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Of religion and censorship

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Of religion and censorship

  • Published: 26/03/2010 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Realtime

Romping, gun-slinging monks (spurious monks, it turns out) have roused anxiety among religious groups - and even a senator. What has happened since last week's release of the contentious film Nak Prok (In the Shadow of the Naga) is not so much a debate as grumbles and subterfuges.

Somchai Khemklad and Ray McDonald are crooks disguised as monks in a controversial movie which critics say harms the image of Buddhism.

Opponents are unhappy that the integrity of Buddhism is compromised by the film's posters, which show muscular men in precariously-clad saffron robes, baring fangs and swinging guns. It's not clear how many of them have actually seen the film - the impact of the key visual, which blurs the line between a gangster and a holy man - is enough to set off the fury.

Last Thursday, members of a religious group marched to the office of Sahamongkol Film, who produced the film, demanding what I'm not sure, since Nak Prok has got the permission to play, with an 18-plus rating and warning captions (a move by the rating board which deserves another kind of protest).

The studio agreed to take off the posters by the end of this week. Meaning: after two weekends in the cineplexes, the film is likely to have generated the majority of its income and the removal of the posters will hardly matter. I don't know if the protestors were trying to get the film banned, which is impossible, since it had already passed the censors, and such a demand would be deeply undemocratic.

Nak Prok tells the story of two bandits who disguise themselves as monks and hole up in a forest temple. If nothing else, the film defines a new sub-genre: temple thriller.

What spurs the movie - which is rash, exhilarating and ham-fistedly critical - is the performances of the two leads, Somchai Khemklad and Ray McDonald, two boy-men with the country's best swagger, who seem to believe that the idea of bandits passing off as monks is as inevitable as it is tragic.

Canned for three years for fear of a ban, Nak Prok is now making decent money. The grumbles from the religious groups are still audible, surfacing here and there in newspaper reports and websites, likewise the counter-force who believes movies should be allowed to show sensitive issues. Save for the laughable decision to force the filmmaker to flash warning captions in the film, mostly this has been a good sign.

True, we still don't have constructive debate, but at least we're exercising our rights. The state doesn't have to ban movies and kowtow to pressure groups; that's dictatorial and disrespectful to our freedom to make and to view films.

The rating system is enough, and then if a movie upsets you or your profession or your ethnic group, you can protest, make a noise, state your cause and your belief, because as we all know, to protest is one of our rights. It's check and balance, and if filmmakers wish to make films on sensitive issues, they also have the right to do that, but they have to think hard, because they'll have to answer questions. And the rating committee: they let the film pass without cutting, and despite the stupid warnings, they show that they're learning, or at least I hope that they're learning.

Nak Prok won't destroy the image of Buddhism. No movie can do that, because no movie is that important. Only bad Buddhists can harm Buddhism.

Watching fake monks stomping around a temple is surreal and disturbing, and that's precisely the point. Movies have to disturb us sometimes, to shake us from the preconceived illusion and to watch reality with a new light.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Real Time Reporter

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