Saturday 19 May 2018

In Slow Motion at BreakNeck Speed

Last glimpse of the Royal Crematorium
(now dismantled), Jan 20, 2018 at 6:38 pm

Bangkok Love Letter
In Slow Motion
at BreakNeck Speed

[16 Feb – 15 May 2018]

Friday 16 February 2018, Bangkok

Dear Foreign Friend,          

Under smog warning in the haze trapped by a still air pocket from China, turning hot but sort of cool still. The sky is white, like high summer, but the lethal air is cool and still.

I haven’t been able to entice a single one of my intrepid family and friends to check out the ‘Oon Ai Rak Klai Kwam Nhao’ [Love’s Warmth to Relieve the Chill] retro winter fair at the Royal Plaza, a nostalgic revival of the days of absolute monarchy for which “traditional Thai dress” is recommended, especially Rama V Gilded Age fashion, sort of pearly & lacy Victorian/Edwardian on top with the Thai jongaben below (puffed pantaloons monstrously unflattering for most women with a tummy & a bum). If we’re going to continue these personal historic chronicles, I know I owe it to you to experience it for myself. But my compadres’ reluctance has infected me with the willies. They won’t let you in, they say; “You’re all wrong in your fishermen’s pants counter-fascism statement”. But what can be more Thai than fishermen’s pants, flipflops & a pha-khaoma worn as a sabai? The outfit suits the weather & everyone can afford it. “There you go. You’ll just talk back & get into a fight with some neo-fascist so you’d have a story to prove your point.”

“Shooting range promotes Thai dress
to urge women to learn to shoot firearms correctly”,
New TV, March 26, 2018

But I don’t want that boring story. Aren’t you curious to see ordinary people on a nostalgia dream trip? in gilded age Thai fancy dress, taking selfies; things that could help compose a potential dream sequence, say, in some future movie. But the rest of the gang want nothing to do with it. They don’t suffer from my sick compulsion to bear first-hand witness, this obsessive need to see everything with my own eyeballs.

It’s a disease I caught on the Thai-Cambodian border from my dear departed desperado mentors, Japanese news cameraman Naoki Mabuchi ‘The Khmer Rouge’—as in “You have to meet the Khmer Rouge for yourself”, and Thai journalist Seni Daimongkol, who would mercilessly interrogate, whenever I told them of anything, “Did you see it or did someone tell you? Who told you?” You can’t go far wrong with this, which wraps up my journalism training in a nutshell.

           The Thai-Cambodian border in 1980 also hardwired certain images into my 20 year old brain: people laden with children and all the possessions they could carry running for their lives over minefields, under fire, to safety in Thailand, to rot under UN blue plastic sheets and wait for the gods’ trucks to bring their food. It’s no stretch for me to imagine doing the same thing on the Thai-Malay border as I flee from civil war or something equally dark and scary.

Who’s afraid of girls in sabai with guns?

As the days go by, my Thai genes soon persuade me that their attack of the willies, far from ridiculous, is merely the sane response from our mechanics of survival. Why do I need to take the temperature of everything? What is this compulsion?

Truthfully, it’s because I wish my Free Thai grandfather had an iphone to record everything he witnessed first-hand of the forbidden history. Unlike me, he didn’t have a discreet, mobile camera to record what he saw and heard to post on YouTube to the world, thereby condemning us to this unhealthy murk of historical doubt.

From ‘Eden’ by Piyatat Hematat
at Galerie Oasis

Friday 23 February 2018

At last, after a soupy spell of micro-dust alarms, the air is breathable again. It finally rained for real early this morning, so hard I had to rush outside in my pyjamas to bring potted plants on the balcony under the shelter of the roof, to save them from being pummelled.

But the rain has not removed the foul contamination from the psychic atmosphere, where it poses similar health hazards to our sanity. The auto-pilot fuss over the elections, the luxury watches, and other distractions from the real abyss before us, bring irritation but no release, merely adding to the growing sense of suffocation with no relief in sight.

Banner on a house protesting a Singaporean
highrise condo in Sukhumvit

Friday 9 March 2018

What a hard rain that’s just ended. The silence after is luxurious & profound, unreal in a Bangkok village besieged with dinosaurian construction cranes like transformers from the void. 8 villagers got arrested last week, including me, for holding up signs in front of the Singaporean embassy on Sathorn road in protest against Singaporean Keppel Land’s attempt to subvert Thai building codes with a 30-storey condo project on our dead-end narrow lanes. As some of our neighbours scattered & got away, the cops herded the rest of us into a truck with flashing lights &, after a friendly but serious interrogation at Thung Mahamek police station in Suan Plu, fined us 5,000 baht collectively, for “organizing a protest; protesting without first notifying the police at least 24 hours beforehand”.

