Film Review: 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (2020)

Initial observation: 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy is a mouthful of a title. 

As the film begins, a classic chapter title screen of a white text on a black background greets me. A monotonous female voice opens the film with a description of how Chulayarnnon Siriphol, also known as Ke (the director of this film), had embarked on this winding journey after being hired by an organisation to produce a short film with the intention of educating the public about osteoarthritis, a common condition among the elderly. The short film in question: A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar (another mouthful). After it was produced, Ke asked for permission from the organisation to submit it to festivals. The film was then submitted to the 17th Thai Short Film and Video Festival under Ke’s name, where it subsequently won an award. 

Here comes the dilemma. After the film won an award, the organisation that hired Ke claims that he was not given permission to submit the film to festivals under his name as the work is considered to be the organisation’s property. Along with demanding Ke pass the award certificate to the organisation, they also stated that in the future, if Ke wished to distribute the film, he would need to write to the organisation and request for approval. The agreements between Ke and the organisation had verbal and thus he did not have any substantial documentation to back them up. From this arises Ke’s journey to find out: Who does art belong to? The client, the artist or the audience?

In the name of art, Ke prints 100 copies of the award certificate and passes them out to random passers-by on the street. Regardless of their nationality, gender, or age, he gives it to whoever even if they can't read the Thai text on the certificate itself, just as long as they are willing to take it from him. 

Ke eventually takes this to the next level and goes on to reproduce his own short film a hundred times to the point where the image and audio quality has been shredded to the point of incoherence. He then sells each individual reproduction of his short film as video art for cheap. Needless to say, watching the whole thing unfold has been a peculiar pleasure.  

There is a reflexive, mocking quality to the film. The film is broken down into 6 arbitrary chapters and the monotonous female voice narrates the film with the very same lack of passion at the start of the film. We watch Ke perform these rather amusing acts of selling certificates and video art pieces that clearly have little value without the context presented in the film. We are even allowed to witness the reaction of an audience as they watch footage of Ke passing out copied certificates. When Ke reproduces his short film 100 times to point of incoherence, he decides to screen the result publicly for a small audience. 

The outcome is predictable: shots of viewers huddled up in a dark room, staring blankly at the fractured image on screen; some yawning, and some seemingly asleep. One sequence in the film is literally a man sitting in front of his computer watching one of the reproduced copies of the short film with his arms fold and head nodding off. On the side of the screen are graphics depicting a text conversation between the man and Ke, with the man commenting that despite the video’s poor quality, it is one of his favourite short films simply because he understands nothing about the film. I could not help but giggle in amusement. And Ke literally takes a photograph with almost every individual who takes a certificate or buys a copy of the reproduced short film. It is rather indulgent, amusing and if I’m being completely honest, a little boring. 

Still, the film is not merely comprised of humour. Ke slowly builds the film toward the political climate of Thailand, comparing the replication of his own work and the questioning of its identity as art with Thailand’s Khana Ratsadon plaque—a Thai symbol of democracy. The plaque was allegedly stolen and replaced by a new plaque in 2017. The question posed is very explicit: ‘If the plaque is reproduced, can it still hold its authentic democratic ideology?’ Ke shows us footage during the Thailand political crisis. The parliament disbanded, riots and protests take hold of the street, and a new Thai prime minister is elected from what is perceived to be a rigged election. He presents to us a ‘reproduced’ democracy of Thailand. 

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy is by no means a polished work of cinema. Photographs on-screen are grainy and blurry, the cinematography is amateurish with a couple of unclear, shaky, out-of-focus shots. Still, the film's technical quality did not detract from the film's quality, in fact giving it a sort of ‘home-made’ feel and a breath of authenticity and personality.

I suspect 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy will probably be relegated to the smaller screens. It is a piece that is rough around the edges, and a little difficult to sit through for audiences who have grown used to documentaries with absurdly high presentation values. Thinking back, I wonder if the earlier parts of the film are bridged adequately with the subsequent political commentary. Perhaps the shift to politics might be a little drastic for a viewer like me, uneducated about the state of Thai politics. 

By the end, the film returns to its amusing manner, similar to how it was in the early chapters. Somewhat returning full circle. Nothing has really changed. Despite all of Ke's efforts, his short film A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthern Jar remains the property of the organisation, and Ke seems to have moved on to another project. This reminds me of the words spoken by an audience member who had watched footage of Ke distributing his copied certificates like flyers: ‘You spent months [on] (sic) this. Do you think it's worth it after all? Or it's better to screw it and make a new one?

Written by Timothy Ong
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