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Pulpmovies Cult Film Reviews
Archived Posts from this Category
Although I am currently living in the Netherlands, Dutch is very much a second language to me. I can cope with the essentials of life, such as ordering beer and pizza, but Im still far from fluent.
Normally this isnt an issue since most films are shown here in their original language with Dutch subtitles. Ive even gotten lucky with foreign language films in the past, having seen both Princess Mononoke and Tetsuo II (still in their original language) with English subtitles. So when I saw that the Filmmuseum was showing Tears of a Black Tiger as part of their Films in the Open Air season, I contacted them to find out if I could get lucky for a third time.
The answer was no, but since it was a nice night and Id heard some good things about this film, I thought that now would be a good time to find out whether the Dutch lessons had paid off. I even managed to drag a (English speaking) friend along by not mentioning the language/subtitle issue until he was clutching a beer.
There is a point to all this rambling, which is that, even with a slightly limited understanding of what was going on, we both had a great time watching this film.
There is another point to all this rambling, which is that, while understanding the gist of what was going on I may well have missed some of the finer points of the film (assuming there were any).
And now… on with the review.
Tears of a Black Tiger takes two genres that normally wouldnt sit comfortably in the same film and seamlessly merges them into a story that is both dramatic and riotously funny.
Having been delayed by a shootout (and this is a spectacular opening scene, complete with an action replay) Dum, the titular Black Tiger, arrives late for a planned elopement with his childhood sweetheart, Ramphui.
Believing that shes been stood up, Ramphui has returned home, upset and disheartened. So much so that she finally gives in to pressure from her father - the local governor - to marry the local commandant, Kumjorn. Of course, with Kumjorn leading the hunt for the outlaw Fai and his gang of Tigers, its inevitable that the paths of Kumjorn and Dum will eventually cross.
Kumjorn gets the drop on Fais gang while Dum and Fais right hand man, Meeshuan are becoming blood brothers - at least I assume that this is what they were doing. Watching a pair of Asian cowboys celebrating in a Buddhist shrine is bizarre, to say the least. But there was blood and much drinking involved, so we can run with this one.
Things are going well for Kumjorn until Dum and Meeshuan return and turn the tables, killing most of Kumjorns men in the ensuing rout and capturing Kumjorn.
After a fair bit of mutual back slapping and much maniacal laughter - which is something else that goes completely over the top in this film, neither Fai nor Meeshuan seem able to carry out or witness any criminal act without laughing throughout - Dum is ordered to execute Kumjorn. Inevitably, he learns that Kumjorn is to marry Ramphui.
Devastated, but believing that this is what she wants, Dum allows Kumjorn to escape…
Tears of a Black Tiger is essentially a love story - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc. - sympathetically placed into a Western setting. Sympathetically in that it incorporates themes (honour and vengeance against an essentially lawless background - the story of how Dum becomes a Black Tiger, told in flashback, is consistent enough to retain the audiences sympathy even though he is one of the most feared outlaws in the region) and scenes (the shoot-out, the stand-off) that are immediately recognisable to anyone who familiar with the genre.
But then it goes a step further, placing all this against an unmistakably Thai background. Its an odd effect, often causing you to look twice and recognize just how much you take for granted when watching westerns. This is exacerbated by the seemingly random use of weaponry throughout the film - mixing rocket launchers, automatic pistols and revolvers, often in the same scene - creating an air of timelessness; or, at least, defying you to get too specific about the period in which the film is set.
Then there is the colour… Tears of a Black Tiger is shot in gloriously bright colours - deliberately reminiscent of early colour film stock - giving it a surrealistic, dreamlike quality. And the sets play up to this, with blatantly artificial backgrounds perfectly matching the over the top acting and spectacularly gory action scenes.
Tears of a Black Tiger manages to simultaneously pay homage to and parody both western and romantic films. Its also one of the funniest and freshest Ive seen in a long time. So much so that Ive ordered the DVD - what more can I add?
Set in the closing stages of the American Civil War, The Good The Bad and The Ugly is one of the strongest anti-war films made. Through its sparse style and superbly realised atmosphere, the film manages to effectively portray this war as being nothing more than a series of brutal and futile skirmishes which cripple the idealists and make the unscrupulous rich. There are no real heroes in this film; for the most part, the characters are unprincipled and motivated entirely by greed - Blondie (Clint Eastwood in his career defining role as the man with no name) is only good in comparison to the calculated viciousness of Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) and the mindless thuggery of Tuco (Eli Wallach).
This mercenary attitude goes much further than the three main characters. It pervades the whole film in which, for the most part, people see the war as either a hindrance to their own activities or an opportunity to cash in - the bar owner, for example whos support for the new occupying force is motivated solely by the advancing forces have cash to spend and the retreating forces are now penniless. The few people who do think beyond their own immediate advantage are ineffectual and frustrated - these are not people who make a difference, they are people who write reports that wont be read until its too late or who resort to alcoholism.
Visually, the film is stunning. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a film that really does need to be seen in its full cinematic glory and if you get the opportunity to see it on the big screen, go for it. And on video or DVD, hunt down the widescreen format because you really will be missing out if you watch this film on pan-and-scan. And this visual style is deftly underpinned by Morricones beautifully haunting score - one of the few instantly recognisable film soundtracks.
The dialogue, too, is spartan - especially at the start of the film. There are no huge globs of exposition here, Leone preferring to rely (successfully) on a single stare combined with stop-on cinematography to speak volumes. And again, this approach maintains the tense and brooding atmosphere. Even the humour - and there is a lot of humour seamlessly meshed into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - is carefully crafted to both provide some relief while still working to enhance the atmosphere.
In short, not only is The Good, The Bad and The Ugly probably the best film of its genre, it is also one few truly classic films. With this film, Sergio Leone has provided a textbook exampleof how to make a movie that is both intelligent and entertaining and one that makes the audience think without descending into preachiness. No-one can fail to appreciate this truly legendary film.