In 2006, a Thai-produced animated movie called Kan Kluay was released. It was a heart-warming story, set during the Ayutthaya period, about an elephant that, after trials and tribulations in life, became King Naresuan’s war elephant. The king rode Kan Kluay as he battled the invading forces of the Burmese, culminating in the yutthahathee, the elephant duel between King Naresuan and Crown Prince Mingyi Swa which secured Ayutthaya’s autonomy for the next two centuries.
Kan Kluay was highly popular, and to many it is a story that promotes several positive values: bravery, perseverance, and a sense of national duty. It could also be viewed as just some harmless fun for children. What’s better than a tale of the adventures of a little blue elephant who eventually plays a critical role in preserving the independence of Siam?
Or, at least, that was what I thought of Kan Kluay when I first watched it as a child. Thinking back about it recently, I remembered how Mingyi Swa’s elephant had been portrayed in the movie: giant, almost mammoth-like, with glowing red eyes and a darkly menacing look. All the portrayals of the Burmese generals and armies screamed out “villainous.” The war between the Ayutthaya and Toungoo kingdoms was shown as a fight between good and evil itself.
Of course, that is how most children’s movies have to be written to captivate the audience (and also helps make it easy for them to pick the right side.) To explain that all kingdoms in Southeast Asia — well, anywhere — engaged in expansionist policies of their own would overly complicate a story made for pre-teens. But it also points to a deeper issue: the narrow construction of nationalism that the Thai authorities attempt to inoculate.
Click here to read the full piece at Thai Enquirer.