Thai box office smash hit war drama depicting the battles of the Siamese village of Bang Rajan against Burmese invaders in 1765, based on real historical events.
Winai Kraibutr stars as “Nai In”, one of the young village warriors. Winai is a Thai actor of Malay descent who has appeared in a number of successful Thai films. He is considered a bankable star in Thailand and has achieved minor international exposure through the international release of “Bang Rajan”.
Bin Bunluerit stars as “Nai Thong Men”. Bin is a Thai actor and director who also appeared in the 2004 Hollywood film, “Alexander”, based on the life of Alexander the Great. Jaran Ngamdee stars as “Nai Chan Nuad Kheo”, a noble warrior with an equally noble handlebar moustache! Bang Rajan marked his movie debut.
Chumphorn Thepphithak plays “Nai Taen”. Fans will recognise him as “Uncle Mao” from “Ong Bak” and “Ong Bak 3”. Bongkoj Khongmalai plays “E Sa”, a young female warrior who falls in love with Nai In. Following the success of this movie, Bongkoj, known as ‘Tak’, went on to appear in Tony Jaa’s “Tom Yum Goong”.
In 1765, the Burmese army is seeking to invade Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam. A small band of villagers in Bang Rajan stand between the invaders and the capital city. The villagers are led by the courageous Nai Taen, who is injured in an early battle, leading the rebel group to turn to an outsider, Nai Chan Nuad Kheo, a moustachioed, veteran warrior. He brings along a handful of other men, who with the remaining men and women of Bang Rajan vow to do everything in their power to halt the Burmese advance. Using the few resources available, they prepare the village for a siege.
Following a brief bit of historical background, a bloody and muddy battle with Thai Dhaab swords, machetes, bows and arrows ensues. There are no stylish Ong Bak-style acrobatics here, just the raw, brutal slicing and dicing of 18th century hand-to-hand combat.
In a vicious attack on the village, arrows pierce eyeballs and villagers are stabbed and chopped like cantaloupe. Our heroes interrupt the attack and are equally savage in their counterattack. It’s pretty much all bladed weapons antics aside from the odd hard heel kick. In yet another attack on the villagers there is more fighting with the main combatants wielding a weapon in each hand, mostly axes and swords.
There is a limited display of Thai martial arts in a brief “competitive” match for the entertainment of the Burmese. It features some decent and realistically applied knee and elbow strikes from the art of Muay Boran, with none of the stylish flamboyance that you might find in a movie from Panna Rittikrai for example.
With their camo-painted faces appearing like 18th century royal marines, the Siamese villagers assault the Burmese fort from the river. However, simultaneously the Burmese are attacking Bang Rajan. Particularly in this engagement, there are some harrowing scenes involving women and children, and it is not for the faint-hearted.
The final battle is nothing short of epic in scale. There are hundreds of soldiers fighting in amongst the canon and musket fire. It leaves little to the imagination with graphic amputations and decapitation rife amidst the action. There is lots of handheld shaky cam giving a frantic edge to the coverage of the violence. It’s not unlike the opening beach landing from “Saving Private Ryan”, but with antique weapons.
“Bang Rajan” is a harrowing tale of war in the ilk of “Braveheart”, “Last of the Mohicans” and “Gladiator”. I imagine it is to Thai audiences what “Braveheart” is to Scottish audiences. It’s certainly one of the most epic Thai movies I have seen. The battles feature hundreds of extras, and the stunts look like they were all done practically. It also features an excellent, almost John Barry-like in parts, music score.
Sadly, for all the epic scope, the close up action resorts to shaky camerawork and cuts that are almost faster than the ones they are trying to depict with a sword or axe! I know many modern directors believe this can create tension and a feeling of being in the middle of the action, but for me, and certainly in this instance, it dilutes the fighting skills and made the battles difficult to follow. Paradoxically, there are some very graphic and bloody amputations of limbs that become borderline voyeuristic.
If you are looking for a Thai martial arts film, this probably isn’t it. Seek out films like Born to Fight, Chocolate and most of Tony Jaa‘s back catalogue. If you are interested in Thai culture and history, and are a fan of historical epic tales, then this is a must-see!
- Bin Bunluerit appeared in the 2004 Hollywood film “Alexander” which was directed by Oliver Stone. When “Bang Rajan” was released in the USA in 2004 it was given the tag “Presented by Oliver Stone”.
- “Bang Rajan” was made on a budget of around 50 million baht (approximately US$1.5 million), which was about four times the cost of other Thai productions being made at the time. It was a box office hit in Thailand, earning more than 300 million baht (approximately US$9.5 million)!
- According to Thai tradition, the Burmese northern invasion army led by General Ne Myo Thihapate was held up for five months at Bang Rajan, a small village northwest of Ayutthaya by a group of simple villagers. However, not all the points of this traditional Thai story could be true as the entire northern campaign took just over five months (mid-August 1765 to late-January 1766), and the northern army was still stuck in Phitsanulok, in north-central Siam, as late as December 1765. Burmese sources do mention “petty chiefs” stalling the northern army’s advance but it was early in the campaign along the Wang River in northern Siam (not near Ayutthaya) during the rainy season (August–October 1765). The Burmese general who was actually stationed near Ayutthaya was not Thihapate but rather Maha Nawrahta, whose southern army was waiting for the northern army to show up to attack the Siamese capital. It appears that the three verified events – petty chiefs resisting Thihapate in the north, Thihapate’s campaign period of five months, and Maha Nawrahta staking out by Ayutthaya – have merged to create the popular Bang Rajan mythology.
- The story of the villagers of Bang Rajan is very famous in Thailand and is often cited as an example of patriotism.
- The site of the village is now a tourist attraction near the old capital of Thailand, Ayuttaya, north of Bangkok.
- “It’s wartime, yet I’m not hurt or sick, so I guess I’m very well.” – Novice Monk
- “I’m going to kill them all in this life and the next!” – Nai Thongmen
- “So few men and yet you see, they are not afraid to sacrifice their lives to defend the honour of their homeland.” – Burmese general
Film Rating: 7/10
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