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‘The Legend of Suriyothai’ feels like a dry history lesson

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THE LEGEND OF SURIYOTHAI — ** — M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, Sarunyoo Wongkrchang, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Chatchai Plengpanich, Johnny Anfone, Mai Charoenpura, Sinjai Plengoanich; in Thai, with English subtitles; rated R (violence, gore, brief partial nudity, brief sex); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

The title character of "The Legend of Suriyothai" is probably the least interesting, and that's one strike against this handsome-looking historical epic.

The second comes as the film tells its story in the flattest manner possible, a story that could have been fascinating and enthralling. It's as if no one involved in the project was all that excited by it.

This is a long film — 142 minutes. And yet, for its stateside release, the distributor has pruned out nearly 40 minutes of material. Without seeing the original version, it's unclear whether that material was superfluous or whether it was plot and exposition that might have helped the audience put two and two together. That's strike three. The plotting is so confusingly dense that audiences outside of the film's home country (Thailand) will be left scratching their heads.

"The Legend of Suriyothai" covers more than half a century of Thai history, circa the 15th century, which is told from the perspective of its title character, M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, a supposedly "minor princess" who, as the wife of Thai royalty, was front and center for events that shaped the country.

Years later, her heart still belongs to Piren (Chatchai Plengpanich), her childhood sweetheart, who now finds himself in the ironic position of defending his former lover's husband (Sarunyoo Wongkrchang). That probably sounds fairly soap opera-ish and simplistic, and obviously there's a lot more — including some potentially interesting intrigue involving a rebellious consort (Mai Charoenpura). However, all too often it feels like a dry history lesson. The names of the various kings, royalties and dynasties fly by so quickly it's hard to keep score.

Also, filmmaker Chatri Chalerm Yukol (a member of current Thai royalty) is stuck with a lead actress who's fairly robotic. Nothing really seems to register with her character until the very end.

"The Legend of Suriyothai" is rated R for scenes of action violence (swordplay, beheadings, stabbings, explosive mayhem and some animal cruelty), gore, brief partial female nudity and brief sexual contact. Running time: 142 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com