Friday, May 19, 2006

Review: Khan Kluay

  • Directed by Kompin Kemnumgird
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 18, 2006
  • Rating: 3/5

The first Thai CGI cartoon feature to be released offers such contrasts and ranges of emotions, I'm not so sure the kids get it. For such a cartoony-looking 3-D cartoon, the laughs are few and far between in Khan Kluay, though there are some rollicking action sequences and probably the best footage of an elephant battle that will ever be committed to film.

The characters are weird - funny shaped and blobby looking, the elephants are the colors of cotton candy. The hero is blue, his girlfriend is pink and wears a flower in her ear.

Yet the movement is detailed. The way the elephants just serenely hang out and casually flap their ears is something I've picked up on just from checking out the real pachyderms up at Ayutthaya, the Lampang elephant conservation center and sometimes on the streets of Bangkok. You can tell the animators spent many hours studying the movement of elephants

And for all the weirdness of the character designs -- humans are the strangest of all -- the backgrounds are stunning. Blades of grass, flowers, trees, the skies, the rivers and rice paddies -- they all look absolutely real. Heck, for all I know about the animation process they could be real.

But let's get to the story and all those crazy emotions.

Khan Kluay is an elephant born in the jungle. He is so named by his grandma because his "back gently slopes like a banana stalk ... I guess that's what I'll call you. "Khan kluay" is banana stalk in Thai.

The little elephant grows up playing hide-and-seek in the lotus pond with his friends, the frogs. Meanwhile, the other little-kid elephants -- bullies and brats -- play wargames and bully each other, until they decide to play soccer with a frog and taunt Khan Kluay for not having a father. Khan Kluay loses his temper and fights the bullies and wins.

He's beat up, though, and sheepishly tries to hide the swollen eye from his mother.

Later, he asks about his dad. There's a flashback to a battle -- quite a contrast from the lush, peaceful jungle to this smoky battlefield. Khan Kluay's dad is facing an evil Burmese elephant of mammoth proportions -- the elephant from hell.

Khan Kluay decides he's going to go find his dad. He runs into a Burmese camp. Stirs up the guards. Is saved by a little prince (who has a gift for calming Khan Kluay and the pair instantly bond). Khan Kluay keeps running and falls off a cliff and into a river. He washes up in a spooky elephant graveyard. He's limping.

He finds a girl elephant (voiced by Narawan Techaratanaprasert), but can't find his own herd. So the girl takes him to hers -- it's a human village. Khan Kluay has been betrayed, but with his bum leg, he's soon captured.

He can't believe that elephants and humans work together. I wonder if anyone got the elephants' viewpoint on this?

His leg heals. Some bandits come to the village. There's no seven samurai to save them. Besides, the bandits have mean a tiger and a pack of wild, snarling civit cats (that look like Scrat from Ice Age, which was a movie that director Kompin Kemnumgird worked on previously). The weaselly critters rip flesh and leave the girl elephant hurt, but Khan Kluay triumphs.

He pitches in to help. And the next time the bandits come around (years pass by), he's ready with some Muay Thai moves. Hold that tiger.

Word from the palace comes down. Ayutthaya is no longer a vassal state of Hongsa (Burma), and the Ayutthaya king calls for an elephant roundup to prepare for battle.

Khan Kluay goes to the tournament and is doing well, especially for his size. He's smaller than the rest of the elephants, but is determined. Then his long-lost mother sees him and distracts him. He goes nuts. But then the king shows up. It's King Naresuan the Great, who was captured as a little boy by the Burmese. He was a Burmese prince for a time, and was taught all the ways of war by the the Burmese king. Funny how he faces them in battle as an adult isn't it? But that's history. And of course, he was the little boy who saved Khan Kluay in that army camp years ago.

I have to admit, I got all choked up with the human-to-elephant bonding.

And then there's a final big battle scene, which actually took place in 1592 on the Saraburi plain -- possibly the last great elephant battle in history. Khan Kluay must face that elephant from hell that his father faced.

But there's a message of sacrificing yourself for your country's sake -- a jingoistic, nationalistic bit of hokum that really has no place in a cartoon like this -- unless that cartoon is trying to be more than just a cartoon. I mean, everyone has to make sacrifices, but what kind of message is it for kids to say you have to fight and die to save your country?

It sure as heck isn't Miyazaki. Not yet anyway. It's more like Dreamworks, all dressed up with a weak story, though not near as funny. Still, it's a good start for Thai 3D animation. Everyone who worked on this film has learned something from their veteran director, so hopefully there will be more, and along with them, stories with a more peaceful, compelling message.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

1 comment:

  1. I love Khan Kluay soooo much! And I love the soundtrack a lot too! Especially the opening song where there's "Charng Charng Charng" :)


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