I’ve lived in Thailand for more than a decade and I can tell you without a doubt Hollywood celebrities are big business in Thailand. After all, Thai culture is already obsessed with celebrity and, when those famous folks come all the way from America, even better – Thais adore them.
But, while some Hollywood actors arrive in Thailand and make a minor stir, others make the world’s biggest splash when they hit the big time in Thailand. It’s these famous Hollywood types who will go down in the annals of Thai celebrity history – remembered for years to come.
Leonardo DiCaprio – Let’s face it, Leonardo DiCaprio is famous wherever he goes, so being famous in Thailand isn’t much of a stretch. He’s young, (he was very young when he first filmed a movie in Thailand in 1999) and he’s gorgeous. But what made Leonardo DiCaprio an idol in Thailand was how much fame his movie “The Beach” brought to the country when not many western movies were being filmed here.
Sure, ‘The Beach’ had Thai detractors. Older Thais hated it, as they said its glorification of the drug culture in Thailand made the country ‘look bad’. There were complaints about environmental damage when ‘The Beach’ was filmed on the beautiful Thai island of Koh Phi Phi, although a UN-endorsed project proved the Koh Phi Phi beach was environmentally safer when the film crew had finished than before they started.
But, above all this was the star power Leonardo DiCaprio, fresh off the success of ‘Titanic’, brought to Thailand and the Thai movie industry.
Once ‘The Beach’ hit movie screens and Leonardo DiCaprio’s handsome face was on movie posters everywhere, the whole world suddenly wanted to come to Thailand. A country full of beautiful people, incredible scenery and stunning beaches – a tropical paradise – Thailand dined off Leonardo DiCaprio frolicking in crystal clear water for years. And he didn’t hurt the Thai movie industry much either.
In fact, if you ask most Thais below the age of 40, which Hollywood actors are famous for taking Thailand by storm, Leonardo DiCaprios name will be at the top of the list.
Angelina Jolie – Angelina Jolie is famous in Thailand for many reasons. The world’s most famous actress, and one that is also incredibly beautiful, she’s also a hit in Thailand as she’s chosen the country, not once but twice, as a place to get another of her famous tattoos.
After adopting one of her children in Cambodia, Jolie fell in love with south east Asia and particularly Thailand and its Buddhist culture. So, when she decided to have another tattoo created, she came to Bangkok to get tattooed by celebrated Thai tattooist and Buddhist monk, Sompong Kanhphai, also known as ‘Ajarn Noo’.
Since her first Thai tattoo, Jolie has been back to Thailand a second time, that time having a massive tiger tattooed on her back.
Now Thais are proud of their heritage and Buddhist culture. That a famous Hollywood celebrity like Angelina Jolie would choose a Thai tattoo artist, out of anyone in the world, to tattoo her famous body – well that was joyous news to many Thais.
Angelina Jolie not only took Thailand by storm, she took two permanent things with her. Tattoos created by a Buddhist monk that, according to Thai belief, will keep her happy, healthy and protected, and Thailand is rightfully proud of that.
David Carradine – Just like any country, Thailand’s connection to Hollywood celebrities can’t always be good news. Case in point, that of the death of Hollywood actor David Carradine who, not only came to Thailand and died here, but also died in weird, bizarre and, some would say, supremely Thai circumstances.
David Carradine arrived in Thailand in June, 2009 to film his new movie “Stretch” and, a few days later, was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room. Initially thought to be suicide, as Carradine was found hanging in his hotel closet, it was ruled later Carradine probably died as a result of autoerotic asphyxiation ie: partially strangling oneself to have a stronger orgasm.
Meanwhile, Thailand was front news all around the world as celebrity hounds and Hollywood paparazzi tried to figure out, did David Carradine commit suicide, was he murdered, or did something even more twisted result in his death?
Thailand itself got in on the act with several Thai newspapers publishing photographs of David Carradine’s dead body, a common practice in Thailand.
So, to say David Carradine took Thailand ‘by storm’, is an under statement and probably not one he would have liked to have been remembered for.
With Thailand now becoming a south east Asian hub for the filming of international movies, except more Hollywood actors to take the country by storm. These three just began the trend. It won’t end any time soon.
The Beach – Joe Cummings (Lonely Planet author)
Jolie Adds Thai Tattoo – BBC