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One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Gay Porn Subject

THE TERRORISTS (Berlinale Forum) uses transgression as a way to unsettle its viewers and lure them in.


A group of nonchalant young fishermen clamber around their fishing boat in the middle of a calm tropical night. A lone worker on a rubber plantation moves methodically from tree to tree, tapping and scraping to expose the rubber sap within. Rhythmic editing gently rocks the viewer into hypnosis; and despite the spluttering of a diesel engine or the thudding of a chisel, the footage feels calm and languid, almost serene. But THE TERRORISTS (POO KOR KARN RAI, Thailand) is not a film about sleepy labourers; and as problems start to seep down to this rural world, the film transforms into a deeply unsettling, transgressive account of a complex social milieu.

As local officials start demanding paperwork of the young agrarian workers, the film shifts focus to the disturbing events of April 2010 – when disorganised Thai police gunned down numerous unarmed Red Shirts even after the revolutionary leaders had surrendered. En route from the forests to the city we stop to watch a man, gagged and shackled, being sexually abused by a faceless assailant. This is the “other“ side of director Thunska Pansittivorakul’s creative vision – an unapologetic view of homoerotic fantasy, masturbation and male sexual arousal.

Thunska has spent most of his life surrounded by political unrest in Thailand. After the 1973 uprising, when student revolutionaries briefly toppled the military junta, he was forced to flee Bangkok with his mother, who later admitted to having been involved in the bloody events. Years of relative stability have been punctuated by bouts of unrest ever since in Thailand, but April 2010 saw the worst violence for decades, and Thunska was inspired to pick up his camera and document the events.

The film feels like a diary in terms of its narration and footage. Thunska was on the frontline of the riots and was able to record the confused, but bizarrely calm, bystanders and rioters during the shooting. There are burning piles of tyres, buildings aflame, and the far-off siren screech of fire engines that cannot reach the area. The film blends this documentary footage with more whimsical, poetic imagery from around Thailand, during which Thunska explains various elements of Thai history and culture that have resulted in the current crisis. The narration often seems arbitrary, as if Thunska is just recalling random events, as if he is writing in his diary. The filmmaker never attempts to hide his ideological bias, but why should he? Impartiality is hard to come by in the middle of a heated revolution.

The transgressive elements of the film may seem to have no artistic merit, but they are not entirely without purpose. Long takes of young men masturbating may not immediately appear to highlight the political themes of the film but they will force many viewers out of their comfort zone and make them pay attention to the ferocity of the film’s message.

301 Moved Permanently

301 Moved Permanently

nginx/1.14.0 (Ubuntu)