Joshua Gordon’s latest film, Krahang, shows how biking provides freedom for young boys living in Bangkok’s poverty
In Thai folklore, there is a ghost called Krahang. He is a teenage boy who only flies at night. His spirit is young and wild, hedonistic yet liberated, as he flies above the weight of the social and political world below. It's fitting then that this ghost is used to title London-based filmmaker Joshua Gordon’s latest short, which delves deep into the life of a young group of Thai boys who find freedom through biking amongst the crime and poverty of Bangkok.
The spirit of Krahang persists throughout Gordon’s film, which starts with the sound of two piercing gunshots, followed by a scene where the viewer becomes the subject who is running, fast. The film’s opening intensity sets the pace for the next 23 minutes, as Gordon uses his lens to delve intimately into the lives of four boys aged 17-21 who are united by their love for biking. From guns to cigarettes, drinking, partying, and drugs, its clear there’s an intensified need for escapism as the boys live in the reality of poverty-stricken Bangkok. But, as Krahang establishes, the strongest form of escapism for these young men is their bikes, as the film dips in and out of scenes where the boys soar through Bangkok on their motorcycles, evading their realities, and creating a new world of liberation.
Below, we speak to Gordon about how important motorbiking is to this Thai subculture.
Why did you first decide to make this film?
Joshua Gordon: I never planned to make the film, it just fell into place. I was given a small amount of money and initially proposed making a documentary about the sex workers I'd photographed and spent time with the year previously, but the funding collective disagreed and wouldn't let me do something about prostitution. My initial plan was to go to Bangkok and just make it on the sly anyway, then I met the boys and it just seemed natural to do something about them.
How did you find the gang?
Joshua Gordon: Through a friend. Via the magic of Facebook, I met someone in Bangkok who'd known them since they were babies. He used to get tattooed by Arm's (one of the main characters) dad, and helped introduce me to them and communicate with them.
Why is it important for you to document marginalised communities in Thailand?
Joshua Gordon: I'm never looking for marginalised communities specifically, I don't want my work to be some sort of slum tourism for old rich guys who buy expensive books. I'm always looking for interesting groups to photograph, and personally I'm drawn to and most interested by people who exist on the margins. Otherwise, I'd just be walking around Thailand taking pictures of elephants and street food vendors like everyone else.
“We had guns pointed at us while shooting, and saw stuff a lot more graphic than the CCTV clip shown in the film” – Joshua Gordon
The film is a very close exploration of the boys' lives. Why was it important for you to show the lives of so intimately?
Joshua Gordon: It was a personal connection, I spent three weeks with them almost every day, eating together, smoking together, riding around together, shooting guns together. With most of my work in a similar vein it's hard to get close to my subjects, when I shoot sex workers they just see me as a john with a camera. They're not really interested in speaking to me about their lives or spending any time with me at all, they just want to make money and to move onto the next customer – which is completely understandable as it's not always a natural or pleasant situation for them, and I’m just another man who wants to take something from them to benefit myself. With the boys, it was different. We were a similar age, had similar interests, and the relationship was natural and unforced. I always try to make all of my photos intimate and a result of close relationships, it's just not always possible and usually quite difficult.
The film gets super intense at one point as it shows the violence associated with the gang. What’s the purpose of this intensity?
Joshua Gordon: The reality of life in Thailand is graphic violence, things happen differently over there and people are used to seeing death from a very early age so I didn't want to shy away from it when filming. We had guns pointed at us while shooting, and saw stuff a lot more graphic than the CCTV clip shown in the film. We were eating noodles one day with the boys and they showed us that clip, I think they knew the kids involved, all the teenage bikers know each other.
What are you wanting to achieve with the film?
Joshua Gordon: Nothing specifically. I thought these guys were amazing and wanted to make a portrait of their lives. If I could wish for anything to come from this it would be the opportunity to make more films, and to meet more interesting characters.