7 Famous (not “Best”) Films Shot in Thailand.
Thai actress Chittima Sukapatana in Good Morning Vietnam (© Alamy).
I thought I’d reprise this article following this week’s news that the Thai authorities have just banned the highly-regarded film “Twilight Over Burma” much of which was filmed in location in Thailand…
I was interested to recently see an article on travelandleisureasia.com listing seven famous films shot in Thailand. It was also relevant because I had to review every famous film dealing with the Vietnam War when I was writing my novel BACK, in case I had subconsciously lifted anything from films I’d seen many years ago, and some of these films make an appearance on the list.
Fortunately I hadn’t plagiarised anything, but it gave me a few enjoyable hours, and some not so enjoyable, of film-watching.
Note this article deals only with “famous” not “great” films, which is just as well, as one of them listed, G00d Morning Vietnam, I thought was utter shite. Starring the acting-challenged (and now deceased) Robin Williams, I had to force myself almost at gunpoint to watch it to its pathetic conclusion.
It was beautifully shot in parts, and I liked the story arc, but the script was rubbish – and some parts of the plot defied belief, as did the “love” interest and the alleged comedy of bringing together (too old and hamfisted actor) Williams’ American culture with his (way too young) Vietnamese love interest (who was actually a Thai actress, Chittima Sukapatana – see main photo).
One of the other films mentioned, the Deer Hunter, I always enjoy watching, except for the long-drawn-out wedding and church scene.
One anecdote the review doesn’t mention was the interrogation scene in The Deer Hunter.
Shot up in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, the first Thai actor they got in to play the Viet Cong badass running the Russian Roulette game with the POWs, had to really hit them hard and hate them. The first Thai guy couldn’t do it, so they had to find a replacement who WOULD really smack them around on camera.
That scene remains one of the most intense of all the famous Vietnam War films, in my opinion.
Anyway, here’s the full review of the seven famous films shot in Thailand, below.
“From Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep to Ryan Gosling and Robin Williams, a galaxy of stars has shone in Thailand during shoots for these films, both wonderful and wretched.
1. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN
In the ninth James Bond film, which was Roger Moore’s second outing as the secret agent with a license to kill, the action moves from the Jamaica of the novel by Ian Fleming, to Beirut (the infamous belly-dancing sequence) to Macau and Hong Kong for some kung-fu shenanigans.
As Bond pursues the world’s most expensive hit man, Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), whose weapon of choice is a gold-plated gun, to Bangkok, some wild chase scenes by car and long-tail boat on the city’s canals ensues.
The villain has stolen a “solex agitator” that converts solar radiation to electricity (the film was set during the oil crisis of the early 70s).
Eventually, Bond tracks him to his secret lair on a tropical island said to be in China, but actually in southern Thailand where the explosive climax takes place with Bond babe Maud Adams (later to play the titular villainess in Octopussy) bouncing around in a bikini.
For years now, the so-called “James Bond Island” in Phang-nga Bay has been included in the itinerary of many daytrips from Phuket. It’s an underwhelming tourist trap but the bay itself, punctuated by the exclamation marks of limestone karts rising for hundreds of metres out of the water, is the most redeeming feature of these outings.
2. THE DEER HUNTER
This film about the side effects and after shocks of the Vietnam War on three buddies from a rough and tumble steel mill town in Pennsylvania starred a trio of young lions in their acting prime: Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, andChristopher Walken.
The film bagged five Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Cimino, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken.
The Deer Hunter is most remembered for the harrowing scene when the Vietcong soldiers force their American GI prisoners to play a round of Russian roulette. That scene was shot by the waterfall in Sai Yok National Park in Kanchanaburi province.
Another intense scene, shot at a school in Bangkok as a stand in for the American Embassy in Saigon when the Americans were conceding defeat and pulling out, showcased the director’s sense of realism. An extra playing an American soldier said, “Cimino tried to get us riled up for the scene by punching my buddy in the head. De Niro refused to talk to anybody because he was trying to stay in character and Walken looked as scary in real life as did on the set.”
The shoot sounds almost as dramatic as the film.
3. BANGKOK DANGEROUS
The original version of this movie, helmed by the brotherly duo from Hong Kong,Danny and Oxide Pang, was far superior to the lackluster remake starringNicholas Cage.
What made the 1999 version so compelling was the fact that the hit man, Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), is both deaf and mute. His estrangement from the human race is made all the more poignant with the inclusion of black-and-white flashbacks of growing up in a rural Thai village where he is teased and tormented.
