Issue 10: Winter 2012
Part 2 of 'Mysterious Objects From Thailand'
Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa / Chulayarnnon Siriphol / Chayanin Tiangpitayagorn / Jit Phokaew / Kanchat Rangseekansong
This is the second part of an extensive three-part survey of contmeporary Thai alternative cinema. For the first part and introduction, click here.
15. Nontawat Numbenchapol (born 1983)
Nontawat Numbenchapol grew up in Bangkok. He is one of Thaiindie filmmakers. He graduated from Department of Visual Communication Design, Faculty of Fine and Applied Art, Rangsit University. His thesis is a feature documentary film about skateboard called Wierdrosopher World (2005, 88 min). Nontawat co-directed this film with Rthit Punnikul and Preduce Skateboard. After that, he worked as a still photographer for some shorts and feature films including Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. He was also a cinematographer for an online TV program about Thai contemporary art, www.artscenetv.net, produced by Top Changtrakul, an artist. His own short films include Bangkok Noise (2006, 7 min). This film observes the world around the filmmaker. It starts from his room and moves to the world outside and then comes back to the room again. At the end of the film, he finds out that there is no silence in this noisy city, Bangkok. War of Fluorescence (2006, 8 min) is a battle between the filmmaker and tussock moths which are attracted to fluorescent light. Volatilize (2007, 15 min) is about the love cycle of two couples. The actors and actresses in this short film are very famous, such as Teeradanai Suwanahorm (Joke), Manausswee Krittanukun (Liew), Arak Amornsupaasiri (Pae), and Ratchawin Wongviriya (Koy). Gaze and Hear (2010, 10 min), which is his masterpiece, is about a newly invented folklore. This film tells a story about a king, a queen, the Earth Goddess, a mole rat king, etc., but the story is told by voiceover, while what you see is some beautiful and colorful graphic images or some geometric patterns which are not directly connected to the story. The viewers must imagine 'the pictures of the characters' by themselves. Moreover, near the end of the film, the viewers must also imagine 'the story', too, because the voiceover is interrupted for a few minutes. That means the story that we are told is missing a part. Apart from being one of the most interesting Thai experimental films ever made, Gaze and Hear may carry some political meanings, too.
Nontawat also made Empire of Mind (2009, 90 min), which is a documentary about his family. His current project is supported by ANA (Art Network Asia), and the project is about the Thailand-Cambodia border conflict. He also made a video installation called Aurora, which was installed at Film on the Rocks Festival, Yao Noi Island, Phuket, in early 2012. According to his interview at Dazeddigital.com, Aurora is partly inspired by the death of his grandmother and the massacre in Bangkok on May 19, 2010 (7).
16. Panu Aree (born 1973)
Panu Aree is one of the foremost documentary filmmakers in Thailand. He made Once Upon a Time (2000), which is about memory concerning an old amusement park in Bangkok, after he had been inspired by Thirdworld (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 1997) (8), which made him realize how powerful a film can be when the sound and the image do not fully correspond to each other. In Once Upon a Time, we hear voiceovers of many people recounting the times they used to spend at that amusement park, but we don't see the faces of those people. What we see is some 8mm film clips of Panu's family, their home movies, recording the time they spent in that park many years ago. The film is half-documentary, half-experimental, and this technique of combining interviewing sound with other images is employed again in Magic Water (2001), his masterpiece, and in O.B.L. (co-directed with Kong Rithdee and Kaweenipon Ketprasit, 2011, 23 min) (9). In Magic Water, we hear voices from a conversation about black magic, but we never see the faces of the speakers. We only see images of skyscrapers in Bangkok at night, which are shot through a window of a moving car. The contrast between the voice of ancient beliefs and the images of the modern high-tech world we live in is striking, and lends the film its strange power. In O.B.L., which is about the opinions of some Thai Muslims towards Osama Bin Laden, the most impressive scene in the film is the long scene in which we hear the voices of the interviewees, but we see the images of a canal which runs through a Muslim community.
