The most political film to hit theaters in recent years, “Ten Years Thailand” is instigating excitement and making ripples among audiences anxious about the future.
Four Thai new wave auteurs as cynical as their viewers created vignettes reflecting a political and cultural climate in which even the first democratic election after nearly five years under military rule looks like a mirage. Bleakness and despair weigh heavily on each chapter, and their collective dystopian vision for the kingdom’s future is sure to leave heads heavy with thought.
The film, now in wide release, is part of the “Ten Years International Project,” an international anthology hatched after 2015’s “Ten Years” made a stir in Hong Kong by biting at Beijing’s grip on the island. It’s since given voices to filmmakers in Taiwan and Japan to address their own troubling situations.
Throughout, the combined narratives of the Thai version revisit topics of dictatorship, censorship and a culture of fearful silence. While it’s refreshing to see filmmakers tap aggressively into political topics largely avoided by the arts and mass culture, much of what’s presented as Thailand a decade out seems more preoccupied with a troubled past and present than what lies ahead.
“The atmosphere in society at the moment hasn’t really changed much. Ever since 2014, we’ve had a military government. It’s not a normal time,” said Aditya Assarat, one of the filmmakers. “I believe 10 years is not a very long time ahead. I hope things will get better.”
Aditya’s hint of optimism is well-exhibited in his beautifully shot “Sunset,” which opens the film. Though presented in black and white, it offers the most warmth and humanity of the four. It calls out the absurdity of a recent incident in which soldiers raided art galleries for displaying “inappropriate works.” In the fictional telling, the powers that be are most enraged over photos that show a soldier and a policeman crying.
His portrayal of the security forces – easily painted as villains – is more nuanced than one would expect, as they don’t really seem to give a damn if the art stays or goes. The protagonist, an Isaan-born soldier, is somewhat drawn to the offending photos, but, even then, they matter much less to him than the girl he’s in love with.
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โพสต์โดย 10 Years Thailand เมื่อ วันจันทร์ที่ 3 ธันวาคม 2018
Those heartwarming feels are followed by furry fury. “Catopia,” by Wisit Sasanatieng, depicts a world where humans struggle to survive radical half-feline creatures (in fairly decent CGI) possessing all the worst qualities. Playing with notions of fear and deception under mob rule, the episode takes audiences to a future resembling the country’s hyper-polarized past, when anyone who thought differently wasn’t spared. It’s a message that could have been hammered home more effectively with a stronger screenplay and performances.
In the dialog-free “Planetarium,” Chulayarnnon Siriphol pairs a flashy sci-fi feel rare in Thai cinema with an ear-catching score and ambitious production. Unfortunately it all falls flat with a stale tale of boy scouts brainwashed by a corny looking matron at an academy that annihilates those who fail to obey.
Chulayarnnon clearly attempted to create the most extreme depiction of cultural conservatism and rule of terror with characters donning multiple uniforms and mindlessly chanting, saluting and drilling. In the end, it could have been more powerful had it not crammed in too many random, symbolic sequences (a helmeted monk preaching; a photo shoot for the kind of insipid “Happy Monday” Line spam elders like to share) at the cost of focus. Instead, everything just falls all over the place.
More than halfway through, and the whole thing looks more like the Thailand of today rather than in “Ten Years” time. The first three stories feel like an outlet for the directors’ frustrations about recent political incidents stemming from the turbulent past rather than insights into the future they are leading toward.
But “Song of the City,” by internationally acclaimed director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, steers the film back to the concept that made the Ten Years project a sensation elsewhere in Asia. Although looking the least political, it makes the most simple and biting prediction of them all.
In long shots from fixed vantage points without any apparent storyline, “Song” shows characters, performed by familiar Apichatpong regulars, scattered around a park in Khon Kaen where a statue of one of Thailand’s most notorious dictators remains towering to this day. Around the secluded statue of Gen. Sarit Thanarat, ambient melodies of a marching band repeatedly play the national anthem, never-ending construction work grinds on, and the people, all from different backgrounds, engage in seemingly meaningless conversations. It’s a visual snapshot of a country hopelessly stagnated, where nothing changes for better or worse.
At a UN panel discussion in October, the artists gathered to talk about freedom of artistic expression. Pen-ek Ratanaruang, one of the most renowned Thai directors whose 2013 political documentary “Paradoxocracy” was spoiled by censors, gave his thoughts on why Thai artists have shied away from politics.
“It feels very uncomfortable in our country at the moment. … I feel that I have to be very careful about my work when I put my political doubts in it,” he said. “Anything related to politics is scary. The sense that we shouldn’t question puu yai, the leaders, is in our blood. The attempt to terrorize the people being governed is very intense. It makes us start to practice self-censorship.”
Regardless of the original conceit, all four stories dispense a rare and strong dissatisfaction with the current state of the country in a small wave of resistance to the authorities in yet another time of oppression. The great attention the film is drawing suggests audiences also feel as troubled as the filmmakers by an ominous future looming over all.
“10 Years Thailand” is currently showing in Thai with English subtitles at many major cineplexes nationwide. It is rated PG 13 and has a runtime of 95 minutes. Check listings for showtimes.