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May 13, 2010

Legend of the Tsunami Warrior

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Puen yai jon salad/Queens of Langkasuka
Nonzee Nimibutr - 2008
Magnolia Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I have to assume that releasing Nonzee Nimibutr's newest film on DVD in the U.S. is the part of the price Mark Cuban and Magnolia are paying to stay in business with Sahamongkolfilm, the studio of Thailand's biggest star, Tony Jaa. Two years after its release at Cannes, Nonzee is ill-served by a nonsensical title. At least the film is the same version that played theatrically after Cannes, cut from 133 minutes to just a little under two hours. As a producer, Nonzee has been busy with several films, notably The Eye 2 for the Pang brothers, and the Thai classical music story, The Overture. As a director, Nonzee's last film to get significant DVD release was Jan Dara, with OK Baytong apparently only seen outside of Thailand in the festival circuit.

A queen and her two princesses rule the mythical kingdom of Langkasuka. Rival kingdoms, all ruled by men, have formed alliances that threaten the queen. One prince has joined with a pirate, Black Raven, to attack the kingdom. In a small fishing village, a young man, Peri, learns magic from a mysterious old man named White Ray. White Ray has an evil twin brother, Black Ray. There's also a very large cannon, a gift to defend Langkasuka, that is at the bottom of the ocean, the result of a pirate attack. Black Ray plots to raise the cannon for use against the kingdom.

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Legend of the Tsunami Warrior represents a major shift in the work of Nonzee Nimibutr, from his smaller, more personal films. The 20 million dollar budget is not much bigger than that of some so-called independent films from Hollywood studios, but was a record by Thai standards. There are parts of the film that will easily recall Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars. And it is those parts of Legend of the Tsunami Warrior that work against the intentions of the filmmaker. While not as wrong-headed as the superhero movie, Mercury Man, there is a misunderstanding of what is needed to make a film with international appeal.

The biggest error is to attempt to make a Thai version of the kind of film that Hollywood produces at ten times the budget with big name stars. The most popular Thai film, the first Ong-Bak, was uniquely Thai in its concerns of Buddhism and elephants, and also in its sense of humor. Also uniquely Thai was the first Thai film to get international distribution, Iron Ladies, about the winning volleyball team comprised mostly of gay men and ladyboys. In that same vein, the most acclaimed of Nonzee's films is his own version of a genuine Thai legend, Nang Nak.

The best known actor in Legend of the Tsunami Warrior is the second best known martial arts star, Dan Chupong, seen mostly with a partial mask to cover a wound received near the eye, saving the life of the queen. Ananda Everingham, who for a while seemed to be in every other Thai movie, plays magical Pari who literally swims with the fishes. Sorapong Chatree, a mainstay of Thai cinema since the mid Seventies, plays White Ray. One of the action directors is Panna Rittikrai, probably one of the valuable members of the Sahamongkolfilm team. Weerapon Phumatfon, best known for the fight choreography for Chocolate, also served as action director. The screenplay is by novelist Win Lyovarin with an ending that suggest a sequel. The film was originally envisioned to be in two parts. Legend of the Tsunami Warrior isn't a bad film as much as it is a disappointment from the man who raised the bar for Thai cinema.

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Posted by peter at May 13, 2010 12:39 AM