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The Legend of Suriyothai (R)
Sony Pictures Classics
Official Site
Director: Chatri Chalerm Yukol
Producer: Kamla Yukol
Written by: Chatri Chalerm Yukol, Sunait Chutintaranond
Cast: M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, Sarunyoo Wongkrchang, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Chatchai Plengpanich, Johnny Anfone, Mai Charoenpura

Rating: out of 5

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 country.”

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.

—Kelly Hsu


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