Royal conspiracies, painted elephants, concubines, tattooed monks, severed heads and downtrodden peasants: This lavish historical epic of 16th-century Siam (now Thailand) is spectacle in the old Hollywood style, before CGI put the cast of thousands out of work. The multigenerational narrative spans the years 1528-1549, when Siam's peace and prosperity were threatened by power struggles between four noble clans the Suphannabumi, U-Thong, Phra Ruang and Sri Thammasokaraj a protracted smallpox epidemic and the ever-present threat of invasion by aggressive neighboring Burma. During these years, minor Phra Ruang princess Suriyothai (M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi) matures from a headstrong girl given to stamping her pretty foot and declaring "I'm so, so, so, so bored!" to a queen defined by steely determination and selfless loyalty to her country. Suriyothai and Lord Pirenthoratep (Chatchai Plengpanich) fall in love as children, but Prince Thienracha (Sarunyoo Wongkrchang), son of the aging Suphannabumi king, asks for her hand in marriage. Suriyothai puts duty before love, marrying Thienracha to keep peace between the Phra Ruang and Suphannabumi families. The king is desperate for a legitimate heir Prince Thien is his son by a lowly consort and Thien's cousin, Prince Chairacha (Pongpat Wachirabunjong), is only the king's nephew and takes a high consort, who bears a son. But the royal heir is a child when his father dies of smallpox, and Chairacha stages a coup d'etat. Chairacha later takes his own high consort, the treacherous U-Thong Lady Srisudachan (Mai Charoenpura), who conspires with minor U-Thong noble Lord Warawongsa (Johnny Anfone) to kill her husband and restore their clan's rule. Meanwhile Suriyothai works quietly behind the scenes, protecting and advancing her husband's interests even after he's accused of murder and takes refuge by joining a Buddhist monastery until the opportunity to reclaim the throne and restore order presents itself. Director Chatri Chalerm Yukol is a member of the Thai royal family and the film was largely funded by Queen Sirikit, who saw it as a tool with which to educate Thai youth about their country's colorful history. The storytelling is jerky (perhaps in part because the running time was trimmed from 185 to 142 minutes for U.S. release) and character development takes a backseat to a breathless rush through battles, assassinations and dynastic plotting. But with elephants and horses galore joining the thousands of Thai army and navy personnel conscripted into battle sequences, the spectacle is unimpeachable.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: R
- Review: Royal conspiracies, painted elephants, concubines, tattooed monks, severed heads and downtrodden peasants: This lavish historical epic of 16th-century Siam (now Thailand) is spectacle in the old Hollywood style, before CGI put the cast of thousands out of… (more)