Thainess, ‘Luk kreung’ & The Siam Renaissance

The Siam Renaissance (Thawiphop, dir. Surapong Pinijkhar, 2004) is a movie about a young Thai woman named Manee/Maneechan (Florence Vanida Faivre). She is from the early 21st century and educated in France but with the help of a mirror she is able to travel back and forth in time.

Hence, she visits Siam’s early modern past and then goes back to the present. The movie is adapted from the historical Thai novel “Tawipob” (Two Worlds) by Tamayanti which is also a love story. Thus, the movie can be classified as historical and romantic film because apart from time travelling, Manee finds valuable lessons in life and love along the way with soldier Dhep (Rangsiroj Panpeng).

The Siam Renaissance

The Siam Renaissance (photo credit: viki.com)

Scene from The Siam Renaissance, Manee & Dhep (photo credit: viki.com)

Being in 19th century Thailand at the court of King Mongkut (r. 1851-1868), Manee criticizes the Western influences in modern Thailand. When asked by two nobles at the court, she generally presents the ‘farang‘ (Westeners) and tawan-tok (the West) as a threat to Siamese cultural identity. Thus, it seems that her point of view is in accordance with Thai nationalist discourses.

Although we know that Thailand has never been colonized, there have nevertheless been strong Western influences. Hence, the movie also raises the question what Thainess is or rather what remains of it considering these influences. In addition, it also deals with the question of Thai national and cultural identities and points out ambiguities implied in a modern construction of Thainess which is devoid of Western contamination.

Here is a trailer to the movie. By the way, you may also watch the full movie with English subs here.

Florence V. Faivre in the part of Manee is interesting in the context of this film, since she is luk kreung (Thai-French), considering the fact that Thainess in brought into question by the threat of the farang Other. That is to say, it might appear weird that a half-Thai (who is herself partly farang) expresses nationalistic thoughts. However, we must also note that in the movie the protagonist Manee is supposed to be a full-Thai woman. Nonetheless, since the film dwells very much on her beauty and often focusses on her body and facial features, we may assume that she, Florence Faivre, as a luk kreung, represents the Thai beauty ideal of the day.

Focussing on Manee's beauty (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

Focussing on Manee’s beauty (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

Nonetheless, the half-Thai actress might also reiterate the message for the Thai need to accommodate and to move with the times but above all the movie is about a young woman’s quest for her identity.

Manee's transformation (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

Manee’s transformation (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

This is emphasized in the scene when Manee/Faivre is transformed from a traditionally dressed lady of the Siamese court to a kind of ‘farangized’ guest at the French diplomat’s residence. The film pays very much attention to Manee’s transformation. Thus, she is shown rotating behind a screen until her naked form is revealed. She is then bathed and massaged in a traditional and aestheticized Thai manner. Finally, she is dressed in a Victorian garb.

Manee farangized (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com

Manee is farangized (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com

However, despite her outer appearance, the protagonist Manee is and remains essentially Thai at heart. The point is that she may look and seem to be half-Thai and hence, all the prettier for being so in contemporary Thai viewers eyes. Nevertheless, her core and heart are completely Thai through her performance of the protagonist Manee. For this reason, we might be justified in claiming that the movie is not so much about the ‘farangization‘ of Thainess than it is about the ‘Thai-ization’ of the farang.

The Thai-ization of the farang (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

The Thai-ization of the farang (photo credit: 2g.pantip.com)

In other words, we may argue that the Siam Renaissance shows how the concept of the powerful West is stripped of its foreignness in order to become part of modern Thai selves. This might seem a controversial topic. What do you think about it?

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Rachel V. Harrison & Peter Jackson eds. The Ambiguous Allure of the West. Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, 2010)

David Usher: Thai-Canadian Singer and Creative Artist

The perfect time to get creative is now

David Usher

By chance I’ve come across the Thai-Canadian artist David Usher and from what I’ve heard, read and seen of him so far, I can only say that he is a stunning and extraordinary artist 🙂

DavidUsher (photo credit: theartof.com)

DavidUsher (photo credit: theartof.com)

The most astonishing fact about him is that he had Nr.1 singles singing in English, French and Thai. What is more, he appears to be at home in both worlds: in Canada as well as in Thailand. In addition, David is not only a musician but also an author of creative books and he is also available for speeches. Hence, you may book David to speak at your event 😉

David Usher*

David Usher*

He was born 1966 in England to the Thai artist and Chinese Water Colour Painter Samphan Usher and Dan Usher who is a Jewish-Canadian professor of economics at Queen’s University. With his family,  David moved to different places in his childhood and youth. For example, he lived in Thailand, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and also in Canada. He got a degree in political science from the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and was also politically active. He started his musical career while at university in 1992 when he founded his band ‘Moist’. The band was very successful in Canada in the following years up to 2001. Moist reunited in 2013 and has been making music until today.

singer & creative artist*

singer & creative artist*

David sometimes mixed English and Thai language in his songs. What is more, for example, the video for the song ‘My way out’ from the album ‘Morning Orbit’ (2002) is partly set in Thailand and there is an English as well as a Thai version of this song.

Thus, we may say that it is great that he explored singing his songs also in Thai and live on stage back then.

David has had a remarkable solo career in Canada but also in Thailand. However, I don’t want to list everything he has done in his musical career but rather stress what is special about him, namely that he is so versatile and working with equal passion in different areas.

However, there is much more to say about David and it’s not only about his music. In fact, he seems to be a cultural hybrid 🙂 For example, his new book ‘Let the Elephants Run’ has become a national bestseller in Canada. In this book, David argues that creativity in inherent in every person, it’s a part of the human DNA. He regards it as his task to unlock people’s creativity putting forward the thesis that creativity is a learnable skill. In this context, please check out my review to this book.

Thus, David is also know as a creativity expert, apart from being an excellent musician and singer! His motto is to seize the moment and to make the most of the present. Hence, “the perfect time to get creative is now“, David puts forward. Recently this month, he has talked to the Montreal Gazette about the creative process and what creativity means to him:

Finally, we may say that David Usher is certainly not a typical Thai artist, he is more of a cosmopolitan and a truly creative soul. I think these are the traits that make him so amiable and admirable 🙂 In addition, when you see David in different contexts and decades, it’s hard to believe that it’s the same person after all. But yeah, indeed, he went from 90s rocker to creativity guru 😉 What is more, he can also be regarded as belonging to the Thai celebrities of mixed origin.

Yours, Sirinya

*photo credit: David Usher, FB page