Here’s a question that Susan Sontag, as far as I know, never asked: When does camp slide into borderline racism? That is, when do cardboard genre characters, the kind that would get hooted off the screen in a Michael Bay film, become hip stereotypes of ”innocent” Asians playing dress-up? Answer: When they’re recontextualized for ironic American consumption in a film as wooden and stultifying as Tears of the Black Tiger, an exotically inept Day-Glo Thai Western, made in 2000, that’s being passed off as the latest in contemporary grindhouse chic. All that’s missing from the ad campaign is a quote from Quentin Tarantino declaring it the greatest movie since A Fistful of Dynamite.
In Tears of the Black Tiger, when a man gets shot at point-blank range, you can plainly see the blood packs exploding in his chest, and the scene, in a sputter of editing, is inevitably chopped and smashed together way too fast. Gee, what fun! What total style! The visual palette — digitally altered interiors of fuchsia, chartreuse, and hot tangerine — makes the movie, at times, resemble a cross between Gone With the Wind and Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and there’s a faux–Ennio Morricone score to snazz up the proceedings, but Tears of the Black Tiger lacks the sensual simplicity of a good spaghetti Western. It’s more like an incoherent cap-gun Western trying to pass itself off as the real thing.
If I told you the plot, this review would become as boring as the movie, so let’s just say that a noble bandit named Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) pouts like a schoolboy Elvis to show that he’s in love with the aristocratic Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), whose affections have been stolen by a cruel police chief. I wish that the film had more of those spray-of-bloody-pulp action scenes, since they at least move, and I wish its cheesy embrace of American horse-opera clichés from 50 years ago didn’t remind you of why those clichés died off. A few more films like Tears of the Black Tiger, and kitsch will be on its way to having a bad name.