There are very few rules in the bloodsport Fireball. Played on a
basketball court the concept is simple: first team to score a basket
wins. If neither team can score a basket, the team with the last man
standing wins. If your players are injured or killed during the
Fireball season, they cannot be replaced. You cannot fight off the
court, but on the court anything goes.

One more rule needs to be
added to this: when making a movie about Fireball, don’t cut and shake
the camera and do action scenes in close-up so fucking much.

Fireball is
a Thai film, and it’s populated entirely with stuntmen. Stuntmen
playing a game of no-holds barred basketball to the death. Thai action
films are usually notable for one thing, and that’s batshit insane
stunts the likes of which would make vintage Jackie Chan blanch.
Apparently the lives of Thai stuntmen are cheaper than film, since
these guys appear to beat the living shit out of each other with
alarming regularity. Watching a Thai action movie is like watching a
particularly balletic episode of Jackass – you’re both impressed and appalled. It’s wonderful.

But
the beauty of these films comes from the way they’re shot. Look at the
work of Tony Jaa – multiple cameras catch the fighting and the stunts,
and the films will often take a moment to show you an incredible leap
or kick or fall from three different angles. In slomo. It’s the
antithesis of modern American action filmmaking, where an actor with
six days of fight training gets the benefit of the shakeycam to hide
his poor moves. The best Thai action films hide nothing, and revel in
the fact that these people are doing incredibly crazy work.

Fireball bucks
that trend by editing most of the matches to shit, cutting away from
impacts and destroying any sense of flow. I understand that director
Thanakorn Pongsuwan is trying to capture a sense of brutality – this is
glorified street rumbling, after all – but it kills the fun of the
action scenes. And even the brutality is weak; the final fight, an epic
grudge match, is teeth-shatteringly nasty, but it’s the only fight of
its caliber in the film, and every previous match feels kind of anemic.

The
plot of the movie is thankfully perfunctory; Fireball exists in the
poverty-stricken levels of Thailand and Tai (or Tan) has put himself in
a coma to raise the money to spring his twin brother Tan (or Tai. I
forget) from jail. When the Other Brother shows up and sees what his
sib sacrificed, he takes the unconscious player’s place in the Fireball
league to get closer to the Cobra Kai-esque asshole who put his brother
down for the big sleep. The other guys on the Fireball team have their
own reasons for risking life and limb in a tough game of basketball,
and Pongsuwan, who co-wrote the film, gets those points across quickly
and broadly.



Pongsuwon also shoots things very nicely, bringing a golden grit to the
picture that lends character to everything. He has some good ideas –
hell, Fireball itself is fucking awesome in concept – and he seems
adept at pacing. It’s just the action where he drops the ball, and it’s
what kills the movie. Nobody watches a Thai action film for the
cinematography, although that can be a nice addition; if your action
isn’t up to snuff – and the bar here is high – the movie fails. Limp
and confusingly shot (I never had any understanding of the geography of
the court or where players were in relation to one another, and I
suspect that Pongsuwon didn’t care), the action is a letdown.



The basic ideas behind Fireball are undeniable. The game
itself is wonderful. And a version of this movie that uses the last
fight’s brutality as a baseline starting place might be an instant
classic. Sadly, that’s not this movie.

Fireball does get some props for starring a guy named 9 Million Sam, though, and for having him actually deliver a good performance. Also: props for being produced by a guy named Uncle.

6 out of 10