Shakespeare Must Die could very well be Thailand’s cinematic equivalent of Japan’s Throne of Blood or India’s Maqbool, both outstanding international adaptations of Macbeth, but viewers–both abroad and in Thailand–may never have the chance to view this film.*
“Who would be insane enough to want Shakespeare dead?” –director Ing Kanjanavanit
Although the Thai government’s Ministry of Culture initially helped fund director Ing Kanjanavanit‘s adaptation of Macbeth (2012), the film failed to the meet the censorship board’s approval.
The film is a metatheatrical exercise in the powers of play, whether that is the performance of a dictator, the performance of a Shakespearean play, or a blurring the two. Like a good revenge tragedy, some of the most inherent critiques of the larger political system revolve around the play-within-a-play. In this case, a theatre troupe stages the tragedy of Shakespeare’s usurping tyrant in a nation (an unnamed country/fictionalized Thailand) ruled by such a despotic leader. The tyrant halts the production of the play. Ing argues that the film speaks on a global level concerning any of a number of recent dictators:
“I feel like we are heading to a very dark, dark place right now, a place full of fears and everyone has to be extra careful about what they say. …When Cambodians watch this they’ll think it’s Hun Sen. When Libyans watch it they would think it’s Gaddafi.”
The Thai government, on the other hand, found the film’s depiction of Dear Leader (the Macbeth character) too close to home. Shakespeare Must Die was outright banned for release in Thailand by the government because the film “has content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation.” There are similarities between this fictional dictator and the recently ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (2006), as well as other allusions to previous coups and political unrest in Thailand.
Ing is appealing the ban, claiming that she is “in the trenches” in this war against politicized censorship. “My camera is my weapon.” The film’s official trailer is available for view, and Shakespeare Must Die has its own website. Using her “weapon,” she has worked with producer Manit Sriwanichpoom to create a complementary documentary Censor Must Die, which had its first screening at the Bangkong Art and Culture Centre on June 1, 2013 (although this film has also not yet been official sanctioned for theatrical release). The trailer for Censor Must Die is also available, and the documentary has been reviewed by Wise Kwai, a Bangkok-based journalist and Thai film blogger. In this bizarre case of art resembling life, this documentary becomes Banquo’s ghost, a haunting reminder of the initial crime of banning Shakespeare.
The Shakespeare Standard plans to keep readers posted on further developments concerning this film. Hopefully, like Malcolm, Shakespeare Must Die will be called back from exile and restored to its rightful place–the cinemas of Thailand.
*(I have seen several websites that claim to have the full movie available for download or streaming, but I am a bit wary to try this.)
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