Thai helmer Thanit Jitnukul, who hit local gold with historical blockbuster “Bang Rajan” (2000), brings much the same mixture of blood, sweat and mud to “Kunpan: Legend of the Warlord,” though without the same heroic feel. Way less laborious than another recent Thai costumer, “Suriyothai,” pic canters through a semi-mythical age, mingling warfare, sex and magic to entertaining, if instantly forgettable, results. Audiences at Asian-friendly events should respond.
Version caught was the “international” one — some 25 minutes shorter than that originally released in the spring — which canters along at a brisk, rather than rushed, pace. Gaps, which pepper the narrative, are sometimes annoying, especially when characters are just starting to develop. Overall, however, the picture has a nice sense of flow, with a multitude of tracks and dissolves that goes some way to mitigating the bumpiness of the narrative.
Set around 500 years ago, during the Prapunwasa Kingdom, when the city of Ayudhaya was enjoying trading prosperity, story centers on a young monk, Kaew (Watchara Tangkaprasert), who returns to his hometown of Supunburi, in central Thailand. Years earlier, as a kid, he’d fled the town along with his mother after the king executed his father, a warrior with magical powers.
In a surprisingly sweaty montage sequence, Kaew quickly abandons his monastic vows after meeting the sexy Pim (Bongkoo Kongmalai). Unfortunately, she’s also fancied by fat rich kid Chang (Apichai Nipattahuttapong), a childhood friend of Kaew and a persistent thorn in his side.
After being sent off by the king to suppress a rebellion in the north — where, en passant, he beds a conquered warlord’s daughter — Kaew changes his name to Kunpan and heads home. He’s somewhat angry to find Pim has married Chang in his absence and changed her name to Wantong.
Stripped of his title and possessions to teach him humility, Kunpan — in the pic’s most compressed section — spends some time in the hills with bandits, honing his magic skills and impregnating their leader’s daughter.
He eventually returns home to reclaim and impregnate Wantong as well, their son, Plyarm, growing into a warrior worthy of his father.
As in other Thai costumers, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who as they change their names or reinvent their lives, but the narrative is so stripped back that the basic bones are clear. Unfortunately, the film has been left with no architecture, nor any inspirational characters or events (unlike “Bang Rajan”) to involve the viewer emotionally.
Tangkaprasert makes a lackluster Kunpan, as he fights and fornicates his way through life with no explanation and even less charm; and the introduction of magical effects in the second half (especially a flying homunculus) is jarring to the wannabe heroic mood. Still, there’s an overall lightness to the film — and a bracingly earthy feel — which is engaging, and preferable to the lavish but lumbering “Suriyothai.”