BANGKOK — Made in Thailand, by foreigners, for foreigners?
Fifteen films about Thailand, shot in Thailand, but directed by foreigners will screen for free July through August at the Thai Film Archive as part of the “Exotic Thailand?” film festival. From early 20th-century black-and-whites to modern Hollywood films, the fest looks at Thailand through a foreign lens – whether idyllic or violent, sensual or monastic.
“The films show a portrayal of Thailand, whether that reflection is true or not,” Putthapong Cheamrattonyu of the Thai Film Archive said.
Putthapong, who curated the program, said that common themes pervade the wildly different films. Early films focus on then-exotic Thai traditions and rural lifestyles, often laced with landscapes of nature. These include the 1940 Swedish film “A Handful of Rice,” which follows an agricultural society through a docudrama format, and the 1927 American “Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness”.
“Then we became a tourist spot and many people came here. We became a tourist heaven, but people also saw the seedy, violent, and dangerous parts of Thailand,” Putthapong said.
In the arguably tasteless Hollywood comedy “The Hangover II” (2011), Bradley Cooper and two buddies get tricked by a capuchin monkey and a kathoey stripper. “Lost in Thailand” (2011), which follows a similar “boys trip” premise, was once the highest-grossing film of all time in China, and is credited with erupting the waves of Chinese tourists we see today.
In darker films, violence, crime, and muay thai are central themes, such as in “Only God Forgives,” where Ryan Gosling plays an American expat running a drug ring.
But Thai women are particularly central to many contemporary foreign films about Thailand.
“Thai women are shown in both a positive light – as beautiful and with impeccable manners – and a negative light, such as in prostitution,” Putthapong said. “The dynamic of the farang man and the Thai woman is also explored a lot.”
If you only have enough time for one film, Putthapong recommends “Soi Cowboy,” a 2008 film about an overweight Danish expat and his Thai girlfriend who he meets – guess where?
A screening of the film at 1pm Aug. 17 will be followed by a panel discussion with the film’s producer, Tom Waller, and Mahidol University film studies lecturer Wikanda Phromkhunthong.
Since the inception of film, Thailand, formerly Siam, has provided attractive shooting locations and subject matter for foreign camera crews. The first film set in the country was the since-lost “Suvarna of Siam” (1922) by American filmmaker Henry MacRae.
All screenings are free and shown at the Thai Film Archive on Phutthamonthon Sai 5 Road. The venue is reachable by public bus No. 515 from Victory Monument in front of Rajavithi Hospital, and the Y70E Microbus. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact the Film Archive for additional information about the screenings you are interested in.
The program is below:
July 4, 5:30pm: “Lost in Thailand” directed by Xu Zheng (China, 2011)
July 6, 1pm: “A Handful of Rice” directed by Pal Fejos (Sweden, 1940)
July 13, 1pm: “Only God Forgives” directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Denmark, France, 2013)
July 16, 1pm: “Yutthana-Siriporn” directed by Hans Berthel (Germany, 1963)
July 25, 5:30pm: “The Last Executioner” directed by Thai-Irish Tom Waller (Thailand, 2014)
Aug 1, 5:30pm: “Ghost of Mae Nak” directed by British Mike Duffield (Thailand, 2005)
Aug 3, 1pm: “Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness” directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper (USA, 1927)
Aug 3, 3pm: “The Forest” directed by British Paul Spurrier (Thailand, 2016)
Aug 7, 5:30pm: “Bangkok Dangerous” directed by Hong Kongers Oxide and Danny Pang (Thailand, 1999)
Aug 17, 1pm: “Soi Cowboy” directed by British Thomas Clay (Thailand, 2009)
Aug 24, 1pm: “Pop-Aye” directed by Kirsten Tan (Singapore, Thailand, 2017)
Aug 24, 3pm: “The Elephant King” directed by American Seth Grossman (Thailand, 2006)
Aug 25, 1pm: “The Hangover Part II” directed by American Todd Phillips (USA, 2011)
Aug 25, 3pm: “The Man with the Golden Gun” directed by British Guy Hamilton (UK, 1974)
Aug 29, 5:30pm: “Butterfly Man” directed by British Kaprice Kea (Thailand, 2002)