OFC title

Bang Rajan

Directed by Tanit Jitnukul

(in Thai and Burmese with English subtitles)

Chan takes on an armyIf you like movies that sweep you away to exotic places and times and aren’t squeamish about bloody battle scenes Bang Rajan should ring your bell. Set in Siam (now Thailand) in 1765-66 as the Siamese resist a Burmese invasion, the action takes place in and around the village of Bang Rajan where a group of local farmers and their families mount a now-legendary defense against a huge army.

The Burmese sent two armies of 100,000 to subdue Siam: one to approach the capital of Ayudhaya from the West (they met little resistance); and one to approach from the North which anticipated little resistance but got quite a fight from people of Bang Rajan. This rag-tag local militia was outnumbered and ill-equipped to deal with an army of 100,000 but through clever tactics and sheer grit, they managed to hold them off for five months in a story that’s large in Thai history.

unconventional warfareFor quite a while I have had the idea that a movie that depicting pre-industrial warfare in a realistic, un-varnished fashion could be a hit with the action-loving American audience. To a large extent, Bang Rajan fits that bill – the fight scenes are among the most graphically explicit renderings of sword (or machete in this case) combat ever put on film. The filmmakers clearly weren’t worrying about ratings or anything like that when they staged bloody battles with limbs being severed as the entire village – including women, in a fashion that wisely does not nod to 20th century liberation – comes together to resist the Burmese. The filmmakers also resisted the temptation to exaggerate the abilities and achievements of the good guys (the Siamese.) Most of the time, in a David-vs-Goliath story, the noble little guy is portrayed as possessing such super-human capability, you wonder why he’s an underdog in the first place.

Siamese war circa 1765Bang Rajan reminds me of Cold Mountain in that the civilian side of warfare is presented in a way that suggests war-time romances can be among the most powerful since they have been forged in such extreme adversity. Two couples are among the main characters – one established and one budding romance. It struck me as romantic in a very sad way that these young couples were enduring extreme hardships together – there was no place to hide, so they had to fight. The couples’ stories are presented as determined and noble but sad nevertheless since the fight is against such a powerful enemy – the filmmakers didn’t lose their attachment to the reality of the situation.

Action movie fans should check out Bang Rajan if they can handle the subtitles – history buffs should check it out if they can handle the graphic violence. Bang Rajan even contains strong elements of human drama – the impact of war on civilians – that might interest a broader audience as it interested me.

Photographs are copyright Magnolia Pictures.

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