"Tears of the Black Tiger" | A Thai Western-melodrama oozing in Technicolor

In the case of "Tears of the Black Tiger," hyperbole seems entirely appropriate: Unless you've already seen Wisit Sasanatieng's acid-trippy "pad Thai" Western, it's safe to say you've never seen a film like this before.

Sasanatieng's energetic homage to vintage genres of Thai cinema may strike some as a kaleidoscopic overdose of campy violence and overwrought romance, but you can sense genuine affection in every candy-colored frame. It's a hallucinogenic hoedown of infectious enthusiasm.

It's also encouraging proof that unique movies will always find their audience. After wowing critics at Cannes in 2001, "Tears" languished in distribution limbo until Magnolia Pictures stepped up with a nominal release. Cinephiles who've been drooling over the film's Day-Glo publicity stills will now discover that the festival-circuit buzz was justified. Just ask anyone who's seen the import DVD that's been a hot rental at Scarecrow Video for the past few years.

But seeing "Tears of the Black Tiger" on a big screen should be considered essential. Making his feature debut after a busy career in commercials, Sasanatieng deliberately drenches this shoot-'em-up love story in pulsing pink, turquoise and key-lime green, all added in digital post-production and steeped in imagery that owes as much to advertising as it does to the fading traditions of Thai cinema.

The movie's hyper-hued palette recalls the colorful portraits of Thai royalty routinely displayed in Thai restaurants; it's a noodle soup of Thai culture, spiced with Western influence and an unabashed love of cinematic kitsch.

So much so, in fact, that the story seems almost beside the point — and it would be if it weren't so innocently involving. As the gun-slinging "Black Tiger," handsome hero Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) has infiltrated the outlaw gang responsible for his father's death. And his long-promised love for childhood sweetheart Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi) is constantly thwarted by showdowns with his villainous blood-brother Mahesuan (Supakorn Kitsuwon), not to mention Rumpoey's betrothal to a police captain she doesn't love.

Class divisions, old-school romance and copious bloodletting give "Tears of the Black Tiger" an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink quality that's eventually exhausting, but the "what's next?" factor keeps it all exciting. And for all its satirical, tongue-in-cheek exuberance, the story doesn't flinch from tragedy, lending additional kick to this movie's exhilarating absence of compromise.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Tears of the Black Tiger," with Chartchai Ngamsan, Stella Malucchi, Supakorn Kitsuwon, Sombati Medhanee. Written and directed by Wisit Sasanatieng. 113 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains stylized, comically graphic violence). In Thai with English subtitles. Varsity.