Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Couple of Reviews (Suriyothai and 1968)

Last night I watched "The Legend of Suriyothai" (2001, Thai with English subtitles, 2 hours 20 minutes), an epic movie that’s every bit as grand as "The Ten Commandments." Actually, it may be more grand as 16th Century Thailand (Siam) is much more beautiful than 1400 BC Egypt. And the movie had all the grandeur and even more splendor than DeMille’s Egypt. Pharoah’s chariots don’t stand match up to battling elephants. The movie tells the story of Queen Suriyothai who sacrifices her life in Battle of Hantawaddy to save her husband and his army in a battle against the Burmese. As she falls off her elephant, having been impaled by a spear, the troops rally and kick Burmese butt. But before you get to the battle, you endure hours of twisting and confusing plots that overshadow the beautiful pageantry.

The movie is set in a time when members of the royal family conspire against each other. With so many characters, the movie is confusing. Suriyothai life is paralleled by Srisudachan’s, who is like an evil twin (they even look alike and when you’re reading subtitles, you have to really concentrate to keep them apart). While Suriyothai is looking after the good of the people of Ayothaya, Srisudachan is plotting to bring her family back into power. It’s a time when many concubines have perfected the skill of poisoning. And then there are the executions, surreal beheadings in which the body stands upright for a second as blood shoots out like a geyser. Even more troubling is the beating death of a two and a half-year-old king. His death troubles many, but Suriyothai (or was it Srisudachan) justifies it saying its "better for one to die and save the kingdom." (Caiaphas couldn’t have said it better.) At least we’re spared the horrors of watching the child’s death. He was placed in a bag and beaten since royal blood wasn’t supposed to be spilled upon the ground.

Making up for not seeing the child’s death, we’re given a front row view of one of the king’s death from small pox. It’s not pretty. And I should say something about the bowing. When around one of higher status, they would lie at their feet, and would approach and depart in a bowed, hunchback style. My back hurt out of empathy.

Even though it is a bloody movie, there is much beauty in it. The ancient cities, the places and the temples are something to behold. Their dress, especially the royalty, is exquisite. And both Suriyothai and Srisudachan, in their bare shoulder outfits, have a way of looking out of the corner of their eyes that melts the hearts of princes (along with mine). The movie is rated "R." Although there are a few brief topless scenes, the beheading scenes alone were enough to put it over the top and assure an "R" rating. Even though there were lots of blood, the scenery was wonderful. I wish I'd seen this on the big screen. I recommend the movie if you're not squeamish, especially if you have an interest in Thai or Southeast Asian history.

I also finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s book, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, (New York: Ballantine Books, 2004) last week, a book that got me to put down my memories of the year in four recent posts. Although ’68 was a violent year, it now seems tame when comparing it to 16th Century Thailand. Although I don’t want to go into detail about the book, feeling that I’ve already written enough about that year let me say a few things about it. Kurlansky looks at the global perspective of the year. Although it was a violent year in much of the world, it was also a hopeful year as people spoke out against injustices. Kurlansky’ hero for the year is Dubcek, the leader of Czechoslovakia. Dubcek stood up against the Soviet Empire even though he refused to fight when they invaded his country in August.

It is often forgotten that in 1968 Alexander Dubcek was the one leader who was unshakably anti-war, who would not contemplate a military solution even to save himself—a leader who refused to be bullied or bought by either communism or capitalism, never broke a treaty or agreement or even his word—and he stayed in power, true power, for only 220 exciting days." (page 376)

As of Kurlanskey’s villains for ’68, several would be in contention. Charles DeGaulle is one, Lyndon Johnson might be another, and Spiro Agnew yet another. There were many more villains than there were heroes that year. 1968 was an important year and its impact can be felt on the modern world. Kurlanskey’s book provides a good foundation in what was happening in the world, not only in the United States, but also around the world.


  1. Michele sent me to your blog, Sage.

    The movie does sound incredible, Sage. A little too bloody for me, but sumptious nevertheless.

    The name Kurlansky rings bells in my head but I've not read 1968. It sounds like an interesting history of a time that changed the path of USA history.

