Yamada: Way of the Samurai

Monday, 30 January 2012 15:58

“Yamada” (aka “The Samurai of Ayothaya”) is a period martial arts movie set in the late 16th Century Kingdom of Ayothaya (now Thailand). The titular character is a Japanese samurai who is betrayed and left for dead by his own people. A band of passing Thai warriors save him and take him back to their village to recuperate. With the blessing of the elder priest he decides to stay and learn their deadly Muay Boran fighting style before enrolling in a tournament to become a royal bodyguard.

Having lived in the region some time, Yamada (ex-model Seigi Ozeki) can already speak the local language; this ability in combination with his charm and unwavering code of honour helps him to befriend Jumpaa, a local beauty with an inquisitive daughter, and her brother Khaam (Thanawut Ketsaro) who is impressed with Yamada’s willingness to go native. As a neighbouring enemy force threatens to invade, our hero knows that one day he must return home and seek vengeance.

Yamada - Way of the Samurai on Blu-ray & DVD“Yamada” is a solid addition to the growing ranks of decent action movies that have come out of Thailand in the last decade. The heavily embellished true-life story is relatively simple but told with sincerity and conviction. The characters are bold and colourful, and the acting is certainly a match for the deluge of historical epics coming out of Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

What is particularly impressive is that whilst many of the fighters are genuine kickboxers, their acting credentials do not play a distant second fiddle to their amazing fighting skills.

The first half of the movie is predominantly concerned with moving the plot along and developing the characters, though the second half more than makes up for lost time by delivery numerous crunching fight scenes in quick succession. Whilst I found some of the slow-mo, motion blur cinematography to be a little jarring, that technique is thankfully not employed throughout and later scenes are resplendent with spurts of CGI gore and furious, fluid combat.

At times the movie resembles a video game in the manner that wave after wave of goons appear on the horizon, ready to queue up and be summarily slaughtered. The fight choreography is quite varied and as Bey Logan says on the commentary track, the aggressive, unrelenting style is where the roots of today’s simplified Thai Boxing began. These warriors mean business and their aim is to kill and move on to the next opponent in as short a time as possible.

Muay Boran is a seriously mean, efficient martial arts technique, with fists, legs, elbows and knees vigorously thrust in lightning-fast combinations.

There is plenty of rudimentary philosophising about what it takes to belong to a community, with the conclusion that being born in Ayothaya (for example) is less important than being prepared to die for the King and his people, and be buried in Ayothayan soil. Thankfully the film does not get too bogged down considering this theory, and it is a suitable framework in which the rest of the action to takes place.

The movie looks great even on DVD. The sets are large in scale and always lit or filtered to feel warm and full of life. The towering stone monuments provide fantastic vistas for the training scenes, with variety added thanks to the riverside village, lush forests and high-walled city outskirts.

Special features include:

  • DTS HD Master Audio Thai 5.1 with English Subtitles (on Blu-ray)
  • Dolby Digital Thai 5.1/2.0 with English Subtitles
  • Audio Commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan
  • Masters of the Ring Cine Asia Exclusive featurette (37 mins)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Trailer Gallery
  • Trailers for other Cine Asia releases

There is no making-of featurette but in combination with Logan’s commentary, the ‘Masters of the Ring’ extra goes some way to filling the gap. In a similar fashion to certain other Cine Asia releases, this introduction to Thai kickboxing is a great taster for people who might want to learn the art, be it for sport, fitness or self defence.

“Yamada - Way of the Samurai" (2010) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Cine Asia. The main feature has a running time of 90 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £17.99 on DVD and £24.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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