Chang (1927)

“Such is the Law of the Jungle: Death to the weaker, food to the stronger.”

Chang Poster

Synopsis:
In the Siamese jungle, Kru and his family struggle to survive while protecting their home from wild animals. When a baby elephant (a “chang”) is caught in a trap, an entirely new challenge arises.

Genres:

Review:
Several years before making their phenomenally successful classic King Kong (1933), directors Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack helmed this ethnographic docudrama set in the jungles of “Siam” (now Thailand). Basing their loose narrative on months of exposure to the natives’ daily lives, the story comes across as remarkably authentic, despite its clear staging. The close-up shots Cooper and Schoedsack were able to get of wild animals (including the infamous “tiger shot”, when a tiger’s snout literally swipes the camera’s lens) are remarkable today, and must have been doubly so back to audiences back in 1927. While this film is recommended as must-see viewing for its historical importance, it’s full of memorable images, and chances are you’ll enjoy it more than you expect. If you rent the DVD, be sure to listen to the insightful commentary track.

Note: While Peary doesn’t review this title in his GFTFF, in Alternate Oscars he refers to it rather disparagingly as a “silly, wild-animal-laden semidocumentary” while noting its designation as “the odd third nominee in [the Best Artistic Quality of Production] category]”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A dramatized yet relatively authentic look at native Siamese life
    Life
  • Schoedsack’s cinematography
    Cinematography
  • Remarkably natural performances from everyone involved (all non-actors)
    Kids
  • Bimbo running for his life from a leopard (an unexpectedly amusing sequence)
    Bimbo
  • Kru’s son playing with various baby animals
    Baby bear
  • The infamous “tiger shot”
    Tiger
  • The magnificent elephant herd stampedes
    Elephants

Must See?
Yes, for its historical importance.

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One Response to “Chang (1927)”

  1. First viewing. A must – for its historical importance.

    Rather in agreement here, so not much to add.

    At 69 minutes, one might expect things to have a little more impact early on – but it’s basically the second half of the film that makes this a must. I didn’t hear the DVD commentary, but I did read up some on the making of the film. Without a little background info, some viewers today may have a harder time appreciating the kind of harrowing experience it could be to make such a film in such a place at such a time.

    But they will not have a hard time appreciating the fact that, chances are, they wake up in the morning not having to face rampaging tigers. Or a herd of elephants.

    The translation for the print of this film is, unfortunately, too often needlessly quaint and, therefore, inappropriate (taking away, as it does, from the seriousness, etc., of certain situations).

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