ContemporarySE AsiaThailand

Thailand’s Transgender Superhero. Interview with the creators of SUAY

Below you’ll find our interview with Marcelo and Baipai, who created SUAY: a tv series about Thailand’s first Transgender superhero.  The show aims to help Thailand’s Transgender and LGBTQ population critique and dispel stereotypes.

We work with Marcelo in Bangkok to provide behind the scenes experiences in the world of Thai film and tv. For any interested travelers, feel free to reach out to Asia Art Tours to learn more.

1st Question for MARCELO and Baipai:   Can you tell me a bit about yourselves? What is your background in television and how did you become involved in this project? What attracted both of you to this project? 

M: I have made a lot of short films in the past, and I shot my first feature film -Dark Bridge- here in Bangkok. I was preparing last year a new movie with a very original subject and a very original hero when HOOQ TV made a call for new and fresh projects. So I adapted the movie project for a TV series and I submitted it without any expectations. Honestly I though “this project is too crazy to be produced”. I was shocked when two months later I got an email from HOOQ telling me that they love it and it was selected for production. It was selected among 500 projects submitted worldwide. Suay is very different from all I made before. It’s a crime-dark comedy intended to be a kind of comic for adults.

B: My background is as model after participating in some beauty contests. I have no previous experience acting in cinema or TV, and I needed to work very hard with an acting coach for many months to be in the role in the way Marcelo expected. Im very happy to participate in this series and I hope to be making it for many years!

2nd Question for MARCELO and SUAY: You mentioned this story and the casting being controversial, can you talk about that? What makes this controversial? And why were you both willing to deal with the controversy to try and make the show happen? 

M: Well, basically the subject makes it controversial. The hero is a ladyboy detective and this and the story treatment is what makes it controversial. If we talk about 21st century heroes, we need to look around and see what is happening.

Times are changing. We are assisting to a revolution of many layers. As the woman is having a complete new role in the society – the woman is no longer a passive being, her place in society has another dimension. Women have an active role with an increasing power of decision and transformation- at the same time we also are witnessing a kind of explosion of genders. The society is becoming more complex with many people trying to find the right place being themselves. I find it amazing. Something very important that every person -as a matter of justice- should support.

So I was thinking if I have to create a hero on 21st century, it shouldn’t be like the Marvel creatures. I find the ladyboy a suggestive character, the one who contains both genders in the same body. A body that contains two personalities, two faces, two histories.

Actually, you can find a similar figure in many Mannerist paintings, the great revolutionary artistic movement after the Renaissance. Bronzino, Giulio Romano… Many painters brought up the subject of the man-woman as a way to break with the fake binary clarity of the previous “classic” times.

It can also be seen as a kind of biblical challenge. Man and woman in the same body again. A challenge to God, maybe…

As I said, I wanted to create a hero that is sometimes Humphrey Bogart, sometimes Lauren Bacall. And it has also this ‘folded personality’. But unlike Bruce Wayne-for instance- that can transform in Batman in the same day and come back to be Bruce later again, we have a hero with one personality now –Lola, a beautiful woman- and other personality a few years ago –Apichatpong, a violent male private detective. So we introduce the timeline in the narrative as a very important element.

At any rate, both personalities are inside Lola. And we play with this.

B: I love the character – actually is quite close to my ‘real me’- and I feel happy and proud to ‘make it real’.

3rd Question for MARCELO and SUAY:  In the States there are more and more opportunities for transexual actors. What opportunities exist in Thailand? How can we create more opportunities for transsexual actors? 

M: A good question. Here are for the moment almost no opportunities, but we are witnessing some slow changes. For one side, you can find ladyboys everywhere working and totally integrated, but it’s not easy to find the same in the show business. I believe it will change with some time.

B: Yes, I believe its important to start showing in the screen what is happening in the reality.

4th Question for MARCELO and SUAY:  What influences can someone watching the show see? Are you paying homage to any past directors from Thailand or otherwise? For Suay who are her role models and who has influenced her acting? 

M: I wanted from the very beginning to make a comic for adults. Since I was a kid I was addicted to comics. Even now, I enjoy a lot watching comic-like movies. Movies like Pulp Fiction, Sin City, Natural Born Killers… I like this cartoonish atmosphere. It’s totally different from Marvel or other ‘modern’ heroes movies, where they are doing the opposite way: coming from the comic they end in an action movie. I feel they lose something on the way. At the same time I wanted to show everything in a campy atmosphere. Non-realistic, bizarre, grotesque. Something in the style of this classic cult TV show, Batman 1960’s. I know it’s quite far from what the people is watching right now, but I hope many people will feel ‘hooked’ by the style. Also as an arc of transformation, not only the characters will become more bizarre but also the atmosphere and the story. We didn’t wanted to show all from the first episode, I believe it would be too much… This is the advantage to work in a TV series over a movie. You can develop everything with the episodic time: characters, stories, atmosphere. I could say SUAY is the first TV series with a Ladyboy detective in a ‘neo-camp’ style. Unrealistic and bizarre, a comic for adults.

B: I have to say I had a great time shooting my scenes, especially the so-funny fight scenes. It was great.

5th Question for MARCELO and SUAY. Lastly, for those coming to Thailand as tourists, or just people from other country’s who want to know more about Thailand, what can they learn from watching the show (or what do you want them to discover by watching the show?) 

M: Overall, the first thing to find is Thailand is a great country, open enough to allow to have a kathoey detective patrolling the streets and no one seems to be shocked about it.

First time I came to Bangkok, 10 years ago, I get shocked by many things. But one of the most important was when I went one day to Siam Paragon -a luxury shopping mall- and in one of the sections I found many katoei wearing the Paragon uniform selling and advising the customers about make-up and beauty products in a very professional way. I said to myself “what an interesting country, everyone may become whatever they want and they have their place… what a difference with another countries where the people who feel different suffer persecutions, jail or are even killed…”

Yes, still there is a long way until we can find a real equal, respectful and fair treat for everybody. This is a goal we need to achieve step by step, day by day. I don’t belong to the LGBT community but I believe an equal and fair society needs the effort, understanding and support of all of us. And to produce a TV show with a LGBT character as main character it can be seen as a big step forward. Not making fun of the character, not showing the character as in a circus. Just as a normal character, with similar desires and problems as any of us. Just like one of us.

What we show of Thailand it’s not exactly a realistic description but a fictional creation where -like in the comics- reality is somehow exaggerated. So actually what we make is a tour around Bangkok night scene but fictionalized and re-created. But still you can find a lot of details and elements from the reality.

B: They can learn also that Kathoei are people like any other, with the same problems and similar ways to resolve them. And they can learn also that we can fight! [Laughs]

Author Matt Dagher-margosian

More posts by Matt Dagher-margosian