It’s not surprising given the magical scenery and inviting locations, as well as dramatic rock faces, exotic jungles and beaches perfectly positioned to fuel the imaginings, that Thailand is a popular choice for film shoots with heaps of foreign films having been made here.
Coupled with a developed local film industry and low production costs, the kingdom mostly plays itself but has even been used as a stand-in setting for neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, with stars such as Robert De Niro, Ryan Gosling and Robin Williams brought to our screens from the land of smiles.
These are some of the famous films shot in Thailand over the years.
1. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
An American adventure comedy based on the novel by Jules Verne, the story is set in 1872 when an English gentleman Phileas Fogg claims he can circumnavigate the world in just eighty days. He makes a £20,000 wager (millions today) with four skeptical fellow members of his Club, and together with his resourceful valet Passepartout, heads off around the globe. A most charming film, and Director Michael Todd is famously said to have borrowed one of the royal barges off King Bhumibol Adulyadej during production in Bangkok.
Filmed around Bangkok and near Phuket, this classic James Bond film is one of the first mainstream US productions to feature Thailand. The story has James Bond attending a boxing match at Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium in the Pom Prap Sattru Phai district and visiting one of the small islands in the Andaman Bay. Called Scaramanga’s Island in the film, it is now known as James Bond Island and is a popular choice for day trippers from Phuket.
3. The Killing Fields (1984)
A 1984 British war drama about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which is based on the experiences of two journalists: Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg, was shot on locations in Hua Hin and Phuket stood in for Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia. This is a remarkable and deeply moving film, based on a true story of friendship, loyalty, the horrors of war and survival. Thailand was happy to play host to the production in order that the history be told.
4. Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
A movie that will evoke memories in most of us, as will those three words ‘good morning Vietnam’, this is probably the best foreign comedy ever shot in Thailand. The film stars Robin Williams as a rebellious DJ doing a radio show for the servicemen in Vietnam. His love of rock ‘n’ roll and his crazy antics, like dubbing over a Richard Nixon speech with his voice, soon put him on a collision course with the authorities. Thai actress Jintara Sukapat portrays his beautiful love interest. Filmed in Bangkok, which stands in for pre-1975 Saigon this time.
Probably the film to have had the greatest impact in bringing young tourists to Thailand, The Beach has Leonardo DiCaprio’s character start his visit in the backpacker quarter of Khao San Road in Bangkok and end up on Koh Phi Phi, just as thousands of other travellers to Thailand do every year. Of course, since it’s a movie, things get a little more complicated. The beach featured in the movie is just as beautiful as it is on screen, and today is one of the most popular places to visit in the country. Interestingly, at the time of it’s release environmentalists protested the film because the production crew had altered the beach of Ko Phi Phi Leh and in 2006 a court ruling held that indeed 20th Century Fox was among the parties responsible for damages.
6. The Impossible (2012)
A difficult film to watch as it brings to life the true story of a tourist family caught up in the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that so badly affected Thailand. Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons begin their vacation, but the day after Christmas their idyllic holiday turns into an incomprehensible nightmare when a deep roar rises from the depths of the sea, followed by a wall of black water that destroys everything in its path. Though Maria and her family face their darkest hour, unexpected displays of kindness and courage appease their terror, reminding of the true resilience and unwavering warmth of the Thai people.
Other films that have come off of Thailand’s production sites include The Deer Hunter, Bangkok Dangerous, Only God Forgives, Lost in Thailand, The Hangover 2, The Railway Man, Alexander, Tomorrow Never Dies and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, as well as many more.
Next time you’re watching a Thai hosted movie, look beyond the story line to the setting and know that in addition to providing work for Thai film crews and extras, including the Royal Thai Army, films that use Thailand as a location (mostly) help Thailand promote itself as a world class tourist destination.