The second stanza in this gargantuan Thai trilogy is a much more entertaining, if still confusing, proposition for foreign observers than the first, “King Naresuan.” Locals captivated by the 16th-century hero who liberated Siam from the Burmese turned “King Naresuan: The Reclamation of Sovereignty” into the country’s all-time B.O. champ on February release, with a cume exceeding $7.2 million in Bangkok alone. Royal helmer M.C. Chatrichalerm Yukol’s epic could form part of a marketable export commodity if carefully retooled into a Cliff Notes edition. Final stanza is set for Dec. 5 local release.
Leaving the bewilderingly plotted “King Naresuan” behind, “Reclamation” eases the talk and ups the action with a good hour-and-a-half of massive battle scenes, in which the now-adult Prince Naresuan (Wanchana Sawatdee) is strategist and participant. Tracking the dozens of characters ushered in and out of backstage political machinations remains a challenge, but this package has the scale and grunt to engage on purely kinetic terms.
Assuming everyone’s familiar with the story so far, pic kicks off in 1577 with Naresuan released from benign captivity in dominant regional power Hongsawadee (Burma) and appointed governor of his hometown, Phitsanulok, in the subservient Siamese state of Ayutthaya. Played with iron-rod conviction by Thai army colonel Sawatdee in his thesping debut, the prince is a brilliant and charismatic warrior whose base is the only place to be for hopefuls planning a military career.
Naresuan and his men get the chance to flex their muscles after the death of Burmese king Buyinong (Sompob Benchanukul), a father figure to the prince.Buyinong’s grandson Upparaja (Napatsorn Mitraim) plans to have Naresuan bumped off during a multistate raid on the recalcitrant kingdom of Khang. Hostilities spark an almost nonstop exhibition of combat that differs markedly from the usual flashy gymnastics in Asian actioners. Here, it’s a muddy, bloody slog that feels like a genuine re-creation of warfare, 16th century-style.
Action highlight is the fierce defense of Khang put up by beautiful warrior princess Lurkin (Intira Jaroenpura, “Nang Nak”) and her band of female archers. Following terrific scenes of this unit in action against Naresuan’s forces and jungle head-hunters, Lurkin falls into a tough-then-tender romance with Naresuan’s right-hand man, Lord Ratchamanu (Nopachai Jayanama).
In keeping with the project’s aim of presenting the title character as a liberator and nation-builder of monumental importance, the low-key reunion of Naresuan with childhood playmate Maneechan (Taksaorn Paksukcharern) keeps the man inside Naresuan very much at arm’s length from the viewer, as does his lack of a romantic interest.
Grandly appointed in every detail, and classically photographed in earthy tones by co-lensers Stanislav Dorsic and Natthawut Kittikun, pic reps a peak in Thai production. Only technical flaw is some unconvincing CGI during warfare.
Click here to read the review of the first film in the “King Naresuan” series.