It nearly derailed Banglamung’s epic yesterday and is basically all that people with an interest in Thailand want to talk about. SideshowBob thinks it’s crap. Others claim it’s staged, I personally think it’s pretty precise, but, no matter how you see it, Big Trouble in Thailand is definitely sparking a lot of discussion and debate.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, Big Trouble is the latest production from British producer/director Gavin Hill (APTV, Al Jezzera & various U.S. television outlets) and comedian Rory Bremner’s Vera Productions for Bravo Channel and filmed with the cooperation of the Thailand Tourist Police. The first episode aired Monday, with seven more weekly episodes to come.
The program tracks the travails of British tourists in both Phuket, Samui and Pattaya, with holidaymakers getting in trouble mostly with drink and drugs, but of course some sex, guns and rock-and-roll thrown in. Episode 1 spotlighted a skint young woman at a Koh Phangan Full Moon Party, who got caught with her boyfriend’s ganja and gets locked up; some British Royal Marines who ignore good advice and rent a jet ski in Phuket only to get ripped off, and (closer to home) the squad of Pattaya foreign police tourist assistants led by Pattaya One News boss and anchor Howard Miller.
Even before the show aired, it incited polarized debate from people claiming it will do everything from ruining British tourism to Thailand to those who think it’s an valuable, sobering lesson to young, thrill-seeking holidaymakers. Being that it had the blessing of the cops, you figure it’s not going to be too damaging to Thailand. I think England’s The Guardian probably has it closest to right, advising people not to take it too seriously:
Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand is about silly Brits who get into trouble in paradise, and end up in prison or paying enormous sums of money to stay out of prison. And all because they smoked a spliff or crashed a jet ski, or didn’t crash a jetski but the jetski man said they crashed a jet ski and now he’s got his heavies in. Awful for the people involved, obviously. But quite entertaining for us – so much more so than those Wish You Were Here-style travel shows. Who cares about people having a nice time?
Others rightly point out the people being highlighted largely have only themselves to blame. Take Mike at Asia Travel Guide Blog, for example:
We often hear of reports how the police are corrupt in Thailand, but in most cases the foreigners involved in the incidents were drunk and out of control and pretty much all of their own doing. The warnings for drug use in Thailand are pretty clear.
On one level it does seem somewhat sensationalized which is to be expected of anything you watch on television but on another level this stuff does happen. The jetski rental guys are crooks. Dumb ass tourists take drugs in Thailand despite the ample warnings everywhere. Idiot drunks get themselves in trouble and get the crap kicked out of them by locals. So on that level, all of this stuff happens. The big question is whether it happens as frequently as portrayed in the program.
Or this from Brit freelance tabloid journalist Andrew Drummond.
What is amazing is that nobody ever gets it. The same mistakes happen year in year out. Why do people bother going to ‘Full Moon Parties’ on Koh Phangan? I gave up 18 years ago! Here in this series we see how rapes, muggings, druggings and of course arrests occur, every time, not forgetting the drownings and occasional murder. And if you get thrown out of a brothel for being drunk, why report it to police? It’s amazing how drink begets moral outrage.
That’s certainly not to say the show isn’t sensationalistic and – even though the title is â€’trouble” in Thailand – a bit too negative. Even Drummond, a longtime pal of director Hill, admits his mate pulls a few punches and massages some into over-the-top performances.
There are Pattaya bar girls chasing, now well-outnumbered foreigners down the street shouting ‘You. You. Give me money;’ then the drunken Australian being thrown very roughly out of a brothel. â€’They stomped my head in,” he wails then lunges at Howard. Then Howard is seen politely asking his father on the boy’s phone to come and collect him, all the while being called a ‘dickhead’ by the son. Gormless foreigners being led by their penises into oblivion.
There are of course lots and lots of drunks actually, and the British seem to score high here, later happily signing their film release forms, I guess as if signing for a medal. There is also titillation as skimpily dressed go-go girls frolic around poles in Pattaya bars. Well that is how it is, so don’t whinge about it to me.
This is not a film series about fancy spas and lush jungle resorts and so called Hi-So launch parties with twee people. One can get that sort of fur coat-and-no knickers production on ‘Destination zzzz Thailand zzzzzz’. But this is still the real stuff that even high rolling tourists must find difficult to avoid.
ssB will chime in early that he thinks it’s fake, but the Pattaya coverage, although hammed up a bit for the camera, seems pretty true-to-life from my years of strolling Walking Street. Miller and I actually chatted by phone just last week and although he takes endless heaps of shit from people who don’t know him and would never do one, let alone both, jobs he does, I think he puts the interests of tourists first. Sure, he even admits Episode 1 is largely about him, but only because he’s been involved with the project for two years.
â€’it’s not really an expose of the Tourist Police; more a look at the way foreigners controversially assist them around Thailand,” Miller wrote Aug. 25 on the Pattaya Secrets message board. â€’It is a fast-paced show which will actually promote the sex industry here in Thailand, but will also show some of the consequences of it. It is not done in a seedy way (no hidden cameras in bars and girls with their tits out). It is done in a “funky” way aimed at the audience of Bravo who are predominately men aged between 18 and 35.
I think most people will like it. Some are concerned it is another nail in the coffin for Pattaya. I think many will be surprised how the program pans out over the weeks it is on.
One surprising thing that has already come out of it is the reaction law enforcement in Phuket has taken. A big chunk of the show is devoted to â€’J.J.” a farnag-looking Thai Mafioso who rips off one British Marine for 35,000 for some small, older damage to a jet ski. The program insinuates J.J. is just one of many thieves scamming tourists on jet skies and, based on what I know of Pattaya, the program would be right. I’ve been told by some very senior guys around town never to rent a jet ski at random; only through a personal friend. Otherwise, you’re ripe for rip-off.
Today Phuket authorities arrested J.J., better known as 28-year-old Winai Naiman. Using only the documentary as evidence police have locked him up without bail for scamming and threatening at gunpoint the young marines.
I’m thinking J.J. now rues the day he signed that release form and played up his gangster side. There are allegations he was paid to set up the scene, but Hill calls those claims â€’hardly credible.”
â€’We had to cut a lot of the footage. I am satisfied that what was presented was the absolutely correct portrayal of the situation,” he told Drummond. I have not taken any side.”
Meanwhile, Phuket’s Governor, Wichai Praisa-nob, has been urged by the Deputy Prime Minister and senior diplomats from Australia and Britain to crack down on the scams.
The governor, who went to the police station in Patong before attending a summit on the jet-ski issue, rejected an appeal from Mr Naiman’s family for bail. He said that although the weapon involved was a BB gun, intimidation of the kind shown on television was unacceptable.
”Jet-skis are allowed to operate as a sport in Patong, not as a business,” he said. ”Unless this kind of activity stops, we will ban them all.”
Drummond says his buddy Hill plans to expose more jet ski scams on Koh Samui in future episodes and that the director is a little surprised at the reaction to just the first show.
This was not designed to be an investigative programme. We just filmed what was going on in front of us.” He said however the next programme in the series probably reflected more on bad British behavior than that of Thais.
â€’I am a little surprised at the big reaction now. This seems to have been going on for a long time.”
Pattaya’s Miller also said J.J.’s arrest proves the show’s â€’value,” and too dismissed claims scenes were faked.
â€’Some people are suggesting certain cases were staged and scripted and pre-planned. Bottom line is they weren’t,” he wrote today on Pattaya Secrets. â€’It is all real stuff and as they say ‘reality hurts,’ which I think is why some are trying to question the ‘reality’ part of the show as they don’t want people to see this side of Thailand.”
If you’re into downloading torrents, you can grab the full first episode here.