Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya (in Thai, ซามูไร อโยธยา) is a Thai action/drama/war movie released in Thailand on December 2, 2010 to celebrate the 123rd anniversary of Thai-Japanese diplomatic relations. The movie was directed by Nopporn Watin, who also organized the international muay thai tournaments which recently took place in Bangkok. The movie is based on a true historical figure of the Ayothaya (also/nowadays spelled Ayutthaya) period, Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese adventurer who made a name for himself at the court of the Siamese king in the 17th century.
Yamada has a beautiful story line based on the characters’ love of their mother land and king, but it is also a very violent movie, with plenty of blood and decapitations. The movie is a “linguistic marvel,” with alternating dialogues in both Thai and Japanese, plus English and Thai subtitles. During one hour and thirty minutes, you can enjoy some of the most realistic muay thai / muay boran techniques that have been shown on the big screen in quite a long time.
When Yamada discovers that his fellow Japanese were behind murderous attacks on the Siamese people, he is almost killed by the conspirators. Lucky for him, he is saved by a group of men, well-skilled in muay thai, who take him to their village in northern Thailand.
A score of actors, mostly known only to the local and regional audience, and not as much to the Western one, raise the stakes of Yamada. The historical character of Yamada Nagamasa is played by Seki Oseki, a Japanese model and Thailand-based actor, who displays a very good grasp of the Thai language. In the role of the pretty and sexy village girl we have Kanokkorn Jaicheun, aka Miss World Thailand 2007, who of curse falls for “White Face,” as Yamada is referred to in her village.
Sorapong Chatree, a popular film actor named National Artist of Thailand in 2009, plays the role of the wise monk, muay thai expert, and healer, and also acts as young Yamada’s mentor. Showcasing some excellent martial arts skills, in the movie, actor Thanawut Ketsaro becomes Yamada’s blood brother.
King Naresuan is brilliantly portrayed by Winai Khaibutr, one of the heroes of the Thai epic Baan Rajan and one of the very few Thai actors who didn’t wear a fake mustache in Yamada. The K-1 fighter Buakaw Por. Pramuk shows off his muscles and skills as the king’s personal bodyguard and in charge of training the natives for the selection of more bodyguards ready to give their lives for the king.
After being selected by the King himself as one of his Royal Guards warriors, Yamada, together with nine other fresh recruits go into the jungle to meet 200 tribesmen send by the Hongsawadee leader, the King’s declared enemy. The “fight in the jungle” scene is reminiscent of Japanese movies, with an abundance of blood spraying on the naked bodies of the Siamese warriors.
Even though they come back from their fight victorious, with no casualties, only some bruises, Yamada feels the urge to return to his Japanese Village (Baan Ippun, a real site on the banks of Chao Phraya River in today’s Auytthaya) to revenge the honour of his fellow countrymen. With his new knowledge of muay thai and his own skills of Japanese swordplay, Yamada defeats Kuroda Toranaga, the man who worked hand in hand with the Hongsawadee in bullying the Siamese villagers. From a historical perspective, this scene is a very interesting one as Yamada’s Thai blood brother is killed by Kuroda with the only fire gun shown in the entire movie. It is just a hint at how important fire guns became at the turn of the 16th century and how they drastically changed warfare.
If you want to find out more about Yamada, the historical character, I suggest you read Cesare Polenghi’s Samurai of Ayutthaya. Yamada Nagamasa, Japanese Warrior and Merchant in Early 17-Century Siam published in 2009 by White Lotus Press.
Although the books is quite short and the movie follows the usual propaganda historical Thai movies have gotten us used to, I highly recommend both of them. The book for its historic and academic accuracy, and the movie for its bare-handed martial arts fight scenes and swordplay. Here’s the movie trailer: