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How to Win at Censorship: Thai Cinema, Junta Politics, and the Management of International Face

Sat, June 25, 5:00 to 6:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 111


Josh Kim's 2015 award-winning film, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), tells the story of a gay romance between two young Thai men. The narrative conflict centers on corruption in the mandatory military draft system, whereby rich families pay bribes to prevent their sons from being drafted. In light of the intense media surveillance after the military coup of 2014, it is curious that Kim's film received only minor censorship injunctions, and was granted a broad theatrical release in Thailand. In addition, the film was selected to represent Thailand in the best foreign film category of the American Academy Awards.
Using Checkers as a case study, this paper advances two arguments about Thai junta politics in a global context and local LGBT politics. First, the surprising promotion of Checkers by the Thai government can be attributed to the management of international face--that is, the government’s self-presentation as a transparent, socially-progressive state that encourages criticism of its policies. The positive endorsement of the film is made possible by the film's international pedigree (directed by a Korean American, co-written by a Thai American, and coproduced with American-Indonesian-Thai money), thus reinforcing the state’s address to an international audience critical of its repressive politics. Second, the film’s depiction of the disintegration of the Thai family due to military conscription illustrates a critique of statecraft. At the same time, LGBT subjects are incorporated into the heart of the “broken” family, and by the extension, the “divided” nation. In this way, Checkers shows Thai political investments for including LGBT people in normative familial and national institutions.