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'The Hurt Locker' & the exhilarating regiment

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'The Hurt Locker' & the exhilarating regiment

  • Published: 20/02/2010 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: News

Are they busy watching military comedy? Instead they should be watching The Hurt Locker.

To begin with, the Oscar contender is about a bomb squad that's not relying on GT200 to sniff out and defuse bombs in the deadliest zones of Baghdad.

They don't use chopsticks, either. I guess there aren't that many chopsticks to spare in Iraq.

Secondly, the film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, a woman who has proved that she has more muscle, guts and nerve than not only James Cameron, her ex-husband, but also most Hollywood filmmakers and probably army generals in Southeast Asia.

The prime minister has ordered a ban on any more purchases of the GT200 thingamajig, but the army insists on relying on the device that, according to a bomb expert interviewed by the BBC, is "an empty plastic box".

Perhaps General Anupong Paojinda missed the news report that the British government, fearing for the safety of their troops fighting there, has banned the export of the British-made GT200 to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the BBC scoop (available on YouTube), a British politician worries about the "naivete" of countries that have bought the device, as well as similar bomb-detecting boxes that have incidentally become the source of a sick joke.

Cinematically speaking, the taste of the Thai army runs more towards slapstick, besides chopsticks. Forget the tense, war-is-addictive brilliance of The Hurt Locker: Recently, Gen Anupong welcomed the crew of a Thai comedy called Kongpan Kruk Kruen (roughly, "The Exhilarating Regiment") to film in a Kanchanaburi barracks.

The army chief rolled out total cooperation by allowing the director, comedian Note Chernyim, to use tanks, guns and all sorts of heavy artillery as props for the set.

The movie is ostentatiously a rip-off of a Korean teen flick (the hero is called "Chee-worn", as in the Thai word for a monk's robe, oh yeah), with a cast of young starlets playing lovesick privates and giggly girls who stir up romantic havoc in the dull barracks.

As fate would have it, Kongpan Kruk Kruen will open on Feb 25, the same date as The Hurt Locker, and one day before the dreaded Judgement Day of the verdict on Thaksin Shinawatra. The two would make a dazzling, slightly demented double-bill - a sanctification of war and a trivialisation of it.

This isn't new. Thai showbiz has long had a knack for depoliticising the military, turning them from authority figures with guns to lovable romantics. In the 1980s, there was actually a sub-genre of military comedy in Thai cinema, with more or less the same plot about a lowly private, a comical sergeant, a slapsticky general and his beautiful daughter who has a crush on the lowly private, etc. Consider some of the titles: Taharn Ken ("The Conscripts"); Taharn Ken Jer Pee ("The Conscripts Meet Ghosts"); Taharn Ken: Naew Rak Rim Footpath ("The Conscripts: The Frontline of Love"); Taharn Ken Gib Gab (it's too nonsensical to translate).

On TV, audiences were glued to the series Pu Khong Yod Rak ("The Beloved Captain"), which has been remade several times. I particularly like this title (which should win the prize from the creative economy people): Taharn Ying Huajai Waew - an attempted translation would be "A Female Soldier With A Cutey Heart." They should try to sell the remake right to Kathryn Bigelow.

The Hurt Locker makes soldiers and their missions look sacred. Jeremy Renner plays a virtuoso bomb defuser who's intoxicated by the prospect of death and danger. What can kill him thrills him - and that makes the film scary, even without the presence of GT200. In short, it's a dead-serious film about day-to-day trauma and the tortuous mental landscape of those on the frontlines. Not everyone agrees with its politics, but as a thriller it's first-class.

No serious film about soldiers has been made in Thailand, and I don't think there ever will be. The present reality of the military as an institution that inspires mistrust, scorn and even fear means it would have to take guts bigger than Bigelow's to make a movie that dares confront such reality, from the 2006 putsch to the formation of this government, from the chaos in the South to the GT200 fiasco. No wonder the army is championing comedy films. Instead of shaking up, they prefer to laugh it off. Indeed what we have is an exhilarating regiment.

  • Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture in the Bangkok Post real.time section.

About the author

Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Reporter

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  • Macca

    Discussion 8 : 20/02/2010 at 11:51 PM8

    Somthing along the lines of catch22 meets Dr Stranglove would seem most appropriate . My god, it could almost write it's self!

  • Chai

    Discussion 7 : 20/02/2010 at 03:50 PM7

    Witness the greatest robbery of the Millennium!

    "Judgement Day" at a theatre near you! Premier Feb 26.

  • Alex

    Discussion 6 : 20/02/2010 at 01:30 PM6

    There should be a movie about those soldiers who recently died along the border, in the Preah Vihear area. Those who have died following orders that were given in order to distract public opinion from the REAL issues.
    Dying for something like this... can you imagine how the families must feel?
    I wish there were filmmakers who could take this burden (and risk) and come up with a real film about the real lives of those soldiers who just have to obey orders and, if need be, die in the process.

  • KuanKung

    Discussion 5 : 20/02/2010 at 10:46 AM5

    Even if a Thai director made a wonderful film about the Thai military, it would not be distributed in Thailand. I often wonder how much of films shown in Thailand are censored and if by distributors or censors or both.

  • FilmAjarn

    Discussion 4 : 20/02/2010 at 10:24 AM4

    Let's not forget that comedy can often be a very incisive mode of social and political critique. True, most of the films cited in the article are pretty anodyne but the very act of mocking a hegemonic institution such as the military which has such an influential, almost sacrosanct, hold on Thai civic life is nevertheless at some level an expression of populist disenchantment, a thumbing of one's nose at the powers-that-be. It may not have the explicit immediacy or overt critical gravitas of a dramatic film such as "The Hurt Locker" but, under the current pall of censorship that restricts cultural expression in this country, the long genre of military comedies may be the only mode of (subtextual) critique that is realistically available to mainstream Thai cinema and its audiences. I generally enjoy your writings, Khun Kong, but I do think you are frequently blinkered by personal cinephiliac prejudices when it comes to popular cinema, especially Thai popular cinema. Just because it's commercial and aesthetically lowbrow doesn't mean it is entirely devoid of cultural, social or ideological value.

  • Jimmy

    Discussion 3 : 20/02/2010 at 10:05 AM3

    I doubt you'll see 'Rohingya Boat people: The Movie' anytime soon.

  • P

    Discussion 2 : 20/02/2010 at 09:26 AM2

    Cant agree more.But in reality those generals
    cant joke around with human life.Very sorry for
    our frontline soldiers.Like it or not big house cleaning is urgently needed.

  • Sanook

    Discussion 1 : 20/02/2010 at 08:15 AM1

    I'm right there with you, Mr. Kong. Couldn't have said it better!


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