Wednesday, 8 November 2017


Temple gate (Wat Tart Tong) leading to crematorium,
with long queues for a replica Royal Cremation, 26 Oct 2017

Bangkok Love Letter

Friday 13 October – Friday 4 November, 2017,  Bangkok

Dear Foreign Friend,

My usual omen-laden picks of recent news, namely the old abbot feared for occult powers killed with a hammer wrapped in bloody sanitary napkins; 2 more cold skeletons unearthed by following dream directions from the murder victims; even Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa’s alleged lese majeste against a 16th century king—these will have to wait as we set it all aside to share in the terrible moment when we must burn King Bhumibol’s earthly remains, to send him off to another dimension, far from our vale of tears.

Monsoon clouds above Rama VIII bridge, Oct 6, 2017

Friday 13 October, 2017, Bangkok

            No sun again. Dark all day. Rumbling thunder all afternoon; this morning it rained. Instead of retreating, the monsoon seems increased in intensity. In the day-long twilight a vampire could walk around even at noon without getting a tan.

One year after the King died, I didn’t go out to see if people were really standing in silence for 89 seconds (HM’s age + 1) at 3:52 pm (time of death). Banks & the Public Health Station up the road are closed; I didn’t feel like witnessing the ceremony at the shopping mall among temporary gardens of real & artificial marigolds.

October for us is a month pregnant with history of sweeping change. King Rama V died on October 23 after presiding over a long ‘golden’ reign; first true people’s uprising on October 14 followed 3 years later by the October 6 massacre; crushing of People’s Alliance for Democracy on October 7, and now we have October 13. Even the last uprising, Shutdown Bangkok, began at Halloween on October 30-31 beside the train tracks at Samsen station. The light beams from passing trains provided the requisite horror movie lighting as they passed over the massed protesters scattering to make way for the train, itself full of people waving clappers & flags whose screams died out as the train sped them away. Meanwhile movie channels run their annual classic horror fests to mark the Witching Month.

Marigold garden materializing in front of a shopping centre
to honour King Rama IX

This October is of course especially solemn, with the one year anniversary of the death of King Rama IX on October 13th, a Friday no less.  Since October 1st, TV colour intensity on some channels is back to what it was in the month after he died, pushed down to about 40%, leaving the image sepia, like something that happened once upon a time to people who lived long ago.

Everyone I know has a decision to make re the Royal Cremation, a holiday, on October 26: to go into the fray or stay home & watch it all on TV in the comfort of our own home, safe & dry but with no direct contact with the sensations of a historic moment. But people struck by an insane grief won’t care about endless queuing & getting drenched; some might even welcome it as miraculous blessing of holy water from the Beloved One who now continues to safeguard the cohesion & stability of our country from above; some may even be taking pride & joy in the physical suffering they must endure to be close to his remains, in an attempt to assuage the intensity of their bewilderment and pain.

October storm clouds

It is announced that on the day of the Royal Cremation of King Bhumibol, Rama IX of the Chakri dynasty, all banks & shopping malls will be closed, to enable staff to attend the ritual as they wish. They can’t go to the movies, however, as cinemas will also be closed; no escapist entertainment. From October 13 to 29th all flags will fly half-mast including at Thai embassies worldwide, during which time all civil servants are asked to wear black. Why they feel the need to say this last escapes me; most people have remained in mourning clothes anyway since the day he died last October 13.

Official replicas of the Royal Crematorium have been built in all 76 provinces, usually in front of the town hall, which will receive the mourners’ crematory flowers  [dok mai jan—“sandalwood flower”], to be burned at the same time as the real cremation, by a flame taken from the same sacred fire, in a symbolic attempt to unite the nation. In Bangkok, in addition to the actual purpose-built Royal Crematorium, there are 3 replicas (one almost next to the original, another nearby in front of City Hall; one at a shopping centre in the Eastern suburb of Bangna) as well as other designated sites such as Wat That Thong & other temples known for funereal services.

Change of reign reflected by a new film for the pre-movie royal anthem
(cinema audiences must stand up for the royal anthem before the film begins)

With vast emotional crowds and many crowned heads of the world attending, the Royal Funeral is also a security nightmare. New rules & regulations have been announced: drones are not allowed within a 19 km radius from the Royal Ground; no selfie stick & no selfie, no zoom or telephoto lens (or anything else that might be mistaken for a gun or rocket launcher, I suppose); those wishing to join the crowds around the Grand Palace must first be vetted at several ‘Sorting & Filtering’ [“jood kudgrong”] checkpoints set up in a wide net. Bring your National Identity Card & carry it always; wear proper respectful dress: no shorts allowed & for women skirt below the knees only, no pants; and proper, covered shoes. Since many people can’t afford such shoes, this last injunction is likely to be an effective deterrent which could help thin the crowds. Hats & umbrellas must be black or other “polite colours”; the telephone covers of those seated in the front must be black only “so the picture would look good” (this was not announced on TV but on site by volunteers—on the 25th a photographer I know actually saw people being forced to buy new phone covers from vendors on the spot); as the royal family approaches, hats & sunglasses must be removed & umbrellas closed; you must then prostrate until they have passed.

In addition, news outlets are not allowed to broadcast the procession live, whether in rehearsal or on the actual day; it must all come from the TV pool. They’re also not allowed to use images from the public’s Facebook live. The Nation TV and one other channel have been punished for disregarding this rule & were banned from presenting clips of the last rehearsal.

One odd thing I’ve just noticed from news clips of the final rehearsal is the American-sounding martial music, mingling with & almost drowning the traditional Brahmin conch & Mon pi-part sounds. It’s very odd. I don’t remember such a discordant combination during Queen Rambhai’s funeral (which I was privileged to attend as a junior relative).  I remember people just walking solemnly, not marching. Perhaps it’s an attempt to make it less solemn by speeding things up. I imagine that for those in the procession, it must be difficult to reconcile the thumping rhythm of military marching to the emotional requirements of a funeral.

Daily News front page 16 Oct 2017: Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn
at final rehearsal for her royal father’s funeral procession

A string of funerals, of lesser beloved mortals, deepened my sombre mood & provided the usual discreet gossip catch-up opportunity.  People seem to be either agreeing with or confirming our worst fears. In a breathless hush we huddle & wait for Halloween, “after the ceremony”.

As you can imagine, what with the very recent Shakespeare court loss to the censors which we are appealing [Bangkok Love Letter #12], I think I’ve finally reached my limit. The royalist fervour being displayed by some unlikely quarters, in tandem with the ‘new’ political correctness verbiage of the old colonial divide & conquer chestnut, finally convince me that no divisions exist between human beings other than in their sincerity or lack thereof. Instead of dividing the world into ‘evil elite’ & ‘peasants’; ‘military fascists’ & ‘democrats’;  ‘royalists’ & ‘anti-royalists’, ‘blacks’ & ‘whites’, in survival terms it makes much more sense to discern whether someone is ‘opportunistic’ or ‘sincere’. Depending on your nature, on this basis you’d know if someone could be trusted as an ally. A sincere person would obviously be a bad partner in crime. Sightings proliferate of groups of unlikely people meeting in strange configurations.

A policeman on duty at the Royal Ground proudly shows off his knee,
blistered from hours of prostrating on a hot pavement

Yingluck’s would-be successor, Khunying Sudarat Keyurapan of the For Thai Party tasted the sting of social media scorn when she drove around in a truck with her name in big bold letters on the windscreen, exhorting all & sundry to plant marigolds to honour King Rama IX. She refuted accusations of electioneering by pleading tearfully that she wished only to show her love for the King.  As inadequate newcomer Yingluck effortlessly landed the plum role of first Thai woman prime minister, the veteran politician spent her wilderness years on pilgrimages, especially to the Buddha’s birth place, Lumbhini in Nepal. As the bloodshed of Shutdown Bangkok spattered over everyone, her Buddhist devotional dress remains white & pristine, ready for her reentrance on the national stage, just as some poll finds her the most appealing choice for voters, nationwide.

