All the goings on in the TV, film, theatre, music and art scenes
Banned film Shakespeare Must Die .
TELEVISION : Scandals and sensations on the Thai tube
BOOBS & BOOS
Call it a feat of daring without precedent. In June Duangjai Jansuanoi caused a national uproar when, during live airing of a Thailand's Got Talent episode, she went topless and performed "body painting" using her breasts. Debate raged: Is this art? What is art? Is that late Richter or deranged Rothko? Does it even matter? Was she paid to do it?
The Culture Ministry swooped in, as well as the tabloids. One thing is clear: the show rating got a turbo-boost.
Television viewers in Thailand were hit by what can be conveniently called the "black box" syndrome during the European Football Championship: licensee GMM Grammy couldn't reach a deal with TrueVisions, and millions of cable subscribers missed the entire tournament. It was sort of a national crisis and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission had to step in to mediate. As the dispute dragged on, fans watched the matches in sports bars while others had to go dig out primitive "prawn's whisker" antennas to receive the signal. Now we're starting to worry about World Cup 2014...
Muta and Munin, the Siamese twins in the year's hottest soap, managed to empty Bangkok streets, as they sent everyone scurrying home for the final episode of the TV series Rang Ngao.
The title translates as "the force of the shadow" and the plot revolves around one twin who avenges the death of her sister (both played by Jenny Tienposuwan) by wrecking homes and seducing a married man.
Rang Ngao proved again the massive influence of TV soaps on the popular consciousness. While certain critics claim it sent out the wrong vibes, tales of home-wreckers and slap-parties are likely to remain in our living rooms in the years to come.
HEAR THE VOICE
From its first blind audition to the climactic final two weeks ago, the Thai edition of The Voice singing contest was entertaining and a cliff-hanger of high quality all along. Of course, viewers may not agree with everything the four judges decided _ and those perpetually tricky SMS votes _ but at least this is certainly something we'll look forward to in Season 2 next year.
Two popular TV shows of the past returned this year _ both without much success. Fan Pan Tae (The Fan), in which participants competed in a quiz based on subjects such as sports, movies, public personalities etc, was a big hit when it first went on air many years back, but hardly created a ripple this time round.
Another show Ma Tam Nud, which was the No.1 game some 20 years ago, returned too along with its original hosts. But the retro-charm didn't click with today's audience.
He's indisputably the country's No.1 news host and his morning TV programme _ a mix of information, newspaper reading and tabloid-ish drama _ is one of the most watched in Thailand. When Sorayuth Sutassanajinda and his company, Rai Som, were implicated in an embezzlement case, the man stood his ground while media activists fumed and top advertisers, after what looked like a moment of contemplation, decided not to dump him. Last month an Administrative Court judge issued a non-binding statement in his favour, though a verdict in the case is still awaited.
- KANOKPORN CHANASONGKRAM & KONG RITHDEE
MUSIC Hits ... and misses
Thailand has been banking on so-called music festivals' earnings for many years now, and the events are surprisingly going strong. These festivals usually feature the same rotating artists in exotic locations in order to lure Bangkokians outside of their comfort zones as well as creating extra pollution in whatever provinces or beaches they grace. Besides correcting the boring line-ups, these festivals must start instilling social responsibility into the revellers as they tend to leave behind mountains of rubbish.
Big Mountain Music Festival (BMMF) recently celebrated its fourth year, and as the biggest and possibly the most successful of the bunch, BMMF has managed to fuse interesting, lesser-known bands and international acts into its programme. But heavy rain on its second day, and management's lack of preparation for it, left the festival caked in mud.
In addition to irresponsibility and Mother Nature's cruel hands, concert violence is also another factor that can put a damper on things, as proven by the recent incident at Pu Pongsit's 25th Anniversary Festival. Shame on you, brawlers.
