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Thai Cinema - Part 1


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The cinema of Thailand has a history that stretches back to early days of filmmaking, when King Chulalongkorn's 1897 visit to Berne, Switzerland was recorded by Francois-Henri Lavancy-Clarke. The film was then brought to Bangkok, where it was exhibited. This sparked more interest in film by the Thai Royal Family and local businessmen, who brought in filmmaking equipment and started to exhibit foreign films. By the 1920s, a local film industry was started and in the 1930s, the Thai film industry had its first "golden age", with a number of studios producing films. The years after the Second World War saw a resurgence of the industry, which used 16 mm film to produce hundreds of films, many of them hard-driving action films. Competition from Hollywood brought the Thai industry to a low point in the 1980s and '90s, but by the end of the '90s, Thailand had its "new wave", with such directors as Nonzee Nimibutr, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul as well as action hero Tony Jaa being celebrated at film festivals around the world. For every genre that Hollywood or other film industries offer, there is an example from Thailand that favourably compares.

 

The First Thai Films

When Western films first came to Thailand they were called nang farang, after the nang drama (shadow puppet plays) that were a Thai traditional art.

 

The first film produced in Thailand was made in 1922. Entitled Sam Poi Luang: Great Celebration in the North, the docudrama became a hit when it was released. The film was produced by the Royal State Railways Authority, whose main function was to promote travelling by train through the new media.

 

1922 also saw the production of Nang Sao Suwan, or Miss Suwanna of Siam, a Hollywood co-production with the Royal State Railways that was directed and scripted by Henry MacRae. It premiered on June 22, 1923 in Bangkok at the Phathanakorn Cinematograph. Unfortunately, Miss Suwanna has been lost over the years.

 

The first all-Thai feature was Chok Sorng Chan (Doubly Lucky), produced by the Wasuwat brothers' Bangkok Film Company in 1927 and directed by Manit Wasuwat (Thai: มานิต วสุวัต). That same year, another film company, Tai Phapphayon Thai Company, produced Mai Khit Loei (Unexpected).

 

Seventeen films were made between 1927 and 1932, but only fragments have survived, such as a one-minute car chase from Chok Sorng Chan or a two to three minute boxing match from Khrai Di Khrai Dai (None But the Brave).

 

Hollywood would also make other movies in Siam during this time, including the documentary, Chang, by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, about a poor farmer struggling to carve out a living in the Jungle.

 

Robert Kerr, who served as assistant director to Henry MacRae on Miss Suwanna returned to Siam in 1928 to direct his own film, The White Rose. It was shown in Bangkok in September 1928.

 

The Golden Age

By 1928, the first "talkies" were being imported, providing some heavy competition for the silent Thai films. In the tradition of the benshi in Japan, local cinemas had entertaining narrators to introduce the films as well as traditional Thai orchestras that were often as big an audience pleaser as the films themselves, but within two or three years, silent movies had given way to the talkies.

 

The first Thai sound film was Long Thang (Gone Astray), produced by the Wasuwat brothers, and premiered on April 1, 1932. Considered an ideological film in the period of political reform, the film proved a big success and led to the building of the Sri Krung Talkie Film Company in Bang Kapi. It produced three to four films a year.

 

In 1933, Sri Krung made the first colour Thai film, Grandpa Som's Treasure (Pu Som Fao Sap).

 

This period up until 1942 is regarded by scholars as the "Golden Age" for Thai film.

 

Among the hit films of this period was the 1938 musical, Klua Mia (Wife-phobia) by the Srikrung studio. It was shot on 35-mm colour stock. The stars were Chamras Suwakhon and Manee Sumonnat, the first Thai actors to be recognized as movie stars by having their names painted on their chairs while filming at the studio.

 

As the Second World War loomed, and the country being led by a dictatorship under Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram film companies were pressed into service to make propaganda films to whip up nationalism.

