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The Legend of King Naresuan Part II

King Naresuan II
This is simply the best Thai film I have seen in years. And I must say this is a terrific war movie for it didn't only depict the spectacular battle scenes but also the war strategies and the ambivalence behind it.
In fact, I am not a fan of war movies. And I have to say that I am not impressed with Suriyothai, the epic movie also directed by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol. But King Nasesuan is terrific. It has lots of smart action-packed scenes, light-hearted moments and romances.
First of all, unlike Suriyothai, King Naresuan is a movie that will drive the audience cheer for the lead characters.
Watching Suriyothai is like reading a textbook with tens of characters. But the plots of Naresuan evolve around a few key characters, and the war tactics that Naresuan applied in the process of reclaiming the independence.
The movie is not about the war ifself but the integrity of the warriors and their ambivalence. Monk Khan Shong, played by superb Sorrapong Chatree, was there at the battle scences to remind of the dark side of the war.
Compared to the first one, the sequel is better such as in terms of cast and editing. In the first episode, I have some trouble with actor Sompop Benjathikul playing Hongsa's King Bayinnaung, especially when he lost his cool when meeting with Princess Suphankalaya, Naresuan's older sister. This is despite the fact that I think by letting the three child stars telling the heavy story of the political intrigue has made the first episode more interesting. (It also reminds me of Harry Potter's three lead characters.) The cock-fighting was intense and symbolic. But the battle scene in the first one is no where near Naresuan Part II.
In part II, the children are grown up to develop their own characters. Boonting, Naresuan's best friend and his army commander, tends to let his emotion out while the Black Prince is more subdued. Boonting's romance with Lekin spiced up the movie, even though historians still cannot confirm if Thais already learned to lock their tongues in 1577. There's not much to say about Maneechan in the second film.
The Black Prince applied different tactics to win his enemies. The movie depicts him as a strategist who lets Boonting to be the man of action. The characters of these two warriors are also different.
The characters of the other two young lords serve the movie quite well as the sidekicks to bring several light-hearted moments. Their friendship may imply their sexual orientation. But who cares? At least, the various groups of people under Naresuan show his open-minded attitude and the golden days of Ayodhya.
Capt Wanchana Sawasdee, the actor who plays Naresuan is quite a cinematographic presence. He convincingly plays the Warrior King. And his presence makes a big difference between Naresuan and Suriyothai. We all root for him because we could connect with this guy while the actress who plays Suriyothai is robotic.
I got the goosebumps when the Black Prince lifted up the decanter as a symbol to reclaim the sovereignty of Ayodhya. Wanchana pulled it off with conviction. Then, the crowds were cheering "Naresuan" all over. The scene was powerful. It was the first time that we have heard of "Naresuan", the name that most of Thais call Our Warrior King. I am not sure if non-Thai audience would have the strong impression with the scene in the same way as I did.
The cinematography captures the spirit of the movie. One of the early scenes where the Black Prince and the other two Burmese princes were discussing the warfare against the rebellious Khang State reminds me of Rashomon.
The movie didn't only glorify Naresuan but also showed how some, a blind old woman who lost her son to the war, didn't fully agree with his strife for victory. The movie shows that Naresuan is just a human. He couldn't tolerate disobediene. He refused to be sympathised with his sister's decision not to leave Hongsa kingdom and he told his brother his order was the rule.
The battle-scenes where the warriors were trying to outsmart each other were of course the movie's highlights. Here, we saw real people engage in the ancient warfare, while the visions in a number of Hollywood films have obviously gone digital.
Thirty minutes to the end after Naresuan let Boonting take over the action scene, Naresuan came back with the fully heroic act to save all of his subjects, to be the last to cross the bridge over Satong River which was about to fall all over. And when Naresuan pulled the trigger of that legendary three-metre-long sniper rifle, time stopped. The theatre was silent until the bullet hit the target. Then, the audience couldn't wait any longer to see the final episode.

