Poster boy

Santi Tuntipantarux's collection of vintage movie posters attracts buyers from all over the world

Santi Tuntipantarux unfolds an Apocalypse Now poster and points at the wrinkles and creases. They appear at the bottom, just below Marlon Brando's stern, slightly demented countenance. But the folds are not marks of imperfection - they are proof of authenticity.

Santi Tuntipantarux at his shop in Siam Square.

"The creases mean this poster is a real vintage," says Bangkok's top movie poster dealer and collector. "They confirm that it was printed years ago."

There are a number of movie poster collectors, both in Bangkok and outside, but Santi is maybe the best-known. His shop, which is virtually a hole in the wall under Lido Theatre, stacked on all sides with rolls and framed sheets, leaving just inches to move around in, has been a rendezvous of fellow aficionados and newcomers for 15 years.

He sells, buys, auctions and hunts for specific bills through his network of scouts and informants. Despite eBay and the ease of global collectible trading, his shop remains busy. Like rare stamps or old watches, aged film posters thrive in a circle of enthusiasts who regard them as prized objects, and as much as movies are a global culture, the community of poster collectors extends beyond the boundaries of Thailand.

Santi's customers are split 60/40 Thai and foreigners.

"One American man has become a regular. He comes every year, and buys up to a few hundred thousand baht [worth]," he reveals.

Nearly 90% of his business is vintage posters of American movies, and specifically, Santi's specialty _ Hollywood films that were released in Thailand decades ago. They were localised with Thai design _ mostly painting and text. For example, a Star Wars poster with Thai letters trans-literating the title, and hand-painted pictures of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

Years ago when Santi came across a huge batch of the Thai version of the Star Wars posters, he sold one for over $1,000 to a collector in the US.

"For collectors abroad, the Thai-style posters are eccentric and unique," he says. "For most films, Thai artists wouldn't just copy the original posters, but would interpret the story in the film and paint it by hand.

"Usually, Thai posters are more exciting and reveal more about the plot _ if it's an action film, then there's bound to be an explosion in the poster. Of course, we [haven't had] hand-painted posters [for the last] 10-15 years _ everything is computer-made now. All hand-painted items in circulation are old."

Fifteen years ago Santi was one of those affected by the economic malaise that forced a mass lay-off. He decided to turn his hobby into a business, and it was a wise move. Originally, he went out looking for posters himself, going to cinemas in Bangkok and upcountry to scavenge for discarded posters of Thai and Hollywood titles. He pursued leads and sniffed out other collectors. The Star Wars batch, for instance, was found while walking in Klong Thom second-hand market over 10 years ago. Sometimes he has to track down poster painters _ a near-extinct profession now _ as they usually keep their own works.

The highest price he fetched for a single poster was that of the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was an imported three-sheet size, meaning three times the size of a regular poster, and the going rate was 50,000 baht.

That's a rare item though. At his shop, prices range from 150 baht for posters of Thai movies, to 500, 750 and 1,500 baht for Hollywood titles with Thai design. The films that remained in great demand, Santi says, are the James Bond posters, especially those starring Sean Connery and featuring Thai lettering.

One of such description can go up to 3,000 baht, and though it is hard to unearth one right now, in the late 1990s it was still possible to find them at remote cinemas in the provinces.

Today, Santi prefers not to leave the shop and thus relies on friends, scouts and sometimes the internet.

Popular websites for second-hand goods, like eBay, do not pose a threat to him, but complement the overall enthusiasm for the activity.

Santi believes, however, that buying from him is still cheaper than joining the bidding war online, and that's why he has a number of non-Thai customers.

"But after all, the profit I make is not cash," says Santi. "The profit is the posters themselves. For collectors, it's a pleasure to look at them, to trade them, to see them hung on the wall."

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About the author

Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor