Thai films: in need of a (tax) break

Despite the help of Aung San Suu Kyi and Bill Clinton, the Thai film industry is struggling. Luc Besson’s Dans la Lumiere – a biopic about the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader – is being filmed in Thailand and Clinton passed through to shoot a cameo role in the Hollywood movie The Hangover II, part of which is set in Thailand.

However, the celebrity support has not stopped a decline in Thai film-making, with producers going elsewhere in the region for their locations and tax-breaks.

Thailand has lost out to neighbouring countries – such as Singapore – as a filming location for foreign moviemakers, because tax breaks and other mooted inducements are delayed amid political disagreements.

Thailand Film Office statistics, published by the Ministry of Tourism, reflect the recent decline

So Thai film industry executives have to take comfort from the work that the country is getting. the Suu Kyi film has as its star actress Michelle Yeoh, who arrived in Thailand for filming recently.

The heroine of Memoirs of a Geisha, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tomorrow Never Dies, Yeoh earlier met Suu Kyi in Burma to discuss the role.

The filming concludes in Thailand on Wednesday, before moving to Paris and London for completion in the coming weeks. “75 per cent of the movie has been shot here,” explains Georges Langlois, Managing Director of Siam Movies Productions, in a break of the busy final day’s filming.

Lacking state support, Thai moviemakers often have to quibble to secure finance. Even Palme D’Or-awarded director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Burmese migrant workers in Thailand might feel left out, as Burmese minor parts and crowd scenes in Dans La Lumiere were played by Thai extras. But Suu Kyi, who was recently released after seven years of house arrest, is giving an indirect boost to the Thai economy. Will the Thai Government return the favour and press the Burmese junta to give her a bit more political freedom?

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