Thai film adaptation of Macbeth is a masterpiece, to screen at Southeast Asian Film Festival

Production still of Shakespeare Must Die, a Thai film banned in its home country because it "causes divisiveness among the people of the nation", despite it being adapted from the centuries-old play Macbeth. FILE PHOTO: SOUTHEAST ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL
Production still of Shakespeare Must Die, a Thai film banned in its home country because it "causes divisiveness among the people of the nation", despite it being adapted from the centuries-old play Macbeth. FILE PHOTO: SOUTHEAST ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

Shakespeare Must Die is a Thai film banned in its home country because it "causes divisiveness among the people of the nation", despite it being adapted from the centuries-old play Macbeth.

While the authorities declined to give specific reasons for the ban on the costume drama, its director Ing Kanjanavanit was recently quoted as saying that Macbeth's story of an ambitious general who murders a king to take the Scottish throne was seen by the censors to contain overtones which reflect on contemporary Thai politics.

As reported in The Guardian newspaper, a murderer in the film wears red, the colour favoured by supporters of former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The director, a former investigative journalist whose name is often shortened to Ing K, will be in Singapore accompanying her film Shakespeare Must Die (2012, 172 minutes, NC16) and its companion documentary Censor Must Die (2013, 150 minutes, PG13), detailing the film- maker's battle to have the film released in Thailand.

Both films, along with 18 other works from around the region, will be screened at The Southeast Asian Film Festival, now in its fourth edition. It is presented by the Singapore Art Museum.

In her director's statement, Kanjanavanit says citizens in her home country, now racked by civil unrest, are "living in Shakespearean times" and the film reflects the zeitgeist.

"High drama on the streets, in courts, in Parliament... Rage and hatred, operatic villainy, extreme fear and violence, spin doctors," she writes.

Mr Philip Cheah, 54, one of the festival's curators, says that Ms Nicole Brenez, programmer of experimental films at the renowned archive the Cinematheque Francais, called the Thai film "a masterpiece" in a Facebook post.

Fellow curator Sam I-shan says the film is an excellent translation of the Scottish play as well as a unique interpretation based on likay, or Thai street opera.

"There's very ironic use of the local idiom, pointing fingers at society," she says.

Two Singapore films will premiere at the festival. Mister John (2013, 95 minutes, NC16), a Singapore-United Kingdom-Ireland co-production, is a noir-inspired drama about Gerry (Aidan Gillen) who comes to Singapore to see his brother's widow Kim (Zoe Tay). He must ask himself if he should slip into his dead brother's life or return to London.

Directed by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor from the United Kingdom, the film takes in a "lush, heated showcase of Singapore locales" and is "a knowing nod to the infamous cult classic, Saint Jack", said the festival synopsis. Screenwriter Ben Slater will appear at the post-screening discussion.

The other Singapore film is Sayang Disayang (2013, 70 minutes, PG), written and directed by Sanif Olek making his feature debut. The graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's film and media studies programme and of Murdoch University in Perth says he wanted to tell a story "affecting all Singaporeans and those of the South-east Asian region, especially the elderly and their domestic caregivers".

He will also be present at the post-show discussion of the drama, which closes the festival.

The festival will include a tribute to the cinema of Mindanao, which Mr Cheah says has been given added topicality because of the recent signing of a peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a paramilitary organisation seeking greater autonomy for the southern Philippines.

"The films from the area tell you about life during war," he says. He cites the documentary War Is A Tender Thing (2013, 70 minutes, PG13), made by Adjani Arumpac about her parents, one a Christian and the other a Muslim. Arumpac will also be speaking after the screening.

Other festival films from that war-torn region include the dramas The Journey Of The Stars Into The Dark Night (2012, 119 minutes, R21) and Letters Of Solitude (2012, 105 minutes, R21).