Fifteen films about Thailand, shot in Thailand, but directed by foreigners will screen for free July through August at the Thai Film Archive as part of the “Exotic Thailand?” film festival. From early 20th-century black-and-whites to modern Hollywood films, the fest looks at Thailand through a foreign lens – whether idyllic or violent, sensual or monastic.
“The films show a portrayal of Thailand, whether that reflection is true or not,” Putthapong Cheamrattonyu of the Thai Film Archive said.
Putthapong, who curated the program, said that common themes pervade the wildly different films. Early films focus on then-exotic Thai traditions and rural lifestyles, often laced with landscapes of nature. These include the 1940 Swedish film “A Handful of Rice,” which follows an agricultural society through a docudrama format, and the 1927 American “Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness”.
“Then we became a tourist spot and many people came here. We became a tourist heaven, but people also saw the seedy, violent, and dangerous parts of Thailand,” Putthapong said.
In the arguably tasteless Hollywood comedy “The Hangover II” (2011), Bradley Cooper and two buddies get tricked by a capuchin monkey and a kathoey stripper. “Lost in Thailand” (2011), which follows a similar “boys trip” premise, was once the highest-grossing film of all time in China and is credited with erupting the waves of Chinese tourists we see today.
In darker films, violence, crime, and muay thai are central themes, such as in “Only God Forgives,” where Ryan Gosling plays an American expat running a drug ring.
But Thai women are particularly central to many contemporary foreign films about Thailand.
“Thai women are shown in both a positive light – as beautiful and with impeccable manners – and negative light, such as in prostitution,” Putthapong said. “The dynamic of the farang man and the Thai woman is also explored a lot.”
If you only have enough time for one film, Putthapong recommends “Soi Cowboy,” a 2008 film about an overweight Danish expat and his Thai girlfriend who he meets – guess where?
A screening of the film at 1 pm Aug. 17 will be followed by a panel discussion with the film’s producer, Tom Waller, and Mahidol University film studies lecturer Wikanda Phromkhunthong.
Since the inception of film, Thailand, formerly Siam, has provided attractive shooting locations and subject matter for foreign camera crews. The first film set in the country was the since-lost “Suvarna of Siam” (1922) by American filmmaker Henry MacRae.