Published Sep 01, 2001
So, you want an epic, blood-soaked, historical drama. What's the first country you think of? Thailand might bring to mind images of white beaches, hammocks, crystal clear oceans, and lady-boys with fat, German sex tourists, but it has a proud and ancient history that predates Western tourism. Almost 250 years ago Thailand, or Siam as it was then known, was facing a military crack down from its Imperial neighbours to the Northwest, the Burmese. Two armies of 100,000 each were dispatched to the old, Siamese capitol of Ayutthaya. In a story that every Thai schoolchild learns, one small village withstood the advances of 100,000 Burmese soldiers for five, carnage-filled months. That village, Bang Rajan, is the setting of the most successful film in Thai cinema history.
Cinematographer Vichaen Rungvichayakul captures the chaos of battle, and the lush beauty of Thailand's jungles even as they are bathed in the blood of their people. In huge battle scenes, mighty two-handed swords are swung, limbs are hacked off, cannons explode, muskets sound, and bodies upon bodies fall. While the special effects are not perhaps worthy of Industrial Light and Magic, they're definitely state of the art for Southeast Asia. As with most historical epics, "Bang Rajan" has its slow moments, and with such a large cast, individual characterisation is limited. Most historical epics are not, however, set in, or coming out of Thailand. Given the fact that no new ground is broken, "Bang Rajan" is still an exciting, bloody glimpse into an historical blind spot for most Westerners. Given a choice between "Braveheart" and "Bang Rajan," I'd choose the latter, and not just because the cast is sexier.