Director: Nopporn Watin
Starring: Seigi Ozeki, Kanokkorn Jaicheun, Sorapong Chatree, Winai Kraibutr, Thanawut Ketsaro, Buakaw Banchamek
Yamada is loosely based on the life of Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese governor who served the kingdom of Ayutthaya in the 1600s. When Yamada (Seigi Ozeki) is betrayed by his faction, he is rescued and taken in by the Thai people he and his country were attempting to coup. After a period of nursing back to help by a beautiful woman and her sister, he grows to love the people and the land. Adopting their ways of martial arts, he joins their ranks and becomes a warrior that aims to protect his new found peace, all the while his betrayers are working to finish the job for which they failed.
The film itself suffers from many flaws. The addition of ridiculous humor, poor choice of music, and rushed storytelling are elements that may fly in the country of Thailand, but it is a poor cultural choice for international viewers. Where the film excels is in the fantastically bloody and well choreographed action sequences. They are long and ferocious with actual Thai boxers providing most of the action. In particular, I greatly enjoyed the sequence in the forest against the (always) evil Burmese. It is probably a solid 8-9 minutes of blades, elbows, and knees. While this set piece is quite graphic, I was not a fan of the poorly done CGI blood. It feels too cartoony and the geyser effect is at odds with the type of Thai action I expect.
Acting is startlingly average, with everyone in the film seeming also impersonating cardboard. They aren’t terrible, but you can only barely care about these characters with how little the actors themselves seem to care. Seigi Ozeki is fine as Yamada, but hardly a compelling lead. His scenes with Kanokkorn Jaicheun, his nurse, try to introduce growing affection and love, but in the film amount to nothing more than extremely drawn out and awkward looks which I suppose are meant to convey longing. Honestly, the looks he was giving her towards the end of the film seemed almost uncomfortably creepy. The monk is probably the best of the bunch with his philosophy spouting and wise man antics. He is seemingly on the path to enlightenment and if he wasn’t so old and a monk, it would a poor character choice, but in this film it works.
Of note is how annoying the younger sister is during the film. She doesn’t do anything to really help and is, I suppose, merely there to bring about a bit of levity, but it just comes off as forced. I would not be surprised if she was actually a relative of the producer or some other individual involved with the making of the film. Oddly enough, the non-professional actors but real life boxers fare better, even though their scenes merely consist of walking confidently on screen, kicking serious butt, and then posing like a badass. I also have to say that I really love period Thai films mostly because of the mustaches and haircuts.
In the end the film is a mixed bag. Those looking for a well told tale of cultures uniting and the idea of friendship across borders will be disappointed as it’s a story told much better in other works. It is a hugely inaccurate depiction of the real man, but I suppose that is what history books are for. The dramatic nature is cheapened by the inclusion of silly humor and poor performances in the ‘peaceful’ moments. However, if you are looking for some bone crushing fight scenes with exemplary and real martial artists on screen, you’d be pressed to top some of the action in this film.