Illustration by Tanatchai Mukem.
Teen motorcycle racers are a controversial topic in Thailand, but the dek waen subculture is distinctly Thai. And it’s exactly the type of subject that appeals to filmmaker Pisinee Khaosamai. So when rapper Youngohm approached her to make a video for “THATTHONG SOUND” with total creative freedom, she jumped at the chance. The track’s 3Cha beat, phin solo, and references to the local high school he attended provided the perfect chance to make a video revolving around some very local Thai culture.
Khaosamai—who still goes by her MSN handle feifei1234555—instantly thought to highlight dek waen culture. The video is loaded with bike shots, races, tricks, and close-up shots of custom paint jobs. “All the styling is based on dek waen too, but we wanted to take it to the next level.” There’s a street food trike doing donuts, which features a sign painted in a trucker-style font that says “Roti Feifei” in Thai. The scene is based on Facebook videos of Thai-Indian vendors drifting in Phuket. There’s also a shot of a white dude at an ATM with two Thai girls on either side of him, which is also based on a meme called “Pattaya girl ATM.” The video features Muay Thai fighters, fish pedicures, and even a cheerleading montage.
“The song has all these Thai elements, so that’s part of why I added all these very extra Thai shots. But I just love all this stuff anyway,” Khaosamai explains. “It’s like all the things I was focusing on during university.” Her goal as a filmmaker has always been to zero in on the strongly held beliefs in Thailand that are not necessarily positive, but for better or worse, speak to the Thai identity. She mentions an early film of hers dealing with the lotto and how people pray to different prophets and ghosts for their numbers.
Rap can be viewed through this lens as well. “People think rap is bad, just like lottery,” says Khaosamai. “But they’re part of our life.” She highlighted the risks and opportunities of the Thai rap game in her mini-documentary, GVNG, which features Milli, FIIXED, 1Mill, and more. A lot of the kids interviewed talk about failing school and looking to rap as an alternative or dropping out to chase fame and fortune. One of them refers to himself as a villain while another says he takes the criticism of his nihilistic lyrics to heart. But a main theme that emerges is one of family found through the scene.
The film, which was shot during COVID, captures a point in time when everyone wanted everybody to win together. “It was really a community,” Khaosamai says. But things have fractured a lot since then. “People grew apart. COVID caused so many problems. People couldn’t make money, there were health and psychological effects. It’s actually hard to watch now. Now it’s all about industry, not about community and helping each other. Everyone wants to be the one who goes international. Everything’s about business now.” She hopes to make a follow-up documentary to bring the story full cycle.
Khaosamai has made a career out of shooting rap videos (she’s got 65 videos under her belt, most of which are rap videos) but only started listening a few years ago. After studying film at university, she got a job with Rap Is Now, which sparked her interest. “I loved the hustle behind it,” she smiles. Her videos are increasingly saturated with bright colors. “Color just makes everything fun. I mean, look at my clothes. I’ve always loved color.” (She takes credit for being the one who convinced Ben Bizzy to dye his hair for the first time.) In general, she feels like each video she’s made has brought her closer and closer to the aesthetic that identifies her, with “THATTHONG SOUND” being the closest yet. “I’ve changed and will continue to grow with every video. All those changes will affect what comes next. The videos grow with me.”