Manta Ray - Near a coastal village of Thailand, by the sea where thousands of Rohingya refugees have drowned, a local fisherman finds an injured man lying unconscious in the forest. He rescues the stranger, who does not speak a word, offers him his friendship and names him Thongchai. But when the fisherman suddenly disappears at sea, Thongchai slowly begins to take over his friend's life - his house, his job and his ex-wife...
Moei River. A small body of water marking a frontier between Thailand and Myanmar. I arrived at this place in 2009, alone and excited, looking across to the Myanmar side. There was no immigration checkpoint, no patrol soldier, no barbed wires. Just a waist-deep creek separating me from crossing over. I looked ahead to the other side. A small boy emerged through a bush. He got in the water and began to swim towards my direction, my country. On my side of the shore, a couple of feet away, two other boys were joking around. They yelled out to the foreign boy to swim over and join them. I watched, as the three boys swam and played together in the Moei.
That same year, boats carrying Rohingya refugees were pushed away from the Thai shore by the authorities. Five wooden boats capsized. Three hundred Rohingyas disappeared into the ocean. I wished their fate were similar to that of ‘Thongchai’, the first character in my screenplay. He was wounded and washed over to the Thai shore, but alive.
In 2015, on a hill in Padang Besar, a southern Thai border town 300 metres away from Malaysia’s Perlis Tunnel, a mass gravesite of Rohingyas were discovered. The cause of those deaths remains a mystery. As corpses cannot talk, things were slowly forgotten. At a pivotal scene in my film, multiple voices were heard in the forest. They are the voices of sorrow and tears. I recorded those voices from Rohingya refugees in Thailand. Their voices will not disappeared and forgotten. They will continue to exist, in my film.
At the moment in the film when the ‘blond-haired fisherman’ character returns and sees how Thongchai, a man he once rescued, has taken over his own house and his former lover, a violence is suddenly brewing. Over these years, I keep hearing stories about refugees fleeing terrors and sneaking into my country. Many people here see them as unwelcome elements that will pose danger. I found myself confronting with extremist nationalism and discrimination from several friends whom I grew up with since childhood. People who built up resentment and selfishness, who were taught to believe in the idea of a segregated nation that they have to protect at all cost.
I close my eyes and imagine a dark and isolated forest, completely quiet save for the sounds of birds and insects, under the moonlight shining through tree leaves. I look around intently at my forest. Suddenly, a deranged man creates bright neon lights all over the forest. Ugly foreign lights in green, yellow, blue and red. The deranged man proclaims that all the piece of lands where his neon lights touch belong to ‘ours’. He puts his arm on my shoulder. I opened my eyes again. The Moei was right in front of me. The sun was setting. Two young boys said goodbye to their foreign friend. The child walked through the water, heading back where he came from. I looked at that foreign child slowly disappearing from my sight. The sun was now gone as well. I felt the ugly neon lights slowly beginning to emerge from the land where I stood. The lights were shining over to the middle of the Moei river in front of me.