    Your blog list looks very interesting and I think I'll explore it a bit. There's a few there that I'm quite familiar with but most are new to me. I've just recently discovered Keda's blog and I've been quite impressed with it.

  2. The book sounds quite interesting. That was around 3rd grade for me, and history class never made it past WWII so I have some interesting gaps!
    Michele sent me.

  3. Sage, the movie sounds very good, but I am not sure I could take the violence (although after seeing the Sopranos for 2-3 years - maybe I could. I will see if I can rent it. I just watched Brokeback Mt., which also had violence, and incredibly beautiful scenery. Are they similar....LOL??

  4. I don't think I could handle it. We watched Schindler's List last night & I'm still trying to recover. How does your wife go with violence?
    I think I know too little about everything to read a book about one year only lol....There's a lot I need to learn :)

  5. Daisy, you've probably heard of Kurlansky's other books (which I haven't read). He wrote SALT: A WORLD HISTORY and COD: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE FISH THAT CHANGE THE WORLD.

    Dara, I was in the 5th grade then and we too seldom got beyond WW2.

    Kenju, I've yet to see Brokeback Mts, but have an idea that they're not similar! LOL

    Daydreamer, I watched it by myself. Yes, there is so much to learn, so little time...

  6. That film sounds interesting.....

    oh, and the bowing? It was/is considered respectful in Thailand to always be physically lower than the higher rank person - hence the bowing and lying down. Extreme, but hey, it was their country! :-)

    Hi Sage, here from Michele's this time.


  7. Hi Sage,
    sorry for leaving you messages in all the wrong places, but I don't know how else to contact you. Thank you for your comment. I won't be writing poetry any time soon, but I might start up my own musings, to keep sane. I'll let you know.

  8. Superb review. Glad to hear Kurlansky's book is a great read. I need to add it to my to-read list. I also was unfamiliar with Dubcek but thanks to your post and Wikipedia I am a bit more informed on the courageous figure.

  9. Thanks for the very interesting review of that film. I had not heard of it before..Netflix anyone?? You made this film sound very intriguing even though it is a long one....And the book, too...
    Here from Micele's today and happy to visit you once again.

  10. I had not heard of this movie before but you have caused it to jump to my must see list. The producers should thank you for such a review.

  11. CQ- yeah, the bowing is interesting and is their custom, but boy did my back hurt thinking about it...

    Seawlf, let me know if your start your own musings, but continue jotting a line or two of poetry if you get a chance.

    V-You're right, Debcuk was heroic, and unfortunately not well remembered and overshadowed by all that happened in that fateful year.

    Lady of the Hills: My momma wouldn't every let me call anyone "Old lady." I got the movie via Netflix.

    Grins, I assure you, I have no financial interest in the movie, lol!

  12. Was it you or Murf who recommended "Run Lola Run?" I'm just glad it was only one hour and twenty minutes long. I don't think I could have sat through a fourth run through of Lola's day.

  13. Ed, it must of been Murf. I've not seen it.

  14. I think that oftentimes foreign (to us) films pack such a wallop because they are so blatant and colorful. I watch foreign films for this very reason.

    Great information on the Czech leader. I hadn't known that (and, being the pacifist that I am, it's nice to know that others carry on that legacy).

  15. Nor have I and it sounds like I shouldn't waste my time on it.

  16. Gosh, I blamed my wife at first but she said it wasn't her and that it must have been one of you two. Yes, I don't recommend it until you've had at least several strong alcoholic drinks or have one hour and twenty minutes that you want to waste.

  17. Ed, after your raving review and your wife and Murf both saying they didn't recommend it, I will NOT put Run Lola Run in my Netflix quene.

    Dawn, I had not thought of Dubcek as an example of a successful pacifist, but he is. He even got the country through the Russian invasion without much loss of life and the Soviets looked so bad in the world's eyes that some credit it as the first crack that lead to the end of the Soviet block.

  18. Sounds like a fascinating movie; but I hate seeing brutality especially up close in movies.

  19. i have seen the movie like 4 months ago. its such a well made movie. their costume is way much better than hollywoods ones.