Such thunder storms are a pet erotic device of Thai epic poetry: the gods have an orgy in the sky as the hero & heroine do their thing, as the rest of us cower in fearsome awe of the forces of nature and supernature.

Bangkok villagers (illegally) protesting Singaporean real estate
developer Keppel Land’s subversion of Thai building codes,
Singapore Embassy in Bangkok, 20 Feb 2018

Today was my last chance to experience the ‘Oon Ai Rak Klai Kwam Nhao’ [“Love’s Warmth to Relieve the Chill”] winter fair at first hand. Technically speaking, this being early afternoon, it still is my last chance if I could get my bum up out of this chair, out of the house on a bicycle to the local pier on Klong Sansaeb [“Stinging/Acid Canal”], leap onto a ferry to Pan Fah bridge (changing at Pratunam Watergate), onto a motorbike taxi or walk to the Royal Plaza, all while wearing fisherman’s pants tied up to pass for a jongaben, with an Edwardian blouse with puffed little sleeves, a bit of lace & strings of pearls. That is a lot of ifs for your average exhausted Bangkokman on a rainy, flooded, traffic-jammed Friday. Safe to say, there probably won’t be a retro dream sequence with Rama V costumes in any of my future films.

Having decided to break the golden rule of first-hand experience, I can’t write about Oon Ai Rak for you after all, and no accompanying tour of the fast-changing Royal Plaza precinct. I’ve no right to describe to you what I’ve heard has happened to the trees along the palace moat or pay a farewell visit to our zoo, soon to be taken from us except in childhood memories, along with our parliament, where we have fought so many of our most memorable battles, after its move to grand new digs way out of town.

From the series ‘Blood Banks’ by Vasan Sitthiket
at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre
(Collection of Eric Booth)

Summer had begun like clockwork on March 1st. After the rain the temperature has plummeted some 10 degrees. We’ve gone from a week of the ever-building furnace to nippy in one morning. There’s been no daylight. Our bodies are confused.

Meanwhile the local US embassy is celebrating “200 years of Thai-US relations” with an exhibition in a big shopping mall and a Facebook video titled ‘Great & Good Friends’. As a piece of cinema it’s merely inept, but as an exercise in diplomacy a complete disaster. In this production paid for by the American taxpayers, their country is played by an actor dressed up as Uncle Sam while Siam/Thailand is depicted as Tosagan—elsewhere known as Ravana, the 10-headed Demon King arch villain of the Ramayana, evil incarnate in other words. I know you love Olympic mascots and the 10-faced Siamese in exotic dance wear thing but, really..? Meanwhile the phrase “We’re friends!” is repeated desperately over & over. As in “We’re Friends. We’re Friends. We’re Friends.” [“Pen mitr gun, pen mitr gun..”] Who are you trying to convince? Yourself? I hope it works for you because it doesn’t work for me.

From ‘Blood Banks’ series at
Vasan Sitthiket’s ‘I Am You’ retrospective,
Bangkok Art & Culture Centre
(Collection Eric Booth)

Then it dawned how apt it was. The video’s ‘sepia flashback’ shows a 19th century Siamese businessman in a jongaben respectfully greeting an American merchant by lifting up his hands in a wai (head bent respectfully over supplicating hands, which is meant to say “I salute the Buddha in you”, but has come to mean subservience). The American doesn’t wai him back, preferring to teach the Siamese to shake hands like a white (civilized) man. The scene symbolizes 200 years of trade & cultural exchange, which began when the West sent gunboats into the gulf of Siam as the powerful King Rama III died and Mongkut (“Yul Brynner/Rex Harrison/Chow Yun Fat”), then a scholarly middle-aged abbot of a monastery, left behind 27 years of monkhood to face them as King Rama IV, the personification of Rama, not Ravana or Tosagan.

In the apocalyptic Thai film ‘Gao Yod’ [“9-headed”, 1977] we see Tosagan in suit and tie presiding over the monstrous chaos of October 6 like a puppet master, cheering on & delighting in the massacre. In this light, the Demon King and Uncle Sam’s antics on the embassy Facebook can indeed be seen as a truthful reflection of our shared history. Since World War II, Uncle Sam has shaken hands with whichever Arch Demon we’ve got going at any given time.

Censored TV news, 17 Jan 2018

Who sent a man to Chalerm Krung Theatre to shout “Pridi killed the King!” in a darkened cinema after the sudden death of King Ananda? Thereby turning a tragedy into an opportunity to overshadow and take control of Siam and end its dreams of good governance & true democracy. Who promoted the use of lese majeste as a cold war tool against communism (& who’s now using the same tool in a different way to shriek that we have no democracy?) Or even during the war, who made sure the 3 Free Thai factions would not unite under Pridi Banomyong to set up a government in exile? Was Pridi’s emissary Chamkad Balankura’s sudden death in Chungking, which ended any such dreams, by human agency or divine design, or just a terrible accident of history? So convenient for the US, Great Britain & China but of disasterous long-term consequences for Siam, to this day.