Other documentaries of Panu are not as experimental as Once Upon a Time and Magic Water, but they are still very good documentaries. He made Destiny (2000, 18 min), which is about the lives of his friends, and Parallel (2002, 13 min), which is about the life of a janitress. He has made four great documentaries about Thai Muslims, including In Between (2006, 43 min), which is about the lives and opinions of four Thai Muslim men; The Convert (co-directed with Kong Rithdee and Kaweenipon Ketprasit, 2008, 83 min), which deals with a Buddhist woman who is converted into Islam after her husband; Baby Arabia (co-directed with Kong Rithdee and Kaweenipon Ketprasit, 2010, 80 min), which is about one of the oldest Thai-Muslim bands specializing in Arab-Malay music; and O.B.L.. These four films help a lot in eradicating any prejudice the viewers might have towards the Muslim minorities in Thailand. These documentaries show us many aspects in their lives, the discriminations they have suffered from, and how each one of them is different from one another and should not be under any kind of generalization. What is also praiseworthy is that the filmmakers don't try to narrow the topics of their documentaries into religious themes only. In The Convert, we find out that the converted woman does not have as much trouble with the religious conversion as with the economic problems. Panu may not make experimental films like before, but he still makes films which are truly humanistic.
17. Phaisit Phanphruksachat (born 1969)
Many people know Phaisit as one of the most important soundmen in Thai independent film industry. He worked with many great directors, including Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, Sivaroj Kongsakul, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. His conversation with Apichatpong while they were traveling together on an island is presented in the film Thirdworld (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 1998, 17 min).
Apart from working together with Apichatpong in many films, Phaisit also makes his own films (or videos, as he prefers to call them), and his styles and methods are very interesting. Many scenes in Phaisit's films originate from scenes in our daily lives. He captures some images from the real world, and then juxtaposes these images in the film without embellishment. Many images in his films come from casual video recording, secretly recorded footage in long shot, or a swift pan of the camera in front of something. There are also some images which Phaisit deliberately shot according to the plan, but many of these images are images of empty, dilapidated buildings, junkyards, pools of black water, food markets, dirty stains, and any unpleasant images which we may see every day but haven't paid attention to. All of these images gain new meanings in Phaisit's films, and he doesn't even need to narrate a coherent story to support these meanings. He doesn't have to create an expensive set or scene in his films. What he does is tell one or two actors to walk into some real places and respond to the situations. This is because the main thing in Phaisit's films is the imagination of the viewers. In Phaisit's films, ordinary images in our lives become images in a story narrated by our own imagination, using the title of each film as a clue.
Phaisit made The Cruelty and the Soy-Sauce Man (2000, 97 min) by following his best friend and videotaping him like making an informal home video. Some scenes in the film are staged, but most of the scenes are real. These scenes may seem meaningless at first, but after a while, they unintentionally become like jigsaws in the beautiful picture of life of the main character.
Phaisit's masterpiece is Sat Wibak Nak Loke (Burden of the Beast or Tough Creature Who Burdens the Earth) (2004), which tells the story of a man (Pleo Sirisuwan) who tries to escape from a satellite network and security cameras which try to detect his whereabouts. He must hide in some empty trains which can protect him from the satellite signals in the sky. This man is a filmmaker or used to be one. He may have been cheated three months ago or maybe not. There is an alien who interviews him about his situation, or maybe he is crazy and dreaming it all up by himself. After that, he tries to escape from the satellite signals by going upcountry and tries to find his mother.
Phaisit can also make a period film with his shoestring budget. It's called Manus Chanyong's One Night at Talaenggaeng Road (2008, 38 min). The film is adapted from a short story written by Manus Chanyong, and it is about a soldier in Thailand 450 years ago who walked along a road in Ayudhya, drinking and thinking about his ex-lover. The soldier thought this might be his last night on earth, because the next day he had to follow his master to assassinate the king. The film tells this story via voiceover, while the images in the film are the images of the road in Ayudhya in present time. The viewers have to visualize the soldier and other characters by themselves. This effective but cheap method in Phaisit's film stands in contrast to such expensive films as The Legend of Suriyothai (Chatrichalerm Yukol, 2001, 185 min), which partly tells the same story.
Most of Phaisit's films neither require him to shoot much new footage nor rely on professional actors. Scenes in his films come from the recording of real people, pedestrians on the streets, his friends and family. What he does is carry a camera around, capturing images of real things that he encounters, and then puts these images together with imagination, transforming these mundane images into exciting events in weird stories. The clues in the titles of the films and the careful juxtaposition of the images turn ordinary places we see on the screen into a land of wonder. The images of children in Escape from Popraya 2526 (2007, 9 min), the images of geese in Brothers (co-directed with Jiraporn Jaipang, 2007, 10 min), the images of people drinking in The Cruelty and the Soy-Sauce Man, the images of rural houses in Burden of the Beast, the images of chopping boards in Happy Existentialism (6 min), and the images of cloudy sky in Fake Field (18 min) may be mundane images, but when they are juxtaposed with Phaisit's particular images of dirty stains, buildings in ruins, and junkyards, and when they are gazed at seriously in his films, these mundane images are transformed in the viewers' heads into a magical world hidden under the corners, or a twilight zone under an expressway, or a secret door under the chopping board, or a door to another dimension under a pool of black water. The gazing in Phaisit's films transforms our ordinary world into a world of bizarreness.
