- Directed by Nopporn Watin
- Starring Seiki Oseki, Sorapong Chatree, Kanokkorn Jaicheun, Thanawut Ketsaro
- Released in Thai cinemas on December 2, 2010; rated G
- Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5
Muay Thai and samurai swords clash in the blood-soaked historical-action epic Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya (ซามูไร อโยธยา).
Laced with beheadings, breaking bones and lots of spurting blood, Yamada is the fact-based account of how a samurai warrior came to serve as one of the personal bodyguards of King Naresuan the Great.
Seki Oseki, a Thailand-based actor and model, portrays the title character, Yamada Nagamasa, who lived from 1590 to 1630 and served in the courts of four kings during the reign of the Sukothai Dynasty in Ayutthaya. He was eventually granted a lordship and served as governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Directed and executive produced by Nopporn Watin, who also promotes Muay Thai events, the movie is made in celebration of 124 years of Thai-Japanese diplomatic relations.
With stoic determination similar to that of Neo in The Matrix, Seki's Yamada mows down an endless stream of masked black-clad ninjas and Burmese tribesmen, but that comes only after he's received training in Muay Thai.
A refugee from the feudal wars of Japan, Yamada sought out a new life for himself in Siam, and came to the Japanese settlement in Ayutthaya. But with Siam still at war with the Burmese, there are still people trying to kill him. A bald dude with a goatee sends sword-toting ninjas to assassinate the samurai in a dark alley, but the men in black are dispatched by four bare-chested Muay Thai fighters. They spirit the wounded warrior up the river to their peaceful settlement in Phitsanalok.
There, Yamada has his wounds treated by the blushing young lass Champa (Kanokkorn Jaichuen, Miss World Thailand 2007) and he's given the nickname Na Khao ("White Face") by the cheeky little girl Kratin.
As soon as he's recovered, Yamada seeks to prove himself among the men, but is shown his Japanese martial arts are no match for the eight weapons of Muay Thai – fists, feet, knees and elbows.
So he seeks training under the Jedi master, veteran actor Sorapong Chatree, reprising his role from MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's Naresuan movies as a wise warrior monk.
And so there are misty Muay Thai training sequences against the backdrop of ancient temple ruins.
With holy tattoos spread across his bare back and sculpted chest, the fair-skinned, long-haired samurai is ready to join the swarthy band mustachioed, Mohawk-coiffed brothers who serve as King Naresuan's personal bodyguards.
Naresuan, by the way, is portrayed by Nang Nak star Winai Kraibutr.
Also notable is the attention to language, with Yamada and his goateed foe speaking Japanese, with English and Thai subtitles. An over-the-top Burmese villain is also given the dual-subtitle treatment.
The movie is similar to other recent Thai historical epics, like Suriyothai, the Naresuan movies, Bang Rajan and Ong-Bak 2 and 3. There is brutal, bloody violence leavened by slow scenes of stereotypical ancient Siamese pageantry – paddling boats, bathing elephants, masked dances, etc. – plus Japanese flute playing.
Yamada has a female love interest in Champa. He gives her his heart. But he gives a sword – a razor-sharp katana blade with a lovingly crafted Siamese-style sword handle – to her brother Kham (Thanawut Ketsaro). Stained with the blood of their vanquished foes, the two men bond in battle.
The Muay Thai scenes are all clearly staged, with only a bit of slow-motion stylization. The beauty of the ancient form of the Thai martial art is framed like a postcard.
The swordfighting, which involves buckets of CGI blood and digital blades penetrating torsos and lopping off heads, is murkier, taking place in forests or in the darkness.
The gory action – too strong for the G rating – actually had the audience laughing, with the Indiana Jones sword vs. pistol shtick repeated a few times. Yamada, after ostentatiously presenting himself in his Japanese martial-art stance is immediately hammered in the nose with an elbow by the Muay Thai master, portrayed by real fighter Buakaw Por Pramuk. Another scene has Yamada in his fight-club audition for the King, facing a giant (Somdet Kaew-ler), who cackles in anticipation of wasting a man from "Ippun". But the laughing man is perfunctorily silenced. A third scene comes when the bodyguards face a rough band of Burmese invaders, carrying thick blades, hammers and axes. One of the jungle warriors looks vaguely like Tony Jaa. He does an elaborate sword-twirling dance but is unceremoniously gutted by Kham.
Finally, Yamada returns to that dark alley where he was almost killed, again facing an army of ninjas and that bald dude with the goatee. The guy has no hair, but he has a little taken off the top anyway.