Bangkok Girl Documentary – By Jordan Clark

After reaching out to the producer, Jordan Clark, I am pleased to be able to host an authorised copy of the Bangkok Girl Documentary right her on TTL.

It makes for compelling viewing, and after reading the staggering amount of comments online, it seems the documentary caused controversy from all sides of the fence. It was produced in 2005, but I’m sure you’ll agree still feels very relevant, and could easily have been made in the present day.

I won’t air my views before you watch the documentary; I would rather you watch and then perhaps we can exchange some thoughts in the comments section.

Enjoy!

Update: You can now read an exclusive interview with the director-producer of Bangkok Girl, Jordan Clark, by navigating to this page. 

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the link, I watched this last night! Was totally transfixed by the relationship between Pla and Jordan. The sex trade concerns me the world over not just Thailand and I wish there where more films or other types of media documenting the exploitation so others would be more aware.

    That English guy with the cliché bad teeth was infuriating, hope I don’t meet too many people like that in Thailand.

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    • TheThailandLife says

      @faranginthailand – What troubled me the most was he said he was a teacher at an international school! If that’s how he treats women then he really isn’t fit to be teaching children. Makes me feel ashamed to be British when I see guys like that. But then I should see him as a human, not by his nationality, I guess. You will bump into a few like that, but I have met some great people here, and recently there seems to have been a spike in “normal”, dare I say it, people relocating. Best way to meet people is to join clubs, the gym, a language school, to chat to people in coffee shops, and through work of course. The worst place is probably bars in seedy back alleys. But then you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

      To be fair I think Jordan Clark was very genuine, and saw very quickly the lost soul that Pla was. Clearly a victim of a system that is set up to watch so many fail under similar circumstances. And, like you say, not just here, but in so many countries around the world.

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  2. says

    Hi,

    Just watched the film. Pretty heartbreaking stuff at the end, wasn’t expecting that and quite emotionally hard to watch. I agree hearing that the English guy was a teacher was shocking too. At first I presumed he was just some guy on holiday. That guy has clearly spent his entire six years in Thailand doing the same thing every night. But like you say, his nationality is neither here or there. His accent could be British, American, French, German….whatever, it’s irrelevant because the result is the same.

    One thing that did jump out from the film though, was the question of what the girls would do if they didn’t have the bars to work at. When asked what Pla wanted to do, she couldn’t answer. That is the problem. What is the alternative? Okay these guys are supplying demand. But until the Thai government can offer a realistic alternative in a way of employment then really, what other option do these girls have?

    Cheers
    Steve

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    • TheThailandLife says

      Hi Steve. The ending really got to me, although I read on another forum some speculation that Jordan Clark might have been told she was dead to keep him away from bothering her. However, I very much doubt that as I am sure he would have followed up with the authorities because of his genuine interest and compassion.

      The point you make about Pla not having a clue what she would have done had life given her the chance to leave BKK is poignant. People argue there are alternatives – I won’t rant about the ambiguity of choice here, but you know my thoughts on that subject. However, I am sure there are charities and organisations that could help someone like Pla, and perhaps there are other jobs, but she’d been in bars since 13 years old with very little schooling, she knows nothing of how to survive outside of the bar environment, and therefore her choice is limited to just that. She also had a deformed hand, and appearance being what it is in Thailand this wouldn’t bode well for her in finding alternative work – sad but true.

      The government really dos need to protect the next generation of Thai women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet I fear the men in suits sipping champagne really don’t care. A 12 billion dollar industry, why spend tax payers money helping prostitutes when their families can prosper. hopefully the new PM, being a woman from Chiang Mai, might sympathise a great deal more and adress the issue.

      thanks

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  3. says

    Good movie although pretty sad. The director did a good job, but he came off to me as being a bit naive. Maybe I’m just jaded after living here for so long, but I find it extremely unlikely that the girl wouldn’t be going with customers after working in a bar for 6 years. If she was being honest, then I’m sure she would have been under constant pressure from the other girls and likely the bar owner to go with customers. It would take an extremely strong person to put up with that much pressure for all those years. But who knows, maybe I’m just cynical.

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    • TheThailandLife says

      Lawrence – I agree on the director’s naievity…yet I thought he produced a very compelling documentary. Of course Pla was going with guys, but I didn’t expect her to say she was. How many bar girls label themselves as prostitutes? 0%. To do so would be to lose all self respect and completely tarnish the “face” of one’s family. After all, we often forget, prostitution is the lowest of the low in Thailand, and no matter how commonplace us foreigners think it is, it is completely against thai family values. The majority of these girls will have been brought up hardcore Buddhists too. And to sell your body for material goods (money) in a cesspit like Nana or Cowboy isn’t exactly walking the path towards enlightenment. I guess what I am saying is that this profession contradicts everything a Thai girl is brought up to represent, and in a society where face is everything, admitting to being that contradiction is soul-suicide. I do believe there are girls that work in bars that don’t go with customers, serving drinks, cleaning tables etc, but I am sure Pla sadly wasn’t one of them.