If there's anything most resembling Phaisit's films, it is our childhood activity in which we imagine our ordinary lives as lives full of exciting adventures. Phaisit's films use the same method, and he also uses pure images in his films to play with some old traditions, such as when he uses modern electronic music to accompany the images of old traditional pork market in Happy Existentialism, and they fit perfectly. Though Phaisit's films have the innocent quality of a child, this innocence also comes with the sharpness of mind.
18. Phuttiphong Aroonpheng (born 1976)
Phuttiphong graduated in Fine Arts from Silpakorn University and then studied at the Digital Film Academy of New York. Phuttiphong's films have been shown both at international film festivals and art exhibitions. He made many short films, for example, Going to the Sea (2006), Retrospection (2006), Rak por peang (The Most Beautiful Man in the World, 2007), Stranger from the South (2007, 20 min), Our Monument (2008, 10 min), My Image Observe Your Image If It Is Possible to Observe It (2008), and Sukati (A Tale of Heaven, 2010). He said in an interview that he is interested in the meaning of ‘Self' in Buddhism, and in Buddha's saying, "Nothing belongs to us even our own body." That translates into a range of social topics, including the question, "What is the reason that artists put their signatures or copyrights to their works?"(10) The concept of ‘Self' in Buddhism drives him to create the project My Image Observe Your Image If It Is Possible to Observe It (2008, 6 min). In December 2007, while working on his project at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Ireland, he met two video artists: Yuki Okumura (Japan) and Yahui Wang (Taiwan). Conversations with both artists brought him to inquire: Do artists really need their individual identities in their works? If so, what is going to happen if I integrate their identities? He began this work by asking permission from these two artists to duplicate their works (or identities) as well as their styles and techniques; in so doing create a new work. The concept of the work is not to answer the questions, but to emphasize his questioning. A Tale of Heaven (2010, 6 min) is dedicated to his dead father, who wanted his son to scatter his ashes in the woods, but a monk instructed him to scatter his father's remains at sea. By making this film, Phuttiphong was finally able to fulfill his father's last wish. This short film is a part of the feature film A Suspended Moment (2010, 58 min) which is supported by The Nippon Foundation and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
19. Pimpaka Towira
Pimpaka made an experimental film Under Taboo (co-directed with Jerdsak Poolthup, Sirivan Pothai, Sasiwimon Chuangyanyong, 1992, 9 min) under a workshop run by Christoph Yanetzko at the Goethe Institute in Bangkok. Under Taboo is an enigmatic film which tries to use some symbols to talk about some forbidden topics in Thailand, such as sex. Pimpaka worked with the Goethe Institute again and made Mae Nak (1997), which reinterprets a Thai folklore about a female ghost who longs for her husband. Mae Nak is an extremely enigmatic film, full of strange, hallucinating, inexplicable scenes, and may question or explore the status of women in Thai society. This film is worthy to be compared with the works of Maya Deren and Andrei Tarkovsky. After the success of Mae Nak, Pimpaka tried to work with a mainstream film company and made One Night Husband (2003), which is about a woman whose husband disappears on the wedding night. The heroine tries to search for him and is aided by the wife of her husband's brother. Instead of being a formulaic suspense-thriller film, One Night Husband turns out to be a film which can't be easily classified. It is a drama film, but it is not quite similar to many Thai drama films about women's lives and suffering made in the 1970s and the 1980s. It is quite psychological and stranger than those old Thai dramas. One of the most impressive scenes in One Night Husband is the scene in which the two female characters talk to each other for a long time, but we only see their backs, not their faces.
After making One Night Husband and Tune In (2005), which is made to commemorate the anniversary of the tsunami in December 2004, Pimpaka seems to change her focus and has made some great films about social or political issues. Her films are still very interesting, though they are not as strange, enigmatic, surrealistic, or experimental as before. It is as if she has gradually moved from the realm of Tarkovsky/Michelangelo Antonioni (spiritual, enigmatic, psychological) to the realm of Ken Loach/Bertrand Tarvernier (political, humanistic, heartfelt). She made some social problem short films, such as Taxi the Hero (2005), which deals with the prejudice Bangkokians might have towards people from the south of Thailand; The Sea Voyage (2007), which is about the Moken people in the south of Thailand; and My Father (2010), which is about the tragic life of a political protester. One of the most impressive scenes in My Father, is the one in which we gaze at the back of the main character for one and a half minute as he walks towards his destination.
