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Floating around festivals for four years since it killed at the Thai box office, Bang Rajan emerges from the dank, Hollywoodized Asian jungle to be easily the equal of Braveheart, Troy, and King Arthur, but with a rough-hewn recklessness that carries the sulfurated scent of physical danger. Hokey yet apocalyptic, the movie depicts the legendary courage and stamina of a Siamese village battling the invading Burmese army in 1765, led by a badass in a flattop 'do and LeRoy Neiman mustache (Jaran Ngamdee, soon to be seen in Alexander). This fresh (to us) paradigm includes loincloths, cannons, foggy rainforests, longhorn battle oxen, archer legions hiding in mud lakes, warriors jumping from palm trees, and the relative mercilessness of combat via machete. Director Jitnukul doesn't have the budget or savvy for gloss, so Bang Rajan has a convincing back-to-nature tone and a knack for jackhammer montaging that make the carnage all the more immediate. The climactic free-for-all, even with a few splats of rough CGI, is a dismayingly ferocious portrait of pre-technological warfare, and the respect that the film pays to suffering, corpses, and burial is enough to distinguish it among the Bruckheimers. That, and the simple fact that it's the only historical war epic I can think of in which the heroic freedom fighters are not lily-white.


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