Bangkok Girl is a 42 minute film documenting the life of Pla, a Thailand bar girl.
Made less on a shoestring budget than a duct tape and old gum budget, Bangkok Girl was made by Canadian filmmaker Jordan Clark, who had visited Thailand as a tourist and went back years later in order to learn more about the country’s nefariously wanton sex trade.
Before I’m accused of prudery, let’s clear something up:
I’m in favor of prostitution. It’s the oldest profession, and its complex role in society is often misunderstood by outsiders. While the majority of tricks are just straight sex, it’s not unheard of for people who are just unable to maintain relationships with others to utilize the services of sex workers. People who are shy or have emotional problems, widows and widowers, people who want a brief physical connection. I’ve read accounts of prostitutes who say that on some occasions, men just want to sleep next to them, want to have someone to wake up next to. That’s not the norm, but you see that it isn’t always a black and white issue.
The problem with prostitution though is that because it is illegal, it is co-opted by criminal elements and the sex workers are horribly exploited. They have no say over their own lives, they are manipulated and controlled by their pimps, subjected to physical and mental abuse, exposed to unsafe, diseased conditions, and often killed when they try to escape.
Thailand is considered the Red Light district of earth. There are an estimated 800,000 girls and women working the sex trade–and that’s not counting the ladyboys or male prostitutes. Men can legally pay for a sex act, but women can’t charge for a sex act, a situation that is widely exploited by the police and pimps as they charge women operating costs.You see how this situation can cause problems–women with no education or career prospects working in an economically depressed country with a highly-corrupted civil infrastructure .
Yeah, it gets depressing.
Another interesting point was the industry of marrying falang (Western Foreigner) tourists. European tourists are aggressively pursued as possible johns, and also as possible meal tickets. At first I found it a loathsome institution, but came to understand that these women’s education ended at age 12 ( I think that’s when public school ends?) and they had no prospects at finding jobs other than bar girls, escorts or prostitutes. Their job is finding a man who will support them.
I also came to reconsider the whole ‘creepy guy with a Thai mail-order wife’ thing, because as Pla’s plight unfolded I wanted to save her. I wanted to find some organization that helps Thai women get educations for jobs, or some kind of exchange program so they can get jobs in the US. I wanted to send her money so she could escape. I realized ‘shit, if I’m feeling this way watching a movie abotu it, imagine how someone who goes over there must feel after they’ve hung out with these girls for a week or so.’
Is it beyond the realm of possibility that some sex tourists head over there for a little fun, and find themselves making a real connection–or at least thinking they are, the way some men fixate on a stripper? Especially since the Thai girl’s expectations for true love are ‘don’t beat me, and please take care of me financially.’ I found myself rethinking the grossness of some socially awkward guy bringing home a Thai bride–who can blame or judge anyone for wanting to protect, to save, to rescue, to play Prince Charming to these women, even the relationship dynamic is severely lopsided?
I’m going to tell you now that Bangkok Girl does not end well for Pla.
As a writer, I like to see a lot of the world. I can’t travel there, but I can learn from the observations of others–sometimes seeing something like Bangkok Girl, which both breaks the heart and turns the stomach, is necessary for helping to shift out of one’s comfort zone, but most of all, to remind us that our lives are pretty cushy by comparison.
I’d say if you’re going to see this one, have a small pile of something uplifting to watch afterwards. Like two or three Pixar movies, or some Wallace and Gromit.
Bangkok Girl is available on Instant Watch.