Chalerm Krung Theatre
(where the Thai Oscars are held),
20 Jan 2018

I used to enjoy swapping conspiracy theories with Ajarn Sukhprida Banomyong, Pridi’s historian son, whenever we met at Free Thai and other events. What a lovely man. Alas he is gone now. We were chuffed that, separately, of our own volition as family historians, following our own clues, we have come to the same conclusions on the events that have destroyed and stigmatized both our families as well as the country to this day. History to us is not an abstraction but actuality. Our families have lived through hell and high water history, his on centre-stage and mine in the freakish shadows; forbidden history, which means our courage & our wounds have not been accorded any respect nor indeed acknowledged.

According to our combined conspiracy theory, at one shout in a darkened cinema (what film was playing? If a Hollywood movie, it could have been any of these hits of 1946: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’; ‘The Big Sleep’ or ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’), an Evil Empire was able to control a small kingdom and betray a war-time ally who, like Ho Chi Minh, was inconveniently independent and disobedient. Mini factoid: at the newborn UN, Thailand was on the Palestine Committee & about to vote for the Palestinians when Pridi and his allies fell in a military coup d’etat led by General Phin Choonhavan, along with Cold War generals & Field Marshalls-to-be Phao Sriyanont, Saridh Thanarat, Thanom Kitikajorn, Prapass Jarusathien; after which Empire was free to join hands with fascist war criminals miraculously sprung from prison in Japan. Empire didn’t even bother to change the name of the political party ostensibly founded by an OSS [wartime CIA] protégé in its own image, the Democrat Party. Having in the course of time evolved an independent spirit of its own, that party has now found itself on the butt end of its own old tricks, courtesy of its one-time mentor turned foe. So goes our story.

Face in the moon one night before
a blue moon total eclipse,
30 Jan 2018 at 11:15 pm

Given the US’ extreme identification with Thaksin’s cause (the latest manifestation being an announcement a few days ago by “prominent US NGO Freedom House” that democracy disappeared from Thailand when Thaksin was removed in the 2006 coup d’etat), over the past decade many Thais have come to believe that this so-called friendship is irreparable. America has shown its hand so clearly, the mirrors have exploded to smithereens. There is no more pretence. We are frienemies with a common frienemy in China, that’s all. Perhaps that’s all it ever was, and is, anywhere.

Like a blood orange in the sky:
the Super Blue Blood Moon
at height of the eclipse,
31 Jan 2018 at 8.24 pm

Back in 1946, just as wartime OSS [CIA predecessor] officer Alexander Macdonald was setting up an English language newspaper in Bangkok—in a meeting, according to Eric Booth of the Jim Thompson Museum, “right here over dinner in this room” at OSS-affiliate Jim Thompson’s house, my grandfather Chin didn’t have an iphone when he was summoned to the palace the morning of June 9th with his Scotland Yard forensics training, but he wrote down what he witnessed and inspected, along with his conclusions of accidental death, not by Pridi, agents of Pridi or anyone else, in a famous (among students of forbidden history) “100 page letter” to King Bhumibol. Our family published it on the centenary of his birth [‘Nhueng Sattawat Subhasvasti’]; in the nature of ‘funerary books’, it is not for sale, only given away for ‘Vitaya-tarn’ or gift of knowledge for the universal good. Along with letters from the front to his sick wife in blitzed out England, it would make one hell of a movie which, as the law stands, cannot be made and cannot be seen. This is a pity since it would clear the air & lift the dark curse of the ultimate fake news from us all.

The blood shadow leaving the moon,
end of the eclipse, 31 Jan 2018 at 9:18 pm

Except for some names & one turn of phrase, this letter is in English, in tiny, spiky, exquisite handwriting testifying to the wartime scarcity of resources including ink and paper:

20 May 1946


Bangkok is full of strife. Political fight by hook or by crook is in full swing. The trouble started when Seni’s supporters made a public speech that the only man who really mattered during the War with the Japanese was Seni [Pramoj] + Nai Kuang [Abhaiwongse]. They tried their best to ignore Pradit [Lhuang Pradit Manutham ie. Pridi Banomyong] + his work. It was in fact very unfair. Pradit’s followers then staged a campaign against Senee by showing that Senee was the main stumbling block to the success of the resistance movement… All the evidence against Senee was published in the newspaper. And you can imagine the most frightful Sao Sai Hai Ga Gin [“dragging out of intestines for the crows to feast upon]. Senee’s name is mud. Seri Thai [Free Thai] is again in the Mud. What a frightful affair! The country is split asunder…

Moon over the Jim Thompson Museum compound,
1 Feb 2018, one night after the Blood Moon

June 6th 1946

Most Beloved..

