– Gameness til the End
The film concerns the childhood of King Naresuan. Born in 1555, he was taken to Burma as a child hostage; there he became acquainted with sword fighting and became a threat to the Burmese empire
The film begins in 1564, during the Burmese siege of Phitsanulok, the center of the languishing Sukhothai kingdom. Naresuan’s father, Maha Thammarachathirat, admits defeat and follows Burmese orders that his two sons, Naresuan (nicknamed Ong Dam Thai:องค์ดำ Black Prince) and Ekathotsarot, be taken hostage and be raised in Pegu (the center of the Hanthawadi kingdom) under the watchful eyes of Bayinnaung, the Burmese king. This creates a rift between Naresuan’s father and his mother, Queen Wisutkasat, whose brother is the king of the neighboring Ayutthaya kingdom, as Phitsanulok is now a Burmese vassal state.
Immediately after entering the Burmese palace, Naresuan sees the palace politics and rivalries between himself and Bayinnaung’s grandson, Minchit. Naresuan is sent to be educated as a novice monk, by an ethnic Mon Buddhist monk named Khanchong, at a Buddhist monastery outside the palace. There, while wandering the Thai village outside Pegu (made up of Thais displaced by Bayinnaung’s expansionist campaigns and subsequent forced relocations to Hanthawadi), he befriends Bunthing, a Thai street child who is later allowed to work as a temple boy. He also befriends Maneechan, a temple girl at the monastery. The monk Khanchong, who had also trained Bayinnaung, teaches Naresuan the skills of war and ethics.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
ตำนานสมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราช ภาค 1 องค์ประกันหงสา
Part 1, also called “Hostage of Hongsawadee,” finds the tiny kingdom of Ayutthaya (modern day Thailand) invaded by Hongsawadee (which later became Burma) and the seven-year-old Prince Naresuan handed over as a hostage to the Hongsawadee king in order to ensure his conquered country’s continued fealty. The Hongsawadee king takes a liking to this kid and has him trained in the arts of war, language, religion and politics. Subconsciously, he seems to know that he’s providing his eventual destroyer with all the weapons he’ll one day need to leave Burma and turn Thailand into a power to be reckoned with. Part 1 chronicles Prince Naresuan’s childhood in Burma, the intricate political maneuvering, hostage exchanges and court intrigues that saw the rise of Hongsawadee as a military power capable of crushing all opposition and the eventual return of Prince Naresuan to Thailand. These movies are capable of switching from the super-scale epic to the human-sized portrait in a single breath, and the lush sets and costumes provide an endless parade of eye candy.
400 years ago,there is the great king of Ayodhya(Thai) who dare to change the destination of nation. At the age of nine, he had been taken as hostage to Burma for 6 years. King Naresuan was a great warrior king. He liberated Ayutthaya from Burma while he was the Crown Prince. He led the soldiers into battles to defend the country against Burmese invasions many times.
Phitsanulok was the birthplace of one of the greatest heroes in Thai history – King Naresuan who was born in 1555. His father, King Mahathammaracha was a descendant of the Phra Ruang dynasty of Sukhothai, and his mother was Queen Phra Wisut Kasattri of the Suwannaphum dynasty of Ayutthaya.
At the age of nine, he had been taken as hostage to Burma for 6 years. King Naresuan was a great warrior king. He liberated Ayutthaya from Burma while he was the Crown Prince. He led the soldiers into battles to defend the country against Burmese invasions many times. He is also widely known among the Thais nowadays for his heroic efforts. He led the assault of a Burmese camp by climbing the wooden stockade with the blunt side of a saber in his mouth. He had a duel on elephants with the Burmese Crown Prince and slew him. He took the offensive against Burma and also dealt with the Cambodians who made a series of raids. King Naresuan extended Ayutthaya’s territory to include Lanna, Lanchang, Cambodia and some parts of Burma. He enforced strict discipline on his soldiers and the people. During his reign, Ayutthaya was a very secure and powerful state.
Apart from being a great warrior, King Naresuan also played a significant role in foreign relations and trade. Realizing the importance of foreign trade, he sent envoys to China and Spain, and cultivated friendly relations with the Europeans. Ayutthaya concluded a treaty of friendship and commerce with Spain, which was the second treaty that Siam made with a European Power. (The first European power with which Siam had a treaty was Portugal.) Under this treaty, Spaniards had the right to reside, to trade and to practice their religion in Siam. At the end of his reign, he exposed Ayutthaya to another western nation – the Dutch.
King Naresuan deserved the honor of being “the Great”. He not only restored the national independence but also made Siam such a powerful country that no enemy threatened the walls of Ayutthaya again for a period of one hundred seventy three years.
