Elegantly filmed, adequately acted, with the whole film done seriously enough to overcome an uninspired script, The Legend of Suriyothai (2001) is set in 16th Century Siam's capitol in what is today Ayutthaya province.
Inspired by the more or less historical tale of Sri Somdet Phra Suriyothai, she seems authentically to have ridden her battle-elephant into war against Burmese invaders, & fell in battle defending her king (Sarunyu Wongkrachang) who is incapable of warfare.
A memorial statue to Sri Suriyathai, as famous to Thai people as the seatled Abe Lincoln of the Washington Memorial is to Americans, shows her upon her elephant with two upraised war-clubs.
The film makes more of a suicidal sacrifice out of the culminating event when it would've been a lot more exciting to see Suriyotha as a genuine warrior, as popular imagination would have her be. The film wants her to be a sexy young thing who'd die for love. So for all the film's epic proportions, in its treatment of Sri Suriyothai, it's a trivial tale.
Yet girlish heroism is apparently what Thailand's modern royal family wanted even of a woman with sword clad in armor.
The film was funded by Queen Sirikit (at what price is to this day a state secret) & released on the Queen's birthday.
Both Thailand's queen & the film's director are descended from the historical Suriyothai, as also Piyapas Bhirombhakdi (an unquestionably beautiful member of the royal clan) in the titular role. So if the whole production has something of religiosity & ancestral propaganda about it, it's an easy guess how that happened.
Covering several decades during which the primary cast fails to age convincingly, we are shown rather too much of Suriyotha's life from beginning to end.
I saw the imported three-hour official Thai release version, which was a butt-suffering bore at times, & if there seem to be lapses of logic here & there, it's doubtless because the whole film was initially eight hours length.
It was never released at that extreme length, but a five-hour dvd boxed set version does exist.
Francis Ford Coppola released the US version that was shortened to two hours, then bannered his own name across the film as though he had something to do with any part of it but making it shorter. I didn't see that cut, but I have to assume continuity is even worse.
The astounding length of the entirety is thanks mainly to the vanity of the royals who provided the money for it & access to actual royal houses, which is an imprisonable offense to say in Thailand where factual criticism of the royal family is illegal.
Devotees of Thai cinema of the last thirty years will spot many old stars of crappy but allegedly classic films.
In the initial-release three-hour cut of Legend of Suriyothai, we see a lot of court intrigues especially among the women, amazing costumes
Visually this can mesmerize a viewer as campfires must've mesmerized Neanderthals, with sets or actual locations that give the film a look of stunning grandeur.
The final battle with thousands of extras & a great many elephants is the main reason to see this, but unless one has a native Thai slavish devotion to the trumped up romanticism of the royal family's long-past relatives, the character array will register at times as little more than maniquens in an awesome diarama.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl