Welcome to Global Breakouts, Deadline’s fortnightly strand in which we shine a spotlight on the TV shows and films killing it in their local territories. The industry is as globalized as it’s ever been, but breakout hits are appearing in pockets of the world all the time and it can be hard to keep track… So, we’re going to do the hard work for you.
This week we’re featuring Taweewat Wantha’s Thai horror pic Tee Yod (aka Death Whisperer). A smash in its home market, it set an opening day record for the year in late October and has the distinction of being the first Thai film ever released in IMAX.
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Name: Tee Yod (Death Whisperer)
Producers: Major Join Film, BEC World, M Studio
Distributor: M Pictures
For fans of: Shutter, Pee Mak, supernatural horror
Following quickly in the footsteps of another 2023 Thai horror hit, The Undertaker, Tee Yod has energized local audiences, now with an estimated gross of $13M, according to Surachedh Assawaruenganun, Chief Media & Content Officer of Major Cineplex Group Public Company Limited.
The film has set multiple records including the biggest opening day of 2023 and the fastest title of the year to reach 100M baht ($2.8M), reaching the latter in just three days. The first Thai film ever released in IMAX, Tee Yod grossed $210K in the format at launch.
The story takes place in 1972 and centers on the mysterious death of a young girl in a remote village. It’s based on a “true” ghost tale of the same name, which was first published on Thai discussion forum pantip.com before being turned into a novel. The term ‘Tee Yod’ reportedly originates from a mysterious woman in a black dress, and “remains enigmatic in both its meaning and linguistic origin,” per The National.
Shortly after the film’s release, Thai news site BNN called Tee Yod “a cultural beacon,” which had “seeped into the nation’s cultural fabric.” The folks behind the film, which stars Nadech Kugimiya, held a blessing ceremony and press conference at Maleenont Tower in October before the premiere.
Alongside romantic comedy, horror is at present the preferred genre for Thai audiences, says Assawaruenganun, who believes the pic’s universal nature has aided in getting Tee Yod distributed outside of Thailand. So far, about 20 markets are on board, largely in South East and Central Asia.
Thai cinema has been through various phases of development across the past decades, with some notable successes outside the home market. Assawaruenganun says: “Traditionally, Thai films were known for their melodramatic narratives and musical elements. However, in the late 20th century and early 21st century, there has been a notable shift towards more diverse genres and international recognition.”
That includes 2003’s Muay Thai actioner Ong-Bak, which was a success at home and abroad, launching a franchise and the global career of Tony Jaa. Also helping spread the popularity of Thai cinema is exposure at film festivals — think Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won a Cannes Palme d’Or in 2010 for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
Horror successes include 2004’s Shutter from filmmaker Banjong Pisanthanakun, which received significant festival play, and 2013’s Pee Mak, also from Pisanthanakun.
Assawaruenganun notes these movies “often incorporate elements of Thai folklore and supernatural themes, offering a distinct flavor to the horror genre.” He also credits the Thai government’s role in supporting the film industry, which “has helped foster creativity and talent within the local film community.”
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