Wisit Sassanathiang is another name in the recent trend of TV commercial directors moving into the Thai film industry. He works for the same agency as Penek Rattanaruang (Fun Bar Karaoke, 1997 and 6ixtynine, 1999) and wrote the script for Nonsee Nimibutr's top Thai blockbuster Nang Nak. His directorial debut keeps the same construction as his commercially successful script. Tears of the Black Tiger is a stylish spectacle and a simulation of the past we encounter as visual reminiscence but never really feel.
In Nang Nak, Wisit wrote a script that had the style and grandeur spectacle that had never been seen in earlier Thai films. He re-interpreted the old Thai ghost story that had been encountered over and over again as the horror genre. Tears of the Black Tiger brings back the spectacle of forgotten Thai action genre film, both in style and story. The director takes the storyline of an old Thai soap about forbidden love affair and the clash of class difference - better known as nam nao (rotten water) in Thai terms. Rampoei (Stella Maluchi) is the daughter of a governor who falls in love with Dam (Chatchai Ngamsan), an old-time friend in a farmer family who later becomes a bandit. She tries to run away from her engagement to be with him but he is so occupied with a killing job that misses the appointment. Her fiancee is later caught up by Dam's gangsters. For Rampoei's sake, Dam releases him just to be accused of betrayal by his gangster, which leads to the final shoot-up at Rampoei's wedding party.
Despite the direct paraphrase of wellknown plot, the director uses the old Thai action film style with has always been demeaned by intellectual audiences. Cliches such as overacting characters, macho hero, betrayal, bandits in cowboy outfits, and the so-called action element of burning shacks and firing mountain' scenes are the staple ingredients of such films.
The film's looks are impressive and modern. Wisit selects and reconstructs something that looks acceptable and cool in present eyes. In fact, he compromises between the demeaned old action style and arthouse cinema by blending them with new technique and particularly employing Rattana Pestonji's style of Technicolour and film parody. Rattana was the cinematographer-cum-director who worked with Prince Chatreechalerm Yugala's father and uncle. During his time, his works were not quite successful as he loved to experiment with new style and evolved a sense of mockery of other popular films, especially the B-grade action genre. He died of heart attack during a meeting between the government and film people for the support of the industry in 1970. His works have been recently revived and adored by new-generation directors including Wisit.
Tears of the Black Tiger is full of references and quotes from other Thai hits. The sequence of Rampoei carrying her suitcase and walking back to her home is a reminiscent of the Thai popular melodrama Ban Sai Thong (Golden Sand House). The macho hero is copied from Thai top actor Mitr Chaibancha. When we watch the movie, it is like sitting in front of a simulator in a fun park. We enjoy the experience of going into the past but we never feel it really.
Apart from the director's quotes of past film styles in an attractive manner, there is nothing to remember. Wisit does indulge in film parody but he does not make any critical comment about the old Thai film style. It is funny and exaggerated. But he accepts it wholeheartedly. This is a fact of Thai life: the younger generation adores and follows the senior's line. Wisit adores Rattana and walks in the same line as him without any comment. And perhaps this is the best description of Thai way that can be found in Tears of the Black Tiger.
Screenplay: Wisit Sassanathiang
Editing: Dussanee Phui-nongpho
Principal Cast: Chatchai Ngamsun, Stella Malouki, Sombat Methanee
Production: Film Bangkok
35mm/colour/ 100 mins