Three of King Naresuan’s weapons and belongings have constituted a part of the Royal Regalia down to the present. The first is the musket with which he shot the Burmese leader in one of the battles to defend Ayutthaya against Burma. Second is the saber that he carried in his mouth during his assault on the Burmese camp at Ayutthaya. The last is the leather hat with a brim cut-off in the shape of a crescent moon, which he was wearing when he engaged in a duel on elephants with the Crown Prince of Burma.
Friday January 19, 2007
He’s a hostage, but that’s okRich with historical anecdotes, the first part of the ‘Naresuan’ trilogy is best appreciated as a curious specimen of pop fantasy
Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj: Ong Prakan Hongsa, – (The Legend of King Naresuan: Part I), Starring Pratcha Sananwatananont, Somphop Benjathikul, Sorapong Chatree, Chatchai, Plenpanich, Part II opening Feb 1; Part III Dec 5 : In the first installment of the planned trilogy Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj (The Legend of King Naresuan), the titular Ayutthaya monarch is seen throughout as a plump, earnest boy who has yet to get his firm hands on the famed stocks of ancient weaponry; the only stick he grabs in this film is a broom, which he humbly uses to sweep a temple lawn.
Bittersweet childhood: Pratcha Sananwatananont, left, plays the young King Naresuan. Jirayu La-ongmanee and Suchada Chekly are his sidekicks.
Having been spirited away to the Burmese city of Hongsa as a royal hostage, pre-pubescent Naresuan studies the art and science of war with guru Mahathera Khanchong, a 16th century version of Albus Dumbledore, severe yet fatherly, without the half-moon glasses yet with an exceptionally lengthy crooked wand (the guru later appears as a revelation of The Force, like Alec Guinness’s Obi-one Kenobi in the original Star Wars).
On that temple lawn Naresuan trades the philosophy of cockfighting with this betel nut-chewing master and ponders the liberation of his homeland from Burmese rule. He also acquires a sidekick called Boonting – a Sam to the Frodo – a fancy-haired rastafarian who might have a future in ska music. Naresuan also hangs out with a little girl called Maneejan, a lovely, doll-like character who will eventually blossom into the king’s major love interest in the second, and maybe the third films in this 700-million-baht franchise that takes place in a history far, far away.
If I may humbly suggest, one way to appreciate MC Chatrichalerm Yukol’s Naresuan, at least this first part of the series, is to embrace it as a pop fantasy, a bold, albeit odd, distillation of the Lucas-Rowling-Jackson-Tony Jaa cinematic platitudes, filtered through real and imagined historical episodes. To name the film The Legend of King Naresuan is to admit the impossibility of sifting out what’s true and what’s legendary, and this three-hour film feels most composed, most pleasing even, whenever it stops burying itself too deeply into the labyrinthine intrigue of history, as long and monotonous as its prequel Suriyothai.
In other words, there’s a curious little movie snugly hidden inside the much-hyped grandiloquence, and that movie concerns the growing pains of the young Naresuan in the Hongsa court and his stint as a novice monk in a Burmese temple; carve that portion out and we could even have an ok children’s movie about a boy whose destiny is adventurous and surreal.
That portion takes place mostly in the first half of the movie. In 1563, King Bayinnong of Burma (Somphop Benjathikul, in a sturdy performance) forces Phra Maha Dhammaraja of Phitsanulok (Chatchai Plengpanich) to shift allegiance towards Hongsa, a pivotal strategy that will ease his route to gobble up his prime target, Ayutthaya. In the process, the Burmese conqueror demands that Naresuan be sent to live with him as a living guarantee of Phra Maha Dhammaraja’s loyalty. It gets complicated here, because Phra Maha Dhammaraja is in fact a descendant of the former Ayutthaya king, though his blood line belongs to a different dynasty from that of the present Ayutthaya ruler, Phra Maha Chakrapadi (Saranyu Wongkrajang).
The young Naresuan (Pratcha Sananwatananont) sneers at his captor, refuses to bow his head to him, yet at the same time is in awe of Bayinnong’s valour and aura of moral exactitude, the quality he’s unable to detect in his biological father. Almost with a Biblical nod, Bayinnong – like the Egyptian pharaoh who groomed his future vanquisher, Moses – adores Naresuan more than his own grandson, sensing the determinism in this chubby yet agile boy. Bayinnong favours Naresuan over his own clan so much so that he seriously wants to make the Siamese hostage his successor to the Burmese throne, an anomalous yet deeply progressive move.
Intentionally or not, the way MC Chatrichalerm, who wrote the screenplay with Southeast Asian expert Dr Sunate Chutintranont, shows this bond between Bayinnong and Naresuan represents a striking dissimilarity in the rationalism, or the lack thereof, between the Burmese and the Siamese, at least during those years: By wanting to choose his successor not based on ancestry or race but on the ability to rule, the ruthless Bayinnong appears to be more practical, more advanced, than the Ayutthaya kingdom which is plagued by fierce blood feuds between clans.
