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General news >> Saturday March 01, 2008

Who wouldn't faint?


The whole hall gasped when Mingkwan Saengsuwan tumbled at the talk on Monday. His blackout was so frightful that our hearts sank, all the more so when someone started pressing the man's chest, CPR-style. Thank God he's all right. The doctor - a practising one, not the one who becomes the finance minister - attributed Mr Mingkwan's sudden swoon to stress and overwork. Still, our commerce minister, 56, was a flop even before he started.

Actually Mr Mingkwan was outlining his work and vision when the vertigo struck. His PowerPoint presentation that day was characterless and devoid of dashes, though it was an improvement from the Grade-9 cardboard cut-outs he used when appearing on the TV debate with the Democrat leader three months back. In his talk, the former Toyota PR chief, MCOT director and part-time talent scout showed us how he believed the Thai entertainment industry could put a spin on the country's GDP. He said Thailand must produce exportable pop icons like Rain or Dong Bang Shin Ki of South Korea, and we should come up with a smash hit TV series like Dae Jung Kuem, which also hailed from Seoul.

For some reason the minister also mentioned the "uniqueness" of Thai fruits - durian, mango and rambutan. I braced myself for the moment he'd draw a link between durian and Thai TV series. But at that point - what luck - he fainted. Thus his fruity references remained unexplained.

Mr Mingkwan raised the same issue about exporting our pop-cult products during that TV debate in December. Then, as now, he didn't bullet-point the details of how he planned to achieve that. Conspicuously, he seems to stress the imaginary benefits of "selling" our cultural content without talking about something more important: creating that content. Of course, it is a blessing that we now have a commerce minister who has some ideas about our cultural/entertainment sector. But Mr Mingkwan has been vulnerable to much scorn - which is not entirely unfair - that he's just full of PR talk, that he's a master of promotion and not of action. Without making himself clear - on how to groom Siamese Rain or Typhoon or Hurricane or to create the Bangkok copycats of swoon-worthy Korean boy bands - the minister risks confirming his critics' sneer. The Korean wave that has swept across the antenna of Southeast Asian television is not a fluke. It is the result of systematic policy and cooperation between different government agencies and the private sectors. Kocca, or Korea Culture & Content Agency, assists the marketing of Korean content, from music to TV series to on-line games, to the world. It owns a recording studio, an animation studio; meanwhile the Korean Film Commission (Kofic) actively partners with producers to create new platforms in film productions that will benefit both the industry and the government.

Korea knows that the dream of "selling" their contents is only possible as long as they can create those contents. That's why students and upcoming artists in Korea have far more opportunities in obtaining grants than Thais do, and this grooming of talents guarantees that the wheel will keep spinning. What Korea has built for its people, I believe, is the right environment for creative prosperity. Mr Mingkwan's idea will never succeed if he excludes the content industry from the governing cultural doctrine. In short, the commerce minister has to talk to the culture minister first, before outlining his vision about Siamese Dae Jung Kuem to the public. How can we enjoy the right climate for creative thinking when the culture minister said upon his swearing-in that his ministry should have its own task force to go after those who disrespect Thai culture?

A few years back, Korea appointed a novelist/movie director as its Culture Minister (his name is Lee Chang-Dong, and his latest film, Secret Sunshine, is a tour de force). Korea doesn't practise censorship. And Koreans support their homegrown films and series with a passion. But here, our government still doesn't believe in creative freedom. We practise censorship at movies, the primitive kind, and the seat at the Ministry of Culture is regarded as a Z-class position, with no one fighting to get it. A senior official at the ministry once said to Time magazine: "Nobody watches [art films] in this country. Thais only like comedy".

Who wouldn't want to faint?

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

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