A Minute With: Vichit-Vadakan on her Thai prostitution docudrama

Tue Nov 26, 2013 7:09pm EST
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has racked up more clichés about prostitution than most countries. But in her film "Karaoke Girl", director Visra Vichit-Vadakan goes beyond the typically one-dimensional depictions of the women and lets the social message speak for itself.

Born in the United States and raised in Thailand, she uses a part-reality, part-fiction style with a story based on the life of Sa Sittijun, who moved to Bangkok at age 15 and ended up working as a singer and an escort in a karaoke bar.

"Karaoke Girl", Vichit-Vadakan's first feature film, won the Emerging International Filmmaker award at Britain's Open City Docs Fest in June, garnering praise for how its dream sequences and dramatized scenes are woven seamlessly with interviews with Sa and her family.

The film has also won plaudits for its fresh, insightful look at Thailand's reputation as a playground of the flesh and the lives of women from the country's impoverished northeast who sell their bodies in the big city.

Estimates vary wildly as government data is outdated and many prostitutes go unrecorded. But there is no doubt that Thailand remains a source, transit point and destination for tens of thousands of trafficked women, men and children who end up in the sex industry. Unlike Sa, many feel unable to leave.

Vichit-Vadakan spoke to Reuters about why she was drawn to Sa's story and what it means to be an Asian filmmaker.

Q: As someone who grew up in Bangkok you were aware of the city's red light districts. What stuck with you after filming?

A: I had a very general awareness of the night bar scene growing up but it was merely surface impressions of the women that I would see walking around and stories from my male friends who had participated in the sex industry. Sa invited me into her world and now we are like sisters. So, rather than having a new impression of women in the sex industry, I have a friend who has gone through the process of deciding to go into sex work and is now moving out of it to start a new life.   Continued...

Writer and director Visra Vichit-Vadakan poses for a photograph at her home in San Francisco, California October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith