Tears of the Black Tiger
2000, NR, 113 min. Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng. Starring Chartchai Ngamsam, Suwinit Panjamawat, Stella Malucchi, Supakorn Kitsuwon, Arawat Ruangvuth.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Feb. 16, 2007
If you’re reading these listings in search of a movie that’s really different, let me tell you: Tears of the Black Tiger is really different. The first Thai film to be shown at Cannes, where it killed in 2001 – now it’s playing the AFS@Dobie series – Tears is part melodrama and part spaghetti western, as if Sirk and Peckinpah fell into a blender in Hong Kong. Out pour tear-soaked Polaroids, giant exploding squibs and blown-up heads, tearful Asian songbird ballads, homoerotic outlaw bonding, swish-pans and wacky intertitles, a Bronsonesque bad guy, bullet cams, questions of honor (“Kong! I’ll kill your whole clan!”), a crashed wedding, and agonizing twists of fate. Director Sasanatieng goes big in every way. When people get shot, they don’t just fall down. They fall onto something – a stack of logs, which scatter dramatically. A disembodied and still-smoldering arm lands next to one character, who looks at it dispassionately. And when it’s time to meet Rumpoey (Malucchi), the “high-born” governor’s daughter from Supanburi province, Sasanatieng has her walk into a beautifully composed medium shot of a rain-soaked glade, unrelentingly green, in a lurid fuchsia shirtwaist fluffed with crinoline, her lips impossibly pink – a flower more beautiful than those found in nature. To end the scene, Sasanatieng swoops dramatically up into the sky on a crane, like Mizoguchi, leaving Rumpoey to twist in agony below for loving Dum (Ngamsan), the dorky but upright and woodenly handsome neighbor boy of her youth, who has grown up to be the Black Tiger, feared hired gun of a local thug. Despite its layers of references and patina of kitsch, the movie is sincere at its core, inspiring indulgence of its tinted-sepia flashbacks of childhood meet cutes and its over-the-top, mustache-twirling rival (Kitsuwon). If Tears is indeed too weird to take America by storm – Miramax bought the film after Cannes and shelved it until it is now being released by Magnolia – it should neither be considered a cult item, approachable only to film nerds (though they will appreciate it best). With its broad strokes and Saturday-matinee enthusiasm, it’s a welcome departure from February burnout and Eddie Murphy’s fat suit. AFS@Dobie