Thai cinema may not be the best known in the world, but Thailand is certainly gaining fame as a country in which to make films. It has countless, hugely-varied locations, a wide range of accommodation, well-equipped studios, knowledgeable and hard-working crews, a welcoming culture, an attuned administrative infrastructure and represents excellent value for the money. Little wonder then that film-makers from around the world are zeroing in on amazing Thailand as one of the places to make films.
Major foreign films have in fact been shot in Thailand for more than four decades. They include Tarzan in 1962, The Man with the Golden Gun (ninth in the James Bond series) in 1974, and Oscar-winning The Killing Fields in 1984. Of late, the country has been gearing itself up for even more productions from different parts of the world, notably India’s fabled Bollywood.
In many productions, Thailand’s excellent film infrastructure makes it ideal for doubling up for somewhere else. Recent examples include Burma in Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo 4, China in John Cusack’s Shanghai and Hong Kong and Venice in Michael Clark’s Street Fighter. These followed in the footsteps of some other major productions, including Oliver Stone’s Alexander, Beyond Borders with Angelina Jolie and Around the World in 80 Days with Jackie Chan.
A veritable Who’s Who in international cinema have made films in Thailand — Brian De Palma, Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, Hugh Grant, Renée Zellweger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Amitabh Bachchan, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Leonardo DiCaprio, Colin Farrell, Roger Moore, Denzil Washington, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris — to name but a few.
The Bangkok International Film Festival, now in its sixth year and due to be held again in the last week of September, has helped showcase the riches of the kingdom to the international film community.
When international stars like Miranda Richardson and Oscar-winners Michael Douglas and Jeremy Irons attended, they were treated to glimpses of Thailand’s vast film-making resources. Such visits have helped get the word out and put Thailand firmly on the world’s cinematic map.
As a result, Thailand has benefited from an increasing number of creative collaborations. World-famous Australian cinematographer Chris Doyle has made two Thai films with local director Pen-Ek Rattanaruang. Celebrated French director Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp production house backed talented Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng. Top Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar-wai has chosen to edit some of his films at Kantana Group’s Bangkok facilities.
A Hollywood great, director Francis Ford Coppola, meanwhile came to Bangkok to edit Suriyothai for international distribution. This epic, amazingly sumptuous costume drama about courtly intrigues in ancient Siam was made by Coppola’s old friend, the veteran Thai director Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol. This year, independent Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul raised Thai cinema to an altogether new level when he was invited on to the main jury at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
Last year, it was reported that as many as 523 shoots (which include feature films, shorts and a large number of commercials, music videos and episodes for television series) took place in Thailand, generating an estimated 1,072 million baht in revenue. By June 2008, a total of 297 feature films and shorts had already been shot in what could turn out to be a record year.