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Tears of the Black Tiger
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by Jay Seaver

"Eye-popping Thai western romance."
5 stars

When I saw Wisit Sasanatieng's "Citizen Dog" at the Montreal Fantasia festival last year, the introduction included a fair-sized rant on how Miramax had done a major disservice to people in North America who like movies by keeping his debut in limbo for five years or so. I can't disagree - how many movie-lovers have died or lost their vision while Miramax spent years trying to figure out how to market it, trying to fit it into a schedule, or just plain ignoring it before giving up and selling the rights to Magnolia? How can they begin to apologize to those people?

I exaggerate, of course, but this is the sort of movie that inspires grandiose statements. I have heard it described as a "Thai Western", but that is a woefully incomplete description. I can best approximate the experience by saying that it is like an old-fashioned Western fused with a Wong Kar-wai period romance, but with heaping helpings of Raimi-esque splatstick and Tarantinoid genre awareness. But that makes it sound like some sort of disjointed imitation, when it's not. It's a Wisit Sasanatieng film, with all the colorful environments, comedy tinged with melancholy, and fantasy that will eventually imply as he grows in fame.

The story has a straightforward love triangle at its heart - Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi) is soon to be engaged to police captain Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangvuth), but is none too happy about it, for she has loved Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) ever since they were children, even though her father was a successful businessman and his a mere peasant. What she does not know is that Dum is The Black Tiger- a gunslinger working for Fai (Sobat Metanee), the province's worst bandit, whom Kumjorn has vowed to capture.

Tears of the Black Tiger initially has the feeling of two different movies stitched together, as our first sight of Dum and his partner Mahesuan (Supakorn Kitsuwon) is almost cartoonish, featuring Dum making such a preposterous shot that the film opts to show it again, featuring zooming in on every object that the bullet ricochets off. Then, immediately after, we see Rumpoey in an elegant, expensive red dress, the color popping out of the rain-soaked environment exactly the way it does in a Wong Kar-wai picture as shot by Christopher Doyle. Rumpoey's world is lush and posh without being parodically so, while even the more fantastic elements to Dum's are abstract, light pastels that are flat in hue. There's a third color scheme, washed-out almost to the point of being black and white reminiscent of a silent film, as we flash back to Dum and Rumpoey's past. It's closer to Dum's, which makes a certain amount of sense, as it is Rumpoey who is removed from that world. What's even more remarkable is how accurately Sasanetieng and cinematographer Nattawut Kittikhun nail the look of a previous era - the very film grain seems to suggest an eariler decade.

You can spend a whole lot of time deconstructing every visual cue that Sasanatieng and his crew use, but doing so takes the emphasis off what great fun the movie is. The garish color scheme is matched by garish action, with shoot-outs that grow more and more absurd as the film continues on. There's pistols, rifles, machine guns, grenades, and, yes, rocket launchers brought to bear in one, while confrontations between Dum and Mahesuan get the spaghetti western treatment, with low-angle shots between the legs and close-ups of the eyes. Villains meet nasty deaths, with the blood can be as over the top as the spinning newspapers that announce a new crime by Fai's gang.

The visuals are stunning despite often being things that can be accomplished on a budget, and the garish color certainly pops from any random still of the movie you happen to see, but the sound deserves note, too. Shots come from everywhere in action scenes, and the sound design gets a bit more primitive during the flashback sequences. Amombhong Methakunavudh's score is as playful as the painted backdrops, a perfect fit ofr the larger-than-life action going on in the story, whether it be bombastic for shootouts or swelling for melodrama.

All of this would be somewhat hollow if the work of the cast wasn't up to that of the crew. For the most part, that's true. Chartchai Ngamsan sports a half-moon-shaped scar on his forehead, which gives him a sort of mystical aura, which plays into the air of innocence he projects when he's not killing. He's got a fair amount of backstory to carry, and he allows it to come just short of crushing him. Arawat Runagvuth is, of course, more straightforward as Kumjorn, perfectly pleasant when things are going well, but with an ugly side that appears when adversity rears its ugly head. Stella Malucchi handles her tough job well - Rumpoey spends most of the movie glum over her impending arranged marriage, with just the occasional glimpse of her pleased to see Dum to show us that she isn't miserable by nature. Outside the triangle, Metanee chews his scenery well, and Kitsuwon walks the fine line of being jealous and respectful of Dum well enough to be a wild card in the last act.

It's good to have "Tears of the Black Tiger" finally out there were people can see it; Sasanatieng is an intriguing new talent who arguably should be better known already. The only advantage to the delay is that the people who will inevitably want to see more have a chance to, since he's got two other films under his belt and another on the way.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15582&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/06/07 11:40:02
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User Comments

7/12/07 William Goss Novelty of vivid tribute to Thai melodramas and American westerns wears off quickly. 3 stars
6/12/07 fools♫gold In oneminute I'll tell you it's a PERFECT and original flick, and inthenext I'd just say... 4 stars
4/12/07 Ole Man Bourbon PINK AND GREEN! PINK AND GREEN!!! 4 stars
3/10/07 dmitry Sirk+Ray+Leone+Hark=WOW 4 stars
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  12-Jan-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 24-Apr-2007

  24-Aug-2001 (18)
  DVD: 04-Mar-2002

  N/A (MA)

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