Pimpaka also made a feature documentary called The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong (2007), which deals with a famous female activist who fought against Thaksin Shinawatra, who was the prime minister of Thailand at that time. It is one of very few Thai political feature documentaries, but it suffers a little bit from the fact that Supinya seems to control herself too well in front of the camera, and doesn't reveal much about her feelings and emotions she might have deep down inside. Nevertheless, the film is still very interesting as it has captured one of the most important political moments in Thailand's history--the military coup on September 19, 2006, after which Thailand will never be the same.
After Mae Nak, Pimpaka made a masterpiece again with Terribly Happy (2010), which deals with a Thai soldier working in a religious-conflict zone in the south of Thailand. When he returns home in the northeastern part of Thailand, he finds out that his sweetheart has been married to a rich foreigner. The film is very touching, and is an antidote to some nationalistic films such as White Buffalo (Shinores Khamwandee, 2011), which also deals with the marriages between northeastern Thai women and foreign men. In Terribly Happy, everyone has a reason of his/her own. Everybody hurts, and no one is to blame.
Though the recent social problem films of Pimpaka might look very different from her old experimental films, one thing that is constantly found in her films is some exquisite camera movements. These camera movements abound in Mae Nak and One Night Husband. Sangrangsee (2011), which can be considered the prequel to Terribly Happy, and My Father have some interesting panning shots. There are also some breathtaking shots at the end of The Truth Be Told and at the beginning of Terribly Happy, when the view from the camera gracefully moves from inside a room to outside the window.
20.Pramote Sangsorn (born 1974)
Pramote is an ex-teen heartthrob and ex-singer. He became famous as a filmmaker with Fish Don't Fly (2000, 18 min) and Tsu (2005, 24 min), which is made to commemorate the anniversary of the tsunami in December 2004. In Tsu, we watch a lame boy walking very slowly and calmly along a beach, trying to pitch some flags on the beach for more than 20 minutes. Though Tsu and some of his films are extremely slow, it is hard to say that slowness is the main characteristics of Pramote's films, because many Thai independent or experimental filmmakers make extremely slow films, too. However, it might be possible to say that many films by Pramote tackle some serious issues, for example, Fish Don't Fly deal with sexual violence and incest. Observation of the Monk (2008) presents a scene in which a monk is holding a bowl containing white liquid, which is interpreted by some viewers as semen. Bharramanuh (2008) is a powerful experimental film about power and oppression. The Island of Utopias (2010, 20 min) may be his most controversial film, partly because viewers don't know what this film is trying to say. The film first tells us a story about an old man and an empty building, but it ends unexplainably with the image of His Majesty the King and a monument of the Princess Mother. As for now, Pramote is making a feature film called Tam Raseesalai, which is about a man in northeastern Thailand who believes that his dead eldest son is reincarnated as a water lizard.
21.Prap Boonpan (born 1981)
Prap Boonpan is undoubtedly one of the most important political filmmakers in Thailand, and he uses some techniques in his films which are not commonly found in other Thai films. His brand of techniques includes presenting long texts directly from textbooks and letting the characters talk about politics for a long time. These techniques, which he employs to present his thoughts directly to the viewers, are not considered "cinematic" or "artistic" by some viewers, but other viewers can find these techniques very powerful and useful, and in many cases, feel as if they are slapped in the face by the texts or the dialogues in Prap's films. Though it may look easy to argue for one's political belief by directly presenting texts or dialogues to support one's belief, these techniques are used very rarely in Thai films, partly because any directors who dare to use these techniques must really know about politics, or else the resulting film would look very stupid.
Prap's films which use political texts include Two Worlds in One World (2004, 18 min), which presents texts from some political textbooks to argue against the nationalistic thinking in a feature film called The Siam Renaissance (Surapong Phinijkhar, 2004); and Letter from the Silence (2006, 5 min), which presents two letters, one written by a taxi-driver who committed suicide to protest the military coup in Thailand in 2006, and the other written by some villagers who always suffer from the government's policies, no matter who controls the government.
