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By Phil Hall | November 20, 2003

For those who may have wondered why so few films from Thailand receive wide international release, “Bang Rajan” will provide an answer. This wooden, one-dimensional epic was the highest-grossing film in the history of Thailand’s movie industry, though to a non-Thai the basis of its appeal is difficult to share.
The film is based on the heroic battle in 1763 by the villagers of Bang Rajan against invading Burmese forces. While the story is rooted in Thai history, “Bang Rajan” often seems like a second-rate rip-off of “Seven Samurai”…complete with a Mifunesque loose cannon anti-hero and camerawork which clearly had its inspiration in the Kurosawa masterpiece.
“Bang Rajan” is packed with bloody battles, where opponents whack each other with a variety of axes, machetes and swords. Often the fighting comes across like a sick cartoon: one fighter swings on a vine like Tarzan, chopping his foes with a machete as he glides through the air. At another point, one warrior bashes the head of a fallen soldier with a large stone, then takes the stone and throws it smack into the head of another soldier running towards the carnage. Even deadlier is the fate of a would-be soldier/rapist who finds his carnal adventures thwarted when an enemy archer lands an arrow through the nasty guy’s throat.
The men of Bang Rajan seemed to have been spent a great deal of time on the 18th century equivalent of the Soloflex, as the village is overpopulated with buffed bodies constantly flexing for a fight. But while everyone was building their muscles, nobody was building their personalities. “Bang Rajan” is the odd battle epic where all of the characters come across as ciphers. It is frequently impossible to keep track of the multiple nonentities in this film, and by the end of the film it is difficult to recall any distinct personality from the scores of people running about the screen.
Recent rising tensions between Thailand and Burma (now called Myanmar) and a rush of nationalist pride may account for the popularity of “Bang Rajan” in its home country. To the rest of the world, though, the film is a noisy but forgettable affair.

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