Are not you a little silly? Your letter is so full of all kinds of silly things about “phua mai rug” [hubby doesn’t love me] + that kind of rot. So much so that you have been punishing yourself so unnecessarily. Of course I love you... So please don’t grow thin + ill [wife, in exile with Queen Rambhai in wartime England, had severe TB].. Please sleep a lot + get well. There will be a trying and tiring time ahead of you during the king’s visit..

Today is the 13th, which would’ve been the day of departure [from Siam to England to meet his wife and on assignment from the Pridi government to prepare for King Ananda’s tour of the West] if the terrible event of the King’s Death had not happened. These 3-4 days our time’s been taken up with investigating the cause of the King’s death. All over the city [“Muang”, so could mean “realm” or “land”] people are conjecturing that it was a royal assassination, such a dark uncharitable turn of gossip everywhere. Now that we have proven conclusively, for certain, that he died accidentally, we feel such relief. Because there is no reasonable motive for anyone to murder the King. If there’s any motive at all, it would be Lhuang Pradit’s [Pridi’s] enemies who did it to frame and slander Lhuang Pradit. But it is impossible. This king [“Nai Lhuang Phra Ong Nee”] is so beloved by the people both Thai and Chinese. The palace is full of people coming to pay respect to the royal remains, all of them in sincere grief, so the monarchy itself appears to be pretty well established (touch wood).

Grand Palace gate,
Jan 20, 2018 at 6.37 pm

Saturday 7 April 2018

We’re afraid to say—we don’t know how to say—how we are feeling. The public discourse & its outlandish images cause only confusion. Words no longer mean anything. Unmoored, adrift on the froth of saliva and lacy nostalgia, with the retro fashion finally catching fire on the wings of ‘Boop-pae-sanniwas’ [English title ‘Love Destiny’], a mega hit TV costume drama set in the Golden Age of Ayuthaya the Golden. On the nightly news, we see how the ruins have become a block-buster, besieged by long queues of selfie-snappers in jongaben and sabai. The School of Archeology at Silpakorn University is seeing a record number of applicants, as kids aspire to live the rich fantasy life of Love Destiny’s archeologist heroine.

Like a frowning eye in the sky:
the second blue moon of year 2018
on March 31

In the midst of this nostalgic escapism, I’ve been busy connecting the dots in my jigsaw puzzle of our more recent past. The Election Commission, soon after shedding a ‘troublesome’ commissioner, has rejected the Communist Party of Thailand’s application to register itself as a political party to take part in the next elections; the EC said communism is an undemocratic system & therefore unconstitutional.

These people have more than earned their right to become a legitimate political party. The Communist Party of Siam was born 88 years ago, on 1 December 1942, and yes, it had its roots in the Free Thai resistance against Japanese occupation. For their country, they’ve fought the Japanese; they’ve fought in the jungle; by simple threat of their existence, they’ve contributed enormously to our development. More recently, during Shutdown Bangkok many ex-CPT guerrillas served as guards, linking hands around the protest leaders to shield them from sniper & other attacks; that’s why so many protest guards were so old. Realistically speaking, they couldn’t have fought off an armed attack, but they were trained to watch for signs of ambush.

I would’ve liked to have had the right to vote for such proven patriots. These people were committed! I would also be voting for the noble ghost of the Free Thai Movement. I’m not communist but I’d vote communist because I want some chilli in the soup. The CPT would be lucky to scrape together 2-3 seats, but they might be likely to stand for the things I care for, say, improved primary education or be more sympathetic to community and environmental concerns through their anti-consumerist idealogy. We are Thai, for God’s sake, we need some chilli! Extremes must be allowed to exist.

Do we really want a homogenous society in which life is not worth living? We need Tom Yum in our parliament, not Gang Jued Luke Rog (balls of egg steamed inside intestines floating in a bland consommé; as disgusting as it sounds). Meanwhile the people calling themselves the Green Party, which in Thailand stands for ganja legalization rather than environmentalism, also hasn’t officially registered, probably because their legalization mission is being gradually met by law reform, so you can’t vote for them either. Amazingly, no one has protested the Election Commission’s anti-communist decision.

News readers in Thai dress for Songkran

Saturday 14 April, 2018                                                  

Happy Thai New Year, I suppose. More often than not it rains at Songkran, but no sign of rain in the hazy white sky heavy with stillness. Perhaps it’s spent itself in last week’s storm that poured down a piss-like yellow brown rain that has turned fetid and foamy in our clay water jars. I’m afraid to water my plants with this dirty foam. Never seen anything like it.

