Friday began with a 3:30 am call with my manager to conduct and record a conference call for later use as a training session. This was the only time that would work for both our schedules and it needed to be done. The advantage of starting at 3:30 in the morning is that by lunchtime, I’ve pretty much put in a full day of work! So I headed out in the afternoon, purchased the remaining tickets for the World Film Festival that I had not yet purchased, and caught an early afternoon documentary, Weg.
We meet ex-junkie Chris, an American walking the edge between survival and recovery; English teacher Alex who has transformed the exotic into the ordinary; and underground photographer Nick who is fascinated by Bangkok’s nightworld of crime and passion.
The filmmaker sets out to examine the question: “Is home a physical reality or simply a state of mind?” After viewing the debut directorial effort, I’m not sure that’s the question that needed to be asked as it came across more as an afterthought rather than central to the film.
Whether or not it was actually the case, the film reinforced for me the idea that these three people deliberately held Thai culture at arm’s length, seeking not to understand but rather living against it, like a very large backdrop that could really be any other backdrop but in this case just happened to be Thailand.
The two elements that led me to this conclusion were the director’s extensive use of footage of Khrungthep, shot almost entirely on, in, by, or of the Skytrain which, for the most part, runs only in areas of the city that cater to foreigners. There’s more to the city than that and I think that a wider variety of footage would have reinforced the depth to which these people have integrated into a city where in two of the three cases, they have lived for more than a dozen years.
The second element was the director’s decision not to subtitle the Thai that was spoken in the film. While not extensive, the subjects of the film converse with their girlfriends and other people in Thai and there is some additional dialoge by other characters that is in Thai, but we do not get any translation. The German is translated and one of the characters speaks only English, but the Thai remains a language that, seemingly, is an irrelevant part of their world.
When I inquired about this during the Q&A the director responded that he had made this choice because what was being said didn’t move the story forward. That may be true, but I think the act of not translating – given that his self-identified target audience (Germans) would not be able to understand what was said – reinforces that the Thai culture is irrelevant and it is unnecessary for us (or, by virtue of our observations as an audience, any foreigners choosing to live in Thailand) to make an attempt to understand the culture we choose to live in.
Is it cultural imperialsim? Possibly a harsh criticism, but one that may be justified.