THE END OF AN ERA
Fat Festival came to an end in 2012. The fat lady finally sang her swansong. After 12 years of servicing indie-mainstream bands and the audience, the festival organisers decided to call it quits amidst speculations ranging from dwindling numbers of attendees to the loss of interest from the public. The organisers at Fat Radio are adamant that it wasn't for these reasons, and that they wanted to move forward in a fresh, new direction while still waving the flag for non-mainstream artists.
Whatever the reasons may be, or how awkward the last few Fat Festivals have been, we will definitely miss them.
THE NEXT BIG THING?
Bodyslam has reigned as the most popular rock band in Thailand for many years now. Big Ass, with a handsome new singer, comes close to taking the crown, but they haven't succeeded yet.
As much as we love Bodyslam and their crowd-pleasing output as well as their energetic live performances, it's a high time new faces took over, creating a stimulating competitive environment for a change.
It would be lovely to see high-powered bands such as Lomosonic or Brand New Sunset enjoying the same level of popularity and nationwide exposure. Time will tell.
REALITY CONTEST HOPEFULS
Seriously, there are so many "artists" these days that it gets rather difficult to keep up with all the new faces that look and sound almost the same. The increasing number of reality TV music contests are also not helping as they continue to churn out one robot with a different voting number after another. While band competitions are discovering raw musicians with real talent, the singing contests sometimes fall flat, maybe with an exception of The Voice Thailand.
Almost every singing contest relies on audience votes (supposedly), and as human nature dictates, those with the best plastic surgery jobs usually win. It has gotten to the point that maybe we should have a beauty/lip-synching contest and get it over with.
For those who like to complain about the sub-cultural void in the Bangkok music scene, this year has proven better than the last few as international indie bands rolled in and out of Thailand in healthy measures.
Black Lips, Summer Camp, Beach Fossils, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, The Naked and Famous, Asobi Seksu, Shonen Knife, and Citizens! among others came to play for small, yet appreciative crowds.
And now that bigger players such as Gayray, a subsidiary of GMM Grammy, are getting into the game with its Godung project, Thailand will be able to host more of these enriching acts. Hopefully the numbers of paying patrons will keep on growing as small promoters won't be able to shoulder the expenses without sale volumes increasing. Then it will be a lose-lose situation once again.
For 2013, The Vaccines and The Rubens _ with Thailand's own The Yers opening _ have been confirmed for Jan 12, so get your tickets now. Names like Sigur Ros, Breakbot and Two Door Cinema Club are also being thrown around. Fingers crossed!
- ONSIRI PRAVATTIYAGUL
FILM Thai films gain traction
You can't possibly beat a bunch of mentally unbalanced American superheroes. The highest-grossing film in Thailand of 2012 is (ta-da!) The Avengers. Joss Whedon's superpower medley raked in over 215 million baht, beating the fanged romance of Edward and Bella in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, which made around 180 million baht.
Coming in third, and also the biggest-grossing Thai film of the year, is the romantic comedy ATM Errak Error, which surprised many by pulling in 158 million baht when it came out in February.
Rounding off the top five are Battleship, an alien-invasion flick that made 151 million baht, and The Amazing Spider-Man placing fifth at 144 million.
We saw two big-budget animated Thai films this year: Echo Planet, a 3D treat from Kantana Studio on the subject of eco-conservation, and Yak: The Giant King, a 2D reimagining of the Ramayana story by Workpoint.
Both films flaunt a high level of technical skill, and while they didn't make serious money at the ticket booths, their craft and passion certainly blazed the trail for upcoming local animators.
HORROR IN 3D
Thai filmmakers have jumped onto the 3D bandwagon with glee, adapting what they know best into a new eye-popping (or head-twisting) medium, and so we saw not just one but three Thai 3D horror flicks in the past 12 months. First came, naturally, Mae Nak 3D, in which the country's most famous banshee was reincarnated _ for the umpteenth time _ in the stereoscopic format. After that we saw Dark Flight 3D, a haunted aeroplane story that won't be shown on any in-flight entertainment. And just last month it was 3AM, a triptych of three short films about a wig shop, a spooky office and a corpse bride. Not that these titles are exceptional in their quality _ they simply show how local filmmakers are adept at conjuring new rabbits out of the same old hats.
