Learn Thai Culture

Top 10 Thai Movies for Foreigners
I love watching Asian movies, whether it be Korean dramas, Japanese anime, or Thai films. There are at least 50 Thai movies I really liked, but I've narrowed them down to the top-10 must-sees. In the next few blog posts I'll introduce to you these movies, and explain why it's so important for you to watch each - important in the sense that you are a student in Thai culture and language. As an added bonus, it's a good chance to practice your Thai and pick up a few new words. What I won't do is go over the plots or reveal any spoilers, so don't worry. I've included links to trailers of each of the movies, but I strongly recommend skipping the trailer and trusting me that it's worth watching. Trailers spoil the film, you know?

Now, before I go into the movies, I'd like to pre-empt your question about where to get these Thai movies. You can of course find them online with youtube or bittorrent software, which is the cheapest way - and perhaps even the only way - if you are not in Thailand. If you are in Thailand, you can find them in the street markets that are frequented by Thais (not by tourists). Typically these are pirated videos and will cost $2 or $3, where the high quality fakes (which look like legal copies) can cost a little more. You can also go to a mall or super store like Tesco or Siam Paragon to find legal copies of the movies, costing you about $5 and up. My personal recommendation is to ask a friend (a Thai or someone who is vacationing in Thailand) to get one or two of these movies for you as a birthday gift. Most Thai movies come with English subtitles, but not always. Make sure to ask the seller first, he'll usually know.

Mon Rak Transistor
This to me is the number one film you should watch. It isn't the best Thai film ever, by far, however what I like about it is that it gives you a taste of what it's like to be Thai. The character goes through various moral dilemmas throughout the film, putting him into repeated bad situations. How these situations occur and the actions he takes will reveal true 'Thai-ness'. This famous film will definitely give you the 'Thai experience'. =)

Ong Bak
You've probably already seen this film, as it was released around the world. It's an action film with your typical simple/limited plot. That said, the action is of the style that made Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li famous. But I'd say it's even better. The typical action scene of an ordinary action movie consists of ultra-closeups, changing views in the middle of a strike, and various other annoying/dizzying trickery. With Ong Bak, however, the action goes into slo-mo, with clear full screen shots of the action. It's much more convincing and realistic.

Carrying the same general theme, Ong Bak 2 was almost just as good, trading in the fists and kicks of the original to various martial arts weapons.

Faen Chan แฟนฉัน (My Girlfriend)
This story is about a boy and a girl who are somewhere between girlfriend-boyfriend and just friends. They are still at the age where boys think girls have cooties and girls just haven't 'discovered' boys yet. It's a cute, somewhat serious comedy that all Thais will know. A++ on the plot. Jeaaabbbbb!!!

Shutter is an original Thai ghost movie, later remade as a western mini-series that probably sucked (I don't like western remakes of Asian films, so I didn't watch it). I'm the type of guy that doesn't get scared watching a movie, and this film was no exception. That said, Thais will wizz their pants watching this - it's that scary for them. The plot is pretty good, and I've seen it at least 3 times and still enjoyed it. If you know a Thai girl that likes ghost movies, invite her over and watch it together. You won't be disappointed (wink wink).

Macabre Case Of Prom Pi Ram
The unfortunate aspect of this film is that it is a true story. I won't say much as I don't want to spoil the film, but I'd recommend watching it for the same reason as Mon Rak Transistor - it dives deep into Thai culture, albeit a more negative aspect of it. This isn't an uplifting story, but it's one that you will definitely be emotionally moved by. I couldn't find a trailer for you, and it's probably good as any trailer would ruin the experience.

Beautiful Boxer
Based on a true story, this award winning film is about a famous Thai boxer who is as they say, 'a woman trapped in a man's body'. The plot is definitely good, and it will help you understand more about the lady-boy culture of Thailand, and also give you an inside look at muay-Thai culture as well. The trailer won't spoil the film, it's ok to watch it this time.

Bang Rajan
Bang Rajan is a historical action film. In the US, equivalent films would be Gettysburg, or The Alamo, so if you liked those films you'll like Bang Rajan. The story is historically important for Thailand, so it's an event you should know about. As it's a period film, it'll give you a taste of the clothing and hair styles of the time, along with old-Thai language vocabulary and old Siamese warring methods. Keep in mind as you watch it that this is the Thai version of events, and that it's meant as a patriotic film. There is a famous statue today in Thailand to remember what happened, do you know which one?

Buppha Ratree
This is another Thai ghost story - Thais love their ghost stories I'm tellin ya! Again, I'm not the biggest fan of ghost movies, but for Thais this was a top film so I recommend watching it. Keep in mind that in Thai culture, men are assumed to be players that sleep around, and women are always overly jealous and controlling of their men. This is what happens when you throw a ghost into the mix.

Citizen Dog หมานคร
What makes a good film is to look deep into a society's consciousness, and take out those hidden yet insightful thoughts into the light for all to see in an easy to understand manner. This film does just that, although as a farang much of it might not make sense to you. Watch it with a Thai and have them explain the significance of things that happen, and it'll be a great insight into 'Thai-ness'. By far, this is the best Thai comedy I've seen, and I've seen it quite a few times. It can occasionally be a little weird, and hilarious at others, but otherwise an uplifting enjoyable film.

Naang Nak
Yeap, another ghost story. Thais are very superstitious so ghosts and spirits permeate their culture. This ghost story is a little different, in that it is also a period film back during the time of Siam. You'll see period clothing, hairstyles, and old-Thai language vocabulary. This film was very famous when it came out, and to this day you'll see references and jokes about it - this is why I recommend it. Ever see someone with a long stretching arm in an advertisement or billboard? This is the film where it came from.

14th October (14 ตุลา สงครามประชาชน)
This is probably very relevant to the current red-yellow shirt crisis that's currently happening in Thailand. This historical film takes place after the military violently quashed a protest against its rule (surprise surprise) in 1973. Most of the protesters were fighting for democracy, but there was a growing communist movement as well who joined them. As you may or may not know, communism was a growing threat in Thailand like it was in many Asian and European countries at the time. This story is from the point of view of a communist who, like many, ran to the jungles to fight a guerrilla war against the Thai government. If you'd like to learn more about Thai history, this film is definitely worth watching. You'll also learn more about what Thailand was like in the 70's. Interestingly, some of the protesters - victims of the brutal military crackdown in the 70's - later became leaders of the PAD - supporters of the violent military crackdowns on the UDD protesters of 2009/2010. Oh, the irony. Anyway, I couldn't find a trailer for you as youtube was filled with actual historical films of the event.

And yes, I realize my top-10 list had 11 movies in it . . . There are many other top Thai films out there that didn't make my list, so if you'd like to see more there is a nice list up on Wikipedia.

What is your favorite Thai film?

this article was originally written (by me) for Transparent Thai