Crying Tiger

Director: Santi Taepanich
Year: 2005
Running Time: 94 minutes

In the northeast of Thailand lies the region of Issan – a very poor rural section of the country where jobs outside of farming are few and opportunities are fewer. Many of these people migrate to Bangkok where they hope to make enough money to be able to support their family back home and they count the days till they can go back to visit. Many Thai’s think of them as backwards with their lack of education and heavy accent and it’s tough for them to make it in the big city. It is also where some of the best Thai food and music comes from – those heartbreaking plaintive songs that often are used for Thai film soundtracks (and sprinkled liberally through this one). The title of the film comes from a Thai dish from Issan of barbecued beef and hot spicy chili sauce.

This documentary follows the lives of four natives from Issan who have come to Bangkok to make a living – their dreams are small but their perseverance and spirit are not. The film seamlessly switches back and forth between them over a period of months as some of these dreams are chased after and failure is always relentlessly shadowing them. Within this format are some wonderful slices of Thai life that are soaked with the kind of authenticity that you can’t begin to experience in a typical Thai film.
One of the subjects begins as a restaurant parking lot attendant dressed in an embarrassing fish costume along with others dressed as shrimps or lobsters and their duties consist of simply waving cars on in. He quits though and joins a traveling troupe consisting of dwarves, clowns, transvestites, comedians and singers. His talent for imitating the call of the water buffalo comes in handy – but he pines to see his mom and feels terrible guilt for not being successful. An older singer has already become successful but his popularity is on the wane and he talks wistfully of the good days and now he only wants to go home and sit on his farm with his wife by his side.
A female taxi driver is happy to have a job, but her dream is one day to drive a big rig truck all over Thailand – especially to her hometown to show what she has done. The final character gets the majority of the screen time and his story is perhaps the most interesting to western Thai film fans. He came to Bangkok to be a cook but was enticed into a career of being a stuntman in films. Here he gets banged up on a continuous basis – clay pots broken over his head – set on fire – he gets 1,000 baht ($25) for every scar – 1,500 baht for crashing through a real pane of glass. His dream is someday to get beat up by Tony Jaa and he religiously studies his every move in Ong Bak and tries to imitate them. The final few minutes of the film are stirring – sometimes it’s the small victories in life that really count – that keep the human race filled with dreams and moving on. If you have seen Tom Yum Goong, look for our man to receive a bashing at the hands of Tony in the first fight. He was asked earlier if he ever wanted to beat up the hero and he replied with a laugh that this was impossible – in Thai films the hero always wins – well in this film he is a hero of a different kind. It is hard to gage whether most people would find this interesting – I would venture that the more interested in Thailand that you are, the more you will enjoy this. I thought it was terrific.

Source: Screener (DVD does not have subs)

My rating for this film: 7.5