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Tears of the Black Tiger
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Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)

Turn down that sunset! A couple of cowpokes duel in Tears of the Black Tiger

  Thai: ฟ้าทะลายโจร    
  Year: 2000    
  Director: Wisit Sasanatieng    
  Producer: Pracha Maleenont, Brian L. Marcar, Adirek Wattaleela, Nonzee Nimibutr
  Visual FX: Oxide Pang Chun    
  Cast: Chartchai Ngamsarn, Stella Malucchi, Supakorn Kitsuwan, Arawat Roungwut, Sombat Metanee, Naiyana Chewanan, Pairoj Jaising, Kunchi Kwangpracha
  The Skinny: The world is in shades of pastel green and pink. Both baddies and heroes laugh maniacally for no reason, and overacting is greatly encouraged. It's a mix of spaghetti western, South American telenovelas (ultra-melodramatic soap operas) and Thai folk songs. It's Tears of The Black Tiger, one of the most entertaining films of Thailand's New Wave.
by LunaSea:

Many people would be surprised if told that Thailand used to produce over 100 films a year. Sure, few people outside the country have had any chance to see them, and the way they've been handled by distributors over the years is shameful. However, Thailand's former output is still important to consider when talking about current Thai Cinema. Because of the World Trade Organization's influence, the eightees saw the country's film production shrink to just a few dozen films a year, and creativity began to run slim.

However, in recent years, a few people decided to change things. Directors Nonzee Nimibutr and Penek Ratanaruang, screenwriter Wisit Sasanatieng, and the Pang Brothers (who do just about everything, from directing to production) started to create films which showed vitality, creativity, and an uncompromising edge.

One of the most interesting Thai films of the last few years is Wisit Sasanatieng's debut Tears of the Black Tiger. With its nostalgic feeling and cheesy story, the film is a throwback to old Thai genre Cinema of the fifties and sixties, when Technicolor and vivid composition ruled. This film features one of the most exceptionally rich color palettes you'll ever see. Every shot is carefully crafted to make it memorable, such as black and white scenes with details shown in pink and green, and manipulation of shadows and light. There are also great sets and costumes, which add to the "tribute to the old days" feeling.

Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi) and Dum (Chartchai Ngamsarn) come from two different families. Rumpoey is noble and rich, while Dum is poor. His father is a poor farmer, living in the countryside. The evacuation of Bangkok during WWII brings them together, and they instantly begin a love story which is doomed from the beginning - socially and economically.

They meet again ten years later, and Dum promises her he will come back and live with her forever. However, fate cheats the two and keeps them apart. Dum finds his father killed by outlaws and Rumpoey is forced into an engagement with the police captain. As a result of this tragedy, Dum becomes The Black Tiger, the most feared outlaw in the land. Fate will bring them back together one more time, but will they be able to continue their love story? Or will tragedy strike again?

Don't let the film's arthouse acclaim mislead you: Tears of the Black Tiger is really easy to enjoy. It's silly but also intelligent at the same time, drawing influences from many directors and styles, such as pioneer director Ratana Pestonji's fifties films (Forever Yours, Country Hotel and Dark Heaven), Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, classic chanbara, Bollywood musicals, exploitation films and even anime.

The film also parodies the cowboy melodrama's formula, but retains a style of its own. The overstated romance here is intentional, as it recalls how Thai films were made back then, without improvisation and with a maniacal attention to details like facial expression, clothes and sets.

A soundtrack that mixes Ennio Morricone-style ballads with Thai folk songs carries the film throughout its tragic romance, cheesy battles and weird plot developments. With gorgeous cinematography that brings us back to the glory of Technicolor, intelligent editing and smooth direction, Wisit Sasanatieng's debut convinces on all counts. Just don't take it too seriously. It has cowboys with bazookas, for God's sake! (LunaSea, 2002)

Review by

Sukiyaki Western Django and The Good, the Bad, the Weird may be the most recent Asian-made Westerns to hit theaters across the globe, but in the year 2000, director Wisit Sasanatieng brought his self-dubbed “Tom Yum Goong Cowboys” to the big screen with the entertaining Wild West mash-up, Tears of the Black Tiger. As someone who has seen a lot of Westerns in his lifetime, I can safely declare that this dazzling, fun-filled romp is like no Western you’ve ever seen.

At its core, Tears of the Black Tiger is a classic melodrama, focusing on the seemingly doomed romance between a pair of star-crossed lovers: a harmonica-playing, crescent moon-scarred gunslinger called – what else – “The Black Tiger” (Chartchai Ngamsan) and a provincial governor’s beautiful daughter, Rumpoey Rajasena (Stella Malucchi). He’s a peasant, she’s a rich girl - the relationship is seemingly doomed from the start.

