11 November 2005 | UberNoodle
A Glorious Epic!
Suriyothai is a stunning film: Spanning 2 DVDs, and full of political intrigue, history, and glorious battle scenes. There are so many main characters, and all of them command a huge amount of weight, and against movie tradition, there isn't really even a traditional Hero character, even Suriyothai herself playing minor roles in much of the drama.
Some have criticized the actress's acting as stiff and wooden, but I thought that Suriyothai was poker-faced intentionally, because she is a Queen after all. Most period pieces from any country have characters like this. I think you have look past her obvious cues and look for the more subtle ones, in order to appreciate her character: passionate about her country and her people, and devoted to her role.
In fact there are many cards that other productions would have played, that this film doesn't, and much to its credit it stays away from many of the obvious manipulative narratives that are the mainstays for this genre of film, especially in the west. The film has a historical and legendary basis, and I am unsure exactly how closely it stays to that, but I found the film had the great level of depth and realism that only the best historical films attain.
Watching hundreds of extras, alongside elephants, charge into battle, clashing swords and dodging cannon fire, is exhilarating. It's hard to see which army has the upper-hand until the final moments. There appears to have been a conscious decision to not fall for the trappings of making each battle into "hero's battle", so the action often stays away from focusing on main characters, and chooses to present to the viewer the sheer chaos of war.
Oh, and it needs to be said: The elephants are awesome.
If you are interested in this film, get at least the the 3 hour long version, as it is the closest to the way the film was intended (reportedly it was originally going to be a mini-series). While this longer edit of the film has a lot more political intrigue and dialogue, it that brings with it much more depth to the characters and situations. If you are not part of the "Attention Deficit Generation" bred by Hollow-wood, you can't go wrong with this REAL version.
I can see why this film was edited down for the USA release. It is very long, and there is a lot of references and content that is probably assumed knowledge for most Thai people. However, while I can see the logic in removing parts of a film because of cultural barriers, isn't one of the reasons for watching foreign film, to find out more about other cultures? Granted, there is much that went over my head while watching this film, but I have to say that I didn't mind, and now I will find out more if I can about Thailand and its history: The Internet is a wonderful invention.
Francis Ford Coppolla has some serious balls to have resold this film BACK to Thailand after he deleted most of it. I doubt he would take a film by Ridley Scott, and slice it to pieces. Faced with that particular situation, I am sure he would be all about "preserving the vision of the artists". It seems to be to be just another example of Hollow-wood being unwilling to let Asian Film compete on its own merits in America, and at least an ingrained xenophobia.
Suriyothai is an amazing film. It is an epic that I have not seen bested by any other, and maybe even the mythical long edit of Tsui Hark's Seven Swords would have an near-impossible mission to dethrone it. The sheer size and quality of this production, together with the unique chance that it gives to see Thai history represented so gloriously and elegantly, are reasons enough to hunt down the Thai DVD.