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2004 Mini Reviews

The Legend of Suriyothai (2003)

The Legend of Suriyothai
Directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol
Starring M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, Johnny Anfone, Mai Charoenpura
Running Time: 185 minutes

This film is a lot closer to home to me than it would be for many others. I lived in Thailand when I was 7 and 8 years old, and my memories of the place are still extremely vivid. I still remember some of the language, and I will never forget the architecture and distinct culture of the place. Unfortunately I have never had a chance to really delve into Thai film, probably because not much is available to me. This film happens to be the biggest blockbuster in the history of Thai film, and just so happens to be my first Thai film experience since I was a child. For that reason, I probably enjoyed this film more than my review makes it seem.

The Legend of Suriyothai is a beautiful film. It succeeds in highlighting the glory and the beauty of Thailand, and does so with extraordinary locations, adequate cinematography, wonderfully constructed sets, and some great costume designs. The film does have several plot problems and suffers from some poor acting. It also may seem a bit amateurish and significantly different from Western historical epic. Even with the film's problems, there are some fantastic shots, some moving scenes, and some great eye candy that make this film a worthwhile experience.

The greatest character in this film is the Thai culture. In fact, this is pretty much the embodiment of Thai culture, because it's subject matter is one of Thailand's most revered heroes. It also takes a look into Thai history, albeit a slightly distorted picture. The most impressive aspect of the film is the architecture, which the filmmakers did a great job at capturing. Thai buildings are very unique and beautiful to see. The film is just a treasure to look at.

There are several problems with the plot. First of all, it is too convoluted. There are too many political backstabbings, too many characters, and most of the plot twists have little to do with the conflict with Burma, or with the fate of Suriyothai. In that respect, the film has some mistaken identity. It establishes itself early on as being a chronicle of her life, however she is mostly forgotten during the 1st and 2nd acts, and doesn't reemerge as a major character until near the end of the film. This poor development fails to develop the protagonist or the conflict with Burma, which results in the viewer not caring as much about either. There is a large battle scene against Burma during the film that almost doesn't seem like it belongs, because they hardly established any confict other than internalized.

With the exception of the film's villain Srisudachan, the acting is quite wooden at times. Perhaps this is something I am able to pick up on because of my Thai exposure, but I noticed a lot of the dialog was delivered in a wooden tone. There are several long scenes where plenty of dialog is exchanged between characters, but there is hardly any movement in the character's bodies, or any emotion in the character's voices.

The subtitling is also quite poor. Most people probably would not pick up on this, but I do still it is worth noting, as it does hurt the story. The translation is just downright horrible on this film. There are several occasions of poor word choice, and sometimes the subtitle is outright wrong. A good example is a scene where a character walks in says hello. The scene is subtitled "I am not an enemy."

I should also mention that this film is extremely graphic. Some of the bloodshed just wouldn't happen with an American film. I found myself being reminded often of Tarantino's Kill Bill, only Tarantino's bloodshed was exaggerated and partly for show. Not the case with Suriyothai.

The film really does have some moving moments. There is one scene where a boy-king is executed that is extremely powerful, but not in a manipulated sense. There are several other memorable scenes, some of which are reminiscent of The Last Emperor.

Technically, this is an amazing film. The fact that a film of this scale came from Thailand makes it even more impressive. I can definitely say that this film is like no other you've seen before, and if you aren't familiar with Southeast Asian culture, you are in for a special experience.

Score: 6/10