Suriyothai (2001) review

aka The Legend of Suriyothai

Rated: 4 / 5

Ok, let’s get this out of the way first. America got royally fucked in the ass by Francis Ford Coppola on this one. We have a 2 hour cut of this film that is an absolute disgrace. Too much happens too quickly, it’s almost impossible to get attached to any of the characters, and it’s a gross simplification of EVERYTHING.

Movie Director Francis Ford Coppola, right, actor Chatchai Plengpanich, middle, and Thai director and Prince  Chatrichalerm Yukol pose for photographs Monday, March 11, 2002 on the set in Ayuthaya. Coppola is in Thailand  to help edit the new version of ''Suriyothai''. The film will be shown in the Thai language with English subtitles. Photo by Mick Elmore

The original Thai version is 3 hours in total, and is much better for it. Things are more fleshed out, some characters who were more relegated to the background have their presence felt more clearly (ex: the badass soldier who lost an eye), and it’s overall paced better. Even so, it still felt like it went by too quickly for its own good. But at least it came off as a solid enough film, which is more than I could say for the Americanized circumcised mess we were left with.

So when I planned on revisiting this film, I intended to see the best version of it, the 3 hour version. As for how I got a hold of it and how I found out about this movie, I’ll just say it was fate and leave it at that. But then I realized everyone on an international level, including in Thailand, got fucked up the ass again. Because when this film first came out on DVD in the early 2000s, there was a limited circulation run of an epic cut of the film that ran for 5 hours. Let me repeat that for those who think that’s a typo, FIVE HOURS! At this point I started to lose my mind, thinking, “What the flying fuck is wrong with these DVD distributing motherfuckers who think we don’t want a hold of the full version of the movie!? What the fuck makes them think we want to settle for a piece of shit version that cuts out 3 fucking hours of footage, let alone 2!? And they make it fucking limited so that over a decade later it’s borderline impossible to track down a copy of the buttfucking thing!? GODDAMNIT!!!!!!”

In case it wasn’t apparent, I hate butchered versions of films, I hate it when we get a version that isn’t as complete as the director originally intended, I hate censorship, and I really fucking hate it when America mutilates domestic releases of foreign films the way trannies mutilate their own bodies, let alone dipshit parents and jews mutilating baby penises.

This is not my photo.

But guess what motherfuckers? I got a hold of the 5 hour cut (along with the other 2 versions). And I watched it. And eventually I’m going to make it so that others can partake in this delicacy too without having to shell out $150+ to get a hold of a copy, especially when they don’t know if the film is enjoyable enough to be worth that much. For the record, I don’t believe any film is worth that much, and no, I didn’t pay that much for my LEGALLY OBTAINED copy. The point is some assholes on eBay, on the blue moon chance someone is selling a copy, tends to go that high (I got very lucky by comparison). The only time a film is worth that much is if it’s 8+ hours long, or signed by someone who worked on it, or it’s some uber-special edition loaded with extras and trinkets, and fabulous video/audio quality for die-hard fans who only thought something like that existed in their wet dreams.

As for the movie, the 5 hour version, significantly more fleshed out than the 3 hour version. You truly get a taste of Thai history and culture, their practises, mannerisms, rituals, names, places, plotting. It hits you full force. It’s the sort of epic a country would be patriotically proud to have produced in their country, like how Poland got Potop, America got Star Wars and Ben-Hur and King Kong (the original), and Japan got Akira Kurosawa and Akira.

And do those extra hours slow the pacing to a crawl with overly long drawn out scenes? To my amazement, no. In fact, the pacing is as brisk as ever. The new footage doesn’t exactly pad out the movie (though there is this candle ritual segment where they want Buddha, or some god, to determine their fate, which mainly exists for side plot thematic purposes which, while it does have some thematic reference and mirroring later on, isn’t completely necessary outside of spending more time with certain characters and experiencing a bit more of the religion and culture; it becomes a bit of a red herring). Rather, it seems like they crammed in more scenes to give more insight into, well, everything. The plot, the characters, the stuff they did royally and religiously. Virtually none of it felt like it was better left out. Quite the opposite. I’m going to have a very hard time going back to the 3 hour version (the 2 hour version can kiss my ass) without feeling like I’m missing out on some big details. On top of that, the pacing is still rapid. In spite of the 5 hour length, it still feels like the film took some 8+ hour miniseries and tried to condense it into one movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film of this length that moved through scenes as quickly as this one. I defy anyone to find that kind of a movie out there, epic in length and scope, that feels quick-paced. It’s borderline bizarre.