 

Opposition politics found their way into film, too, with statesman Pridi Phanomyong producing King of the White Elephant, in 1940. With all the dialogue in English, Pridi hoped to send a message to the outside world that he was unhappy with the militaristic direction his country was taking. The film depicts the story of an ancient Siamese king who only goes to war after he's been attacked.

 

Film Dubbing

The advent of sound raised another problem for cinemas in Thailand: the language of the talkies. Soon a dubbing method developed in which a dubber would provide a simultaneous translation of the dialogue by speaking Thai into a microphone at the back of the theater. The first Thai dubber was Sin Sibunruang, or "Tit Khiaw", who had worked for Siam Film Company and was the editor of the company's film magazine. Tit Khiaw and other talented dubbers became stars in their own right. They would perform all the roles in the films, both male and female, as well as such sound effects as animal noises, cars and gunfire.

 

Also, there were film companies that could not afford to make sound films, and would make films with the intention that they would be dubbed at screenings by live performers reading from a script. These dubbed films proved as popular as the talkies, especially if the dubber was well known.

 

Due to the extensive use of 16 mm film in the 1970s, the technique has lasted up until recent years, especially for outdoor screenings of films at temple fairs in rural areas. Examples of a dubber at work can be seen in contemporary Thai films, Monrak Transistor (2000) and Bangkok Loco (2004).

 

Post-war years: The 16-mm era

After the end of the Second World War, filmmaking got under way again in Thailand using surplus 16 mm black-and-white stock from wartime newsreel production.

 

At least two Thai films were produced in 1946. One was an action film, Chai Chatree (Brave Men), directed by journalist-turned-filmmaker Chalerm Sawetanant. The screenplay was by writer Malai Chupinij, who would go on to script other films of the era, including Chao Fah Din Salai (Till Death Do Us Part). The other film noted by the National Film Archive for 1946 was an adaptation of a folktale, Chon Kawao (The Village of Chon Kawao).

 

The post-war boom in filmmaking really took off, however, with the use of 16-mm colour-reversal film, which was easy to obtain and make films with. The vividly coloured films were popular with audiences as well, prompting dozens of new filmmakers to enter the business.

 

Similar to the dubbing of films during the pre-war years, some of these films used dubbers to provide dialogue and sound effects as the film was running, further adding to the entertainment value of the movies. From 1947 until 1972, 16 mm was the industry standard for Thai film production.

 

The first hit of the era was 1949's Suparb Burut Sua Thai (Thai Gentlemen Fighters), which outgrossed Hollywood films at the local box office. That success prompted more enthusiasm for filmmaking, giving rise to the second "golden age" of Thai cinema.

 

Move Toward 35mm

At the height of the 16-mm era, cinematographer and director Rattana Pestonji sought to use 35 mm film and generally improve the artistic quality of Thai films. Most of his films are regarded today as masterpieces, including Santi-Weena, which was the first Thai film to be entered into international competition, at the 1954 Asia Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo, and 1961's Black Silk, the first Thai film in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival.

 

Though Rattana made relatively few films, he worked tirelessly to promote the industry, and died in 1970 as he was to make a speech to government officials about setting up a national film agency.

 

The 1970s and '80s

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. To pick up the slack, 150 Thai films were made in 1978 alone. Many of these films were low-grade action films and were derided by critics and scholars as "nam nao" or "stinking water".

 

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, whose own family had been involved with filmmaking since the industry started in Thailand. Among Chatrichalerm's films during the 1970s was Khao Chue Karn (Dr. Karn), which addressed corruption in the Thai civil service and was nearly banned by the military-dominated regime of Thanom Kittikachorn. 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"

