Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Toranong Srichua wants to keep it real

With his upcoming disaster film 2022 Tsunami, in which a wall of water wipes Bangkok off the map, veteran filmmaker Toranong Srichua looks to be challenging the current regime of censorship and banning.

Thai 101 has translated a quote by Toranong, from the April issue of Bioscope (via Poakpong):

In the Thai film industry, characters are forbidden to have sex, forbidden to discuss politics, forbidden to discuss religion, forbidden to discuss the Monarchy, forbidden to sell drugs. Because you forbid all these things, all the characters are ghosts and clowns. Neither exist in the real world, and yet they run wild in Thai films."

Toranong is my new hero. Yet as much as I agree with the spirit of what he's saying, it should be noted that Toranong is a controversial figure, and like most controversial figures in Thailand, he has a gift for self promotion.

He was criticized recently for putting up a five-story billboard for 2022 Tsunami that featured pictures of corpses, some without clothes, with the tagline "Men have hurt nature for too long, now nature will have its revenge."

Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee -- himself no fan of the censorship regime or the majority of mainstream movies -- took Toranong to task in a Saturday op-ed column last month. Here's an excerpt (cache):

Defying the criticism, outspoken Toranong said the image he has shown is that of actual victims of the 2004 tsunami, and that his intention for making the film was to "relate the information to the public... so that lives can be saved if things like this happen again".

Toranong has a cultish reputation as a filmmaker who likes to strip bare all human pretense and stares, unblinking, at the naked truth of brutality and filth. He is also known as a devout Buddhist.

Tsunami 2022, he said, cost him 160 million baht (I'd say it's a little exaggerated if not a lot), an amount he knows he'll never recoup.

Toranong has also been in the news recently for big plans by his company Twentieth June Entertainment to develop a sprawling movie studio complex in Phetchaburi province. The Nation had a story about that on Tuesday. It follows a story about Toranong Studios from last June in the Bangkok Post (cache).

There is now a full-length trailer for 2022 Tsunami as well as an extended trailer that shows some of the things that Toranong says are forbidden. I've embedded the latter version below. So stare at it. Unblinkingly. Also, Deknang has images and info from the production.

2022 Tsunami (2022 สึนามิ วันโลกสังหาร) is due in cinemas on April 30. The motion-picture ratings system, such as it is, isn't due to be enacted until May.


  1. Hmmm... I'm quite torn about this.

    On one hand, I agree with both of you. Film is supposed to show what's real in a society or place. So censorship, somewhat removes that reality from a film.

    But on the other, as a culture geek, I can't really blame censors for imposing some rules. They just want to preserve the "Thai-ness" of film, I guess.

    I think it really depends on a movie and its storyline what ought to be cut or not.

  2. What is "Thainess"? One person's idea of what's "Thai" might not be the same as someone else's. It's a concept that is fluid.

    And actually, the idea of "Thainess" is based on myths that are taught in school as historic facts.

    Anyway, do you really want a centralized conservative bureaucratic authority in Bangkok to enforce "Thainess" as policy for the entire country and regulate its depiction on film for the entire world?

    The thing about the censors and their "rules" is that the rules are intentionally vague, so no one really knows what the rules are, and the people enforcing the rules are judge, jury and executioner whenever they say the rules have been broken.

    There's supposed to be a ratings system, with age restrictions as a guideline for what can be depicted. Toranong wants to show shocking images, and rather than cut or ban those images, there should be a ratings board - not a censorship board - that decides what age restriction is appropriate for those images.

  3. First of, I really like your blog. As Thai living abroad and in quite a small town, getting news about Thai movie is very hard. I really like your reviews as a rarely view of Thai movie from non-Thai and as it seems to me like you genuily review it with out racist bias as many review are (what I means is that many reviewerw act like when it comes to non-hollywood movies, the movies must be perfect. Any weak point is un-acceptable). I also likes that you raise awereness of Thai movies to non-Thai speakers. My comment will be long as I am not very good writing in English so I many times needs many words or sentences to explain just a small point. Please be patiant and if any of my words sound offensive to you. I am apology in advance. I don't really means or intent to offence you.

    I am MOST of the time against censorship. However, some of the complain against it is kind of too much.

    For example, the Tsunami movie that you just say that it show bodies (supposibly dead) without cloths. What real about it? How many percent of people in the city are naked at a certain time (it is not a beach city with bikinis and boxers as common dress). Only those who is showering or having sex at the time the incident happens. How many percent in the millions. OK, there may be in thousands but aren't they suppose to be in the building. If Tsunamic really hit bangkok must body we will see should be those walking on the street? OK (again), if there are a few got swiped out from a building but do you really need to show that? Is it really necessary? The complain that character in Thai movies cannot have sex is ridiculous. We see it many times ("Me ... Myself", "Chocolate" ... even prime time series). The thing is that - is it necessary to depict or imply that? Does it have any effect to the story? If you argue that in the real world people do. So, do we need to show character using washroom? How many time do we see that in Hollywood movies. If you see Hongkong series you will see that spend a lot of their time eating (always food on the table) but you rally see that in western movies. Also, Thai people are quite conservative ABOUT TALKING about sex (not necessary the sex itself). That's mostly why we do not see it a lot. (Perhaps this is "Thainess" we are talking about). I am living abroad and even very open-minded Thai friends here are very uncomfortable when others know that they watch "Sex and the City" (it is not the others that feel uncomfortable but it is that person).

