This movie isn’t just about the legend of Suriyothai, this
is the legend of Thailand during Suriyothai’s lifetime. It’s
an ambitious epic, full of intricate details yet so broad
that it spans several decades. It covers years and years of
war, deceit, and bravery while throwing in a few touching
moments in Thai history.
When the movie opens, headings tell us it is 1528, the year
of the rat. We see the young princess Suriyothai (Pimolrat
Pisolyabutr) breaking convention and sneaking off to meet
with her soul mate Lord Piren (Plengpanich). As luck
would have it, Prince Tien (Wongkrchang) spies the
lovely girl while she is cavorting and decides he wants to
marry her. Suriyothai must then choose between a politically
advantageous marriage to Prince Tien or the inclinations of
her heart. She chooses Prince Tien, and as the movie says,
“It was the first of many sacrifices Suriyothai made for her
Then comes more headings with years and unhelpful information
such as “the third week of the waxing of the moon.” I really
had no idea how much time had passed. In any case, Suriyothai
(Bhirombhakdi) is now grown up. We get very few glimpses
of her life, however. This movie focuses less on her and more
on the fate of the country.
It’s a twisted, dark history filled with measles epidemics,
wars, and murder. Big turning points occur when Prince Chairacha
(Wachirabunjong), son of the late king, seizes the
throne from his half brother, a boy-king. Another big event
happens when Chairacha’s concubine Srisudachan (Charoenpura)
schemes behind her husband’s back to bring Warawongsa (Anfone),
a man from her own dynasty, to the throne instead. A lot of
shady things happen, and would be really gripping if the movie
had more direction. As it is, it’s really hard to find someone
to sympathize with.
The sets in this movie are fantastic. All of the scenes were
shot on location, at actual historic sites. From architecture
to boats to weapons therefore, everything looks completely
believable and authentic. It really shows off 16th-century
Thailand and it’s beautiful. Furthermore, thousands of extras
were used in this film, all wearing traditional garb.
Which brings me to the subject of the amazing battle scenes.
There are both overhead shots of the massive armies (including
lots of elephants in war paint) and close-ups of hand-to-hand
combat. A few warriors wear armor, but the vast majority of
the army wears nothing but loincloths, which makes sword fights
all the more brutal. Where exactly does one hide a blood pellet
under bare skin? The slashes by the blade are enough to make
one wince, not to mention the warriors’ penchant for decapitation.
Despite all this brutality, there’s a quiet emotional vein
running through the story. This involves Suriyothai, who has
a deep bond with childhood friend Piren while recognizing
her duty to husband and country. It is her love and strength
that keeps Thailand (and the movie) together. In this respect,
I guess it was her movie after all.
The movie is subtitled and the words are easy to read. However,
the subtitles are much, much shorter than the dialogue and
I wonder how much meaning has been left out in the translation.