Edgy film gets axe but soap rapes go on
It is with a frustratingly slow pace that Motel Mist, SEA Write Award-winner Prabda Yoon's debut feature film, starts off and it remains slow until much later on in the film.
An elderly man waits in his car for a teenage girl as she leaves school. On board, he slaps her once for swearing to her friend on the phone. Just a little while later, however, anger has suddenly turned into arousal. Eyes on the road, in broad daylight, he starts groping the girl and makes her reach her hand over on to his lap. The man tries to make her use her mouth, but to no avail. That's fine, for they arrive at a trashy love motel soon after.
Motel Mist is an okay film. It is a film which people would perhaps have stopped talking about quickly had its scheduled release in cinemas nationwide not been cancelled last week.
The irony is that the film had already passed the ill-famed censorship board with an 18-plus rating. It is the film's own investor, cable network TrueVisions, that made the last-minute call, shocking the filmmaker, his team and anticipating fans alike. The film's Facebook page cites "disagreement between the film-making team and the investor regarding the content of the film".
Kaona Pongpipat is a writer for the Life section, Bangkok Post.
This is quite new, considering how the banning of films in the past has always been the purview of the censorship board. Also, it is presumed that the investor was involved with the production of the film from the start and knew all along what they were getting themselves into.
First and foremost, the fact remains that we are not really in a position to complain to TrueVisions -- it's their money, their concern and their call.
But whether the ban is eventually lifted, an important question has already been raised. As one of the country's biggest entertainment content providers, what is the perception of TrueVisions and its competitors of the Thai audience's maturity?
Admittedly, there's a considerable amount of nudity in the film. In the motel room, the man is enchanted by the young female body and embarks upon a voyeuristic sexual ritual. With classical music in the background, and a selection of fantasy costumes and dildos and handcuffs, the man is no less than a carnal connoisseur embarking on a sacred ritual.
It's immediately reminiscent of the perverse and seductive Humbert Humbert in novelist Vladimir Nabokov's notorious classic Lolita, and not just in terms of the story. When first published in the mid-1950s, the novel was initially shunned and often described as filth and sheer pornography. It remains controversial until today for its content regarding child abuse.
Yet, the book is considered by many as one of the best literary works of the 20th century, and it is considered so not only for Nabokov's exquisite prose but also for his fearlessness in depicting a man's sexual involvement with his stepdaughter. That the book is widely read and valued today is not only testament to Nabokov's literary prowess, but also of readers in an informed, mature society.
Motel Mist, a seemingly surreal and mysterious voyeuristic trip on the surface, is essentially a story of sexual abuse and revenge. In fact, it couldn't be more realistic; it's a pressing issue that's as prevalent as ever in society and is often buried out of embarrassment and fear.
Last year, research by the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, done by monitoring stories in some 14 newspapers, found that sexual abuse criminal cases had greatly increased from previous years. Over 70% of those sexual abuse incidents were cases of rape, while most of the victims were people under 20 years old.
One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry when seeing a film like Motel Mist being pulled while on TV so many soap operas in which the rape culture is openly endorsed are thriving.
Male lead characters in these soap operas will ever so often find their way to love by forcing themselves upon women, and live happily ever after. Over the years, such story lines have been revisited, and the idea that masculinity entails power over women has been repeated to the point where such abuse is somehow acceptable.
In Motel Mist, it's not simply just bringing the dark side out into the open but also actively exploring the grey area in which consensual prostitution and downright sexual abuse overlap.
At the end of the day, it's for the investor to decide whether to insist on keeping the audience's naivety protected or to inform and push the public towards maturity. Whether good or not, Motel Mist is an honest piece of work. At the very least, it should get the chance do what it has come all this way to do.
Writer for the Life section
Kaona Pongpipat is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.