An (in)famous Buddhist temple is in crisis as religion meets politics at the heart of Thai society in this revealing documentary.
Dir. Nottapon Boonprakob
2019 | Thailand | Documentary | 84 mins | 1.85:1 | Thai
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for mature themes
Plot: The controversial Thai Buddhist temple ‘Dhammakaya’ is in crisis as its abbot was charged with money-laundering and receiving stolen property.
Awards: Nom. for Mecenat Award – Best Documentary (Busan)
International Sales: Donsaron Kovitvanitcha
Subject Matter: Moderate – Politics, Religion, Society
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Somewhat going off the radar after its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival, Come and See deserves your attention, and particularly so, if your interests lie in where religion and politics intersect.
A religious institution is in crisis in Thailand, one that is close at heart to a predominantly Buddhist society. The (in)famous Buddhist temple in question—the Dhammakaya—has been at the centre of controversy for decades ever since its founding back in 1970.
Move forward nearly half a century later, it remains embroiled with allegations of money laundering, employing questionable methods to solicit donations, and developing a powerful sect of ultra-faithful followers that primarily believes that nirvana can be attained by paying your way up.
Of course, its devotees would argue against such a ‘politically-motivated’ attack, and that they are just like any other Buddhist—kind and compassionate.
“I once bought a Buddha statue at this temple, and it smelled like rotten meat.”
By giving us both sides of the coin, Come and See doesn’t pander to anyone; instead, it revels in showing things as they are, through the viewpoints of current devotees and the temple’s management, as well as ex-devotees who left the sect and authorities hoping to clamp down on what might be a major case of fraud.
The talking heads are diverse and illuminating, but the most fascinating thing about Come and See could be how revealing it is about the country’s sociopolitics—that neither religion nor politics has an upper hand.
The capturing of scenes of thousands of devotees gathering to block the access of the police to the temple who are there to arrest the head abbot Phra Dhammachayo; or scenes of crowds of devotees bursting to enter the temple after it has been locked down by the authorities is what the journalistic form of documentary filmmaking is all about—to reveal when revelation exists in its most natural state.