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  4. says

    “although I read on another forum some speculation that Jordan Clark might have been told she was dead to keep him away from bothering her”

    In a way I hope this is true. But like you say probably doubtful. I think I’m going to watch the film again, but try to do so from a more cynical point of view without first seeing the emotional side.
    I was thinking about this last night after my initial comment. Although overall I think the film was good and well put together….there were some points that concerned me a little. Firstly there was a section of footage where he shows several western men walking around the streets with what I think he described as “hired girlfriends” or something similar. Well, although that was probably true for the guys that he chose to include. I think the film gives the impression that ALL western men in a relationship with thai women are paying for the privelege.
    Secondly, the film concentrated only on farang men using the redlight area’s and gave the impression that the Vietnam war was where it all began. There was no mention of the Thai men using prostitutes in Thailand or the fact that prostitution has been around long before the war and farang came along. I guess we could say its irrelevant who supplies the damand. But I do feel that the film could have given a better idea of the bigger picture, the whole story rather than simply concentrating on one side which seemed to be aimed at “farang hating”.
    Lastly, and I genuinely hope I’m wrong. But Pla started out the interview by saying that she simply tendered the bar and didn’t go with customers. Understandable I guess that she felt she couldn’t tell the truth until she developed that trust with the film maker. But it makes you wonder how much of what she says was the whole truth. I want to believe everything she said and she did seem genuine. But six years in the bar is a long time to develop the bar girl “skills”. Again, genuinely hope I’m wrong

    Cheers
    Steve

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    • TheThailandLife says

      @Steve – I too felt a sense of “oh no, he is portraying every guy with a thai GF/wife as a sexpest”, but as the documentary progressed his naievity became more exposed and it was obvious he’d not lived in Thailand for any period of time – so I forgave the slight sensationalising at the start. I also presumed from the off that Pla was sleeping with guys for money. She had been in bars since 13 (i am sure that is what Jordan said), so the sad truth is she was probably pimped at a young age and then ended up finding her way to that bar. I can’t remember the exact stats, but in a book I have by Pira Sudham it speaks of girls and boys arriving from upcountry at Hua Lampong station (BKK) – if I recall correctly – to be pimped in BKK. That was 20 or more years ago, but I am sure it still goes on.

      Jordan probably did present an opportunity to her; an opportunity to bag a decent guy not too much older than herself, so why would she tell him she was a prostitute. As it became clearer he was only interested in her story, she went off with the customer towards the end of the doc.

      The doc is by no means 100% accurate, but how can it be? After all, Jordan’s perception of Thailand is limited to his experience and outlook, and Pla isn’t (wasn’t) the only girl in the world to not kiss and tell all in the beginnings of a relationship – platonic or not. It doesn’t change anything for me though. This is still a girl, abused by her step mother, abandoned ny her father, failed by the system and her fellow countrymen, allowed to drop out of school, ended up in a bar at 13, and met her death at a tragically young age under circumstances we shall never know of.

      I am not saying you have got to this point with Pla, but you struck a chord with your last sentence – What I find strange is when a person’s compassion fades when they realise a bar girl is using “bar girl” tactics/manipulation. Like it renders her inhuman. What else can a girl dictated to by life’s lottery and abused by men in exchange for money do if she can’t use her survival kit to, well….survive.

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      • says

        Hi TTL,

        “as the documentary progressed his naievity became more exposed and it was obvious he’d not lived in Thailand for any period of time – so I forgave the slight sensationalising at the start.”

        But the thing is, you as someone living in Thailand, or like me someone who has learned a lot more than the average tourist, can look at the film and say “that’s not right” or whatever. But anyone watching as an outsider with no experience of Thailand will take what is being portrayed as gospel. Again further fuelling the stereotype. Like I said, overall he did a good job. But it was a little one sided for me. Almost as if he went to Thailand with an idea of exactly what he wanted to say in his film and didn’t want to look past that “idea” to dig any deeper.

        As for Pla. I certainly didn’t want to portray a lack of compassion towards her. Far from it. She reminded me of so many Thai girls, funny, innocent, almost child like and yet strong. There are already way too many bargirl hating farang out there clogging the Thai forums (thaivisa) etc, but I’m certainly not one of them.
        Okay there are some girls that deserve the reputation given to them. But I would agree the vast majority are like you say simply doing what they have to do to support not only themselves but their entire families too. After all Every one of the girls is a daughter, sister, grandchild, or mother too. Its just a shame that circumstance dictates there entire (lack of) future

        Cheers
        Steve

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  5. Diane Hanson says

    I too have been searching for the Bangkok Girl documentary since I saw it several years ago on a doc show called The Passionate Eye. Excellent Canadian show. The link you have on this webpage goes to a ukrainian video website and Bangkok doesn’t show up when I search for it. Do you have another link to the documentary online?

