Put an Asian tiger in your tank, and the film world will take notice. While it doesn't have the box-office breakthrough potential of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this Thai melodrama nevertheless quickly became the buzz movie at this year's Cannes Film Festival. A one-off mix of high camp romance, graphically violent shoot-outs and old-style Thai cowboy movies, it's the Douglas Sirk film that Sam Peckinpah never got round to making. Or vice versa.
Such a stylistic clash - intense loving glances are immediately followed by brutal slow-motion bloodbaths - won't sit easy with all audiences. But it's the film's colour-saturated look which pulls these contrasting elements together by lifting the story into a deliberately heightened, unrealistic realm. Each frame has been touched up, so that lurid pinks, reds and greens jump off the screen and hit the same high notes as the characters' hyped-up emotions.
As a result, Tears Of The Black Tiger has a distinctively retro feel that reminds viewers of vintage movie magazine covers or old flicks whose colour balance has gone awry over the decades. Director Wisit Sasanatieng is only 36, but he's clearly in love with a golden age of Thai cinema.
Yet, although he's making an homage to something that British audiences never saw first time round, there are bits here that somehow stir childhood memories for those of a certain age. The film isn't really like any Western we're familiar with, but it is like a creaky TV serial, particularly as some of those cowboys sport Zorro moustaches that are obviously slivers of black plastic held on by a touch of glue.
As a result, Wisit's recreation of bygone moods and styles is infectious. Since Cannes, it's the film's rich colourisation that has been the talking point, but gradually that just becomes part of the overall conception, and the story itself grabs your attention. Its undeniable charm forces viewers to abandon any preconceptions brought on by overblown romantic gestures and exploding squibs, and all you can do is surrender to one of the year's most unique cinema experiences.
Buddhist cowboys? An Asian Romeo & Juliet? Colours so bright that the ushers should hand out sunglasses? Nothing is subtle here, but that's the point: by pumping up the story, emotions and style, Tears... proves more is indeed more.
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