On TV, the stars are singing for King Rama IX

Meanwhile here’s redshirt leader of self-proclaimed peasants & professional hater of the evil elite Thida Thavornseth’s justifying, on her Facebook to the redshirt faithful, Yingluck’s flight from justice 2 days before her rice scheme sentencing (despite her defiant promise not to flee):

Ms Yingluck is in the social elite class..It was a sacrifice for her to participate in politics.. Ms Yingluck cannot be held to have betrayed & forsaken the people. Professor Thida [sic, meaning herself] understands & sympathises & believes that we should even support her [action].”  Is the former Comrade Poon of the Communist Party of Thailand saying in effect that lesser mortals (like Yingluck’s Commerce Minister Boonsong) can go to jail because, not having been brought up in the lap of luxury, they can take it?

“Thaksin Thinks, Puea Thai [“For Thai”] Acts”, Thaksin’s party’s electioneering motto for Yingluck’s election, has turned into the catchphrase: “Thaksin Thinks; Yingluck Acts; Boonsong goes to Jail” [“Thaksin Kid, Puea Thai Tum; Boonsong Tid Kook”]. For Boonsong you can substitute any other Thaksin disciple including real rather than fake ‘peasant’ redshirts jailed for burning provincial town halls on their leaders’ televised exhortations to “Burn it all, brothers & sisters, burn it all! I’ll take the responsibility & the blame!”

The police are also steadfast. They obviously believe their Big Brother Thaksin, and their police state, will return in one form or another after the elections. Witness the shameful way the local police chief treated the DNA-collecting forensics police in front of Yingluck’s house, frisking them & searching their cases before allowing them to enter as part of the farcical investigation into Yingluck’s cop-assisted flight, as the National Police Deputy Commander presided over the shame.

Forensics unit being frisked & intimidated by local cops
before being allowed inside Yingluck’s house (Nation TV)

Saturday 14 October

Biggest flood in over 30 years came into the house & ruined some books. Everyone’s exhausted after being up since 3 AM rescuing stuff & unblocking the drain in the ‘Thousand Year Rain’. All sensitive stuff removed to high ground. A “Niagara of flood water” roared into the 2 storey underground carpark of the almost completed condo up the soi, drowning all the cars. That was the source of the blood-curdling scream heard in the predawn pitch darkness after the power black-out. Nobody feels sorry for them; they’ve destroyed the road & choked up the drains with cement dust. With impending deluge from the North & high water approaching from the sea, we wonder anxiously if the King’s cremation will be flooded with brackish river water as well as tears.

Golden gates to a razed plot where an old house & garden once stood,
 drowning in worst floods in inner Bangkok in over 30 years, 14 Oct 2017

Friday 20 October, New Moon

More rules & guidelines for those attending the cremation at the Royal Ground are announced: we should wear “polite colours”, carry only “black or grey umbrellas”, and “absolutely no selfie sticks”. We should not make a spectacle of ourselves but “express grief in an orderly & polite, peaceful & reserved manner” [sadaeng argarn siajai duay kwarm suparp riab-roy, sa-ngob, samruam].  Also, do not to forget yourself and proclaim ‘Long Live the King!’ as his remains or the golden urn that represented his remains*, pass by in the procession, since of course the King you’d be calling out to, for whom you’re weeping, is dead. [*Queen Rambhai’s was the last royal body to actually reside, ancient Thai style, within the urn pre-cremation like an embryo ready for rebirth as another avatar in a new womb.]

As the rules multiply, reports abound of verbal fights breaking out between volunteers helping out with the Royal Cremation & would-be attendees who were not deemed eligible to pass the “filtering & sorting points”. HM the new King Rama X even issued a request for volunteers to speak to the people in a polite tone.

Daily News headline 20 Oct 2017:
“HM is concerned that the people feel oppressed”

Bangkok Post headline 20 Oct 2017  
People are moved by people who try. That’s why they wept like that for Princess Diana & why they’re weeping for King Bhumibol, whose name means ‘The People’s Pride’.  Even my environmental activist mother who had to battle a Mhong hilltribe-related Royal Project to save the headwaters forests of the Mae Ping river; who believed that the King did not always receive the best advice, admitted that His Majesty sincerely deeply cared and always had the best intentions. When Princess Diana died I remember hearing the same reaction from the most unlikely people: “I’m surprised by how much it bothers me.”

Democracy Monument with mourners & cops, afternoon of 25 Oct 2017

Thursday 25 October

My conscience says it’s fraud to continue writing about this without seeing it for myself. I’ve avoided going to the old town since the death of King Bhumibol; this is my last chance to experience this slice of history. I plan only to walk around on the periphery, not expecting to get through the Sorting & Filtering in my flipflops, since I’m not going to wade through flood water in anything else.

But there is a checkpoint with metal detector right off the boat at Pan Fa pier. To my surprise, they searched my backpack & let me in. I see tourists in shorts & singlet wandering around, dazed. Nobody bothers them. The police & volunteers by the pier are relaxed & friendly, nothing like the stories we’ve been hearing, but of course this is only the “outer ring”. The next, real ‘Sorting & Filtering Point’ is by the Mother Earth shrine in front of the Royal Hotel.  

I never get there. In early afternoon up to one block before the Royal Hotel the crowds were still thin enough to flow through, but after that they called people by groups of 3-5 to move forward into the official queue for the S & F gateway to the pavements around the Royal Ground.

Empty Rajdamnern avenue with cops, afternoon 25 Oct 2017

As I sit on the bridge a man walks up & down with a megaphone informing the crowd that King Rama X is about to pass by on his way to a religious rite in the Grand Palace. All must take off hats & sunglasses & sit down, though those who remain standing should keep their hats on. When he passes in the yellow car, we are to raise our hands in a wai. No photography with zoom lens or a large camera.

When I hear this last I begin filming video with my phone, but a cop tells me to stop. Yes they did say “large cameras not allowed”, but small cameras or phones are not allowed either. Meanwhile the megaphone guy continues in a chatty tone as he walks on, booming voice growing faint as he passes over the bridge: “How would it look when everyone else is saluting the King & you’re taking a photo? Also, as this is a mournful time, please don’t cry out ‘Long Live the King’…”

Only when I get home do I realise the absence of the military, apart from one camouflaged bunker in the back lane running parallel to Rajadamnern and, at my favourite ‘secret’ tea stall, a group of very intelligent-looking men, dressed as volunteers, who clustered around a chessboard watching a game between one of their own & a tiny old man in a shabby suit at least 3 sizes too big –
most likely borrowed, to meet the dress code. I desperately wanted to take a picture but my phone jammed for some reason.

Our plans are finally settled. All the people who’d planned to go out there to photograph history have chickened out & will come over to watch the procession on TV over a lazy lunch.

Mourners camping out on pavement
near Democracy Monument, 25 Oct 2017

Friday 27 October

On TV (TNN24) a woman who’s spent 3 days & nights to ensure her place there says, “I’ll stay to the end. I intend to send him all the way to heaven with the power of my heart [rang jai]” Another woman says: “I wanted to be as close to him as possible; I didn’t want to watch TV at home”.   They obviously believe with all their heart that their love can make a difference.

King Bhumibol’s gift was his inclusive sympathetic good will, the ability to identify with his people through thick and thin. We felt that he suffered with us & we suffered with him, a bond that can still compell people to feel the need & personal responsibility to be there with him every step of the way. We are like weeping children chasing a car carrying away our sense of safety & peace of mind, “the cool shade of his being over our heads” [yen sira proh pra baribarn], in the words of the royal anthem.

Mourners on Rajdamnern pavement listen to monks chanting,
relayed from the Grand Palace, afternoon 25 Oct 2017

After my 2nd trip to gauge the post-Royal Cremation energy (via the same canal route to the same spot then across to the road between Thammasart university & the Fine Arts Department & on to the river at Prajan pier), I feel the need to reassure myself that this is not North Korea, and even North Korea is probably not really North Korea. By early afternoon, Rajdamnern road was open to traffic & most people were gone, just a few stragglers hailing a cab or climbing on buses with their micro-overnight bags. At every 10-12 metre interval a cop on full alert still stood, back to the road, facing the crowd or rather by now the mostly empty pavement. In front of the Royal Hotel yellow-scarved volunteers were handing out bananas to the people, further enriching the zoo-like atmosphere with all the gate-keepers & metal barriers.

At the Mother Earth shrine Sorting & Filtering Point, a male volunteer said immediately, “Trousers, no. Skirts only”. Another volunteer, a patrician woman, then said my khaki trousers were brown, not black. It’s the day after the Cremation & the ashes have been collected, but my clothes were just not black enough.

