The 2018 film Luang Pee Jazz 5G (also translated as Joking Jazz 5G on Netflix) is a chaotic, goofy sketch comedy directed by acclaimed director Poj Arnon. It is the second part of a sequel following the wacky antics of Jazz, a monk fighting corruption in the Sangha (The Thai Buddhist Order), of course he also gets into plenty of other hijinks along the way. While this film is primarily a slapstick comedy we can clearly decode the messages of class, hierarchy and corruption embedded within the movie.
For the purpose of this critique I will be primarily deconstructing the sequel (Luang Pee Jazz 5G), as the first installment is almost too chaotic in it’s narrative to attempt to decode, and in truth I did not fully understand the plot. We must also consider, throughout this analysis, Marx’s view on religion. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” What Marx is saying here is that religion has the practical function in society of relieving people’s immediate suffering in a non-material way. In that they may feel better, or more at ease with their suffering, however ultimately religion is harmful as it prevents people from recognising the structural class oppression around them, thus hindering revolution.
Jazz, our protagonist, who in flashbacks, is shown to come from a working class background rife with gang crime, drinking and presumably drugs, runs away from his former life to become a monk after seemingly impregnating 3 women. Throughout the 2 films, Jazz’s character grows into a staunch advocate of traditional Buddhist reactionary practices, earning him both respect and material reward. The working class background Jazz is from is shown to be brutish, cruel and have little to no positive elements. The message of this film is one expounding the rewards of subordination to an entrenched hierarchical power for individual gain.
The film opens with a short montage of Jazz’s current life, a peaceful one of idyllic Buddhist traditionalism. Jazz is a monk, meditating alone on a small island in the south of Thailand. He is called into the temple to perform a favour for the head monk. He is to take a temple novice monk to find his long lost father in Bangkok. On arrival in the capital however, the temple Jazz and his assistants are staying in turns out to be rife with corruption. The primary storyline of the novice monk takes a backseat as the head monks are seen to go out drinking and womanising, all the while selling karaoke microphones as blessings in return for profit.
Jazz, initially reluctant to tackle the corruption, recites Buddhist sayings and scriptures, in an effort to make sure his associates mind their own business rather than challenge the authority of the head monks. This clearly reinforces the hierarchy of the Sangha despite its blatant corruption, nothing must be done to undermine the faith in the institution, regardless of the theology in place. In what is a horrifying scene to be found in a comedy movie, Jazz even ignores a rape scene in an adjacent temple, despite knowing both the culprit and the victim and having eyewitness evidence.
To put the analysis aside for a moment, speaking of uncomfortable rape scenes, there is a bizarre segment in which a worker at the temple, the presumptive father, forcibly undresses the aforementioned novice monk (who is no older than 6 years), until he is completely nude, in an attempt to obtain a hair for a DNA test. The scene is deeply troubling given the rumours of improper behaviour towards novice monks at temples known widely in Thai society but never spoken. However, that is an article for another time, or perhaps another life.
Back to the plot of the film, and another troubling scene is the outrageously transphobic skit, in which Jazz is sent to perform an exorcism at a house full of trans-women. He repeatedly mistakes the women for ghosts, remarking numerous times on how ugly they all are.
Eventually Jazz gets pulled in to challenging the corruption in the temple as it becomes more and more blatant. The saga reaches its climax as a protest at the temple exposes the elder monks. This assumingly results in their arrests by the police (though it is not made entirely clear). It is at this point that a higher authority than the head monks come into play, this being the state, which allows Jazz to remain dedicated to hierarchical practice as he essentially goes over the heads of the head monks. Thus permitting him to remain reactionary while heroically challenging power. However there are literally countless subplots taking place, each more wacky than the last, which obfuscate these events.
Throughout the film, we see Jazz becoming more traditionalist and reactionary regarding his theology, for this he is ultimately rewarded. On numerous occasions he expresses his desire to become a missionary, so as to expound this theology across the globe. In the end he is rewarded with a posting in Paris (considered by many Thai’s to be the pinnacle of high culture). On arrival Jazz is shown to speak no French other than ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’. Clearly this is far from a meritocracy and he will be ill equipped to prosthelytize in a country where he can not even communicate.
The message of this film is one heavily diluted by hijinks, side plots and bizarre complications to the storyline. However the ideology we can deduce from the key plot points is that if one comes from a working class background, one can rise to the pinnacle of high culture and respect, through following orthodoxy, maintaining and respecting hierarchy. Luang Pee Jazz 5G is a reactionary, whimsical farce of a film, which reinforces Thai hierarchical practice through religion.
Despite the film’s many and disturbing flaws, if you’re able to overlook them, it is genuinely charming and whimsical in a special way known only to those dedicated followers of the series such as myself.