For the film assignment, I decided to take a deeper look into the fascinating culture of Thailand. The film I watched and analyzed, The Legend of Suriyothai, was based on the true story of heroic Queen Suriyothai and the many sacrifices she made for her country. This story of loyalty, betrayal, and war portrayed many Thai cultural values and beliefs along with several universal messages. The legend of Suriyothai, directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol, was one of the largest Thai productions in history.
The movie is rumored to have cost between eight and twenty million dollars to produce, but because of the Thai Royal Family’s involvement, the real number has never been disclosed. The film was financed by Queen Sirikit, and she appointed the directorial position and the lead role of Queen Suriyothai to members of the royal family. This historical film was originally the Queen’s idea because she wanted the Thai people to be reminded of their history and to have a better understanding of what happened.
The royal family was not the only Thai organization to be involved in the movie; Queen Sirikit employed the help of the Royal Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Army to make up the thousands of extras needed for the battle scenes and hundreds of elephants were shipped in from around the country and several surrounding countries. The film was shot in several locations throughout Thailand, and as a result of the royal connection it was allowed to be filmed in areas that were not open for public use and would have been impossible to use for anyone else (Anderson 2009).
The story line of this film was about how Queen Suriyothai sacrificed her life to protect her husband so that he could continue his reign and save Ayutthaya from the Burmese attacks. I was attracted to this film because the culture is exotic and alluring, but also because heroic tales such as this one often have much more depth and meaning, and much more to learn, than many other mainstream films. Throughout the movie, there were many scenes and character actions that portrayed the cultural values and practices of sixteenth century Thailand. In the very beginning of the film, there was a scene where the young
Princess Suriyothai was traveling with her ladies through a small village. There, the village looked like it was bustling with trade among the adults. Ayutthaya was open to foreign traders, and in the sixteenth century the kingdom was known as one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the east. There were also many gender roles displayed throughout the film, such as the women were the primary caregivers to the children and marriages were arranged by the patriarch of the family and were more arranged for family gain instead of love (Kislenko 2004).
Suriyothai’s own marriage was arranged between her father and Prince Tien’s father. However, she wanted to marry Lord Piren but she knew that if she did so the union would cause conflict between providences. So she made a sacrifice for Ayutthaya and married Prince Tien, and they were blessed with a happy and prosperous marriage. Another cultural concept revealed through this film was the extravagance of Thai ceremonies. Thailand incorporates practices from many neighboring countries such as India, China, and Cambodia.
Almost the whole Thai population is Buddhist, and the Buddhist wedding ceremony is one of the most lavish ceremonies of their culture. There are two parts to a Buddhist wedding; the first focuses on prayer and gifts to images of Buddha while the other part is more centered on the couple’s family. The people and ceremonies displayed in the movie were so luxurious because the gold, riches, and jewelry were all symbols of their royalty and wealth. The abundance of such items served as a classification of rank (Rajadhon, Phraya 1954).
As a result of the royals’ wealth, their servants and subordinates would always bow in their presence, and when beckoned to come forth would move forward on their knees as a sign of humility and obedience to the royal family. This implies that their culture values respect for authority and the compliance to carry out designated duties. Another important cultural aspect shown in the film was the temperament of the Thai people. One of the most distinctive Thai customs is the way they greet and acknowledge others depending on their relative status.
Generally, the welcome involves one person greeting another with their hands in a prayer- like position and a small serene smile to indicate their warmth and serenity. Thailand is referred to as the “land of smiles” because of their welcoming disposition (Kislenko 2004). There were many universal messages in The Legend of Suriyothai, but the most relevant revolved around loyalty and the ability to do what is right even if the decision is difficult.
In the beginning of the film when the audience witnessed the strong friendship between Suriyothai and Lord Piren, he promised on his “honor as a warrior” that he would always come to her if she needed him. Many years later, when the throne of Ayutthaya was being usurped by the greedy and murderous Srisudachan and her fellow U-Tong and lover, Queen Suriyothai calls for Lord Piren to help her and Prince Tien to assassinate the two of them before they could ruin the Buddhist religion and tear the kingdom apart. There were many times in this film where someone was killed in order to preserve the peace of Ayutthaya.
These events beg the question, “Is it right to take the life of one innocent individual to save the lives of hundreds? ” This is a moral struggle that every country worldwide has had to face at one point or another in times of conflict and war. This issue was also evident in the film when Chai Raja disobeyed the promise he made to his father on his deathbed, stating that he would allow the young prince to inherit the throne. However, after the death of his father Chai Raja executed the young boy so that he could rule instead.
When Prince Tien confronted his brother about his atrocious act, Chai Raja said that in order to bring the kingdom back to order and harmony, he must sacrifice innocent blood. The most inspirational illustration of both the universal messages was Queen Suriyothai’s decision to enter the battle against the invading Burmese. By doing this, she put her life on the line to protect her husband and also her country. If her husband died, Ayutthaya would be left without a ruler and would fall into the hands of the Burmese attackers.
Suriyothai made many sacrifices throughout her life, such as freedom and love as a young princess, but this was by far the most selfless act she had ever done. Her death was the symbol that in order to save many, one must surrender everything. The Legend of Suriyothai was one of the most culturally and emotionally compelling films that I have ever watched. The extravagance and richness of sixteenth century Thailand was amazing and the dramatic yet accurate depiction of the fight for the throne and survival of Ayutthaya was truly enlightening. I learned so much about the Thai culture from viewing this ilm, and was most impressed by how they value honor and loyalty above everything else. The real message in this film was the rewards that come from self-sacrifice, and how putting the needs of others ahead of one’s own is not always easy or gratifying for the individual. In the film, Queen Suriyothai said, “My husband and I have no care for our lives. Our only care is for the people of Ayutthaya and Ayutthaya itself. ” The most important question posed by this movie is how much an individual is willing to give up, all for the people they love and the country they serve