Friday, December 18, 2009

A look at the past and future of Thai film in the first decade of the 21st century

Kong Rithdee has a broad overview in today's Bangkok Post of the Thai film industry in the first decade of the 21st century, reviewing all the major developments. Much of it is taken from a report by the Thai Film Foundation's Sanchai Chotiros, The Future of Thai Cinema.

For all the triumphs of independent filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Aditya Assarat and Anocha Suwichakornpong in winning audiences and accolades overseas with their low-budget, socially conscious works, the Thai industry remains focused on making big-ticket action epics. To be sure, the 2000s saw big gains in international recognition for the Thai film industry, thanks in large part to Tony Jaa and his Ong-Bak films, which have attracted a huge cult following among martial-arts fans.

A chart showing the top Thai films of all time is dominated by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's lavish, institutionally sponsored nationalist historical epics, with Suriyothai a titanic at No 1 and a staggering 324.5 million baht in earnings. Then there are the usual horror films, country comedies and romantic dramas.

But the gains of both the independents and industry are threatened by the new film law, enacted this year. Behind the smiley-face ratings symbols, there remains the threat of censorship and banning, with even more restrictive regulation at hand for filmmakers who want to send their work to festivals overseas, and film-festival organizers who must now submit each and every film for vetting by a board of bureaucrats. What a headache for everyone involved with the Thai Short Film & Video Festival, which is dealing with around 600 titles.

In the constant and tiresome parade of contradictions and doublespeak that are the stock in trade for the Thai government, the law is at odds with new initiatives by the current administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Kong explains:

As the government is pushing for the cool-sounding "creative economy" with a five-billion-baht budget, the time is ripe for reviewing a list of factors, positive and negative, that have influenced the local filmmaking practice of the past 10 years. If anything, the experience of the recent decade demonstrated that Thai movies have developed many personalities, some commercial and others not, and that for the policy-makers to encourage the rush of homegrown creativity a lot of understanding and open-mindedness are urgently required.

But that open-mindedness is in short supply. Under the current regime of censorship and fear mongering, what kind of future is there for Thai cinema? Read on.


  1. Any chance of your own top films of the decade list or something along those lines?

    I'd be intersted in hearing what you'd have to say.

  2. Soon enough Brian -- when the year and the decade are actually over. Stay tuned.


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