My mother likes to put jam on her cheese on toast. In many ways Wisit Sasanatieng’s Thai western- melodrama oddity reminds me of my progenitor’s fondness for curious culinary combinations – it is an undeniably weird amalgam of elements that may work for some, but will inevitably alienate other palates.
Walking a tightrope between parody and homage, Sasanatieng’s 2000 paean to classic Westerns chronicles the journey of peasant boy Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan), transformed by tragedy into outlaw gunslinger the Black Tiger, and his doomed romance with childhood beau, wealthy Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), now lamentably betrothed to another. Sounds conventional, but Tears… is far from typical melodrama, thanks to the hyper-stylised, borderline insane manner of its telling.
Poetic, maudlin, musical moments gleefully give way to breathtaking scenes of surreal Grindhouse ultra-violence that could easily have escaped from the mental, druggy dreams of The Mighty Boosh. Packed with provocative, pastel-hued visuals, the film has the look and production values of a Christmas pantomime, with camp, caricatured performances to match. Ridiculous, eye-patch wearing, moustached villains cackle excessively against vibrant painted backdrops, while cowboys fire bazookas, causing heads to explode invigoratingly like showers of strawberry jam, but the pervading air of cheap naffness is hard to ignore.
Any film that replays gnarly action sequences for those who missed them first time round deserves respect, but sadly, when teeth aren’t bursting from skulls in fountains of crimson gristle, laboured, syrupy scenes between the romantic leads drag like a ball and chain. Ngamsan is a peculiarly dull leading man, his monotone delivery, lack of charisma, or indeed chemistry with Malucchi, making him difficult to root for.
Tears… is fun, but so compellingly strange, it is difficult to guess the director’s intentions. Sasanatieng has simmered a bizarre fusion of ingredients into an unconventional stir-fry, bursting with flavour, but overcooks it, leaving a bitter taste of saccharine. My mother might enjoy it.