In This Article Apichatpong Weerasethakul

  • Introduction
  • Writings By Weerasethakul and Exhibition Catalogues
  • Film Production and Reception

Cinema and Media Studies Apichatpong Weerasethakul
by
Chairat Polmuk
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0281

Introduction

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (b. 1970) is an independent Thai filmmaker whose Palme d’Or winning film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Loong Boonmee Raluek Chat), at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival affirmed his status as an emergent Asian auteur in contemporary global art cinema. Prior to Uncle Boonmee, his feature films, Blissfully Yours (Sud Saneha) and Tropical Malady (Sat Pralat), won the Un Certain Regard award and the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2002 and 2004 respectively, denoting the filmmaker’s transnational trajectory in the processes of film production and reception. Indeed, cultural exchange and geopolitical dialectic between the local and the global are notable characteristics of Weerasethakul’s cinematic practices and aesthetics. Born in Bangkok and raised in the city of Khon Khaen in northeast Thailand, Weerasethakul often weaves his personal memories of this rural area with the country’s political histories in his film and video art. Drawing heavily from local supernatural beliefs, folk performances, and vernacular Buddhism, Weerasethakul’s films offer poetic and radically defamiliarized accounts of Thailand’s historical trauma, ethnic minoritization, and queer sexual desire. After his graduation from Khon Kaen University’s architecture school, Weerasethakul studied filmmaking at the Art Institute of Chicago, during which he encountered European and postwar American avant-garde cinema and began making experimental short films in 1994. His first feature film, Mysterious Object at Noon (Dokfar Nai Mue Man, 2000), uses a surrealist technique of exquisite corpse, the shifting of narrative voice from one narrator to another, to document fragmented experiences of narrators from different parts of Thailand. Celebrated for his talent at blending diverse aesthetic sensibilities and styles, Weerasethakul’s films challenge cinematic generic convention, blurring a boundary between documentary and fiction, realism and fantasy, high art and low art. Weerasethakul’s preoccupation with slow-paced, non-linear narrative, visual stasis, and sonic ambience has also been praised by critics for its potential to create a sensorial experience for viewers. Working alternatively for the Thai commercial film industry, Weerasethakul founded his own company, Kick the Machine, in 1999 and has been actively involved in promoting independent filmmaking. Weerasethakul is also acclaimed as a video artist. His solo exhibitions have been shown at Haus der Kunst in Munich, New Museum in New York, Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Musée d’Art Modern de la Ville de Paris, Stenersen Museum in Oslo, Kurimanzutto Gallery in Mexico City, Kyoto City University of Arts Art Gallery, Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum in Chiangmai, Tate Modern in London, and Para Site in Hong Kong.

Writings By Weerasethakul and Exhibition Catalogues

Most of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s writings appear in anthologies and exhibitions catalogues, offering us glimpses into artistic aspirations and political contexts of his works. Bjerkem 2013 and Butler and O’Raw 2011 are collections of excerpts from Weerasethakul’s diaries and film scripts, paired with photographs, drawings, and video stills from his exhibitions. Weerasethakul 2009a, Weerasethakul 2009b, and Weerasethakul 2009c appear in Quandt 2009a (cited under Overviews and Historical Background) and center on recurring topics of memory, cinema, and censorship. Weerasethakul 2016 is an epistolary exchange between the director and the late historian Benedict Anderson, whom Weerasethakul regards as a mentor.

  • Bjerkem, Brynjar, ed. Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Photophobia. Oslo, Norway: Transnational Arts Production, 2013.

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    This book includes excerpts from Weerasethakul’s diary and film scripts for his solo exhibition, Photophobia, a meditation on light, memory, and political violence. Texts and photographs are mostly taken from his 2015 film, Cemetery of Splendour, which shares similar themes and was then under development.

  • Butler, Maeve, and Eimear O’ Raw, eds. Apichatpong Weerasethakul: For Tomorrow For Tonight. Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2011.

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    This collection contains excerpts from Weerasethakul’s diary for his solo exhibition, For Tomorrow For Tonight. The dated diary which spans from 2005 to 2011 focuses on Weerasethakul’s relationship with his long-time actor and collaborator, Jenjira Pongpas, whose photographs are the main features of the exhibition.

  • Weerasethakul, Apichatpong. “Jogging Around the Swamp.” Gagarin: The Artists in Their Own Words 9.1 (2008): 54–67.

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    A meditative reflection on the director’s keen sense of place and his fascination with light. The prose is referred to as a tribute to Weerasethakul’s hometown in Khon Kaen.

  • Weerasethakul, Apichatpong. “Ghosts in the Darkness.” In Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Edited by James Quandt, 104–117. Vienna: Synema, 2009a.

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    A cinephile’s autobiographical account, this essay recounts Weerasethakul’s lasting impressions of Thai cinema in the 1970s and 1980s, during which he spent his childhood in the rural town of Khon Kaen. In this nostalgic reflection, Weerasethakul’s personal memories are interwoven with a history of the Thai film industry during the Cold War, which revealed both American filmic influences and Thai nationalist and traditionalist sentiments.

  • Weerasethakul, Apichatpong. “The Folly and Future of Thai Cinema Under Military Dictatorship.” In Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Edited by James Quandt, 178–181. Vienna: Synema, 2009b.

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    Following a controversy regarding a partial censorship of his 2006 film Syndromes and a Century (Saeng Satawat) by Thailand’s Film Censorship Board, Weerasethakul wrote this critical commentary to reflect on film censorship and cultural surveillance after the 2006 coup d’état in Thailand.

  • Weerasethakul, Apichatpong. “The Memory of Nabua: A Note on the Primitive Project.” In Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Edited by James Quandt, 192–205. Vienna: Synema, 2009c.

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    This expository writing delineates Weerasethakul’s encounter with a history of anti-communist suppression in northeast Thailand during the Cold War and his artistic mediation of this traumatic event. His collaboration with teenagers in the village called Nabua to revisit this marginalized history culminated in a multimedia exhibition, Primitive, and a feature film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

  • Weerasethakul, Apichatpong. “Anomalies and Curiosities.” In Dreamworld. Edited by Leo Fabrizio. Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2010.

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    Written in a satirical tone, this essay expresses Weerasethakul’s critical view on military culture, media censorship, nationalism, and religious commercialism in Thailand, especially in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian economic crisis. The writing serves as a preface to a photography book by Swiss photographer Leo Fabrizio, which explores the landscape and architecture in suburban Bangkok.

  • Weerasethakul, Apichatpong. “Dear Khroo.” In Apichatpong Weerasethakul Sourcebook: The Serenity of Madness. 27–42 and 249–260. New York and Chiang Mai: Independent Curators International and MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, 2016.

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    An intimate epistolary exchange between Weerasethakul and the renowned historian Benedict Anderson from 2008 to 2015. Topics of discussion include the making of the Primitive project, Thai politics, and contemporary cinema. The publication is a tribute to Anderson following his death in December 2015.

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