Bizarre Hitler scene sneaks into Thai junta propaganda movie

A screenshot from the short film '30' shows students painting a picture of HItler. Pic: AP.
A screenshot from the short film ’30’ shows students painting a picture of Hitler. Pic: Youtube screengrab.

A bizarre and brief scene depicting Thai students painting a picture of Adolf Hitler has made its way into a propaganda short film financed by the military government. “30” by director Kulp Kaljaruek is part of the “Thai Niyom” (“Thai Pride”) movie aimed at promoting the “12 core values” drawn up by by junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha shortly after the military coup of May 22, 2014.

These commandments “12 values” are essentially the junta’s guide to becoming a “good” Thai citizen. It includes values like showing respect to superiors, resisting the temptation of “religious sins”, upholding “Thai customs and traditions”, and sacrificing oneself for the good of the country. School children (and sometimes even adults) are advised to recite them daily, and to further push their agenda the military junta has financed short films based on said values.

And so we have the short film “30”, about a spoiled brat young, wealthy and neatly-kempt Thai boy and his underachieving, goofy (and darker-skinned!) best friend in school (a private school, mind you!), learning about friendship and acceptance. This would all be as expected if it wasn’t for that intro sequence stylized like a children’s coloring book showing the different school activities,  one of which involves the protagonist standing in front of a  portrait of Adolf Hitler during art class, while winking suggestively at the camera (0:54 min. in video below).

The movie was uploaded to YouTube and was unsurprisingly removed from official channels after a sufficient amount of baffled outrage on social media at the odd inclusion the scene. As usual, bootleg copies have popped up elsewhere already. This not the first time that there has been outrage at the insensitive or just simply misplaced use of Nazi symbols and Adolf Hitler depictions. In the past unsuspecting school and university students (and certain Bangkok hipster shops) have been criticized for their trivial use of such images.

But was this just yet another lapse in judgment and a show of ignorance stemming from a rather dismal education system? Or – given the apparent winks and nods throughout the whole short film (e.g. rich, spoiled, overachieving boy living in mansion attending a private school) – is this part of an almost satirical subtext undercutting the whole “12 core values” and the military junta’s re-imagineering of what makes a “good” Thai?

(MORE: Thailand’s junta brings its message to the silver screen)

Whatever the case may be, it must have somehow flown over the heads of the officials – Thai junta Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth and several other ministers are credited in the movie as sponsors before the actual cast and crew – and thus found its way to an astonished general public. Certainly not what the generals had in mind.

UPDATE [Dec 9]: The colleagues at Khaosod English have talked to “30” director Kulp Kaljaruek and he seemingly shows no regret or remorse or any deeper meaning at all:

“As for Hitler’s portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere. It’s even considered a fashion. It doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I didn’t expect it to be an issue at all.” […]

When asked whether “30” was an attempt to poke fun at Gen. Prayuth’s Twelve Values in a subversive way, Kulp insisted that he did not intend the film to be political at all.

Director Defends ‘Hitler Scene’ in Thai Junta Film“, Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Just as much as Hitler is sometimes being treated as a pop cultural icon in Thailand (see above), his production company “Kantana Motion Pictures” (and part of one of the largest TV and film companies in Thailand) also seems to like some of the same motifs and color schemes…! The director continues:

“[Hitler] is the character of this child,” Kulp explained, […] “He’s always been ‘number one,’ and he’s selfish. Hitler is also a ‘number one,’ in a bad way,” Kulp continued. “He was good at persuading a lot of people, but he refused to listen to the majority. He was always arrogant. That’s why the war happened.

Director Defends ‘Hitler Scene’ in Thai Junta Film“, Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Apart from incorrectly stating almost any historical fact about Hitler and the Third Reich (is he suggesting that Hitler started World War 2 out of arrogance and there was widespread opposition against him? Really?!), he has absolutely fumbled artistically justify that scene other than making a shrewd reference to the dangers of a charismatic evil swaying the population – which is further supplemented by a military junta spokesman:

Col. Sansern Kaewkumnerd, spokesperson of the Office of Prime Minister, admitted that he has not had time to see the film, but offered a possible explanation of why the Hitler cameo was included. “If I were to make an uneducated guess, it may have been intended to say that democracy has good and bad sides,” Col. Sansern said.

Director Defends ‘Hitler Scene’ in Thai Junta Film“, Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Uneducated indeed, since Thai ultra-conservatives – including the anti-government protesters, whose actions this and last year have paved the way for the military coup – like to often play the “Hitler-also-came-from-elections”-card in order to denounce democracy as a whole, as we have previously discussed here, here and here.

UPDATE 2 [Dec 11]: The Prime Minister’s Office Minister Pannada Diskul told Reuters, after apologizing for the understandably upset Israeli ambassador, that “The director had decided to make changes to the film even before it made news to ease everybody’s concerns.” That’s rather surprising to hear since, as seen above, the director initially said that he  “didn’t expect to be an issue at all”…!

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