Thai Cinema and Movies

The cinema of Thailand has a history that stretches back to early days of filmmaking, when King Chulalongkorn's 1897 visit to Berne, Switzerland was recorded by Francois-Henri Lavancy-Clarke. The film was then brought to Bangkok, where it was exhibited. This sparked more interest in film by the Thai Royal Family and local businessmen, who brought in filmmaking equipment and started to exhibit foreign films. By the 1920s, a local film industry was started and in the 1930s, the Thai film industry had its first "golden age", with a number of studios producing films. The years after the Second World War saw a resurgence of the industry, which used 16 mm film to produce hundreds of films, many of them hard-driving action films. Competition from Hollywood brought the Thai industry to a low point in the 1980s and '90s, but by the end of the '90s, Thailand had its "new wave", with such directors as Nonzee Nimibutr, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul as well as action hero Tony Jaa being celebrated at film festivals around the world. For every genre that Hollywood or other film industries offer, there is an example from Thailand that favourably compares.

The first Thai films. When Western films first came to Thailand they were called nang farang, after the nang drama (shadow puppet plays) that were a Thai traditional art.
The first film produced in Thailand was made in 1922. Entitled Sam Poi Luang: Great Celebration in the North, the docudrama became a hit when it was released. The film was produced by the Royal State Railways Authority, whose main function was to promote travelling by train through the new media.
1922 also saw the production of Nang Sao Suwan, or Miss Suwanna of Siam, a Hollywood co-production with the Royal State Railways that was directed and scripted by Henry MacRae. It premiered on June 22, 1923 in Bangkok at the Phathanakorn Cinematograph. Unfortunately, Miss Suwanna has been lost over the years.
The first all-Thai feature was Chok Sorng Chan (Doubly Lucky), produced by the Wasuwat brothers' Bangkok Film Company in 1927 and directed by Manit Wasuwat. That same year, another film company, Tai Phapphayon Thai Company, produced Mai Khit Loei (Unexpected).
Seventeen films were made between 1927 and 1932, but only fragments have survived, such as a one-minute car chase from Chok Sorng Chan or a two- to three-minute boxing match from Khrai Di Khrai Dai (None But the Brave).
Hollywood would also make other movies in Siam during this time, including the documentary, Chang, by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, about a poor farmer struggling to carve out a living in the jungle.
Robert Kerr, who served as assistant director to Henry MacRae on Miss Suwanna returned to Siam in 1928 to direct his own film, The White Rose. It was shown in Bangkok in September 1928.

The Golden Age. By 1928, the first "talkies" were being imported, providing some heavy competition for the silent Thai films. In the tradition of the benshi in Japan, local cinemas had entertaining narrators to introduce the films as well as traditional Thai orchestras that were often as big an audience pleaser as the films themselves, and but within two or three years, silent movies had given way to the talkies.
The first Thai sound film was Long Thang (Gone Astray), produced by the Wasuwat brothers, and premiered on April 1, 1932. Considered an ideological film in the period of political reform, the film proved a big success and led to the building of the Sri Krung Talkie Film Company in Bang Kapi. It produced three to four films a year.
In 1933, Sri Krung made the first colour Thai film, Grandpa Som's Treasure (Pu Som Fao Sap).
This period up until 1942 is regarded by scholars as the "Golden Age" for Thai film.
Among the hit films of this period was the 1938 musical, Klua Mia (Wife-phobia) by the Srikrung studio. It was shot on 35-mm colour stock. The stars were Chamras Suwakhon and Manee Sumonnat, the first Thai actors to be recognized as movie stars by having their names painted on their chairs while filming at the studio.
As the Second World War loomed, and the country being led by a dictatorship under Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram film companies were pressed into service to make propaganda films to whip up nationalism.
Opposition politics found their way into film, too, with statesman Pridi Phanomyong producing King of the White Elephant, in 1940. With all the dialogue in English, Pridi hoped to send a message to the outside world that he was unhappy with the militaristic direction his country was taking. The film depicts the story of an ancient Siamese king who only goes to war after he's been attacked.

