Director: Sutape Tunnirut
Starring: Noppachai Chaiyanam, Stella Malucchi, John Rattanaveroj.
Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
There seems to be a fascination among Thai’s for films that revolve around mythical/historical figures – Suriyothai, Kunpan, Phra Apai-manee and Krai Thong are some recent ones. One problem with all these films is that the main character is never imbued with any sense of real flesh and blood – they are treated with a detached mystical awe that makes them very one dimensional and ultimately boring to watch. That is certainly the case with Angulimala.
The film is based (a little loosely when compared to some material I read) on a character – whether mythical or historical I can’t say – who lived during the days of Buddha and achieved enlightenment and now has an important symbolic place in the Buddhist religion. He represents the ability of man to find salvation and redemption no matter what evil he has done in his life previously – all men can be saved. In a sense he has the same place as Paul in the Christian religion – Paul (then Saul) was a hated figure for persecuting Christians until he converted to Christianity after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. Angulimala has a slightly similar story.
Born to a high caste family in India, it was foretold at his birth that he (originally named Ahimsaka) would became a bandit and an evil man when he grew up. His father wanted to kill him immediately, but his mother convinced him to place their son in a religious temple where he would be able to reach dharma. The high priest of the temple instantly perceives the evil within the child (though he seems to be a sweet kid) and forces him to herd the goats. Ahimsaka grows up there but an incident in which he saves the life of the priest’s new wife (who was found to have Untouchable blood within her) forces him to go on the run with her ( Stella Malucchi from "Tears of the Black Tiger") where they begin to live in a cave. On a mountain he hears the voice of God (or so he thinks) tell him that the way to dharma is for him to kill 1,000 people and thus free them from their sufferings in life. And he proceeds to do so – but he worries about losing count – he doesn’t want to go over a 1,000 nice fellow that he is – so he begins cutting off a finger of each and wearing it around his neck – and he becomes known as Angulimala (“finger garland”). At the beginning he only kills evil people but as time goes on he becomes much less picky – he wants to reach that 1,000 target hit quickly – and starts killing just about everyone. In reality he becomes one of the great serial killers of all time.
Perhaps it’s the type of film that may resonate more with viewers familiar with the story or those that follow the Buddhist faith – but I found it quite monotonous, poorly directed and badly acted. There is also an ambivalence in the film's viewpoint around the character that never quite jells - it portrays him with mystical powers – yet at the same time it implies that he was crazy and delusional – and simply another serial killer who thought he was in communication with God. In either case he is not particularly sympathetic – though he was initially – and his killing spree goes on and on – but there is little imagination around the killings to keep them interesting - it's just arrows to the head or swift cuts of the sword.
My rating for this film: 4.0