A beautifully-dressed Indian yuppie couple, possibly honeymooners, approached, hoping for a tour of the Grand Palace which they didn’t know was still closed to the public. “Your dress too casual, cannot enter,” she told them, because her skirt was red.

Overnight mourners wait for bus home,
in front of Royal Hotel, afternoon 27 Oct 2017

Overnighters eat volunteer-provided lunch while waiting for provided transportation,
in front of Royal Hotel, afternoon 27 Oct 2017

At another S & F point opposite the National Museum which also rejected my khaki pants, a respectable middle-aged couple stood disappointed. Both looked like kind professors, all in black & the wife in a dress. But his trousers were wrong. They were black, yes, but they were jeans. “All these rules: no sandals, no jeans. Such an emphasis on appearances,” one of them said. This set the 3 of us talking about the new Supreme Patriarch’s brief but intense pre-Cremation sermon in praise of the late King’s sympathetic simplicity; how his compassionate qualities beautify & uplift the simplest surroundings, just as the most splendid of settings cannot redeem disgusting people who remain disgusting (“na rangiad”—contemptible, to be shunned). I then remembered that I had a white scarf printed in black with the number 9 & King Bhumibol’s motto ‘Por Piang’ (“Enough”/ “Self-suffient”) from designer Maynart Nandakwang’s breast cancer campaign. The 2 professors agreed it would be an interesting experiment for me to wear it as a sarong over my objectionable trousers & see if I’d get past the Sorting & Filtering process. As they watched from a safe distance in amusement, I wrapped it over my trousers & reapproached the checkpoint with the camera running.

“Flipflops not allowed!” the same young cop said triumphantly. To my delight, on cue a group of women in similar black flipflops emerged from the enclosure. The big boss fat cop said he didn’t know which checkpoint let them in; it wasn’t his checkpoint, so that is that. If I really must know, I should find out which & ask the people there. This was so redolent of the Alice in Wonderland logic thrown at us over ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, it triggered my symptoms of PTSD. There are no hard & fast rules, then, I said; it’s just up to your personal judgement, the sorter & filterer’s personal estimation of each individual ‘supplicant’. The boss cop turned & walked back inside as the young cop started filming me.

Volunteer managing the queues of mourners,
afternoon 25 Oct 2017

I walked on in a trance towards the river; perhaps I’d catch a river boat & then a train home. At the Fine Arts Department and Thammasart corner, in answer to my request for a clarification of the rules, a pompous middle-aged male volunteer with a white moustache ordered me to immediately stop filming him & then, unprompted by anything, burst into an American English tirade: “You have no legal right to film me! I know the law. I know my rights. You cannot film me if I refuse permission blah blah..” But we’re on a public street, I said, puzzled by his extreme reaction. And why are you speaking English? You don’t live here, do you? He nodded proudly. He positively smirked.

Fine if that’s what you prefer, I said back in English. You come here to volunteer for a few days & suddenly you’re the Number One patriot, you own everything & control everyone. You think you’re better than the people who live here through thick & thin, good times & bad, who have fought & died for this country for years & years as it’s attacked by your fucking empire. Go back to your country. Fuck off back to America.

It shocked him speechless. But a senior-looking monk with a shining face stood by smiling instead of doing the monkish thing of telling me to calm down. I could swear he seemed quite pleased. It was as if such scenes went on all day as I’d heard from afar. Nobody seemed surprised, only the cops & the Thai American volunteer.

“Those ones over there are the worst,” said a win motorcy (motorcycle taxi rider) nearby. “We’ve nearly come to blows with them at least twice. This is our livelihood & they tell us to leave the area. We provide a service to people. Once they told us to park on one side & then told the crowd we were providing free rides for mourners. We never said such a thing. How can we afford to do that?” To continue the conversation, I hired him to take me home, all the way across town.

His granny came by bus from far-off Ubol but they told her she wasn’t smartly dressed enough.  “My gran’s so old, coming so far. I don’t understand their thinking.” Her wrong ‘mai rieb roy’ outfit barred her from proximity with her beloved King’s remains. “Why couldn’t they have let her in? What are they made of?” he asked me as we sped away from these oppressive scenes back to unexotic, humdrum but freewheeling modern Bangkok.

Off Limits: the Royal Ground (Sanam Lhuang)
with the Royal Pyre in the b/g, afternoon 27 Oct 2017

“The King belongs to us all. That’s how we belong to the King,” I shouted back over his shoulder against the wind. “No one has the sole distribution right to the King, since the King and the land are one, so the King is everywhere.”

“I love that, sister. It’s true.”

The King is everywhere. You don’t have to go the palace area or any officially designated site where a Replica Royal Pyre [“Phra Merumas Jumlong”] has been set up with their accompanying long lines, since even to enter the replicas you are to adhere to the same strict dress code. I told him how the tree in front of my house is the meeting place for the maids & nannies of the soi; I could overhear their anxiety over the “700 baht shoes” they’d have to buy to be able to say goodbye to the King who advocated simplicity. Another solved the problem by borrowing her mistress’ shoes. This inspired us to do our own thing last night at the exact same time as the real cremation, right in front of the house, burning aromatic dry herbs & flowers in a pure flame fed by sandalwood oil from Rajasthan in my mother’s possibly museum piece prehistoric stove from Isan, which is surely a properly sacred receptacle for our grief and farewell wishes. The win motorcy was impressed.

Our homemade Royal Cremation in my mum’s prehistoric stove from Isan,
26 October 2017 at 10:22 pm

We agreed that some of these volunteers with their boyscout scarves & blue caps were reminiscent of Village Scouts [‘Luke Sua Chaobarn’—nationalist royalist grass roots militia  first set up around 1971 to battle communism at the height of Vietnam War]. I shared my nagging worry that people will start lynching & hanging people from tamarind trees again, as they did on October 6, 1976 in the same environs. “Oh, my dear sister! That gives me the creeps,” he said, “I know exactly what you mean.” Except they wouldn’t be tamarind trees we’re hanging from, since the ancient, history-soaked tamarind trees of the Royal Ground have been removed to make way for the Royal Pyre which is instead decorated with neat rows of potted Thai-style bonsai trees [Tako dud], giving an unreal, fantasy Thai litrerature appearance to the whole spotless, symmetrical precinct. Many people are upset about the tamarind trees & hope they will return after the pavilions are taken down.  In my old slides of a rehearsal for Queen Rambhai’s funeral procession, the feathery green foliage of the tamarind trees burnished the gold & the red & the whiteness of the vestments of the Brahmin priests aglow with magic light, and of course on the day she really was curled up inside the urn passing us by.

A shopping centre screen relaying the last rites in the Grand Palace,
25 Oct 2017, 5 pm

Our cross-town exchange, shouted exuberantly against the wind as we weaved through traffic, gave some relief to both of us.  It does help to remind ourselves in the face of such exclusivity that the spirit of monarchy means that the King & the land are one, and so the King is everywhere. No single person or institution owns the King; the King belongs to everyone, in fact and in imagination. King Bhumibol is part of our personal story & our song too must be heard. 

Do what you will, I am not going to go back in time with you to Lhuang Vichit – Field Marshall P fascist dress codes & cheap chauvinistic brand of ultra-nationalism or “peace & order” in uniformity & synchronicity. “Even the marigolds [that we’re told to plant everywhere for the Royal Cremation] must bloom in unison [“Dogmai yang tong barn prom-priang gun”], joked one newsreader.  I can promise you that if this is the road insisted upon, our civil disobedience will soon be reflected in all our actions.

           The one predictable thing about Thai people is our need for oxygen, & lots of it. At any time we’re made to feel that there’s no air to breathe, we burst out of the box regardless of consequences. How we do this & the nature of the final straw or trigger is never predictable, always underestimated & rarely foreseen by those in power, among whom are included locked-in syndrome journalists & academics.

Man in his best suit in the queue to say goodbye to King Rama IX
at Wat Tart Tong, 26 Oct 2017, 6 pm

When you exclude an outcast like me, you only delight me with good stock footage for a future film & confirm my prejudices against (& problem with) authorities. There is no element of surprise. Of course you keep me out; you always do.

