Thai King’s passing has no impact on cinema schedules

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Initial worries of Thailand’s cinema operators that their screening schedules might be restricted or even outright banned in the aftermath of the passing of King Bhumibol on Oct. 13 have proved unsubstantiated. Unlike the country’s TV and radio stations, which had to suspend all entertainment programming deemed “inappropriate” during the official mourning period for the late monarch, cinemas could maintain their show schedules without any curbs imposed by the government.

“We are resuming normal showtimes, as exhibitors had reached an early understanding with the authorities so their businesses would not be negatively impacted. Although audience turnout was a little slower on the day after our King’s passing, it has since recovered to normal numbers,” Narute Jiensnong. head of business development at Thailand’s largest cinema operator, Major Cineplex Group, told FJI by phone. However, the country’s second-largest exhibitor, SF Cinema, had canceled all screenings on Oct. 14 out of respect for the late King. But it is understood that this suspension was entirely voluntary and not due to any government pressure.

On the other hand, practically all TV and radio stations abruptly went off the air only minutes after an official announcement in the early evening of Oct. 13 that the highly revered but long ailing King had died at the age of almost 89. While broadcasts did resume a short while later, all TV channels carried the same government-sponsored content eulogizing the late monarch and reflecting on his life’s work, while radio stations played somber music. As news (including international channels like BBC and CNN) and documentary programs returned to the air several days onwards, Thailand’s military government issued a directive “urging” TV stations to continue blacking out “all inappropriate entertainment programs”—soap operas, movies, comedy and game shows—for at least 30 days, the official public mourning period. Similar restrictions also were ordered for radio stations.

Meanwhile, entertainment places across the country like bars, clubs and restaurants likewise were advised to cease playing cheerful music and refrain from throwing noisy parties. Several live concerts and a number of festivals also were canceled or rescheduled. In the meantime, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the regulator governing all television and radio operations in the country, said that TV stations would be allowed to “gradually reinstate their normal programming” in the week spanning Nov. 13 to 18, with all channels expected to have returned to their full programming schedules by Nov. 19.  

Royal Anthem to Remain in Thai Cinemas for Now

It is required in Thailand by law that prior to every film screening in cinemas the royal anthem be played and it is mandatory for audiences to stand. Thailand’s royal anthem, only used in connection with the monarch and the royal family, is not to be confused with the national anthem. After the passing of King Bhumibol on Oct. 13, the current cinema version of that anthem—complete with images and short clips showing the late monarch—continued to be screened unchanged. But on Saturday, Oct. 29, a crowd of an estimated 150,000 people had gathered in the large park-like square in front of Bangkok’s Grand Palace to sing the anthem led by the Bangkok Symphonic Orchestra.

The large-scale event, organized as a tribute to Bhumibol, who had reigned over Thailand for 70 years, was audio-recorded and captured on film and before long might replace the current version. The government has already announced that there will be screenings in movie theatres across the country. What remains unclear is whether it is going to be a one-time screening documenting the whole event with free admission for the general public, or if cinema operators will be supplied with a shorter version to permanently replace the current one, or both.

“So far, we have received no word from the authorities how to handle this and we understand the project is still in post-production. For the time being, we just commence with the current version,” said Major Cineplex Group’s Narute Jiensnong. Yet there also is the speculative question of what is going to happen once the heir-designate, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, officially succeeds his father as Thailand’s new King. The country is currently ruled by an appointed regent, as Vajiralongkorn requested time to mourn his father together with the rest of the nation before accepting the crown. He is widely expected to ascend the throne sometime in December. But although the melody of the royal anthem is inseparably associated with late King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn may decide to adopt it as his own in honor of his father. Only one thing is for certain, though: The playing of the royal anthem will continue in Thai cinemas in one form or another.

Inferno Tops China Weekend Box Office

Ron Howard’s Inferno, loosely based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name, made a surprise scoop of China’s box office during its debut weekend, Oct. 28-30, raking in just over $13 million. The thriller, which stars Tom Hanks in his reprised role as symbologist Robert Langdon, dethroned Hollywood action flick Mechanic: Resurrection, whose box-office earnings during its second weekend had slumped by almost 70 percent to a little over $8 million.

DreamWorks’ animated adventure comedy Trolls, which debuted in China a few days before its U.S. release date, placed third during its first weekend, earning slightly over $5 million. Domestic action film Operation Mekong was displaced to fourth place by Trolls during its fifth weekend, earning only about $4.4 million, a sharp drop of 47.5 percent compared to the previous weekend.

Three Hollywood offerings taking the top spots once again proves that Hollywood-produced films continue to be extraordinarily strong box-office magnets in China, a trend that has firmly established itself since the country began permitting regular screenings of imported movies in the early 1990s.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.