Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) by Wisit Sasanatieng

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment


Nostalgia appears to dominate almost every aspect of this film, from its technical execution in color and art direction to its narrative richness with music and poetry. While being unabashedly Western, the dominance of flashbacks appear to signal a constant yearning to return to the past. As Wisit Sasanatieng puts it: “What I saw in them (old Thai films) was a way to stay true to the spirit of those old styles of Thai filmmaking, as well as a way to make them new again.”

Colors and Flashbacks

Much of the film’s polished style, carefully composed shots and over-the-top humour are very much reminiscent of Thai commercials. I think this has largely to do with the fact that Thai directors like Wisit Sasanatieng tend to hold day-time jobs as commercial directors as well, and their influences are distinctively noticeable.

I use the example of a series of Thai Health Promotion Foundation commercials to illustrate this point. Particularly noticeable is the use of over-the-top humour in illustrating a simple message. This brand of humour, I believe, appears to be a form of appeal to the Thai common man.

In fact, Wisit actually experimented with his set design and lighting for the film in a Wrangler Jeans commercial which featured the film’s leading man, Chartchai Ngamsan, as a boxer. Note the similarity in glossy-styled, all rounded glamororous lighting in both the commercial and the film. Also significant are the similar treatment in color tones, especially in the hues of cyan and green in the commercial (00:00:39).

Much of the film’s vintage, saturated color is also reminiscent of an experimental photography movement known as lomography. Photographers of this movement, who are largely teenagers and young adults, favored cross-processing their photographs in a bid to achieve more vivid and saturated colors. Cross-processing is achieved when traditional slide film is deliberately “wrongly” processed using C-41 chemicals that are meant for negative film. Traditional slide film is rightfully processed with E-6 chemicals. Here are some examples of cross-processed photographs:

Whether Oxide Pang, the colorist of the film, was consciously influenced by cross-processing or not, I think the similarities in the film were not entirely accidental. Cross-processing, once thought to be a cult method of processing photographs, were gradually sipping into the mainstream photography’s visual consciousness with the commercialization of the lomography movement. What was more important was that cross-processing brought about a return to traditional methods of photography that used film rather than digital cameras. This particular return to film canisters, I think, parallels itself in the nostalgia of the film, especially in how Wisit states how Rattana Pestonji’s Country Hotel and other old Thai films were a major influence on the film.

The dominance of flashbacks further illustrates my point. The main engine driving the narrative is the frequent use of the flashback, and this is most apparent in how the film almost abruptly shifts to the past, a year ago, as Dum’s stab wound is being treated. This is compounded by the prevalence of cross-dissolves in the film, creating a lingering impression of previous image on the present shot, much like a reluctance, or constant yearning to the past that I mentioned earlier in this review.


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You are currently reading Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) by Wisit Sasanatieng at The Void Deck.


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