But when you exclude those with the overwhelmingly sincere belief that King Bhumibol was their “Royal Papa” [“Por Lhuang”] and their ideal, with whom they share an eternal unbreakable bond, the sense of betrayal must sting. Then when they are further deprived of the live coverage of the actual cremation, deprived of the sight of their Beloved rising to heaven in an awe-inspiring cloud of smoke as he became one with the sky over their heads; when even this traditional exorcism of grief was denied to them, that energy will seek another outlet to express itself, to disperse or explode & dematerialize. To use my favoured exorcism terms, the psychic crisis with its subsequent release has not been achieved. Just as the climax was expected to occur, the live feed to the TV pool was switched off.

The queue to say goodbye to King Rama IX at Wat Tart Tong, (stretching to Big C Ekamai
on one end & Sukhumvit Hospital on the other), 26 Oct 2017, 6 pm

The queue to say goodbye to King Rama IX at Wat Tart Tong,
26 Oct 2017, 6 pm

Since TV outlets were forbidden to broadcast live from the scene (except of the crowd & the periphery) or to hook up feed from ordinary spectators’ Facebook live (Nation TV & one other channel was penalized with a 2-day press pass ban for this), most of the nation never saw, live, the all-important image of the smoke rising from the Royal Pyre, like the closing of curtains signaling the end of an era.  At Queen Rambhai’s funeral in 1985 which I was privileged to attend, this was the moment, the sight of it, that crystalised for me the enigma of our story in all my conspiracy theories, so much of our history & how the real magic of monarchy is achieved by allowing room for everybody’s personal expression, contribution & participation, and so achieving an authentic unity through an effortless & healthy dose of mutual respect. Seated below the Royal pavilion, over my head I heard the amazed voice of a grand old lady, “The people are overflowing the Pyre!” There was no airconditoning; the one  pavilion was al fresco, so those on the fringes like me could hear everything. “They’ve come to say goodbye to King Rama VII,” someone replied. Rama VII, Queen Rambhai’s husband King Prajadhipok, who had an exile’s simple war-time ceremony at a utilitarian English crematorium attended by a handful of relatives.

I recall the smoke rising into a still & overcast April twilight, unlike Thursday night’s epic cloud of smoke with its phantasmal formations & “miraculous appearance” of ten white cranes at dead of night. The smoke then rising displayed no magic other than to rise up calmly, much like Queen Rambhai herself. Yet time stood still & silent for many of us as all of history past, present & future seemed to converge to hang suspended in the air, which thronged with names we know whose faces we cannot see, as entities invisible make themselves known in the smoke cloud for a spell. Other royal funerals gone before seemed to roll by before us, & in my case the imprint of that one glimpse has remained.

What portents will be read in this far more spectacular smoke cloud?  Laced with white cranes, burgeoning against the aural background of chanting & ancient music and, below that, an even note of people sobbing, like the persistent call of crickets in a forest of humans all in black.

The queue to say goodbye to King Rama IX at Wat Tart Tong,
26 Oct 2017, 6 pm

Tuesday 31 october 2017, Bangkok

Perhaps you’ve heard what’s been happening in Chonburi, how hundreds of people have risen up to demand the immediate transfer of the provincial governor for his mishandling of the Replica Cremation, giving preferential treatment to VIPs while the people waited in long lines for hours in the full sun & then closing it down while the lines were still long. Watching the Chonburi protest live on New & Nation TV, it was hard not to be impressed by the calmness of their rage, their clarity & implacability. They had been treated as less than human, and that too at a moment of great pain, so the governor must go. One man concludes: “He’s not even from here. How can he rule us people of Chonburi?”  So much for unity. As ye divide, so shall ye reap. Similar trouble has been occurring elsewhere, including in the Bangkok satellite town of Nonthaburi.  

Such emphasis on the separation between the people & their King, including by discriminating against certain types & excluding those who can’t afford shoes from physical proximity to the royal precinct, is likely to create a dangerous rift that will widen with time. Some blame such mistakes on the inexperience of the all-new staff at the Royal Household Bureau, since the old staff which had been the capable wind beneath the monarchy’s wings, including members of a family that had served the institution for generations, are all gone with the end of the 9th reign. If this is true, things might improve as the new staff gain the necessary experience in the difficult art of ensuring calm continuity.

Incidentally, 42 people with outstanding arrest warrants attempted to get through the S & F checkpoints. When reporters asked if their crimes included lese majeste, the police said that information was confidential.  The only thing we know is that they were, of course, arrested.

Loy Krathong full moon over my house, 4 Nov 2017

Friday 4 November, Full Moon (Loy Krathong)

By default I’ve made a close study of crowds from years of filming & editing protest footage. I think it’s a pity that security concerns are necessarily preventing the full flowering of the Royal Cremation crowd ecology. It’s endlessly fascinating to observe over time how each crowd weaves its own morphic field (imaginative reality) & ecology—the communal kitchens & medical tents, security & waste arrangements, protest t-shirt vendors, etc.  Protest or event t-shirts are a fun barometer of a crowd’s mood, but t-shirts featuring the image of the Royal Crematorium have for some reason been banned as disrespectful.

The longer the crowd is there, the more elaborate the village that develops. In Lumpini Park some farmers taking part in Shutdown Bangkok managed to grow some rice & vegetables over the 7 long months of their occupation. The Shutdown villages of multi-coloured tents & pink mosquito nets, with laundry hanging out to dry, had an unpretentious charm & inner harmony, even though at first glance it may appear “disorderly” since everyone’s in maximum expressionist & survivalist mode. The beautiful thing was they didn’t have to suppress or sacrifice any part of themselves or their values to be there.

This difference forcefully reminded me of our recent Shakespearean fascist woes. As with Thai cinema, the attempt to tame all individual expression in order to create the illusion of harmony through uniformity—of colour, dress, expression; would naturally discourage the crowd or community in question from evolving any organic ecology—any life, in a word.

You may say I’m comparing apples & oranges: mourners versus a protest mob. I am not so much comparing them as to affirm that, in the epic movie we call history, the great mass of the people are not the extras but the stars.

With Love from Bangkok,
Ing Kanjanavanit

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.

Monday, 21 August 2017


Thailand’s first skyscraper’s recently vacated shrine: Chokechai Building’s
Brahma the Creator statue has been removed pending redevelopment.

Bangkok Love Letter
Monday 21 August 2017, Bangkok

Dear Foreign Friend,

     Have you ever been caught by an undertow? The tide is pulling you far out into the deep blue where sharks lurk and there is nothing you can do about it. On a mellow sunset walk to the lagoon end of Karon Beach one rose pink evening in 1984, I was enticed into the water by the siren song of an emerald pool in the shallows of a dead calm Andaman Sea. It’s actually the channel sucked out by the waves as they recede back to the depths from whence they came. If you get caught up in it, you’re washed far out to sea.

     It’s a helpless but fascinating feeling. An extraordinary sensation, almost an out-of-body experience, not being able to overcome the imperturbable power of something so fluid as water; when no amount of swimming will get you back to shore.

                Sense memories inform our interpretation of omens: strange animal sightings, co-incidences so odd and so apt Someone must have Somehow arranged it to be precisely thus. These say sit back for the ride because you’re not driving, I am; whomever ‘I’ is or I Am. Please don’t pretend you’ve never noticed these in your life, even if you’re not Thai.

                Here we are; not breathing, daily contemplating The End at the hands of the X Factor Jack in the Box, as I continue to obey, like a mad man, the I-Ching’s exhortations to “Work on What Has Been Spoiled (Decay)”:  “What has been spoilt through man’s fault can be made good again through man’s work. It is not immutable fate, as in the time of Standstill, that has caused the state of corruption, but rather the abuse of human freedom… It is the same with debasing attitudes and fashions; they corrupt human society. To do away with this corruption, the superior man must regenerate society… [One] must first remove stagnation by stirring up public opinion, as the wind stirs everything, and must then strengthen and tranquillize the character of the people, as the mountain gives tranquility and nourishment to all that grows in its vicinity.” [Richard Wilhelm translation of the I Ching, rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes, Foreword C.G. Jung, publisher Routledge & Kegan Paul]

                I sincerely tried my best to do my bit when I set out on the wild (we didn’t know how wild) ride of translating ‘Macbeth’ into Thai to make a horror movie from it, as countless other filmmakers have done throughout the world from Japan to India and Mexico.

