intrigues: The Legend of Suriyothai.
Ago and Far Away
By Ann Morrow
Legend of Suriyothai
by Chatri Chalerm Yukol
With the arrival of The Legend of Suriyothai, the first
large-scale historical epic from Thailand, Western audiences
have another filmic reference beside The King and I
on the fascinations of the former Siam. Written and directed
by the respected Thai filmmaker Chatri Chalerm Yukol, this
lavish folk tale follows the life of Suriyothai the Warrior
Queen, an iconic figure in Thailand’s national identity. The
queen wasn’t really a warrior, but her loyalty, diplomacy,
and bravery amply justify a feature-length film in any language.
Opening in 1528, the legend starts out slowly, more like a
costume processional than a costume drama. The future queen
(Piyapas Bhirombhakdi) is a princess of 15, and chafing at
the restrictions of nobility. But it’s her high spirits rather
than her lineage that attracts the attention of Prince Thien
(Sarunyoo Wongkrchang), second son of the king of Ayuthaya,
the mightiest land in Siam. Suriyothai is in love with her
childhood sweetheart, Lord Piren (Chatchi Plengpanich), but
in the strategic interests of the kingdom, she agrees to marry
the prince. It is the first of the pivotal sacrifices that
she will make for her country.
Many years of domestic contentment and child rearing go by,
yet Suriyothai is unfulfilled. So, too, is the audience. The
enchanting culture of Siam and the exoticism of court life
only go so far, while episodic introductions of characters
and places unfold with the stiffness of a museum tour. It
doesn’t help that the subtitles are stilted and simplistic,
often clashing with the formal tableaux of the cinematography
with unintentional humor. But after Thien’s older brother
usurps the throne of Ayuthaya (Thien is kind of like the Prince
of Wales, heading a kingdom within a kingdom), things start
to pick up. The storybook format begins to flow with the force
of fable, and the sheer volume of authentic detailing envelops
the viewer in a long-ago land of ritualized beheadings, tropical
palaces, elephant cavalry, Portuguese mercenaries and dangerously
Following the death of his queen, the king marries a high
consort from another realm, a woman who is as treacherous
as she is seductive. When the iron-willed ruler goes off to
battle the opportunistic boy-king of Burma, the consort takes
a lover from her homeland, a voluptuously handsome and easily
corrupted troubadour. The intrigues of the traitorous couple
are carried out by the consort’s right-hand man, who is a
woman, and as cruelly ambitious as any Machiavellian minion.
The Medicis have nothing on this gang, and despite Suriyothai’s
sage advice, her passive—some say cowardly—husband does nothing
while the kingdom falls into despair. Though the film is unequivocally
about the stuff of legend, with flashes of dreamy imagery
flickering through the stately action, it also delineates
a compelling dynastic struggle, in which good and evil exist
as alternating currents in the turbulent growth of a nation.
And none of the characters are as black and white as they
first appear; Prince Thien, for example, isn’t a passive weakling
but an enlightened pacifist. By the time of Lord Piren’s return,
the lengthy buildup is paying off and even those viewers who
were bored or confused by the first third may find themselves
utterly swept up in the twisty-turny battle for the soul of
The gathering narrative momentum concludes with an astonishingly
rapturous sequence from the war with Burma. Filmmaker Yukol,
a real-life prince, received backing for the film from the
queen of Thailand, with hopes that the film would spur an
interest in the country’s history. His majestic epic succeeds
at that and more: It puts Thai cinema on the map.
the Roofs of Paris
Directed by James Ivory
Ahh, the French. Wonderful food and wine, which go beautifully
with their essential Gallic deviousness. This would seem to
be the philosophical position of Le Divorce, the Merchant-Ivory
adaptation of Diane Johnson’s novel. How timely.
In the year’s most blonde-on-blonde casting, Naomi Watts and
Kate Hudson play sisters Roxy and Isabel. Roxy is married
to a swarthy Frenchy (Melvil Poupaud) who, when we first meet
them, is in the process of abandoning both her and their young
daughter. Roxy, by the way, is also five months pregnant with
child number two. Isabel arrives from California, ostensibly
to help sis through the pregnancy, but mainly to have a wild
time with the free-lovin’ French.
While Roxy struggles with her husband’s icily correct family,
a calculating bunch led by mother-in-law Suzanne (Leslie Caron),
Isabel balances a casual fling with a free-spirited young
social activist (Romain Duris) and a more formal arrangement
as mistress to the much-older Edgar (Thierry Lhermitte). In
addition to being a wealthy, right-wing politician, Edgar
also happens to be Suzanne’s brother. (Might as well keep
it in the family.) Isabel loves playing with the rituals of
being a mistress; she especially likes the goodies, including
the $6,000 Kelly bag Edgar gives her as a door prize for showing
up. We later learn that bestowing this particular brand of
purse on the lover of the moment is a tradition with him.
Things happen. There’s a subplot about a painting that may
or may not be worth millions. People have sex, scheme to steal
fortunes, attempt suicide, banter wittily about love and eat
The perfectly etched performances by the large supporting
cast give the film its Continental sting, as well as most
of its pure moviegoing pleasure. Caron, as the wily matriarch,
is steely graciousness and cunning; Lhermitte is the epitome
of self-regard as Edgar; Stephen Fry manages to be both fussy
and blunt as a Francophobe English art dealer; and Jean-Marc
Barr balances sympathy and legal cunning as Roxy’s lawyer.
The Americans—led by Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston as
the girls’ parents—don’t get to be nearly as entertaining.
Thomas Lennon, however, as the sisters’ nervously greedy brother,
is hilarious. It would have been nice if the Americans could
have been as well-caricatured as the French, in the interests
of both fairness and entertainment.
