Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya is a 2010 Thai action movie directed by Nopporn Watin. The film features renowned Muay Thai boxers Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Saenchai Sor. Kingstar, Yodsanklai Fairtex, and Anuwat Kaewsamrit along with its main cast of actors.
The lead character in the film is based on an actual historical figure Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese samurai/adventurer who later became a governor in the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1590-1630). Yamada is the true story of how a samurai warrior came to serve as one of the personal bodyguards of King Naresuan the Great. Yamada’s story is laced with beheadings, broken bones and many bloody wounds; however, he was eventually granted a lordship and served as governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
The young samurai, who lived during the Edo period, came to be a soldier in the Japanese volunteer regiment in Ayothaya. The higher-ups of regiment were using him as a scapegoat to justify the failure of the soldier’s inability to subdue the Thai. Ninjas try to assassinate the samurai in a dark alley. Vastly outnumbered, the young samurai puts up a good fight but is seriously wounded. Four Thai fighters appear just as the ninja are about to be dealt the fatal blow. The Thai fighters brutally kill most of the assassins while a few escape. In accordance with their Buddhist teachings, they take the samurai to their village, tend to his wounds and treat him as a guest. Over time and under the watchful and wise eye of Sir Monk he begins the road to recovery. The viewer quickly sees that Sir Monk is the people’s spiritual and de facto leader whose wisdom is greatly respected even by the King.
While Yamada recovers, there is another assassination attempt on his life. Though far from healed, Yamada again dishes out some serious punishment on his attackers who must also contend with the village Boxers who quickly arrive on the scene. After the enemy is driven away, the boxers blame and beat Yamada for causing trouble in their otherwise peaceful town. One look from Sir Monk and the Boxers stop the beating and are hauled into the temple to have a serious word regarding their inappropriate behavior. While Sir Monk takes the Boxers out to the proverbial woodshed, he tells them that he and he alone has the authority to kill whitey. An order that will only be issued if Yamada starts to hurt the villagers.
As Yamada recovers, he begins to contribute around the village by doing chores and eyeing their forging process. When he is back in shape, he attends the Boxer’s practice and foolishly challenges one to a bout. The eight weapons of Muay Thai – fists, feet, knees and elbows make quick work of him to the point of embarrassment. One of the boxers suggests that he ask Sir Monk to teach him the techniques of Muay Thai training. These training sequences are set against the beautiful backdrops of temples and lush forests. It is interesting to watch the blending of the Thai boxing style with Yamada’s lifelong samurai training especially when he uses his sword.
Yamada’s martial arts background helps him quickly learn the Thai style and at the end of the training, Sir Monk makes him an officially sanctioned warrior with holy tattoos and all. Sir Monk’s approval permits whitey to join King Naresuan’s personal bodyguards. Yamada sticks out like a sore thumb as a mostly white clean-shaven man when compared to his dark skinned and the crazy hairstyles of his comrades.
Though he has become a full-blown warrior, he is still not fully accepted by the other Boxers or villagers. We start to see Yamada begin the extremely secret process of forging Japanese steel and what are unquestionably the best swords in the world alone since no one will help him. Later we find out that the sword he was forging is for the boxer who has taken extra time to practice with him after hours to help Yamada perfect his skills. Sir Monk is contemporaneously meeting with his top fighters who are preparing to try out to be the king’s guard and battle a rival nation state in a customary contest. Here Sir Monk takes the Siamese warriors to task by telling them (and the blacksmiths) that Yamada is by far the best forger in the village and that his swords (which Sir Monk still has) are the most perfect weapons he has ever seen. As a demonstration of the exquisite artisanship Yamada is capable of Sir Monk throws up a flower petal and as it falls to the ground, it is cleanly split in half when it comes into contact with the samurai’s blade.
The bodyguard tryouts are nothing short of merciless but whitey makes it through—much to Sir Monk’s delight. These tryouts are wonderful representations of this ancient and effective style of fighting. The survivors are sent to engage their Burmese counterparts who have not won this gruesome contest in years. Here again we are treated to seeing Yamada’s deeply ingrained samurai fencing techniques combined with his new hand to hand combat style. I believe that one reason Yamada is so effective with his sword against the enemy is that the natives have never contended with a full-blown samurai using the most deadly of weapons.
After returning as victors, Yamada believe he must bring finality to the Japanese question and returns to that dark alley where he was almost killed, again facing an army of ninjas and the head of the Japanese spy ring that wants him eliminated. He makes mincemeat of the ninjas but is ultimately saved by the fighter he gave the sword to who takes a bullet meant for him—his savior dies at the scene.
Putting Muay Thai fighters and samurais together is a fantastic idea for a movie. It also shows that humans can change and redeem themselves, even in the hands of an enemy. This film is astonishing not only because it shows a path of redemption, but because it features some brutal Muay Thai boxing that is very realistic, striking and primeval: these guys are the real deal champion Thai boxers and I sure as shit would not want to meet them on unfriendly terms.
This movie did a fine job with what many might say was an interesting, though not epic, historical story. I recommend this film to anyone (that means you Dangerous) who is interested in the choreography of martial arts, as it is real and something I have not seen before. Watch and if you don’t like it let me know why.