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Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sartsanatieng) 2000

   

    Near the beginning of Thai director Wisit Sartsanatiengís wild western Tears of the Black Tiger, a hyperkinetic gun stunt flits by, but then the movie pauses to toss up a title card reading, ďDid you catch that? If not, weíll play it again!Ē Immediately, a more detailed play-by-play of the ricocheting bullet antics flashes by on the screen, with an even gorier finish at the end. That sort of energy is contagious, and Tears seizes upon it in nearly every facet of its design. The colors seem brighter than should be possible in a movie (or is it just that most other filmmakers hew too closely to realism?), the set design is filled with so many anachronisms that I soon gave up trying to place the film into a time period (though Iíd guess itís just after WWII), the acting is alternatively hammy and sincere, and the soundtrack is alternatively dominated by traditional love ballads and twangy banjo anthems. Looking less like the films that it nods toward than the colorful posters that advertised them, Tiger is filled with rosy cheeks, pink lips, and a never-ending series of stunning vistas. The juxtapositions seem randomly chosen at first, but Sartsanatieng shows enough restraint to turn them into a genuine aesthetic by the end of the first act.

   

    With a simple story that pays homage to Spaghetti Westerns, and the mood of old-school Asian tearjerkers, this tale of Dum, a legendary gunslinger who never misses his target, and Rumpoey, his upper-class childhood sweetheart, has plenty of room for stylistic flights of fancy. Often flirting with garishness, the film rarely disappoints on visual grounds, but the surprising thing about it is how tightly conceived the plot is. Clearly designed as a crowd-pleaser, Tears doesnít dig for subtlety or weighty themes, but that hardly hampers a movie that has so many superficial pleasures to glean. The romantic moments are as effective as the action-packed ones, and in both cases the film revels in its melodramatic flair. A great deal of borrowing is done from other films in picking the types of characters used here and the situations devised, but few genre pictures arenít guilty of the same. Besides, when pastiche is assembled with as much excitement as it is here, it gains distinct energy of its own. Perhaps the best way to describe Tears is to say that it seems to be the sort of film that Japanís Takashi Miike is capable of making as soon as he develops a slightly longer attention span, and thatís no slight compliment.

 

* * * 1/2 

11-11-02 

Jeremy Heilman