Primitive is a multi-platform project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Commissioned by Haus der Kunst, Munich with FACT Liverpool, and Animate Projects. Produced by Illuminations Films, London with Kick the Machine, Bangkok.

Primitive was shot in the border town, Nabua, where the Mekong River divides Thailand and Laos, an area with a long history of racial migration and slaughter. It was also a 'red zone' where the Mao-influenced Communist party moved into the mountain range and the Thai government targeted local communities as communist sympathisers. Nabua has an ancient legend about a widow ghost who would abduct any man who enters her empire.

The Primitive project re-imagines Nabua, the ‘widow town’, as a town of men, freed from the widow ghost’s empire, and features the male descendants of the farmer communists - teenagers that will lead a journey, fabricate memories, and build a dreamscape in the jungle.


Weerasethakul on the Primitive project

'Nabua is a sleepy village within the province of Nakhon Panom in the northeast of Thailand. This small village was one of the places the Thai army occupied from the 60s to the early 80s to curb the communist insurgents. The soldiers erected a base to administer the villagers' daily activities. The locals were psychologically and physically abused on the grounds of withholding information. Women were raped. Some were murdered in their homes.

Consequently, the villagers, mostly farmers, fled into the jungle. Most of them didn't understand the word Communism though they were accused of being communists. In the morning of August 7, 1965, Nabua earned its reputation nationwide when the first gun battle between the farmer communists and the totalitarian government broke out in the rice field. As a result, Nabua was heavily occupied and controlled by the military. The torture intensified. Fear proliferated. More people escaped into the jungle. The night sky was illuminated with military flares. The village was left with mostly women and children.

Ironically, Nabua is situated in Renu Nakhon district, where there is an ancient legend about a widow ghost who abducts any man who enters her empire. She takes them to join her other husbands in an invisible land. Thus in the legend, Renu Nakhon is devoid of men. The district's nickname is 'widow town'.

The story of Nabua undeniably has echoes of the current political turmoil in Thailand. Institutions involved in those events of the past, along with new ones, are the key players in the ongoing chaos. Just as in the past, they manipulate the public psyche instilling it with faith and fear.

The Primitive project is about re-imagining this little terrain of Thailand called Nabua , a place where memories and ideologies are extinct. Primitive will feature the teenage male descendants of the farmer communists. Nabua will be the town of men, freed from the widow ghost's empire. These teens will fabricate memories and build a dreamscape in the field and in the jungle.

Primitive is about reincarnation and transformation. It's a reincarnation of presence (and absence). It's also a reincarnation of cinema as a means of transportation as it was in the time of Melies: the 'motion picture' carries us from our own world. Primitive is a meditation on those voyages in fabulous vehicles that bring about the transformation of people and of light.'

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, September 2008


Haus der Kunst


FACT: Foundation for Art and Creative Technology


Illuminations Films