“I’m in a hurry because there’s an urgent need to change the world,” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia told AP (on the need to expedite the martyred Archbishop Romero’s sainthood). There’s a man of God who knows these are not normal times. Heroism & urgency are demanded of us but all the static overwhelms us. In a way it’s simple for me, having discovered my truth and useful vocation as a witness. As long as I do my best, I can only trust that, in their chosen role, most decent people are also focused on doing the same. We can’t stop the world from ending in any other way.

'Embassy National Day Reception', 
from Pericles Boutos' 'Official Function' 
at Kathmandu Photo Gallery

I come from a Free Thai family on both sides, yet I never heard of the Free Thai Movement until I was nearly 20. Inextricably and shamefully linked to the death of King Ananda, our World War 2 heroes, consisting of ordinary Thai people as well as famous names: men and women of every class and region, in every hamlet and office and home; had become taboo.

Queen Rambhai was a Free Thai; the Regent headed the Free Thai; the Police Chief was a Free Thai, even the central prison housed a Free Thai radio, yet we never hear of their heroic exploits in TV dramas, movies or even school textbooks. The only Free Thai characters in Thai popular culture are the villains who radioed the allies to drop the bombs that killed the handsome  Kobori, in Tomayanti’s ‘Ku Gum’ [“The Karmic Pair”], a romance between a Thai woman and a Japanese occupying soldier which has been made into countless TV soaps and films. In the Thai popular imagination, Seri Thai is not the hero; Seri Thai kills the Japanese hero.

All this must’ve been coursing through my veins as I forced myself day after day out to the hot streets to film Shutdown Bangkok, from July 2013 until the coup in May 2014. We can’t afford to let the same fate befall our contemporary Free Thai struggle. It was our Dunkirk; it was more than Dunkirk. Without a cinematic documentary record, no one would believe it ever happened, as you can see in my trailers [below & at bottom] for ‘How We Became Superheroes’ (Bangkok Joyride Part 1) and ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ (Bangkok Joyride Part 2), to be released in its home town after Songkran at Cinema Oasis.

 After months of filming, years of editing and actually building a micro-cinema to test the censors’ historic ‘Censor Must Die’ ruling that “films made from events that really happened” are exempt from the censorship process, I’m only too aware that the Shutdown Bangkok films’ contemporary realism and relevance, along with their gleeful anarchy, are in direct contrast or even in conflict with the pastel tones of our nostalgic Love Destiny cosplay. Would anybody even come to see them? Do we really just want to forget our darkest and finest hours?

'Celebration of Silk'
from Pericles Boutos' 'Official Function'
at Kathmandu Photo Gallery

Considering what’s at stake, I can’t afford to lose my nerve. But I’m sitting here wondering if I have lost my nerve. Amidst the new ceremoniousness of dress and decorum for Songkran, the weight of the world is getting to me. Like any Thai at such a pass, I start looking for signs. With all construction work pausing for the holidays, the smallest bird and insect can be heard. Suddenly the cooing doves and the liquid call of a magpie robin cease, as if a hawk has drifted by. Is this the sign? To stop singing, just like that.

           Then I hear the screams. Muted screams of neighbourhood children water-bombing each other in gangs, letting off steam.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Today I actually said out loud to someone that history to me is not theoretical abstraction but the bitter taste in my throat. It shocked him and shocked me too.   More than the sting of the original injustice, for the victims, for the nation, the bitterness arises from the suppression of truth so that our heroes are vilified and our victims unheard; meanwhile arch criminals are glorified as paragons of courage and patriotism.

I forgot to mention the Traditional Songkran New Year celebrations that succeeded ‘Oon Ai Rak’ Winter Fair at the Royal Plaza. Thai traditional dress was recommended for that too, though flowery Hawaiian shirts are permissible, having become a Songkran staple since Elvis and then the Vietnam War GIs on R & R made them part of “Thai culture”. There was a sand pagoda building contest, with the grand prize to be awarded by HM the King.
The new silhouette at a bank’s carpark

Now, after Songkran, we’re celebrating Bangkok’s 236th birthday, which reminds some of us that it wasn’t so long ago that we lost everything and had to abandon our capital city to start again down river.  At sunset there’s a parade to the “Glory of Rattanakosin” [Bangkok era—the name Bangkok, Olive Ville, is too pedestrian to be auspicious], on the theme of “Thai Royal Ancestors”, a grand procession of 11 ornate floats as follows:

1) “Celebrating 236 Years of Rattanakosin”; 2) “First Reign – who Built the City”; 3) “Second Reign – who made Literature Flourish”; 4) “Third Reign – who made the Economy Prosper”; 5) “Fourth Reign [King Mongkut] – Civilising Philosophy; 6) “Fifth Reign” – Development to International Standard;
 7) “Sixth Reign – Full of Education; 8) “Seventh Reign – Democracy”; 9) Eighth Reign - brought Unity to Thais”; 10) “Ninth Reign – Overflowing with Auspicious Excellence”; and the 11th and final float, the “Tenth Reign – the People Brim with Happiness”.

