Thursday, December 6, 2007

Review: The Life of Buddha

  • Directed by Krismant Whattananarong
  • Produced by Wallapa Pimthong
  • Starring Ratchata Samorntinnakorn, Vit Vijitranon, Thassawan Seneewong Na Ayutthaya, Phitsamai Wilaisak
  • Wide release in Thai cinemas on December 5, 2007
  • Rating: 3/5

An epic life, condensed to a 100-minute cartoon feature, The Life of Buddha contains episodes from Lord Buddha’s life that could have easily made a dozen 100-minute films.

So while The Life of Buddha paints a broad picture, it’s a gorgeous one. In a time when most feature-length animated films are done in 3D on computers, The Life of Buddha is refreshingly old-school, traditional animation. Budgetary concerns, rather than aesthetics have been cited by director Krismant Whattananarong as the reason for the choice of old vs new technology. Nonetheless, the colourful artwork is engrossing, especially the backgrounds.

Brought to Earth by angels, and swaddled in a loin cloth, the baby Buddha entered the world walking on a path of golden lotus pods. Creatures of the wood cavort in a scene that owes more to a Disney cartoon than the Tripitaka – no coincidence, because many of the animators on this film actually worked for the Mouse.

The son of a king, Prince Siddhartha, as he was known early in life, was to become a great ruler and was schooled in swordplay, archery and all things kingly. He even took a wife.

But he saw people suffering, and wanted to know more about the root causes. So at age 29, he left the palace, cut his air and took to meditating on the banks of a river, letting his body waste away to near nothing. It is then that the notion of the “middle path” – not taking things to either extreme – struck him.

Not as much the action-packed video game as the posters promise, the best sequences have to do with the demon Mara summoning all the dark forces in the world to attack Lord Buddha. But nothing, not even a trio of the most voluptuous women yet committed to celluloid, can penetrate Buddha’s shell of meditative goodness.

Another cool episode has to do with the hulking serial killer Anguilimala being swayed from his murderous ways by Buddha. It’s kind of anti-climactic, but then too much blood would scare the kids. More action would have been preferable, however, over the political intrigues of Buddha’s various disciples.

A Bollywood-style song-and-dance number, smack-dab in the middle, livens things up. In fact, the music, which is a mix of Indian, Thai and Western classical, is one of the joys of this film.

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