Prap's searing political dialogues or monologues can be found in The Spectre: 16 Years Later (2006, 30 min), in which two friends talk about hot political topics at that moment; Material Fiction: A Biography of the Amulet (2008, 30 min), in which Prap talks about his dead friend and some political problems his friend might be involved in; The White Short Film/The Candle Light (2009, 20 min), in which two actors rehearse dialogues about political upheavals in Thailand in late 2008 and early 2009; Resistant Poem (2009, 20 min), in which Mainueng G. Guntee, one of the bravest Thai poets, recites his political poems; and The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (2007, 28 min), which is Prap's masterpiece. In The Bangkok Bourgeois Party, a group of middle-class people argue vehemently against a man who thinks differently. Later, the middle-class people murder that man in cold blood, and then the film turns into a silent black screen for about 3-5 minutes before the story continues. Prap made that film in 2007, but the murder in the film foreshadows the real massacre in Bangkok in May 2010.
Lately Prap has turned to record some interesting political events. In Other Nation (2010), he records the die-in protests in Bangkok. In Red Song (2010, 4 min), he records a gathering to mourn the victims of the massacre.
22.Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke (born 1987)
Women and female sexuality are the main focus of many films by Ratchapoom. His female characters break moral rules gleefully and unashamedly. The female characters in Ma vie incomplete et inachevee (2007) voluntarily have sex with their own family members, both young and old. The film comes in the form of a colorful animation with French voiceover. Chutima (2007) is about a young prostitute who sometimes pays for sex and also about her motherhood. Unpronouncable in the Linguistic Imperialism of Yours (2008, 3 min) plays with the boundaries of art and the acceptance of female sexuality in Thai media. Bodily Fluid Is So Revolutionary (2009, 41 min), which is his thesis film and concerns a gay couple, has two very memorable supporting female characters. One is a doctor who openly flirts with her gay patient. The other is a nun who is tormented by her forbidden desire.
Though immoral female characters in other films are made to satisfy male viewers, every female character in Ratchapoom's films is uncompromising. They cross the moral boundaries with their heads held high, though the films may present their scenes in a comedic manner. Their behaviors defy society's attitudes towards women. Defining the roles and the aims of women in patriarchal society seems to be what Ratchapoom is really interested in.
What is interesting in Ratchapoom's films includes his playing with various elements of film, for example, in Bodily Fluid Is So Revolutionary, the characters in the films are annoyed by the fact that they exist in a scratched DVD. Ratchapoom's films like to make the viewers aware that they are watching a film. Sometimes the editing is intentionally not smooth. Sometimes the characters perform some weird activities without any reasons and without any connections to the story. Sometimes a scene is inserted into the middle of the film without any explanation. Memorable scenes in Bodily Fluid Is So Revolutionary include the scene in which the camera watches a character through a glass which is being filled with water, and a scene in which pictures on the wall can move by themselves without any reasons.
The emphasis on the fact that you are watching a movie, the disorientation of elements in his films, and the uncompromising quality of his stories all contribute to create another layer in his films. There seems to be the main story and the second layer of story wrapping around the main one, and that means when you are watching Ratchapoom's films, you may have to pay attention to both the story and 'the role' of story.
23. Sasithorn Ariyavicha
Sasithorn has been making experimental films since the early 1990s. My First Film (1991, 5 min) shows us the inspiration she may get from other filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard. Drifter (1993, 8 min) shows us the views in and around a ferry boat on the Atlantic Ocean. It is as captivating as the last scene of News From Home (Chantal Akerman, 1976). Winter Remains (2002, 19 min) is a haunting, hypnotic film showing some landscapes in the snow. It should be screened together with Suburbs of Emptiness (Thomas Koener, 2003). After that came her masterpiece: Birth of the Seanéma (2004, 70 min).
Birth of the Seanéma is a black-and-white, silent film. Shadowy images of Bangkok, the sea, and other things slowly appear in this film, but they seem to tell no story by themselves. Many images in this film don't have obvious connections to the images which come before or after them. There are also strange letters bubbling up on the screen from time to time. These letters belong to a nonexistent language, but the English subtitles translate what they mean, and they seem to try to tell fragments of a story which may correspond a bit to the gloomy images.