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The cinema of Thailand has a history that stretches back to early days of filmmaking, when King Chulalongkorn's 1897 visit to Berne, Switzerland was recorded by Francois-Henri Lavancy-Clarke. The film was then brought to Bangkok, where it was exhibited. This sparked more interest in film by the Thai Royal Family and local businessmen, who brought in filmmaking equipment and started to exhibit foreign films. By the 1920s, a local film industry was started and in the 1930s, the Thai film industry had its first "golden age", with a number of studios producing films. The years after the Second World War saw a resurgence of the industry, which used 16 mm film to produce hundreds of films, many of them hard-driving action films. Competition from Hollywood brought the Thai industry to a low point in the 1980s and '90s, but by the end of the '90s, Thailand had its "new wave", with such directors as Nonzee Nimibutr, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul as well as action hero Tony Jaa being celebrated at film festivals around the world. For every genre that Hollywood or other film industries offer, there is an example from Thailand that favourably compares.

 

The First Thai Films

When Western films first came to Thailand they were called nang farang, after the nang drama (shadow puppet plays) that were a Thai traditional art.

 

The first film produced in Thailand was made in 1922. Entitled Sam Poi Luang: Great Celebration in the North, the docudrama became a hit when it was released. The film was produced by the Royal State Railways Authority, whose main function was to promote travelling by train through the new media.

 

1922 also saw the production of Nang Sao Suwan, or Miss Suwanna of Siam, a Hollywood co-production with the Royal State Railways that was directed and scripted by Henry MacRae. It premiered on June 22, 1923 in Bangkok at the Phathanakorn Cinematograph. Unfortunately, Miss Suwanna has been lost over the years.

 

The first all-Thai feature was Chok Sorng Chan (Doubly Lucky), produced by the Wasuwat brothers' Bangkok Film Company in 1927 and directed by Manit Wasuwat (Thai: มานิต วสุวัต). That same year, another film company, Tai Phapphayon Thai Company, produced Mai Khit Loei (Unexpected).

 

Seventeen films were made between 1927 and 1932, but only fragments have survived, such as a one-minute car chase from Chok Sorng Chan or a two to three minute boxing match from Khrai Di Khrai Dai (None But the Brave).

 

Hollywood would also make other movies in Siam during this time, including the documentary, Chang, by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, about a poor farmer struggling to carve out a living in the jungle.

 

Robert Kerr, who served as assistant director to Henry MacRae on Miss Suwanna returned to Siam in 1928 to direct his own film, The White Rose. It was shown in Bangkok in September 1928.

 

The Golden Age

By 1928, the first "talkies" were being imported, providing some heavy competition for the silent Thai films. In the tradition of the benshi in Japan, local cinemas had entertaining narrators to introduce the films as well as traditional Thai orchestras that were often as big an audience pleaser as the films themselves, but within two or three years, silent movies had given way to the talkies.

 

The first Thai sound film was Long Thang (Gone Astray), produced by the Wasuwat brothers, and premiered on April 1, 1932. Considered an ideological film in the period of political reform, the film proved a big success and led to the building of the Sri Krung Talkie Film Company in Bang Kapi. It produced three to four films a year.

 

In 1933, Sri Krung made the first colour Thai film, Grandpa Som's Treasure (Pu Som Fao Sap).

 

This period up until 1942 is regarded by scholars as the "Golden Age" for Thai film.

 

Among the hit films of this period was the 1938 musical, Klua Mia (Wife-phobia) by the Srikrung studio. It was shot on 35-mm colour stock. The stars were Chamras Suwakhon and Manee Sumonnat, the first Thai actors to be recognized as movie stars by having their names painted on their chairs while filming at the studio.

 

As the Second World War loomed, and the country being led by a dictatorship under Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram film companies were pressed into service to make propaganda films to whip up nationalism.

 

Opposition politics found their way into film, too, with statesman Pridi Phanomyong producing King of the White Elephant, in 1940. With all the dialogue in English, Pridi hoped to send a message to the outside world that he was unhappy with the militaristic direction his country was taking. The film depicts the story of an ancient Siamese king who only goes to war after he's been attacked.