The most surprising hit of the year was an indie Thai film released at Lido and Esplanade in July: Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's Tae Piang Pu Diew (P-047) saw fans filling up the Lido's 230 regular seats plus dozens more extra chairs. Some who came from the provinces and didn't get tickets literally wept at the door.
Reason: the lead actor Apichai Tragoolpadetkrai is an indie rock star with a deep voice and deeper lyric-writing who attracts a massive cult-like following. His mysterious presence at the centre of the film only added to his persona.
On another note, the independent film 36 by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit won a big prize at the Busan International Film Festival, followed by another win at the Hong Kong Asia Film Festival and Cinemanila. The film, which is composed of 36 shots reminiscent of a film roll, was released at House RCA earlier in the year and is likely to return to the cinema again after its high-profile festival rounds.
The saddest news is when a film gets a death sentence _ for doing nothing apart from existing. In April, the censor board banned the Thai film Shakespeare Tong Tie (Shakespeare Must Die) by Ing K and Manit Sriwanichpoon, on the grounds that its content may cause disunity among the people. The film is an adaptation of Macbeth, with a contemporary allegory about a fictitious nation where a popular politician rises up the echelons of power.
The filmmakers appealed, but the ban was upheld. They've brought the case to the Administrative Court. And this month, the directors finished their new film called Censor Must Die, a documentary chronicling their struggle after the ban. Of course, they will submit the film to the censors soon.
- KONG RITHDEE
THEATRE Thefresh and creative earn the spotlight
If a stage were to be a magic space to reflect life and grow imagination, 2012's theatrical productions here in Bangkok have done just that. Theatre-goers have been exposed to more choice of musical productions, theatres with political dialogues, artistic development in body movement and festival management, as well as budding new talent.
GOLDEN YEAR OF MUSICALS
At least 12 major musicals have been produced, marking the golden year of Thai showtunes, and yet the apparent boom also raises the question of whether it has more to do with quantity rather than quality.
For years, Dreambox and Scenario _ two major troupes _ have continuously and consistently produced showtunes. Their successes, and failures if any, have inspired and probably paved the way for many theatrical companies. This year, Dreambox staged an adaptation of the classic romantic novel Prisana and the Broadway hit Dreamgirls, while Scenario offered different flavours, starting the year with the nationalistic Si Phan Din, and later the bubblegum musical Rak Jub Jai and a Thai adaptation of a Broadway megahit Miss Saigon. Both troupes also extended their distribution channels to the cinema world as Rak Jub Jai, featuring superstar Sukrit Visetkaew, landed in movie theatres, while Dreambox occasionally offers some screenings of its previous productions at its theatre.
The musical vogue has been picked up by some musical-producer wannabes, as seen in Saranyoo Wongkrachang's Lungkha Dang, Fat Radio's Rak 5-6 Sao, and GTH's Lam Sing Singer, while drawing attention of musical experts such as Somtow Sucharitkul in Reya _ The Musical and Marut Sarovat in erotic thriller Mae Bia. Unfortunately, most of these crowd-pleasing productions aim only to offer a TV-style presentation mixed with pop music, jokes and pranks, and packed with sensational yet melodramatic storylines and sometimes a concert-like ambience. This can hamper what the pioneers have tried to achieve, especially in calling audiences back to the theatre.
Still, certain rookies deserve some credit for picking up an original story, using innovative presentation and avoiding using popular novels. The positive side of these mushrooming musicals is that newcomers _ both onstage and backstage _ have space to show their theatrical talent and become permanent resources for musical theatre repertoires.
