January 17, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Tears of the Black Tiger

Current Status
In Season
113 minutes
Limited Release Date
Stella Malucchi, Chartchai Ngamsan
Wisit Sasanatieng
Magnolia Pictures
Wisit Sasanatieng
Foreign Language, Drama
We gave it a D

Here’s a question that Susan Sontag, as far as I know, never asked: When does camp slide into borderline racism? That is, when do cardboard genre characters, the kind that would get hooted off the screen in a Michael Bay film, become hip stereotypes of ”innocent” Asians playing dress-up? Answer: When they’re recontextualized for ironic American consumption in a film as wooden and stultifying as Tears of the Black Tiger, an exotically inept Day-Glo Thai Western, made in 2000, that’s being passed off as the latest in contemporary grindhouse chic. All that’s missing from the ad campaign is a quote from Quentin Tarantino declaring it the greatest movie since A Fistful of Dynamite.

In Tears of the Black Tiger, when a man gets shot at point-blank range, you can plainly see the blood packs exploding in his chest, and the scene, in a sputter of editing, is inevitably chopped and smashed together way too fast. Gee, what fun! What total style! The visual palette — digitally altered interiors of fuchsia, chartreuse, and hot tangerine — makes the movie, at times, resemble a cross between Gone With the Wind and Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and there’s a faux–Ennio Morricone score to snazz up the proceedings, but Tears of the Black Tiger lacks the sensual simplicity of a good spaghetti Western. It’s more like an incoherent cap-gun Western trying to pass itself off as the real thing.

If I told you the plot, this review would become as boring as the movie, so let’s just say that a noble bandit named Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) pouts like a schoolboy Elvis to show that he’s in love with the aristocratic Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), whose affections have been stolen by a cruel police chief. I wish that the film had more of those spray-of-bloody-pulp action scenes, since they at least move, and I wish its cheesy embrace of American horse-opera clichés from 50 years ago didn’t remind you of why those clichés died off. A few more films like Tears of the Black Tiger, and kitsch will be on its way to having a bad name.

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