- Directed by ML Bhandevanop Devakula
- Starring Mario Maurer, Ananda Everingham, Chermarn Boonyasak, Dom Hetrakul, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Petthai Wongkamlao
- Released in Thai cinemas on September 8, 2011; rated 15+
- Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5
Forget everything you remember or think you know about Akira Kurosawa's revered 1950 classic Rashomon and be swept away by the ostentatious spectacle of ML Bhandevanop "Mom Noi" Devakula's adaptation of the story in U Mong Pa Mueang (อุโมงค์ผาเมือง,), a.k.a. The Outrage.
Yes, the same plot points are there, and the opening credits to U Mong Pa Mueang acknowledge the film's debt to Kurosawa and the story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, which was adapted into a Broadway stage play that was seen by Thai writer and statesman MR Kukrit Pramoj, who then translated it. Veteran dramatist Mom Noi, who put on a version of Kukrit's play years ago, has been intending to make a movie of it for more than a decade. After his romantic epic Chua Fah Din Salai (Eternity) became a commercial and critical hit last year, his Rashomon project became possible.
Mom Noi doesn't disappoint, unfolding the story in his typical breathtakingly dramatic style that recalls old-time moviemaking, with plenty of eye candy that includes lavish historical costuming and hairdressing, killer tattoos and a stunning mountain setting.
Even better is the robust ensemble cast – perhaps the strongest that Thai cinema has seen in recent years.
Much of the focus is put on the monk, with young heartthrob actor Mario Maurer's head shaved, but his bushy eyebrows are left intact. The wide-eyed young man is having a crisis of faith as he wrestles with personal and family problems. A lengthy prologue sets him up for a soul-searching pilgrimage, during which he has an encounter with a murder victim in the forest and then attends the trial, the testimony of which further shakes his beliefs.
Consequently, Mom Noi's U Mong Pa Mueang aims to convey a message about the Buddhist faith along with the original film's themes about redemption and a restoration in belief about the human spirit.
These are dark days in 1567 Lanna, where an earthquake has devastated the city of Pa Mueang. As a storm approaches, the wayward monk is joined by a woodcutter – the well-cast taciturn comedian Petthai "Mum Jok Mok" Wongkamlao – who convinces the clergyman to take shelter with him in the ruined city's spooky old tunnel.
There they encounter a crazy old disfigured undertaker – Pongpat Wachirabunjong in a fun, over-the-top, Shakespearian performance, skulls and all – who skeptically listens as the pair recount the murder trial they attended.
From there, the movie settles into the familiar rhythms of the original, with flashbacks to the crime scene and the wildly conflicting testimonies.
Much of the cast from last year's Chua Fah Din Salai have returned, among them that movie's two main leads, Ananda Everingham and "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak. Other returning Eternity cast members include Sakkaraj Rerkthamrong, here playing the governor presiding over the trial, and Daraneenuch Pothipithi giving a dryly comic performance as the mother of the warlord's wife.
Ananda portrays the murdered nobleman warlord, the equivalent of the samurai in Rashomon. Spending much of the movie tied to tree, emasculated as he's bound and gagged, his eyes painfully and tearfully convey the rage and sadness he sees in each version of the story.
Ploy as his wife is electrifying as she portrays the woman – a commoner kitchen girl, elevated to the warlord's lady – in the various scenarios, subtly changing from fragile and flighty to indignant with rage and snakelike in her betrayal.
Dom Hetrakul, an actor usually seen in supporting roles in B-movie action films, is in the showy Toshiro Mifune role of the bandit, and gives perhaps the performance of his career. It could be his Travolta Pulp Fiction moment if Thailand's movie industry worked like Hollywood.
A highlight is the bandit's tale of his swordfight with the warlord. Choreographed by Panna Rittikrai, it's wonderfully framed and convincingly depicts the flashy formally trained fencing skills of the nobleman – yes, Ananda does action – versus the rough-and-tumble, muscular abilities of the bandit.
Another fun segment is the nobleman's testimony, as told through a medium. Portrayed by singer and stage actress Radklao Amartisha, with white makeup and blackened teeth, the performance becomes something of a contemporary dance interlude.