Friday, August 03, 2007

Bang Rajan (Thailand, 2000)

The cover of the film advertised it as "the Braveheart of Thailand". After summarizing the plot, I'll compare it to Braveheart.

The film is set in 1800th century Thailand. Two Burmese armies are on its way to Thailand's capital Ayuttaya, destroying, looting, raping, killing and enslaving everything on their way. Bang Rajan has successfully resited earlier Burmese conquest attempts. The survivors from other destroyed villages are escaping there for a final showdown, having few other places left to escape to.

In Braveheart, I wondered why the Scottish preferred the abstract concept of freedom to a violence monopoly of the most successful and enlightened sea power of the time. In Bang Rajan it is more clear why people choose to fight. There are long flashback footages where the Burmese come to burn and loot Thai villages. There also seems to be a mutual acceptance of killing: both the Burmese and the defending Vietnamese are very keen on killing them all in the opposing side. However, there are two scenes where the Burmese imprison and enslave the Thais instead of killing them, so it's not all about genocide.

Braveheart concentrated on one heroic individual and his defining experiences. The main characters of Bang Rajan represent the wider experiences of the villagers. There are escapees from another village who witnessed the destruction of their homes and killing of the people with whom they lived. There is a squad of men who have successfully fought against the Burmese before. There are pregnant women who are worried about the future of their men and offspring.

The most striking difference between Bang Rajan and Braveheart is the total lack of sophistication in Bang Rajan. The motivations or the villagers are very simple, usually linked to survival, sex, security and food. When they choose a leader, the best justification they give for him is that he is "strong and hates Burmese". There's very little tactical reasoning, which could be compared to Braveheart's long spears that are used against a cavalery attack. Even the Western-style moral sermon - where a Buddhist monk claims that also Burmese are human beings - is quite naive.

I didn't watch Braveheart to the end, since the rugged individualism got too thick. But I did watch Bang Rajan. Despite its crudeness or thanks to it, it stays consistent ("pysyy kasassa") through the whole film. It is the perfect propaganda movie: There is nothing abstract or delicate or implicit, but instead it blasts its message to viewers' face in cat-sized letters in its long, unambiguous, repeated, gruesome scenes.

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