                Had he lived, August 11, 2017 would’ve been the 119th birthday of Lhuang Vichit-Vadakarn (literally “Sir Clever of Speech” or, more poetically, ‘Sir Silver-Tongued’, a now extinct title royally bestowed for service to the state by an absolute monarch; his birth name was the Chinese name Kim Liang, despite which he later persecuted Chinese Thais, perhaps, hopefully, only to please his Japanese masters), diplomat, advisor to Field Marshall Plaek Pinbulsongkram (literally “Field Marshall Strange Full of War”) as his propaganda chief (yes, the gang that changed our name from Siam to Thailand and made it compulsory to wear hats and Western shoes instead of flipflops and kiss our wives at the door before leaving for work like some strange household product commercial, to follow the civilized example of the colonial masters of the world), fascist Director General of the Fine Arts Department (the nearest thing then to a ministry of culture), war criminal, Japanese collaborator returned to power from exile as Cold War warrior Sarit’s advisor, writer of patriotic plays and songs, on his centenary commemorated by UNESCO as a Distinguished Person of the 20th Century (or some such thing). How bitter it is that, for as long as I have lived and likely until I die, this is the man who has defined Thai identity and patriotism by disqualifying and demonizing any other vision of love of country.

Kim Liang hates chinks’ by Ing K, 2001, oil on canvas, part of
Neo-Nationalism’ group exhibition at Chulalongkorn Art Center, 7 Nov - 17 Dec 2005

        Lhuang Vichit is a potent reminder of the old Chinese advice taken cynically: if you’re planning ten years ahead, plant trees; if planning for a hundred years, educate (brainwash or inspire) people. His imprint is so deep on our bureaucratic culture, it has kept Them in the fascist 1930’s-40’s and the Cold War, while the rest of Thai society has long moved on. Except we can’t move on, because They are legally sanctioned to keep us chained.

        For me, Thailand celebrated this oppressive milestone in style by upholding the ban on the film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, my Thai Macbeth, proving thereby that though the man in the flesh may no longer be with us, his brain-washing brand of bombastic nationalism has long outlived him, and at this rate is likely to outlive our children’s children. Read the verdict highlights at the bottom if you doubt my pessimism.

Photos of King Rama IX at the expressway turnstile
on the way to Administrative Court

                  To paraphrase Ajarn Will: Now is the monsoon of our discontent made glorious fireworks by these sons of hawks. It’s a jumpy time here in Bangkok as elsewhere. The plagues of monsoon are raging. Just days ago a group of public health officials walked down the soi telling us all to get rid of mosquito-spawning trapped stagnant water.  Along with the usual flu and Dengue epidemics, something more exotic has come ashore: a case of ZIKA has been reported, a foreigner in the highrise condo in the next soi. With the October 7 case dismissal breeding street-level restlessness and ex-PM Yingluck’s looming sort of D-Day, all we grass blades can do is sit and stare open-mouthed at the rampaging elephants in the room, and pray it will all end before we’re forced back on the streets with our now-ragged flags and faded pink mosquito-net tents, or worse.

                 Kept barely under the lid of the pressure cooker by the Royal Cremation at the end of October, Thai people are expected to behave with due Siamese decorum until then. After that all bets are off. The lynchpin holding us together will then be truly gone.

                You must of course bear in mind that these are the words of a loser. After waiting five years and two days, on Friday August 11 the Administrative Court ruled that we have no case against the censors. Case dismissed. The censors win. The film stays banned; in fact it is now confirmed as righteously banned as a danger to public morals and mental health as well as damaging to “national pride and dignity”, and as such a threat to national security. I still feel like I’m dreaming every time I read these charges.

Our last look back at the Administrative Court on Friday August 11, 2017

                    The October 6 massacre reappears, the ghost that haunts us forever; back again as the reason to keep us banned even as films, and countless plays in the last year alone, on October 6 proliferate, none of which has raised a single eyebrow or objection from any official authority or relatives of victims, from any government, military or otherwise; none of them were banned including this year’s Supannahongse (Thai Oscars) awards’ Best Picture, starring Lhuang Vichit’s granddaughter as a socially conscious woman director making a film on, yes you guessed it, October 6, 1976. It wasn’t charged with posing a threat to national security. No cuts were demanded. All of which raises the suspicion that October 6 is not the real reason for the ban.

                    The irony is the censors didn’t even know that the scene was referencing an iconic news photograph; they didn’t know who Neal Ulevich is. Why would they? They didn’t know Shakespeare (or that ‘Macbeth’ is taught to middle school children all over the world). They had been complaining about the most extraordinary things including Lady Macbeth’s “Saudi Diamond” necklace. Their initial complaint about the lynching scene was about its “sickening” violence. I said it was meant to sicken and pointed out that one actually sees very little, compared to almost every other movie out there in circulation in multiplexes near you.

        It was not violence for the sake of thrills, I patiently explained, it was a serious scene whose composition was inspired by a photograph of the October 6 massacre; we had the right, ethical reason to stage the scene in this way. By focusing on the cheering mob, not the victim—here the laughing boy, just like in the photo, here the uncomfortable guy smoking and watching, etc.—we hope to remind people not to surrender their sanity and free will to those who incite hatred to divide and conquer us.

        When I said that, it was, as we say, pointing out the hole to the squirrel.  Since then they’ve gone on and on about the perils of “The October 6 Scene” in ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, even though the film itself has nothing to do with October 6 and everything to do with ‘Macbeth’, word for bloody word except for perhaps 2 % of it.

Man with the Cigarette watches the lynching, from the series ‘Where Are They Now?’
by Ing K, watercolour on paper (detail) in the exhibition catalogue for
Flashback’76: History & Memory of the October 6 Massacre’ at Pridi Institute, August 2008

         If a case of discrimination and political inference this obvious can’t be proven, who will ever dare again to hold the censors accountable? Twice they have proven that filmmakers, the lowest life forms in terms of human rights to state the bare legal fact, cannot sue the state and win. Former President of the Thai Directors Guild Tanyawarin Sukhapisit’s ‘Insects in the Backyard’, a sad film banned for obscenity, lost; ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ lost. The censors now exult in confirmed limitless power exercised by their legally-sanctioned personal judgement. End of argument. No amount of fact or logical debate will free a film they are determined to ban. In fact, films can be banned and unbanned at will with no regard to due process, at the whim of Higher Powers. Their cinematic taste—their opinion, their word—is literally law.

        Taking our cue from the one and only hearing in five years on 5th July, the verdict was no surprise, although the severity of the chastisement, not of the defendants but of us, the plaintiffs, was a surprise. I had been invited to give my last statement in person [see the end of Bangkok Love Letter#11: Fairyland or 5 July Statement to Admin Court], but almost as soon as I began reading it, the Chief Judge told me to hurry along and “summarize it”. Plaintiff # 1, Manit Sriwanichpoom, producer and DP of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ pleaded with the court to let me finish, since “we’ve waited five years for this day”. This prompting to cut it short was repeated twice more even as tears of frustration rained down my face, but I did keep on reading as calmly and firmly as I could given the circumstances, with Manit nodding at me to carry on each time I hesitated after being told to “make it brief” or conclude altogether.

        Sitting off to my left side on the dais apart from the five judges arrayed above and before me with a portrait of King Rama IX behind them (a month and six days later on Judgement Day there were two royal portraits instead of one—the old king and the new in whose names the judges make their ruling, which means you risk being in contempt of the King as well as the Court if you criticise the ruling), was the ‘Independent Judge’ who would conclude the hearing with his personal recommendations to the court on the case. After I was done, the Chief Judge turned to him with a smile, “Did that change your mind?” The reply was “No”. It was a moment of levity between colleagues, and we knew that we were doomed, especially when the recommendation was for dismissal of all charges since the banning order was “a legally righteous order.”

From Manit Sriwanichpoom’s series ‘Horror in Pink’, 2001,
[“They died so we can go shopping”].
Original photo by AP’s Neal Ulevich, part of ‘History & Memory(1)’ show at Chulalongkorn Art Center

      A few days after our dismal day in court, Yingluck Shinawatra read 19 pages of her final statement to the Supreme Court (Criminal Division for Political Office Holder) in her rice-pledging scheme liability case, and still complains of legal discrimination. Even with all the interruptions, my 8-page statement took no longer than 15 minutes to read, all of it on behalf of Thai filmmakers, who have no champion of any description to plead their case, only these small fry victims in this courtroom right now.

