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  Suriyothai  
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    
  Year: 2001    
  Director: MC Chatri Chalerm Yukol (a.k.a Than Mui)    
  Cast: M.L Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, Mai Charoenpura, Pimolrat Pisalayabutr, Johnny Anfone, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Chatchai Plengpanich, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Penpak Sirikul, Wannasa Tongviset, Sorapong Chatri, Suphakit Tangthatswasd, Saharat Sangkapricha, Ronrittichai Khanket, Sombat Medhanee, Paveena Hongsakula, Pisan Akaraseni, Supakorn Kitsuwon, Ampol Lamppon, Sinjai Plengpanit, Suchao Pongwilai, Varuth Waratham, H. M. The Queen of Thailand Sirikit Kitiyakara  
The Skinny: A dangerously awkward first half almost compromises Prince Chatri's epic story of Thailand's greatest heroine. But, if you have enough patience to let the film blossom, you'll be rewarded. The last forty minutes of Suriyothai feature some of the most impressive battle scenes ever put to film. While overhyped and overrated, this film still shouldn't be missed. Thanks to its amazing technical achievements, and its accurate recreation of one of the most important periods in Thai history, Suriyothai is a memorable - albeit flawed - piece of filmmaking. It's also the most successful Thai film of all time.
Review
by LunaSea:
     Like many other legendary figures in Thai history (Thao Suranaree, King Naresuan), Suriyothai - Queen of Ayutthaya - will always be remembered, no matter how much past historical information has been lost. In an attempt to keep the memory of Suriyothai alive with the help of a popular medium, Queen Sirikit (who also stars in the film), hand-picked revered director Chatri Chalerm Yukol to make a film that would honor the legendary heroine. The film would help people regain interest in the country's history, goading them to ask themselves questions about their past, and to respect their traditions. The film Suriyothai started and ended with a lot of pressure, perhaps too much so. After more than seven years of research and shooting, the final product still looks a little raw and unpolished.
     The film's first half hints at how much footage has been edited out. For over ninety minutes Suriyothai suffers from a lack of character development. It's almost as if the director wanted to fit all this information in at the beginning, to bring people (particularly Westerners) up to speed with the film's historical setting. The result is like cramming a whole wuxia novel into a fifty page book. The characters don't even have time to blink, and they're never explored beyond black and white caricatures. One wonders if this approach by the director was simply an attempt to stick to facts, thus avoiding manipulation of the audience with a more dramatic story. The first half plays like a frenetic rush, preparing the big battle and setting up the characters for the inevitable final climax.
     The film starts with a young Suriyothai (Pimolrat Pisalayabutr) leaving her lover to marry Phra Thienraja, the man who would be crowned king. This sacrifice represents her first act of humility, and gives rest to the growing instability between the Kingdoms' families. This first hour seems more like a documentary, as it feels dry and to the point. Director Than Mui sticks to simple narration without adding anything to it. And, even if that was intentional, it goes all up in smoke because there's no real background for what happens.
     As she grows into a Queen, Suriyothai (now played by M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi) has to deal with the emergence of the manipulative and devious Thao Sisudachan (Mai Charoenpura). Thao is slowly plotting to achieve power at the expense of anybody who gets in her path. Finally a shred of character development appears, and the film begins to involve. The political intrigue, backstabbing and manipulation are similar to vintage wuxia novels, and are rendered with passion by the director. And, more importantly, the overall performance by the cast improves dramatically, allowing the leads to show some considerable charisma.
     The third act of the film explores the strategies and events that led to the famous final battle against Burmese troops. This is where the visual grandeur of the film takes form. Imagine three thousand soldiers with amazingly realistic costumes; more than eighty elephants; a few hundred horses, guns, cannons, and swords; gruesome decapitations, arrows graphically piercing bodies, explosions, elephants collapsing on the field, hordes of men jumping in the air, and blood all over the place. The scope of those final forty minutes is simply astonishing. Few have come close to battle scenes of this magnitude. But, perhaps because of the film's first half, we never feel the full emotional consequences of what happens. Due to the over-editing, or the need to emphasize historical accuracy over character development and storytelling, the end is not as affecting as it could have been.
     Until the rest of the eight hours Than Mui shot are somehow revealed, we will never find out just how good Suriyothai is. In its current state, it lacks pathos. Also, both dialogue and script often feel pedestrian. The strongest moments are often those featuring silence, as they allow the actors to carry the scene based on emotions, and not fabricated historical babble. Still, people will remember Suriyothai for something else. Technically, the film breaks new ground for the Thai film industry. Also, the film explores themes that were previously taboo in Thai Cinema. Suriyothai proves a visually mesmerizing experience, even if its characters don't leave a lasting impression. The film ultimately feels like a history lesson with a sudden shot of adrenaline to the senses at the end. And what a shot it is! (LunaSea 2002)
 
Notes: • Francis Ford Coppola is currently re-editing this film for an upcoming US release. It's been reported he has already cut forty minutes from the film, and he even asked his friend and former classmate (UCLA) Prince Chatri to entirely re-shoot other scenes. I bet you can't wait for that...
 
Availability: DVD (Thailand - 185 Min Thai Theatrical Version)
Region 0 PAL
Mangpong
3-disc Special Edition
Widescreen
Thai Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English & Thai Subtitles
Making of Documentary
Note: The film is split on two discs
 
   
image courtesy of www.pappayon.com
 
   
 
 
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