Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review: Queens of Langkasuka (Puen Yai Jome Salad)

  • Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr
  • Written by Win Lyovarin
  • Starring Jarunee Suksawat, Ananda Everingham, Dan Chupong, Anna Ris, Jacqueline Apithananon, Jakkrit Phanichphatikram, Winai Kraibutr, Ek Oree, Sorapong Chatree, Jesdaporn Pholdee
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 23, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

There are some big guns firing in Queens of Langkasuka and they are loaded with popcorn.

As entertaining as a performing whale at SeaWorld, Queens of Langkasuka is an ambitious historical fantasy by director Nonzee Nimibutr. A heady mix of Pirates of the Caribbean fantasy and Southeast Asian history, it’s an action-packed tale, with martial arts, sword fights, gorgeous costumes, revenge, sorcery and dive-bombing hang-gliders.

For all the palace intrigue and flaring nostrils, the story is pretty simple. The 17th century kingdom of Langkasuka, ruled by Queen Hijau (veteran actress Jarunee Suksawat in a comeback role), is surrounded by enemies.

The queen’s only hope of holding on are some really big cannon. But the ship carrying the guns is intercepted by the enemy Prince Rawai (Eak Oree) and the sorcerer pirate captain Black Raven (Winai Kraibutr from Nang Nak). The cannons’ Dutch inventor blows himself up and the pieces fall to the ocean floor, where they are guarded by tonnes of giant jellyfish. With the Dutchman dead, the warring parties want to pick the brains of Lim Kium (Jakkrit Phanichphatikram), the clever Chinese inventor who was the Dutchman’s assistant.

A fantastic ensemble cast makes Queens a delight. Ubiquitous leading man Ananda Everingham plays a pivotal role as Pari, a sea-gypsy sorcerer who is gifted in the ways of Du Lum – basically the Force of the ocean. He communes with sea creatures and can let go a yell powerful enough to make a mini tsunami. Clad in a loincloth and biceps-baring vest, he acquits himself well in action scenes.

But there’s even better action from Dynamite Warrior star Chupong “Diaw” Chungprung, who plays Lord Jarang, the chief of the Queen’s military forces. In an opening scene, Jarang fights with a fierce female warrior who spits acid at him. Jarang recovers, but spends the rest of movie with a mask covering one side of his face. This being a fantasy, it’s okay if he leaps up in the air and flies around a bit. Sword fights mix with muay thai under the coordination of action supervisor Panna Rittikrai.

With an attack on Langkasuka imminent, Jarang is dispatched to find Lim Kium and take Queen Hijau’s daughters to safety. They are Princess Biru (Jacqueline Apithananon) and the feisty archer Princess Ungu (Anna Ris). Despite her sharp tongue, Ungu is to marry a neighbouring royal, the pistol-toting Prince Pahung (Jesdaporn Pholdee), an important ally of the queen.

In a thrilling fight, Lim Kium ends up captured by Black Raven and Prince Rawai, who are also holding Lim Kium’s sister hostage. Ungu is believed to have been killed, but actually she has been rescued by Pari, who gave her a lifesaving underwater kiss – setting up a gentle, fleeting romance that can never reach fruition. Pari has many issues, which are covered in an extensive backstory of his life early in the film. The princess has her royal duties to think of. With the monsoon making travel impossible, Pari holes up with the princess at the cave-island stronghold of the Du Lum master White Ray (Sorapong Chatree).

Queens of Langkasuka was originally intended as a two-part tale, but commercial considerations forced Nonzee to condense it into one 120-minute movie. The massive original screenplay, by SeaWrite Award-winning author Win Lyovarin, has been adapted into a thick book. In the movie, flashbacks and narration cover a lot of ground – including revealing the dark side of Du Lum and White Ray’s evil alter-ego, Black Ray, who has paternal ties that echo Star Wars.

Queens of Langksuka emerges as a fast-paced, fun-filled adventure that culminates in an armada of pirate ships shelling the queen's fortress, Ananda riding a manta ray, a sea-gypsy air force and a leaping humpback whale. And despite a preponderance of computer graphics, the entire affair has the old-timey quality of a 1930s seafaring epic.

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(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog and at Daily Xpress)

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