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Publication Date : 29-07-2012
While "The Dark Knight Rises" is swooping through theatres earning bushels more money for millionaire Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman, Bangkok collector Somchai Nitimongkolchai is earning extra attention for his Batcat Museum & Toys Thailand, home to 50,000 figure models, toys and other items.
Batman and other popular superheroes are the inspiration for the collectibles from the 1960s to the present.
Somchai adored the courageous Dark Knight as depicted in the 2005 movie "Batman Begins" and became a hardcore fan. He's spent 10 million baht (US$317,200) since then accumulating his huge collection - all sorts of Batman figurines, vintage die-cast Batmobiles and other toys from around the world. Most came from shopping websites like eBay, Rinya Japan and UK.eBid.
"I ran an event-organising company and had never collected anything before," Somchai says. "But I saw 'Batman Begins' and was really impressed by how smart and brave Bruce Wayne was and felt that Batman was an 'approachable' hero for the real world. Anyone could just put on a mask and be Batman."
It still didn't make Somchai a collector - not yet. He bought a ceramic Batman piggy bank for 159 baht for his office desk. The next thing he knew, every flea market and garage sale in Bangkok was offering Batman stuff, all of it calling out his name. Destiny had summoned him.
"I started shopping on eBay and then learned more about how collectibles are marketed. And now I have around 50,000 items - I could be Asia's No 1 collector of Batman models!"
Somchai says it's a good investment. All toy nuts say that, of course, trying to rationalise their giddy madness, but he's not wrong when he asks (perhaps rhetorically), "If I auctioned off all this stuff in another 20 years, how much do you think I'd make?"
The other thing Somchai has in common with collection addicts is that his stuff soon outgrew his home. So, inevitably, he had to find a storehouse. This was a boon for fans, naturally, because it doubles as a public museum.
The Batcat Museum & Toys Thailand opened two months ago in a 400-square-metre former spare-parts shop near the Lam Salee intersection. It's sure to appeal to other local collectors, foreign tourists and every single teenager on earth.
"Actually," Somchai says, "I'd only been collecting items related to Batman, but when I decided to open the museum I started collecting models and toys of other movie and cartoon characters so there'd be more diversity.
"I want to build a community for everyone where they can come and share their passion."
The building has colourful graphics on the exterior walls. Inside, beyond a towering hydraulic gate, there are three zones set out under dim lights in a vast Gotham City.
Batman's hometown looks like it's hosting a convention of Hollywood celebrities. Indiana Jones jostles with the stars of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Star Wars". The Terminator compares muscles with Superman and Spider-Man. Loitering about are Ghost Rider, Ultra Man, James Bond, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and Blade.
Kept a safe distance away for their own protection are the adorable gentler characters like Nemo, Shrek, Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob, Doraemon and the gang from "Toy Story" and "Cars".
A map on the wall points the way to the museum's 10 highlights. One of them is the array of Captain Action Toys from the late 1960s - the Green Hornet, the Phantom and a model of Superman that were sold with their own changes of clothing as well as weapons.
Another highlight comprises 30-odd die-cast models of the cars from "Thunder Birds", "Knight Rider", "Ghostbusters" and "The Fast and the Furious", and even Austin Power's Mini with the Union Jack paint.
You'll also see miniatures of 007's Chevrolet Corvette, red Ford Mustang Mach 1, Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, 1963 Cadillac and a 1940s Cadillac Fleetwood.
Gotham City itself rises in the form of thousands of black Lego bricks. Inside are laboratories, prisons and the Batcave, complete with helicopters, bikes and, yes, the Batmobile.
The Hot Toys Batman 1989 Sideshow Collection features more Batmobiles, weapons and the Caped Crusader's iconic cowl. On the wall is a truly enviable "Batman Begins" poster signed by no fewer than 14 of the film's stars, including Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman.
Mounted on a platform are the "Top 10 Batman Vintage Toys", including a Utility Belt that's valued at 700,000 baht- despite the fact that it's only made of plastic!
The Batman Mego Toy 1972 display features items from Tada in Japan - figures of Batman, the Penguin, the Joker, Superman, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Catwoman, Robin and the Hulk.
And the Batman Tin Robots, also from Japan, include a 1966 Nomura Batman whose head lights up when he walks and a wind-up Batman Long Legs from the same era.
"There are basically three categories," Somchai explains. "Mego Toy figures wear clothes, Corgi toys are die-cast car models from England, and the Classic Tin Toys were made in Japan in the '60s."
Fans will wish they could take home everything they see but, unless they're as wealthy as Bruce Wayne, they'll have to settle for a souvenir from Batcat's Store. Somchai and his friends offer some rare figures, though, alongside the T-shirts, stationery, key rings, wallets and wristwatches.
It's open to debate whether Batman and Robin snack on the same sort of refreshments available at the museum - coffee, green-tea latte and chocolate smoothies ranging in price from 20 baht to 80 baht. But, like everybody else, surely even they need to go to the Batroom once in a while. The museum has one of those, too.
1 dollar = 31.52 baht