It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The term "eye-popping" could have been coined to describe Thai writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng's "Tears of the Black Tiger," not only for its retina-smacking colors, but because some eyes actually get popped. And some brains and lungs and other viscera, too. Bloody and syrupy, tragic and silly, this retro pastiche stands with its right foot in melodrama and its left in camp, shifting its weight woozily from one side to the other like a drunken Sergio Leone gunslinger straddling the camera.
The filmmaker says his movie is a send-up of, and homage to a lost, disreputable Thai action genre of the 1960s known as Baberd poa, Khaow pao kratom ("Bomb the mountain, burn the huts") -- with a little bit of Likay, a form of minimalist folk theater (performed against simple painted backdrops) thrown in. Western viewers will respond to the stylistic quotations from Leone's spaghetti Westerns (including the drip on the brim of a 10-gallon hat from the opening of "Once Upon a Time in the West"), the slow-mo geysers of blood from Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch," and the splatter and gore from George Romero's zombie pictures, filtered through a sensibility that parodies not only these films but the postmodern comic book violence and cartoon characterizations of filmmakers like Sam Raimi, John Woo, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
All of this plays out on ultra-stylized sound stages (and garishly tinted locations that look like sets) from what could be an Expressionist Thai stage production of "Oklahoma!" In an early shootout scene, in a field at sunset, Sasanatieng makes sure you can hear the echo of the theater itself as the actors project their lines to the balcony.
The story is like a tangled string of colored lights -- purely decorative but pretty to look at. It begins in the middle, then moves backward and forward, with more flashbacks than a Dead reunion show. What it comes down to is this: Poor young Seua Dum (Suwinit Panjamawat) bonds with beautiful young Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), but an unfortunate occurrence separates them. Ten years later, they are briefly reunited and declare their love for each other, but more unfortunate circumstances intervene to keep them apart.