Undoubtedly, the gloomy images in this film make some viewers feel very bored and puzzled, especially the viewers who want to watch a film which tells a story, which has the beginning, the conflicts, and the full resolution of the conflicts, and presents images according to the story. Birth of the Seanéma is the total opposite of mainstream films, because it realizes the true potential of cinema. It reveals to us the deeper dimension of moving images, how exquisite images can be when they are not enslaved by narrative, and how we can be surprised by new feelings and emotions when we experience these liberating and liberated images. Birth of the Seanéma is a cure for those who are too accustomed to mainstream films, because this film ignores or forgets the rules of narrative, and pays attention to feelings and emotions which arise from 'the gaze'. Birth of the Seanéma shows us the power of cinema as an art form, and shows us that cinema is not inferior to any other art forms at all. The moving images in Birth of the Seanéma have free hands and legs, because they are not bound by the story, and they also have a heart, because they are really alive.
Birth of the Seanéma is uncompromising. It lets the viewers use their own imagination, and doesn't try to please the mainstream audience at all. But that means it doesn't look down on its audience, because in many cases, when the filmmakers start to worry about the audience, in a way they kind of look down on the audience, assuming beforehand that the audience will never understand the filmmakers if the filmmakers do what they really want to do. To be loyal to yourself and let the viewers judge your films by themselves should be the most important thing for filmmakers. Birth of the Seanéma is a perfect example of that.
Unfortunately, Sasithorn hasn't made a new film yet after Birth of the Seanéma, but we are still hoping to see a new film by her soon.
24. Sompot Chidgasornpongse (born 1980)
Sompot Chidgasornpongse grew up in Samutprakarn, a province near Bangkok. In 2001, he co-wrote with Panu Trivej a critically acclaimed play You're Gorgeous, Dear and won the Sod-Sai Award for Best Play and Best Script. After graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Interior Architecture and receiving Best Thesis Award from Chulalongkorn University, he began working in both the local and international film industry. He worked as an assistant director in many shorts and feature films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. His personal shorts were also shown in many film festivals. He recently graduated from a MFA Film/Video program at California Institute of the Arts.
After making Auad Dee (2003, 10 min), Sompot first gained international recognition with To Infinity and Beyond (2004, 11 min), which was shown in the International Film Festival Rotterdam. In this film, we see people look up at the sky outside in a field. Sompot initially doesn't reveal what they are looking at. He also leaves out the sound at first. A text tells the story of Laika, the dog that was shot into space by the Russians in the 1950s. In the second chapter, the images are effectively repeated. Then there is sound, and we learn what the villagers are looking at. They are looking at hand-made rockets which the villagers shoot to the sky to beg for the rain. This tradition of rocket shooting in northeastern Thailand is called "Boon Bung Fai". This film explores the juxtaposition between simple secretive documented footage and fictional narratives, silence and sound, folk tale and modern-day news reporting, as well as relationships between man and nature, earth and sky, dream and reality, east and west, and most importantly, the past and the present that will lead us to the future.
In Bangkok in the Evening (2005,16 min), Sompot shows us that though Bangkok is the city where everything is moving and changing fast, where all activities happen concurrently and continuously, there's still a time, in the evening, when people seem to stop to pay respect to the National Anthem in public space. Bangkok in the Evening was shot in different angles on various locations around Bangkok, only 40 seconds a day, using 6 cameramen. This 16-minute film has no story, but the meanings are there for the viewers to explore. Almost at the end of the film, there is a scene of Bangkok landscape with construction of buildings and a temple. This film is playing with space and time and also making a question on the conservativeness and the modernity of Thailand. Bangkok in the Evening is also one of a few films which deal with the Thai National Anthem or use it in an interesting way. Other films dealing mainly or partly with this Anthem include 8:00 AM. (Kajitkwan Kitvisala, 1996, 2 min), National Anthem (Chai Chaiyachit, 2008, 27 min), 6 to 6 (Aditya Assarat, 2010, 20 min), 6PM (Sinjai Piraisangjun, Palakorn Jiamtiranat, 2011, 20 min), Before the Sabotage (Viroj Suttisima, 2011, 8 min), and Planking (Chulayarnnon Siriphol, 2011).
Now, Sompot is currently working on his first feature film Are We There Yet?, which is in post-production and expected to be released in 2012. All of this film was shot in trains which went all over Thailand. Sompot tried to observe the people who were traveling on the trains. Like in his other films, he uses simple semi-documentary, semi-experimental style to open another side of the world to the viewers.
25. Suchart Sawasdsri (born 1945)
Suchart is a famous writer and magazine editor. He has been doing literary works for many decades, and started making experimental films in 2006. His films are very personal. He makes his films by using the camera to capture some beauty, and presenting this beauty in films via his personal memories, while storytelling becomes the least important thing in his films. He also calls some of his films "video paintings", which means these films are paintings in which the screen becomes the canvas.