Film dubbing. The advent of sound raised another problem for cinemas in Thailand: the language of the talkies. Soon a dubbing method developed in which a dubber would provide a simultaneous translation of the dialogue by speaking Thai into a microphone at the back of the theater. The first Thai dubber was Sin Sibunruang, or "Tit Khiaw", who had worked for Siam Film Company and was the editor of the company's film magazine. Tit Khiaw and other talented dubbers became stars in their own right. They would perform all the roles in the films, both male and female, as well as such sound effects as animal noises, cars and gunfire. Also, there were film companies that could not afford to make sound films, and would make films with the intention that they would be dubbed at screenings by live performers reading from a script. These dubbed films proved as popular as the talkies, especially if the dubber was well known. Due to the extensive use of 16 mm film in the 1970s, the technique has lasted up until recent years, especially for outdoor screenings of films at temple fairs in rural areas. Examples of a dubber at work can be seen in contemporary Thai films, Monrak Transistor (2000) and Bangkok Loco (2004).

Post-war years: The 16-mm era. After the end of the Second World War, filmmaking got under way again in Thailand using surplus 16 mm black-and-white stock from wartime newsreel production. At least two Thai films were produced in 1946. One was an action film, Chai Chatree (Brave Men), directed by journalist-turned-filmmaker Chalerm Sawetanant. The screenplay was by writer Malai Chupinij, who would go on to script other films of the era, including Chao Fah Din Salai (Till Death Do Us Part). The other film noted by the National Film Archive for 1946 was an adaptation of a folktale, Chon Kawao (The Village of Chon Kawao). The post-war boom in filmmaking really took off, however, with the use of 16-mm colour-reversal film, which was easy to obtain and make films with. The vividly coloured films were popular with audiences as well, prompting dozens of new filmmakers to enter the business. Similar to the dubbing of films during the pre-war years, some of these films used dubbers to provide dialogue and sound effects as the film was running, further adding to the entertainment value of the movies. From 1947 until 1972, 16 mm was the industry standard for Thai film production. The first hit of the era was 1949's Suparb Burut Sua Thai (Thai Gentlemen Fighters), which outgrossed Hollywood films at the local box office. That success prompted more enthusiasm for filmmaking, giving rise to the second "golden age" of Thai cinema.

Move toward 35 mm At the height of the 16-mm era, cinematographer and director Rattana Pestonji sought to use 35 mm film and generally improve the artistic quality of Thai films. Most of his films are regarded today as masterpieces, including Santi-Weena, which was the first Thai film to be entered into international competition, at the 1954 Asia Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo, and 1961's Black Silk, the first Thai film in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival. Though Rattana made relatively few films, he worked tirelessly to promote the industry, and died in 1970 as he was to make a speech to government officials about setting up a national film agency.

The 1970s and '80s Thailand saw an explosion of locally produced films during the 1970s after the Thai government imposed a heavy tax on imported films in 1977, which led to a boycott of Thailand by Hollywood studios. To pick up the slack, 150 Thai films were made in 1978 alone. Many of these films were low-grade action films and were derided by critics and scholars as "nam nao" or "stinking water".

But socially conscious films were being made as well, especially by Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, a US-educated filmmaker and member of the Thai Royal Family, whose own family had been involved with filmmaking since the industry started in Thailand. Among Chatrichalerm's films during the 1970s was Khao Chue Karn (Dr. Karn), which addressed corruption in the Thai civil service and was nearly banned by the military-dominated regime of Thanom Kittikachorn. Chatrichalerm also made Hotel Angel (Thep Thida Rong Raem), about a young woman trapped into a life of prostitution. He made dozens of films along these socially conscious lines through the 1990s, working up to his lavish historical epic, The Legend of Suriyothai in 2001.

