Thai do or die
Like a Southeast Asian "Braveheart," the stunning Thai film "Bang Rajan" celebrates the bravery and humanity of villagers who fought Burmese invaders in the 18th century.
By DAVID LIPFERT
(Originally reviewed at the Asian Films Are Go! festival in April 2002.)
Move over, "Braveheart" because the Thai import "Bang Rajan" will blow you away as a realistic, non-stagy medieval-era war flick. The year is 1765 and Burma is out for blood to avenge Thai support for cross-border insurgents. Bang Rajan village is the only obstacle to the invading Burmese army's assault on then Thai capital Ayuttaya.
It doesn't take long to realize that for all their solidarity, the villagers are completely outnumbered. The Burmese army leaders may love luxury, but their 200,000 turbaned and saronged foot soldiers are many and fierce. Effective defensive strategy may be in short supply but there is bravery in abundance. Early victories reinforce the upbeat start.
|Directed by: Thanit Jitnukul.|
Written by: team headed by Thanit Jitnukul.
Cast: Bin Banluerit, Winai Kraibutr, Soontree Maila-or, Jaran Ngamdee, Chumporn Tapephitak, Atthakorn Suwannaraj..
Cinematography: Vichean Rungvichayakul.
In Thai with English subtitles.
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Asian Films Are Go! 2002|
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Two strapping young men, Inn (Winai Kraibutr) and Meuang (Atthakorn Suwannaraj) typify the village fighters that combine tenderness and family duty with determination. Inn's wife Taeng-on (Soontree Maila-or) is modeled more on Western war maids that strive to outdo their male counterparts. Humorous scenes built around drunkard Tong-Menn (Bin Banluerit) cut the tension in the first half, but he goes into overdrive when crunch time hits.
Bang Rajan's strength is its leadership. Young, mustached Chan (Jaran Ngamdee) is newly at the helm, but the head Buddhist monk has the last word on key matters. Working in tandem there is initiative in abundance when the capital won't provide cannons, the villagers do one better and melt all their metal to make their own. Whether heroically manning the wooden fortifications or slugging it out in the jungle, they earn our esteem.
The subject of this film is the collective bravery of the villagers, but director Tanit Jitnukul offers just enough human interest to make the film involving. He stops short of cheesy sentimentalism that is the death of many war films while also managing to avoid the annoying cameos that populate historical-themed Asian cinema and theater. Only occasionally do his quite distinct characters slip into caricatures, such as quickly sobered-up Tong-Menn charging across the rice fields atop a water buffalo.|
Directness is Bang Rajan's principal virtue. The script by various authors keeps dialogue simple but not simplistic. Photography director Vichean Rungvichayakul likewise limits visual effects to slo-mo and impressionistically blurred sequences. Chatacai Pongpraphan's score hits the spot no soft music to bombs dropping like in "Pearl Harbor." If you're not used to seeing Bollywood films, the dubbed-in voices might take some getting used to.
Thailand's all-time highest grossing film beating out even "Titanic" hit a patriotic nerve there. What's in it for Westerners? Plenty, if you like believable, hard-hitting action with human drama mixed in. Miss it at your own risk.
|APRIL 26, 2002|
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