“Tears of the Black Tiger” – A.J. Hakari

Once in a while, a flick comes along with the ability to coast amazingly well purely on the basis of its weirdness. Unfortunately, the Thai cult hit Tears of the Black Tiger isn’t that movie. Some moments seem to indicate that it’s destined for gonzo greatness, an Eastern culture’s take on the western genre with plenty of visual tricks up its sleeve. But Tears of the Black Tiger has a bad habit of stopping when the going gets strange, slowing itself down way too often and losing a bit more of its maniacal magic every time it does so.

Once upon a time, Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) was a bright college student with an even brighter future ahead of him. But after his father was brutally murdered, inspiring him to join forces with crime lord Fai (Sombat Metanee), Dum abandoned academics to lead a life of crime. Now he’s infamous throughout the land as the Black Tiger, the most notorious and skilled gunslinger in Fai’s gang. Still, Dum yearns to turn back the clock and do things differently, especially since he’s still in love with his childhood sweetie Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi). She has feelings for him as well, but things get complicated big-time when she becomes engaged to an ambitious cop (Arawat Ruangvuth) who’s bent on putting an end to Fai’s reign of terror. Throw in Dum’s shady partner (Supakorn Kitsuwon), and you’ve got yourself a set of characters careening towards a hell of a showdown, after which some might not live to ride into the sunset.

You might think that just being an Asian-born entry into the canon of cinematic westerns would be enough to fuel the fire of Tears of the Black Tiger. For a while, it certainly looks that way. The movie’s visual design is enough to give you a rush right off the bat, often putting the actors in front of a green screen and inserting extremely bright, colorful backgrounds, a style that can only be described as a head-on collision between Douglas Sirk and “Blue’s Clues.” Subtlety is not one of the flick’s top priorities, and, for a while at least, it’s all the better for it. Tears of the Black Tiger is highly stylized often to the point of hilarity, especially during the over-the-top action sequences. Writer/director Wisit Sasanatieng goes for broke with the gunfights, not afraid to get a little crazy with a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence (a brief moment involving a bazooka in the climactic showdown is drop-dead hilarious). Such scenes are done in an engagingly goofball spirit that really raise one’s hopes about the rest of the production. Malucchi’s presence as the fair maiden Rumpoey isn’t so bad either.

But as I mentioned before, just when Tears of the Black Tiger starts becoming really off-the-wall and, dare I say, interesting, Sasanatieng slams down on the brakes and brings his debut feature to a screeching halt. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for levity in movies that come packed with an inherent weirdness; it provides the chance for a good counterbalance and prevents viewers’ minds from exploding too soon. But it’s *how* Tears of the Black Tiger spends its down time that results in being such a chore to watch. Sasanatieng dwells too much on a main story that’s painfully predictable, almost disguising his lack of a solid plot with the other bells and whistles he packs the flick with. As often as he pays a stylized tribute to westerns and ooey-gooey romances, Sasanatieng just as much skedaddles past homage and straight towards lifeless unoriginality. The love story’s a bore, the acting is mixed (individual cast members are given an archetype and pretty much just run with it), and the pacing is incredibly awkward. Added up, these parts almost make you feel as if the movie’s stranger side was for naught, considering these parts bring the energy down in the same way “Death Proof” served as a buzzkill to the bloody good times offered by “Planet Terror” in Grindhouse.

By no means is Tears of the Black Tiger an awful movie, but it is one where you can’t help but wonder how virtually every aspect of the production could’ve been done better. From the hilariously gory gunfights to the painfully slow love story, Tears of the Black Tiger definitely takes you on a rollercoaster ride of sorts, only in this case, the carnie keeps falling asleep at the controls.

 

Rating: ★★½☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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