Reviewed by Simon Booth

Director: Tanit Jitnukool
Year: 2003
Starring:  Worrawith Kaewpetch, Sawinee Pookaroon
Time: 125 minutes

After a fun but disappointing experience with Muay Thai - Nai Khanom Tom, I decided to chance my luck with one more Thai film that promised some action.  Khunsuk (aka "Sema - The Warrior Of Ayodhaya") is a totally different ballgame, it turns out.  It's a historical epic that conforms much more to normal notions of cinematic virtue.  It has a strong script, great cinematography and decent acting and the production values are quite high.

The plot has some resemblance to that of MT-Thingy, in that it follows the fortunes of a young lad called Sema who decides to try his chances as a soldier and runs into conflict with an egotistic fighter over the attentions of an attractive young female.  I guess that is not exactly an uncommon story though. Despite the "historical epic" trappings, the film is mostly a personal story of rags to riches to rags to... well, that would be telling.  Sema has some good friends and a nice sister, and falls for a girl outside his social caste.  The film focuses mostly on the love triangle this creates, and the friendships between the characters - the political/military stuff is kept very much in the background - the canvas on which the story is woven, perhaps.
The story of Sema does not present any radically new or profound ideas into the world of film, but it is well told using the full arsenal of cinematic technique.  It's a well-crafted film that balances the "historical epic" with the personal quite well, comparing reasonably favourably with the recent Hollywood effort THE LAST SAMURAI for instance.
The one problem with the film may be more of a problem with this viewer, in that I don't really have any knowledge of Thai history in the period this film was set.  Because the film focuses more on the personal stories, it doesn't explain much of the historical and social context.  The film features a number of huge battle scenes that are beautifully filmed, but I found that I didn't actually have any idea who was fighting who or why.  I knew who the "good guys" were and was able to root for them and enjoy their success and feel sorrow for their failures, but lacking any understanding of the underlying reasons for the battles robbed them of some impact.  Still, they were *very* nicely filmed, with lots of the old claret spilled and sprayed.  (NOTE:  on going through the film again for screen captures, I realised that the first 5 minutes does try to set the historical stage - if I'd paid attention to names the later battles might have been a bit clearer!)
Final verdict - whilst not a "masterpiece", Khunsuk is a very worthy entry into the historical epic field, and certainly one of the better Thai films of recent years.

Recommended! 8/10