Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tears of the Black Tiger (Thai, 2000)

I didn't expect much story from this film, since the most story I've ever noticed from a Thai movie was Ong Bok, but it surprised me.  I got it as sort of a blind buy.  It was the first Thai official selection for the Cannes film festival, which was all I knew about it. First of all, it had style.  It wasn't overly done like some movies that try to go for style over substance.  The style fit.  You are never really told what year the events take place in, but as it follows the lead characters from the age of twelve into their adulthood, the movie has an almost consistent 1940s-1950s look and feel, with a little bit of 1880s tossed in for good measure.

Through a series of flashbacks interspersed throughout the movie, we are shown the meeting of Dum and Rumpoey, the former being a young peasant boy in a rural Thai village and the latter being a society girl visiting from Bangkok.  They are instant friends until a slight misunderstanding and demands from the girl's father separates them.  The two love-struck youths continue harboring fondness in their hearts for each other over the coming years.  The couple meet again in their college years when yet another event, triggered mostly by Rumpoey once again, causes trouble for poor Dum and right on the heels of that, a personal tragedy that sends his life spinning into disastrous circumstances.

The Tigers are a local mob, constantly hunted by the police.  They offer Dum a position as the leader, Fai's, right hand man when it becomes known that Dum has an uncanny ability with a gun, leading him to be known as The Black Tiger.

With gangsters on horseback and wearing cowboy clothes, the movie has a distinct spaghetti western feel to it at times, complete with scenes of beautiful, painted, pastel sunsets.  The colors are very pretty without being overdone and taking too much away from what is going on.  Sometimes there is a watercolor look to it, with one color standing out strikingly above the others.  Costumes and props sometimes take the forefront over characters.  And there is even an outlaw midget!

There is also a hint of emphasized action, reminding me of the old Hong Kong Theatre movies.  Gesturing, posturing, and facial expressions abound.  There are also some very pretty songs throughout, with the lyrics showing in the subtitles and sometimes written in script lightly across the backdrop as gangster ride in the distance.  None of the actors, nor the director, are very experienced, none of them with more than a handful of credits to their names that I could find, but they are passable. 
There were a couple exceptions.  The outlaw leader, Sombat Matanee, has a few credits to his name in the 1970s and a few up to 2005.  Dum's best friend, Mahesuan played by Supakorn Kitsuwon, had some interesting credits.  He was in Art of the Devil 3 (2008) , which I haven't seen yet but have been interested in, and something else I found interesting, Frances Ford Coppola Presents: The Legend of Suriyothai (2001). Most notably, he was in Rambo and Ong Bok 2, uncredited, as simply "Guard in Golden Armor". I wondered why he would have been uncredited when he obviously is a decently known Thai actor. Then again, from what I hear about Ong Bok 2, he might have asked not to be credited.
Wisit Sasanatieng, the director, was an art school graduate and a commercial director. Tears of the Black Tiger was his first film to direct.  He's since directed about 3 or 4 other movies, that I'm not sure if I care to look up or not.  Tears picked up a few minor awards at various film festivals.

Rumpoey, Dum's true love, does not appear very Asian at all, and her name is Stella (with a Thai last name). She is also safe to watch for those of you who tear your hair out listening to most of the actresses in Thai movies.  She has a deep voice, though a bit nasal at times.  I would say that she gives a very good performance, though being unfamiliar with the Thai language, having only experienced a handful of mediocre to horrible Thai films, I hesitate to add the "very" in there.

There is, I will warn you, an over usage of pastel bandanas tied suspiciously like ascots which American westerns could never get away with, but somehow the lithe forms of the Thai cowboys pull it off nicely.

Overall, the movie is a safe one if you're wanting to watch something Thai. I've had some really scary experiences with Thai movies.  I've read that this one is compared to Tarrantino, but I didn't really see that in it.  I also felt, that while it was a solid movie, it didn't really bring anything new.  The description on the DVD box was a bit misleading as well. I thought I was getting a totally different sort of movie.  As it is, there's nothing really spectacular about it, the acting is passable, the story typical, but the artistic style is nice to look at and the humor is nice here and there.  It made some really pretty pictures.  That would be the best thing about it.  I can see the comparison to Pulp Fiction that I've heard before; I don't want to give a bad impression of it.  It's considered a cult classic of Thai cinema so maybe that's a good enough reason to check it out.

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