film review

Yamada:Way of the Samurai (The Samurai of Ayothaya 2010)

By Leo White

Social history combines with martial arts and swordplay in The Samurai of Ayothaya, a Thai film which seeks to offer both action and drama in a historical context.

Yamada Nagamasa (Seigi Ozeki) is an injured samurai, shunned by the elite warriors of the Japanese community who reside in Ayothaya (now Thailand). He leaves his own people and is healed by a local priest in a remote Thai village. His slow recuperation sees him not only recover physically but he also wishes develop his combat skills, learning from those who are from a different culture to his own. His dedication to the community that have accepted him into their fold eventually leads to him becoming determined defend them, even against his ex-countrymen. In order to do this he must learn to fight in a way that is dissimilar to the samurai style martial arts that he is already proficient in and adopt the local style. Assimilating the two techniques could well be a way to becoming a dominant combatant.

Very loosely based on a real historical figure, Yamada Nagamasa, who became a hugely influential figure in Thai history, The Samurai of Ayothaya combines a fictionalised historical drama with a number martial arts and attempts to construct a balance between the two that does not appear incongruous. It succeeds for the most part, even if you do have to take the historical elements with a pinch of salt.

The training of the emerging martial artist, perhaps most famously realised in the Shaw Brothers kung fu classics of the 1970s, is given an alternative perspective here because our titular character is already a strong and confident martial artist, albeit one recovering from serious injury. He learns that his own martial arts discipline has weaknesses when he encounters Muay Thai and its use of elbows and knees as tools of combat. This allows Yamada to generate not only an understanding of alternative fighting techniques but also differing cultural values. Here the relationship with his new community places the film at a more emotionally engaging level than would otherwise be expected from a film of its genre.

The battles are pretty exciting and also quite extreme, featuring a multitude of protagonists engaging in a variety of disciplines from hand-to-hand combat, weapons fighting, and also firearms, the use of which is depicted as cowardly, of course. The fighting is visceral, as befits the genre, with a great emphasis on the skill of the participants. Although some of the spraying blood may seem occasionally too post-production in its implementation to those more used to the aforementioned Shaw Brothers in-camera carnage or the 1970's samurai in-camera bloodspray of the Lone Wolf and Cub films, the physicality of the choreography is engaging.

A martial arts drama that takes a slightly different approach to what would be a standard narrative, The Samurai of Ayothaya is a mixed bag of historical drama and emotional characterisation combined with intense scenes of combat and action.

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