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Movie lovers flocked to cinemas across Thailand Sunday, as the country’s military rulers gave away thousands of tickets to screenings of a patriotic film about a historic Thai king who liberated the country from invaders.
The exercise was the latest stage in the ruling junta’s “happiness campaign,” designed to boost support for its rule and ease the acrimony between the country’s rival political camps. Previous efforts have included free haircuts, concert tickets, a parade of pretty young women in military wear and an order for all World Cup games to be broadcast on free-to-air channels.
Following months of protests and political paralysis in Bangkok, the Thai military overthrew the democratically elected government in a coup on May 22. The “happiness campaign” has worked to offset negative impressions surrounding the military’s harsh crackdown on anti-coup protests in the Thai capital. Hundreds have been detained, and a curfew was in place across much of the nightlife-loving country until last Friday.
An estimated 160 cinemas throughout the country offered free tickets to an 11 a.m. screening of The Legend of King Naresuan Part V. The film follows King Naresuan the Great, ruler of Siam, as the Kingdom of Thailand was formerly known, from 1590 until 1605. The movie celebrates his successful effort to unify the country and end its subordination to neighboring Burma. It concludes with a CGI-heavy battle featuring the king leading his troops from the back of an elephant against the Burmese military commander Phra Maha Upparacha.
Earlier films in the King Naresaun franchise were among the top-grossing titles in Thai movie history at the time of their releases, but the recent sequels have had a diminished impact at the box office. They are directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol, a distant member of Thailand’s royal family. The film premiered in Thailand on May 29, one week after the coup.
The free screenings on Sunday attracted more people than the cinemas could accommodate, and many theaters offered discounted tickets to later showings — some under instruction from the army — to appease the disappointed masses who showed up too late to get in for free.
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