Foreign movie theaters make political statements

Aug. 2, 2012, 12:41 a.m.

If you’ve ever traveled for an extended period of time, you know how difficult it can be to entertain yourself at night. Museums and markets are closed, barhopping every night can get tiring and sometimes you can’t find more creative events, such as performances in parks. In these circumstances, I recommend you go to the movies. If you’ve never been to a theater in a foreign country, at the very least the prospect of watching a superhero movie with foreign language subtitles may intrigue you.


This summer, I’ve been traveling in Asia with my twin sister. One night in Bangkok, we had no options–we had gone to the Muay Thai boxing match and the cultural dance show and had no other ideas, so we went to the movie theater. Somehow, the intersection of my independent film taste and her femininity led us to a decision to see a potentially awkward 9:05 p.m. showing of “Magic Mike.” When we went up to the counter to buy our tickets, we were charged about 200 baht, or about six dollars. (For both of us? How did we get away with this?!) Then the worker surprised us by asking us to choose our seats, though we had no idea what the theater was shaped like or where the best seats were. We decided on seats three rows from the back just left of center, and suddenly we’d been bamboozled into a doubled ticket price. Apparently they charge you more for good seats–who knew?


The next stop was the concessions stand. We were starved and craving popcorn and sweets and bought the former; however, don’t go to the movies in Thailand expecting to find candy. We searched high and low for Snickers, but all we found were lobster-flavored potato chips. Of course, there were also seaweed, fish-soup, chicken-and-tomato and, my personal favorite, crab-and-corn flavors. Many of these enticing flavors also came in a potato-chip stick variety. We were not brave enough to try any of these, let alone enter the mysterious dried fish meat section–some mysteries are best left unsolved.


We entered the silent theater only a couple minutes before the movie started. There were others present, but strangely, no one said a word. There were no annoying advertisements onscreen, which was a nice change from an onslaught of Coca-Cola sponsored previews of previews, and previews began at precisely 9:05 p.m. The adverts were all in incomprehensible Thai but were nevertheless energetic and enjoyable. Fifteen minutes later, the movie screen told us to silence our phones before the start of the film. Without warning, music started playing, but it was not the beginning of our movie. Instead, glorious horns and a magnificent choir filled the theater with the sounds of Thailand’s national anthem. Everyone in the theater stood up, took off their hats and stood in silent respect. The movie screen showed images of Thailand’s late, much-beloved king, Rama VII, performing charity work. We saw him riding a Jeep into the jungle, looking at plans to cross a flooded river and then walking among his people, standing with his wife.


The monarchical rule of Thailand had suddenly penetrated my life. I was being confronted with the cultural necessity to respect Thailand’s king when I don’t show that same level of reverence even to my own president. My sister put it best when she said, “I don’t want that at the movies. I go to the movies to not think about politics.”


After the anthem ended, everyone sat back down and the movie swiftly began. My sister and I were big fans and laughed our way through the whole thing. The Thai citizens? Not a peep. I don’t know if it’s taboo to laugh or show emotions in public or at the movies, but the theater was dead silent. My sister and I were very comfortable taking on the role of “the loud Americans” and openly loved the movie. We also found humor in the Thai subtitles beneath the movie, which looked like they were copied and pasted onto the film–very low budget.


So the next time you find yourself bored in a foreign country, do something comfortable and you just might be surprised.

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