Suchart's films can be divided into several groups. The first group is full of non-narrative images which may reflect some abstract ideas, and may also represent the spirit of youth inside this experienced artist. The films in this group concern his personal life, for example, In the Light of Love (2006, 7 min), Dancing Moon (2006, 5 min), and The Long Silence (2006, 9 min) concern the writers or the literary works that he likes; In the Light of Love and Secret Garden (2006, 4 min) concern his wife. This group of films, which also include After the Rain Fall (2006, 4 min) and Journey to the End of the Night (2006, 6 min), shows us the 'inside' of Suchart.
Another group of films shows us the 'outside' of Suchart, including his political thinking. This group includes The Body Gatherer (2006, 2 min), which presents us the noisy sound of the city and a story outside his personal life; Midsummer Nightmare: Thai-American Movies (2006, 3 min), which asks questions about wars; "Red" At Last (2006, 6 min), which concerns a victim of the massacre on October 6, 1976, at Thammasat University; and Don't Even Think About It (2006, 15 min), which shows us indirectly the pain of people who have been affected for so many years by politics and how they look back at their pain in the past. The calm tone and the historical content in this film make it stand out from other political films made by young Thai filmmakers at that moment, because their films focus more on the contemporary issues and the tone of their films is a bit angrier than Suchart's.
The other group of Suchart's films represents his calmness of mind. This group includes Song of Joy (2006, 5 min), which is a return to an adolescent dream with nostalgia and warm feelings, and the erotic quality of this film can be compared to Dancing Moon; The Giving Tree (2006, 10 min), which is adapted from Shel Silverstein's book, and seems to present Suchart's view on the world, not only on nature conservation, but also on other things; and Turn Turn Turn (2006, 8 min), which is like a conclusion of many films made by Suchart. It seems to say that after all everything is emptiness or is like the cycle of seasons which always return every year.
Suchart also made some films about his friends, for example, The Happy Life of Rong Wongsawan (2010, 8 min), which is about a famous writer; and The Show Must Go On (2010, 12 min), which is partly about Sonthaya Subyen, one of the best film programmers in Thailand.
What is interesting about Suchart's films is the fact that he tries to experiment with the possibility of sound and images like young artists, instead of making films in a way that we would expect from an old man. Though he doesn't succeed in every experiment and some of his films are too personal to understand, they are still very interesting. The fact that he dares to try what he hasn't tried before should encourage young filmmakers to try something new in their films, too, instead of falling into the traps made by themselves.
Another interesting thing about Suchart is that he is one of very few established Thai writers who made a few experimental films. Other famous Thai writers make experimental films, too, but they don't make as many of them as Suchart. These writers include Prabda Yoon, who made The Way of Dust (1999, 15 min), Uthis Heamamool, who made Discourse, Earth (2001, 25 min), and Fah Poonvoralak, who made Cotton, Kites, and Windmills (2008, 8 min).
26. Taiki Sakpisit
To experience Taiki's films is like to cross into a new kind of space and time. Any images we see on the screen and any sound we hear from the films don't convey the usual meanings any more. It is as if these images and sound have traveled from another planet, and they don't need our interpretation. These images and sounds don't communicate under our symbolic order, but they have slipped away from that order and now belong to another world or another dimension. The world of Taiki's films may look like our world, but things in that world don't carry the same meanings. This is the world which exists behind the eyes of the director and in the heads of the viewers.
Viewers can experience an extreme joy from these films by constructing their own stories out of these moving images, which may appear disconnected from one another. Viewers can have great fun trying to find the relationship between some scenes, or the relationship between this sound and that word in the film, etc. At the end of the films, each viewer will have his own fragments of a story inside his head, and the story in each viewer's head may not correspond to what Taiki originally thought at all, but that is the fun and the joy of seeing this kind of films.
Some of Taiki's films, such as Whispering Ghosts (2008, 13 min) (11), Deathless Distance (2009, 13 min), Three Kings (2011, 6 min) and A Ripe Volcano (2011, 15 min), may look a little bit similar in their structures, because these films show us a succession of enigmatic scenes with mysterious sound. The viewers don't know the meanings or the chronological order of these scenes. They can only see shadows and lights, trees swaying in the wind, a garden under night lamps, a bird's-eye shot of people who later vanish, a slow motion scene of a boxing ring, shoes of people, light from headlights, an empty hotel, etc. These images are like words, and they all form a poem for our eyes, a visual poem which is so mysterious, frightening, and exquisite.
