Thai films you don’t want to miss

I didn't see them I hope I, or the interns, have picked some decent films for you to watch.

By | Wed 9 Jan 2013

Thailand is not well known for its film scene, and most of the films that we see at the cinema here are generally repeats of the same story: clumsy, prejudicial and utterly puerile comedies starring lady boy, fool and a handsome man with a gun, or a ghost story starring a woman who combs her hair forward over her face and wants revenge on the boys that raped her in school. Except the rape scene, inexplicably, is supposed to be humourous…

There are however the occasional gems made in the Thai movie industry, some of which are more thoughtful blockbusters big inside Thailand, and others that are arguably harder to watch that western critics seem to enjoy, especially The Guardian. Many films made in Thailand are banned, or censored so much they are cut like an episode of Sopranos on the old UBC. It was a Thai director who picked up the prestigious Cannes Palm d’Or award in 2010, and during an interview with me he expressed his optimism about the Thai film scene…as well as pessimism concerning the Thai government and its fetters on freedom of expression.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul making Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The director’s attempts to nuance Thainess and examine Thai culture have often been met with censorship

A Little Thing Called Love (sing lek lek ti riak wa rak) 2010

A first love film that I haven’t seen, though I’m told by all the  Thai staff that out of all the guy-meets-girl genre this is the best one. I said I’d go out on a limb and add it to the list. I’m not a rom-com fan, and neither do I believe these demure but sassy girl and shy but lovable rogue films mirror anything but some writer’s masturbatory fantasy or a fix for dumb loneliness…but I’m told, yes, I’m told this one is the best.

Last Life in the Universe (2003)

Award winning indie Thai/Japanese film about a man who keeps failing every time he tried to kill himself. He then meets a bunny hostess girl and falls in love and the plot becomes fantastically convoluted, which is a good thing. The film has touching and surreal elements, and scores high for originality.

In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire (Sin maysar fon tok ma proi proi) 2012

“The memoir in a hometown”

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Director Wichanon Somumjarn directs this family drama that has been called “profound”. It’s supposed to be good. I like the title anyway even if the English title is totally different from the Thai title, and the intern liked it.The events are based on Wichanon’s own family memories.

Citizen Dog (Mah Nakorn) 2004

Named by Time magazine as one of the top 10 best movies set in contemporary Bangkok, this film is a comedy that satirises urban culture. Infused with plenty of surrealism, the plot follows a countryboy named Pod who seeks love in the ever-changing city of Bangkok. He meets Jin, a village girl who is engrossed in a mysterious book she dreams one day she can read. Together, they attempt to pursue their goals, only to come across some really weird encounters in the city, such as talking geckos and public lovemaking. With scenes so strange, the film will surely leave audiences with a lot to interpret.

Jan Dara (2001)

Nudity, eroticism, realism, structure, in a mainstream film?!? Old folks were holding onto their hearts and complaining of dizziness when I went to see this in the cinema. In spite of my students at the time thinking the only reason to see this film would be to look at tits, it’s actually very interesting, and in my opinion it was far better than any Thai film I’d seen…or would see for a while. People have sex in it, there are minor wives and adultery. To think such a film could be made in Thailand, honestly. Breasts, desire, how un-Thai…

This scene might have elicited more indignation than the Thammasart massacres…

Khon Kon, drama (2011)

Selected as the Thai entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards, Kon Khon tells the story of orphans who are brought up in a traditional dance family. One of the orphans named Chart is trained by his master to become a masked Khon dancer, but unintentionally gets involved with a dance teacher. This is a moving drama that blends elements of love, greed, anger and obsession.

Watch trailer and further review:

The Tin Mine (2005)

Archin Panchaphon is expelled from university and gets sent away to a mining camp in southern Thailand. When he arrives, Archin begins a four-year long journey of self-discovery and learns more than he ever did in university about his role in life, love and loss. The Tin Mine is a semi-autobiography of writer Ajin Panjapan’s experiences during post-World War II years.

Invisible Waves (2006)

Asano heads for Thailand after he unintentionally kills his girlfriend. He finds out that his problems don’t go away simply because he did. New friends become new enemies as he discovers it’s not easy to run away.

Ong Bak (2003)

The biggest martial arts film made in Thailand, and a hit worldwide. Lots of screaming and fighting and men doing back-flips on horses. Not my cup of tea, but it seems like it was most people’s pop.

The Overture (2004) Hom rong 

I haven’t seen this but it made the critics rave. Classical film that involves royalty and a musician.

The Judgment, Ai Fak (2004)

A bleak sounding story about a son who has to take care of his sick stepmother, and as he spend so much time with her the villagers decided he’s sleeping with her and condemn him. It all then becomes quite depressing. Based on a S.E.A. Write Award-winning novel by Chart Korbjitti.

Wonderful town (2007)

Post tsunami a young man returns to his town to help develop a construction project. He lives there in small hotel run by a girl he has an affair with. All that eventually goes awry. The mood of the film is touching and there’s a sadness that looms over left by the disaster of the tsunami.

Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram (2003)

A friend of mine told me this was the most bleak Thai film he’d ever seen and for that reason I wanted to see it. It depicts a murder that happened in  the rural village of Prom Pi Ram in 1977, when a woman with mental problems was found on train tracks having been beaten to death. The police attempt to solve the murder and put together the harrowing story of this woman’s final days.

13 Beloved (2006)

This psychological thriller was a huge commercial hit. Full of ideas, fast paced, well acted, it will sit well with thriller fans.

Insects in the Backyard

Thailand still bans movies, and for some reason, banned this one. Would you believe it but people drink, smoke, and even work as prostitutes in this film. It’s a little slice of over the top realism…and for that it was banned.

Syndromes and a Century

A film by, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director of Canne’s winner Uncle Boonmee, was also censored but the DVD isn’t. When you see what was censored you might fall over laughing and wonder what exactly is going on in the Ministry of Communication. What the hell is so evil about a doctor having a glass of whisky or a monk enjoying music? What’s so awful about a male erection, an erection under two layers of cloth? It goes to show how warped the censorship process is…I guess we have to laugh. It’s too exhausting keeping on whailing at big bad wolf. The film itself is interesting and beautifully shot, though understanding why those scenes were censored is something anyone living in Thailand might want to think about. For that reason alone it’s a huge ‘not to miss’. Unfortunately not many Thais know Apichatpong’s films exist, but he’s massive in London N1.