STUDIO: Magnolia
MSRP: $26.98
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 99 Minutes
"The Making of Dynamite Warrior"
"Behind the Scenes Stunts"
"On Set Footage"
"Special Effects Makeup"

The Pitch

The first tom yum goong Western?

The Humans

Dan Chupong (Born to Fight), Leo Putt, Panna Rittikrai (writer/stunt coordinator for Ong-bak), Samart Payakarun, Kanyapak Suworakood

Jone was confident no Japanese import could compete with his crotch rocket.

The Nutshell

In 1910 Thailand, booming rice production causes great demand for buffalo to till the fields. Unscrupulous businessman Lord Waeng (Putt) hopes to get rich selling tractors, but farmers balk at his high prices so he conspires to steal their buffalo. Problematically many of the animals are protected by the fearsome wizard Sing (Payakarun), so Waeng slyly recruits skilled fighter and aspiring Robin Hood Jone Bang Fai (Chupong), who conveniently seeks revenge on Sing for his parents’ murders. Even he needs a helping hand though, and turns to the cursed wizard Dam (Rittikrai) and his lovely servant Sao (Suworakood) for guidance.

The Lowdown

I must confess that as of 3 years ago I barely even knew Thailand had a film industry outside of The Man with the Golden Gun-related tourism. The country’s recent emergence as an international martial arts powerhouse has certainly opened my eyes though. One can’t help but embrace the boundless kinetic madness of rising star Tony Jaa’s Ong-bak and The Protector/Tom Yum Goong, both full of dizzying acrobatics courtesy of stunt coordinator and Jaa mentor Panna Rittikrai.

"Frankly, I got the part about carrying Jaa’s jock strap without the visual aid."

Now that Jaa’s career has safely blasted off, Rittikrai has turned some of his energy toward another promising protégé, Dan Chupong. In 2004 he wrote and directed Chupong’s first starring vehicle Born to Fight/Kerd Ma Lui, this time focusing as much on Die Hard style gunplay as hand-to-hand combat. It’s not as polished as the Jaa efforts, but contains an equal amount of entertaining mayhem and enough pyrotechnics to earn the Michael Bay seal of approval.

Chupong’s latest film, Dynamite Warrior/Khon Fai Bin is a much bigger curveball. While the three aforementioned movies only occasionally crack a smile, this is a tongue in cheek action comedy not unlike Jackie Chan projects of old. Add a strong fantasy element and western setting and you have a film in many ways removed from Ong-bak.

Growing up Jaran had always laughed at the guy who dared challenge Van Damme with a table in Kickboxer, but right now he just really wished he had a table.

This ambitious experiment provides a nice change of pace but isn’t overly successful. I have to say I’m a much bigger fan of the no frills, realistic fighting in Ong-bak than the fanciful CG and wire-fu Crouching Tiger stuff that intrudes here. The film does open with an epic melee during which Chupong thrashes several dozen cowboys while going around and over a herd of buffalo. Steven Seagal would be proud of the gratuitous bone-breaking, though it doesn’t equal the closing scenes of The Protector. However the rest of the film doesn’t contain much action of note, especially as magic starts to play a greater role.

Dynamite Warrior is somewhat more successful on the comedy side. I did laugh a few times, mostly due to the effete Waeng’s incessant mugging and giggling. Putt is the real discovery here. He speaks in a bizarre manner that is apparently supposed to represent a Bangkok dialect but makes him sound autistic next to the other characters. There’s a fun sequence straight out of All of Me where he’s possessed by a wizard and flails about arguing with himself. He’d fit right into a Stephen Chow comedy.

"…ha ha ha, so then I told Tony I’ve seen my bedridden grandmother throw better punches, ha ha… Yeah, he didn’t take it too well."

Waeng’s weird Samuel L. Jackson lookalike henchman also adds some color. His mind permanently fixated on eating, he’s no sooner smashed an opponent to the ground than he sinks his teeth into a limb.

Rittikrai himself hams it up as Dam, a creepy customer with grotesque burns all over his face. He clues in Jone on the most ridiculous plot point: the only weapon that can defeat Sing is the menstrual blood of a virgin. I guess not even black magic is a match for PMS.

"Hmm, not bad, but not Trejo. Do you know ‘Cigarettes and Whiskey’?"

Unfortunately Chupong is the lead, and while he certainly has the agility of Jackie Chan he has less charisma than Don "The Dragon" Wilson. Jone’s so dull and expressionless that I quickly began rooting for the winningly wacky Waeng. If the Thai martial arts industry is ever really going to hit the big time they need to work on importing some personality.

Still, Jone isn’t completely forgettable thanks to some nifty moves and weapons. I’m not sure if CG was involved, but there’s a dazzling moment where he leaps through a burning barrel in midair, reminding me of the fantastic alley chase in Ong-bak. His signature weapon is some kind of rocket-propelled land torpedo, used both as artillery and a means of transportation. Early on his signature finishing move is ripping his opponents’ shirts off, which seems like a homoerotic homage to Cobra until the true reason is revealed.

Indiana Jone and the Last Pair of Pants.

Dynamite Warrior‘s a nice looking film, and certainly more visually flamboyant than Born to Fight. The nighttime fight between Sing and Dam in a burning, rain-swept village and climactic destruction of an ornate palace are particularly arresting. For an undoubtedly tiny budget, the film’s CG is quite acceptable.

On the other hand the goofy, sometimes Looney Tunes-ish score complements the comedy well, but clashes with the more intense battles.

"Greyhound Thailand reserves the right to deny service to evil wizards."

The Package

The cover sports the typical "lunging at the camera" martial arts pose, which suffers a bit for Jone’s decidedly unthreatening attire. It’s hard to tell whether he intends to carve up evil ninjas or the catch of the day.

Although the cover name checks The Protector, Born to Fight and Ong-bak, the sad collection of extras implies Magnolia didn’t quite consider Dynamite Warrior to be in the same class. "Behind the Scenes Stunts," "On Set Footage," and "Special Effects Makeup" are all so very brief and inconsequential that they’re hardly worth a look.

Universal Soldier‘s alternate "Poncho Ending."

"The Making of Dynamite Warrior" is somewhat more substantial, full of interviews with cast and crew on a variety of topics. Director Chalerm Wongpim (a cameraman on The Protector) stresses the effort made to keep the film true to the period and northeastern Thailand setting, though I’m afraid such details are beyond my knowledge. Mostly though this is a lightweight promotional piece. Disappointingly none of the extras examine the film’s combination of CG effects and practical stunts, which surely is what sets it apart from the other Rittikrai pictures.

If you eat up whatever Thai martial arts you can get your hands on you may find enough thrills in Dynamite Warrior to make due, so long as you don’t expect any groundbreaking Jaa style acrobatics. Otherwise you’re left with what feels like a corny Cannon Group retread of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Too bad Chupong’s wooden acting doesn’t have Chuck Norris’s beard to hide behind.

5.5 out of 10