Without an intimate familiarity with 1960s Thai cinema, it’s difficult to discern when Wisit Sasantieng’s Tears of a Black Tiger—shot in the old-fashioned style of his country’s florid melodramas—is merely being faithful to its cheesy forerunners and when it’s deliberately exaggerating their tacky tropes for comedic and/or analytic effect. Replicating Thai genre films’ overblown amalgamation of western-movie elements, Sasantieng’s directorial debut (completed in 2000, but only now receiving a U.S. release) is part tearjerker, part spaghetti western, and all kinds of crazy, full of tobacco-spitting banditos and set in a bizarre, self-consciously artificial Thai countryside created with overripe colors, rear-projection backdrops, and theatrical lighting. This hyper-real aesthetic is matched, extreme for extreme, by Sasanatieng’s story about the ill-fated relationship between criminal gunslinger Black Tiger (Chartchai Ngamsan) and wealthy beauty Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), who fell in love as kids despite hailing from different sides of the tracks and find their adult reunion complicated by his most-wanted status and her impending marriage to a police captain (Arawat Ruangvuth) intent on shutting down the operation of Black Tiger’s kingpin boss Fai (Sombati Medhanee). As the two pine for one another, narrative threads become tangled in excessively contrived ways, but despite the minor amusement derived from the film’s fundamentally synthetic construction—which also includes gory slow-motion images of men being peppered with lead, highlighted by an extreme close-up of a bullet traveling through the hole in a coin and into a poor soul’s mouth—there’s a frustrating lack of excitement or romance to the stylized, Leone-by-way-of-Sirk action. What Tears of the Black Tiger does have is an atmosphere of hallucinatory unreality as well as some choice parodies of its cowboy ancestors, such as Black Tiger associate/rival Mahesuan’s (Supakorn Kitsuwon) booming voice—dubbed via reverb-afflicted ADR—and perpetually raised eyebrow. Where the playful caricature ends and any potential critical commentary about its source material begins is ultimately never quite clear. I’m pretty sure, however, that regardless of any deeper significance, the dancing, grenade-throwing midget is meant to be hilarious.
- Wisit Sasanatieng
- Wisit Sasanatieng
- Chartchai Ngamsan, Stella Malucchi, Supakorn Kitsuwon, Arawat Ruangvuth, Sombati Medhanee, Pairoj Jaisingha, Naiyana Sheewanun, Kanchit Kwanpracha
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