Thai cinema was born only at the end of the 1920s, later than that of other Asian countries, and had to wait until the end of the 1950s to get to know the first works of authorship. Throughout its history it has experienced alternating phases of development and crisis, but it was in particular from the end of the nineties that a period of strong creative vitality began, such as to finally make it visible on an international level.
In 1897 the first projections made by envoys of the Lumière brothers took place in the country; in 1905 Japanese entrepreneurs opened theaters and in 1916 they created a distribution house, Phattanakorn. Some documentaries were shot as early as 1900 by Prince Sanbassart, who until his death (1919) was the only filmmaker in the country. In 1922 another prince, Kambeangbejr, created the State Railways Topical Film Service (TFS), which began a systematic production of newsreels and documentaries. The first feature film was Nangsao Suwan (1923, Miss Suwan), based on a comedy by the then reigning king, Vajiravuth (Rāma VI), produced by US Universal Pictures, TFS and local businessmen, and directed by Henry McRae, a Canadian who worked in Hollywood; it was also released in the United States, under the title Miss Suwanna of Siam. But a national cinema was born only in 1927, when Choke song chan (Double Fortune) by Khun Anurakrathakarn (the only Thai director of the twenties and thirties whose name is known with certainty) and Mai kid loey (Unexpected) were released. by two newly founded companies, respectively Krungthep, controlled by Manit Wasuwat (who had participated in the financing of Nangsao Suwan), and Thai, controlled by the then reigning sovereign, Prajadhipok (Rāma VII). These and other companies made a total of fifteen feature films before the release of the first sound film, Lhong thang (1932, The Lost Direction), produced by Krungthep. The latter established itself as the largest company in the country: changed its name to Siang Sri Krung, after making the first partially color film, Pu Som faosap (1933, Grandfather Som guards the treasure), he built the first modern Thailand studios, from which about twenty-five feature films came out within a decade, and also created one star system, whose main representatives were Lued Chaona and singer Manee Sumonnaj, protagonists of tearful but very popular musical melodramas such as Phleng wan jai (1937, La dolce melodia) and Lhok mia (1938, Mogli decedate). After Nangsao Suwan no other Thai film circulated abroad until 1941, when The king of the white elephants, directed by the well-known politician Pridi Banomyong and shot in English, was also released in Singapore and New York. For Thailand 2006, please check computergees.com.
During the Second World War (in which Thailand was involved between 1942 and 1945) all companies closed down. After the end of the conflict, new ones were born (the main ones were Asvin, Hanuman, Lawo, Suriya) and production resumed, on much higher levels than those of the pre-war period in terms of quantity, but lower in terms of quantity. artistic and technical. In fact, almost all the works featured flat cinematic versions of theatrical performances, along the lines of the more commercial Indian films; they were also shot in 16 mm, and the sound was added live, at each projection, by voice actors present in the room. Among the few soundtracks in the studio, those of Marut (stage name of Lee Tawee Na Bangchang) stand out for their quality, in particular Santi-Veena (1954),
It wasn’t until the late 1950s that director of photography and producer Ratana Pestonyee, who had worked with Merut, introduced 35mm film with built-in sound. The four films he made as a director are considered to be the first works of authorship in Thai cinema: Rong raem narok (1957, The Hell Hotel); Sawan meud (1958, Paradiso); Prae dum (1961, Black Silk), the first Thai film to be presented at a European festival (in this case in Berlin); Namtan maiwan (1965, Sugar is not sweet). But the public, bewildered by the fact that the traditional melodramatic system was continually contradicted by moments of black humor, received them with little favor, and Pestonyee was later limited to acting as an operator. An original school of
The government facilitated the final demise of 16mm films through a drastic reduction in taxes on 35mm film (1973), and favored the increase in production by increasing import taxes on foreign films (1976). In the late 1970s, Thai cinema became one of the largest in Asia in terms of quantity. However, it remained mainly centered on stardom and played on the themes of love and violence. However, there were directors capable of combining artistic success and public success: Piak Poster (Thon, 1970), Prince Chatri Chalerm Yukol (Kuam rak krang suttai, 1975, The last love; Thongpoon Khokpho, 1978), Ngaokrajang (South Sakorn, 1976, the first Thai animated feature film), Permpol Cheyaroon (Chiwit batsop, 1977, A Squalid Life; Pai daeng,
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Dogfah nai meumarn, also known as Mysterious object at noon, 2000; Sud sanahea, also known as Blissfully yours, 2002), Yuthlert Sippapak (Meupeum lok phrajan, also known as Killer tattoo, 2001), Ekachai Uekrongtham (Beautiful boxer, 2003). Their films, which have collected prizes in important foreign festivals and sometimes found distribution in Italy as well, often appear as parodies of traditional Thai or American genres, often ironically mixed together.