Since the post-WW2 era, and even more so from the Vietnam War years onwards, Thailand has come to develop a distinctive (and often somewhat negative) set of associations within global popular culture—most recently, coming to serve as almost a shorthand for notions of sex tourism and the Southeast Asian drug trade. While such representations may say something about Thailand in and of itself, the position of this study is that they say far more about Thailand’s status in the world and its geopolitical relations, and, at least implicitly, about the countries from which the representations originated.
The question that this research seeks to address is just how it is that these and other associations have developed so strongly for Thailand in particular—and, more specifically, in what ways certain images of and ideas about Thailand (and Thai people) have arisen through the cinema, which has been a key vector for promulgating conceptualizations about the nation. Thus, this research aims to trace out the historical and geographical development of a global imaginary, a distinctive image of Thailand which has varied over time and across national film industries, but which has also coalesced in certain notable ways. The main focus will be on the fiction feature film, with comparative examples drawn from across both the West and Asia.