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Title: Southeast Asian horror and postcolonial cinema: Thailand's legend of Mae Nak
Authors: Liow, Xin Li
Keywords: Humanities::Literature::English
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Nanyang Technological University
Source: Liow, X. L. (2022). Southeast Asian horror and postcolonial cinema: Thailand's legend of Mae Nak. Final Year Project (FYP), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Abstract: The supernatural has always been an integral part of Southeast Asia’s rich and diverse cultural landscape, fulfilling significant functions in the cultural imaginaries of postcolonial Southeast Asian societies in the present. In Thailand, legend has it that there was a beautiful young woman named Nak, who refused to leave the earthly realm after dying in childbirth. Determined to stay with her husband, she terrorised the rural village of Phra Kanong and murdered anyone who tried to tell her husband the truth about her existence. After finally being caught and exorcised by powerful Buddhist monks, her spirit was laid to rest for eternity. Over the years, there have been over a hundred variations and retellings of Mae Nak’s legend in the form of films, theatrical productions, musicals, songs, prose fiction, poetry, and even comic books, attesting to its immense cultural resonance. How has Mae Nak become such an enduring figure in popular culture? What is the function of her legend in relation to Thailand’s ever-shifting sociocultural landscape, given its position as one of the most celebrated folkloric tale throughout Thai history? This paper investigates these questions, examining the ways in which Mae Nak’s legend has been employed to fulfil various ideological agendas, as well as assuage various sociocultural and national anxieties, at particular historical moments. I first justify the use of postcolonial cinema studies as a theoretical framework, even though Thailand is a unique Southeast Asian country in that it has never been formally colonised by any European powers. Legacies of colonialism and modern globalisation continue to structure nationalist discourse in Thailand, giving rise to nationalist rhetoric like ‘Thai exceptionalism’ and ‘traditionalism,’ which reinscribe imperialist rhetoric in the guise of celebrating nationalist identity. I examine how previous cinematic adaptations of Mae Nak’s legend have reinforced imperialist discourse in circulating an exoticised Thai identity for the imperial gaze, as well as reiterated nationalist discourse predicated on heteronormative, patriarchal, and religious norms. Comparing Banjong Pisanthanakun’s Pee Mak (2013) to one of the earliest cinematic adaptations of Mae Nak’s legend, Gomarchun’s Mae Nak Phra Kanong (1959), as well as Nonzee Nimibutr’s classic Mae Nak film, Nang Nak (1999), I examine how Pee Mak (2013) adapts and transforms formal and narrative features in these films in order to subvert the ways in which Mae Nak’s legend has been utilised in the service of oppressive nationalist ideology. Specifically, I argue that Pee Mak (2013) is a work of postcolonial cinema, and that the use of comedy in the film subverts both nationalist and imperialist discourse to articulate alternative political subjectivities outside of state-scripted and Western (i.e. global, imperialist) constructions.
Schools: School of Humanities 
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:SoH Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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