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There were three kinds of open-air cinema in Thailand:
"NANG KAI YA" (หนังขายยา)
was used as promotional items by herbal-medicine salesmen at temple gatherings.
Those movies were called "movies to sell drugs".
"NANG LOM PHA" (หนังล้อมผ้า)
was shown during feasts. A fence surrounded the screen so that a fee could be
collected at the entrance.
"NANG KLANG PLAENG" (หนังกลางแปลง)
was shown in open-air during specific events (funeral, ordination...).
There was no fee as a sponsor paid the whole fee.
Most of the old Thai movies during 1950s-1960s decades were shot
without synchronised sound on 16mm colour reversal stock. There was never an original negative
to hold on to, let alone archive. The camera original and any additional exhibition prints
(depending on the producers' budget) were circulated to cinemas around the country or projected
from the backs of trucks on to sheets hung between trees at fairgrounds.
Sound effects and dialogue were provided live by the projectionist. They were
filled with whatever regional references and such humour seemed to work best with the crowd.
The prints were screened and rescreened until they became scratched beyond repair.
Decades ago, movie distribution companies supplied films to open-air cinemas with
outdoor screen in rural areas. Suppliers carried suitcases containing rolls of films to
travelling projectionists, who wandered provincial Thailand with their canvas
Viewers were charged five or ten baht.
The revenue was split between distribution companies and the projectionist.
In Thai theaters, before each movie, the King's anthem is played. During 30 seconds,
there are pictures about the King, his family, the Thai flag and
good deeds that the King did for his citizen. Everybody shall stand up.
In the past, there was no TV at home. Some shops has TV but
customers had to buy goods from the shop in order to be able to watch TV programs as the
shop owner had to pay for TV electricity bill.
This old car, formerly selling medicine, is located at Thai Film Archives. It is quite
unique. It was a Thai army jeep and was offered to Thai Film Archives.
Outdoor movies are still used for ceremonies such as
monk robes offering ("THOT KATIN" - ทอดกฐิน),
"new house" ceremony (ขึ้นบ้านใหม),
temple fair (งานวัด),
Chinese shrine celebration (งานศาลเจ้า)
or various companies celebrations.
Such cars were a good concept as they produced electricy to play movies
images. They also played sound, performed advertisements and sold medicines.
Nowadays it is difficult to find old projectors for
open-air cinemas. Many projectionists use recycled pieces from other machines.
Nowadays only 35mm projectors remain. 16mm projectors would scratch out and break films.
Normally each movie is using a few film reels.
After World War II, such car selling medicine (รถฉายหนังขายยา)
were roaming in Thai provinces. They were projecting movies in remote villages and were
selling medicine during breaks. They remained popular until year
1977 when television sets started to spread all over Thailand.
Due to heat, movie reels could be damaged, broken and burnt.
Celluloid film burn less but will have strong smell. After a while, they cannot be used anymore.
There are still around 1000 small companies in Thailand showing outdoor movies. The main difficulty
of the business is the cost to rent movies due to high copyrights.
In decades 1950s to 1970s, "NANG KAI YA"
(หนังขายยา) or "Movies selling medicine"
were very popular. Some people prefered to buy such medicine than using local shaman! But it was not
easy to check that the medicine was real and not only useless colored water. Villagers didn't have
choice as sometimes the nearest doctor or nearest city was too far. They didn't want to lose a whole
day going to the city. The medicine was sold when the projectionist was changing the movie reels.
Projection of an outdoor movie can cost
from 3 000 baht to 15 000 baht for a recent movie. Business is tough as nowadays people
have already seen movies at theaters or at home on DVD so they will not go to see an
outdated outdoor movie.
Before the delay between a release at theater (หนังโรง) and a
release for home video was quite long. It could be one year or even more. So open-air cinemas
had their place in the business chain. It is not the case anymore as movies are now released on
DVD three months after theater release.
So less people watch outdoor movies. Digital revolution is
also coming for projection. So getting film reels will become more and more difficult.
Before television was widely available, the only real entertainment villagers was open-air
cinema. When changing reels or when half of the movie was reached, medicine was sold. Sometimes
viewers even couldn't watch the whole movie if salesman interrupted the movie too often for promotion.
In the past the movie dubber was a star and his name was
often displayed in bigger fonts than the movie title itself! The dubber used instruments such
as paper or spoon to make additional noise.
In rural areas, some local people beware modern medicine and were still preferring
traditional herbs medicine. So sellers had hard time. There were no hospital or clinics
near most villages.
After World War II, Thai movie industry used 16mm format
as 35mm reel were rare and expensive. There is no track for sound on 16mm reel.