After some initial scenes which suggest an aborted intimate rendezvous at a picturesque forest gazebo, the film backtracks to the couple’s childhood days in post-World War II Thailand. This flashback – the first of several – illustrates not only how the relationship between Rumpoey and Dum Dua (the Black Tiger’s real name) developed, but also a) why a good boy like Dum could possibly join a band of outlaws, b) how he received his harmonica and scar, and c) just what the hell the significance of that gazebo really is.

In the present day, the handsomely villainous police captain Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangvuth) has his eyes on Rumpoey and seeks to wipe out the Black Tiger and his band of brothers, who are led by the mustachioed Fai (Sombat Metanee, a veteran of Thai action movies). While what happens next isn’t exactly unexpected for true genre fans, the way it unfolds is perhaps nothing less than genius. As enemies cross paths and allies are put at cross-purposes, the film climaxes with an all-out, guns-a-blazin’ assault and an ending that is both Buddhist and bittersweet, to say the least.

A Thai Western may seem like an odd combination, but director Wisit Sasanatieng pulls off this ambitious project with remarkable skill, drawing upon not only the late period Westerns of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, but also the Westerns of Hollywood’s yesteryear that featured actors like Tom Mix and Roy Rogers. In those old B-movies, the cowboys wore garish, stylized clothing that’s a far cry from the slick duster coats one associates with the revisionist Westerns post-John Wayne.

In addition to the director’s loving fixation on Westerns from the United States and Europe, Sasanatieng pays homage to Thai dramas from the fifties and sixties as well as Thai Action cinema from the sixties and seventies (a time when Thai cowboy films were once popular). You may need to be Thai to fully appreciate all the references, but the medium of film is so intertextual and transnational that I’d imagine you’d get the gist of the reference, even if the full depth of meaning is lost between cultures.

As a result of this delirious mishmash of genres and styles, Tears of the Black Tiger is tonally all over the place. But somehow, it works. Just when you think the movie will settle into a rote parody of its source material, Tears of the Black Tiger will surprise. The movie can navigate from heightened melodrama to crazily bloody violence to low comedy and then to Godard-esque filmic touches without missing a beat.

The most iconic scene in the entire film occurs early, as a Sergio Leone-esque gunfight occurs not in the midst of an actually Thai landscape, but on a studio set with fake grass and a painted background sun in a tribute to Thai folk opera. One might suspect that all this artificiality would make the film less absorbing on a dramatic level, but quite surprisingly, Tears of the Black Tiger is a rare instance of high camp that that doesn’t create an ironic distance between itself and the audience.

While the trials and tribulations of the film’s main players are the glue that holds the narrative together, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most hilarious performance in the entire film. Actor Supakorn Kitsuwon is a real scene stealer as Mahuesuen, a dastardly outlaw and Black Tiger’s sworn blood brother. With his perpetually arched eyebrow, comically incongruous baritone voice, and propensity for maniacal laughter, Mahuesuen is a welcome presence throughout the film. His first and final duels with the Black Tiger are some of the best staged gunfights outside of Leone, where a simple, seemingly throwaway sight gag has an unexpected payoff. For this reason and more, Tears of the Black Tiger is, hands down, one of the most entertaining Westerns I’ve ever seen from any country from the last twenty years. (Calvin McMillin 2010)

Notes: • International sales rights to Tears of the Black Tiger were initially purchased by Fortissimo Films, which released a director-approved international cut that was about ten minutes shorter than the Thai theatrical version. Fortissimo then sold the rights to Miramax Films during the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, and studio head Harvey Weinstein ordered the film to be edited even further without consulting director Wisi Sasanatieng. This version was screened once at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, before being shelved indefinitely. In 2006, Magnolia Films acquired the rights to Tears of the Black Tiger and restored the film to its original theatrical length.
• Without spoiling the film, the Miramax cut – which, at the time of this writing, is available on Netflix Instant – makes a number of changes, the most dramatic being the ending, which omits much of the climax to create a more traditionally upbeat conclusion. Unfortunately, this new ending not only leaves certain elements unresolved in an oddly obvious manner, but is undercut by a dramatically telling pair of images that appear during the end credits. In layman’s terms, the Miramax ending sucks.

Thailand National Film Association
• Best Costume Design (Chaiwichit Somboon)
Thailand National Film Association
• Best Artistic Design (Ek Iamchuen)
• Best Supporting Actor (Sombat Metanee)
• Best Film Score (Amornbhong Methakunavudh)

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Magnolia Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Thai Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles subtitles
“Making Of” Featurette (in Thai with English Subtitles), Trailer, Extras
  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen