Why is Serpico so popular in Thailand?

What’s the deal with Thailand’s obsession with Serpico, the 1973 film starring Al Pacino?

Everywhere you go in Thailand, you’ll find Pacino’s ugly mug steering right back at you from mud-flaps on trucks, from the chassis of tuk-tuks and songthaews, as well as the windows of taxi cabs and cars.

It’s always the same semi-iconic image from the classic film, sort of a Che Guevara type of pose with sunglasses sitting on top of his 70’s hairdo.

Serpico on the bumper of a tuk-tuk in Bangkok

The Serpico movie posterIt’s particularly prevalent in Bangkok, but the movie wasn’t set there. Instead, Serpico is the true story of a New York cop who went undercover to blow the lid on rampant police corruption, only to be threatened and harassed by his peers.

Do you see the connection? Nor do I, but a number of websites I’ve read suggest that the image acts as a sort of talisman – or good-luck charm – against corrupt Thai police officers and the like.

Whether this is true or not, I can’t say – but I have witnessed first-hand the corruption of Thai traffic cops, who pulled over a taxi I was riding through Bangkok in and accepted a wad of notes in lieu of giving the driver an actual ticket.

Serpico on a songthaew in Thailand

Have you seen these images of Serpico in Thailand? My fiancé, bless her, thought it was Jesus – but it also kind of looks like one of the Bee Gees.

Although I saw plenty of interesting paint jobs on tuk-tuks and taxis in other parts of Southeast Asia – some of the tuk-tuks I saw in Siem Reap in Cambodia were even painted to look like Batman’s Batmobile – I never saw an image of Serpico outside of Thailand.

Perhaps they just think it’s a great film and they think the image looks cool on their vehicles? God knows there are plenty of stupid people in the West who think it’s cool to put the Playboy bunny logo on their cars…

Check out the best places to visit in Thailand and the super-useful Thailand backpacker budget: mainland vs islands.

About Simon Petersen 504 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.


  1. I look at it this way…1: In early 70’s, not many Thais wear beard and mustache, so it became noticeable. 2: Great portrait to copy and draw for reproduction 3: Easily recognizable even in Silhouette form…..

  2. Hey – nice article and good analysis of that odd phenomenon. I see it too – its strange. Whats also funny is that I DO see the playboy bunny a lot too!

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