Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Still thinking about 2007, and that dress

A look back at last year wouldn't be complete without a mention of that dress - the dress that shocked a nation, the dress that Chotiros "Amy" Suriyawong wore to the Subhanahongsa Awards last February.

The ankle length black gown, with a three-inch gap that ran from her chest down to her left hip and a slit down her leg, gave rise to a moral backlash.

"I don't want my actresses to dress that way. We are not a porn production house, and it goes against Thai culture," said producer Somsak Techratanaprasert, president of Sahamongkol Film International, the same company that produced the cheesecake fest, Dangerous Flowers.

Footage of Chotiros was deleted from a then-upcoming film, Suay Samurai (never heard anything about it before or since). Also, Amy was disciplined by Thammasat University, where except for her choice of attire, she was described as an otherwise model student. She was made to read books to the blind and perform other community services.

Aside from that dress, 2007 was the year You Tube was banned in Thailand, cutting off a source of entertainment and Web 2.0 functionality for millions, for nearly five months from around April until the end of August. The source of the ban was a video that was deemed offensive of the monarchy. Service was restored after YouTube and the Thai junta came to an agreement that content that might be offensive to Thai viewers could be filtered. The ban put Thailand's eroding freedoms in the spotlight, especially the head of the agency responsible for the ban, Sitthichai Pokai-udom, chief of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. The inept cluelessness of the military regime personified, he didn't see the big deal about the ban. "YouTube is not a very essential website," he said in an interview with the International Herald Tribune. "Is it?"

Then there was the trainwreck that was the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival. First, the festival's budget was cut, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand broke its contract with US-based Festival Management. Then, the festival had to be postponed from January to July, the reason given was that all screens in multiplex-saturated Bangkok would be devoted to showing King Naresuan. Then the festival pulled its planned opening film, Persepolis, after the Iranian embassy objected to the film. (Happily, Persepolis is scheduled for a run at House cinema in Bangkok in March). The festival itself went off pretty smoothly, if I do say so myself. But all that was overshadowed at year's end, when the bribery scandal broke, in which the owners of Los Angeles-based Festival Management were arrested on accusations they had paid US$1.7 million to the then-"Governor" of the Tourism Authority of Thailand from 2003 through 2006. During the run of the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival, there was a lot of uncertainty whether the festival would continue. Now it seems pretty certain that it won't.

Another favorite from last year: Thai moviegoers are "uneducated", Ladda Tangsupachai, head of the Cultural Surveillance Department at the Ministry of Culture, told Time magazine. Essentially, Ladda feels, Thai people are not intellectual enough to understand the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which is why Apichatpong's film, Syndromes and a Century, was censored, to protect sensitive Thai viewers. Besides, "nobody goes to see films by Apichatpong, she said. "Thai people want to see comedy. We like a laugh." Anyway, her assertions are echoed by the year-end box-office figures, which featured a majority of stupid comedies in the Top 10. And, with the passage of a ratings system, I think the majority of Thai films will become even stupider as filmmakers tailor their works for the Under 13 crowd to appeal to the widest possible audience.

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