                  Reading through the verdict, all 30 pages of it, the phrase “the security of the state, peace and order or the good morality of the people” appear so continuously that while typing the English translation, I was able to endlessly copy and paste. Then the words “mental and spiritual degradation” and “safeguarding of public health”.  Increasingly I felt that I was reading a horrific description of a dirty bomb or bio-weapon and the hell-bent domestic terrorists who made it, rather than a film. How can anyone talk about a movie in this way? In this world of outrageous sounds and images, how toxic can a Shakespearean horror movie be, for God’s sake.

Banquo at the banquet flanked by Russian oligarchs in banned film ‘Shakespeare Must Die

         With a growing sense of horror and wonder I realise that the film, made to exorcise my own demons after the grueling trek of a documentary on the Southern Unrest built around a surreal attack on a young art teacher in Narathiwas (‘Citizen Juling’), is truly an exorcism of the national psyche, and as such a threat to national security in the eyes of the possessing entity. For Juling we travelled up and down the country absorbing unheard people’s psychic and other bleeding wounds. To get out of a meat-grinder like that I had to blitz my brain, exercise and exorcise it, and in my eyes there is no better rite of exorcism, Roman, Khmer or otherwise, than a performance of the Cursed Play. ‘Macbeth’ is undeniably the great grandpa of horror: right into the witches’ cauldron we go.  Translating Shakespeare is joyous and obliterating, with all brain cells switched on. It’s beyond me why I am not allowed to share this exhilarating experience with the Thai audience. Yes, it’s bracing. But it’s cleansing. That’s just ‘Macbeth’ if you trust and follow Ajarn Will absolutely, unreservedly, no matter how challenging the terrain.

        Then it occurs to me, following this line of thought in cinema as in real life, that of course demons always resist expulsion from its chosen host, which in this case instead of Linda Blair lying there chained to the bed and sprinkled with holy water, it’s Lhuang Vichit. The cultural fascists’ violent response to Shakespearean exorcism is the natural reaction of the disease towards the cure.  No use resenting other people’s survival instincts.

“Where my body is buried,” points a bespectacled bystander possessed by
the weeping spirit of Nong Ploy, 
strangled & tyre-burned by boyfriend 3 years ago.
The possessed is begging the victim’s mother to take her home.

         Repeatedly, from the front door past the metal detector and search (“for weapons,” said the cop I hope in jest) to the courtroom as we waited with a sense of doom for the judges to appear, we are sternly reminded to “hear the verdict in a state of calm” (to us) and that “filming and photos are not allowed!” (to the press). Don’t freak out here. Presumably because, this being the court of the desperate last hope to hold tyranny accountable, people freak out here all the time. Like the blind old man who appeared out of nowhere to scream, “Three years and still no judgement! I demand to see the Chief Judge!” on the day we filed our case five years ago. He said he was eighty so he might be dead now. Did he ever receive justice?

        You can see him still, rampaging through the lobby with his blindman’s stick, at the end of ‘Censor Must Die’, our long strange trip (even then) to unban our brainchild. I had become that raging old man, I realised, as I ran calling after the censors’ victorious little gang (only the office bureaucrats were there, headed by “Brother Pradith”, the sympathetic star of ‘Censor Must Die’, but no actual censors) as they rushed silently out from the courtroom, seemingly desperate to leave unseen: “Whoever lies in court shall come to a bad end [“me un pen pai ”, the actual words used in the oath] as foresworn in court!” I intoned momentously at their retreating backs, “Earth be my witness! The sky and the ancestors bear witness! The Guardian of Siam bear witness!” The posse of police that had seemed about to pounce and drag away shrank back as from a witch, which in that moment I undoubtedly was. Perhaps they’ve all seen the Cursed Movie and believe we’re spawn of Satan.

The verdict, first & last page  

        Below are highlights from the verdict, which is a fascinating and illuminating read. Imagine someone saying such things about something that came from you. I should next make a movie titled ‘Lhuang Vichit Must Die’. Oh, I can’t? It would upset the family. We can’t explore our history and the true reason we have no democracy, because it would upset the family. Public figures’ right to privacy is protected; our right to make a film from our history is not. That’s why Euthana Mukdasanit’s biopic on Field Marshall Strange Full of War could not be made, despite the strange man’s impact on our democracy today.  That’s why Banjong Kosalawat’s life of FM Strange’s deposer and successor Field Marshall Sarit could not be made. What a terrible loss to Thai cinema that two of our greatest storytellers working at the height of their powers were prevented from realizing their dream projects.

        A big hug, dear friend.  All’s not well with you either, I know. What X-rated times we live in.

With Love from Bangkok,
Ing Kanjanavanit

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.

[This English translation from the original Thai is faithful and literal but not an official translation]

Black Numbered Case 1321/2555 [2012]
Red Numbered Case 1419/2560 [2017]

In the Name of the King
Central Administrative Court
11 August 2017

     Between Plaintiffs: Mr Manit Sriwanichpoom #1             
                                      Miss Smanrat Kanjanavanit [Ing K] #2
                 Defendants: The National Board of Film and Video #1
                                      Board of Film and Video Censors, Third Committee, #2
                                      Department of Cultural Promotion # 3


On the question that the censors passed the trailer of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ which prominently features the so-called “October 6 scene” with no objections, yet object to its presence in the film:
                The three defendants gave additional testimony that… when defendant #2 inspected the whole of this film’s advertising trailer finding it correct according to Article 25, Article 29, Article 30, Article 31 and Article 32(1) of the Royal Edict on Film and Video 2008, with due deliberation permitted it to be distributed; inspection of the trailer does not exempt the content of the film according to Article 27 of the aforementioned Royal Edict which exempts from censorship by defendant #2 in any way.” [Page 15]

On the defendants’ testimony which contradicts plaintiff #1’s testimony that the National Film Board’s Legal Subcommittee informed him that there would be a good compromise, namely the 20+ rating. (Plaintiff #2 did not attend the session):
                Although defendant #1 through the subcommittee for Legal Deliberation and Opinion set up by defendant #1 had deliberated the justice of it, summoning the two plaintiffs to an inquiry in Meeting #9/2012, on 24 April 2012, and both the 2 plaintiffs confirmed their wish not to correct anything as before, so it can be seen that the two plaintiffs had appealed the administrative order by defendant #2 but still chose not to proceed according to the instructions of the agency deliberating the appeal to enable the film to be permitted to be distributed, and insisted on making no corrections at all. It should be noted that cinema is a medium with the capacity to influence the thinking of the people; it is easily absorbed into the culture, and has an impact on the security of the state, peace and order and the good morality of the people. It is therefore [part of] the main mission of the state which must preserve peace and order and protect against dangers and perils that will arise, danger both external and internal, including the solving of the problem of conflict among the people in society, in order to achieve peace and happiness. In this endeavour the Royal Edict on Film and Video 2008 is deemed one of the instruments of state employed in preserving the security of the state, peace and order and the good morality of the people. And defendant #2 has the duty to consider permission for films… without allowing [into distribution films that] affect the security of the state, peace and order and the good morality of the people. When considering the events that occurred in the period of 6 October 1976, which was a time of extreme divisiveness and polarization of thought and ideals in Thai society, it was a violent event causing a large number of people to lose their lives which was not something that anyone wanted to happen, which resembles Thailand’s present situation and the recent past. When you bring in the events during 6 October 1976 which has content that shows the actors’ displeasure and an attack on the cast, during which the play’s director is hung by the neck and hit with objects as part of the content of this film, in order to echo the country’s events of social unrest, this may result in causing violent events that have happened repeatedly in Thailand. As in the example of what happened abroad from the distribution of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ which caused divisiveness including damage to life and property of people of the same nation and other nations, without anyone being able to control the situation, which is revealing of the influence of films that affect personal thinking and may cause divisiveness to spread widely among people in society. Neither the two plaintiffs nor the three defendants would wish such aforesaid events to happen in Thailand, and [the Court’s] referencing of the symbolic colours of yellow and red is [cited as] an example that shows a scene that indicates it’s [taking place in] Thai society, not a country of the two plaintiffs’ imagination, which is not to claim that the presence of the symbolic colours of yellow and red in the film will cause disunity or violence.”  [Page 15 – 16]

