The Legend of Suriyothai

A better fitting name for The Legend of Suriyothai would be A Brief History of Thailand or The Romance of Two Kingdoms. Suriyothai is a historical Thai figure who eventually became Queen, and although she plays a prominent role in the movie, she is absent for long stretches of time. "Long" is an apt word, since Suriyothai clocks in at over two hours and has somewhat of a laborious pace. The original version is over three hours, but Francis Ford Coppola trimmed it down before its release here. However, one thing that can be said about the film is that it looks amazing. Writer/director Chatrichalerm Yukol (Daughter, Daughter 2), himself a member of the Thai royal family, filmed this with permission from the Queen of Thailand. It is the most expensive film in Thai history, and although the budget pales in comparison to normal Hollywood features, the small amount of money goes a long way in Thailand.

The result is huge battles with hundreds of extras and elephants, and elaborate sets and costumes. Suriyothai is gorgeous, and because most people are not familiar with Thai history, all new. Yukol takes the audience across breathtaking vistas, ornate palaces, and beautiful forests. However, because the history is foreign to most people, it feels like Yukol wants to cram as much of it down the throats of viewers as possible. There is a lot of context provided in the film so that one knows exactly what is going on, and all of it is very worshipful of Suriyothai, so much at times that it feels like a fluff piece.

Yukol wants everybody to understand the complex political wranglings happening behind the scenes. Suriyothai takes place in Siam of the 1500s in the small kingdom of Ayuthaya. For the most part, Siam is at peace with itself but still warring with neighboring Burma. In a nutshell, Suriyothai (M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi) forgoes her desire for love and marries Prince Tien (Sarunyu Wongkrachang), who eventually becomes second in line for the throne. She loved Piren (Chatchai Plengpanich, Song for Chao Phraya), a childhood friend, but any sort of marriage was forbidden. Tien has little desire to lead, unlike his older brother Chairacha (Pongpat Wachirabunjong). Chairacha is elevated to King, and his consort Srisudachan (Mai Charoenpura), a member of the disgraced U-Tong dynasty, schemes to bring her family back into power through an affair with Worawongsa (Johnny Enfone, Daughter). Suriyothai is one of the few people who can see Srisudachan for who she really is.

It is fascinating to watch all this history play out, but there are times when it feels like there is too much history. The years roll by, and Yukol uses title cards to succinctly tell what passed, and in a sense it only adds more running time to the film. The main purpose is to show how Suriyothai became a legend in Thai history, and this occurs at the tail end of the film. The first half of Suriyothai is fairly unnecessary. It feels even longer than it is given that many of their actors deliver their lines in a stilted, unnatural fashion. By the end of the film, one has a good sense of what Suriyothai did, but little insight on who she was as a person. Yukol threw in one line early in her marriage about how she wanted more, but fails to address this to a satisfactory degree.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 22 minutes, Thai with English subtitles, Rated R for violence and some nudity.

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