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By Ben Slater | January 10, 2002

Before its first screening in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ sidebar, the sales agent Fortissimo (who are specialists at selling Asian movies to Western buyers) had done a magnificent job of vibing this Thai film up. The day-glo colours and funky graphic design of the posters made it look supremely cool, and the smart talk even before the festival was that this might be 2001’s equivalent of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Unfortunately, hype like this can be dangerous, and expectations were notched up way too high for what is an amusing but fairly insubstantial entertainment. The first feature by director Wisit Sasanatieng is an affectionate parody of Thailand’s little-known genre movies of the 60s, cheapo thrillers which borrowed archetypes and a style wholesale from Spaghetti Westerns and spiced them up for local audiences. The plot is largely arbitrary – a series of melodramatic cliches about childhood sweethearts seperated by their parents. She is a nobleman’s daughter promised in marriage to a police chief, and he was a peasants son who has become a debonair but tough bandit nicknamed ‘Black Tiger’ and the chief is determined to wipe him and his gang out. Initially set-up with flashbacks, the story builds up to an explosive and prolonged climax on the wedding day. When the film starts the immediate visual impact is nothing short of fabulous. It has been shot digitally and the colors have been manipulated in post-production to bring out extremely strong purples, blues, reds and greens. This is coupled with painstaking design-work on sets and costumes to summon up a look that is both gorgeous and deeply kitsch. But you quickly get used to this and begin to demand more from the film. The exaggerated, camp performances, card-board backdrops, archly crude editing, and extremely brutal violence make for a good few laughs, but it all gets rather tiresome after a while. There is no sympathy for the characters and thus no real interest in the plot. While I admire the cleverness of its mockery, and suspect it will gain some genuine cult status, it feels like a hollow exercise in style and a joke that goes on for far too long.

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