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Too 'Dark' to see     If you have your ideas about this news, share it with others, here!

If a movie falls to the Bangkok International Film Festival bureaucracy, will it make a noise?


By Kong Rithdee

The movie is called Children of the Dark. But it's the adult Thais who'll be kept in the dark, under the same airless lid of unawareness, when this potentially notorious but practically harmless movie was disqualified from being screened at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

A month ago, film selectors of the BKK IFF, working under no influence from the main sponsor, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), selected Children of the Dark for the line-up. The film is Japanese, and tells the story of a journalist and an activist who arrive in Bangkok and try to help young Thai boys and girls from a ring of child prostitution.

Naturally, the movie makes it clear that there are children being forced into the sex trade here, though in the end, it points the accusing finger at sex tourists, Japanese and Western, who prey on the weaknesses of a less developed society and help perpetuate this contemptible practice.

True or false, your call. By all means, however, this is a small film, well-meaning but far from brilliant. In early 2007, the Japanese producer of the film went through the proper channels by applying for permission to shoot in Bangkok. After reading the script, the Thailand Film Office, the agency supervising foreign film shoots, denied the permit on grounds it contained unsavoury scenes that are difficult to stomach. Yet by some sort of Japanese black magic, Children of the Dark was shot in Thailand anyway, after a clever, or cunning, zig-zagging through the registration process.

When the BKK IFF programmers selected the film, they grouped it under the section Made in Thailand, which features three other foreign movies that were filmed here (one about an obese farang and his skinny Thai girlfriend; one about a northern boy and an elephant; and one about a Japanese girl and a lesson in Thai massage).

The programmers told me they wanted to show how this country is perceived by foreigners, then we can have a debate on that. But it was not to be. When the Film Office learned the movie they'd denied a permit for would be screening here, they notified the TAT and the Ministry of Culture. After a deliberation, the festival organisers decided to axe the movie from the line-up because it is, according to our playbook, inappropriate. This makes one wonder whether we can will something into non-existence. When we pretend that something doesn't exist, well, does it still exist for everyone else? It's strange, even comical, to blindfold ourselves when all other eyes are wide open.

Children of the Dark was released in Japan, and has travelled to a few movie festivals in Europe. That means quite a number of people have already seen it. If the movie can actually tarnish the pristine image of this country in the eyes of the international community, it's too late to stop that. And now we're deprived of the opportunity to judge for ourselves how badly, awfully, abominably, or how truthfully, this movie has portrayed us. Fair enough, to screen a film that was earlier denied permission to shoot would make us look weak. It would, granted, look like visiting filmmakers can disrespect our regulations and go scot-free.

But we could've seized this opportunity to show our poise and generosity. Perhaps we should've shown the film, on grounds that it would contribute to a useful social discussion, then we could've sought other forms of rebuke against the Japanese, like submitting an official complaint or even taking legal action, and publicising it as a precedent. This way, we would have maintained the integrity of our rule while allowing our people to see ourselves as others see us - and I don't mean as Nicholas Cage sees us in that truly abominable film Bangkok Dangerous. Maybe we were delighted to have Bangkok Dangerous filmed here because the movie is a phony representation of this city; it is, in short, a fantasy.

But we have problems with films like Children of the Dark because it is realistic. And funny how we're more ready to cosy up to a pack of lies than to a glimmer of truth.

Last year, the BKK IFF, fearing controversy, cancelled the screening of Persepolis, a French animation about an Iranian girl and the Islamic Revolution.

Months later, the movie opened in one Bangkok cinema and ran for almost two months. There was no controversy. As they say, what's captured on film means it exists. Whether we want to believe it or not.

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

Total of 7 reader comments
(Page 1 of 1)

by Vital Moors sahmkan@hotmail.com - Sep 20, 2008 18:06
First of all we don't may neglect the fact that there is sexabuse in Thailand and that there are tourists who are involved in it.

If it is about children we may not allow that anyway. Prostitution or other sexual abuse of children is not allowed and there are no way to justify that.

But this is already known and by making a movie about this it will not change the situation. It will make the situation worser. And most of all it will damage the image of Thailand in the rest of the world. On the internet when you google about Thailand you get already all sex-related information. A movie like this will only improve this image.

The second thing is that most of the tourists who come to Thailand are not looking for sex and are certainly not involved in the prostitution or abuse of children.

By this movie this sort of tourists will get a total wrong image of Thailand and will not come anymore. And the people who are looking for this kind of abuse of children will just be stimulted to go to Thailand.

I think we may not neglect the fact that there is childabuse and childprostituion in Thalands by farang. But a movie about this subject will have the opposite effect.

We must try to prevent that farang can go on with this kind of unwholesome practices but on the meantime we also must find a way not the create a wrong image of Thailand. Because prostitution and childabuse is not only a problem in Thaland, but also in otrher countries like Japan, The Philippines and even in the USA and Europe.

What I find the most strange is why Jappenese people hav eto make this movie? Could they not better make a movie about the Japanese people who are commiting this sort things?

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by Phony - Sep 20, 2008 14:31
Phony democracy, phony smiles, phony rules, phony laws, phony conscious, phony police, phony government. You fill in the blank...
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by passerbee - Sep 20, 2008 14:22
about some of the comments here: it's easy to just demand thailand to do s.th. against child prostitution and to say that people are blind or ignorant. just take a look at the oh-so developped countries in europe where child prostitutes from poland and neighboring countries are flooded into the richer market in e.g. germany or france. is it morally more rigt to abuse foreign children? no. do these countries take action against this kind of prostitution? yes, they do.like thailand do. but it's a long process in which foreigners and natives have to work hand in hand.
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by Isabel Lasardi - Sep 20, 2008 10:13
Why is there even a Bangkok Film Festival?

Since it's sponsored by the Tourism Board, I guess it must be to raise the image of Thailand as a cultural destination.

But don't they realize that this sort of decision makes Thailand lose face all over the world.

This shows that Thailand has no respect for film culture at all.

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by why always farangs? - Sep 20, 2008 08:56
First that all, not only farangs and Japanese people are regulars clients of the underage sex trade in Thailand, it is well know that high range government, military, socially and police people are big followers of that naughty hobby, I know the true sometimes hurts but is always better that a bunch of lies that will make you smile but get you deep in to the ignorance…or isn’t?
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by peter.brongers@gmail.com - Sep 20, 2008 08:47
excellent article, by ignoring these issues you dont make them disappear, unfortunately the screening committee seems to consist of people with a solid blindfold of the kind that makers of these more controversial movies try to raise
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by perplexed - Sep 20, 2008 07:22
The fact is, the people in control of Thailand wish to live in fantasy. Movies like Children of the Dark will not be allowed because the masses may take notice and demand change. This would jeopardize the status of those in charge. Only media images that project a negative image of foreigners, and a postive image of the "chosen ones" will ever be permitted. Facts have nothing to do with it when they contradict the BS being fed to the people. It's ironic that the rest of the world knows Thailand to be a magnet for perverts, child sex rings , racists, where corruption is an accepted way of life, and the average citizen will deny it to the death. A few bags of rice handed out during the annual and repetitive flooding reinforces the notion that the last half century has been a blessing by those so gracious to look after the less fortunate. To state to the contrary, verbally or through the media could, and will land you in jail, as some have recently found out. A clear case where "Thailand" does NOT mean "freeland".....
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