Tears of the Black Tiger

Mar 28, 2007 at 12:00 am

"Like nothing you've seen before" ranks among the most abused phrases in the hack film-critic lexicon, but here it genuinely applies — unless you've seen a better hyper-stylized, blood-soaked, campy Thai cowboy musical melodrama this year. (Didn't think so.)

Director Wisit Sasanatieng's insane parody-tribute to a bygone era of movie magic rides high in the saddle, at least until the shock wears off. An homage to old studio horse operas and more exotic Asian genre pictures most Westerners have never seen, the film is a lurid Technicolor fantasy that saturates the screen with hot pinks, foamy greens, icy blues and, most of all, rivers of red that gush and ooze every time the title hero unholsters his trusty six-shooter.

"The Black Tiger" (Chartchai Ngamsan) is a notorious outlaw, the fastest gun in the Far East, though deep down he's still the earnest, good-hearted peasant boy named Dum, who years ago fell in love with lovely debutante Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi). Flash forward a decade and our heroine is still carrying a torch, but she's now betrothed to a police captain, who's on the trail of the nefarious gang lord for whom Dum reluctantly works. It doesn't take a film degree to see this will end badly; indeed, the stars align for a tragic, overheated climax. Along the way we're treated to an orgy of bombastic acting, surreal visuals and ricocheting bullets that obey Looney Tunes laws of physics. Oh, and songs. There's lots of songs. The movie has the sort of mind-bending weirdness all great trash is made of, but what starts off as excitingly unpredictable, grows exhaustingly confusing.

Everything is artificial; the setting is some sort of retro-happy dreamland, sort of 1930s, but where buckaroos on horseback get blown to smithereens by caballeros with machine guns and bazookas.

Though it wowed festival audiences several years back, Miramax — its U.S distributor — had no clue what to do with it. With the success of ironic, outsized splatterfests like Kill Bill and 300, the timing must've have been right for Magnolia to snatch it up and release it uncut. And rarely does a film scream "cult fave" so loudly. With nothing tethered to reality, the flick drifts away in a blur, but it leaves a real purty smudge on your corneas.


Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, March 30-31, and at 4 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 1. Call 313-833-3237.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].