Do Thai films in cinemas in Thailand have English subtitles?
By all means, if you are in Thailand, you should see a Thai film and find out what all the excitement is about.
Most always in central Bangkok the Thai films will have English subtitles, especially if they are from a major studio like Sahamongkol, GTH, Phranakorn, Five Star or RS Film. Some small studio and independent releases won't have the subs. If you're not sure, ask at the box office.
Often, seeing a Thai film in the cinema will be the only way you can see it with subtitles, because when they are released on DVD in Thailand, there are no English subtitles and not all Thai films are released in English-friendly territories (see FAQs about Thai films on DVD).
However, outside of the Bangkok metro area (but still in Thailand), sometimes the Thai films will not have subtitles.
What about Hollywood movies? Will they have the original soundtrack?
In the Bangkok metropolitan area, the Hollywood imports will most always have the original soundtrack and Thai subtitles. This will also be the case for major tourist areas and cities with major expat populations, such as Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai, but most notably not Hua Hin, where Thai-dubbed movies seem to be the rule.
Often there will be a choice of "soundtrack", meaning the original audio, and a Thai dub.
What about movies from other Asian countries?
These are trickier. For Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese films, the original soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles will generally be found at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square (Lido, Scala), House on RCA, and sometimes at the two major-chain flagship multiplexes in central Bangkok -- at Paragon Cineplex (run by Major Cineplex) and SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Outside of those, the non-English, non-Thai films will generally be dubbed in Thai.
Where are the best places to watch movies?
I tend to prefer the Apex cinemas in Siam Square. The Scala, a 1,000-seat single-screen Art Deco edifice, generally has first-run Hollywood features. The Siam, a 900-seat single-screener, showed a lot of imports from Japan and Korea, but it burned down in the May 19, 2010 arson attacks and rioting that followed the Thai army's crackdown on anti-government protesters. In between the Scala and the former Siam location is the Lido, a three-screen multiplex, which shows independent and arthouse features. Their movies tend to hang around longer than they will at the other multiplexes in Bangkok.
There is also the House cinema on the third floor of the UMG multiplex and Tops supermarket in RCA Plaza on Royal City Avenue. House has a lot of the same selection as the Apex chain, but is more eclectic, showing a greater variety of foreign features, arthouse and documentaries. The big drawback about House is its location, which is not within comfortable walking distance of any of the mass-transit rail lines. The closest stop is the subway's Petchaburi station. From there it's perhaps a five-minute taxi ride. And then it's harder to get away from, because of the way traffic flows. It's well worth the effort in getting there though.
Paragon and SF World are standbys. Just because of their sheer size, there is generally always something starting at any time of day, often until late. Other cinemas easily accessed along the Skytrain line include SF Cinema City MBK at National Stadium. Century is at Victory Monument and there's SFX The Emporium at Phrom Phong and Major Cineplex Sukhumvit at Ekamai. Along the subway, there is Esplanade Ratchayothin at the Thailand Cultural Centre Station. As of 2011, two more cinemas are being built, SF branches at the Terminal 21 mall at BTS Asok/MRT Sukhumvit and Central Rama IX at MRT Rama 9 station.
How do I find out what's playing and when?
MovieSeer used to be a standby, but a redesign in 2009 made it cumbersome to use. Major Cineplex, which includes EGV, Paragon, Paradise and Esplanade, has showtimes on its main website. The No 2 chain, SF Cinemas, has a website too. Apex and House also have websites. You can also check the Bangkok Post. Often at the big multiplexes, the showtimes will change, so the websites and newspaper ads will be incorrect.
What's so cool about going to the cinema in Thailand?
It's freaking cold! Most places keep the air conditioning at frigid temperatures, so a jacket or extra wrap wouldn't be a bad idea.
Seating is assigned. You pick out your seat at the ticket window. Seats cost around 120 baht to 140 baht, though it is occasionally cheaper, depending on the day of the week and the time of day.
If you're a night owl, the theaters in Pattaya have shows starting at 1am. Least they did last time I checked.
Or, you want to splurge? Go for the Gold Class seats at the Grand EGV Siam Discovery, the Ultra Screen at Paragon or the First Class at SF World. There, the tickets will be six to eight times the usual cost, but you'll get a reclining chair, pillow, blanket and there's sometimes a free welcoming drink and then menu service, in which your popcorn or soft drinks or whatever is brought to your seat. These are really great for long movies or the big "event" movies.
Bangkok also has IMAX cinemas, including one at Siam Paragon. They've been great about bringing in the IMAX-enabled features
What about censorship?
Prior to August 2009, all films were subject to censorship by the police. Their rules were enforced inconsistently, but generally took a dim view on sex and nudity, and the scenes deemed offensive would be smudged out or clumsily chopped with scissors. But after August 2009, a ratings system came into place, and foreign films are given a rating and are theoretically not censored. The ratings system has six classifications: P for films that should be promoted as educational, G for general audiences, 13+, 15+ and 18+ age advisories and 20+ age restriction with ID check required. There is also a hidden seventh category, which is for films that are banned. Thai films continue to be subject to censorship, primarily for political reasons with national security being invoked. The Thai films that are censored and make it to the big screen have gone through a vetting process and are edited by the filmmakers, so most audiences will be unaware of the behind-the-scenes censorship dealings.
Do I have to stand up for the Royal Anthem?
Yes. The Royal Anthem is played after the previews and commercials and before the main feature. It accompanies a montage of images in tribute to His Majesty the King and it's customary to stand. You will likely be in serious trouble if you do not. Take your seat again after the anthem concludes.
(Photos cross-published at Wikimedia Commons)