Tony Jaa might have squandered his fame, but he still managed to change the world. Ong Bak woke everyone up and made them remember that wire-fu wasn’t half as impressive as plain old nutty stunts. You don’t need a good plot or believable characters when you have the lead actors risking their lives and performing near-superhuman feats of strength and skill.
Many Thai films since have tried to recapture that magic and failed. Chocolate, The Protector, and the Ong Bak follow-ups themselves, but Bangkok Knockout bucks the trend and might be the best of the bunch. It’s no surprise really, as it comes from director/fight choreographer/stuntman Panna Rittikrai. The director of Born to Fight is well known as Tony Jaa’s mentor and head of one of the best stunt teams in the world. Born to Fight certainly has its own share of crazy stunts, but Bangkok Knockout tops it, easily.
The story is simple enough- a Thai stunt team (called “Fight Club”) is hoping for a chance at Hollywood stardom and goes on a tryout for some big American producer. Rather than getting the job, though, are are drugged and left in an abandoned complex, forced to participate in fights to the death for the amusement of a bunch of high-rollers that the American brought in. They bid on the fights using iPads are are watching all the fights live, enjoying themselves immensely.
Like many other Thai films it’s ragingly xenophobic. These foreign devils are only there to exploit and kill the natives and as such they’re the barest frames of characters, simply there to be evil. The Fight Club members themselves are really no better. You won’t be able to remember more than one or two details about each of them, as they’re all interchangeable and equally forgettable. The story itself makes no sense and it would be better off not wondering stupid questions like how the bad guys manage to split up everyone and set up all these fights, in front of cameras, no less. There’s also the question of why the “prisoners” don’t all just don’t leave, because as shown during some stunts on the top of a building there seems to be a thriving city behind them, full of traffic and people.
But you know what? Fuck all that. There’s no sense bringing common sense into a film like this. You’re here to see Thai stuntspeople absolutely break themselves, and the film delivers on that. If you love crazy fights and stunts it’s simply a masterpiece. It’s the kind of film you have to rewind dozens of times because you simply won’t believe what you’re seeing.
What will you experience?
– Two men fighting UNDERNEATH a moving truck.
– Two fighters facing a giant, masked wall of a man who stops at nothing, and at one point grabs a flaming machete. (Jason Vs. Thai Boxing.)
– A cage match that would put Vega to shame.
– On that note, a car being destroyed bit by bit with nothing but elbows and knees and some poor man’s body.
– A moment where three motorcycles race straight at at one guy- he bounds into the air and kicks off one with his right leg, another with his left, and lands on the third.
– Ten men simultaneously jumping at each other and kicking each other mid-air, tumbling dozens of feet down to the ground.
– A car smashing through a wall and knocking a man flying.
– That same car doing donuts in a warehouse and scattering dozens of fighters like bowling pins.
That’s just a tiny bit of what you’ll find, as Bangkok Knockout is almost too exciting to believe. Just push through the first 15 boring, needless minutes of plot and you’ll be home free, immersed in a world where people don’t feel pain and kicks can come at you from any direction. A blast of a film.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Bangkok Knockout is playing the NYAFF this Saturday July 2nd at 12:15 and next Saturday, July 9th at Midnight. Check here for tickets.