Lingerie lantern scene in ‘Oh! My Ghost’ fires up Thai activists


Conservative activists in Thailand have recently raised a storm against the producers of ghost slapstick comedy Oh! My Ghost, criticizing the inclusion in the movie of a scene in which the characters release a floating lantern to which a set of female underwear is attached. They argued that while hot-air lanterns are indeed a traditional feature of northern Thailand’s Yi-Peng celebration (a variation of the country’s annual Loy Krathong festival, usually held on the first full-moon night of November), fixing lingerie to them has to be considered “blasphemy,” since it disrespects local cultural and religious sensitivities.

“The destruction of Thai culture is not caused by outsiders or foreigners, but by Thais who lack consciousness about their own art and culture,” Natee Teeranarojanapong, a well-known activist, was quoted by daily newspaper Khao Sod. The activist’s group “Civilized Chiang Mai” staged a protest in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where the movie is largely set, calling on the producers to cut the offensive scene. “If any [Thai] filmmaker would like to use a custom or tradition in their movie, they should study [the deeper meanings of] the practice first [before using it inappropriately],” Natee argued.

The scene also triggered a flood of negative comments on social networks. Although Thailand has a worldwide reputation for being rather laissez-faire and even promiscuous because the country harbors a huge sex industry, its society at large remains extremely conservative and very conscious about traditional values. Female underwear is commonly regarded by many Thais as something “lowly,” an object that is not displayed in public. Many laundry shops even refuse accepting underwear, whether male or female.

Following the uproar, Sahamongkol Film International and WorkPoint Pictures, the production companies behind Oh! My Ghost, issued a statement apologizing “also on behalf of the director and actors” for not having considered the issue carefully enough and acknowledged that “the scene may disparage beliefs or disrespect norms and culture.” Although Oh! My Ghost already opened in mid-November in many theatres across the country, the two firms promised to remove the scene, but also warned that it may still appear in some cinemas “due to technical difficulties” in recalling already distributed prints.

Tony Jaa To Star In Hong Kong Action Flick
Thailand’s homegrown martial-arts phenomenon Tony Jaa signed a contract with Hong Kong-based Sun Entertainment Culture to star in the studio’s forthcoming action film SPL 2, expected to start shooting in spring 2014. Jaa will act alongside Jackie Wu (Wu Jing), who already appeared in the first installment of the SPL franchise, as well as the highly acclaimed 2008 action thriller Legendary Assassin, and who has been described as “probably having the fastest-spinning back-kick on planet Earth.” The studio also signed Dion Lam (Spider-Man 2) as action scene choreographer. The movie is to be co-directed by Wilson Yip and Terrence Cheung, with principal photography to take place in Hong Kong, Mainland China and Thailand.

SPL 2 is going to be Jaa’s second sojourn into the international movie arena after he had already secured a role in Hollywood’s Fast & Furious 7, whose release has been delayed after the recent death of star Paul Walker. However, Jaa’s involvement with Fast & Furious 7 also triggered a serious row with his Thai production company Sahamongkol Film International, whose owner accused him of breach of contract and “disloyalty,” threatening to file a lawsuit. But “action” even seems to ensue in Jaa’s private life. In September 2013, his Mercedes was allegedly rammed by a vehicle driven by his brother-in-law after a hot pursuit in a northern suburb of Bangkok as part of an unclear family feud that later supposedly ended in a full-blown fistfight back at the martial-arts star’s home.

Laos Fest Shines with Rare Offerings
Although still relatively little-known internationally, the Luang Prabang Film Festival recently staged its fourth annual installment, which took place Dec. 7-11 in the former royal capital of Laos, commonly acknowledged as one of the prettiest cities in Southeast Asia and holding UNESCO World Heritage status. This longevity surprises even more considering the fact that there exists not a single regular cinema in the entire town. Festival movies instead were primarily screened in the UNESCO-renovated, outdoors Handicrafts Market (night venue), and the Amantaka Hotel, a five-star resort housed in a stately French-Colonial building complex (day venue).

A non-competitive event, the festival succeeded in attracting a healthy crowd of regional and international film buffs by carving itself a niche thanks to putting an emphasis on largely independently produced movies that often enjoy only limited release even in their own countries. For example, the latest festival program included Cambodian entry A River Changes Course, telling the story of a young rural couple trying to maintain their traditional livelihood against the onslaught of capitalism; romantic comedy What Is It About Rina?, a rare offering from the tiny Sultanate of Brunei; the Laotian production I Love Savahn, whose story follows a Japanese traveler who falls in love while visiting the land-locked country; and Rising Sun on the Horizon, the only contribution from Myanmar, about a fisherman fighting against the commercial exploitation of his village.

The organizers, who see their project as an “all-year-round event” with regular workshops and exhibitions rather than a mere festival extending over a few days, also maintain the Lao Filmmakers Fund, an initiative endorsed by Laos’ Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, which provides local filmmakers with small grants to kick-start their movie projects. More information about the Luang Prabang Film Festival can be found on the official website.

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