BANGKOK — Loki and Dr. Strange flirt as a jealous Thor tries to intervene in a scene set to banter from a recent Thai rom-com.
Young women squeal, some covering the bottom halves of their faces, others nuzzling into friends’ necks.
But there’s no cute celeb onstage. It’s a fan-edited video projected on the wall of a multipurpose room filled with hundreds, causing screams to erupt from hundreds of young women.
At Movies Carnival 5, it was the ships that drew hordes of Thai fans of Western film and TV.
Whether characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter, Star Wars or other beloved franchises, hundreds of enthusiasts gathered to express their giddiness for pairing them off in imaginative romantic relationships.
That’s where the “ships” come from: Internet shorthand for romantically pairing unlikely partners that hails back to slash fiction, a la “Kirk / Spock.” There aren’t enough disclaimers to offer those tempted to Google this.
And was evident at Movies Carnival, which went down this past weekend at a room in the 2nd Cavalry Division King’s Guard, the ships were steaming hot and heavy.
Another wave of screaming pierces this air – this time, for the ship between hero king T’Challa and his villainous, equally ripped cousin Erik Killmonger from “Black Panther.”
One booth sells manga fanart of the men in “Dunkirk.” Another passes out free flyers advertising online fan fiction about Percival Graves and Credence Barebone from “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” — in which the former is a priest and the latter a demon.
“I love both Loki and Tom Hiddleston. He and Thor have so many moments together. My favorite was when he said he had no home, and when he was dying,” said a writer, who was there selling novels of her fan fiction.
What’s apparent is that most ships prefer gay couples – which they call sao Y, or Yaoi Girls, an offshoot of the original Yaoi genre of homoerotic fiction. Mostly catering to women, Yaoi has long shipped Western movie characters, and there is an enormous international community thriving in places such as Tumblr.
By injecting their favorite fantasy worlds with their own sexual fantasy, or at least a kind of media voyeurism of sexual enthusiasm, girls and young women enthusiastically debate(?) squeal who’s the top and bottom in their favorite pairings (rook and rup in Thai, respectively).
“Y isn’t in a dark corner of society anymore. It’s almost as equally visible as men-women pairings,” a 26-year-old artist who asked to be identified as Ice said.
“Before, some people would hide their faces when they came to these fan events,” a convention attendant next to Ice chirped.
“I think in Thai society, it’s seen as inappropriate for a girl to enthuse too much about male-female relationships. Their parents might think the girls are getting a boyfriend soon or something, or it looks inappropriate,” Ice said. “So liking Y is a part of a girl that allows her to express her sexual feelings. It’s farther removed from her; it’s fantasy.”
Indeed, some attendants seemed self-conscious about their involvement in the fandom. Interviews with staff were declined (“to preserve privacy of visitors”), but many fans, such as Ice, were vocal about their passions and opinions.
Y isn’t in a dark corner of society anymore. It’s almost as equally visible as men-women pairings
At her booth, Ice sells hand-drawn postcards of pairings both Y and heterosexual, from international faves of Sherlock and Watson to the titular characters of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Her best-selling items are gender-bending, self-published manga called doujinshi. One has a female Harry Potter amorously involved with a male Draco Malfoy. Another, titled “Flipped,” shows a male Ginny Weasley with a female Harry Potter, and a female Draco Malfoy with a male Hermione Granger.
“I can jin both y and hetero couples,” Ice says, using the Thai word for ship. “But my Y items seem to sell out more.”
Ice hypothesizes the booming love of Y comes from a recent decline in the popularity of heterosexual storylines in fiction that revolve around the abuse of women, including rape.
“Girls are refusing these plots but they still want to consume something sexual, so that fetish is seen through Y. You can see that Y plots and storylines are more sexually oriented than hetero ones, but it’s still ‘okay’ because for her it’s somethings that’s far-removed from us,” Ice said.
A few meters away by the stage, the next fanmade clip plays – this time, of Kirk and Spock, interspersing scenes from the old TV series and recent movies.
Ice says that in the two years Movies Carnival has been held, the Western fan bases that have grown among young Thais are the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Maze Runner, gay coming-of-age film “Call Me by Your Name” and, most visibly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Fans scream for a video of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy spliced with songs and audio from the year’s hit historical rom-com “Bupphesaniwat.” Enthusiastic fans peruse dozens of stalls selling of fan merch.
It is here that one young lady, the aforementioned writer, hawks her novels that have god-brothers Thor and Loki incesting in a ship called “Thorki.”
Her self-published “Saturday’s Stories,” is a collection of Thorki short stories. Except for ones taking the bromance between Captain America and Iron Man to a new level.
Her favorite story follows the god of thunder as he seeks a job as a humble security guard and is employed by Loki, part of the alternate universe (AU) genre where characters are changed from their original, or canon, context.
Laughs chirp through the crowd as a clip of General Hux from Star Wars is dubbed over the junta theme song “Returning Happiness to the People.” Screams pierce the air again when a clip shipping Wonder Woman with Steve Trevor plays.
Like Ice said, both Y and heterosexual couples are squeal-worthy. And the most popular heterosexual ship on display, by far, was of Rey and Kylo Ren of Star Wars, also called Reylo. A 24-year-old woman sold keychains and hand-drawn fanart of the two.
“You can totally see the two have feelings for each other. Normally, the hero and the villain don’t get together in Western movies, unlike in Japanese movies. So I jin them because I really like them,” the Reylo fan said.
Her favorite Reylo scene? The hand-touching scene in “The Last Jedi,” of course.
“When they touched their hands, it was way beyond kissing,” she gushed. “And that scene! It had everything to appeal to Thais. There’s the hut, the rain and being alone with someone.”
She said there are cultural differences in the international fandom.
Pairing Rey and Kylo “is often attacked by Westerners” who view the shipping of the violent, dark antagonist with the plucky heroine as problematic.
“They will oppose this ship and call it toxic,” she said. “But it’s not time to ponder ethics. This gives the fandom flavor, and the basis is in fantasy.”
Note: Images and names in this article were altered out of privacy concerns.