Film (2018 Thailand). Pop Pictures, Common Move, Yoshimoto Kogyo, Free Stone Productions. Directed by Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, Chulayarnon Siriphol and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Cast includes Kidakarn Chatkaewmanee, Sakda Kaewbuade, Chotiros Naksut, Waranya Punamsap, Tanasawan Thepsatorn and Boonyarit Wiangnon. Screenplay by the directors. 95 minutes. Colour/black and white.
An anthology piece of four Near-Future Dystopian vignettes about life in Thailand in the year 2028, inspired by the earlier Hong Kong omnibus Sap Nin (2015), and produced in tandem with the similar spin-offs Shi Nian Taiwan (2018) and Jūnen ["Ten Years Japan"] (2018). Unlike other films in the series, the Thai incarnation only has four directors; a fifth segment, by director Chookiat Sakveerakul, was unfinished at the time of the film's Cannes premiere in May 2018 and not included in its official Thai release in December. Featuring a substantially higher budget than the original Sap Nin, and the participation of internationally known directors, its images of dissent ably echo the controversial nature of the original in a Thai context, although the means by which it expresses its concerns often renders the rhetorical force difficult for non-Thais to grasp. A recurring theme can be discerned in the depiction of the resilience of human passions in an environment that recurringly attempts to enforce a blanket conformity, opening with a quote from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949): "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."
Aditya Assarat's "Sunset" (made in black and white) features a raid by soldiers on an art gallery, demanding the censorship of pictures deemed dangerous to the public good, even though they are innocuous images of human emotions. It is the first of several salvos fired at a tendency of the Thai authorities, both royal and military-governmental, to impose social cohesion and unity at the expense of any diversity. Foreign-trained artists, here, are singled out as potentially dangerous threats to a nebulous sense of Thai identity. Wisit Sasanatieng's heavily allegorical "Catopia", takes such persecutions to extremes, positing a society of cat people in which the human Methee (Chatkaewmanee) passes for a local using scent markers and a mask. He saves a cat-woman (Naksut) who faces execution for smelling "like a human", in a fable that makes accomplished use of digital effects to create its feline features.
In a country ruled by a military junta, where adverse commentary on the monarch is regarded as treason, Chulayarnon Siriphol's "Planetarium" is the most daring work of the collection, suggesting a future society ruled by a mummified king, whose spokeswoman enforces rigid social norms through the use of a coterie of military bully-boys. In an echo of similar protests in contemporary America from 2016 onwards, characters are shown lying down instead of standing in respect for the monarch, an act of calm defiance that leads to their arrests for brainwashing and reprogramming.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Song of the City" displays very little sign of any Sense of Wonder at the future, presenting an entirely mundane scene on a roundabout under construction. Although there is an allusion to future Technology (a sleep machine for sale, echoing similar allusions to dreams and dreaming in Ten Years Taiwan), the film's true message is revealed in its setting. The statue undergoing renovation on the roundabout is of Sarit Thanarat (1908-1963), the instigator of a military coup in 1957 that set the trends for Thailand's policies on government, dissent and authority for the last sixty years, and as this closing vignette suggests, for the next ten. [JonC]
see also: Optimism and Pessimism.
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