Tears Of The Black Tiger

2000, Movie, NR, 113 mins


A delirious fever dream of pulp-Western conventions by way of 1950s Hollywood melodrama, Thai filmmaker Wisit Sasanatieng's surreal oddity unfolds in heavily manipulated colors so rich they seem ready to leap off the screen, and is punctuated by spasms of over-ripe dialogue, floridly dramatic songs and maniacally villainous laughter.

As the sky weeps uncontrollably, a beautiful woman enters a gazebo set down in the middle of the verdant countryside and waits — but who is the man in the photo that drops from her neatly folded hankie? Elsewhere, two bandits in stylized cowboy gear attack a small gang of gunslingers, slaughtering them in a dazzling display of impossibly flamboyant shooting. Who is the handsome bad man who can send a ricocheting bullet careening into a thug's brain with imperial aplomb? And what hidden motives drive his volatile sidekick with the painted-on pencil moustache, Mahesuan (Supakorn Kitsuwon)?

The answers are straight from the doomed-romance playbook: The beauty is privileged Rumpoey Rajensa (Stella Malucchi), who's being courted by straight-arrow law man Captain Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangvuth). The shootist is Seua Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan), a farmer's son turned brigand known to all as "Black Tiger." Dum and Mahesuan answer to notorious outlaw Fai (Sombat Metanee), and Rumpoey and Dum each carry for the other a torch kindled when they were childhood playmates. But Dum, delayed by the massacre, fails to show up for their rendezvous, so Rumpoey tearfully agrees to accept Kumjorn's proposal of marriage. And Dum's unsuccessful efforts to keep his date with Rumpoey, rather than celebrate a killing well done, angers Fai, a turn of events that Mahesuan — whom Dum replaced in Fai's hierarchy — intends to turn to his own advantage. The complications are standard-issue, but Sasanatieng's rapturous manipulation of familiar characters, situations and imagery is so gloriously weird and overwrought that it achieves the status of deranged poetry. Sasanatieng's hyper-stylized aesthetic suggests the dreamily artificial confections whipped up by erotic fantasist James Bidgood; in fact, ridiculously handsome star Ngamsan would look right at home in Bidgood's homoerotic reverie Pink Narcissus, super-sexy cowboy drag and all. This kind of unbridled artifice isn't everyone's cup of hallucinogenic tea, but for the right kind of movie lover, its visionary delirium is intoxicating. — Maitland McDonagh leave a comment

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