Television and cinema

Television

Television is by far the most popular medium in Thailand. There is a TV in every house and every shop, always on, even in offices and administrations.

Thai television channels remain under the tight control of various government agencies. The largest players in the Thai television industry are MCOT, a former state enterprise of which the government still owns 77%, and the Royal Thai Army, which owns numerous broadcast frequencies.

Thailand’s six terrestrial TV stations are:
– Channel 3, owned by MCOT.
– Channel 5, owned and operated by the Royal Thai Army.
– Channel 7, owned by the Royal Thai Army.
– Channel 9, owned and operated by MCOT.
– Channel 11, public service broadcaster, owned and operated by the government’s Public Relations Department.
– TPBS (Thai Public Broadcasting Service), formerly iTV (owned and operated by Shin Corporation, the company of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) but its concession was cancelled in 2007 and the station was taken over by the Public Relations Department.

Aside from terrestrial television, Thailand has several cable and satellite television providers, the largest being UBC, which operates channels like BBC, CNN, Cinemax, Hallmark, Discovery, Cartoon Network…

TV series

Soap operas from Channel 3 and Channel 7 keep the whole country (or at least its feminine population!) on tenterhooks every night. Most of them are cheap productions, with actors overplaying and cartoonish sound effects. Feminine characters are either sulky or hysterical, while masculine characters are either violent or effeminate. Some soaps are OK to watch, though, and it can help you learn Thai language. And when you have achieved a good level, why not go to a casting and try your luck as a soap actor? Some parts are played by Farangs. Just be prepared to play a bad guy, not a hero!

Cinema

For every genre that Hollywood or other film industries offer (action, comedy, horror, musicals…), there is an example from Thailand that favourably compares.

Thailand saw an explosion of locally produced films during the 1970s after the Thai government imposed a heavy tax on imported films in 1977, which led to a boycott of Thailand by Hollywood studios. Many of these films were low-grade action films. But socially conscious films were being made as well, especially by Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, a US-educated filmmaker and member of the Thai Royal Family. Chatrichalerm’s Khao Chue Karn (Dr. Karn) addressed corruption in the Thai civil service and was nearly banned by the military-dominated regime of Thanom. Chatrichalerm also made Hotel Angel (Thep Thida Rong Raem), about a young woman trapped into a life of prostitution. He made dozens of films along these socially conscious lines through the 1990s, working up to his lavish historical epic, The Legend of Suriyothai in 2001.

Another filmmaker active during this time was Vichit Kounavudhi, who made his share of action films as well as more socially conscious works like First Wife, about the custom of men taking “second wives” or “mia noi” – a euphemism for mistress. In 1985, director Euthana Mukdasanit made Pee Seua lae Dawkmai (Butterfly and Flower), highlighting hardships along the southern Thailand border. In 1997, Pen-Ek’s crime comedy, Fun Bar Karaoke, was selected to play at the Berlin Film Festival – the first time in twenty years that Thai cinema had had any kind of an international presence.

In 2002, Blissfully Yours, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, won the “Un Certain Regard” Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Featuring a risque sex scene involving a Burmese man and a Thai woman in the jungle, the movie received only limited screenings in Thailand and a Thai-released DVD of the film was censored. Apichatpong’s next film, Tropical Malady, featuring a gay romance between an army soldier and a young country boy, was a jury-prize winner at Cannes, and it, too, only received limited screenings in Thailand.

Films are heavily censored in Thailand. All films, VCDs and DVDs are placed under scrutiny of the Censorship Board prior to public release, as stipulated by the Film Act of 1930, which remains in effect.

Genres

Action films are a predominant genre of Thai film. In recent years, the martial arts films starring Tony Jaa, Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior and Tom-Yum-Goong, have put Thai action films on the international map. Action comedies have also proven to be popular. No matter what the genre of Thai film, most films – be they action, horror or romantic dramas, have some element of comedy.

Kathoey (transsexual/transvestite) or gays are often featured as comic relief or villains in mainstream Thai films, but there have been a number of films that make gays and kathoey the main characters. One of the first was Youngyooth Thongkonthun’s Iron Ladies, based on a true story about a kathoey’s volleyball team that won a national championship in 1996. Less comedic in tone, Beautiful Boxer (2003) relates the life of transgendered Muay Thai champion Parinya Kiatbusaba (Nong Tum).

Thai movies

A few notable Thai films since the 70’s

Monrak Luk thung (1970) was a hugely popular luk thung musical. It played in cinemas for six months.
Butterfly and Flowers (1985), an award-winning depiction of poverty along the Southern Thailand border, directed by Euthana Mukdasanit.
Tears of the Black Tiger (2000), directed by Wisit Sasanatieng, the first Thai film to be included in the Cannes Film Festival programme.
The Legend of Suriyothai (2001). Chatrichalerm’s epic was the biggest film ever made in the Thai film industry.
Blissfully Yours (2002) and Tropical Malady (2003), by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Dek hor (2006), by Songyos Sugmakanan, was awarded Crystal Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Wonderful Town (2007), by Aditya Assarat, won Tiger Award at Rotterdam International Film Festival.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the first Thai film to be awarded Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

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