uses the most of his creative power when he works independently.
While Nawapol straddles the worlds of independent and mainstream films, his independent films straddle the worlds of fiction and documentary. He first gained wide recognition with See (2006, 9 min), which consists of a long take portraying an old main cooking. A text appears on the screen later, saying that this old man is Nawapol's father. He made this film as an indirect way to reconcile with his own father.
Français (2009, 30 min) is another film which employs some documentary techniques. It is about a blind university student who has to take an exam on the next day, but the university hasn't given her the Braille textbooks as planned. The camera follows the heroine and observes her like in a documentary, including the scene in which she walks with difficulty and the scenes in her dormitory. What is special about this film includes its nonjudgmental and objective attitudes towards disabled persons, and the film seems to ask the audience some questions without giving the answers.
Nawapol's combination between fiction and documentary reaches its peak in I Believe That Over 1 Million People Hate Maythawee (2010, 30 min). The film is about Maythawee, a good-looking high school student who becomes the object of her friends' hatred in Facebook. The camera in this film closely follows Maythawee, and many scenes are done by a hand-held camera, resulting in a film which looks creepily real. Nawapol promoted this made-for-TV film by using interactive methods. He created a Facebook account of Maythawee, and a Facebook fan page of " I Believe That Over 1 Million People Hate Maythawee", which made some viewers believe that the film was a documentary and Maythawee really existed. The film became a phenomenon because of this clever publicity.
Another notable thing about Nawapol's films is the deadpan humor and the static camera, which may remind the viewers of films by Roy Andersson and Tsai Ming-liang. His first deadpan comedy is Yuriem est le mari d'un étrangère (2006, 30 mins), which is a satire on traditions of art films, including the slowness, the unnatural dialogue, and the unpredictable behaviors of the characters. After Yuriem est le mari d'un étrangère, other Thai directors also make some satires on art films, for example, Still (Palakorn Kleungfak, 2009) and M.A.M.A. (Katon Thammavijitdej, Chonlasit Upanigkit, Jarupat Lor-Isaratrakul, 2010).
Another good example of Nawapol's contemplative deadpan comedy is Penguin (2007, 40 mins), which is about a young couple who wander around a public park in Bangkok at night to find some penguins. The more they walk, the farther they are from their destination. The film's absurd quality may remind the viewers of the play Waiting for Godot or the search for sheep in the novel A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.
Nawapol made Mr.Mee Wanna Go to Egypt (2009, 20 min) for Action On Smoking and Health Foundation Thailand. Though he had to make this film to serve the campaign objective, his style is still evident in it. The film is about two filmmakers who lack the funds to make a short film for anti-smoking campaign, so they try to raise the fund by making a cigarette commercial. The ending of this film is very memorable. It ends with the scene in which the two filmmakers are in the editing room, while the sound of the commercial, saying, "Let's smoke," is repeated for about 30 times.
Nawapol earned R.D. Pestonji Award in the 14th Thai Short Film and Video Festival with Cherie Is Korean-Thai (2010, 19 min). The film is about an actress who is going to play a maid in a TV series, so she tries to research for her role by interviewing two female construction workers and recording their manners and activities in video. The film is full of sarcastic humor, and presents a scathing view on how people exploit one another.
Though Nawapol said that he was not very interested in politics, his films can capture the recent important political moments in Thailand or can respond to them very quickly. On the night of the coup d'état on September 19, 2006, Nawapol chatted with friends via MSN, and all of them were puzzled about what was happening. Then, Nawapol captured these written conversations on his computer screen and turned them into the film Bangkok Tanks (2006, 5 min), which has since become one of the important records of that historical moment.
The Mother Wanna Go to Carrefour (2010, 5 min) is another film in the same vein. After the massacre in Bangkok on May 19, 2010, Nawapol's mother wanted to go to buy some food at the supermarket on the next day. This documentary conveys very well the atmosphere in Bangkok after the curfew, and becomes one of the first Thai films in the post 5/19 era.
Nawapol is now preparing to make Interior, his first feature film, which got the backing for script development from Busan International Film Festival. You can watch some films by Nawapol at http://www.youtube.com/user/nawee4 .