Thai circuit kills ‘Mockingjay’ prior to opening

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As an entire nation feverishly awaited the Thailand premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1 on Nov. 20, moviegoers in the capital Bangkok were in for a big surprise when the film was abruptly canceled by the operator of the inner-city Scala and Lido theatres literally hours before its scheduled first screening, apparently due to political factors.

Local media reported that the management of Apex Group, which runs both cinemas, decided to drop the movie after it had been informed that a student activist group calling itself “League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy” had purchased 200 tickets for the premiere screening.

It apparently distributed those tickets for free on its Facebook page, pleading with fellow activists to “raise three fingers, bring popcorn and go to the theatre,” a campaign allegedly intended as a protest against Thailand’s military junta, which took power after a coup d’etat on May 22 this year.

The group also invited comments on its Facebook page, asking “How does the Capitol resemble Bangkok?” in obvious reference to the oppressive administrative capital city featured in the Hunger Games movie franchise.

By the time of the Nov. 20 premiere, the page had received 5,477 “likes” and attracted 263 comments pertaining to the question, many turning into threads with numerous replies.

Apex Group replaced Mockingjay with the Woody Allen-directed Magic in the Moonlight for all six screening slots originally scheduled on premiere day. The latest installment of the Hunger Games franchise has since not reappeared in the two theatres’ programs.

Although Apex Group was not available for comment, industry sources said the decision to cancel the movie was apparently out of fear of political implications. Political gatherings of any kind are currently strictly prohibited under the martial law that still prevails in Thailand. But perhaps Apex Group also was wary of a past incident which had caused it considerable damage.

In May 2010, Scala was supposedly torched by members of the now largely inactive so-called “Red Shirts”—a radicalized political movement at the time supporting self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra—during a months-long occupation of inner Bangkok that paralyzed the capital’s economy and was eventually broken up by Army troops during intense street battles costing dozens of lives.

Apparently unaware of the movie premiere’s cancellation, several dozen student activists nevertheless turned up at Scala, their free tickets in hand. Two of them reportedly were arrested by police when they attempted to give media interviews and flashed the “District 12” three-finger salute made famous in the movie franchise.

As none of the other circuits in Bangkok had dropped the movie, the remaining activists eventually moved on to Paragon Cineplex, operated by Major Cineplex Group, across the street from Scala, to catch an afternoon screening.

“There are today about eight police officers at Siam Paragon [the shopping mall where Paragon Cineplex is located], in case there are any problems with Hunger Games due to the publicity. We have already screened nine shows at Paragon Cineplex and occupancy has been good. The protest group—around 100 of them—moved to here [from Scala] to see the movie and are watching it now. So far no problems [have been encountered],” Jim Patterson, Major Cineplex Group’s director of business development, told FJI at the time.

However, local newspapers nevertheless reported the following day, Nov. 21, that one female student had been arrested outside Paragon Cineplex after having displayed the three-finger salute. She was later released without charges.

The three-finger salute has recently been adopted by several activist groups in Thailand as a symbol of resistance against the military coup and the current military-installed government.

But this is not the first time a symbol from a movie has been appropriated for political causes in Thailand. In late 2012, some protest groups brandished white Guy Fawkes masks made popular in the movie V for Vendetta (2005) as a disguise and to express their opposition to the then-administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1 reportedly enjoyed nationwide first-day ticket sales of 13.6 million baht (approx. $430,700), some 20 percent more than last year’s sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had earned on its first day.  

Ex-Tourism Chief Faces Music in Thailand
A former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is to be charged for accepting bribes from a Los Angeles-based movie producer couple in connection with the now defunct Bangkok International Film Festival, according to Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

The charges against Juthamas Siriwan will be filed with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) “within the next few weeks”, NACC said in a statement in late November.

Juthamas is accused of allegedly having accepted bribes amounting to $1.8 million from Gerald Green and his spouse Patricia in exchange for granting the couple the lucrative rights to run the Bangkok International Film Festival from 2002 until 2007.

"We have collected 2,200 pieces of documentary papers in relation to the case, most of which involve the ways Juthamas allegedly deposited funds in bank accounts in Singapore, Switzerland, the island of Jersey, and Britain set up in the names of Juthamas' daughter and a family friend,” NACC member Vichai Vivitasevi was quoted by local newspapers, adding that his agency now considered all collected evidence as complete.

Vichai, who said it had taken investigators almost three years to collect the evidence, also is a member of a joint committee working with the OAG to probe whether Juthamas was to be considered unusually wealthy in a bid to confiscate her assets if found guilty.

In connection with the alleged bribery, she also may be convicted on criminal charges and could face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, according to Vichai.

However, Juthamas’ indictment needs to proceed speedily, as a statute of limitation expiring on March 31, 2015, looms, a date after which the U.S., where Juthamas is also wanted on criminal charges, will have no choice but to drop the case if Thailand is unable to bring its own domestic case to court.

The scandal emerged in 2008 after the FBI uncovered the Greens’ involvement in the alleged bribery, with documents found in their possession implicating Juthamas and her daughter.

While Juthamas so far has denied any wrongdoing, the Greens were convicted by a Los Angeles court in 2010 of paying bribes to the former tourism agency chief via bank transfers to accounts in several countries.
 
For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thaitom03@loxinfo.co.th.