Dir: Nonzee Nimibutr. Thailand. 2008. 133mins.
A big-budget Thai period epic that mixes pirates, magic, martial arts action and a kneejerk eco-pacifist subtext, Queens Of Langkasuka is good to look at but clunky in pretty much every other department. Those in the mood for a chaste action-laced love story with dazzling costumes will not complain but the Thai Pirates Of The Caribbean this most certainly isn't.
Distributor Sahamongkol opens the film in Thailand in October following a likely end-of-September Bangkok Festival screening. As a mix of family fantasy actioner and national epic, Langkasuka should draw the same sort of audiences as previous big-budget patriotic actioners like the two-part 2007 The Legend Of King Naresuan, but it will still struggle to make back its record 140 million Baht budget on home ground alone.
The film is neither stylish nor original enough for significant cross-border action, except perhaps in Malaysia (the ancient kingdom of Langkasuka, of which few documentary or archaeological traces remain, spread over both sides of the present-day frontier). Without the dramatic heft and sharp attitude of breakout Asian epics like House Of Flying Daggers, or the out-and-out kickboxing action that Thai star Tony Jaa specialises in, Queens Of Langkasuka looks unlikely to do much US or European business.
By the early seventeenth century, when the film is set, the kingdom of Langkasuka had been replaced by that of Pattani. But present-day Pattani province is a hotbed of separatism - so the original title, Queens Of Pattani, was changed. Thick with dull exposition in its opening reels, the film opens in a sea-gypsy village where Pari, a young boy, reveals charismatic gifts that lead his uncle to suggest that he should be trained in the eco-friendly Du Lum magic arts by hairy island-dwelling hermit White Ray. Uncle Anjar also slips in a revenge motive by telling Pari that his real father was killed by Black Raven.
Meanwhile, in her fortified royal palace, Queen Hijau (Suksawat) is troubled by an unscrupulous alliance led by pirate captain Black Raven and breakaway royal Prince Rawai. The duo have pinned their victory hopes on the recovery of a pair of massive cannons built by Dutch weapons expert Janis Bree which lie at the bottom of the sea. Hijau's martially-trained younger sister Princess Ungu (Ris) is sent with faithful palace guard Prince Jarang (Thai action specialist Changprung) to find Bree's surviving assistant Lim Kium and to persuade him to build a pair of super-cannons. But Ungu is captured by the pirates, escapes thanks to Pari - now a full-grown heartthrob played by top Thai poster-boy Ananda Everingham - and the two take refuge on the island of White Ray, who finally agrees to train Pari in the nine steps that will lead him to become a Du Lum master.
That's just a bare-bones summary of a plot that has more new developments than Dubai. None of the actors seem to have invested much in their roles and director Nimbutr clearly feels it's enough to keep the story moving along, throw in an action sequence every ten minutes or so and get the costumes and the CGI effects right. When there's information to be conveyed (and there often is), characters stand in fixed formation while one of them conveys it.
But at least the romantic scenes have a certain retro-Disney charm to them, and the final battle scene picks up the pace in a crescendo of cannon fusillades and flying machines, that culminates with Everingham riding in on the back of a giant stingray.
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