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Faiths and Films: Countering the Crisis of Thai Buddhism from Below

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This article addresses multiple issues of how the ongoing debates of 'Thai Buddhism in crisis' (wikrit phutthasatsana) are perceived and discussed in popular films. Purposefully selecting three film stories, namely, Fun, Bar, Karaoke (1997), Mekhong Full Moon Party (2002), and Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003), as case studies, the author argues that the contemporary state of Thai Buddhism is narrated and interpreted in remarkably different tones. There is virtually no moral crisis concerning Thai Buddhism reflected in the films, but a firm faith in Buddhist teachings and principles is presented, with some critical concerns of its religious agencies and performances in Thailand's post-1997 economic crisis context. In the turbulent decade of the 1990s and the new millennium, the Thai people have strongly expressed a desire for religious sanctuary. Faith in Buddhism is still strong and powerful, but its form and content are always plural and multi-dimensional. Everyday life religion, not the official or canonical Buddhism, has continuously posted itself as a prominent frame of reference for ordinary people to re-assess and re-define the problems of modernity in the midst of emerging threats of global capitalist challenges.


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