Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 in Thai cinema: Thai films on DVD

Only one Thai film released on DVD in Thailand bucked the local industry's now-standard practice of omitting English subtitles. And the winner is: Me ... Myself.

I've not actually picked this one up yet to see what the quality is like. I did like the film. Me ... Myself is the story of a transvestite (and presumably gay) cabaret dancer (Ananda Everingham) who gets amnesia and thinks he might be straight. It had a lot of the loopy qualities that I love about Thai cinema. So it's one worth having around.

But I've been disappointed before by Thai DVD releases. I think the last one I bought was The Tiger Blade, and it was riddled with pixellated censorship! Notably, The Tiger Blade was from Mono Film, the same studio that made Me ... Myself.

Worth noting for this year is the release of Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger in Region 1 by Magnolia. This is the first release of the complete version of the film since 2000, when it was issued on DVD in Thailand by Digital Right (now out of print). There are other DVD releases out there, but they are the 100-minute "international" version that cuts out some transitional scenes and some funny bits. Another version released in Singapore chopped the violence out! The release by Magnolia was preceded by a limited theatrical run, after the company managed to spring Tears of the Black Tiger from the vaults of Miramax, where it had languished after Harvey Weinstein bought the film, and then found he didn't really like it. Miramax screened a re-edited, happy-ending version of the film at Sundance in 2002 and then shelved it. It's a great save by Magnolia and one of two Thai titles they released this year, the other being the fun Dynamite Warrior. Also it makes for a trifecta year for Wisit: All three of his feature films were released on English-friendly DVD, Citizen Dog early in the year in Hong Kong, and The Unseeable in Singapore.

Most DVDs of Thai films released in Thailand do not have English subtitles, a practice that started about three or four years ago. It's gotten to the point that I hardly bother even looking at the DVDs when they hit the store shelves, because I know I'm going to be disappointed. When I first moved to Thailand in 2001, the English subs were routinely being included. But since then, DVD publishers discovered they could save a lot of money by not having to pay royalty fees to the subtitle writers. And an unintended(?) effect of this move has been to shut down the gray market, online mail-order sales of Thai-film DVDs from Thailand. So international distributors who pick up the films have exclusivity when it comes time to market the film on DVD.

Singapore and Malaysia are now the first places to look for English-friendly DVDs of Thai films. Censorship has been an issue with DVDs from these places in the past, but I don't know if it is still an issue. Hong Kong also picks up a lot of Thai films and puts them out on DVD with English subs. Good resources in this area include MovieExclusive out of Singapore and Yesasia. Take your pick of mail-order site for any of the Western-released Thai DVDs.

Oh, worth mentioning is the Thai Film Foundation, which has released several classic Thai films on DVD. These include Ngern Ngern Ngern, Country Hotel, King of the White Elephant, Dark Heaven and Forever Yours. The DVDs have been available for sale at Thai Film Foundation events, or you can try to e-mail them and arrange a mail-order.

Trouble is, not all Thai films get picked up for international distribution. And sometimes it takes years for a film to make its way overseas for a quality DVD release. And, if a Thai film wasn't a horror film or martial-arts action film starring Tony Jaa, or is not by a director with a fairly large fan base in the West (namely Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wisit Sasanatieng or Pen-ek Ratanaruang), then it probably won't be released on English-friendly DVD. This leaves out several good dramas and one or two smart comedies that have been made in recent years.

The lesson here is, if you love Thai film but can't speak Thai, then learn to speak Thai. (Note to self.) Or, at the very least, get to the cinemas in Thailand when the film is released and watch it there, because that's the only way you'll get it with subtitles.

Or, hope and pray that a film festival near you will program the film you want to see.

English-friendly Thai DVD Releases in 2007

Here is what is likely an incomplete list of notable Thai DVD releases in the past year:

Coming in 2008: Syndromes and a Century, which was pulled from release in Thailand cinemas over censorship concerns, will be released on DVD on January 15 by Strand Releasing in the US. Order early and order often. Buy one for yourself, and another one or two for your friends.


  1. Regarding Tears Of The Black Tiger (also my favourite Thai film, by the way), although the Digital Right DVD is deleted, their VCD is still available in Thailand.

    Yes, the picture quality of VCD is lower than DVD, and there are no subtitles of any kind, but the new Magnolia DVD is framed at 1.77:1 whereas the VCD is the original 1.85:1.


  2. Mat: Congratulations. You are the first to leave a comment on the new blog.

    I'm still a bit in the dark on what the framing ratios mean and why they are important. I wonder what the original Digital Right DVD was framed at? That's the one I have.


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