Legend of the Tsunami Warrior is a Thai version of a swords-and-sorcery fantasy epic. It has everything you could want out of a story like this. There are evil wizards, good wizards, powerful magic, royal courts, sword fights, intrigue, betrayal, ninjas, and pirates, and a giant battle sequence at the end.
It is also a bit like Star Wars, only Vader and Obi-Wan are the same dude. But I’ll get to that later.
All of the norms and tropes of the genre are here, but everything has a Thai twist to it. For example, the sword fights aren’t just sword fights, they involve knee strikes and flying elbows. It was produced by Sahamongkol Film International, the people responsible for movies like Ong-Bak and Born to Fight, so you know the action is going to be top notch. As a movie, Tsunami Warrior is better than Ong-Bak 2, which was one of my most disappointing movies of 2008.
In 1593 in the mythical kingdom of Langkasuka, things are rough. The king died and appointed three sisters to rule in succession, but the ruffian warlords who rule the neighboring states don’t respect the new rulers because, well, because they’re women, and of course, the macho men want to take over. To combat this aggression, the sitting queen, Hijau (Jarunee Suksawat), commissions a Dutch weapons manufacturer and his Chinese apprentice, Lim Kium (Jakkrit Phanichphatikram), to build some giant cannons, the likes of which the world has never seen, and which will ensure the sovereignty of Langkasuka.
Unfortunately, the cannons are lost when the dread pirate Black Raven (Winai Kraibutr) sinks the ship. Only Kium and a young boy, Pari, survive, and they both find their way to a coastal fishing village where the fisherman use the art of Du Lum wizardry to aid their fish catching endeavors. There are many levels of Du Lum, and the average, everyday villager is only acquainted with the bare minimum, just what is necessary for them to locate schools of fish by listening to the water. At the deeper levels, Du Lum can be used to communicate with, and control the creatures of the ocean.
Du Lum is a lot like the Force. There is a light side and a dark side, and the angrier you are, the more hate that fills your soul, the blacker your path. Also like the Force, it is easy to become consumed by the dark side, to let rage and hatred control you.
As a child borne of the sea, Pari (Ananda Everingham when he is all grown up) is a natural, but White Ray (Sorapong Chatree) (and later his dark side persona, Black Ray—see, I told you Vader and Obi-Wan were the same guy) refuses to teach him. Pari is Luke in this metaphor, the one who will bring balance to the two opposing sides and end the continuing circle of violence.
Every party wants to retrieve the big guns from the bottom of the ocean so they can get the upper hand. There are some assassination attempts, the pirate factions form an alliance to try to take down Langkasuka, and twisting storylines intertwine. The main threads follow Pari, Kium, Princess Ungu (Anna Ris), and Jarang, a staunchly loyal royal guard. He gets half of his face burned off foiling a hit on the queen, and spends the rest of the movie beating the hell out of people while wearing a Phantom of the Opera style mask.
Jarang is definitely the action centerpiece in Tsunami Warrior, and is played by Chupong Changprung (aka Dan Chupong), who is in all three Ong-Bak movies, Born to Fight, and Dynamite Warrior. His action cred is as good as it gets right now, and his presence alone ups the badass factor substantially.
There is love, heartbreak, subterfuge, and action. Along the way, more than one character has to learn to temper their instincts towards revenge in order to end the cycle of violence. Black Raven kills Kium’s master, so he wants revenge, and his revenge leads to Black Raven destroying Pari’s entire village, killing his wife, and it rolls on and on. Left unchecked, the merry-go-round of vengeance will circle on forever and consume everyone it touches.
Despite the extensive collection of stories, subplots, and characters (it wouldn’t be a true epic without all of those things), and the complexity of the structure, director Nonzee Nimibutr does an excellent job weaving them all together. Journeys intersect and diverge, and the action in each segment complements the parallel action in the others.
All of the strands are important, all of them carry emotional weight, and none of them gets shortchanged. Even small roles, like the queens, which could have easily been stock, cutout characters, are more complex than they could have been. Hijau is deeply devoted to her country and her people, willing to lose everything she has, including her life, in order to protect them. Themes of sacrifice and duty, whether to job, country, family, or whatever else you can find, run throughout Tsunami Warrior.
The sets and costumes are expansive and elaborate. From simple, dingy pirate outfits and tattoos, to intricate and ornate royal ceremonial armor, the design in impressively intricate. You really get a sense of how big and detailed everything is in the behind-the-scenes footage included on the DVD. It shows just how large and involved the set pieces actually are. When you see the size of the constructions you realize the scope and scale of the production.
Sometimes the CGI is a bit suspect. The underwater scenes look good, but there are a couple of shots of a computer-manufactured armada that look like something straight off of SyFy. Luckily, Nimibutr doesn’t use these shots any more than is necessary.
Overall, Legend of the Tsunami Warrior looks great, a feat that is doubly impressive given the budget of 140 million Baht, which at today’s going rate, is about $4.3 million US dollars. There is no way a Hollywood production could have produced anything even remotely like this with the same amount of money. The film is huge and sweeping, just like an epic fantasy needs to be.
In addition to the behind the scenes footage, the DVD comes with a ten minute, making-of feature. Most of the time is given to Nimibutr gesticulating wildly, his enthusiasm for the movie is obvious, and talking about how they wanted to do something different from a standard Hollywood fantasy movie. They did.