 

Film Dubbing

The advent of sound raised another problem for cinemas in Thailand: the language of the talkies. Soon a dubbing method developed in which a dubber would provide a simultaneous translation of the dialogue by speaking Thai into a microphone at the back of the theater. The first Thai dubber was Sin Sibunruang, or "Tit Khiaw", who had worked for Siam Film Company and was the editor of the company's film magazine. Tit Khiaw and other talented dubbers became stars in their own right. They would perform all the roles in the films, both male and female, as well as such sound effects as animal noises, cars and gunfire.

 

Also, there were film companies that could not afford to make sound films, and would make films with the intention that they would be dubbed at screenings by live performers reading from a script. These dubbed films proved as popular as the talkies, especially if the dubber was well known.

 

Due to the extensive use of 16 mm film in the 1970s, the technique has lasted up until recent years, especially for outdoor screenings of films at temple fairs in rural areas. Examples of a dubber at work can be seen in contemporary Thai films, Monrak Transistor (2000) and Bangkok Loco (2004).

 

Post-war years: The 16-mm era

After the end of the Second World War, filmmaking got under way again in Thailand using surplus 16 mm black-and-white stock from wartime newsreel production.

 

At least two Thai films were produced in 1946. One was an action film, Chai Chatree (Brave Men), directed by journalist-turned-filmmaker Chalerm Sawetanant. The screenplay was by writer Malai Chupinij, who would go on to script other films of the era, including Chao Fah Din Salai (Till Death Do Us Part). The other film noted by the National Film Archive for 1946 was an adaptation of a folktale, Chon Kawao (The Village of Chon Kawao).

 

The post-war boom in filmmaking really took off, however, with the use of 16-mm colour-reversal film, which was easy to obtain and make films with. The vividly coloured films were popular with audiences as well, prompting dozens of new filmmakers to enter the business.

 

Similar to the dubbing of films during the pre-war years, some of these films used dubbers to provide dialogue and sound effects as the film was running, further adding to the entertainment value of the movies. From 1947 until 1972, 16 mm was the industry standard for Thai film production.

 

The first hit of the era was 1949's Suparb Burut Sua Thai (Thai Gentlemen Fighters), which outgrossed Hollywood films at the local box office. That success prompted more enthusiasm for filmmaking, giving rise to the second "golden age" of Thai cinema.

 

Move Toward 35mm

At the height of the 16-mm era, cinematographer and director Rattana Pestonji sought to use 35 mm film and generally improve the artistic quality of Thai films. Most of his films are regarded today as masterpieces, including Santi-Weena, which was the first Thai film to be entered into international competition, at the 1954 Asia Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo, and 1961's Black Silk, the first Thai film in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival.

 

Though Rattana made relatively few films, he worked tirelessly to promote the industry, and died in 1970 as he was to make a speech to government officials about setting up a national film agency.

 

The 1970s and '80s

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. To pick up the slack, 150 Thai films were made in 1978 alone. Many of these films were low-grade action films and were derided by critics and scholars as "nam nao" or "stinking water".

 

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, whose own family had been involved with filmmaking since the industry started in Thailand. Among Chatrichalerm's films during the 1970s was Khao Chue Karn (Dr. Karn), which addressed corruption in the Thai civil service and was nearly banned by the military-dominated regime of Thanom Kittikachorn. 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. Vichit also made Her Name is Boonrawd (1985), about prostitution around an American military airbase during the Vietnam War. Vichit's best known works are two semi-documentary films, Mountain People (Khon Phukao), an adventure tale about a young hill-tribe couple, and Look Isan (Son of the Northeast), about a family of subsistence farmers in 1930s Isan.

 

Also in 1985, director Yuttana Mukdanasit made Pee Seua lae Dawkmai (Butterfly and Flower), highlighting hardships along the Southern Thailand border. Not only did the film help expose urban Thais to regional poverty, the film broke new ground in its portrayal of a Buddhist-Muslim relationship. It won the Best Film award at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

 

Extracted from Wikipedia: Thai Cinema

I just want to know if the movies are in english

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