Queens of Langkasuka is as greedy as the sea-faring pirates that threaten to destroy Queen Hijau's walled fortress. "Overwhelming" rightfully describes the set pieces. From the heavily ornate throne room to a cluster of straw huts in a fishing village, the attention to detail is obssessive-compulsive exhaustive; there are engravings within engravings. The Malay-influenced costumes, Langkasuka being an ancient Malay Hindu kingdom, are equally rich in material and curiosity, which constantly threatens to swallow the more inexperienced actors whole. It is of no surprise then that the popular casual opinion of the movie is "stunning."
But stunning doesn't go well with meandering. Not only do the story lines haphazardly weave in and out and intertwine in its effort to flesh out several subplots, the film's tone is also difficult to pin down. Queens of Langkasuka is greedy in a sense that it aims to be a lot of things all at once: a nation's struggle for survival, a love story, a fantastic battle of a dueling master and student through the mastery of the Force, err, Du Lum, and a Pirates of the Carribean-esque adventure in search of a lost treasure/weapon.
So here's where I contradict myself: I irrevocably loved Queens of Langkasuka.
For all its gaudy grandeur and elephantine plot manipulations, I thoroughly enjoyed this old-fashioned fantasy tale of good versus evil, sorcery versus cannons, women versus men. Combining Asian mythology and unfettered CGI fetish, albeit cartoonish and flat at times, Queens of Langkasuka is truly a hybrid of old world (instinctive as opposed to logical) storytelling and glossy movie making.
There are moments of eye-popping brilliance when imagination and technology seamlessly combine, mostly seen in the climactic battle at the end. I got goosebumps from watching the Queen's army of makeshift hangliders dive like aerial bombers toward the pirate ship armada, which is wonderfully reminiscent of a scene from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The battle of the aquamen (the Du Lum is quite similar to comic superhero Aquaman's power) was also something to behold; the whales rising from the sea was cleanly executed and looked amazingly real.
The more immediate pleasure of watching Queens of Langkasuka is watching some of Thailand's more popular actors give in to fantasy kitsch acting. Ubiquitous actor Ananda Everingham (Shutter) sheds his dramatic actor persona and is properly swashbuckling sinewy as Pari, the young sea gypsy who is torn between the light and dark influence of Du Lum. Dan Chupong (Dynamite Warrior) who plays the royal bodyguard provides most of the action with his mix of muay thai and Malay martial arts, while Tik Jedsaporn Pholdee brings his swoony lakorn presence as Prince Pahung, a prince of an ally nation who is betrothed to Princess Ungu (Anna Ris). It is the women of the cast who deliver the weakest performances seemingly overpowered by the humongous sets. Back from a 10-year hiatus, veteran actress Jarunee Suksawat comes off as stiff more than regal and most of the time lacks the ferocity of a queen desperately defending her kingdom.
Queens of Langkasuka is a greedy project and wants to have it all. But one can expect nothing less from a staggeringly ambitious movie that in its heart simply aims to entertain the socks off its viewers for a full 2 hours. Entertained, and enthralled, I was.
Queens of Langkasuka
ปืนใหญ่จอมสลัด (Puen yai jom salad)
Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr (Nang Nak)
Written by Win Lyovarin
Starring Jarunee Suksawat, Ananda Everingham (Shutter, Ploy), Dan Chupong (Dynamite Warrior), Tik Jedsaporn Pholdee (Iron Ladies, Dang Bireley's and Yong Gangsters), Sorapong Chatree (Ong Bak 2), Winai Kriabutr (Nang Nak)