There are also live performances of the Ram Raja Chakri version of the Ramayana, Chinese opera, puppet shows and a fun zone called ‘Thai Charms of Yesteryear’ [“Saneh Thai Muer Wan Wan”], with romantic male and female Thai costume available for rent if you don’t have or can’t afford any traditional outfit of your own.

Cosplay Thai tourists in Ayuthaya
among ruins of a golden age

With such competition for people’s time and imagination, why would anyone want to remember our present predicament and how we got here? Easier to just stick to the colonial divide and rule pro-coup versus pro-democracy model. Most of all, with the military on the defensive instead of taking positive and necessary action, who wants to be reminded that more sacrifices, including of blood, are still demanded of us?

It’s an indication of how dark this moment is for Thailand as well as the world. In this light or lack thereof, I suppose one should not judge people so harshly if all they want to do is daydream and cosplay. The facts are so buried, the truth so distorted, the lies oppress us like a rock we can’t lift off our chests. The Thaksin and Shutdown Bangkok moment will go the way of Seri Thai, and we will wallow in the pollution of untruth for another stinky 80 years.

The Thai people of Grandfather Chin’s generation could not escape this fate; this is our moment of historical reckoning, our blood moon total eclipse. All that’s left to do is spray graffiti on all false gods and sacred cows, starting with the bust of the founder of the Democrat Party in front of their building, to free them of the curse of bad karma. That’s surely a worthwhile vandal’s fantasy for our time.

'DNA Serpents' from Piyatat Hematat's 'Eden'
at Galerie Oasis

Saturday 28 April 2018

Raining super hard. The garden is flooded, stranding clumps of plants on little islands. I don’t expect anyone to walk through this to see ‘Bangkok Joyride’. But then I’m told 2 young people turned up to see Part 1 and 2 back to back; 2 young people who just wanted to know how we got here, what happened. Peace descends.

Sorry about the panic attack. Like Ebola, fear is catching. No doubt if we step back we’d find it hilarious, this doom and gloom. We should be giving in to hysterics, surrendering ourselves to insane giggles ascending into the shrieking release of unstoppable laughter, with bloody tears streaming mascara down our cheeks.

From Facebook: “You lot are cockheads [“hua kuay”] and cunt-faces [“nha hee”], truly without any common sense,” says Chiangmai artist Mit Jai Inn of my Bangkok Joyride trailer for ‘How We Became Superheroes’.

Now showing at Cinema Oasis

From more anonymous sources (no real photo or name), on YouTube: “Cunt Movie” [“nhang hee”]; “Cockhead movie” [“nhang hua kuay”]; “You must’ve eaten some fucked-up shit the brain is all digested & decomposed”; “Superheroes or buffaloes more like. Pity the buffalo for being compared to this bloody lot let’s just say so low in the mud hole lower than trash plus even more pathetic than dogshit”; “You fucking mistitled it, you bitch cholera [“Ee Ha”]. It must be titled The Gathering of Thousands of Evil Lizards [“Ruam Pun Tua Hia”]”.

Here’s a more coherent comment from YouTube: “These people are bloody nauseating [“kotr sa-id sa-ian”]. Is the homeland much improved today, huh? You dragged in the stupid military to administer the country and perpetuate their power and ruinously cheat with corruption heavier than before. Whistles stuck in your throat, eh? Dead of cholera yet, you fucking lizards.”

'White man's farts & shit smell so great!', 
from Vasan Sitthiket's 'I Am You' at BACC

So we got here because anti-democratic arseholes occupied Bangkok? Really? What about the Amnesty Bill to whitewash Thaksin’s crimes? What about total parliamentary collapse under Yingluck Shinawatra? The litany of under-reported, beyond-belief failures of state: the war on drugs, the Southern Unrest, the disappeared, the rice-pledging scheme, the floods mismanagement and corruption, the general culture of greed, lies and violence.

The trolls’ reptilian version of history leaves out all this, just as they always leave out the bare facts that the ‘Hole in the Forest’ [“Pa Wheang”] housing project for judges on a sacred mountain in Chiangmai, the current hottest potato controversy, was initiated & permitted by the Thaksin Regime: the army use land* [*a retired Chiangmai judge has disputed this on Facebook on May 4th, insisting the land remains a forest reserve & that when first approached about this housing estate in 1997, the then Army Chief said he couldn’t give permission as it was not army land] was signed over back to the Treasury by his cousin General Chaiyasith Shinawatra in his capacity of Army Commander. Bidding for the mega project was held, and the contractors hired, under his sister Yingluck Shinawatra.  A Chiangmai family desecrating Chiangmai’s holy hill doesn’t exactly fit the script of crooked evil elite military and judiciary (which unjustly forced Thaksin the Persecuted Democrat into exile) trodding on Chiangmai’s people’s hearts. Come to that, the far worse Night Safari on Doi Suthep was greenlighted in 2006 by the (direct not proxy) Thaksin government, under the steam of Maya Bay/The Beach villain Forestry Chief Plodprasop Surasawadee, later Yingluck’s deputy PM [see Bangkok Love Letter #3: Hollywood in Paradise]. These facts are never mentioned in most news outlets. If you mention them, you are not so much speaking the truth as attacking democracy and defending the military. Such illogic boggles the mind and ends all useful dialogue.