27. Tanatchai Bandasak
Tanatchai's experimental films are very hypnotic. Things in his films barely move or move in an extremely slow manner, so slow that you feel that the movement in his films is like the movement of wind in the darkness. To experience his films is to stroll into the night with a calm mind and then walk into a mysterious, cold, and dark pond with faint ripples on the surface.
Endless Rhyme (2008, 27 min) takes us to explore the gentle rhythm of the night by observing three people late at night. We see a man watching a TV series before turning off the TV and going to sleep. We also see a woman who wakes up late at night to lull her baby to sleep. We also spend some time watching this tranquil night. Then morning comes, and the loyal slaves of time must repeat their daily activities again.
In Drift (2008, 3 min), we see a still picture of a policeman's side with a radio antenna protruding out of his shirt pocket. Then this still photo starts disintegrating while the radio signals that we hear become fainter and more unstable, as if someone tries to tune the radio to find the appropriate channel. The still photo gets more blurred, while the desired radio channel is never found. Everything fades away in the end. This is the three minutes of a hopeless search.
In Sweetheart Garden (2009, 22 min), we see a porn DVD shop late at night. We see a couple making love, before the camera zooms into the sex organ and enters a tunnel for the subway train of desire. This is a sexy film which is full of pleasurable gazing and enigmatic scenes. The poetic quality in this film makes the viewers feel as if they are diving into a luscious pond and making love with the images on the screen.
In Air Cowboy (2010, 3 min), we see the superimposition of two images: one is the image of cows on a truck in a rural road in Thailand, the other is the image shot through a windshield of a car focusing on rain at night. These scenes leave the viewers with unexplainable feelings, and the title of the film may make the film even more puzzling.
In the end, any attempts to describe Tanatchai's films are bound to be futile, because the best thing in his films is the experience of gazing, which cannot be described.
28. Teerath Whangvisarn (born 1994)
In this age of digital technology, it is not strange any more to see some high school students making short films. These teenage filmmakers multiply rapidly and form a network for themselves. They established a group called Young Filmmakers of Thailand, which is like a meeting hub for secondary school and high school filmmakers. The earliest members of this group have grown up and become university students now. Teerath is one of the most talented filmmakers in this group. Though Glue Boy (12), his first film, is not widely known, he became famous with MEN & WOMEN (2010, 29 min) and Damned Life of Yoi (2010, 16 min) (13), both of which won big awards in the 14th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.
What is interesting in Teerath's films is how he adapts culture and many things he experiences for the benefits of his films, which always come with some distinct flavors of his own. He likes Japanese films and cartoons like many Thai teenagers, so the manga style and the styles of some famous directors can be detected in his films, especially in MEN & WOMEN, but what makes him stand out from other teenage filmmakers is the fact that he can combine very well the styles of other people with his own restless energy and angry attitudes towards society. In a way, we can briefly describe Teerath's films like this: Damned Life of Yoi and Fuck Education (2010) talk about the education system and domineering parents; Lesbian Fantasy (2011, 21 min) is the result of an attempt to make a film in Wong Kar-wai's style combining with the fantasy of male teenagers; Mizu (2010, 13 min) (14) is a tribute to Kiyoshi Kurosawa; MEAL(s) (2010, 22 min) is a remake of Noriko's Dinner Table (Sion Sono, 2005). Every film bears the marks of both Teerath and people who inspire him.
Apart from making short films, Teerath also made a fake trailer for a nonexistent film called Gay Muen Ho in order to parody a mainstream romantic comedy film called Guan Muen Ho (Hello Stranger, Banjong Pisanthanakun, 2010). The fake trailer is very successful. It became a viral video which got more than 1 million views on Youtube. But he doesn't try to build on this kind of success. He lets his friends make other fake trailers instead of keeping on making them by himself. Anyway, the phenomenon of Gay Muen Ho proves that Teerath is very clever in playing with pop culture. What we can see first in Teerath's works can also be seen later in Thai mainstream films such as Suck Seed (Chayanop Boonprakob, 2011) and ATM (Mez Tharatorn, 2012), which also play with pop culture, contemporary culture, and manga aesthetics like Teerath.
We are very eager to see in which way Teerath's style will be developed in the future, when he grows up and experiences a lot more things in his life.