Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Tiger Temple

This was my original post

I have no issues at all with how Thailand is portrayed in this film. It is the incredible story of a truly astonishing monk called Acharn Phoosit and the tiger sanctuary he established near Kanchanaburi (River Kwai area).

Watch the film here: Tiger Temple
Check out their website here: Web site

I was aware that some people believed there was a darker side but I saw no evidence.

Today I saw this article written by someone who claims to have been a volunteer there. I have to include the link for the sake of balance. It's here

I have to admit that I was surprised both by the chicken diet and the absence of older tigers. Thinking again about my effusive response to the original video.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A weird selection of videos on the Thai sex industry

This film offers a slightly surreal experience, as it switches tack completely after about four minutes and viewers may wonder if the director experienced some sort of Damascene conversion during filming. It took me a second or to to realise that tis is three completely different films offering different perspectives on the Thai sex industry.

The first is a balanced portrayal of an industry that reflects the economic inequalities which are at the heart of the sex trade. Whilst there are rich people and poor people, sex will be a tradeable commodity. The film acknowledges that the answer is not to seek the abolition of the sex industry as that would cause as many problems as it solves. It also offers a voice to those women who are not ashamed of being sex workers. Once again, the amazing Empower Foundation makes an appearance here.

The remaining two films adopt a different stance. We are invited to believe that the entire Thai economy hinges on the sex industry, that one in four Thai women are prostitutes, that one third of all sex workers are children, that the vast majority are HIV positive and that the Thai government is complicit in exploiting its women because they support a tourist industry which advertises a country which is hospitable. This, we are told, is code for "come to Thailand and have sex with children."

These films are ignorant, racist, bigoted nonsense.  An American voice tells us that Thailand is a country where women are taken to brothels where they sell sex. The implication being that this does not happen in the USA.

The first film is balanced, sensible and informative, well worth a look. The others, not so much.

Click here

Jesus and the sex industry in Thailand

This is a series of three films made by a Christian charity which spent three months in Thailand. There is quite a bit to admire in the work they do, they appear to have offered their time to help local charities focused on vulnerable children and on helping girls who are working in bars but would like the chance to change their lives. Credit has to be given for that,

There is, however, something quite disturbing about the films. The first one is mainly about the workers themselves, we are told at great length what wonderful, loving, Christian people they are. There is something almost needy about it. If they are spreading the word of the Lord, the film should be about what they achieve not about who they are.

The second film features the "work" they do in the bars of Thailand. I applaud their efforts to offer an alternative to girls who have chosen a different life, their approach by which they go to the bars to drum up custom is just ludicrous. One worker smiles smugly as she says how she finds it easy to get the girls to admit that they don't like their job and really should be doing something else. She believes it is important that the girls do not find a way of coping with their lives but recognise the awful thing they are doing. For many Thai women an offer of a place on a baking course is not the answer, they can only earn the money they need by working in the bars. Poking them in the chest and saying they should get a decent job is surely the opposite of Christian. Another worker proudly explains how their presence in a bar made another customer, probably seeking sex, to leave. He rejoices in the fact that the man broke a step on the way out. "We went back a couple of days later to repair the step to prove we do what we say we will do." Hardly transformational stuff. It all comes across as patronising to say the least. They make no real difference to the lives of the girls they harangue but claim to have brought Jesus into their lives.

The participants in this movie show little real understanding of Thai culture and no respect for the Buddhist upbringing of their targets. For them, there is no hope for non-believers. The way to help sex workers is to offer them a viable long term alternative to what they do, but respect their decision to sell their bodies if that is the choice they have made.

These people are on a mission, at the end of the film one is in no doubt how pleased they are with themselves but they cannot point to a single tangible achievement apart from some shots of them posing with an array of smiling Thais. Make up your own mind:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Pattaya Girls

This is an intriguing film, irritatingly divided into four separate segments.

Essentially it tells the story of Laurie an English ex-pat, his wife Toi and some of the girls who work in their Pattaya bar. The participants tell their own stories, so there is little room for a narrator to swing the story one way or another. Highly recommended for anyone who knows the Thai bar scene but particularly for those people who might be thinking of opening a bar over there.

Part 1 

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Thailand - the documentary that never was

I braced myself for a long session as YouTube was telling me that this film was over three hours long. It started promisingly enough with a few unconnected clips of the Thai bar scene, a fairly standard approach to introducing a documentary like this. Unfortunately that is all this film is from start to finish. If you like looking at bar scene footage, you may like it, I got bored after fifteen minutes and flipped forward to see if the approach changed. Not for me but some may like this approach. As they say in Thailand - Up to you.

