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Youth Meets Film: The Next Generation of Writers on Regional Cinema

329: Remembering the 1976 massacre

A children’s song may seem frivolous to most, but Thai film-maker Tinnawat Chankloi reckons that it can be a powerful tool for controlling people. He was particularly struck by the “Ten Rules of a Good Boy” featured in a 1950s song released by the Thai military government, which he first heard in his primary school days.

“It was like the government was trying to make an ideal sculpture of a student, and it was impossible,” Tinnawat recalled.

But late last year, he found himself drawn back to the Ten Rules. Then a final-year film major at the King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Tinnawat re-encountered the song while doing research, inspiring him to incorporate a modified version of the ten rules as ten sequences in his thesis film, 329.

The 17-minute short, which will make its international premiere at the festival, is set in a disturbingly military-like school where students’ names are numbers, and each of them is bound by ten absolute rules. And a rebel arises in student 329 –named after Tinnawat’s student number – whose perilous journey towards the truth will keep you on the edge of your seat.

still from 329. photo credit: Tinnawat Chankloi/ SGIFF

STILL FROM 329. PHOTO CREDIT: TINNAWAT CHANKLOI/ SGIFF

Film-goers can expect unconventional story-telling techniques from 329, such as talking head interviews with the students (above) interspersed with the narrative, a tinge of fantasy and surrealism. The film also makes strategically switches between black-and-white and colour to perhaps symbolise the transition from ignorance to realisation of the truth, and vice versa.

But arguably the most haunting aspect of the film is the ten rules, some of which are particularly telling of directorial motivations and intentions.

Rule #7: School gives us happiness. All students should be happy.

To viewers outside of Thailand, the setting of a school, where the young are supposedly protected and nurtured, may seem like surprising choice of metaphor to discuss oppression.

But the film in fact references a real-life massacre of Thai university students, Tinnawat revealed. On 6 October 1976, a right-wing militia attacked leftist students protesting the re-entry of a former military dictator into Thailand. While the official death toll was nearly 50, the massacre – one of the bloodiest in Thailand’s history- has never appeared in a Thai school textbook.

STILL FROM 329. PHOTO CREDIT: TINNAWAT CHANKLOI /SGIFF

STILL FROM 329. PHOTO CREDIT: TINNAWAT CHANKLOI/ SGIFF

“The school is a perfect place to use propaganda through textbooks, hiding and distorting much of history,” Tinnawat said. Noting that many Thai teenagers remain unaware of the massacre to this day, he hopes that 329 can make them “doubt and have questions” about their history.

Rule #3: Do not say or think anything else except the truth given to you 

Tinnawat himself only gained awareness of the massacre in his first year of university, after talking to a photographer whose works depicted the tragedy. Intrigued, he dug deeper into the topic, and found the massacre discussed only by a handful of scholars and left-wing historians.

Describing these writers as ‘ghosts’, he said: “They appear to lead people who can see them to know their untold stories and haunt the government, which tries to hide them.”

This thought is clearly realised in the fantastical element of the film, where metaphorical “guiding ghosts” are similarly present, leading the rebel towards the discovering the truth for himself.

STILL FROM 329. PHOTO CREDIT: TINNAWAT CHANKLOI /SGIFF

STILL FROM 329. PHOTO CREDIT: TINNAWAT CHANKLOI /SGIFF

Interestingly enough, a review by The Bangkok Post interpreted 329 as a commentary on the present military rule in Thailand. While it was coincidental that 329 was released just a few months after the coup in May this year, Tinnawat feels that it is a “good opportunity” that his film can simultaneously represent the country as it is today.

Rule #1: Everybody stays behind the wall

In conceptualising 329, it looks like Tinnawat whole-heartedly broke the very first rule that he set down for his characters. When asked to sum up his work in a tweet, he memorably replied:

#film #from #military #government #country

And he hopes that more Southeast Asian film-makers can bring stories from behind the “wall” of their countries, tackling unsavoury bits of their country’s history through the visual medium.

“In Southeast Asia, there are so many histories which were hidden or sometimes reconstructed. Film is a great way to lead people to their specific history,” he said.

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