Spitting Images come to Bangkok

Joel Quenby 02 December 2010 1 comment

From December, the world’s A-list celebrities will gather in Bangkok to meet their adoring Thai fans

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By the end of 2010 you will be unable to move for A-list celebrities in Bangkok. Or rather the “celebrities” are the ones who will not be moving. That is because on December 4, Southeast Asia’s first branch of Madame Tussauds opens for public gawping.

Madame Tussauds is, of course, a gallery of waxworks established 250 years ago by its eponymous French sculptor. Her original showcase established in London in 1884. To this day, it still draws daily hordes of camera-toting tourists.

Madame Tussauds Bangkok will be the fame-mongering brand’s 10th worldwide branch—and Asia’s third, after Hong Kong and Shanghai. The US$15m development is based on the 6th Floor of the Siam Discovery, and recently unveiled figures of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Michael Jackson and legendary local screen idol, Mitr Chaibancha.

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Around “30 percent” of the 70 models populating Bangkok’s Tussauds will be Southeast Asian figures, according to General Manager Paul Williams. Among Thailand’s entries are punk-haired celebrity pathologist Porntip Rojanasunan, martial arts icon Tony Jaa, pop singers Tata Young and Ad Carabao and soap opera pin-up Pancake-Khemanit Jamikorn. Regal figureheads Prince Mahidol and the Princess Mother will also go on display in the Royal Hall.

The foreign faces, meanwhile, include Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Beethoven, Einstein, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Stephen Gerrard, Bruce Lee, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Jim Carrey and the ubiquitous David Beckham.

Each figure takes four to six months to craft in London at a cost of around 8 million baht, explaining why branches are updated with just two or three annual additions. Aside from taking snapshots every six seconds, visitors will also be able to jostle over interactive audio-visual elements. These reportedly include answering the hotline phone in President Obama’s Oval Office; playing one-on-one with Chinese basketball giant Yao Ming; practicing kung-fu with Bruce Lee; weightlifting with Paweena Tongsuk; or acting out a drama scene with Anne Thongprasom.

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At a press launch, the Thai soap opera star admitted having “this chill down my spine” when first e-mailed a photo of her likeness. “It looked so much like me. Just like when I stand in front of a mirror.” Promising stuff, indeed.

Interestingly, while Madame Tussauds is a measurement of fame, it claims an apolitical stance. As Paul Williams says, “Madame Tussauds has something for everyone.” Therefore, striking doppelgangers of serial killers like Dennis Nilsen and mass-murdering Adolf Hitler take their due podiums in the London edition’s Chamber of Horrors (which also exhibits the guillotine blade that killed Marie Antoinette).

If that sounds grisly, consider that the original Marie Tussaud wrote in her memoirs of rifling through corpses for decapitated heads of executed citizens, from which to make death masks, which were later paraded through Parisian streets as macabre revolutionary flags.

It is a strange beast, celebrity worship. If Marie Tussaud did not pioneer the dubious pastime that spawned such fripperies as fan clubs, paparazzi and Perez Hilton, she certainly set the concept in wax. Meanwhile, Paul Williams sees Tussauds as “educational, because parents can explain to their children who these famous people are.” In that context, the average library must be a regular breeding ground for geniuses.

One of the funniest things I think I’ve seen occurred during a high-school trip to London’s Madame Tussauds. A teenage Italian tourist moved slowly yet purposefully towards my friend, Brodie, as if to scrutinize him close-up. Brodie, to his credit, remained absolutely still. Then, with perfect comic timing, just as the girl approached kissing distance, he very suddenly twitched. Her scream of shock filled the massive exhibition hall. We never could figure out who she thought he was…
Jet Li or Zhang Ziyi lookalikes beware!

Madame Tussauds Bangkok opens December 4, 2010. Admission is THB700 ($23) for adults and THB500 (US$16) for children.
www.madametussauds.com/bangkok

Joel Quenby

Joel Quenby

A British writer working and traveling in Southeast Asia since 2002, filing words in support of exotic fripperies beyond his means. More can be had at: joelquenby.yolasite.com

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