September 01, 2005


Apparently the Thai film industry is experiencing a crisisApparently the Thai film industry is experiencing a "crisis" according to the Culture Minister, Tipawadee Meksawan, who wants to "inject new life into the dying industry" according to this Bangkok Post story.

They plan to create a department that will be like Korea's KOFIC to spread the joy of Thai movies around the world. But what's the crisis? I know THE TIN MINE didn't perform up to expectations, and TOM YUM GOONG keeps getting bad reviews (but that's not stopping it from making a zillion baht), but does anyone know what's going on to warrant the alarm?

Things look good from a creative standpoint with the World Film Festival Bangkok announcing that it's going to try to use the American ratings system this year hoping that if the experiment is successful maybe the Culture Ministry will think about setting up the ratings system in Thailand, allowing filmmakers to tackle more controversial topics (except for religious topics and stories about the monarchy, which the assistant director of the festival agrees might need censoring; of course, this is the guy who one paragraph earlier says that violent films can lead children into behavior like drugs! And crime!). The festival itself doesn't seem particularly Thai Film friendly yet as it hasn't announced a single Thai film in its line-up (besides an Apichatpong Weerjasethakul short - of course they've also only announced one Asian film, Tsai Ming-liang's porn-musical THE WAYWARD CLOUD).

So where's the fire? Anyone? Bueller?

September 1, 2005 at 10:33 AM in News | Permalink


I saw this article in the Post and, yes, it does seem a little out-of-the-blue. But although production levels remain high, many films are performing poorly and overall quality is still low - this year has delivered hardly any really satisfying films, and certainly nothing that could be considered excellent. And behind the scenes some film companies are facing difficulties: Matching Media cut it's production slate and Film Bangkok was effectively shut down. But if the industry is approaching crisis, the government should bear some responsibility as - unlike Korea, Japan, Singapore - it has resolutely failed to do anything to encourage, nurture or support young filmmaking talent in the country. It seems that the government is now looking to get more involved - it also plans to give censorship responsibilities to the Culture Ministry, rather than the police committees that currently call the shots - which from one point of view might seem a positive step. But I doubt the Ministry will simply seek to foster a comfortable, efficient environment in which for filmmakers to do their own thing. More likely, they'll blunder in and start interfering with everyone's business. On a brighter note, though, the one aspect of the World Film Fest that might help is the Produire au Sud workshop which will try to develop dynamic young producers, the type of which Thailand unfortunately lacks.

Posted by: Rob | Sep 1, 2005 10:03:02 PM

Thanks, Rob. If anyone else wants to clarify or add to what the "crisis" is I'd really appreciate it.

You know, Hong Kong film folk used to complain all through the 90's that there was little to no support for their film industry from the HK govt. At first they didn't need it, but as the global market got tighter it became absolutely necessary. Now they have some support, but not tons. It's still better than nothing.

Korea's KOFIC has been pretty awe-inspiring in its efforts and I think they have a lot to do with Korea's high profile on the international stage. Although I question some of their efforts (jetting around the world and interviewing random idiots - like me and the other Subway guys - about our impressions of Korean film doesn't seem very productive) there's no denying that they help to maintain Korea's shiny image in the global marketplace.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Sep 2, 2005 11:44:22 AM

As you may have spotted, the Post has another, longer piece about the government's desire to emulate the success of KOFIC, though it's short on specific detail.

It seems to me, though, that there are at least two major differences between the two countries. First, Korea's is a unique situation because of the quota system that underpinned the growth of Korean films in recent years; second, and more important, Korea has an incredibly cine-literate film culture which Thailand completely lacks. Because the Thai industry still doesn't have much idea how to make money from the international market, almost all films still play exclusively to the low-brow domestic audience. "Art films" like Last Life in the Universe don't get to play on many screens because they don't have a built-in local audience and distributors don't know how to market them in ways which might broaden their appeal.

As such, this "crisis" is probably not so much financial as a crisis of identity. The industry has been desperate searching for a formula for films which can appeal at home and overseas, but are finally realising that it simply isn't possible: Thai and western sensibilities are too far removed from each other. The Tin Mine will probably be the last time anyone spends a lot of money trying to create a film which plays to both markets. (In trying to satisfy everyone, that film ended up satisfying no one.) From now on, I believe Thai film companies will have to choose one way or the other. Most will stick to the ghost comedies which locals like so much, whereas a company like Five Star appears to be abandoning the home market and concentrating on directors like Pen-ek and Wisit whose films lose money in Thailand but will sell abroad. But Thais like to be able to market their culture in a very clearly-defined way, and this dichotomy causes all kinds of tensions about what is a real "Thai" film.

Posted by: Rob | Sep 3, 2005 1:43:31 AM

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