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    • TheThailandLife says

      Hi Diane, the link was on that website but has been taken down since I posted this, what a shame. I am searching for another but not having much luck. Thanks for letting me know.

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  6. John says

    It was obvious to me that Pla was ‘working’ but then they have to survive somehow.

    I think it’s very odd that she suddenly had heart failure a week after the filming stopped. Something else was going on there.

    Her death shocked me, I really didn’t expect that.

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  7. Jeffisgone says

    I live here in BKK. A few things were sensationalized in the film. I go to school and the hospital very near where this was filmed on Sukhumvit and spend a lot of time on Sukhumvit Rd. I go to the park they visited at Prom Pong Station almost daily.

    There are not a lot of underage girls that are HIV positive as Jordan said. In my 9 years here, I know of only 2 people that are HIV positive. One of those is an older man that got it from a blood transfusion years ago and the other may just be a rumor. I would say that the average age of the girls on the street is probably around 28.

    He also portrayed BKK as a place that is high in crime. There is not a place in BKK that I don’t feel safe. There are plenty of places in every big city in America that I would never go, but here in BKK, I have never felt that.

    In the 9 years I have been living here or coming here, I have had a chance to speak with many of the bar girls. It is very easy to become friends with them as Jordan did because they are so geniunely friendly. I have found that a very large percentage of the girls are here because they want to be. They enjoy the partying, nightlife, 5 star hotels travelling and yes, the money.

    I was once talking with a girl and she told me that her situation was great. Before working in the bar, she was working in a factory 6 days a week and making enough to survive, but it was hot and boring. Now she is saving to buy a clothing store and enjoys going to the discos and all of the stuff i eluded to above.

    It is not nearly as sad as Jordan portrays it to be. Drugs nor violence are rampant. This is what makes me think that the story is untrue and she did not die. What are the chances that the one girl that he met while making a film dies?

    A friend of mine from school started a program to help girls that want out of the industry find good paying jobs. I myself have helped a couple of girls find other opportunities. There are some other choices out there. Sometimes they prefer the easiest route.

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  8. Stuart says

    My first thought at the end of the movie was that Pla was killed because she had allowed Jordan to film so much. If she did in fact die, the timing seems far from coincidental.

    It would certainly send a message to others girls not to talk with farang on camera about the business. And you could also infer then her hand may have been punishment for an earlier transgression.

    But for this to be true would imply a very dark underworld of mafia style control of the girls, which I’ve never seen or read about in Thailand.

    But then gogo bars are not my type of places to hang either. My wife is Thai and she liked Pla, agreed cops are corrupt, but didn’t buy that she died and thinks Jordan made it up for the effect.

    What is true is that girls are likely not all that sad about working in these bars. The money they bring home helps to support their families, which in Thai culture elevates her own status within the family. What makes their lives miserable is probably farang like that obnoxious dimwit Englishman.

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  9. Khun Ling says

    I am nearly sure that she did not die. How did he find out ? Did another bar girl send an email ? Or call him in Ottawa ? Sure …

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  10. Leo says

    Interesting documentary and some of the thing’s Pla said were quite sad. I have lived in Thailand on /off for quite some time mainly in Buriram/ Surin etc and it sicken’s me to hear farang guy’s bragging in the bars about what they have done or plan to do while in Bkk
    A lot of the girls in our area are working in bars and most of them given the chance would rather be doing something else.
    However because of their education a lot of them do not have a great deal of choice .
    I know some girls who earn 100k + per month but its a short lived career and most of the money goes back home to support the family.
    As for that English fool what a complete arsehole. To think he is an English teacher is quite worrying.

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    • TheThailandLife says

      Education is a key factor. Most guys frequenting the bar scene don’t realise that 99% of the girls left school without basic high school finishing papers. Most will have married very young, had children very young and been left with a kid or two to raise with minimal funds. Compound this with the heavy expectations to “take care” of parents – in Isaan culture, particularly – and you can see how these girls end up where they do.

      Even sadder is the way foreigners speak of such women, quite often treating and speaking about them like nothing more than cockroaches. Each woman/girl is someone’s daughter, possibly someone’s sister or mother. Seldom do such men consider the reality that a cruel twist of fate could see their daughter faced with similar prospects.

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  11. Leo says

    Very well put mate. I came across a site a while back that was pretty offensive to Thai culture and Issan women in particular . But the site owner had no shame in bragging about his exploit’s
    These girls have feelings and the one’s we know are always very polite and we consider quite a few of them good friend’s

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