Ten Years Thailand develops four different stories about Thai politics, setting them a decade after 2018. The four segments are framed within two distinct settings – a lifelike scene and a hyper-imaginative zone, which are rendered through the use of various styles, such as realism, essay film style and surrealism. While the first and last section of the film – Aditya Assarat’s Sunset, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Song of the City respectively – take place in a realistic context, shedding some lights of hope, the middle sections – Wisit Sasanatieng’s Catopia and Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Planetarium – turn “the land of smiles” into one of destruction, where only non-humans, cats and programmed human can survive.
In Assarat’s Sunset, a group of soldiers and policemen make a surprise visit to an art gallery, to inspect the “unsuitable message” that appeared in a photo exhibition, titled “I Laughed So Hard I Cried”. At the same time, the young naïve conscript Kaen has a romantic encounter with a member of the gallery’s female staff. Thailand appears divided into two opposite worlds. The naivety of the powerless on the one hand, the exercise of power to establish what is right or wrong on the other. The director deliberately emphasises this binary contrast, tackling the issue of political separatism – yellow and red shirts conflict, in a grey area where the multifaceted identities of both groups are represented.
Political rifts feature the surrealist world of Catopia, in which director Wisit follows the survival of the last human, surrounded by half-feline/half human creatures. This surrealist plot, however, is in contrasts with the contemporary backdrop, meaning that the events depicted in the film could happen even today. Through the use of an entirely handheld camera, this paradise of cats shows the new resurfacing of the political divides. Dissidents are warned, interrogated and imprisoned by the military government. The game of hunters and victims manifests itself everywhere. Many opponents have to hide or escape abroad.
Time machine goes extreme in the anthology’s third segment, Chulayarnnon’s Planetarium, an abstract mockery of the national control over the youth’s lives that specifically targets the policies of Education and Culture Ministries. Youngsters are controlled since childhood in all aspects of their daily lives, from hairstyle, strict mode of respect, training and modes of happiness expression to religious hypnotization. Buddhism, in fact, becomes a national tool to control people. Chulayarnnon playfully gathers the experiences faced by every boy and girl in Thai schools into a jukebox game of the absurd. Every detail in this segment have all political intent to criticize the country.
Apichatpong’s return to the realistic setting of his hometown Khon Kaen in Song of the City prompts us to confront with our own experiences as a Thai living in a country which is eternally undergoing reconstruction. Set in a park featuring the statue of Thai Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, a prominent dictator who staged a coup in 1957 and used his power to acquire everything he wanted, the piece is like a reminiscence of the director, who appears to look back to his previous films, his family home and the imperfect Thailand. Several passers-by in the film were stars in his previous movies – Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) and Keng (Banlop Lomnoi) in Tropical Malady (2004), the female doctor (Nantarat Sawaddikul) in Syndrome and a Century (2006), and the sleeping soldier in Cemetery of Splendor. Along with Apichatpong’s lifetime friends, a real-life political prisoner named Patiwat Saraiyaem joins in, as a cheerful northeastern-folk-singer accepting a temporary job as salesman of Good Dream Machine. In 2015, he was sentenced to five years in jail for having insulted monarchy in a university play. In a renovating country like Thailand, only a person like him can offer a new life that might be considered as a dream. But no matter how much hardship we will encounter, our lives still go on.