The link is here: Thailand

Pattaya - another point of view

The word Pattaya is synonymous with sleaze and the Thai sex industry, just Google it if you are in any doubt. This is an almost heroic film as it tries to consign Pattaya's reputation to myth. We are told that it's all a terrible misunderstanding.

Some of the interviews are a little dull, some quite hard to follow and others quite astonishing. When asked if Pattaya is dangerous, one man tells us that the pavements are a bit dodgy.  Still there is some nice footage of the city, its beach and its inhabitants. You can watch it here: Pattaya City of Smiles

Bangkok Girl

This is an intriguing and very moving film, the credit for which goes entirely to Pla; the Bangkok bar girl whose story it purports to tell. You can watch it here Bangkok Girl

Pla speaks directly to the camera and whilst generally making light of her predicament, she comes across as lost and vulnerable. Then she flashes a million volt smile and it is impossible to stop your heart going out to her. At 19 she claims to have worked in bars for nearly a third of her life although, she says, she does not have sex with customers.There are a few twists in the tale and I won't reveal them here. Suffice to say that this is worth watching for the insight Pla gives to the life of a bar girl.

The film maker's narration is generally well meaning but he falls into the usual trap of quoting boiler plate Bangkok mythology as though it is fact. Virtually all girls who offer sex on the streets are either underage or HIV positive, we are told. There is no basis for such a claim. The annual turnover of the Thai sex industry is quoted with precision alongside the assertion that most of it goes to the mafia and as police bribes. There is no acknowledgement that this can only be a wild guess. Unless of course the mafia has started making submissions to the Thai office of national statistics and the police are putting bribes on their tax returns.

There are plenty of shots of western men with Thai girls and the narrator explains that he has pixelated them to hide identities. I can only hope that none of the men mind being featured because every one of them could easily be identified. The one guy who should have sought to hide his identity was clearly very happy to be on camera. Claiming to be a Bangkok based schoolteacher, he was a gift to a film maker seeking to portray bar goers as vile, drunken scum. 

So few marks for narration or for the performance of the aforementioned moron in the purple shirt, but watch this for Pla and be utterly beguiled.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Crazy Drug

Journeyman Pictures encourages viewers to catch its other offerings with the words "watch more shocking videos here." The pressure is therefore on its film makers to tell stories in a certain way. Elsewhere on this blog is a review of a film they made called Bodysnatchers, a more senseless piece of drivel you could not imagine. They had decided to depict Thais as semi civilised and bloodthirsty, when the evidence did not back them up, they went ahead and pretended that it did.

Crazy Drug is a very different offering. The subject matter is genuinely harrowing and the evidence they present seems authentic enough. There is little to support the claim that Yaba use is a national "crisis", the film presents a Thailand that has drug crazes machete wielding lunatics on every street corner. The problem is, however, unquestionably huge and this film is worth a look, particularly if you are ever tempted to try one of the little round pills. Watch it here: The Crazy Drug

You can see my review of Bodysnatchers here : Bodysnatchers

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Thailand - the Virgin trade

This is a bizarre but undeniably entertaining film that set out to blow the lid off the Thai Sex industry. The makers admit that they had some preconceptions about what they would find and were gracious enough to concede that their research made them think again. There is plenty to admire as presenter challenges some of the mythology, such as "where did they get that much quoted figure that there are 2.8 million sex workers in Thailand."
At times it almost ranks as semi-serious journalism, but there are far too many flaws. The film's title "The Virgin Trade", is simply a snappy phrase to attract more YouTube hits, the Blair Witch type scene as they flee from Mae Sai is obviously staged and the "scientific" experiment of hiring a bar girl for a no-sex weekend leads nowhere in particular. The film focuses on the mainstream go-go bar scene yet they choose a girl forced to work in a brothel to represent the experiences of Thai sex workers. Using a hidden camera to film inside a go-go bar probably made them feel like "proper" journalists but the footage obtained was poor quality and doing this is hardly respectful to the girls who, typically, do not want their faces to appear on the internet.
This film is a mishmash of interesting stuff about the Thai sex trade, but if you watch it you will probably be no better informed than you were when you started. It shines a light down a few dark alleys but is likely to create as many misconceptions as it resolves.

