7.27.2014

"Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya" (2010)

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am sick to death of Asian movies being altered for the worse by the time they reach American shores.  Couple shitty titles with shitty covers, and it's the perfect opportunity for great movies on Netflix to fly under the radar.

For months I'd been ignoring Muay Thai Warrior because that was its title and this is its cover:

Um, no thank you.

But then I was really bored last night and I decided it couldn't hurt to fall asleep watching it.  As it turned out, Japanese actor/model Ozeki Seigi had all the right moves (and looks) to keep me up.

***Warning: some spoilers and a shit-ton of pics***

Before I begin, let me share the trailer that I didn't think to watch sooner:



A little background: this film was created to celebrate the 124th Anniversary of Siam (Thailand) - Japanese relations. As I quickly learned, there really was a Japanese samurai (or adventurer, depending on whom you read) named Yamada Nagamasa, who lived and served in the Siamese kingdom of Ayothaya during the early 1600s. There was a whole Japanese village there, mainly due to the trade going on between the countries. Be advised, however...this is first and foremost an action flick. The only things the film character and the historical figure actually have in common are the same name, the same country of origin, and the same country of residence - that's it.

(I should also point out that at this time, the Dutch were a political and economic factor in both Siam and Japan.  Thankfully, they're completely absent from this film.  This film squarely focuses on brown folks).

Despite the gross deviations from history, the film is beautiful, with great respect and commentary pertaining to both cultures.  It begins with betrayal; after winning an "elephant war" against their Hongsa rivals, the people of Ayothaya try to get back to their lives.  But some Japanese, dressed as the enemy, raid territory Ayothaya to basically stir up trouble.  The guy who sent them is the villain; he's lame so I won't go into detail, particularly since there are no details to go into.  Either way, Yamada is the samurai who finds out this dark secret.  There's an assassination attempt that's almost successful, but a crew of Thai boxers help him out.  He wakes up in the royal city, where the King's bodyguards are chosen, and their instructor, a priest, is the one who heals and trains Yamada.

As I mentioned earlier, Ozeki Seigi was tapped to played Yamada.


Some folks have criticized the choice, but personally, I don't give a shit.  Life has a way of imitating art.  After years of modeling in Japan, Ozeki actually moved to Thailand in 2003 to pursue an acting career.  So if you're going to get a shirtless, tattooed, Japanese hunk to portray a samurai living in 17th-Century Siam and comfortably speaking Thai, I don't quite understand how you can go wrong with this particular choice.

I, for one, give this man some serious applause.  This guy was a pretty, full-lipped model who learned to not only fight like a samurai, but to exude samurai-like qualities, while learning Thai boxing, and then learning to fuse the two (very) different fighting styles.

Samurai
Boxer
Samurai Boxer
Like...give the man some credit.

There were some other criticisms I rolled my eyes at; one writer didn't like how a Siamese child, Krathin, with whom Yamada regularly (and amusingly) interacts, refers to him fondly as White Face.  She calls him that because she observes that he's "as fair as a woman" and with hair just as long. Again, I don't give a shit. It's clear that the production staff intended to place Yamada firmly within the realm of bishōnen.  And it was a damned smart decision.  Then again, for me personally, "bishies" are the ultimate men.  I literally spent the whole movie wishing I could take my tongue and just run it all over this man's body.

Yamada (yes, his tattoo's real) and Krathin
But I digress.  Moving on....



Co-headlining this film with Ozeki is legendary Thai actor Sorapong Chatree (love this guy), whose career currently spans four decades (first movie was back in 1970).  Chatree is like a very fine wine, getting only better with age.  He is currently sixty-three years old, looking a good fifteen years younger than that.

He plays the priest who heals and trains Yamada.  He rocks the dark red robes while providing beautiful commentary about the differences between Siamese and Japanese cultures and martial arts.  He explains to Yamada that if he can successfully combine the best in both styles, no one will be able to take him out.

I particularly loved the scene with the sword.  There are two, in fact; they alternate.  There's the priest in one, with Yamada and his friend Khaam (played by Thanawut Ketsaro) in another.

Yamada handing over a sword he forged himself.
Khaam noting it's a Japanese blade fitted into a Siamese handle.

Both scenes provide the Siamese perspective on the Japanese blade.  The priest marvels at the katana's appearance.  He explains to his students that the blade, though extremely thin, is also extremely sharp.  Thus, the blade of the Japanese is like people of Siam: deceptively "peaceful and weak", but unwilling to give in to an enemy.  This scene is briefly shown in the trailer; the priest tosses up a leaf while holding the katana underneath.  He does not move the sword in any way; he instead lets the leaf simply fall upon the blade.  His students watch as the leaf hits the floor, cut in two perfect halves.

Meanwhile, Khaam notes that the blade of a samurai is so sharp he can cut off his enemy's head without the latter actually feeling any pain.  While practicing with it, he contemplates the nature of the samurai heart, hard as a rock, but as sharp as his blade.

And anyone who's watched/read enough samurai-related media knows that when a samurai hands over one of his own swords to a friend - one that he forged himself, no less - it's the ultimate bromantic moment.  Stunned, Khaam at first hesitates to accept the gift, but Yamada warmly smiles and insists, kindly telling him, "Use it to kill your enemies."

For those of you not knowing, that's practically the equivalent of proposing marriage.  It's that intense.

What's also intense is the loyalty these two show the gorgeous Pimp Majesty King Naresuan of Ayothaya.

I should mention that after his training, Yamada becomes one of the King's bodyguards and helps nine other guards (including Khaam) slay 200 assassins in a bloody forest battle.  The way the King's voice slightly breaks when thanking his warriors for their love is actually quite touching.

Winai Kraibutr as King Naresuan




Muay Thai Warrior is currently streaming on Netflix; you can also rent it on Amazon under the name Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya.  All in all, I accepted this film for what is and was able to enjoy it thoroughly.  If any of you have already seen it, let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I'll leave these right here:


FYI...this is how you show an elephant proper respect.
*sniff* RIP Satao.








"This land was not my birthplace, but where my soul would rest."
- Yamada Nagamasa (1590 - 1630)
*yawn*  I think I'll watch this again tonight before I go to bed.  Wouldn't mind the dreams....

4 comments:

  1. There's also a lunar eclipse in the movie. The Siamese use percussive instruments to "drive it away." Fans of Amaya will recall that the Filipinos of that era did the same during an eclipse. Though, Siamese believed it a dog eating the moon, the Filipinos believe it was a serpent.

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  2. The Secret NinjaJuly 28, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    WOW!!! i am going to check this movie out!! this sounds so cool, and even if it deviates from historical accuracy, it sounds like a beautiful story nonetheless. also, it doesn't hurt that all the men are gorgeous!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Careful...it's easy to develop an obsession with this one.

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