This circle game of love, lust, infidelity and family intrigue
is just beguiling enough to get by. That’s all, however. In
spite of the sex, social maneuvering, legal backstabbing and
murder, Le Divorce remains tonally flat. Director James
Ivory would benefit from a greater appreciation for absurdity.
It’s to his credit that he doesn’t take things too seriously,
but his pious neutrality is unengaging—what Luis Buńuel could
have done with this story.
Directed by Richard Benjamin
What if P. Diddy, back when he was Puff Daddy and chillin’
in the Hamptons with Martha Stewart, had dumped J. Lo for
Libby Grubman, Fifth Avenue’s blondest felon? The tabloid
coverage would probably have been funnier than Marci X,
but that’s no reason not see this feel-good comedic bauble.
Shamelessly silly and spiked with a few laugh-out-loud moments,
the film takes as its inspiration the status-seeking materialism
common to both platinum-selling rappers and Manhattan’s tycoon
class. The humor herein is obvious (and doesn’t pretend otherwise)
but because screenwriter Paul Rudnick (Addams Family
Values) and Lisa Kudrow, who plays the Jewish-American
princess Marci Feld, are a match made in comedy heaven, it
works like a charm. And that includes the poofy video-style
Marci is a Chanel-clad socialite whose only occupation is
presiding over charity events. When her father, a media mogul
(director Richard Benjamin), has a heart attack, Marci marches
to the rescue of one of his holdings, a hardcore rap label.
The label’s biggest star, Dr. S (Damon Wayans) committed an
Eminen-style offense on TV, incurring a ruinous lawsuit. Marci
and her three closest chums—each of them titillated by the
vulgarity of the rap world—attend an S concert in Harlem,
with the aim of getting the nasty rapper to publicly apologize.
Attempting to humiliate Marci for her temerity in expecting
him to make a public-service announcement, S lures her onstage
and subjects her to the derision of his audience. But instead
of fleeing, she launches into a rap called the “Power of the
Purse” that brings the ladies in the house to their feet,
waving their Kelly bags and Balenciaga clutches to the beat.
The film is defiantly unedgy, but just when you think a set-up
is too corny to be endured, a zinger or a sight gag hits home,
as when Christine Baranski as the uptight Senator Sprinkle
gets down to one of the doctor’s ditties—and works herself
into a physical paroxysm that outdoes her airborne puppet
bit from Chicago.
X is dated in parts—as far as political targets go, was
Tipper Gore really the best Rudnick could come up with? Yet
it is also refreshingly free of culture-clash cliches:
Marci and S hit it off immediately, bonding over comparisons
between her white mink coat and his Siberian-chinchilla coat.
The question here isn’t whether Marci and S will get it on—they
do—but which of the two is more “real.” Wayans’ low-key rap
impersonation is sly rather than satirical; S is actually
a soft-spoken entrepreneur whose skanky street cred is managed
by his partner, the notorious Tubby Fenders. And Kudrow proves
again (as she did in the little-seen Romy and Michelle’s
High School Reunion) that she is the finest comedian of
her generation. The film may be a piffle, but the talents
of Kudrow and Wayans are real enough to squeak it by.
by Gordon Chan
This mess of a movie is more entertaining than not. Not exactly
a ringing endorsement, but, unfortunately, that’s the best
that can be said about Jackie Chan’s latest, The Medallion.
Chan plays Eddie, a Hong Kong cop working with a dorky Interpol
agent named Watson (Lee Evans) to catch Snakehead (Julian
Sands), an international criminal mastermind. Eddie’s former
love interest, Nicole (Claire Forlani) turns up at some point
as another Interpol agent. They follow Snakehead to Dublin,
where he has absconded with Jai (Alex Bao), a little kid who
is apparently hotwired to the eternal life force—he can use
the titular medallion to bring the dead back to life. Somewhere
along the way, Eddie rescues the kid, the kid brings Eddie
back from the dead and Eddie discovers he has superhuman powers.
This, in turn, is the reason Snakehead wanted the kid in the
It’s painfully obvious that the film has been through the
editor’s shredder. Keen viewers will note, when watching the
blooper reel at the end of the film, that the title on the
production slate is Highbinders, not The Medallion.
Whatever “highbinders” was supposed to refer to is unknown,
as the word is never mentioned in the movie. There are plot
holes big enough to hide all the weapons of mass destruction
in the world. One of the film’s biggest reversals goes completely
unexplained. Geeky Watson’s wife Charlotte (Christy Chung)
supposedly believes her hubby is a librarian, not a secret
agent; however, when their house is besieged by the bad guys,
Charlotte breaks out a hidden arsenal of artillery, proving
more adept with big guns and high kicks than her husband.
It’s an exciting scene and a very funny plot twist—Chung is
a lithe dynamo—but no one mentions the incongruity. Instead,
it’s off to the evildoers’ lair and the (ho-hum) ending.
With his last stateside release, the special-effects-laden
The Tuxedo, Chan started taking heat from critics and
fans for relying on digital effects to punch-up his action
sequences. The Medallion is similarly loaded with digital
and/or wire-work effects. Chan is almost 50 years old now;
the body can take just so much punishment. He is simply finding
a way to extend his career. The question, of course, is at
what point will the career no longer be worth extending?
As the outtakes shown during the credits reveal, however,
he did his own stunts in the film’s best sequence. Dodging
cars, slipping through spaces that seem absurdly small, dancing
along the fence tops with the grace of Fred Astaire and stopping
only to beat up the bad guy. Chan can still create action
scenes with great fluidity and excitement. He shouldn’t retire