Pro-Thaksin troll farm at work again, this time on
‘How We Became Superheroes’ & ‘Shutdown Bangkok
trailers on YouTube; 200 hates,
no real photos or names

Monday 7 May 2018

Crazy anonymous attacks continue on the trailers. “Can I make shoes from your thick face skin?”; “If this is all you’re capable of, how can you make good movies? You are morally-devolved & clearly infatuated with yourself”; “The box office has surpassed the Avengers,” snickers someone calling him or herself ‘thee thee’.

From ‘Back TheRipper’(no photo): “I feel such disgust every time I see your fucking faces. The country is a shipwreck today because of these evil lizards. If you have kids & grandkids tell them.. And so history shall brand your fucking faces as the group of people with the cuntiest [“Nha Hee tee sood”] faces in the history of the Thai Nation, fuck [last word in English; the other “fucks” are translations of “hia”]”; from ‘H. Be’ (no photo): “Annoying bitch [“E-sus”]! How you used to shriek your fucking dad’s [“Pong”, short for ‘Por Mueng’ which is short for Fuck your Father] whistles but now you’re all silent. Those who can wake up to the truth should be congratulated, but the stupid morons who still can’t see should use the whistles you used to blow to hang yourself to death already!!” In high school, this would be deemed criminal cyber-bullying and, anywhere, it’s criminal libel to invent non-existent quotes: “Whoever doesn’t go to see these films = red buffalo slaves of Thaksin, Auntie Ink [my name spelt wrong, preceded by ‘Jae’, a Chinese word used by Thais to signify a passed-it auntie] told me so” (no photo, fake name ‘kotopzae’, a repeat slanderer of many years standing); “Mentally-deficient movie for slavish buffaloes, damned slime, slaves of dictatorship” (no photo, fake name ‘muskettear corpse’); “An arsehole’s movie for arseholes [“kon hia”]”(cat photo).

Now showing at Cinema Oasis
If you can stand it, here are 2 more comments from ‘I Love You 8itch’: “Even the wishy-washy multi-coloureds [“salim” is actually a colourful wet noodle ice pudding, a term of abuse used by redshirts to describe non-redshirts as people with no conviction & commitment] themselves don’t want to see it hahahaha”, and for a disabled protester seen near the start of Part 2’s (‘Shutdown Bangkok’) trailer: “That animal racing along in a wheelchair is not just crippled in the body. Motherfucker is also crippled in the brain. Rebel on Wheels, my arse” [more literally, “fuck your dad”].

Even so, my prize for the most tasteless troll goes to ‘Coolman CoolmanCom’ (no photo): “Why don’t you make a movie of the 99 redshirt corpses. A lot of people should come to that. Haha. 

Well, why don’t you? Make your movie, then, so I can see your vision of history. Meanwhile, come and see mine.  That’s how democracy works, dear. Silencing & slandering other people is the opposite of freedom. For ten years you’ve done this to me.

What are you so afraid of? The facts? Mit Jai Inn is welcome to a free ticket, if he so wishes. I defy you to see the actual films for yourself. I promise you won’t be bored. And yes, where is your record of the redshirt protests of 2009 and 2010, including the looting, the arson, the RPG rockets, the Chula hospital raid and the men in black? We really need to witness all that again. Plenty of footage to choose from. If you’re too lazy, you could just string together the speeches from the stage, in chronological order. Make it true and make it straight, show and don’t tell, and if it’s any good we’ll screen it at Cinema Oasis.

              Your gang’s already banned and/or witch-hunted 3 of my films, starting with ‘Citizen Juling’, a film that listens to victims of the Southern Unrest under Thaksin, when you deluged Toronto Film Festival with master race Thai Studies academics’ complaints blasting its decision to show “anti-democratic royalist propaganda”. It’s no accident that, incredibly, there is no other Thai film directly on the Southern Unrest; for other Thai filmmakers, I am the rooster whose throat was cut to silence the monkeys. You outright banned my Thai version of Macbeth ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ as a national security threat and blacklisted it as hate speech—both pretty rich, coming from you. For the English version of this slanderous abuse—this hate speech—see Australian National University’s Asian Studies’ website New Mandala’s justification and even endorsement of Yingluck’s ban on Shakespeare Must Die, unseen.   

