Famously dire and hopeless, the first quarter of any movie year constantly brings about the release of studio waste, pushed releases, and the usual amount of art-house and foreign paraphernalia. Where last year kicked off in high style with Lajos Koltai's Fateless and Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, 2007 rides in on a particularly wild horse with Wisit Sasanatieng
's jocular Thai western Tears of the Black Tiger.
A loose tangle of the Western genre and the giddiness of 1940s and '50s Thai cinema, Black Tiger begins with a broken affair and a shootout. Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi
) waits at the sala raw nang, a riverside gazebo, where she once made a promise to rendezvous with her untamable love Dum, now known as the Black Tiger (Chartchai Ngamsan
). As she waits, the Black Tiger is helping dispatch a rival gang with his partner, Mahasuan (Supakorn Kitsuwon
), for Fai (Thai screen legend Sombati Medhanee
), the head of the bandit squad that the Black Tiger works for. Article continues below
It is Fai's grudge against Rumpoey's father that brings about flashbacks of Dum's yearning romance for his lost love, which occurred both in childhood and college. Dum, facing betrayal by the bandit squad he leads and the gun barrel of the man betrothed to Rumpoey, sets out to save his lady fair and her father, resulting in a shootout at the father's mansion.
Director Wisit Sasanatieng has a deep-rooted love for the history of his country's cinema. Using bright pinks and neon greens, he arrives at what would seem more cheesy than it really is. Don't get me wrong: the overused dramatics, color schemes and a mixed-nuts approach to style and shooting lend Black Tiger to an unruly campiness. However, there's also a certain nod to modernity here in its attempt to reevaluate and capture the essence of classic cinema from his native land.
For all intents and purposes, Sasanatieng's film is hopelessly Thai in it's influence and content. Unlike peers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul who have taken to a more framed, detailed way of shooting, Sasanatieng's film resembles a 1970s painting of a couple riding a tiger that you'd find in the basement of some dirty market in Chinatown; it nearly bleeds off the screen.
For nothing else, you have to see Black Tiger as something different. Comparisons to 2004's Kung Fu Hustle are obvious but misdirected. Where as Stephen Chow was trying to mix the two most popular types of Asian cinema (kung fu and anime), Black Tiger is dreamy-eyed nostalgia with all the tacky dubbing, ridiculous outfits, and blown-out violence that affords it. That it's parodying a very American genre is just icing on the cake; to see the Black Tiger and Mahasuan drinking and spinning each other around after victory is yet another welt on the eyes of the western's fleeting masculinity. It's also a precursor to a year that might be dominated by the Far East; Johnny To's Triad Election and Bong Joon-ho's The Host are already scheduled for release in March. Regardless, it's a jaunting kickoff to the 2007 movie season.