    When it come to the monarchy, there are some many factors involved. Two big ones are that MOST (I am not saying "ALL") Thai people love the king, genuily. The loves are from both that he is good and from the culture. The second big factor is the political situation. The king has turn to be a symbol of the country of "Thailand" that are peaceful and happy not the red and yellow but red white blue. The division is so strong now many fear the worse. There is an atmosphere of paranoid when it come to the monarchy now. If you talk about the king in the way that is not a good way (I mean even in the neutral way), you can be easily suspected (may be that is what happen to the Syndrome of the Century - since I have not have chances to see it yet so I can't really give oppinion). I agree that this is bad but there are more important thing right now (not more important all the time, just now) is the political stability and economic problems.

    I personally do agree that monarchy has no place in modern world. But even without political factor, I love this current King and a few previous ones (namely, Rama IV and Rama V). He has done too much to the country than any politicians we have had. I do not want to see bad thing happen to him. If someday the monarchy in Thailand is going to go. I may or may not agree or resist but for sure if it is going now, I will. (sorry this paragraph is not about movie censorship)

    I totally agree with your view when it come to religion and politic so let pass on.

    Another aspect I want to point out is that, movie is a lot of things but largely about entertainment and this is the view of most people in Thailand. There can be news and documentary that are damn serious but when it come to movie - it is all about entertainment. This is not necessary a bad things. Look western cartoon/comics and the Japanese ones. Most comics in the western world aims for kids and mostly about super hero while there are much wild range in manga. Come back to movie, MANY people watch movie then absobe and didn't think twice about it. (How many people believe that the Spatarn are wise, gentally-equal and democracy loving after watching 300. Most historian will beg to differ). Just like spiderman, movie maker have power in thier hands and MUST think about responsibility they have to the whole society. Depicting something as good or even normal equals to encouragement. Depicting drugs and suicide (or even gay) without proper discussion or message is IRRESPONSIBLE in my oppion and want to see some of those censored. I dont mind the gay aspect of movie like "Satree Lek" or "Me ... myself" or "Love of siam" but I hate that point in "Chocolate". "Love of siam" shows underage kids drink and smoke without any dicussion making it seems super normal. Sure they do, I tried when I was that age but is it necessary to show that is the movie that is not about drinking and smoking (or drug) problem in kid? No. Showing those make kid feels that this is so normal and we should be doing it, "See my idol is doing it". Kids are not that thoughful. What I am trying to say is that it is about packaging. If my middle school kid is seing naked picture in "Human Anatomy" I'll be fine but if the book's name is "Play boy", then we should talk.

    I think most people agree that freedom is about leting we do whatever we want as soon as it does not invade others' or result in bad effect to people who does not deserve or the society as a whole. The complexity of this problem is in the later clause, who do we draw a line if what we do have invade other's freedom or having bad effects to others. My line and yours are surely not the same one but I am certain that you do not want to see drunk kid or prematur pracgnencies, do you? People have no problem seeing a grown-up sex sence in "Me ... Myself" as it a part of the story in the point of the male character sexual-orientation confusion but it would be banned in the US and the maker would be jailed if two male character in "Love of Siam" is show (exactly in the same level of exiplicity) having sex. So what I am trying to say is that censorship should be used with care and most of the time the problems are in details and not much we can write down with a vogue written words often found in rules and regurations (any rules and regulations for that matter). You cannot make only one law to be 3000 pages. There is no details specify whether how long the jail term should be for cuting some head as differ from shooting someone in the stomach and let them die slowly. Showing medical professionals behave badly in a ghost movie is one thing, but showing it in realisting looking but not discuss about such behavior is another. Specify every single thing is just not realistic. The new system is not anywhere close to perfect. I would want to see more detail but don't you think that for now Thailand have much bigger problem the government have to deal with (the whole world economy is in very bad shape last time I check).

    Lastly, as Alexis pointed out, it is not only Thailand or Singapore that have this problem. In the US, news about war is very pretty but in the theater we see SAW, HOSTEL and on TV box set we see, CSI and many a like with a 5 seconds warning messages. We will never see Gazan infant cropses burnt by white phorsphorus but we will see broken-roof houses in Israel. We will hear what dress the first lady put on this morning but we will not see coffins covered with US flags arriving from Bagdad. In Japan, "The rape of Nanking" is known as "The Incident of Nanking". It surely is but it is not all about "centralized conservative bureaucratic authority" (which we should fight against). It is also about current situation, culture (which are widely differs and often inert against changes), national pride (another word, selective memory), target audiences (market demands), necessity, social responsibility and many more. Moreover, being conservative is very relative, just more than about a century ago, in the western world, having sex is only for reproduction and not for plasure as the pope tell you. Talking about it even for educational or medical purposes might get you in trouble (see Kensey). But that was very normal in ancient and middival China and India (yes, there were book about how to enjoy couple life in ancient China). The time will come when Thai people are more open to those things you see common. The time will come when dust is sattle and people will discuss relion, politic and even monarchy openly (and even in entertainment). At least now there is a system in place. It is vogue and ready to be abused but it is a good step. As Pinkeaw say, we should give it time and let improve from there.

    I really appriciate your concern about my country (even many Thai ignore that) but sometime I wish you claim down a little.

    Sorry about my English and sorry if any of what I wrote feel offensive to you.

    Enjoy watching...


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