Kunpan: Legend of the WarLord

Director: Thanit Jitnukul
Year: 2002
Starring: Watchara Tangkaprasert (Kunpan), Bongkot Kongmalai (Pim)
Time: 115 minutes

I watched this film from the director of Bang Rajan sometimes in fascination, sometimes in confusion and sometimes in dismay. It is a total mishmash of good and bad scenes. In the end it felt like a good idea gone bad – but bad in a very strange and peculiar manner. Though epic in its scope, it still manages to plod at times with a plot out of a Thai soap opera that just diminishes everything around it. The film is based on a classic story and so perhaps to the Thai people this story takes on a special meaning, but as it plays out here it has very little emotional impact until the final scene reaches out and grabs you by the throat. The main fault with enjoying the film is the character of Kunpan – are we suppose to sympathize with him or detest him? In theory he is the hero of the film, but his occasional repulsively moral acts make it difficult to care a lot about his fate.

In the 1700’s Kunpan’s father is a highly regarded warrior, but he makes the mistake of bringing too many oxen to the king and it’s off with the head – and Kunpan and his mother run for their lives. He is brought up in a temple and gains great strength and a few magical powers. When he is a young man he returns to his home as a monk – but one look at the ravishing and soft-spoken Pim and he quickly gives up his calling and marries her. Apparently though in his days as a monk he stored up more chestnuts than his wife could handle and the morning after their wedding night he is on the dock making hay with one of the servant girls. Huh? This is a totally bizarre moment – one second he is deeply in love with Pim and the next knocking knees with a woman in broad daylight. Pim seems annoyed but understanding. Other bizarre episodes continue throughout the film.
The King of Thailand (the same one who executed his father) hears about Kunpan’s return and takes the advice of the rival for Pim’s heart and sends Kunpan off to fight his enemy in the north. The rival hopes that Kunpan will find death but instead he defeats the enemy and wins himself a second wife. Pim seems annoyed but understanding when he returns home with the wife in tow. The King is an irritable person though and Kunpan is soon banished off into the jungle – where of course he finds yet a third wife – a cutie pie who bears him (well not exactly bears) a demon fetus that can fly through the air and kill whomever Kunpan wants. Kunpan returns and is soon back in the good graces of the King  – for about fifteen minutes until he again gets annoyed with Kunpan and this time Kunpan goes off to jail – for many years – but oddly no one ever seems to age much. Throughout the film this triangle between Kunpan, Pim and the rival drive the film – but where it is driving it is difficult to discern. The cinematography is fine, the sets are excellent, there are a few big battle scenes (but very poorly executed considering the director did so much better in Bang Rajan) – but the stilted acting from the two men and a weak story line makes this film feel like a lost opportunity and very silly at times.

The Thai DVD has English subs, the VCD does not.

My rating for this film: 6.0

Reviewed by Simon Booth

Kunpan - Legend of the War Lord is a legend about a warlord named Kunpan, happily enough. As a child, Kunpan's father is killed by the somewhat vicious king, and Kunpan would be killed too if his mother didn't whisk him away and hide him in a monastery. At the monastery, Kunpan is educated in the arts of war by an elderly monk and grows to be a good looking young monk himself. But then he falls in love with a gorgeous local girl and quits the monastery to marry her. To everyone's surprise and disappointment, he turns out to be something of a bastard who is led through life by his dick.

At least, that's how the first half of the movie presents him, since it lavishes far too much time on his bedroom antics, though since several extremely attractive young actresses are also involved I cannot complain too much about this attention. Well, actually yes I can - it was frankly rather dull, beautiful as the ladies may be. So the first hour of the movie is pretty much a bust, but then things come out of the bedroom and the movie starts to take a different and altogether darker route. Kunpan is pretty unlikeable in the first hour, but in the second he turns downright evil. Still totally unlikeable, but altogether more interesting.
The second half of the movie is pretty cool, full of violence, evil and black magic. Less shagging, more war. It's still not classic cinema, but it's much more engaging. The movie seems very similar to some other Thai movie I can't put my finger on, at least thematically. It may have starred the same lead actress even, as I've certainly seen her before (did I mention she was cute?). It's another movie where the men are all immature bastards but it's the women who suffer as a result. Kunpan is a dark hero, which sometimes makes it difficult to really be concerned by his problems. It's only because his enemies are that much worse that you want him to prevail.
Kunpan isn't a great movie, and for some of its runtime it outright sucks. It has some great moments to compensate though, and is overall quite watchable. The Thai DVD is pretty lousy - washed out non-anamorphic image that is much too dark, but ok sound and subtitles at least. It doesn't get very high recommendations, but I don't recommend *not* watching it either