With all these allusions in mind – and after three years of researching both Siamese and Burmese texts – the makers of Naresuan seem perilously torn between the need to fulfill the obligations of a “historical movie” and the need to make a popular entertainment for the masses who, in the post-Suriyothai years, have become familiar with such eye-bulging spectacles as The Lord of the Rings (which, by certain definitions, is a period movie). How to make history appealing? How to cram all the necessary historical characters into the story and also make them fun, if not fantastic? Naresuan wants to be taken seriously, and to be light-hearted and contemporary as well.
Thus, in one scene we have guru Mahathera Khanchong (Sorapong Chatree) using deadly sleight of hand with the swagger of a carnival knife-thrower, and in another he expounds the importance of kingly responsibilities to Naresuan. At one moment we see Phra Supankalaya (Grace Mahadamrongkul) getting made-up like Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha (I’m sure it’s also a Burmese style) and in another, thankfully without the makeup, she negotiates a do-or-die political deal with Bayinnong.
Naresuan himself also gets a chance to dazzle: he is seen expressing his thoughts on freedom and independence, and a few scenes later the boy drop-kicks his assailants with both legs like a trained kung-fu master (I wowed but the person behind me giggled).
Meanwhile Boonting and Maneejan (Jirayu La-ongmanee and Suchada Chekly), Naresuan’s childhood buddies, are figures ostentatiously exaggerated, or even invented, from scraps of discarded history, but their little adventures in the Siamese quarters of Hongsa – which culminate in the cockfighting match with a Burmese prince – represent the most enjoyable part of the scattered narrative. Of course, these kids are fed bombastic dialogue that emphasises the necessity for Siam, which was still a vague concept back then, to shake off the Burmese shackles. But they sound tolerable simply because they’re so unconvincing, being uttered by these cute boys and girls with small voices and a brand of TV-drama acting.
When I saw Naresuan at the press screening on Tuesday, the film had the distinct shortcomings of a rush job – in a couple of scenes the voice didn’t sync with the image, there were no English subtitles, the voice-over sounded like a demo, etc – and a thousand guests had to wait nearly two hours that night for the prints to arrive from the lab; this was after three years of filming, and suffocating hype.
I doubt it anybody could say the film is worth every minute of the wait, but it has its moments, and darn it, the ending succeeds in arousing my interest in what will follow in the second installment, slated for Feb 1, in which things are likely to morph into an all-out war movie. We can discuss nationalism then.
King Naresuan 1 Trailer and Clips
Cockfighting at 1:16
Fearless and Smart Warriors
(aka Kingdom of War: Part 1)
2007; directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol
Thailand’s most expensive film production to date, The Legend of King Naresuan (recently released in North America as Kingdom of War) is a sprawling biographical tale of the titular king, who is still regarded as one of Siam’s greatest rulers. This initial entry in the trilogy concentrates on Naresuan’s youth, where he was held captive in the kingdom of Phitsanulok.
During this period, Naresuan (played by Suchada Chekly) became a surrogate son to Phitsanulok’s king, Thamaracha (Chatchai Plengpanich), and is put under the tutelage of the wise monk Kanchong (Sorapong Chatree). Through these father figures, Naresuan begins to learn the art of war, while his dedication to the land of Siam is bolstered through his friendships with Boonting (Jirayu La-Ongmanee) and Maneechan (Suchada Chekly), both of whom would become prominent figures themselves later in Naresuan’s own kingdom.
Legend of King Naresuan Part I‘s emphasis on a story surrounding children, and not large-scale battles, might make this seem like it would be a boring film. But that is not the case at all, mostly due to the strength of the actors. Normally, I am not a fan at all of child actors, since their work veers towards the screechy and whiny side of the spectrum. However, the young people here display a maturity seldom seen from actors of their age, and that goes very far into making the movie more compelling to watch, as the audience actually becomes invested and interested in the characters’ fates.
The film isn’t without its’ problems. Namely, at two hours and forty-five minutes, it can feel a bit long at times, especially since there is no real payoff at the end. Similar to the Red Cliff movies, both the first and second parts were filmed together and then released separately. This may lead to viewers feeling a bit cheated by the time the end credits roll, since it is really more of a cliffhanger setting up part two versus bringing any sort of real resolution to the story. But if one can get past that and has the time to sit down with the sequel, Legend of King Naresuan Part I is an engaging historical drama that represents some of the best elements of the genre.
This release, from Magnolia’s genre label Magnet, is the uncut Thai version, running 226 minutes, and is presented via a 1080P picture at a 1.78:1 ratio. Audiowise, the Thai soundtrack is encoded in DTS-HD, with English and Spanish subtitles available. Extras include two featurettes (in standard definition) that run for a total of twenty minutes, and trailers for the film and other Magnolia releases.
The Blu-ray is being sold on its’ own or bundled together with Part 2 as a two-disc set. Both versions can also be purchased on DVD.