It’s also stylistic visually. The opening murder scene, when Kong kills a man in a public bathroom, is composed of a single shot of grainy CCTV footage.
Another aspect that lifts this film above most of its kin in the hit-and-run genre is the love story at its heart between Kong and a pharmacist named Fon (Premsinee Ratanasopha) who communicate by writing messages on his arm.
4. ONLY GOD FORGIVES
Anticipation was running high after Drive, the collaboration between actor Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn, that their new film set in Bangkok would hit high gear.
Unfortunately, this clunker rarely makes it out of neutral except for a few gory sequences with the Thai cop, Vithaya Pansringarm, who exacts revenge with a samurai-like sword. He also engages Gosling, who plays the taciturn Julian, in a prolonged Muay Thai bout which took three days to shoot.
Kudos to Gosling for getting in the ring and not using a stunt double. Too bad that same dedication did not go into crafting a more compelling character.
Only God Forgives reinforces all the Bangkok stereotypes of drugs and sleaze, and all of the characters are stick figures in need of fleshing out.
The result is a stylistically bold but emotionally empty film, devoid of everything except despair and a few flashes of kitsch courtesy of the karaoke-loving cop.
5. LOST IN THAILAND
The number of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand has shot up by more than 90% over the past year. Much of that stratospheric leap has come from movie pilgrims eager to see Chiang Mai, where most of the zany, road-trip flick Lost in Thailand is set.
In China, the film has been a box-office phenomena, grossing container trucks of RMB. It is now the biggest domestic blockbuster of all time.
In Chiang Mai, the film’s success has been a source of disgruntlement for some locals who see Chinese visitors washing their feet in hotel swimming pools.
The plot is nothing elaborate. Two business rivals meet in Thailand to settle the score and their differences. As with most road films it’s a personal quest story, too.
For Chinese audiences, however, the storyline is just an excuse for plenty of slapstick guffaws, ladyboy jokes, martial-arts zaniness and actors making funny faces.
6. THE HANGOVER 2
Audiences have been polarized on this sequel. Those who have been to Thailand and realize what shoddy stereotypes the movie plays on – ladyboys, monks, hookers – and those who have never been there and think this is a real depiction. The former are not fans. The latter tend to like it.
The same cast are back with Bradley Cooper (Phil), Ed Helms (Stu), Zach Galifianakis (Alan), Justin Bartha (Doug) and Ken Jeong (Mr. Chow), but they can’t make up for a weak script which dusts off the same gags from the first flick and tries to spice them up with a few local seasonings, like when Stu wakes up, not missing a tooth as in the original but with a Thai tattoo on his face.
The sequel’s storyline is similar. This time Stu is getting married in Thailand. Doug, Phil, Alan, and Stu’s new brother-in-law Teddy arrive for the wedding. But after a night no one can remember they wake up (surprise, surprise) with toxic hangovers and find that Teddy has gone MIA.
As in the first flick they have to try and retrace their missteps of the night before to find Teddy before the wedding.
In a telltale quip, Alan says, “When a monkey nibbles on the weenus it’s funny in any language.”
Not if you’re sober or past the age of 15.
7. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM
Possibly the best foreign comedy ever shot in Thailand, the film stars Robin Williams as a rebellious disc jockey doing a radio show for the servicemen in Vietnam. His love of rock ‘n’ roll and his madcap antics, like overdubbing a Richard Nixon speech with his voice, soon put him on a collision course with the authorities.
Once again, Bangkok doubles for Saigon, and Thai actress Jintara Sukapat plays Vinh, the DJ’s main squeeze. As Williams’ character, Adrian Cronauer, says, “You know, you’re very beautiful. You’re also very quiet. And I’m not used to girls being that quiet unless they’re medicated. Normally I go out with girls who talk so much you could hook them up to a wind turbine and they could power a small New Hampshire town.”
Adrian Cronauer is also the name of the real disc jockey who wrote the original story for the film, based on his own experiences doing radio shows and making waves in Vietnam, after he had been a United States Air Force Sergeant.”
For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War and Adventure Backpacking into the jungles of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, see: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/backpackers-meet-the-vietnam-war-back-screenplay-finally-finished/
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
Peter Alan Lloyd
BACK Parts 1 and 2:
Reviews: Amazon.co.uk: Customer Reviews