I first saw Tears of the Black Tiger way back in 2002 and was completely blown away by the film. So much so that I immediately rushed out and bought the DVD so I could watch it again. The film takes two genres that normally wouldn’t sit comfortably in the same film and seamlessly merges them into a story that is, by turns, dramatic, spectacular, moving and riotously funny.
Having been delayed by a shootout (and this is a spectacular opening scene, complete with an action replay) Dum, the titular Black Tiger and gunslinger for the outlaw Fai, arrives late for a planned elopement with his childhood sweetheart, Rumpoey. Believing that she’s been stood up, Rumpoey has returned home, upset and disheartened. So much so that she finally gives in to pressure from her father — the local governor — to marry the wonderfully oblivious Police Captain Kumjorn. Of course, with Kumjorn leading the hunt for Fai and his gang of Tigers, it’s inevitable that the paths of Kumjorn and Dum will eventually cross.
At its heart, Tears of the Black Tiger is a very effective mix of love story and Western (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy becomes gunslinger) that then goes a step further: it’s made in Thailand and is set in Thailand.
It’s quite a surreal experience to see Asian cowboys mixing Western tropes with Eastern traditions, and one that often causes you to look twice and recognize just how much you take for granted when watching this genre of film. This is exacerbated by anachronistic feel of the film that creates a somewhat timeless feeling which defies anyone (or me, at least) to get too specific about the period of history in which the film is set. But it all works, bringing everything together in a way that feels both consistent and believable.
Then there is the colour. This is an incredibly striking film to look at, shot in gloriously bright colours, often against blatantly artificial backgrounds that enhances the (sometimes completely over the top) acting and spectacularly bloody action scenes.
Tears of the Black Tiger is a film that manages to embrace the genre tropes of both Westerns and Romantic Melodramas without allowing itself to be confined by either. The film both parodies and pays homage to both genres and still feels as fresh and as funny as it did when I first saw it.