Fantasia 2009 Review: ‘Queens of Langkasuka’ explores Thai fantasy world

27 Jul

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Queens of Langkasuka (NR) 2008, 133 min.Directed by: Nonzee Nimibutr. Written by: Win Lyovarin
Starring: Jarunee Suksawat, Ananda Everingham, Jesdaporn Pholdee, Dan Chupong

cinemagrade c+

Queens of Langkasuka is one big mess. Spreading palace intrigue, ancient world power struggles, naval warfare, martial arts, sorcery, sea beasties and roving pirates over a sagging 133 minutes, Langkasuka has no idea how to manage any of it. Fortunately for the audience, the high-profile Thai fantasyhappens to be an entertaining and enjoyable mess. Borrowing elements of Old Hollywood  adventures like 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and taking a cue from Pirates of the Caribbean and other big budget American popcorn pics, Langkasuka marks a step forward for Thai cinema. Recently, the scene has mostly been cluttered with raucous martial arts movies and tepid horror films. Queens is on a grander scale than anything I’ve previously seen out of the country, and for the most part it accomplishes what it sets out to do. I wasn’t bored, and thats much more than I can say for several of this summer’s big profile ‘blockbusters’.

Director Nonzee Nimbitur has said that he was trying to create a film that homaged the matinee adventures of his youth. I’m not sure if he’s talking about American films, or Thai films, or something else altogether, but I see what he has done and think he achieved his goal. This is exactly the kind of film that would have proved comforting on a sunday afternoon in those now hazy days of my childhood. It’s quite long, with most of the action coming in regulated bursts towards the opening, middle and end of the film; all the rest of the 2-plus-hours providing the narrative ‘meat’.

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As a kid, there was something marvelous about a movie that you could watch breathlessly for 10 to 15 minutes, and then go off and play and return a hour later and the hero was still on his quest and you felt like you hadn’t missed anything. When you are 5 or 6, that passes for epic. Langkasuka feels like that. At a film fest like Fantasia or a similar venue, the movie is an entertaining distraction; a pleasant bit of fluff plumping out a packed schedule of often relentlessly grim fare. However, it doesn’t quite work as a stand-alone movie. Its ambition is admirable, but its length and pacing are not.

Queens of Langkasuka tells the story of the island kingdom of Langkasuka which comes under the threat of an enclave of pirates who have a powerful sorcerer on their side that gives them an advantage. In order to turn the tables, the island residents, including a masked captain of the guard, a young man who has the sorcerer’s ability for Dolum(which I assume makes him a Dolumite), and the titular queens band together with the help of a magical hermit to retrieve a powerful cannon from the ocean floor. Yep, that’s the quest. Or as close as I could make of it. It seems like it would be a dense script, but I imagine the film being created not from detailed notes but by a group of men with a checklist comprised of four things; sword-fights, magical sorcerer fights, boat fights, and sea-beast fights. Again,when I was 7 I thought if you had any three of those things you would have a perfect movie.

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In between all of the fighting there is an attempt to flesh out the main character, the young warrior who posesses the art of Dolum, which is essentially a combination of The Force and whatever power Aquaman has. The story attempts to draw out the seductive and destructive nature of Dolum, showing how it can corrupt even those of pure intent. Well, that basically makes it like every other magical power in a fantasy film. We don’t want time spent on telling us how it works because with Dolum, the draw is in what it does. See, a trained Dolumite at Thetan Level 20 can communicate with and control sea creatures. All kinds of sea creatures; from ordering up an underwater ballet of jellyfish to sending whales like warm-blooded homing missles aimed at the enemy ships, a Dolum sorcerer is a force to be reckoned with. Which actually poses the question, “Why mess with the freakin’ cannon, when you have such a potentially awesome force on your side and the enemy isn’t above using their own similar wizard?’

If you did that, the film would be twice as costly because of the numerous cgi effects and we wouldn’t get the scads of hand-to-hand  or foot-to-mouth pirate battles, the scenes of cannons firing ingeni0us weaponry over a cliff and onto waiting ships, or those thrilling bits where the Langkasukans don Daedalus-style bird wings and swoop down upon their enemies. Ultimately, after wrestling with the hero’s dilemna of whether or not to use his ability, and learning from a mangy old Dolum master, the Fish-Prince decides to enter the fray and use his sonar howls to break bad on the pirates. Cue another excessively long battle scene and then the obligatory happy ending. 

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Like I said before, I was never bored during Langkasuka, but I did grow restless from time to time, and when the movie ended I felt like I had been more or less watching an overly long highlight’s reel of a television series. Not everything came together, the drama was heavily truncated but then the action seemed abrupt because of its placement in the story. The sets were exquisite and show a level of detail and craft that is commendable. I loved all the wackly elements like the whale attacks, the manta-ray riding, the immense cannon perched on the edge of the cliff and the batty magician in the cave. In the end though, I felt like I had just had a candy buffet. It tasted good at the time, and I was perfectly content for the first twenty minutes, but by the end the stomach ache was setting in.

So, I offer up a challenge to any American distributors who might get their hands on Langkasuka. Don’t waste your time with a theatrical release, but send it to television. It’s far too simplistic on a story level and too primitive on a technical level to impress the modern American film audience, but it did remind me of the crazy and off-kilter live-action programs I used to watch on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. Take Langkasuka, break it up into several half-hour installments and I think you would have something worthwhile on your hands. All the pieces are there, it’s just summoning them that gets to be the trick.

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One Response to “Fantasia 2009 Review: ‘Queens of Langkasuka’ explores Thai fantasy world”

  1. Debt Settlement September 4, 2009 at 6:37 am #

    Sorry for my bad english. Intresting title. It attracted me to read the complete post. Thanks

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