When you watch a movie like The Legend of the Tsunami Warrior, you can see just how far the film industry in Thailand has come in a very short amount of time. It wasn’t all that long ago that Thai cinema was little more than an afterthought when it came to the powerhouses of Asian cinema.
Longstanding cinematic traditions in Japan and Hong Kong, and ground breaking work starting to come out of South Korea getting all the attention when it came to imports from the area. All of that changed when Tony Jaa burst onto the scene with 2003’s Ong Bak: Thai Warrior, which even managed a limited theatrical release in the United States. Since then the country has managed to produce some of the best action films made anywhere in the world such as Chocolate and Ong Bak 2 stunning audiences with their audacious storytelling and visceral, stunt oriented action.
Now, as the industry in Thailand continues to grow, film makers are starting to get more ambitious, and the results are showing up in films such as The Legend of the Tsunami Warrior. This is the Thai equivalent of a big budget extravaganza like the Pirates of the Caribbean films, but with a focus on Thai philosophy and folktales instead of pirate mythos.
Unfortunately, for all the progress that has been made since Tony Jaa’s introduction seven years ago, Tsunami Warrior ends up also showing the limitations of this fledgling cinema industry, and displays just how far they have to go before a Thai film like this will be truly successful on all levels. A lot of the film’s problems stem from simply having too many characters in it without properly explaining who everyone is.
The movie is about an ancient kingdom in which the monarch has recently died, leaving the task of ruling the nation to his three daughters (each of which will become queen, one at a time). They must also find proper suitors in order to make alliances with neighboring countries. Vying for power other princes and rulers in the region plot a takeover, with one such prince even going so far as to ally himself with a band of pirates who constantly attack the peaceful country, as well as attempt assassinations of one another. In addition, a small fishing village is home to a young boy with special magical gifts that allow him breathe underwater and control sea creatures, and all is peaceful for him until his destiny crosses path with the battle for his homeland.
If this description makes it sound as if the movie is all over the place that’s because it is. This a film battling for its own identity, as both a war film and a coming of age tale, and unfortunately both end up somewhat half baked. We spend much time with Pari (Ananda Everingham), the title hero who must learn the art of Du Lum (the magical art that allows his to control the sea) but just as we start to gain momentum with his story we’re whisked away to meetings or palace proclamations about impending battles.
The picture is simply too overstuffed to build any momentum within its storytelling and as a result the viewer is kept waiting for the final movie’s final confrontations, which are pretty underwhelming.
That’s not to say the movie is all bad. There are several bright spots to keep you interested and hoping things will pick up. The movie’s look and costumes are quite sumptuous and its visual effects, while not mind-blowing, are quite serviceable throughout. If not for the movie’s poor pacing and stodgy editing in the film’s final battle, its effects wouldn’t even be an issue at all but it becomes easier to pick apart technical issues when the camera lingers too long.
The movie’s best performance goes to Anna Ris as the lovely Princess Ungu, the late king’s feistiest daughter. Unwilling to simply be a pretty face, she goes headlong into danger throughout the movie, creating the film’s most memorable character. There’s even a nice bit of romance between Ungu and Pari that comes as an organic piece to the film and the film could have stood a little more to gain from it.
Ananda Everingham is also charismatic as the film’s lead, a man struggling between using his powers for selfish means or for the greater good. If the film had cut out some of its political machinations in favor of focusing on Pari’s journey, the movie would have been much better off because Everingham is able to carry the picture pretty well with his scenes. By taking away from this tried and true “hero’s journey” in favor of stuffy court politics, the movie simply stops its own momentum before it can really get going.
Pairing him up more with Dan Chupong’s Lord Jarang, the bravest of the palace’s guards, would have also benefitted the movie greatly. Chupong has distinguished himself as the second biggest action star that Thailand has to offer behind Jaa in films such as Born to Fight and Dynamite Warrior. All of his action scenes battling ninjas and pirates are the film’s best but as with everything else there’s just not enough of him. Chupong is a performer of great skill that deserved to be showcased more with this picture, and hopefully he’ll get more exposure coming up as an adversary for Tony Jaa in the upcoming Ong Bak 3.
With a movie that features pirates, ninjas, samurai, mystical powers, giant cannons and whale attacks, The Legend of the Tsunami Warrior should be a lighter than air adventure showcasing the leaps and bounds Thai cinema has made in the last few years. What you want in a film like this is the type of picture that takes the sort of manic energy that you love from Thai movies and then applies that to a big budget epic with a lot of effects. Instead, what you end up with is a bloated film trying too hard to mimic the worst of Hollywood blockbusters, and unfortunately alienates its audience in the process.
Magnolia’s Blu-ray edition of The Legend of the Tsunami Warrior is absolutely beautiful, showcasing all of the lush color within the movie’s wonderful costumes and sets. Image detail is very nice and shows off just how much work went into making this picture’s “look”. The sound on this disc is also terrific and makes nice use of the movie’s sound design.
The making of The Legend of the Tsunami Warrior – It’s unfortunate that this featurette is kind of essential to watching this film, because they go into detail about the world they’ve created here much more than they do in the actual movie. This is your standard “making of” piece and features several interviews.
Behind the Scenes Footage – This is basically B-roll footage from the film, showcasing where we get to see real stunts in this film and where CGI was added in.
Trailers – You gets trailers for this film as well as other Magnolia releases.
The Legend of the Tsunami Warrior should have been a movie that further showed the arrival of Thai cinema onto the world stage. Instead it’s a bit of a step back, showing the sort of shortcomings that the film industry there still has when it comes to dramatic storytelling.
Sure, the action is inventive at times in this picture, and some of the performances are quite good, but too much time is spent on needless plot threads, and the movie’s final battle is anticlimactic. This is a good disc, with a great print, but only those curious about all things Thai cinema should look into this one.
Magnolia presents The Legend of the Tsunami Warrior. Directed by: Nonzee Nimibutr. Starring: Ananda Everingham, Anna Ris, and Dan Chupong. Written by: Win Lyovarin. Running time: 1 hr. 59 mins. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: 5/11/2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Robert Sutton feels the most at home when he's watching some movie scumbag getting blown up, punched in the face, or kung fu'd to death, especially in that order. He's a founding writer for the movies section of Insidepulse.com, featured in his weekly column R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema as well as a frequent reviewer of DVDs and Blu-rays. Also, he's a proud Sony fanboy, loves everything Star Wars and Superman related and hopes to someday be taken seriously by his friends and family.