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February 18, 2007

King Naresuan II


Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj: Prakard Issaraphab
Chatrichalerm Yukol - 2007
Sahamongkol Film 35mm Film

The full title for the second film in Chatrichalerm's trilogy translates as "Reclaiming Sovereignity". If those words make one think of The Empire Strikes Back, that is probably no coincidence. The effect of this film is similar to the first Star Wars, where Hans Solo's bantering with Princess Leia was more fun to watch than Luke Skywalker grappling with "the force".

Backtracking a bit - the first film ended with young Naresuan escaping from his posh prison. The second film jumps ahead to 1577 when the Prince is now twenty-two years old. Naresuan has formed alliances with various lords based on his abilities as a fighter. Siamese territories are still ruled by Burma. Naresuan feels a sense of obligation to King Bayinnaung, the man who held him as a prisoner but also raised him to be a royal leader. Attending Bayinnuang's funeral, Naresuan finds himself caught between allegiance to Bayinnuang's son, Nandabayin, the new Burmese king, and his professed goal of freedom for the Siamese. Nandabayin, meanwhile attempts several plots against his the man who was his childhood nemisis. The orphan, Bunthing, has been elevated to a Lord named Rajamanu. Manechan has grown into a beautiful young woman, still adoring Naresuan. The monk, Khan Shong, is still around to dispense wisdom.

There are some spectacular battle scenes with guns, arrows, swords and cannons. Among the warriors are Portuguese mercenaries and a hill tribe called the Naka that are similar to the headhunters of South America. This is a Thai epic made for a Thai audience who has grown up knowing this story about Siamese independence.

The heart of the film is actually to be found in the subplot involving Rajamanu and a warrior princess, Lekin, played by Inthira Charoenpura, seen above. When Inthira and Nopachai Jayanama first make contact, the verbal barbs and close sword fighting are like the martial arts equivalent to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. While fighting cheek-to-cheek, Nopachai embraces Inthira in a mid-battle smooch. The delight evinced by these two performances is similar to such classic action stars as Burt Lancaster, in his earlier roles, and Brigitte Lin. Nopachai wooing Inthira is like watching the battling couples from classic screwball comedies if you can imagine Carole Lombard beaning a would-be suitor with tree branch and a large rock. Best of all are the scenes of Inthira battling the various bad guys once she is won over by the tenacious Napachoi.

The film ends with Naresuan victorious in battle against the armies set against him by Nandabayin. Naresuan declares the end of his loyalty to the Burmese throne, with the inevitable battle for independence to be seen in the third film. While the third film is scheduled to be released in early December to coincide with the birthday of the King of Thailand, an article in the Bangkok Post has mentioned that the first two films are to be available on DVD in April in Thailand. The DVD may well be the only way international audiences will see the trilogy, the most polished of Chatrichalerm's films. While one may view that Naresuan was financed by the Thai royal family, the film thematically is in keeping with most of Chatrichalerm's films since his earliest works, where he examined the concept Thai identity.

Cross-posted in Twitch.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 18, 2007 02:20 AM


Peter: It's always great reading your write-ups on Thai film over at Twitch, though I thought you might appreciate my saying so more over here on your own site.

May I make one suggestion? I would indicate that your write-up is cross-PUBLISHED at your own site rather than cross-POSTED. Over time I've learned there's an important distinction.

Posted by: Maya at February 18, 2007 03:32 AM

It was 1577.

Did you catch the character names of the two young lords who play Rock Paper Scissors at the beginning? I got so bogged down trying to remember the name of Burmese Prince Eyeliner that I forgot.

I enjoyed your description of the Princess Lerkin-Bunthing relationship. It was one of the hightlights of the movie. It's great to see Intira Charoenpura on the big screen again.

I doubt very much that the DVDs will have English subtitles. English subs on a Thai release are a very rare occurrence. Catch it in cinemas while you can and cherish the memory.

Posted by: Curtis at February 19, 2007 02:56 AM

D'oh! Thanks for catching that error, Curtis. I'm not sure who those actors are either. Of course it doesn't help that with the transliteration from Thai to English, there are no consistent spellings for any names. As you probably found for yourself, even the official film website doesn't have full information in English.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at February 19, 2007 05:07 AM

so why don't they name the second film 'Rajamanu and the Warrior Princess Lekin' instead? i could hardly seeing any important role being played by Naresuan which was not equally important by other charactors. and btw, the war scenes were pathetic. more than half of them are slow motion shots, I mean, one scene of a super slow arrow is fine but when you more than 20 super slow scenes then it becomes boring and slow!

Posted by: Manik Sethisuwan at February 24, 2007 03:35 PM