THEATRE OF POLITICS
Amidst the beseeching for political reconciliation, some musical productions opted to use historical and nostalgic settings to reflect the present-day political fragmentation in Thailand. This included the musical extravaganza Si Phan Din by Scenario, and Siam Mission by the Dramatic Department at Chulalongkorn University. Both chanted out political messages in a time of ideological crash, and boosted patriotism and loyalty to the monarchy. Meanwhile, Samchai Kab Sai Nam by Bangkok University Theatre mimicked what it considered the failure of the current administration _ in songs and dances. However, they did not really go beyond addressing and questioning the political issues below the surface.
But some see the stage as a serious space for political dialogue. As Thailand's lese majeste law forbids any discussion about the royal family and can be punished with up to 15 years in prison, debate rages on and gets muzzled along the way. Some of the theatre artists have been tackling this controversial subject like a real sumo champion.
All of B-Floor's productions this year touched upon the subject, each in their own unique way, starting with Jaa Pantachat's Lear And His 3 Daughters. The B-Floor co-artistic director adapted Shakespeare's King Lear into a dance theatre production that questioned the kind of love that leads to social ostracism and eventual barbarism. Although endlessly noisy, and hesitant to abandon the linear narrative, the production contained many sly elements.
B-Floor member and one of Thailand's most versatile performers Ornanong Thaisriwong proved to be a director of depth, intelligence and courage in her directorial debut Bang La Merd (My Wonderfully Smiling City) when she told the audience of her brush with Article 112 and why she had no better choice but to censor herself for the show.
Ornanong's creation was one of the most thought-provoking and humorous of the year.
The slyest of them all, young choreographer/dancer Thanapol Virulhakul's production Post Show Talk With Pina Bausch, in which Pina Bausch's ''dancers'' answered questions on a computer screen. The late German choreographer and one of the most iconic figures in contemporary dance appeared in the form of a blender. With admirable subtlety and seemingly puerile humour, Thanapol played with the idea of worship throughout the performance.
The veterans disappointed this year in their handling of politics. Nikorn Saetang's adaptation of Ibsen's An Enemy Of The People reduced the play into a simplistic good-vs-evil story that reeked of moral uptightness. The production fell into the hero-worship trap and was cynical to the point where it itself turned into an enemy of the people.
Damkerng Thitapiyasak's adaptation of Dario Fo's About Face, too, was a let-down. Originally, the Bangkok Theatre Network (BTN) had intended for the production to be a substitute for the annual Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF), which failed to take place this year, by bringing together players from all the theatre companies. We don't know what happened, but Damkerng mostly went with his usual actors and typecast them just as he has always done. Not only was it a failure on a collaborative front, but the play also turned Fo's political farce into a mess that was full of familiar names in politics, but empty of a real political stance or insight.
SHALL WE DANCE?
The local contemporary dance scene has much to celebrate this year. Pichet Klunchun finished converting his home theatre on Pracha Uthit Soi 61, Thonburi side, into a beautiful 30-seat theatre that charges steep prices for entry. Since the completion early this year, the dancer/choreographer has had a longer stay and staged more productions in his home country than in previous years.
Also in this new space, his student Sunon Wachirawarakarn fittingly staged his choreographic debut, Home. Lighting designer/dancer/choreographer Sunon created a cosy and simple performance that movingly combined the storytelling of childhood with powerful lighting design and detailed and intense choreography and dancing.
The most prolific dance company this year can be none other than Jitti Chompee's 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre, who staged two productions, Demon In Venice and Muet, alongside its regular gig at Bed Supperclub. Awkward its development may still be, the company experiments with different art forms like a curious, fearless child, networks beyond the small Bangkok theatre and dance community, and has gained a diverse audience for itself.
The most improved festival must be Friends of the Arts' International Dance Festival. In its 12th year, it has finally achieved its goal of becoming an all-contemporary dance festival. For years, the festival was more known for bringing in embarrassingly bad dance productions from far and wide.