Two kinds of dubbing are used:
1) A single dubber but it is very tiring as the dubber needs to do
2) A team but there is need for good synchronization
One of the most famous dubber remains Juree Osiri
(จุรี โอศิริ). She was the voice of all leading actresses such as
Petchara Chaowarat, Pissamai Wilaisak, Pawana Chanajit, Naowarat Yooktanun and Lalana Sulawan.
She dubbed around 100 to 200 movies thanks to her sweet voice.
Dubber could involve the public by using name of the village leader or by using the name of
the most handsome / most beautiful lady in the village for the leading actor / actress.
In decade 1970s Thai actors were still
employed to dub live over foreign language movies screened in cinemas as it was cheaper
than recording a whole new soundtrack. Sitting in a tiny booth, one or more actors read
scripts and were altering their voices to mimic different characters. Later on some
dubbing performances were recorded and used for other projections
For a good movie dubbing, there is need at least a male / female couple.
One dubber can do up to four characters.
Many Thai movies in 1960s were recorded
at the same time and there were really only five or six key stars who appeared in all of them.
They made so many films at once that the stars could never change their hairstyle. They always had
to look the same. So when the prints started to wear out, the dubbers would mix together reels from
several films and make up a new story in the dialogue. Nobody knew the difference!
Bangkok Theaters used famous dubbers. In decade 1990s
some movies such as "Baan Phi Pop"
(บ้านผีปอบ) were still dubbed in studio as it was cheaper.
Thai movie "Baan Nong Ma Wo"
(หนองหมาว้อ) (1979) shows this
open-air cinema atmosphere very accurately such as young people (หนุ่มสาวจีบกัน)
meeting secretly behind the screen...
Outdoor movies were very popular in Thai provinces.
Outdoor movie is another experience where people are able to enjoy food on the spot,
enjoy fresh air and have a nap on the grass!
The difficulty in dubbing with old movies is that part of the film
may be missing but the text is complete!
Songs in 16mm format movies were often recorded in 35mm format
as this format allows picture and sound on the same reel.
Movies selling medicine (หนังขายยา)
was a way for business companies in Bangkok to reach people in villages. The movies were
just to attract them. Products were not only medicine but also other products difficult
to find in remote area such a special soap, perfume...
Later on it was forbidden to sell medicine but they could still sell other products.
With development of countryside in Thailand and TV arrival, such movies selling medicine
(หนังขายยา) disappear progressively.
Movies in upcountry were more popular than "LIKAY" or
music concert as it cost less money to hire them and they could play movies the whole night.
Movies action were the most popular for car selling medicine
The speakers were on the top of the car.
During outdoor cinema sessions, a few short movies (sports, news, cartoons)
were shown before the main movie. Sometimes a small movie or remaining left extract of another movie
(ฟิล์มหัวม้วน) was placed at the beginning of the reel in order to preserve the main movie
(around three minutes).
Some popular movies could take years to reach some parts of Thailand as the film copies were limited.
Normally 4 copies for the whole Thailand, i.e. Central plains, North, South and Northeast.
Some popular movies were shown and shown until they become unpopular
and then moved to be shown in other provinces.
Old cinema magazines remain popular with collectors. When the movies have disappeared as the films are beyond repair,
the old cinema magazines are the last way to get a summary of the lost movies.
Companies selling medicine went progressively out of business due to various reasons, i.e.
difficulties to get authorisation renewal approval, community Health Centre (สถานีสุขภาพ)
being built in many villages and answering to direct health needs of villagers,
cost of moving from 16mm to 35mm, people having TV at home so the movie appeal was reduced.
when 16mm movies have songs, there was a need to have a second projector to show the song in 35mm format.
35mm movies were often developped (ล้าง) in Hong Kong.
In villages, a documentary was shown to local people to teach them things about
personal hygiene. There was often a movie projected also to entice people to come. The movie was shown in the premises of
Health Centres (ศูนย์เยาวชน).
Outdoor cinema and Chinese opera are often part of
the free events shown during yearly deity festivals in Bangkok
To hire a Chinese opera troupe for 3 days, it costs 40 000 baht for one night.
Around 40 to 50 people come watching every day. Outdoor cinema is cheaper but
audience might be similar if local people already watch the movies!
A big screen is set up in the middle of the local Thai Chinese community area.
This deity festival last 5 days, i.e. 3 days for Chinese Opera and
2 last days for outdoor cinema. Outdoor cinema (หนังกลางแปลง)
is cheaper, i.e. 7000 to 8000 baht a day. Three movies are shown, i.e. a foreign movie,
a Chinese movie and a Thai movie (Pee Mak - พี่มาก..พระโขนง.).