Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Tears of the Black Tiger



Thailand 2000
director / script : Wisit Sasanatieng
cinematography : Nattawut Kittikhun
editing : Dusanee Puinongpho
lead actors : Chartchai Ngamsan, Stella Malucchi, Supakorn Kitsuwon, Sombati Medhanee
100 minutes

According to writer-director Sasanatieng, his presiding inspiration was probably the director Rattana Pestonji, who was never exactly in the mainstream of the industry in the 1950s or 1960s. Which makes you wonder what the point is of showing Black Tiger to Western audiences who’d be unfamiliar with even mainstream Thai cinema from four decades ago. The answer: another Tiger, this time of the Crouching variety. Not that Tears has any chance of emulating Ang Lees Oscar-garlanded blockbuster but some European and American viewers palates may well have been whetted for another blast of romantic, action-packed exotica.

And Tears of the Black Tiger is certainly a different kind of experience. Regardless of how it nods back to Thai predecessors, the colour scheme is a dazzling riot of excess. There are no blues, reds or greens in Kittikhuns gloriously artificial world: skies are electric turquoise; blood is day-glow mauve; grass is fluorescent emerald. Sasanatiengs eye crafts some striking compositions breathtaking, hand-coloured shots of phantom horses galloping through muddy streams; a scarlet stream winding its way through impossibly verdant vegetation. And he also has an exciting way with action sequences Peckinpah would be proud of these explosive gunfights, including one remarkable moment where a bad guys teeth burst out of his mouth in ivory fragments.

But, as with Crouching Tiger, the stylistic delights are inevitably weighed down by the earthbound necessities of the plot. In this, Black Tiger also recalls another recent box-office hit from the far East, Wong Kar-Wais In The Mood For Love. Tears is essentially a romance between fearless gunslinger Seau Dum, the Black Tiger (Ngamsan) and beautiful aristocrat Rumpoey (Malucchi), and the pair must cope with the inevitable obstacles placed in their path by fate, destiny, society and an over-imaginative screenwriter. Too often, the romantic ups and downs bring the film to a grinding halt – as with Mood For Love, considerable audience concentration and patience is demanded. A quirk of the soundtrack may make this difficult for British audiences the repeated Dvorak theme will have them expecting to see a kid on an old-fashioned bicycle, loaf of Hovis underarm.

19th June, 2001

by Neil Young