Tears of the Black Tiger
Director: Wisit Sasanatieng (
Writer: Wisit Sasanatieng
Producers: Nonzee Nimibutr
Starring: Chartchai Ngamsan, Stella Malucchi, Supakorn Kitsuwon, Sombat Metanee
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 110 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
     Tired of Hollywood's overused premises and style? Looking for something completely different? Look no further than Tears of the Black Tiger from Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng. The film was actually released back in 2000 and did make a few appearances at various festivals, but for the most part it was locked away (thanks to Miramax and The Weinsteins) and has not seen any sort of semi-wide release until now. But let me be frank, the novelty wears off quickly and we're left with a pretty boring story that is just corny.

      Obviously the first thing mentioned by everyone after seeing Tears of the Black Tiger is the amazing (or not so amazing depending on your viewpoint) technicolor style. You get the idea just from the trailer, but the film looks as though it was filmed in technicolor in the late 1930's or early 40's. Everything is overly brilliant with a magenta hue cast over everything. Think Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz. Apparently, most of the film was shot in black and white and then colored in later, while some scenes just used a color filter to achieve this effect. After seeing the trailer, I was very intrigued by this style and couldn't wait to see more. That anticipation faded quickly however and I became more interested in the story and characters after about 15 minutes than I cared about the style.

      The story is sort of that of star-crossed lovers. It's a premise we've seen a million times: as kids, a boy (a simple peasant) and a girl (the governor's daughter) become close friends and even grow to love one another. They are forcibly seperated but agree to meet in a secret location when they are older. The girl is being forced to marry a captain within the imperial army while the boy becomes an outlaw in a ruthless gang of bandits in which he is the quickest and most deadly draw with a gun on the plains. Naturally they must find a way to be together, however unlikely or implausible it may seem to be.

      What makes the film unique (besides the obvious color palette) is the fact that it is a Bonanza-esque western portrayed with Thai actors. This is complete with a "yippee-tye-yi-yo" soundtrack (in Thai) reminiscent of Roy Rogers or other musical cowboys of the day. Everything else though is not what you'd expect from cowboys of that ilk. Besides the mandatory duel in the street with six-shooters, these gangs also tote large machine guns and rocket launchers. Yes, odd indeed.

      Also, as an added use of style, most of the film is shot on a soundstage and very obviously so. The film makers make no attempt at hiding this fact from us. Many of the backdrops are painted murals that look like they were done in about an hour. Not the George Lucas backdrops of extreme detail and realism that we're used to, but almost a sunday school, water color painting of what a sunset looks like. This actually works pretty well and I rather enjoyed this break from the norm.

      Some of the violence is ridiculously over the top and so blatant that it doesn't even seem real or even try to be real. It works okay in some places and not so well at other times. Seeing parts of a brain fly at the camera that actually look like a high-school model of the human organs blown into pieces was a bit flimsy. I understand that this was intentional, but I just didn't see the greatness in it; if there is any.

      It's difficult to tell if the film is a mock of early westerns, as in a parody; or if it is more of an homage to these sorts of films. It's arguable that it is both. At times making fun of it - with a hands on the hips, head thrown back with a maniacal, over the top, evil laugh. And at other times showing a genuine appreciation of the early genre. Either way, I didn't find it to be particularly amusing or honoring in any respect.

      So despite the originality and absurdity of the whole thing (something I usually really appreciate) I was totally thrown for a loop on this one because I didn't care one lick for any of the characters as I've seen this same type of story a million times. On top of this, films like Kill Bill have been released and are far superior in quality, acting and story. Even though Tears was technically created first, I've since seen some of the styles used and was underwhelemed; especially considering my expectations after seeing the great trailer. A mish mash of genres and styles, Tears of the Black Tiger is an accomplishment in tone and creativity, but lacks depth and story that is essentail and therefore just seems to be a stepping stone for what these film makers might accomplish in the future.

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer

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