BANGKOK — Banned controversial movies, rare footage of early 20th century Siam, and the first-ever known film about katoey are some of the works selected for the National Film Heritage.
Fifteen films deemed to be historically and culturally significant and in danger of disappearing have entered the nation’s film registry as of Friday, which also marked the annual Thai Film Preservation Day.
The selected films, from incomplete 10-minute footage to full-length feature films, are deemed to have a significant impact on Thai society, Chalida Uabumrungjit, director of the Thai Film Archive said on Monday.
The National Heritage film registry is in its ninth year and has a total of 200 films, including the 15 below. They were selected by a panel of experts from more than 800 submissions.
Five of the 15 films are a look at Siam in the early 20th century:
“King Rama VII’s Visits to the Northern Provinces” (1926) is a two-hour travelogue filmed by Rama VII himself as he recorded his visit to the northern provinces of then-Siam, as well as the customs of the locals there.
“Royal Tour in Northern Siam” (1926) is of the same royal visit, but recorded by government officials and the State Railways of Siam’s film department.
This same department also filmed “See Siam” (1930), one of the first tourism promotion films made for foreigners.
The first sound motion pictures by Thai studios are are also included for safekeeping: “Farmers’ Blood” (Lued Chao Na, 1936) by Sri Krung Studio and “Gold Leaf Behind the Buddha” (1939, Pid Thong Lang Phra) by Thai Pappayon Studio, although both are in incomplete form.
“There’s actually lots of footage filmed way back since 1926, and they showed that parts of rural Thailand back then were surprisingly modern,” Chalida said.
Some may also be surprised at the oldest known Thai film with a katoey, or transgender woman, character is from 1954: “It Happens Because of a Katoey” (Katoey Pen Het). The film is a comedy about the main character, a katoey, who is engaged to a man, showing that acceptance of gender issues have been a long-standing cultural norm in Thailand.
Bangkok’s mid-century transportation and vintage vehicles is shown through “Bangkok Metropolitan Buses and Trucks” (1958), a six-minute clip filmed by bus businessman Supot Thawatchainon.
“Muay Thai” (1963) is a documentary that records the teachings of Bua Wad-im, a Thai boxer known for his Korat style of muay thai.
Award-winning feature film “Miss Poradok” (1965, Nang Sao Poradok) is made by Thailand’s first national artist in film, Wijit Kunawuti, and cemented his status as one of the nation’s best directors of all time with its innovative cinematic techniques.
The only way many will ever get to see what a mid-70s gathering of Thailand’s literary luminaries is through “Fah Muang Thai, the 8th Anniversary on Wednesday, April 19, 1976” (1976), a home movie filmed by National Artist in Literature, Ajin Panjapan.
The short 8mm movie is also Chalida’s personal pick.
“It’s a rare documentation of the Thai literary circle. Usually we never get to see the famous writers of the novels we read,” she said. “Here we can see them socializing, dancing, and singing.”
The film selection then jumps to the 90s with “Crazy Me” (1993, Luk Ba Tiew Lah Sud) directed by Ittisunthon Wichailuck, which captures the urban ennui of pre-Tom Yum Kung crisis Bangkok through the eyes of a salaryman.
The first film by new-wave director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, “Fun Bar Karaoke” (1997) is included for its daring, groundbreaking depiction of seedy Bangkok, and even premiered at the 1997 Berlin Film Festival.
Pen-Ek would later go on to produce “Transistor Love Story” (2001), “Last Life in the Universe” (2003), and “Ploy” (2007).
Included although in no danger of being lost is the highest-grossing Thai film in history, “Pee Mak Phrakhanong” (2013) a horror-romantic comedy directed by Jira Maligool about the legend of Mae Nak (Davika Hoorne), but told through the eyes of her husband (Mario Maurer).
“The idea for Pee Mak came from … questioning why Pee Mak had to run away from his wife when he found out she was a ghost. So we twisted the legend to make Pee Mak accept that his wife is a ghost to differentiate it from earlier adaptations. We also made it comedic,” Jira said in July at a public event about the film’s screenwriting process.
Finally, the most contemporary additions are controversial films that had to fight government censorship just to get aired in Thailand.
“These banned films are a cultural phenomenon. Although they got to screen in the end, they had to go through a historical process and fight of getting it screened,” Chalida said.
“Karma” (2015, Arbat) directed by Kanittha Kwanyu was initially banned for depicting a reluctant novice breaking monk precepts such as drinking and having a girlfriend. The film was Thailand’s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
It took seven years and a case in the Administrative Court for “Insects in the Backyard” (2017) to screen, minus three seconds of a gay sex scene.
These new entries to the National Film Heritage registry will be screened by the Thai Film Archive in the near future, Chalida says. Some film shorts which are only 10-plus minutes long will even be uploaded to their YouTube channel.