Monday, September 8, 2008

Citizen Juling: A tableau of Thai politics

The wide-ranging, 220-minute documentary, Citizen Juling, premiered on Saturday (September 6) at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Two more screenings are scheduled: at 4pm on Thursday, September 11 and 7pm on Friday, September 12. It's doubtful it will ever be publicly screened in Thailand.

Directed by filmmaker Ing K, artist-photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom and activist politician Kraisak Choonhavan, Citizen Juling documents the death of Juling Pongkunmul, a young Buddhist woman who went to southern Thailand to teach kindergarten art. She was abducted and beaten. Left in a coma, she died eight months after the May 2006 attack.

The film touches on many hot-button, taboo topics, such as the Monarchy, political corruption, religion, poverty and the stark division of classes in Thai society.

Here's more from (aka Anne Pooncharoen):

And how coincidental and appropriate it is that the film is being shown internationally for the first time while Thailand is under going yet another political upheaval. The Western media and pundits (and that is to say, all of the world’s media nowadays) who have been reporting on the protest just don’t quite get the complexity of the problem or how deep it goes. It’s hard to say what they’re missing exactly, but perhaps it is lost in translation, in the need to slap political labels and take sides in order to simplify things for ourselves. I’m far from being an expert at the matter: I’ve never voted once in Thailand and don’t even know how many political parties there are; and reading about politics is just my hobby at most. But here’s my take: that Thai people suffers most not from lack of good people, but that of great leadership (given that the Monarchs are above our discussion here). What’s an election if you don’t like most of the candidates? If ruled by majority, what could your few idealist politicians do in a sea of bureaucratic mediocrity?

Director Ing K wrote a blog for the Toronto fest on the "Making of Citizen Juling". Here's an excerpt from her entry, dated August 13:

To most of the world, we are a sunny country of “happy-go-lucky” (yuck) people. We have so much fun that we’re a den of iniquity. We seem to live in holiday posters; we are sun, sea and sex. Yet any socio-political scientist of any worth would tell you that it’s a country that forces them to burn their textbooks.

We always look happy here in the Land of Smiles, but the past ten years have been intense. Some 2,500 of us, including little kids, have died during the Thaksin Shinawatra government-declared War on Drugs in officially sanctioned extra-judicial killings. In the three Deep South provinces bordering Malaysia, over 3,000 people, both Muslims and Buddhists, have died in what is known gently here as the ‘Southern Unrest’. And as I write this, thousands of people, including my very brave 70-year-old aunt, are stoically protesting in the streets around Government House, under constant threat of violence from pro-government thugs.

Day in, day out, since May 25 they have been sitting there on the hot cement. Various people speak on the protest stage, mostly denouncing corruption. But when our man Kraisak was asked to speak, he chose to talk about the slaughter in the South. He said it was a crime against humanity.

Because of this, two weeks ago he was sued for defamation by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (once Thailand’s richest man until the courts froze his assets pending massive corruption cases, now also the proud owner of Manchester City football club in England). There was a possibility that Kraisak would be muzzled until the case had run its course. We had already been invited to Toronto, and I spent sleepless nights until I was assured that this case, which has not yet been accepted by the criminal court, did not affect the film or the writing of this blog. Our paranoid reaction was to immediately Fed Ex our exhibition tapes to Toronto, long before deadline--we were promptly congratulated by the festival’s print traffic office on our efficiency!

Since then—last night as a matter of fact—Thaksin has skipped this morning’s court date and fled to England along with his wife, who has already been sentenced to three years in jail for tax fraud but was out on bail pending an appeal. Analysts say he only sued Kraisak in order to protect his bid for political asylum. Corruption, a white-collar crime, may be acceptable to the British government, but crimes against humanity, eg. mass murder, are somewhat less palatable.

Well, no wonder Citizen Juling is 220 minutes long! There's a lot to cover. And Ing K covers quite a lot right there in just a few paragraphs. Yes, really. The anti-government demonstrations have been going on since May! And so much has gone on since she wrote that blog entry. For example, Thaksin no longer owns Manchester City.

Ing K is best known for her book, Behind the Postcard (Khanglang Postcard), described as "a media-activist handbook written as a travelogue." Her films include Thailand for Sale (1991), Green Menace: the Untold Story of Golf (1993), Casino Cambodia (1994) and 1998's My Teacher Eats Biscuits, which was banned by Thai censors. Citizen Juling is her first film in 10 years.


  1. "It's doubtful it will ever be screened in Thailand."

    Actually, a forthcoming Thai screening has been arranged, but it's not being publicised for obvious reasons.

  2. International Herald Tribune covers Citizen Juling, interviewing Manit and Ing K. Also, the premiere was Saturday, September 6, not Friday as I wrote originally.


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