In war, we may say aloud that we fight for our honor and our ideals. But as The Legend of King Naresuan 4, the latest installment of Prince Chatrichalerm Yukols historical epic shows, in reality we fight for the few, specific ones we loveour parents, our siblings, our spouses, our friends. The fourth episode of this continuously expanding biopic was the part that never meant to exist (the series was originally planned as a trilogy). But Im glad it did. By trading in action for romance, the film finally gains the heart that drives the characters and the story.
After successfully repelling multiple invasions in episode 3, part 4 sees the increasingly irritant Pegu King Nanda Bayin (Jakrit Amarat) launching his largest invasion yet to re-subjugate Siam under the Burmese rule. Believing offense is the best defense, King Naresuan (Wanchana Sawasdee) ambushes a key Burmese army camp, with unexpected consequences.
Unlike its predecessors, battles scenes are few and sparse in part 4. Cannons, explosions, gun fires, and elephant infantries are in short supply. Even the much-hyped Burmese army camp ambush scene, though spectacularly re-enacted, ends much too quickly despite the ample use of slow motions. The closing combat is set up for grandeur, with choreographed cavalry and foot soldiers, but rushes to deliver the victory.
Looking from another angle, this is in fact strategic. By suppressing lengthy battle scenes, the film is able to showcase characters ambition, frustration, affection, and compassion far beyond its predecessors have achieved. Lerkin (Inthira Charoenpura), the fictional princess of a Siamese political ally, finally makes her choice of the man she loves, and her decision to assist defending Siam was based on this love, not geopolitics as she has pondered. King Naresuan and his childhood sweetheart Maneejan (Taksaorn Phaksukcharoen) finally have brief intimate moments, and they show that his seemingly thirst for war victories is fueled by his yearning for his hostaged sister (Grace Mahadamrongkul) and his close friendship with his longtime lieutenant Phra Ratchamanu (Noppachai Chai-Ngam). The most touching moment is between two minor characters: an army general who was sentenced to death for his failure to defend a key Siamese city, and his wife who despite her previously displayed cantankerous personality frantically begs for a royal pardon out of her love for her husband.
Moments like these help the audience understand the actions and motivations of the characters, and save them from being merely mechanical. Emotionally satisfying, The Legend of King Naresuan 4 provides powerful character insights that will certainly prove beneficial when the highly anticipated elephant battle finale eventually comes in one of the upcoming sequels.