Saturday, November 11, 2006

Documentary: "Falang: Behind Bangkok's Smile "

The focus of this documentary is about Thailand's notorious and booming sex tourism industry.

The film maker Jordan Clark, during the course of his travels in Thailand, meets a 19 year old bar girl named Pla. Pla manages to earn a meagre wage by pouring drinks to foreign tourists who frequent the bar scene. When Clark meets her, she is on the verge of entering the sextrade. As the documentary trolls on, we discover that Pla has sold herself to a foreigner in order to help pay for her mother's medical expenses. It is during the last 10 minutes of the film, this sorrowful tale spirals into tragedy. Listening to her story, viewers are taken on an emotional rollercoaster.

With his semi-professional camera, Jodan Clark guides the viewers eyes to the darker side of Thailand. We are emersed into Pla's world: hidden behind her beautiful smile is heart-ache and sadness. Pla is a girl who is trying to irk out a decent living but is yearning for something more. The viewer can sense Pla's helplessness when she speaks. The problem is that girls such as Pla find it difficult to leave the sex trade with only a grade school education.

In the end, we find out that a week after Clark leaves Thailand, Pla had died, possibly of heart failure related to a drug overdose. In his estimation, this diagnosis was entered as a way to avoid costly post-mortem examinations. By telling her story, he demonstrates how the sex trade has effected the people of Bangkok, Thailand. Places like Soi Cowboy have emerged in order to fulfill the desires of Western visitors: Soi Cowboy is a red-light district with around 40 bars. The bikini-clad women on stage are turned into a commodity to be purchased and sold. Sexual services are offered and the act usually takes place away from prying eyes, in a nearby hotel room. As Clark himself remarks, the introduction of falangs (the Thai word for "foreigners") has forever changed the city, the economy, and transformed the Thai people's lives.

Clark makes the following assertion about men who participate in the sex trade:
1. Desperate;
2. A-moral: meaning as long as they can justify it to themselves it is alright;
3. Predators: Thailand is victim to all three equally. Although the second is least destructive, it is still not a healthy human trait – most CEO’s are a-moral personality types.

In 2005, it was estimated that over 800,000 women were involved in Thailand's night scene. Flesh has become a commodity, not only for foreign tourists, but the Thai government as well.

Jordan Clark should be congratulated: Although he maintains that he is embarking on a "mission for change, he has given a face to the faceless and at the same time has told Pla's life story. Watching the film, one gets the sense that, in the 21st century colonialism has taken a new dimension. After all, was it not too long ago that economists were arguing that we are now in a globalized world? A world where the global economy is now local and foreign shores are now at our doorstep? Jordan Clark's telling documentary was first shown at the 2005 Victoria Film Festival. In all sincerity, it is my hope that he picks up that semi-professional video camera once more and directs attention to other social causes.

Related links: