Friday, October 21, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On - At The Movies #24 - Tears of the Black Tiger (2000, dir. Wisit Sasanatieng)

The longstanding tradition of American film paying homage or remaking foreign classics gets turned on its head with this Thai salute to spaghetti westerns and Technicolor-soaked love stories in Wisit Sasanatieng’s avant-garde western Tears of the Black Tiger. Employing a simple plot that is equal parts loving tribute and fun parody, Tears introduces us to Dum, known by reputation as Black Tiger for his quick reflexes and sly demeanor. Dum lives in the employ of local crime boss Fei, who also employs his best friend Mahesuan and often sends the young hood around to dispatch his boss’s enemies. While on his latest job Dum discovers that the man he is being paid to kill has recently become engaged to sweet beauty Rumpoey, who happens to have been the childhood love of our film’s hero. What’s a gun for hire with an easy trigger finger and an easier plucked heart to do?
The most delightful thing in Tears that speaks volumes to its magic is Sasanatieng’s mastery of visual style that has the familiarity of Technicolor epics past but becomes wholly its own beast. The film makes great use of giant, elaborately painted backdrops that aren’t realistic but instead create a dreamlike state that spins the world of the characters into a vibrant pastel candy land that raises its many action sequences to wild Chuck Jones-esque stature while equally creating a soft hand-painted feel that covers every frame of film.
Going back to that action and its cartoon like feel, Tears blows most homages out of the water by going full-tilt-boogie in its dispatch. Gunfights aren’t limited to pistols - machine guns and grenade launchers add to the melee of wounds that spray candy apple red blood geysers; thousands of bullets fly but miraculously never hit our heroes; and more wild bullet POV shots are used than needed but it’s an opera of overkill that keeps the film so sweet.
Lest you think that the film is all bullets and blood, fear not - Tears does a great job with the love story at its hero’s core. Dum and Rumpoey’s reintroduction and subtle dance around their childhood seduction becomes a thing of melodramatic joy. It’s loaded with luscious parting glances and wistful stares out of windows into skylines filled with the loving faces of a couple that should be together but due to their newfound lots in life, may never get the chance to see what their future could hold.
Few movies, and even fewer of them foreign titles, can succeed with a stew of pastiche from genre classics and make it so delicious like Tears of the Black Tiger does, especially given just how far the film rides the red line of over the top with so much of its style. Between the wild sets, sappy melodrama and crazy violence Tears should topple over on itself at just about every turn but instead becomes so enjoyable that you never really want it to end. By the time the closing credits roll and the final song plays out you may just be crying your own tears over this Black Tiger and find yourself hitting play one more time.

 - Keith Garcia
Denver FilmCenter Programming Manager

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