Thailand: Profit Or Loss From 14 October 1973?

2002

Chintana Sandilands

The recent release of a Thai film entitled ‘14 October: War of the People’ attracted the attention of both the Thai and foreign press. Widely discussed was the censorship controversy between the Director and the Thai Film Censorship Board, and the film’s description of the events of the 14th of October 1973. This day is infamous in Thai history as a social and political watershed, a popular uprising which overthrew the military dictatorship, although a backlash in 1976 re-established military control. Against this background, the film’s production and commercialisation have sparked controversy among Thais.

Five Stars Productions, a major Thai production company, chose Bhandit Rittakol as Director for his first-hand experience as a news reporter during the uprising. Seksan Prasertkul, one of the student leaders, wrote the original script for the movie, although in its screen adaptation the title was changed from the original ‘Moon Hunter’ to ‘14 October: War of the People’. Rather than focussing on 14 October, the film follows Seksan through the five years he spent as a guerrilla fighter from 1976 when he and his wife, Chiranan Pitpreecha, fled to join the Communist Party of Thailand.

The commercialisation of 14 October opens up new possibilities. Although it is too early to judge financial profit or loss, the production itself has been a learning experience. It proves that with strong determination it is now possible to secure funding for politically sensitive movies in Thailand. Also, its release relatively unchanged by the Film Censorship Board demonstrates the Board’s increasing flexibility. The film provides the general public with an opportunity to learn of the issues around the events of 14 October and see the impact of those events on human lives. In this Seksan and Chiranan are examples of the effect on human lives of violent ideological clashes when alternative pathways of discussion and resolution are not pursued. Although historically and culturally, Thai society is unaccustomed to conflicts of ideology, the role of ideological debate in an open democratic society is increasingly understood, as is the necessity of finding non-violent means of dealing with ideological differences. The film’s release underscores this.

Many older Thais now feel that the current generation has the right to know of past struggles for the democratic freedoms they now enjoy. They want foreign audiences also to know of the struggles of others to build peace and democratic institutions. Audiences of this film may utilise the spirit of 14 October 1973 in their individual situations to fight for domestic and global justice, peace and harmony, and to increase understanding and learning of the past. If this happens, the events of 14 October will not have been in vain: the dehumanisation and violence of that tragedy need not be repeated.

WATCHPOINT: Will movies such as ‘14 October: War of the People’ have a substantial impact on Thai viewers, leading to reform and to firmer democratic attitudes?

 

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