Now of course, for us Americans (and anyone who isn’t Thai for that matter), things will get confusing at times. Trying to grasp the significance of certain people and places, trying to figure out how to pronounce the fucking names and wonder how the fuck that country can function with people and places that have that many letters in them (Nebuchadnezzar ain’t got nothing on these people). And then having to deal with subtitles that come off as being written by someone who has English as a second language some of the time, as a third language at other times, or some English learning intern. There are a couple moments where the subtitles don’t show up at all. That being said, I was still able to understand the meaning and what was going on.

As for the plot, it’s about this time period when Thailand was beginning to undergo a period of civil strife at the highest levels of royalty, along with a smallpox outbreak; how they dealt with it, and then attempted to repel a foreign army attempting to conquer the land amidst all this. Most of the action is saved for the last couple hours (the battle sequences are done well enough, with enough extras to make this feel like the epic it sets out to be). The majority of the duration is Game of Thrones-like political intrigue, maneuvering, backstabbing, plotting, family/regime takeovers, assassinations, etc. And people of all types get killed from this. Men, women, and children. Yep, even some kids get killed, including this one kid who doesn’t look much older than 5. And they don’t slice his head off with a sword. Oh no. They have something that looks like a sword, except it’s cylindrical with no sharp edges, and they bash the little fucker’s skull in. Now don’t panic, they don’t show this. They just have the camera looking up at the executioner as he’s swinging downward in slow-motion before fading to black. But now you know what you’re in for.

And this ought to appease the ladies out there. This is a woman’s movie. The central characters, especially during the first half, are women of royalty, who manipulate the rulers they are married to or close to into doing their bidding, into getting what they want, causing havoc (and attempts to stop the havoc). And there are plenty of women warriors and bodyguards who prove to be just as capable as the men a good portion of the time. And this isn’t done at the expense of the men either, who also have their time to shine. They can be completely compatible with one another, working off each other to accomplish difficult tasks, or against each other (in various ways) to the detriment of many.

As for the central theme in the movie, from my viewing, it seems to be about the pros and cons of putting duty to country and others before yourself, and vice versa.  And how far-reaching the consequences for doing one or the other can be.  Suriyothai becomes the polar opposite of Srisudachan with those concepts of duty and personal desire at the expense of others.  Granted, considering this was a film funded in-part by the Thai government, you could imagine that duty and honor are shown to be far more positive than the alternative.  That being said, it also doesn’t seem to simplify things either.  Suriyothai is shown to have a longing for things that she didn’t have because of her dedication to her king/husband.  And Srisudachan is shown to have inner turmoil at times with the things she is doing, and her motives are relate-able at times (especially since she’s somewhat peer-pressured into doing some of her more terrible deeds).  Plus Srisudachan also did it to have a type of husband she always wanted, and a child/family she’s always wanted.  She’s never shown to be full-on evil, though it definitely shows her doing evil deeds (or at least ordering them carried out).  Suriyothai, by comparison, is mostly kept on the sidelines for the majority of the film, especially when the film isn’t at the beginning or the finale.  She’s still there, and still doing her part with gathering info and influencing the king to do what is right (among other people), but she seems to be a minor character for the most part in her own movie.  Regardless, she does make decisions and actions that end up affecting the entire fate of the kingdom.

Example of amateur-hour subtitles: “make” = “male”

There is a lot of stuff contained in this film. Just the quantity alone makes it an enjoyable viewing experience. As for the quality, well… In terms of budget and set design and acting and music, it’s good. Pacing and directing (in terms of camera placement), it’s acceptable at the very least, great in some cases. But I was left wanting better in that department. It’s not that the pacing or directing is bad, it’s just not as fantastic as one would hope from a film as ambitious as this. But that could just be due to expectations, or what I’m used to getting from films that are 3+ hours in length. It’s different.

Bottom line, I do recommend this, if you have the time for it. Watch the 5 hour cut if you can, maybe settle for the 3 hour version, avoid the 2 hour cut like the plague that ravished the land at one point.

PS: The film spoils the ending during the first couple minutes. Just so you know. I hated that, but on the other hand it was made by Thais for Thais who likely know this history by heart, so I can’t exactly fault the film for that.

PPS: There is this great emotional scene in the middle of the film where this early sequence of a childhood promise made completely pays off. One of those, “I promise to come for you if you ever need me,” type of promises. That moment gets to me.

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