We’ve covered a Thai name here once before, and it was equally monstrous in pure syllabic sprawl as today’s subject, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Never one to shy away from a challenge (just kidding, I always shy away from challenges), I decided to finally cover this spectacular name today without resorting to copy-pasting. Helpfully, Mr. Weerasethakul is commonly known in the West as just “Joe”, because Apichatpong just doesn’t quite roll off these western tongues like “John Wayne”.
Like John Wayne, Joe is also in films. Unlike that segue, his films are actually pretty good. They also have awesome, oddly literal-sounding titles like “Mysterious Object at Noon” and “The Adventure of Iron Pussy” (about a transvestite secret agent). His most famous work is probably 2010’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year. The Guardian called it an “episodic, non-linear, open-ended head-scratcher”. Any film that has earned that three-hyphen description has to be worth a look.
Most people will probably draw a blank when asked about Thai cinema. I can’t say I’m an expert myself, perhaps offering up a flick about a guy who kicks everyone in the face in search of his stolen pet elephant (which is awesome), and the more reflective works of Weerasethakul. His own Syndromes and a Century was in fact the first Thai film screened in the Cannes festival competition, evidence of his influence in the sphere of Thai cinema.
Before his career in filmmaking, Weerasethakul completed a bachelor’s degree in Architecture in his native Thailand, later following that up with a master’s in film in Chicago. Both his parents were doctors. In addition to taking his films around the world, Joe has also campaigned extensively against state censorship in Thailand, after a film was his was subjected to a ban from local cinemas due to his refusal to cut objectionable scenes.
Perhaps more than any other Thai filmmaker in recent history, Apichatpong Weerasethakul has made a name for himself. A real big name.