Another filmmaker active during this time was Vichit Kounavudhi, who made his share of action films as well as more socially conscious works like First Wife, about the custom of men taking "second wives" or "mia noi" - a euphemism for mistress. Vichit also made Her Name is Boonrawd (1985), about prostitution around an American military airbase during the Vietnam War. Vichit's best known works are two semi-documentary films, Mountain People (Khon Phukao), an adventure tale about a young hill-tribe couple, and Look Isan (Son of the Northeast), about a family of subsistence farmers in 1930s Isan.

Also in 1985, director Yuttana Mukdanasit made Pee Seua lae Dawkmai (Butterfly and Flower), highlighting hardships along the Southern Thailand border. Not only did the film help expose urban Thais to regional poverty, the film broke new ground in its portrayal of a Buddhist-Muslim relationship. It won the Best Film award at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

The Thai New Wave By 1981, Hollywood studios were once again sending films to Thailand. Also, television (see also Media in Thailand) was a growing part of Thai culture. This was a low period for the Thai film industry, and by the mid-1990s, studio output was averaging about 10 films per year.

In the wake of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, three directors of television commercials - Nonzee Nimibutr, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng - were thinking that films needed to be more artistic to attract investors and audiences.

The first breakthrough was in 1997, with Nonzee's Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters (2499 Antapan Krong Muang) and Pen-Ek's Fun Bar Karaoke, both edgy crime films that were hits with local audiences and on the international festival circuit.

Nonzee's next film, the ghost story Nang Nak, was an even bigger success, earning 149.6 million baht - the highest grossing film at the time.

Wisit, who wrote screenplays for Dang Bireley's and Nang Nak, broke out with Tears of the Black Tiger, a super-stylised western homage to the Thai action films of the 1960s and '70s. It was the first film to be included on the programme at the Cannes Film Festival.

There were also the Pang Brothers from Hong Kong, who came to Thailand to make stylish movies, starting with Bangkok Dangerous and the nod to J-Horror, The Eye.

Thai avant garde With the New Wave directors achieving commercial and artistic success, a new crop of filmmakers has grown up outside the traditional and often restrictive Thai studio system to create experimental short films and features.

The leader of this indie movement is Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose 2002 feature Blissfully Yours won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Featuring a risque sex scene involving a Burmese man and a Thai woman in the jungle, the movie received only limited screenings in Thailand and a Thai-released DVD of the film was censored. Apichatpong's next film, Tropical Malady, featuring a gay romance between an army soldier and a young country boy, was a jury-prize winner at Cannes, and it, too, only received limited screenings in Thailand.

Other indie directors to watch include Aditya Assarat, Pimpaka Tohveera,Pramote Sangsorn, Thunska Pansittivorakul and Sompot Chidgasornpongse.

Censorship The 1930 Film Act is still in effect today, and places all films, VCDs and DVDs under scrutiny of the Censorship Board prior to public release.

The first board of censors included both men and women and was drawn from the ranks of aristocracy, the civil service and the police. Each film passed by the censors had to include a stamp on each reel, and each item of printed advertising had to contain the stamp, too.

The National Police was responsible for screening films and videos until September 2005, when the government's Ministry of Culture took over the function. Every VCD and DVD sold for home viewing must bear a stamp that it has passed the Censorship Board.

On some VCDs and DVDs produced in Thailand, the censors sometimes take a hard line against depictions of nudity, sex, smoking, the presence of alcohol and guns being pointed at people, images that are forbidden on broadcast television. In other instances, violent acts might pass through uncut, but sex and nudity will be edited out.

Before the digital age, scissors and petroleum jelly were the tools of the trade for censors. Today the offending images are blurred out electronically. The effect of pixelization is so pervasive that the practice has been satirised in films, including 2004's action comedy, Jaew or M.A.I.D., as well as the zombie comedy, SARS Wars.

Imported DVDs are generally not altered by the Thai authorities, though the Ministry of Culture's watchdogs do ban items, or at least strongly encourage retailers to not carry them. From the time the Ministry of Culture took over the censorship board until March 2006, about 40 VCD or DVD titles were banned, though a list of the banned items was not made available.

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