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Funded by the queen of Thailand as a national history lesson, this impressive 2001 epic by Chatri Chalerm Yukol outlines the political intrigue that threatened to paralyze the Ayutthayan dynasty in the 16th century as the Burmese began to invade. The 17-month shoot yielded an eight-hour TV miniseries and then a three-hour theatrical feature, but executive producer Francis Ford Coppola has pared the story down to 142 minutes for U.S. release. I haven't seen the other versions, but in this one the cultural agenda tends to stifle the narrative, with interminable on-screen text identifying the characters and explaining the action. As a result the tale of Queen Suriyothai, a shrewd adviser to her husband who ultimately gives her life on the battlefield, comes closer to deification than dramatization—a shame, since the film offers some powerful set pieces and jaw-dropping spectacle. In Thai with subtitles.

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