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A Bloody 'Bang'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2004; Page WE38

Amid all the David-vs.-Goliath nationalism of "Bang Rajan," a fact-based epic inspired by the legendary resistance of a single 18th-century Siamese village against half the invading Burmese army, what registers most strongly is not the lesson of history but the influence of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking.

In this exceedingly bloody tale, taking place over the course of several months between 1765 and 1766, it's clear that not nearly as much attention was paid to such things as -- oh, I don't know -- character development as it was to getting special effects like decapitation, impalement and dismemberment juuust right. As directed and co-written by filmmaker Tanit Jitnukul, who has a fondness for cinematic plumes of blood gushing from freshly opened jugulars and the butcher-shop sound of metal piercing human flesh, the string of battle scenes -- in which the heroic, loinclothed villagers of Bang Rajan repulse, again and again, the vastly larger and better equipped Burmese troops -- makes the "Lord of the Rings' " Battle for Helm's Deep look like a "Pokemon" face-off.

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Sure, there's some human drama: a couple of perfunctory love stories here; a subplot involving dereliction of duty there. But the film's red meat is in the heroic clash of outnumbered and under-armed patriots standing up to marauding hordes. There's no room for complexity in a story that so virulently hates one side and that so desperately wants its audience to hate it, too. (Just in case you might be tempted to drift off into thinking that the Burmese are people, too, Jitnukul throws in some flashbacks showing the savage invaders raping and pillaging the Siamese.) I'm all for expressions of national pride, but when those expressions are so much more concerned with what it looks like when someone's head is sliced off than with what might be going on inside that head, it becomes, after a while, little more than a mind-numbing bloodbath.

BANG RAJAN (Unrated, 120 minutes) --Contains scenes of wincingly violent carnage, a four-letter word or two and a bit of nudity. In Thai and Burmese with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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