Red Aninsri

So we kick off Encounters’ Queer Joy series with Red Aninsri, a spy film about a trans woman sent to seduce a gay student activist, set in Thailand. The film deliberately plays with anachronisms to highlight the impact of the past on the reality of today.

The short film starts by saying it is inspired by Thai cinema of the past. So rather than widescreen, it is shot in a square, rounded frame, similar to early films. The dialogue is dubbed, so there is an obvious artifice with how the film is being constructed. The film’s subtitle “Tiptoeing on the Still Trembling Berlin Wall” tells us about the era it is trying to evoke. There are shots of a round radio speaker with voiceover, a classic trope from spy thrillers back in the day, like Mission Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Smoking while conversing directly with camera, sneaking down darkened, slick city side streets, push-ins on briefcases of ominous significance, all of it orientates you in the films of the Cold War era.

Yet the film itself is set in today’s world, with the spy trying to clone the student’s mobile phone to track their contacts with other state targets. The film explicitly draws comparisons from the way Thailand treats activism today with the Cold War paranoia of the past. The ‘Boss’, whose disembodied voice gives the spy her instructions through the radio, talks of outside agents seeking to agitate and recruit students to become enemies of the state. All the while though, it belies its motivations by trying to suppress criticism that could jeopardise investment from a wealthier neighbouring country, obliquely referring to China.

Aninsri, or Eagle, is the code name for Ang, a trans woman who describes herself as a whore and spy. In exchange for a restaurant, a foot on the capitalist ladder, she agrees to go undercover as a cis gay man to seduce Jit, an idealistic student activist. Despite the state seeing Ang’s queerness as an interchangeable tool they can use in their service, and as a highly sexualised commodity, their relationship is naively sweet. Jit just wants to hold hands, talk passionately about politics and history, and cuddle in bed. Ang is disarmed by his sincerity and is caught on the dilemma of what to do, as their feelings for each other deepen.

In an act of real intimacy, while lying together, Ang drops her dubbed voice. The coquettish and ultra-feminine, high-pitched voice is replaced by Ang’s real voice. She describes it as flawed but authentic. Jit also drops his dubbed voice, and he sounds so young.

Really interestingly constructed tale, about the struggle for real connection and the authentic self in the face of state oppression and societal control.