Tears of the Black Tiger

Director: Wisit Sasanatieng

One of the surprise hits of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Wisit Sasanatieng’s Tears of the Black Tiger is a highly stylised, nostalgic yet also very amusing tribute to popular Thai cinema of the 1950s. Part western and part melodrama, the film’s charm derives from its colourful recreation of a fantasy world in which emotions and actions are exaggerated to surreal, dream-like proportions.
The convoluted plot follows the fortunes of a pair of childhood sweethearts who are torn apart by events. Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) is the poor country boy who falls for Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), a wealthy Bangkok girl who is evacuated to the countryside during World War Two. The two meet up again ten years later as college students, but their romance is thwarted by a series of increasingly dramatic developments. To avenge the death of his father, Dum joins a gang of outlaws and rises to legendary status as the Black Tiger, the fastest gun in the East. Meanwhile, Rumpoey is promised as bride to mean police captain Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangvuth), who is charged with wiping out the Black Tiger’s gang.
The film’s tongue-in-cheek gun battles are terrific fun and come complete with bloody references to Peckinpah and Leone. The Black Tiger is so good with a gun that he can make his bullets ricochet around the room before finding their targets. Despite the fact that much of the pastiche of old movie conventions is played for laughs, Sasanatieng’s film is essentially respectful of the innocence of the genres he is lovingly recreating. Thus, for example, the film’s elaborate colour scheme, which imitates the garishness of hand-painted movie stills of bygone days. Thus, also, the strong sense of nostalgia in the film’s treatment of the central love story. All the ingredients are blended into a sumptuous and irresistible concoction by a clearly talented new filmmaker.

Thailand, 1999.
English subtitles.
Dolby digital stereo.
110 mins.

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