May 17, 2008

Thai movie title puns

[Note: I've continued to experiment with pop-up romanization for readers who don't read Thai. However, I've tweaked the system, opting to go for AUA romanization instead of the homebrewed modification of AUA that I had been using. Again, if this isn't your cup of tea, feel free to copy-and-paste the Thai into or, which allow users to select the romanization scheme of their preference.]

Thais love wordplay. From คำผวน (Thai spoonerisms) to อะไรเอ่ย jokes (of the "what's black and white and re(a)d all over" variety), wordplay abounds in Thai. And of all the forms of verbal trickery in Thai, the pun is as alive and well as any other.

Of course, I'm certain much punning whizzes over my head without my realizing it, but I catch enough to know it's common. One place I've been noticing puns lately is in movie titles.

Take the recent four-segment horror film, สี่แพร่ง (literally, "four paths", i.e. a four-way crossroads). Its English title is 4bia, a pun on the word "phobia". This is a pretty lame pun in English, but it works better in Thai. That's because the way Thais are taught English, the word "four" is written โฟร์, and pronounced just like the first syllable of "phobia". The word for phobia in Thai is, well, phobia, and "four" is such basic English that every Thai knows it. So it still counts as a pun by Thais for Thais. And it's a better pun in Thai than in English, at any rate.

Another title that I noticed: The Last Moment, the new film by Yuthlert Sippapak (ยุทธเลิศ สิปปภาค). Its Thai title is รัก/สาม/เศร้า. This is a pun on รักสามเส้า, the standard Thai phrase for "love triangle". RID99 has a quaint definition:

รักสามเส้า น. ความรักที่ชาย ๒ คนรักหญิงคนเดียวกัน หรือหญิง ๒ คนรักชายคนเดียวกัน.
love triangle n. love in which two men love the same woman, or two women love the same man.

Putting aside the fact that their definition denies the existence of love triangles in which one or more members are (gasp!) homosexual, a classic love triangle involves all three having a relationship of some kind with the other two, rather than simple two-guys-after-the-same-woman competition. One would expect the two men to be brothers or mortal enemies
or bridge partners. Something like that.

Literally translated, the Thai phrase means "three-legged love". The pun in the film title is in the last word: เส้า "leg, support" is a homophone of เศร้า "sad, sorrowful". The implication is that it's a doomed love triangle. (Are they ever not?) Also note that the word เส้า is not the same word as เสา "column, pole, pillar", although the two words differ only in tone (and I wouldn't be surprised if they were etymologically related).

On an interesting side note, my wife thought that รักสามเศร้า (with the word meaning "sad") was the correct spelling of this phrase, and says she has thought so for as long as she's known the phrase. The word เส้า is rare in Thai, so she had reanalyzed it in a way that made sense to her, by substituting it with a homophone which she knew. This is a good example of folk etymology. I don't know if this misconception is at all widespread, but it's a fascinating possibility to think that this movie title might be a covert pun for some folks, and that it may even reinforce the misconception.

See also: this post from last year about a clever movie title, which involves both verbal and orthographic trickery.


  1. Thanks for pointing out that the Thai title for Last Moment is a pun. I wish they had been as clever this time around on the English title.

    One of my favorite Thai puns was for Citizen Dog, aka Mah Nakhon (หมานคร). I understood that it could be taken different ways, including "Dog City" or "City of Dogs", which relates to the theme in the film of everyone having a metaphorical tail.

  2. This is so weird, because I was just talking about the 4bia film to a friend, and saying that it was a pretty lame pun in english because it was built around a mispronounced word. It could take someone a while to figure it out if they weren't familiar with the Thai language.

    The reason I was talking about it was that one of the four segments of the film takes place on an airplane and is called "Last Fright," a second pun in english based on common mispronunciations that Thai people might make. Two in the same film! I think that segment is actually from the guy who did 13...เกมสยอง, no?

  3. @WiseKwai: หมานคร is clever, particularly because it's orthographic wordplay, too, simply switching the order of the first two letters of มหานคร ("metropolis") > หมานคร.

    @roni: Last Fright! Oh man, when will the puns ever end... I'm going to wait 'til it comes out on DVD and watch it while eating a big plate of flied lice. I don't think the r/l thing wouldn't have occurred to me, because "Last Fright" sounds like a suitable title for an airplane-related episode of Tales From the Crypt or a shoestring budget horror film. But the fact that it's in an Asian movie makes it all the better (or worse, depending on your point of view).

    That segment was directed by Parkpoom Wongpoom, one half of the directing team that brought us Shutter and Alone. The director of 13 เกมสยอง is Chukiat Sakveerakul, who directed รักแห่งสยาม The Love of Siam last year.

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  5. What black and red all over the world about Thailand ?

    and he has a crush on you !

  6. I saw this Thai joke in an email today which was doing the rounds. It seems to be based on word play, using the fact that the Hill Tribes people have a Thai accent which shortens their words eg หนุ=หนู ฯลฯ. Hope no one is offended!


    ชายคนหนึ่งขับรถขึ้นไปบนดอย เพื่อจะไหว้พระ เมื่อถึงที่จอดรถ
    เขาเห็นสาวชาวดอย คนหนึ่งเข้ามาเสนอขายสินค้า
    สาวชาวดอยถาม เอา หิ หนุ มั๊ย
    ชายหนุ่ม ( คิดในใจ) ดำปี๋เลย เอาไม่ลง
    จึงตอบว่า ไม่เอาหรอก จะรีบเข้าไปไหว้พระ แล้วชายหนุ่มก็เข้าไปไหว้พระ
    เมื่อไหว้พระเสร็จ ออกมามองไม่เห็นรถ
    จึงถามสาวชาวดอยคนเดิมที่ยืนอยู่แถวๆนั้นว่า รถผมไปไหน?
    สาวชาวดอยตอบว่า โตะ เขา ไป แล้ว โส น้า หน้า บอก ให้ เอา หิ หนุ ก้อ ไม่เชื่อ

    (ตกเขาไปแล้ว บอกให้เอาหินหนุนก็ไม่เชื่อ)

  7. โส น้า หน้า is สมน้ำหน้า i guess?

  8. สมน้ำหน้า (serves you right!) was what I thought it was as well. It certainly fits the context.

  9. ํYes, โส น้า หน้า is สมน้ำหน้า :)