Summoning the spirit of Sergio Leone by way of Sam Peckinpah — if the two of them had collaborated on a 1960s Thai western melodrama — Wisit Sasanatieng has composed a love letter to the films of his youth.
Tarted up with hyper-saturated pastels, the movie also made me think of the Sonic Youth cover of the Carpenters’ classic ‘Superstar’. It has the same sort of clever instincts about what parts of a kitsch artifact deserve reverence and which should be enjoyed for their sheer absurdity.
First off, it looks amazing. So amazing in fact that the director’s painterly attachment to every shot threatens to drown out the film…and at times it does. Such is his devotion to cinematic period detail that flashbacks to the protagonists’ youth take on a look I can only presume mimics the era a decade before the story is set, complete with tinny sound and skipped frames.
The story is a familiar yarn for anyone who’s ever encountered a western. The Black Tiger is a poor boy turned bandit with a quick draw and a heart of gold who yearns for a woman he fears is too good for him, amid the recognizable tapestry of shifting loyalties. The battle scenes, which begin as classic gunfights, then devolve into gang warfare, are packed with enough semiotic winks and nods to fill a year’s worth of cinema studies. Gorgeous as the scenes are, they do suffer a bit from the diminishing returns effect, once Sasanatieng ramps up the action using Kung-Fu Hustle-style video-game theatrics. But who can quibble with such a billowing spectacle in such an unexpected package?