Close Up

31 March - 2 April 2017: Toil and Trouble: The Films of Ing K


"The films of controversial director Ing Kanjanavanit – better known under her nom de guerre Ing K – provide a running commentary on the political turmoil that has gripped her native Thailand for now over a decade. Born in 1959, Ing K worked as a journalist specialising in environmental issues throughout the 1980s before turning to filmmaking for, as she says in an interview, "I needed to show rather than tell." What started out as "visual extensions" of her investigative journalism has since developed into an activist moving image practice in its own right. Equally engaged and enraged, Ing K’s documentary epics side with the royalist Yellow Shirt movement that helped oust former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, while remaining wary of the yellow shirts’ reverence for the (now deceased) king Bhumibol – and authoritarian tendencies among her countrymen more generally.

Although Ing K’s main discipline is clearly the long-form political documentary, the self-professed horror movie junkie and art school drop-out has made forays into feature filmmaking too, authoring what some consider the first Thai independent movie, the scathing religious satire My Teacher Eats Biscuits, as well as a more recent cause célèbre, the hallucinatory Macbeth adaptation Shakespeare Must Die famously banned by the Thai Censorship Board for possessing ‘content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation.’ In the companion documentary Censor Must Die, Ing K’s camera follows the film’s producer through a bureaucratic maze as he tries in vain to appeal against the ban: a passionate, by turns deadpan and despairing, plea against censorship.

Ing K's fiercely partial interventions into a deeply divided Thailand riven by political unrest have made her a divisive figure at home. Her vocal broadsides against the "[international film] festival mafia" or "Thai Studies types" (who are often critical of her political affiliations) show that she doesn’t skirt controversy abroad either. Yet there can be no question about it: Ing K's often troubling and always-forceful films deserve to be seen. This programme – the first UK retrospective of her work – comprises Ing K’s two fictional features and a selection of her documentary works." – Nikolaus Perneczky

My Teacher Eats Biscuits
Ing K
1996 | 120 min | Colour | 16mm

A John Waters-inspired no-budget independent movie starring friends of the director and filmed on 16mm, My Teacher Eats Biscuits is a savage and irreverent satire of religious beliefs, tailored to Thai audiences but with wider and indeed universal resonance. In the role of the arch villain: a sacred dog worshipped as His Holiness in a New Age ashram. Banned for "depravity" in 1998 under a Democrat government, this film will be projected from the only existing 16mm print. read more

Citizen Juling
Ing K, Kraisak Choonhavan & Manit Sriwanichpoom
2008 | 222 min | Colour | Digital

Ostensibly a documentary about the fatal beating of Juling Pongkanmul, a young and idealistic Buddhist teacher, by an enraged mob in the Muslim-majority South of Thailand, Citizen Juling attends to the wider political circumstances and repercussions of this much-reported event. From encounters with the local population emerges a many-voiced conversation about divisions within contemporary Thai society. Eventually explanations are attempted and judgement is meted out by Ing K and her fellow travellers, but what the film leaves us with, outweighing their necessarily incomplete efforts, is a deep, interdenominational sense of grief. read more

Shakespeare Must Die
Ing K
2011 | 172 min | Colour | DCP

Shakespeare Must Die is a faithful, word-for-word transposition of Macbeth to contemporary Thailand, meticulously translated by Ing K herself and admixed with local references both mythical and historical. Fusing Shakespearean royal drama with TV soap and Thai folk opera elements – the colourful sets and costumes were handcrafted by artist friends – this fever-dream rendition of ‘the world’s best-known study of tyranny’ doesn’t pull any punches. read more

Censor Must Die
Ing K
2013 | 150 min | Colour | Digital

When their film Shakespeare Must Die is banned by the Thai Censorship Board, Ing K and her producer, acclaimed visual artist Manit Sriwanichpoom, don’t take the verdict lying down. Censor Must Die is the chronicle of their seemingly never ending struggle to repeal the ban, waiting in the anterooms of power while judgement is passed behind closed doors. Turns out the reasoning behind the verdict is as labyrinthine and intransparent as the increasingly Kafkaesque government architectures traversed by the two intrepid filmmakers. Curiously, Censor Must Die was itself exempt from the censorship process since, as the ruling went, it was "made from events that really happened." read more

Many thanks to Ing K and Nikolaus Perneczky for making this programme possible