Friday, January 12, 2007

Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah talai jone) - Movie Review

Fah talai jone (Tears of the Black Tiger) 2000 (!)

A beautiful young woman wanders in the rain amidst a bevy of water lilies to await her love. Two handsome young cowboys burst into a house filled with enemy gunfire in a blazing bloodstorm of bullets that ricochet off the scenery in a dizzying display. Add the catchy and plaintive wail of a Thai pop score, and the color palette of Willy Wonka and you have the most invigorating cinematic experience in quite awhile!

At the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, a Thai film started tongues a wagging about “arthouse hit” and “the next ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’”! Nice, huh? And then six years pass. Thud. The good news is that the film has finally arrived into arthouse theatres across the country and it is one hell of an entertaining ride, as long as you are completely willing to suspend your sense of reality and only if you have a love for movies ranging from Spaghetti Westerns, to mid-twentieth century melodramas and a love for saturated colors.

Tears of the Black Tiger” is a fantastically loony, brave, dizzying, glamorous, cheap and tacky exploration of a few film genres tossed liberally with a dash of television commercial brillo that does pay off, but only to the cinematically brave at heart. For this film is probably likely to lay there like a dead rotting piece of flesh, if you have never heard of Sergio Leone or Douglas Sirk – the two most obvious inspirations.

Reality is tossed out the window in this tale of love and vengeance as we meet two very pretty Thai cowboys – relax, you homophobes, the only man on cowpoke action here is one of blood and guts – but the boys do look awfully pretty in their Thai rentboy fashion. It seems that Dum - the Black Tiger and his partner in bloodshed, Mahesuan are the two best shots in the East following the raiding and murdering Fai as he hacks his way across the countryside.

At the same time, we meet a lovely young lass by the name of Rumpoey. (Go ahead, say it – the characters names did remind us of the cast from “Cats”.) This perfectly coiffed (what is it with the hairdos in this film!) Rumpoey is standing in a Sala (Gazebo) in the pouring rain awaiting her lover who fails to materialize. Of course, the two stories are intertwined as we begin to delve in to the backstory of the Black Tiger.

And what a story it is. Two young children meet in the countryside and begin a teasing relationship that turns dramatically into love after a near death experience. They are separated by geography and economics as the young lady is from a very wealthy family and the handsome young boy remains faithful to his farming roots. They will meet again, years later at school amidst an urban rainbow where their love is reinvigorated but equally fated not to be, due to their families’ backgrounds.

But how on earth does this bring us to Spaghetti Western status? Well, add one senseless murder, a cry for vengeance, a family secret or two and the directors vivid and ridiculously twisted imagination and you have it. Writer / Director Wisit Sasanatieng has crafted a film of such visual splendor in a Bakelite colored world that it is hard not to sit spellbound at its most ingenious moments. To which there are quite a few.

The unreal duel in the cardboard cutout sun that bonds the two cowboys – only to be turned on its ear with an erotically charged blood brothers ceremony that can only be described as a waltz of undying gratitude. The marauding band of cowboys out for blood riding along to the blissful melody of a pop tune. And the brilliant centerpiece, the story of how Dum and Rumpoey met as children which begins with a grainy film stock shot of an arriving train and ends in heartbreak.

There were so many things to love about “Tears of the Black Tiger” – so why not just jump up for joy and demand that all our readers drop what they are doing and run down to see it? Well, we have to be perfectly honest. This is definitely not everybody’s cup of Thai Tea. The acting throughout is on a level that can only be described as “larger than life”. When directors like Todd Haynes or Steven Soderbergh pay homage to classic films by echoing their storylines or techniques – they attempt to do so with top notch actors who are capable of juggling theatricality and believability. The cast of “Tears of the Black Tiger” are gorgeous to look at, and capture a certain lampooning quality that is at least consistent with the directorial flair – but not exactly award winning delivery.

Which we suppose is a bit like judging a music video as being too shallow. Which is fine when compared to the overall feel and look of the film. It is such an absurdly masterful and joyous re-imaging of so many previous film moments that you are left positively withered after the experience. Certainly no other film in recent memory had us so excited at the possibility of the next showstopping scene or set piece, that it must count for something. Whether or not this film is a shallow tribute to glory days of yore or not, it deserves to be seen on the big screen for its entire archaic splendor. It may make you giggle at the wrong moments – wait, that would be impossible. For the saving grace to the operatic storyline, hambone acting and Disneyland visuals is the complete conviction of the director to entertain his audience. So, what the hell. Why not give it a shot. We’d be awfully surprised if you didn’t enjoy it. Bless you all!

Written and Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng

Chartchai Ngamsan as Dum, the Black Tiger
Suwinit Panjamawat as Dum, the Black Tiger as a youth
Stella Malucchi as Rumpoey
Supakorn Kitsuwon as Mahesuan
Arawat Ruangvuth as Police Captain Kumjorn
Sombat Metanee as Fai
Pairoj Jaisingha as Phya Prasit
Naiyana Sheewanun as Rumpoey’s maid
Kanchit Kwanpracha as Kamnan Dua
Chamloen Sridang as Sergeant Yam

Cinematography by Nattawut Kittikhun
Film Editing by Dusanee Puinongpho and Folmer Wiesinger
Original Music by Amornbhong Methakunavudh
Costume Design by Chaiwichit Somoboon
Production Design by Ake Eiamchurn
Art Direction by Rutchanon Kayangnan and Akradech Kaew Kotr



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