This south-east Asian country has long been used in films but more often that not its just been used to replicate other Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, as was revealed in On Screen #1. This series though focuses primarily on how each country is portrayed on screen whether it be real or faked.
The readily available mix of exotic jungles, beautiful beach settings, elephants, low production costs and relatively experienced film crew members make Thailand an attractive proposition for foreign production companies.
Possibly the most famous time when Thailand played itself on the big screen was for the Danny Boyle adaptation of the classic (albeit a little over-rated in my opinion) Alex Garland book ‘The Beach‘ (2000). Leonardo DiCaprio and co were filmed at Khao Yai National Park, Krabi and of course Maya Bay in Phuket which was the secret beach. More details of the exact locations can be seen here.
Over his 50 years in cinema, James Bond has gone round the world taking in a vast array of places and of course that has included Thailand albeit on quite a small scale. Ratchdamnoen Boxing Stadium, Muang Boran and the Mandarin Hotel in Bangkok featured in the ninth film in the 007 series; ‘The Man With The Golden Gun‘ (1979), which starred Roger Moore and Britt Ekland. More famously Khao Ping Gan a.k.a. James Bond Island was used as Scaramanga’s lair.
‘The Bridge On The River Kwai‘ (1957) starring Obi-Wan Kenobi, erm, I mean Alec Guinness may be all about the building of the bridge in Katchanburi area but in reality it was filmed in Sri Lanka and the contraption seen on screen is far more impressive than the actual bridge in Thailand.
Far more recently ‘Only God Forgives‘ (2013) features plenty of Thailand in this dark tale of murder and vengeance featuring Ryan Gosling as a man who runs a Thai boxing club as a disguise for a drug business but when his brother murders a prostitute and is thus killed a series of further killings take place in Bangkok.
Technically ‘The Railway Man‘ was also a 2013 movie due to it debuting at some film festivals not that it really got its worldwide release till this year. Based on Eric Lomax’s novel of the same name, Colin Firth plays a former British Army officer, who was tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during WW II. That camp was filmed at Ipswich in Queensland, Australia. On discovering that the young Japanese officer who haunted him is still alive Eric travels to Thailand to confront his tormentor. This is when Thailand for real is seen with Bangsue train yard in Bangkok used for scenes where thousands of Allied prisoners were forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. The Death Railway and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery were used for brief shots.
Of course, Thailand has been a popular destination for western productions over the years and other films of note to have been shot there include ‘The Big Boss‘ (1971), ‘Duel Of Fists‘ (1971), ‘Year Of The Dragon‘ (1985), ‘Kickboxer‘ (1989) and ‘Alexander‘ (2004). ‘American Gangster‘ (2007) has a few scenes in “Bangkok” which in reality were shot in Chiang Mai with drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) smuggling heroin in the late 1960’s via the coffins of seven American Vietnam War soldiers.
I can’t say that I was too taken in by ‘The Hangover‘ when it came out in 2009. I thought it was ok but couldn’t understand why so many people loved it and sadly that affection resulted in its 2011 sequel (not to mention a third one last year!) which saw the guys going to Thailand for a wedding.
Another sequel to arrive in Thailand was ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason‘ (2004) which featured some romantic sea cruising which was shot at the 200-year-old Muslim village on stilts at Ko Panyee in Phang Nga Bay. Nai Yang Beach and Phuket Airport were also used for some scenes. The crew built a Thai-style restaurant from scratch for the scene where Bridget was momentarily swept away during a romantic dinner with Daniel Cleaver.
‘The Impossible‘ (2012) deals with a British family’s story about the ordeal they suffered during the terrible 2004 tsunami which hit Phuket. This film emphasises a feel good plot within the the context of mass devastation. It was filmed in part in Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak but most of it was shot in Alicante, Spain.
At the end of the day though, filming on location in Thailand isn’t always so easy due to a variety of reasons and one such example of that is ‘Anna & The King‘ (1999) which, due to the protests of historical inaccuracy from the Thai Film Board, had to be filmed in Malaysia. Protracted negotiations and rewrites resulted in 20th Century Fox finally moving the production, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat, to the likes of Penang (Bangkok harbour and some street scenes), Ipoh, Perak, Parit, Papan, Langkawi and Selangor. Many, many decades before that ‘Anna & The King Of Siam’ (1946) and ‘The King & I‘ (1946) were banned from filming in Thailand for the same reasons and so alternative locations were found.
You can see previous On Screen articles by clicking on the links below:
On Screen #1 – Vietnam (Click here)
On Screen #2 – Istanbul (Click here)
On Screen #3 – Myanmar (Burma) (Click here)
On Screen #4 – Brazil (Click here)