On the irregularity in the censorship process and its vulnerability to political pressure and interference as seen in the blatantly preferential treatment of ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ [‘The Sky is Low; the Land is High’, official English title ‘Boundary’], also definitively banned for national security reasons, but only 48 hours later had its ban overturned without having to file an appeal, in contrast to the apparent witch-hunting of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’:
                “In the case of ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ (Boundary) which defendant #2 had inspected and saw that some parts should be amended, so informed the permit applicant to proceed in the correction; after the permit applicant made the correction, accordingly the verdict was to permit the film’s release.”  [Page 16]
                “As for the 2 plaintiffs’ claim that other films have presented events similar to that seen in ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, yet were permitted to be distributed in the kingdom, such as the film ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ or ‘Boundary’ and ‘Horror University’, and that defendant #2’s order to ban the 2 plaintiffs from distributing the film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ in the Kingdom is unjust and discriminatory… [The Court] deems that although some of the scenes in the films are similar, but each film naturally has its own different facts which fall under the personal deliberation by defendant #2 to inspect and categorise and issue the order to permit or not to permit distribution in the Kingdom under the framework  and the rules of the law, which in this case there appears no claim, witnesses or evidence that could show that the films referred to present such an explicit scene in the film that shows images that cause disunity  among the people of the nation, as is manifested in the 2 plaintiffs’ film Shakespeare Must Die, which would make it reasonable to claim that unjust discrimination has been practiced against [them]. As for the case of the film ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ [‘The Sky is Low; the Land is High’] (Boundary); that is the case in which defendant #2 (committee 1) had inspected the film and saw that some parts should be corrected and accordingly informed the permit applicant to proceed with corrections, which the permit applicant did correct the aforementioned film as informed. Defendant #2 accordingly ruled on the rating as specified by Article 26(1) to (6) of the Royal Edict on Film and Video 2008…
                …Therefore, that defendant #2 issued the order to ban the two plaintiffs’ film from distribution in the Kingdom, and permitted the above film to be distributed, is not sufficient to convince that different, discriminatory treatment was meted out towards films that are the same in essential substance; that would constitute unjust discriminatory treatment as claimed by the 2 plaintiffs in any way.”  [Page 28 – 29]
                “As for the two plaintiffs’ claim that defendant #2 did not inform the two plaintiffs to change or cut any content of any part or any scene, or a sequence or many sequences that defendant #2 deems contain content that causes disunity among the people of the nation before issuing the order to ban the aforesaid film from distribution in the Kingdom, so that the two plaintiffs could not know how much or how little defendant #2 wished to be corrected; [the Court] sees that since the two plaintiffs attended a meeting with defendant #2 in a meeting on 3 April 2012, that [our stress] the two plaintiffs gave as a reason to defendant #2 for their insistence on making no corrections or cuts that it is a case of the two plaintiffs’ wishing to present the truth of events of 6 October 1976 in Thailand; additionally, after examining the appeal document filed by the two plaintiffs dated 17 April 2012, in item 3 page 4 and page 5, the two plaintiffs admit that there was much discussion of the 6 October 1976 scene and scenes that use the colour red; [all of which] shows that the two plaintiffs knew and understood which scene or content of the film in which part that defendant #2 saw as causing disunity among the people of the nation which defendant #2 wished the two plaintiffs to correct or cut, since it is the scene or content that defendant #2 used as the reason for issuing the order to ban the aforesaid film in the Kingdom. In this instance it may be held that defendant #2 did inform the two plaintiffs to proceed with corrections and changes to the content before issuing the aforementioned banning order according to steps of procedure which is the important substance for the issuing of the order to ban this film from distribution in the Kingdom as delineated by the law. As for the two plaintiffs’ claim that defendant #1 and #2 could have assigned a rating appropriate for the age and type of audience, [the Court] sees that since the two plaintiffs insisted on making no correction or cut in the aforesaid part of the content, defendant #2 naturally could not consider assigning a rating… according to Article 26(1) to (6) of the Royal Edict on Film and Video 2008, since it is not the case in which the two plaintiffs were willing for corrections or cuts to be made in the content of some parts of the film, which would have allowed defendant #2 to assign a rating to the aforementioned film that the two plaintiffs desire to receive permission for…”  [Page 26]  

On the National Human Rights Commission’s recommendations and inquiry, which consisted of 2 sessions at the NHRC, the first attended by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, the second by the Permanent Secretary himself. (There is no mention of the Senate House Committee on Citizens’ Rights and Freedom, the United Nations Human Rights Council or the US State Dept Country Report on Human Rights):
                On the issue of the findings of the inquiry into the complaint by the National Human Rights Commission, dated 29 May 2013 which the two plaintiffs appended to their rebuttal of the defendants’ testimony, it does not appear that representatives of defendant #2 or defendant #2 appeared to testify to the facts before the Subcommittee on Citizens and Political Rights, even though defendant #2 is the one that issued the administrative order. As regards the Subcommittee’s recommendation of measures and suggestions to agencies concerned, requesting defendant #2 to review the banning order on the film Shakespeare Must Die by specifying the age of the audience for this film with a rating suitable for those of 18 years old and above, and recommended that the Law Reform Council consider amendments to improve the Royal Edict on Film and Video 2008, which law is deemed restrictive of the right to freedom of thought and expression according to the Constitution of the Thai Kingdom of 2007. The National Human Rights Commission (Rights Protection Division) convened to deliberate the complaint in Meeting 16/2013 on 15 May 2013, thereby agreeing with the Subcommittee’s opinion. But since the two plaintiffs had already filed a case against defendant #1 and #2 [Administrative Court cases must be filed within 90 days of alleged administrative offence] in this Administrative Court case, the case must fall under Article 22 of the Royal Edict on the National Human Rights Commission BE 2542 [1999], therefore the National Human Rights Commission accordingly is no longer empowered to further inquire into the case and present remedial measures. The Commission therefore sees fit to conclude the issue. Therefore, the aforesaid opinion and verdict of the Subcommittee on Citizens’ and Political Rights do not fit within the jurisdiction of the National Human Rights Commission to receive for consideration. The aforesaid document is merely the opinion of the National Human Rights Commission, which is not an agency empowered to examine the content and substance of films…
                …The additional document that the two plaintiffs submitted is therefore merely the opinion of some other organization which cannot be used to prove that the two plaintiffs have been affected by the Royal Edict on Film and Video 2008 which restricted [their] Constitutional right to freedom of expression…”  [page 16 -17]