You claim to champion freedom of expression. If this is a sincere desire, can we please try something else? Let’s try counting our blessings.

On your behalf, I’ve made it legal to release factual documentary films to the public. By making, and screening, the Bangkok Joyride films, all cinema verite with no narration, we’ve just liberated all factual, unadorned documentaries from the requirement to submit to the Film Censorship Board, as per their ruling that ‘Censor Must Die’ did not have to be inspected by the censors by virtue of being made from “events that really happened” [2008 Film Act, 27(1)], a legal precedent that now protects ‘How We Became Superheroes’ & ‘Shutdown BK’. You can make use of that ; no need to thank me. It might seem easier to just bury someone else’s voice than to make a movie of your own. It is a lot of work. But you’d be able to live with yourself and not hate other people so much.

Friday 11 May 2018

A Thaksin-friendly Singapore-based TV channel asked me why I made the Bangkok Joyride films. Surely the interesting question is why there are no films about the 7-month long protest occupation of a capital city in which millions took part. If this happened anywhere else, there’d be tons of films, fictional narratives as well as documentaries. The really interesting question then becomes: why do you feel the need to question my motives for recording history?

Since Thaksin’s lawyer is suing me along with hundreds of others for libel, we also recorded the interview as a long take 2-shot, uncut, as legal precaution. They even asked if they could use clips from my trailers. But I seriously doubt if they’d use any of it. Quite obvious that my answers were not what they were expecting. Example: “What’s the biggest change since the military takeover 4 years ago?” You should’ve seen his face when I said the biggest change in these past 4 years is of course the death of a king after 70 years of relative stability, and the change of reign, and that’s a fact. The military, the elections etc. all must be seen in this context. Anything else is fantasy, a waste of time to belabour and discuss.

B/g ‘Revenge the Madness’ by Phraeva Rujinarong;
f/g ‘Sexorcism’ by Ram Kanjanavanit
for ‘Frenzy’ at H Gallery

Sunday 13 May 2018

Some of Art Lane came to see themselves in Part 2 at Cinema Oasis yesterday. It morphed into a meeting on how to block the Bangkok Governor’s attempt to take over the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC). This is what has come of the redshirt artists’ witch-hunt of Sutee Kunavichyanont—which launched these love letters to you [see Bangkok Love Letter # 1: Blacklisting Witch-hunt]. After his wife Luckana, its capable and experienced founding director, recently resigned, partly no doubt to take the pressure off her husband’s career, and with its foundation chairman Kraisak Choonhavan gravely ill, the BACC has lost its protectors.

This is the house the people built—yes, the wishy-washy salim artists had to fight Samak  Suntaravej, your redshirt Bangkok governor (in 1976 the ‘Thai Radio Rwanda’ voice of Oct 6 Massacre; later one of Thaksin’s proxy PMs before Yingluck), who wanted another carpark/shopping mall there among all the mega-malls. You redshirt artists were not there. You did not join the sit in. You did not help to paint the painting that stretched from City Hall to the site opposite the National Stadium. In fact, you laughed at us. Then once it was built & operational, you try your best to undermine and take control, constantly insinuating political bias etc., even as the BACC has always allowed all groups to hold protest activities there. Now the city bureaucrats want to take it from us all.

Someone suggested that the campaign to save the BACC may be the one thing that could unite or even heal the Thai art world at last. I hope so, but let’s not forget how it all began. That’s history for you. Forgiveness is divine, but forgetting—ignorant and wilful obliviousness—is unforgivable.   

With Love from Bangkok,
Ing Kanjanavanit

Bangkok Art & Culture Centre’s protest
against Bangkok Governor takeover threat,
Government House, 15 May 2018
(2 photos panorama)

Trailer Bangkok Joyride 1 : How We Became Superheroes

Trailer Bangkok Joyride 2 : Shutdown Bangkok

Trailer & 4 clips Citizen Juling


All photographs by Ing K unless otherwise stated

A pioneer of environmental investigative reporting, Ing Kanjanavanit is a filmmaker, painter & bilingual writer, best known in Thai for the cult classic travelogue/handbook for environmental activism, ‘Khang Lhang Postcard’ (‘Behind the Postcard’) under the nom de guerre Lharn Seri Thai (136)—‘Free Thai Descendent/Force 136’, to evoke the Free Thai Movement against fascist forces during World War 2, which fought for the Allies then after the war was betrayed by the Allies. Sadly, she no longer attends Free Thai merit-making rites, not since Thaksin’s redshirts appropriated the name & equated Thaksin with Free Thai leader Pridi Banomyong, which is a travesty & a sacrilege.