Across Southeast Asia and East Asia real estate and hospitality ventures, cinema and new media, lifestyle brands, and wellness businesses currently draw on Chinese pasts and the aesthetics of colonial modernity as the privileged aesthetics of the good life. As film directors, hotels, bars, and clubs revive 1930s Shanghai and 1960s Hong Kong modernities—and exploit the materiality of Bangkok’s Chinese neighborhoods—this redeployment of (semi)colonial histories and urban pasts is emerging as the primary signifier of a desirable Asian cosmopolitanism but also as the grounds for political critique. Bangkok as a Chinese city stands at the center of these developments. Both nationally and internationally the city represents a paradigmatic site of fantasy that provides for a particular elasticity of place and time and, by extension, of personhood and belonging. This talk inquires into the ways that contemporary Thai films such as Happy Old Life (2019) and Bad Genius (2017) take part in this conversation.
Arnika Fuhrmann, Professor of Asian Studies and Comparative Literature at Cornell University, is an interdisciplinary scholar of Southeast Asia working at the intersections of the region’s aesthetic, religious, and political modernities. She is the author of Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema (2016) and Teardrops of Time: Buddhist Aesthetics in the Poetry of Angkarn Kallayanapong (2020).