Film Review For The CBC Documentary "Bangkok Girl" (2005)
The film "Bangkok Girl", was featured on the CBC Canadian Television program "The Lens" in November of 2005. The film is the story of a Thai prostitute by the name of "Pla". The film is a distorted view of the Thailand sex trade through the eyes of a tourist. The film maker "Jordan Clark" travelled to Thailand with the intention of making a documentary that "puts a human face on the devastating social issue that, sadly, is the fate of too many impoverished girls". That is a quote from the CBC website. While I believe that Jordan is a talented film maker, I have a problem with his distorted portrayal of Thailand, and his misrepresentation of information that he tries to pass off as facts. By his own admission, Jordan knows very little about Thailand, and has spent very little time here. As someone who has lived in Thailand for my entire adult life, I find the film comes across as propaganda, and a very naive interpretation of information. Jordan seems to have tried to focus on the negative impact of the sex trade on Thai women, and that is a story that can be told in the right way, however one should not fabricate the information or twist it in order to sell more copies, or to tell the story they want told.
After watching Jordan's film, I have been inspired to write a series of articles that offer the other side of the story, the story that Jordan did not tell. Some might say it is the real story, or the true story. I will not interview prostitutes that I have never met, and know nothing about, and then tell their story as they offer it, taking everything they say as fact. I will tell the story of women I have known for more than ten years, I will tell the story of facts that I have witnessed. I will not paint the picture the way I want people to view it, Instead I will share my experiences and offer factual information, letting people draw their own conclusions. The story will be titled "Phuket Girl".
THE FILM MAKER - Jordan Clark of High Banks Entertainment LTD., of Victoria B.C., Canada. Jordan may be a talented film maker full of passion and determination, however I will suggest that he is not qualified to fly into town and report on the topic of Thailand's sex trade as if he has some insight. Before one can begin to understand, dare to criticize, or share their opinion on a subject, they should first gain some experience of their own.
When you have spent a few years living in Thailand, when you begin to know the people and understand the language, your opinion will be different. People who have no experience in Thailand have no business trying to educate others about what it is like, regardless of whether the topic is the language, the culture or the sex trade. Jordan is no more qualified to speak about the sex trade in Thailand than he would be to speak of what it feels like to walk on the moon!
THE SOURCE - The main source of information for this film is the interviews with a sex trade worker by the name of "Pla". Now it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that anyone working in the sex trade industry may not give you accurate information when you ask about their life story. Pla's story of her sick mother is a textbook Bangkok bar girl story. There are hundreds of thousands of girls working in bars all across Thailand that will tell the exact same story, and in 99 out of 100 cases it is simply an effective way to extort money from naive foreigners. It could be possible that Jordan happened to come across one of the 1 out of 100 cases where this is based on any truth, but it is highly unlikely.
The tragic story of the death of "Pla" at the end of the film is also very questionable. I am aware that by saying this I may offend a few people and I apologize. The fact is that it would be very naive not to question this. The fact is that it is far too convenient for the film maker that the one girl he chooses to focus so much time interviewing happens to die just one week later, therefore increasing the value of his work significantly. He makes it sound as if he tried to call the girl and spoke to one of her friends (another prostitute), and her friend says that she has died. This is also a very common tactic with Bangkok bar girls. This is normally a textbook case of a high paying former customer returning to town, the girl will drop everything to be with the big spender full time. She may tell her friends to tell people she had to return home to take care of a sick relative, or in some cases she may even have them claim she died. I am sorry if this is offensive, and I apologize to all if it comes to light that in fact this girl truly lost her life so tragically. The fact is that I find it far more likely that she is alive and well and still working in the sex trade.
THE FACTS - Some of the aspects of the film, that I thought were well done were the accounts of the greed and corruption involved with the sex trade. The fact that the police are heavily involved in taking bribes and profiting from the sex trade. One thing that Jordan failed to mention was that many, if not most, of the brothels and bars are actually owned by high ranking police officials. There was an interview with an American expat that was quite insightful, telling the story from an expats point of view. The problem was that the interview was cut out of the film.
In fact all of the expats shown in the film were an example of the absolute worst individuals living in Thailand. A collection of the biggest drunks, perverts and uneducated scum of society that are not accepted in their own culture so they run off to Thailand. These people do exist in Thailand and perhaps in greater numbers than they do in the rest of the world. However there also plenty of educated, well mannered professionals living in Thailand that are nothing like the people shown in Jordan's film.
One of the most common themes of any story involving the sex trade in Thailand, is that the women are forced into prostitution due to a lack of opportunity. Jordan continues to make reference to this in his film as well. The fact is that there is an abundance of jobs available for unskilled labor in Thailand. Many activist groups will discount these jobs as low paying, and not a real alternative. The truth is that millions of Thai people live happily earning a low salary and working as unskilled workers.
There is such a demand for unskilled labor in Thailand that hundreds of thousands of immigrants are smuggled into the country to fill these positions. Most employers would prefer to employ Thai workers, however many Thai people will not work in the area of construction, or other low paying, labor intense jobs. Burmese people consider themselves very lucky to have these jobs, and most Burmese women choose to work as unskilled laborers rather than sex trade workers. Unfortunately not all women may have this choice, most Thai women do!
UPDATE (OCT 18,2010) - After watching the film I immediately suspected that the apparent death of Pla, was nothing more than a typical story told by Thai bar girls when they no longer want to speak with someone. After some investigation, I have seen several stories from people who say they were working in the same bar district where Pla worked. I have seen stories written by friends of Pla and people who know her well. While I have yet to see concrete proof, I feel that there is more information to suggest that Pla is in fact alive and well, than there is to suggest that she is dead! Jordan Clark, CBC television and everyone involved in the making of the film "Bangkok Girl", have a lot of explaining to do!
Here is a statement from one of Pla's friends: "Khun Pla is alive and well, living a very successful married life outside of Thailand, with the ability to come and go as she pleases. The content of Jordan Clark's trash may turn out to be very damaging to her and her loved ones." I will continue to update this page and provide further proof when it becomes available.