Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Review: Khan Kluay II

  • Directed by Taweelap Srivuthivong
  • Starring Uttaporn Teemakorn, Ann Thongprasom, Nonzee Nimibutr, Montree Jenaksorn, Warut Worratham
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 26, 2009
  • Rating: 4/5

Elephants! Blue elephants! Pink elephants! Green elephants! Brown elephants! Fat elephants! Skinny elephants! Young elephants! Old elephants! Tall elephants! Short elephants! Good elephants! Bad elephants! Break-dancing elephants! Farting elephants! Zombie elephants! Elephants in love! Elephants in friendship! Elephants in heaven!

That pretty much sums up Khan Kluay II (also Khan Kluay 2 or ก้านกล้วย 2), the sequel to the 2006 animated feature that put Thailand on the computer-generated, 3-D animation map.

There are elephants -- lots of them -- and what's more, Khan Kluay II is a much more fully realized effort than the first film. While not quite yet the level of Pixar (but maybe Dreamworks), Kantana Animation's effort feels a lot closer than the first time. Without being distracting, there's a fun, cartoony look, but also touches of real-world nature -- blowing leaves and reflections on the water -- that make Khan Kluay II beautifully vivid. Hair, clothing and bird feathers are also startlingly effective.

Taweelap Srivuthivong, the art director on the first film, takes over as director, but character originator Kompin Khemkumnerd still has hand in as animation supervisor. Voice direction is by Montree Jenaksorn, and similar to Dreamworks or Pixar, there's the Thai equivalent of big-name celebrity voices -- film and TV actor Uttaporn Teemakorn is the hero elephant Khan Kluay, while soap-opera queen Ann Thongprasom is his mate, the pink elephant Chaba Kaew. Filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr voices the Hongsa king with a menacing tone, and comedian Suthep Po-ngam reprises his role from the first film in a small part as the old Mahout. Montree gives voice to the Hongsa king's lackey, the evil sorcerer Lord Ongsa, who has a pet snake -- a Burmese python of course. Part Saruman from Lord of the Rings, part Gargamel from the Smurfs, Ongsa's about as cartoonishly evil as you can get.

There's a level of detail in Khan Kluay II that makes it satisfying -- even things that folks wouldn't think really contributes to the narrative, such as a richly illustrated end-credits sequence, is something worth remaining in your seat and appreciating. The opening sequence, which follows the adventurous flight path of homing pigeon Chitlit (voiced by Warut Worratham) is a worthy introduction to the elaborately detailed Ayutthaya kingdom and all its inhabitants.

The story finds the plucky battle elephant Khan Kluay in his royally appointed role as the Lord Defender Against Hongsawadee -- the ranking elephant in the army of Ayutthaya and the personal battle mount of King Naresuan. With the kingdom constantly under attack from Hongsa, Khan Kluay keeps the war machine running, training his troops in the art of Muay Thai. Yes! It's not just Tony Jaa who uses Thai martial arts -- the elephants are just as well practiced in their kicks and punches.

And when they do find time to relax, they get down a bust a few moves, break-dancing, which was apparently originated by elephants in 16th century Siam.

But Chaba-Kaew feels left out. She keeps trying to feed Khan Kluay bananas but he's too tired. Suddenly, he's faced with something more fearsome than the Hongsa army -- an angry mate, and a pregnant one at that. She leaves the palace for her jungle village, where she'll eventually give birth to tiny twin tuskers. But lucky for Khan Kluay, his mother Sang Da (Nattha Loyd) will accompany Chaba Kaew, and the homing pigeon Chitlit, will rely messages back and forth.

When the elephant village is raided by the Hongsa marauders, Khan Kluay must choose between love for his wife and the two calves he has yet to see, and duty to his king. He decides to leave the palace on his own rescue mission, but he makes a solemn vow to return and face the consequences for his desertion.

What follows is an epic sequence of events that wouldn't be out of place in the Lord of the Rings movies, Disney's Mulan, Pixar's The Incredibles or Dreamworks' Shrek.

The explosions and fighting, and evil plotting by sorcerer Ongsa, are pretty intense.

But for younger viewers the intensity is leavened somewhat by a foursome of juvenile pachyderms who are kidnapped from the village along with Chaba Kaew. As they help mount a rescue to save the twins from being sacrificed in some bizarre black-magic ritual, the kid elephants handle the comic relief, telling fat jokes and having fun with flatuence.

Historical figures making an apperance in Khan Kluay II include Princess Suphankanlaya (voiced by Apiradee Phawapootanon), the ransomed older sister of King Naresuan. She shares her brother's gift for empathy with elephants and gives aid and comfort to the capture Chaba Kaew.

There's also a trio of brave human commandos, the "Three Rangers", who infiltrate the Hongsa stronghold and play a key role in the rescue of the captives from Ayutthaya. I sense a big-screen spin-off for these characters, who must have been something of an A-Team in old Siam.

It's interesting how the Khan Kluay story, apparently based on an actual elephant, dovetails with MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's Naresuan trilogy, and now Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak 2, which is set during the same period -- a generation of Thai moviegoers from across the demographic spectrum are going to be steeped in Naresuan lore.

Ultimately, Khan Kluay II comes down a battle between the attacking zombie soldiers, zombie elephants and a zombie snake raised by sorcerer Ongsa, in which Khan Kluay gives his all, fighting the vengeful son of his old nemesis, a much bigger Hongsa elephant, who you can tell is a bad-ass not only for his size but because he has tattoos and pierced ears.

Yes, this story of sacrifice and duty to one's family and country is very nationalistic. The Hongsa are mostly painted as one dimensionally evil. But again, leave it to the foursome of juvenile elephants to lighten things up make friends with a young Hongsa elephant, so there's at least a token message that, hey, Ayutthayans and Hongsans can be pals.

And there's an emotional heft to the story, that, manipulative or not, got the tear ducts running in a couple of spots toward the end.

So look out, Pixar, and watch your back, Shrek. Kantana Animation and its plucky Thai elephant are coming for you.

1 comment:

  1. will this sequal be coming to america as well i saw the first movie and loved it


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