Legend of Suriyothai, The (Thailand) ** 1/2
Directed by Chatri Chalerm Yukol; written by Yukol, Sunait Chutintaranond; photography by Igor Luther, Stanislav Dorsic, Anupap Boachan; editing, Pattamanadda Yukol; art direction, Prasopcok Thanasetvirai, Prasert Posrirat, Chetsada Prunarakard; music, Richard Harvey; producers, Francis Ford Coppola, Kim Aubry, Kamla Yukol. A Sony Pictures Classics release. In Thai, with English subtitles. 142 minutes. R (violence) CAST: M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, Sarunyoo Wongkrchang. Pongpat Wachirabunjong, et al.
A truly epic film, this was - to the best of my knowledge, as information seems to be reticent to tell it all-a huge production for TV of at least a length of 8 hours. Apparently it was a huge hit in Thailand. Then the series got edited down into a movie-screen version, principally by Francis Ford Coppola. Whatever the details, the production is the most expensive film ever made in Thailand, and the biggest ticket-seller too.
It was directed by an experienced person who also happens to be a prince. Thailand's Queen. wishing to educate her country's youth about their historical past, also pitched in with funds. The edited-down version shown in Thailand in 2001 was a success. How, when, how and if THAT movie was re-reedited by Coppola & Co. for its American release, is unclear.
The story takes place in the 1500s over a period of years. The country was known as Siam for centuries, and became Thailand only in 1939. The Kingdom of Siam connected to Europe after 1511, what with Portuguese traders, missionaries and even mercenaries. It became the only country in Southeast Asia to be free of European colonization. It was then the Ayutthaya kingdom, with what I suppose were lesser sub-kingdoms. Its main enemy was the neighboring Kingdom of Burma.
Enough history. Yet the fact is that notwithstanding its title the film spreads out enormously, in labyrinthine ways, to include, from 1528 on, the minor princess Suriyothai, her love for a man, the necessity to marry another for political reasons, her next husband (or is it husbands?) plus an endless web of complications, court intrigues, fealties, other intrigues, internal and external plots and subplots, adulteries, murders, assassinations, usurpations, poisonings, executions, rivalries, betrayals, sexual affairs, infidelities (personal and political), and much else.
Keeping track of who's who, what, where and why requires abilities worthy of those deployed on the famous Enigma cryptographic machine during World War II. I'm sure that Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot would give up and cry "uncle!"
On the other hand the enormous means used in this picture are more than impressive -they are stupefying. You have thousands of warriors (corralled from the Thai army,) used mostly in the film's finale in striking albeit confusing fashion.
There are bevies of pretty women with luscious shoulders --and occasionally other body parts. Remarkable too is that among the women as well as the men all are in perfect shape. Nobody is fat (except one fellow I spotted) not to mention obese.
Admirable are the tons of beautiful architecture (real and reconstructed,) uses of wood (furniture replicas), superb landcapes and riverscapes, weapons from swords to bows, from rifles to big guns, and, and, and The photography and lighting are beautiful too, the sounds impressive. Then there are dozens if not hundreds of splendid elephants. (Though in another sense you may say that the movie suffers from elephantiasis in the medical sense.)
Just about the only thing missing are Siamese cats which are on the A list of beauties on God's green earth.