It seems that the original video has been removed - but as at the time of writing you can still watch it in sections. The first part is here : Virgin Trade Part 1

I have not posted a link to each part - you should be offered the next part as each one finishes. There are six films in all

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Two free short stories from Thai Lottery

If you enjoy the films and reviews that appear on this blog then you probably love Thailand and have more than a passing interest in the darker side of the country's night life.

Why not take a look at the these two free short stories from the book Thai Lottery

Crazy Medicine is here

West Ham vs Tottenham, Pattaya Style is here

Sex tourism for French speakers only

A few weeks ago I posted a link to an excellent French drama called Ladybar. A departure from my usual subject as to how Thailand is portrayed in the Press, but nonetheless a fascinating examination of how people perceive the country.  A gentleman who goes by the name of Starman kindly provided english sub titles for the original film.

This link is to the sequel, imaginatively called Ladybar 2. Regrettably there is no English translation so this may be one for French speakers only.

If anyone knows where I can find a sub titled version please let me know.

 Click here to see the film - Ladybar2

If you missed the first film you should watch that first - Ladybar

Friday, 8 February 2013

Thai bar scene - an essential guide

This blog deals with the way in which Thailand is portrayed in documentary films, each post provides a handy link to the YouTube film being reviewed. Many of these depict a Thailand which is far from the reality.

If you are looking for an authentic guide to the lives of the men and women on both sides of the Thai bar scene, you should check out Thai Lottery... and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand.

You can read the 5 star reviews the book has already received on Amazon.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

LIfe in a Thai Jail

This is another of those Journeyman films where we are invited to marvel at the barbaric ways of the people of Thailand. This is the story of three Australians sentenced to 50 year jail terms for smuggling heroin.  There is little to say about the prison conditions apart from the fact that the jails are overcrowded, so the film focuses on the length of the sentences which have been handed down.

The male prisoner claims that he was only smuggling heroin because he was struggling to kick his methadone habit. An interesting defence. His suggestion that he stood to gain nothing financially from the deal was sadly undermined by one of his fellow inmate's admission that she needed the 10,000 dollar fee she was being paid.

One of the females expressed her horror that she should have been treated so harshly as a first offender, contrasting her sentence with what she thinks she would have got for the same charge in Thailand. And this is surely the crux of the matter. If a Thai national suggested that they should be treated less harshly in an Australian court because they should be judged by the standards set in Thailand, they would receive very short shrift.

This is the story of three feckless, irresponsible morons who have abandoned a total of ten children to pursue cash and their next fix. They deserve zero sympathy. You may not agree, watch the film and decide for yourself: Click here: LIfe in a Thai Jail


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

My boyfriend the sex tourist - Girlfriend for sale

This is the poignant tale of two Thai women desperate to find a western husband. Fon is the bar girl from Isaan who has a long distance relationship with Mark from Birmingham. She has a son to support and the fact that her new found love can down 3 bottles of cognac per day does not put her off. Mark has asked to marry her and that step into the unknown is less daunting to Fon than a future in Nana Plaza's Godiva bar.
Lek is the village girl who is just as keen to find a foreigner but cannot bring herself to work in a bar. She dabbles briefly with the idea but a few hours in Nana Plaza is enough to make her mind up. Whether it was the all out brawl amongst the bargirls or the mamasan's comment: "we don't expect much in terms of looks so you should be OK," that did it, is hard to say.
The real winner in this film is Pompelai, the lady who offers translation and letter writing services to eager Thai ladies, anxious to keep in touch with their farang men.  They say that during the Gold Rush in the Klondyke, the real winners were not the people who did the digging, it was the ones that sold the picks and shovels. Pompelai and her Thai lady customers offer an interesting 21st century parallel.

This is a fascinating film which offers an authentic portrayal of bar life in Thailand. The makers let the participants tell their own story.

Watch it here: Girlfriend for sale

Monday, 4 February 2013

Latest on the controversial YouTube clip from Saturday Night Live

My last post was a grudging nod to a US sitcom which had taken a swipe at Thailand as a haven for sex tourists. The video rehashes the old cliche that people only visit the country for sex and the people who go are sad losers.

I hate the stereotype but the video is quite amusing - so I would not be too critical of it.

The Thai authorities have taken a different view and want the video removed.

The story is here : Phuket News

The unerringly brilliant web-site Not the Nation followed up with this: Not the Nation