by Patrick Huang

Photo Credit: Detective Chinatown

THAILAND IS ORGANIZING the Thailand Film Destination Festival this July. However, it would be that several films planned to be screened were cancelled without any clear reasons. Detective Chinatown (2015) is one of them. Directed by Chen Sicheng, this film made a debut in mainland China on December 31, 2015, grossing $125,368,683 in total with most revenue deriving from mainland China, a total of $125,112,232 .

13578998_10210179373743910_1347077193_nStill from Detective Chinatown

Considered a buddy film, the film features two main protagonists, Qin Feng and Tang Ren. Qin Feng who is refused from the China’s police academy heads off to a vacation in Thailand. Here in Thailand, his distant cousin Tang Ren works as a private investigator. As it happens, Tang Ren is arraigned for murder and that it falls to both to act as detectives—so as to prove Tang Ren innocent. The film is mainly set in the Chinatown (Yaowaraj).

But while the crime-comedy film genre is popular in the Chinese market, this genre on the issue of crime and corruption is wont to make Chinese authorities—police, military and politicians—anxious, especially if it happens to mention bad things about them. Detective Chinatown portrays disarray in the police. When asked about this film genre, Jin Rui, the director of the Cockfighters (2009, China), opines that “it is difficult for such a plot to pass censorship in China, sinister stories included.” Luckily enough, Detective Chinatown is not representing Chinese police, but Thai.

13617413_10210179377223997_1792402846_nStill from Detective Chinatown

But why would the film be cancelled in the Thailand Film Destination Festival? In the storyline, a negative representation of Thai police is featured. This film shows unprofessionalism among Thai police; several scenes show the inferiority of Thai police to the alleged murderer Tang Ren. Worse is the fact that it shows Thai police being undisciplined in dress code. One scene shows a Chinese character in Thai police uniform with rather long hair, which runs counter to the police dress code. This makes Thai police look funny and not professional. Jin Rui adds, “The film as a comedy genre could have done better, as several let-us-laugh scenes are not really funny.”

13579039_10210179377864013_106320630_nStill from Detective Chinatown

As has been observed, there are two main languages—Mandarin and Thai—used throughout the story; Chinese actors speak Mandarin and poor Thai, Thai actors speak Thai and poor Mandarin. This use of language sometimes borders on the nonsensical—for instance, Chinese actors speak in Mandarin and Thai actors respond in Thai and they both seem to understand each other; not to mention, Mandarin has never been a medium of communication among Thai police.

Still from Detective Chinatown

Qin Feng states at one point that “There is no death sentence in Thailand anyway”—to convince Tang Ren to turn in to the police. In reality, it exists and as of now any of the following crimes are subject to capital punishment: 1) Aggravated Murder, 2) Murder 3) Other Offenses Resulting in Death, 4) Terrorism-Related Offenses Not Resulting in Death, 5) Rape Not Resulting in Death, 6) Arson Not Resulting in Death, 7) Kidnapping Not Resulting in Death, 8) Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death, 9) Drug Possession, 10) Economic Crimes Not Resulting in Death, 11) Treason, 12) Espionage, and 13) Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death. And according to the Department of Statistics, over 600 prisoners in year 2015 are held on the condition of “capital punishment”.

13578581_10210179379464053_448867901_nStill from Detective Chinatown

Detective Chinatown falls into the trap of stereotyping of Thailand, as also seen in various films from Asia and the West. Thai women and their bodies are particularly accentuated in their depiction in the film. Not only does this omit other interesting perspectives of Thailand, it strengthens Thailand’s image as “the brothel of the world”, as it is represented by American culture. Thai women are depicted in two classes in the film, with prostitutes depicted as bad women and non-prostitutes depicted as good women.

13595970_10210179379544055_2065607730_nMap of stereotypes of Asia. Photo credit:

As such, Detective Chinatown exoticizes Thai culture. At the very least, its cancellation from the Thailand Film Destination Festival can perhaps provoke a conversation on such matters in filmic depictions of Thailand.

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