This year, with more support from various arts entities, including Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre, the British Council and Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre of Dramatic Arts, the festival featured some quality companies in its programme.
- AMITHA AMARANAND & ALONGKORN PARIVUDHIPHONGS
ART Major headlines of the past 12 months
THAIS AT DOCUMENTA (13)
Representing the country this year at the prestigious dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, were contemporary Thai artists Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Prachaya Phinthong and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Held every five years the event pulls in artists and art connoisseurs from around the globe.
Conceptual maverick Prachaya Phinthong presented two sleeping (and hugging) tsetse flies on a white plinth underneath a thick cube glass cover _ he called it Sleeping Sickness (2012). It was a piece with a quasi-anthropological framework based on the artist's research in Africa, particularly in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Zambia.
The Importance Of Telepathy, a sculpture of a 5m-tall white ghost, was co-created by award-winning filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Chai Siri, while Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's piece titled Village And Elsewhere: In This Circumstance The Sole Object of Attention Should Be The Treachery Of The Moon, showed her living with her black dog, Ngab, in a house fenced by white wall 3m tall under the shade of towering trees.
LOOKING FOR THAINESS
The most ambitious, all-encompassing if somewhat controversial exhibition of the year was ''Art in the Ninth Reign: Thai Trends from Localism to Internationalism'' at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. It showcased numerous works by local artists as well as non-Thais from the past six decades categorised under nine themes covering everything from gender to surrealism and the meaning of Thainess.
Chief curator Prof Apinan Poshyananda explained that the thematic labelling tried to bring marginalised artists into the grand narrative that is the development of Thai art. About a week before the exhibition closed in Bangkok, the project was extended, taken to Singapore Art Museum in the guise of ''Thai Transience''. It showcased selected works by 25 artists but continued on the theme started by ''Thai Trends''.
However, this groundbreaking exhibition also had its critics. One of them, Ekachai Luadsoonghern whose works featured at ''Thai Trends'', produced a copy of a document showing, according to him, the budget allocated for the exhibition _ 23 million baht, which he believed suspiciously large. Rumours swirled, but nothing was clarified.
GUGGENHEIM IS COMING TO TOWN
One of the most exciting pieces of news for the local art scene was the Jim Thompson Art Centre playing host to the launch of ''Map: Regarding South And Southeast Asia'', a public education programme run in conjunction with Guggenheim's UBS Map Global Art Initiative, an attempt by the world-famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to reach out to this part of the world.
According to curator June Yap, Map Global Art Initiative is a five-year project with three phases. The first covers South and Southeast Asia, followed by Latin America and the Middle East, respectively. Each phase will comprise a curatorial residency and exhibition in New York, followed by a tour.
Next February, selected works from South and Southeast Asia, including Thailand, will be put on an exhibition entitled, ''No Country''. A list of the selected works and artists will be announced.
NEW ART VENUES
Long before surprising the public with the announcement of his engagement to actress Bongkod Kongmalai, telecommunications tycoon Boonchai Bencharongkul made headlines earlier this year when he unveiled his 2 billion baht Museum of Contemporary Art Bangkok, or Moca.
Some 400 pieces of art created by over 100 artists, mostly paintings, are featured at Moca's five-storey modernist cube building on Vibhavadi Road, and visitors will find themselves ticking off the near-complete roster of national artists and eminent Thai names of the past half-century.
Separately, 100 Tonson Gallery, one of the cutting-edge art spaces in town, was renovated this year, and reopened with an exhibition featuring an installation art showcase, Speechless, by Nipan Oranniwesna.
Only last month, the city was introduced to its latest art venue, 338 Oida Gallery, on Rama 4 Road. The gallery's debut exhibition titled ''Opening'' featured the works of some of Thailand's most internationally acclaimed contemporary artists such as Mit Jai Inn and Rirkrit Tiravanija.
- YANAPON MUSIKET