Jun 21, 2008

DVD Review: Tears of the Black Tiger

Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng's avant-garde western, Tears of the Black Tiger is equal parts parody and tribute to both spaghetti westerns and Technicolor-era love stories. The movie is about Dum, a gangster more commonly known as the Black Tiger. Dum and his best friend Mahesuan are employed by the local crime boss, Fai. Dum's life gets turned upside down after he finds out that the man he is sent to kill is engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Rumpoey.

By far, the most noticeable thing about this movie is its visual appeal. Most of Tears of the Black Tiger was shot on closed sets with painted backdrops. These backdrops were never meant to be realistic, instead they invoke a dreamlike utopian feel. The colors of the sets are vibrant pastels and make the film look almost as if each frame was hand-painted. The fantastic production design and equally lavish action sequences are more reminiscent of early Warner Brothers cartoons than they are of any live action films.

The action in this movie is exaggerated and the characters are larger than life. The gunfights feature grenade launchers and automatic weapons. The violence is stylized with every wound spraying bright red blood and thousands of bullets flying while the protagonists are miraculously unscathed. There is even a shot from the perspective of a bullet as it dispatches one of The Black Tiger's adversaries.

The romantic elements are just as melodramatic as the action sequences are extravagant. The love story in this movie uses all of the major clichés. When Dum and Rumpoey are reunited in Bangkok, Dum initially tells Rumpoey that she has him mistaken for someone else because he feels like he would only hurt her. Later in the movie there is a scene where Rumpoey and Dum promise to meet at a gazebo that they feel is "their spot." Also, Dum's change of heart when he realizes that the man he is sent to kill is Rumpoey's fiancé is something out of the proverbial melodrama handbook.

In many movies the surreal sets, fanatical violence, and overly sappy melodrama would be too unbelievable to be entertaining. In the case of Tears of the Black Tiger, the more absurd things get the more fun the movie becomes. Few movies pull off "zany" quite like Tears of the Black Tiger does. It is hard to tell if director Sasanatieng saw too many or not enough love stories and westerns. The final duel scene at the movie's end is without a doubt heavily influenced by Sergio Leone, but the way that this scene is executed is more derivative of Mel Brooks' work than Leone's. The sweetness of the love story is something out of the Rock Hudson/Doris Day era while the delivery is as unabashedly hokey as Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride. Tears of the Black Tiger is more spectacle than substance, but unlike most movies with this quality, this one works exceptionally well and is worth recommending to total strangers.

Director: Wisit Sasanatieng
Movie Genre: Western, Romance
Country: Thailand

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