Thailand's Culture Ministry and the Thai Film Archive have started a registry of national heritage films. The initial 25 titles go back as far as the beginning of film history up to the accomplishments of today and range from shorts to features. It includes newsreels, travelogue, documentaries, experimental films and fictional features.
The earliest is 1897's Berne: Arrivee du Roi de Siam, chronicling the arrival of King Chulalongkorn in Berne, Switzerland, likely the first filmed record of a Siamese person.
The most recent is last year's history-making Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the first Thai film to win the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
A news release says that according to Culture Minister Sukumol Khunpluem "the films deserved to be the national heritage for they are the masterpieces of Thai filmmakers and are about Thai people and Thai culture."
Among the entries is The Flood in Bangkok 1942 by Tae Prakardwuttisan, which has been making rounds at a time when Bangkok is threatened by a record deluge of water. It's embedded above. Many other examples on the list, including episodes from Thai history that are politically sensitive topics, can also be found on YouTube.
Here's the list of 25 Films as National Heritage 2011, in Thai alphabetical order:
- การต่อสู้ของกรรมกรหญิงโรงงานฮาร่า, The Struggle of Hara Factory Workers (1975) by Jon Ungpakorn – A documentary about the women workers in the Hara Jean factory who seized the factory to fight back at the owner.
- คล้องช้าง, Klongchang (1938) – An elephant round-up filmed by a Japanese crew, the first half is a look at old Bangkok's streets and lifestyle, which even today is popular stock footage for TV shows and news programs. The second half is the actual elephant round-up.
- ทองปาน, Tongpan (1977) – This documentary-style drama, directed by Euthana Mukdasanit and Surachai Jantimatorn and written by Khamsing Srinawk, Paijong Laisagoon and Mike Morrow, is a look at a man who lost his farm because of dam construction attending a seminar about the building of another dam. Because of its socialist leanings, the film was actually banned for a time.
- ทวิภพ (ฉบับผู้กำกับ), Siam Renaissance (Director’s Cut) (2005) by Surapong Pinitkha – This is one of many adaptations of writer Thommayanti's novel Thawipob, about a present-day woman who time-travels through her mirror to Rama V-era Siam and falls in love with a man from the past.
- โทน, Tone (1970) by Piak Poster – The debut feature by Piak, this sweeping romance, musical and action drama follows a poor young man (Chaiya Suriyun) as he's spurned by the girl he has a crush on, eventually moves to Bangkok to attend college but trouble from his home village follows him. Roj Ronnapop, Aranya Namwong, Jaruwan Panyopas, Sa-ad Piempongsan and Sangthong Seesai also star. The movie is notable for the music of the popular "string music" group of the 1960s and '70s, the Impossibles.
- นิ้วเพชร, The Diamond Finger (1958) by Ratana Pestonji – A khon (masked dance) episode of the Ramakien is lavishly mounted by the pioneering filmmaker.
- น้ำท่วมกรุงเทพ 2485, The Flood in Bangkok 1942 (1942) by Tae Prakardwuttisan – Tae was a photographer, journalist and film producer who was named a National Artist of Performing Art (Cinema and Drama) in 1999.
- Record of October 6, บันทึกเหตุการณ์ 6 ตุลา (1976) – This was the date of the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre, which was a deadly crackdown on anti-dictatorship students and protesters by the police and military.
- Pi Tong Leaung, ผีตองเหลือง (1962) – An ethnographic film about the Mra Bri people, also known as the "yellow banana leaf tribe".
- ผีเสื้อกับดอกไม้, Butterfly and Flowers (1985) by Euthana Mukdasanit – Adapted from the award-winning 1978 book by the writer Nipphan, this drama is about a boy who sells ice treats at a southern Thailand railway station and is forced by economic hardships to smuggle rice across the border.
- แผลเก่า, The Scar (also Plae Kao, 1977) by Cherd Songsri – Classic star-crossed romance in the ricefields, with the headstrong Kwan (Sorapong Chatree) hopelessly in love with Riam (Nantana Ngaokrachang), the daughter of a rival village chief.
- พระเจ้ากรุงสยามเสด็จ ฯ ถึงกรุงเบิร์น, Berne: Arrivee du Roi de Siam (1897) – King Chulalongkorn's arrival in Berne, Switzerland, was recorded and when the entourage returned the king's brother Prince Thongthaem "the Duke" Sambassatra brought filmmaking equipment, making him "the father of Thai cinema".
- พระเจ้าช้างเผือก, The King of White Elephant (1941) by Santi Wasutharn – Statesman Pridi Banomyong produced this epic, set during the Ayutthaya Kingdom era, about a monarch who is reluctant to go to war, but then does so when he's attacked. Made as the threat of Japanese occupation loomed, the English-language film, featuring students and faculty from Pridi's Thammasat University, was intended as anti-war propaganda and a statement to the outside world that not everyone in Thailand were ready to side with Japan.
- พระราชพิธีเฉลิมกรุงเทพมหานครและพระราชวงศ์จักรีอันประดิษฐานมาครบ ๑๕๐ ปี, The Celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of Bangkok (1932)
- The Coronation of King Prajadhipok (1925) – King Rama VII ruled 25 from 1925 until his abdication in 1935.
- ไฟเย็น, Fai Yen (also Cold Fire, 1965) – An anti-communist propaganda film.
- ประมวลภาพเหตุการณ์สูญเสียพระเอกผู้ยิ่งใหญ่ มิตร ชัยบัญชา, Chronicle of the Loss of Mitr Chaibancha (1970) – This film clip is a record of the outpouring of grief over actor Mitr Chaibancha, who fell to his death from a helicopter on October 8, 1970, while performing a stunt for the movie Golden Eagle.
- มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง, Monrak Luk Thung (1970) – This musical romance, set in the countryside, starred the era's classic screen couple Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat. The soundtrack was hugely popular and the movie remained in cinemas for six months.
- รัฐประหาร 2490, Coup d' Etat (1947) by Tae Prakardwuttisan – The coup, led by Lt-General Phin Choonhavan, ousted the unpopular government of Rear Admiral Thawan Thamrong Nawasawat and eventually led to the return to rule by the wartime dictator Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram.
- โรงแรมนรก, The Country Hotel (also Rong Raem Narok, 1957) by Rattana Pestonji – A cavalcade of music acts, arm-wrestling, boxing and comedy skits enliven this crime drama about a mysterious man and woman on the run from the mob hiding out at a bizarre bar and one-room guesthouse.
- ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul – A terminally ill man is visited in his last days by his closest surviving family members who pay witness to the strange and spiritually supernatural aspects of their dying uncle's incredible life.
- ลูกอีสาน, Son of Northeast (also Look Isaan, 1982) by Vichit Kounavudhi – This landmark drama follows the migrations of a close-knit group of struggling farming families in northeastern Thailand of the 1930s.
- สุดสาคร, Sudsakorn Adventure (1979) by Payut Ngaokrachang – The first Thai animated feature is adapted from poet Sunthorn Phu's epic Phra Aphai Mani and follows the adventures of a boy who is the son of a mermaid and a minstrel prince.
- อนุทินวีรชน ๑๔ ตุลา, Diary of October 14 Heroes (1974) – Recounting the events of October 14, 1973, in which a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy student activists resulted in His Majesty the King removing a field-marshal dictator and the country's return to a democratically elected government. It's an earlier bookend to 1976's Record of October 6, which marked a bloody return to military dictatorship.
- ! (1977) by Surapong Pinitkha – An exclamation mark is the title of this experimental film about poverty.
Many thanks to Chalida Uabumrungjit, deputy director of the Thai Film Archive, for translation of the list.