The Legend of Suriyothai

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This sumptuous mountain of eye candy from Thailand was directed by a genuine Thai prince, Chatri Chalerm Yukol, and it has a certain royal luster, even in its present truncated form. Originally running eight hours, Yukol enlisted the aid of his old friend Francis Ford Coppola to edit the film down to a more reasonable length, which here turns out to be just short of two-and-a-half hours. An epic tale of historical intrigue set in 16th century Thailand, it’s a visual feast, though dramatically flaccid and confusingly paced. The fault isn’t entirely Yokul’s — he likes to glide his camera through the huge interior scenes, which helps him avoid the stilted pageant-play trap that many such productions fall into. But the story is arcane and full of abrupt shifts, the names of people and places coming at you with indecipherable haste. Though you can generally tell the good guys from the bad, you’re also likely to spend much of the second half of the film suffering from the “Wait, I thought that guy was that other guy ...” syndrome. If one ignores a ton of convoluted plot, this is the story of Princess Suriyothai, whose selflessness and dedication to her country during a time of vast political corruption and internecine struggles have made her an emblem of patriotic sacrifice. Such people can be a bit of a pill, but the actress, M. L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, manages to combine a certain sweetness with her steely resolve as we follow her from her first sacrifice, abandoning a true love for an arranged marriage, to her final one, of riding an elephant into battle and kicking some serious ass. And for a sense of how difficult it can be to follow the story here, imagine a fistful of names like Bhirombhakdi coming at you every few minutes.

One may not learn, or retain, much Thai history from this film, but there’s enough cool violence — beheadings, geysers of blood, at one point an arrow right in the eyeball — and colorful ritual to keep one watching, happily numb.

 

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday-Sunday, Oct. 24-26. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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