The film concerns the life of King Naresuan, who liberated the Siamese from the control of Burma. Born in 1555, he was taken to Burma as a child hostage; there he became acquainted with ... See full summary »
The film concerns the life of King Naresuan, who liberated the Siamese from the control of Burma. Born in 1555, he was taken to Burma as a child hostage; there he became acquainted with sword fighting and became a threat to the Burmese empire. Written by
Phra Suphan Galaya, presented as Naresuan's older sister, presented to Overlord Bayinnaung as tribute, is a late addition to the Naresuan legend; as there is no substantial evidence of her character in the historical annals. See more »
"Suriyothai" told the story of Thailand's greatest ever heroine - a Queen who rode into battle on an elephant.
When "Suriyothai" was released, it quickly broke all box office records in Thailand. However, internationally the film did not make much impact. Even after Francis Ford Coppola re-edited and re-released it, it did not attract significant attention.
There are certain facts one should know in order to understand the popularity of "Suriyothai" in Thailand.
1. The Thai people love the royal family. They don't just respect the royalty, they feel a personal love for the King.
2. The director, known informally as 'Tan Muy' is a cousin of the King, quite high up in the rankings of the royal family. I have heard that when visiting the film set, some people would drop to the floor and lie prostrate in front of him - although I understand he is in fact very friendly, approachable and informal.
3. The story of "Suriyothai" is not only a story that every Thai schoolchild knows - but is an extremely symbolic story - one that touches the hearts of all Thai people.
4. Very few directors would be considered worthy of even attempting this story. A director would have to be very careful not to abbreviate or alter the plot for dramatic value. Retaining period detail and accuracy would be very important.
But for a foreign audience with no appreciation of Thai royalty, Thai history, Thai politics or Thai culture, much of "Suriyothai" simply went over their heads.
When one stripped away the cultural significance, what was left was a rather long film, with a plot sometimes difficult to understand, wooden acting, beautiful to look at, and some epic battle scenes.
When judging "Naresuan" therefore, one has to accept that this film shares a lot in common with "Suriyothai".
1. It takes its plot from a famous episode from Thai history.
2. It is again the true story of a famous Thai royal who waged war against the Burmese (the historical enemy of Thailand)
3. It is directed by the same director.
4. It was produced with the support of the Thai Royal family.
5. Its plot has not been simplified for dramatic value, but contains a lot of characters all entwined in a complex way that might be unfathomable to a non-Thai audience.
In fact, it is probably true to say that in every way it is like "Suriyothai" but more so.
"Suriyothai" was long. 'Naresuan' is longer - in total around nine hours.
"Suriyothai" was the most expensive Thai film ever made. "Naresuan" cost more than twice as much.
"Suriyothai" broke box office records in Thailand. "Naresuan" after one week has already beaten those records.
So, in writing a review of "Naresuan", it is very important to understand the film within its context, as a film that is so particularly 'Thai' that perhaps a Western viewer is incapable of looking at it from the same perspective.
One problem with the depiction of Royal characters is that they must always be depicted with dignity, respect, aplomb. This means that in many scenes, the main characters are adopting stiff, regal poses which greatly limits their acting freedom.
Similarly, many of the shots of throne-rooms are beautifully composed, perfectly lit, wonderfully detailed, but after repeated scenes, tend to feel rather static - like a series of beautiful formal portraits. Even when the camera moves, frequently dollying and craning, it is always with a certain formal grace.
Thus, I think a Western viewer might criticise what could be seen as stilted performances and a very formal shooting style.
One might argue that there are too many characters and that some of the complex royal politics are hard to follow. But of course, if one has set oneself the task of documenting a well-known period of history, it is almost impossible to edit characters and events for dramatic purposes.
So, ultimately while it is perhaps easy to find fault with "Naresuan" from the perspective of Western film-making, I think one has to realise that it stands apart - as a particularly Thai phenomenon.
I have one regret. MC Chatrichalerm Yukol - to use the director's proper name - will be remembered internationally and in Thai film history as the director of these big epic royal chronicles. But I can't help feeling that working within the restrictions of this genre has somewhat masked his true talent as a director. We all remember Sir David Lean for the grand spectacles of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Dr. Zhivago", but for me an equally important film was "Brief Encounter", the story of an illicit romance between two people in a small town - not epic at all. Or how about Richard Attenborough - whose epic "Gandhi" attracted so much attention - but managed later to make "Shadowlands" - again a much smaller, more personal story. MC Chatrichalerm Yukol has made a number of ground-breaking films in the past tackling controversial subjects such as rural poverty and prostitution. In a way, I would rather swap all the grand spectacle of these royal epics for some of the real compassion and conviction of the earlier, smaller films.
For me, the best scenes in "Naresuan" were not the scenes with thousands of extras and grand sets. They were the informal, playful scenes of the three children. Just as in the film the three children were outside the palace and free from the formal bonds, etiquette and royal protocol and could play, explore and develop, it felt like the director also enjoyed the same freedom in these scenes.
It is important to note that "Naresuan" is a trilogy, and these comments are based on viewing only the first film.
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