On whether ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ is a threat to national security:
                “[The Court] sees that the Royal Edict on Film and Video 2008 and related legislation do not specify the meaning and style of content of a film that would be deemed to “cause disunity among the people of the nation” that could be used as a directive on defendant#2’s exercise of power specifically. After scrutinizing the Royal Academy Dictionary of 2011, the definition of the word “unity” means doing things in unison, conciliation, a readiness to co-operate together with hand and heart in something. The word “split” means to separate from the whole, to cause to be separated from the whole, uncontrollable or cannot be controlled; and the word “nation” means country, the people who are citizens of a country, a group of people who share the same feelings towards race, religion, language, history, folklore, tradition and culture, or who are under the rule of the same government. From the aforementioned definitions, the meaning of the words “disunity among the people of the nation” may be deduced as meaning to cause a country, people who are the citizens of a country, a group of people who feel the same way about race, religion, language, history, folklore, tradition and culture or are under the rule of the same government, to stop acting in unison, to become unreconciled, to feel divided from each other. Therefore in order to deliberate whether the content of any film causes disunity among the people of the nation or not, it must be deliberated whether the content and the parts of the whole as manifested in the film has caused an impact on people of the same nation, compelling them to start having divisive feelings or not. In analyzing the substance of the story that the film aims to present and wishes to communicate to the audience through the viewing of the film, it is not possible to examine any specific scene or part of the film separately from the whole, because film communicates meaning and tells the story according to the plot comprising events that happen, developing from a beginning and proceeding to the final end or conclusion of the story, with actors playing roles and behaving according to the knot of the conflict, which reveals and unentangles or leaves behind as food for thought. Analysis of the substance of the story therefore entails analyzing the entire content of the film, whether the plot, the core of the story, the conversation and the conclusion, as each is linked to the whole, to discover the way of thinking or the story’s essential substance that the film aims to present to the audience. Therefore inspection of this film necessarily entails examination of the essential content of the whole film as connected into one whole to consider whether it contains content befitting description of causing disunity among the people of the nation, or not…”  [Page 22 - 23]
                “After examining the aforementioned film [the Court] sees that even though the two plaintiffs say that the country in this film is a fictitious country, but the contents of many scenes, many sequences convey quite clearly Thai social conditions and that the events are taking place in Thai society. For instance, the scene at Time 18.57 minutes, the dress of the actress is similar to ancient Thai dress, and the dress of male actors includes the wearing of cloth in traditional Thai culture.  The scene at Time 32.37 minute, the dress of the actors indicate features of Thai people. The scene from Time 1 hour 08.14 minute to 1 hour 11.43 minute is a scene showing Old Style Thai Coffee being sold from a vending cart on which are the letters spelling out “Old Style Thai Coffee” and the words “Original Recipe”, indicating features of Thai society. The scene at Time 1 hour 11.45 minute, the audience of the play adorn and dress themselves in a way that invokes Thai people. The scene at Time 1 hour 54.00 minute, is a scene with a boat that is similar to the Royal Supannahongse Barge. In the scene at Time 2 hour 37.58 minute, protesters are holding up signs written in Thai, as well as various props that all invoke Thai social conditions, not a fictitious country as claimed by the Two plaintiffs. As for the scene from Time 2 hour 43.23 minute to Time 2 hour 45.40 minute which defendant #2 saw was similar to the violent events on 6 October 1976 that happened in Thailand, which is the scene that causes disunity among the people of the nation, is a scene in which a group of men wearing black with red cloths on their heads carrying sticks runs into the theatre and attack the play’s audience, the cast, and lynch and hang the director, with a man in black sunglasses who had earlier gone to see the play holding a metal folding chair and bashing the body of the play’s director who was hung by the neck. Meanwhile the group of men with red cloths on their heads are cheering on the action. [The Court] sees that even though many Thai films have used past Thai history in which there was conflict among the people of the nation in their films, but the aforesaid past Thai history is history that occurred very many years ago so that Thai people of the present day can no longer trace from the story whether any person in the aforesaid history has any connection to or were actual relatives of theirs or not and in what way. Therefore the aforementioned films [evidently a reference to the ‘Suriyothai’ series of films cited by the plaintiffs as being more violent yet were widely released with ‘Recommended’ rating to which whole classes of schoolchildren were sent to learn from] do not cause hatred and vengeance to arise, unlike the two plaintiffs’ film which brings in the violent events on 6 October 1976, which is a contemporary event, as part of the film with the length of the aforementioned scene extending to over two minutes, which would naturally cause resentment among the relatives of those who lost their lives or who were part of the aforesaid event, causing vengeful and hateful feelings to arise, which may become the spark for disunity among the people of the nation. Additionally, in a meeting with defendant #2 on 3 April 2012, defendant #2 informed the two plaintiffs to correct and change the screenplay in the aforementioned scene, but the two plaintiffs insisted on not making any corrections or changes, even though it can be done without affecting the essential substance of the story, including reflections upon the dark and light sides of man, the nature of sin and karmic retribution and the struggle between good and evil within man’s heart and mind which the two plaintiffs desire to present to the audience of their film. That defendant #2 did not permit the two plaintiffs to distribute the film Shakespeare Must Die in the Kingdom for the reason that this film has content that causes disunity among the people of the nation, is accordingly a legal use of personal deliberation. Therefore, defendant #2’s order as recorded by the memo of film inspection, dated 3 April 2012 which does not permit the two plaintiffs to distribute the film Shakespeare Must Die in the Kingdom, is therefore a legally righteous order; and since it is already determined that the aforementioned order by defendant #2 is a legally righteous order, therefore, the appeal ruling by defendant #1 according to the verdict of Meeting 3/2012 on 11 May 2012, which agrees with defendant #2’s order with the verdict to dismiss the two plaintiffs’ appeal, is therefore an appeal ruling that is also legally righteous.”  [page 24 -26]

On the Right to Freedom of Expression:
                As for the two plaintiffs’ claim that defendant #2’s order to ban the two plaintiffs’ film Shakespeare Must Die from distribution in the Kingdom is restriction of the right to freedom of expression according to Article 45 of the Constitution of the Thai Kingdom of 2007, [the Court] sees that Article 26 of the Constitution of the Thai Kingdom of 2007 in force at the time of the dispute, specifies that the exercise of power by all governmental agencies must bear in mind human dignity, rights and freedom, as specified by this Constitution. Article 28(1) specifies that persons may lay claim on human dignity or exercise their own rights and freedom so far as they do not infringe the rights and freedom of other persons; do not set themselves up as enemies of the Constitution, or are not in conflict with the people’s good morality. Article 29 specifies that the restriction of personal rights and freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution cannot be done, except when authorized by the law specifically delineated by this Constitution and only as necessary, and may not affect the vital essence of that right and freedom. Article 43(1) specifies that persons have the freedom to conduct business or pursue a profession and compete freely and fairly. Paragraph (2) specifies that restrictions of freedom as described in Paragraph (1) may not be done, except when authorized by the law, specifically for the preservation of the security of the state or the national economy, the protection of the people’s public infrastructure, the preservation of peace and order or the good morality of the people, professional organization, consumer protection, town-planning, the preservation of natural resources or the environment, public welfare, or to guard against monopoly or remove unfair competition. Article 45(1) specifies that persons have the freedom to express an opinion, in speaking, writing, publishing, advertising and other means of communication. Paragraph (2) specifies that the restriction of freedom in Paragraph (1) may not be done, except when authorized by the law specifically for the preservation of the security of the state, to protect rights, freedom, dignity, reputation, family rights or the private life of other persons, in order to preserve peace and order or the good morality of the people, or to prevent or put a stop to mental and spiritual degradation or [safeguard] public health. From the aforesaid edict it can be seen that peace and order or the good morality of the people is the basis of good values in Thai society which the Constitution is intended to uphold and accordingly specifies as a significant reason that legislators can cite as a motive in the writing of the law to enable the restriction of Constitutional right and freedom, in order to protect peace and order or the good morality of the people, which has long set the social standards and prevent them from degradation, and to uphold peace and order in Thai society…
                …Although the production or creation of the two plaintiffs’ film Shakespeare Must Die may be deemed a type of profession the pursuance of which is Constitutionally guaranteed so that the practitioner of the profession has the right and freedom to produce or create, but the aforesaid right and freedom must remain under restrictions as specified by law, which restrictions according to Article 29 of the Royal Edict on Film and Video say: the film that is produced must not be in conflict with peace and order or the good morality of the people; must not affect the security of the state and the national pride and dignity of Thailand. Therefore, the instance in which defendant #2 issued the order to ban the two plaintiffs’ film Shakespeare Must Die from cinematic release, rental, exchange or distribution in the Kingdom with the reason that this film has content that causes disunity among the people of the nation, which fits the case of being in conflict with peace and order or the good morality of the people; and that defendant #1 issued the verdict to dismiss the two plaintiffs’ appeal, with the reason that certain scenes in this film have content in conflict with peace and order or the good morality of the people, or may adversely affect the security of the state and the national pride and dignity of Thailand, accordingly cannot be held to be the restriction of rights and freedom of expression according to Article 45 of the Constitution of the Thai Kingdom of 2007. The two plaintiffs’ claims in this issue cannot therefore be listened to [is inadmissible].”  [page 27 – 28]

The Verdict
After deliberations it is seen that… since the admissible facts in this case say that defendant #2’s order to ban the two plaintiffs’ film Shakespeare Must Die from cinematic release, rental, exchange or distribution in the Kingdom, and the appeal verdict of defendant #1 which dismissed the two plaintiffs’ appeal are sanctioned by law, the actions of defendant #1 and #2 are thus not an action of violation against the two plaintiffs, therefore there is no case for defendant #3 to take responsibility for damages incurred to the two plaintiffs in any way.
The Court rules to Dismiss.

Miss Chatrchanok Jindawongse   Tulagarn jao khong samnuan [‘Case Record Judge’]
Central Administrative Court Judge

Mr Wachira Chobtaeng
Central Administrative Court Chief Judge

Mr Yongyuth Chiaowcharnkij
Central Administrative Court Judge

Mr Jatupol Sriburomya
Central Administrative Court Judge

Mr Bandit Whangwarodom
Central Administrative Court Judge

Tulagarn Phu Thalaeng kadee [Literally, ‘Case-Declaring Judge’] : Mr Wuthiwath Jaranyanont

CENTRAL ADMINISTRATIVE COURT 11 August 2017 [page 30, end]

All Photos by Ing K unless otherwise stated.