Everyone who sat through 13 Going On 30 or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind hoping against hope that at some point a band of warriors would show up and begin crushing heads with giant mallets can rejoice: Your movie has arrived at last. Based on a famed series of struggles between Burmese invaders and Siamese natives that began in 1765 in the area that would become Thailand, Bang Rajan recounts history as a long, bloody spectacle filled with impalements, decapitations, suffering children, treacly romance, and one powerful swordsman wearing an extremely fake-looking mustache. Giant mallets also play a prominent part.
A massive hit in its native Thailand upon its 2000 release, Thanit Jitnukul's film puts the emphasis on action and motion. Gun-toting horsemen clash against sword-wielding villagers like so many toy soldiers, and as a field marshal, Thanit makes an impressive showing. The film's American release comes courtesy of Oliver Stone, and the conspiracy-theory-inclined might wonder whether he did it out of admiration, or as an attempt to get some tips for staging Alexander. Stone certainly couldn't have been inspired by Bang Rajan's dramatic content, which is as by-the-numbers as a military drill: When a village warrior's wife announces her pregnancy early in the film, for example, don't expect an easy transition into motherhood.
However true to history Bang Rajan may be, any film that pits a band of inexperienced farmers against well-trained warriorsparticularly one that throws in a clownish, shaggy warrior for good measureinvites comparison to The Seven Samurai, and Bang Rajan predictably comes up wanting. The action, while busy, never produces much excitement, particularly since Thanit never gives the audience any reason to care about the characters, beyond their underdog status. On the other hand, Bang Rajan's belated release lends it some virtues beyond Thanit's ability to capture light falling through jungle leaves and the sound of a musket's boom. Its high body count and unrelentingly ugly depiction of war as a chaos of blood-drenched fields and dead innocents feels like a corrective to the sanitized vision of Troy and the footage on the nightly news.