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STUDIO: Dragon Dynasty Buffet
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
• Commentary by Bey Logan
• The Making of an Action Epic
• Action! On the Set of Born to Fight
It’s Delta Force meets Rambo: First Blood Part 2 meets…Gymkata.
Dan (Ong Bak: The Muay Thai Warrior) Chupong, Kessarin Ektawatkul, Somrak Khamsing
A coalition of Thai athletes on a goodwill tour must defend a small, impoverished village from a militant terrorist crime lord with a nuclear missile aimed at Bangkok (dangerous).
There was a time when film fans and movie nerds the world over drank deep from wellspring of Hong Kong cinema. Some of the best action cine – screw that – some of the best cinema ever crept out of the little British protectorate from about 1985 to 1997.
Some people blame market saturation…some blame the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese and the resultant emigration of talent. For whatever reason, Hong Kong stopped being the cinematic hotbed it once was.
Some would then say – and some would be correct – that the Korean film industry has picked up the slack.
If you try to remove the pendant, it will explode – so don’t do that, okay?
The films that have emerged from Korea in the last few years are possessed of an operatic emotional heft and visual virtuosity reminiscent of the glory days of Hong Kong film (if you want proof, get yourself a region-free player and check out A Bittersweet Life).
But if you’re looking for jaw-dropping, death-defying, without-a-net action (action not punctuated by that same dolryo chagi Yuen-Wo Ping makes everybody throw) – then pack your bags for Thailand.
That’s where you’ll find Panna Rittikrai – a twenty-five year veteran of the Thai film industry. He’s performed and choreographed stunts and fights, he’s written and directed and acted. He’s trained Tony Jaa. He’s done fifty films – and this one, Born to Fight – is a big-budgeted (by Thai standards) semi-remake of his very first.
The adventure begins as we follow two shady-looking guys on a drug buy. Of course they’re cops, and when the nefarious General Yang (Nappon Gomarachun) spots this just looking at them (hey – a villain at least as bright as the audience) a firefight/chase sequence ensues which features no less than three "I’ve-got-to-rewind-that-shit" moments.
Deaw, the film’s hero (Rittikrai protégé Dan Chupong) is hanging from the side of a moving semi, struggling with one of the General’s thugs. He finally wrests the ne’er do well free, tossing him into a semi in the opposite lane. The thug hits the side of that semi’s trailer, bounces off, and hits the road.
And I kid you not – the guy’s head lands one foot from the back wheels of the semi trailer he fell from. Wide-angle lens or no – this stunt is unbelievable. Rittikrai swears that there was a "safety method" involved that would have prevented any injury to the stuntman had he fallen under the truck’s wheels, but that he cannot divulge his methods for fear of copycat productions.
Panna…buddy – prayer is not a safety method.
Deaw and his Sarge manage to stop the General and his goons – but not before they roll a flaming semi through the Jackie Chan Sheet Metal Shantytown and Memorial Gardens. Having created a diversion via timed detonation, the General makes a break for it. Deaw gives chase as Sarge makes a not-a-hope-in-Hades attempt at disarming the bomb. Deaw nabs Yang, but his partner/mentor takes the hit.
Despondent over his loss, he nevertheless chaperones his sister Nui (absolutely adorable asskicker Kessarin Ektawatkul) on a mercy mission/charity trip to a rural village.
There’s always lots to see and do at Tommy Chong’s Summer Fun Camp!
Nationally ranked Thai athletes from every major sport descend on the sleepy little village, with donations of food and toys and money for the local school. The athletes bond with the children, as the Thai tykes are stunned by their athletic displays.
One villager not so excited by the rampant athleticism is Tub (played by Thai boxer and Olympic gold medallist Somrak Khamsing). Tub’s a brutish lout who works for the Pin – er, who makes eyes at a local girl (her response to him is fantastic) – and gets all pissed off when she goes googly over Deaw. Tub steps up to pick a fight, but is put in his place by his father, who just so happens to be the village elder. Tug pulls a "Doug" (am I the only one who remembers The State?) and sulks away to sleep it off. With no further interruptions from the peanut (sauce) gallery, the party shifts back into high gear.
But every party has a pooper, and it’s not long until a group of militant warlord asswipes shows up to put the kibosh on the event by gunning down random villagers in a harrowing sequence. It sounds horrible to say – but it’s always awesome to see children killed on film. In a world where all the cinematic taboos have gone right out the window, it’s something seldom shown – and thus, it’s something that never loses its power to terrify. When these poor unarmed people – women and children and elders – are murdered where they stand for no reason whatsoever…
"No, no, no – that’s Japanese porn…"
Sure it’s manipulative – but it demonstrates both the true evil of the villains – and the need to see them dispatched in fairly awesome ways. Lucky for us…Panna Rittikrai’s on the job.
The people are rounded up in the village square, and told that they are to be ransomed off to the Thai government – in return for their beloved General Yang.
Before you can say Deaw Hard, our angry cop is stalking the village, decommissioning the General’s army one soldier at a time. After a spectacular fight with flaming timber (it must be said that, while Tony Jaa’s onscreen fighting style is bullet fast and brutal, Panna’s new pupil has a flair for the visual that might just exceed Jaa’s), Deaw is overwhelmed and captured.
Rejoining the villagers, Deaw tries with all his might to convince the villagers to stand up and fight (as the title of the film suggests they were born…to…do…?) – but they simply cannot overcome their fear of giant machine guns.
That is – until the radio the coup-plotters are using to monitor media attention belts out the Thai National Anthem.
It’s a move so dementedly over-the-top patriotic/jingoistic that Michael Bay’s all like, "Duuuuuuuuudes…" – but it really, really works (maybe because it’s not our National Anthem…?).
The third act is martial/gymnastic/balletic/ballistic heroic bloodshed overload. For those of you who grew weary of Tony Jaa breaking his 932nd bone in Tom Yum Goong, you’ll be pleased to know that the action here is varied enough to stave off that sort of repetition.
"Noh – who wahnt to goh hom – an’ who wahnt to goh wif MEH?!!"
Suddenly it’s Kung Fu Hustle up in this mug, as it seems that everyone in the village (and his grandfather) knows martial arts. There’s an aged Muay Thai doing takedowns and a sweet little eight-year old snapping Thai kicks (and Thai necks) – even Tub comes around to the cause (and it turns out his aim with a rocket launcher is only about twenty years off). There’s an awesome Hard Boiled style over-the-shoulder tracking shot where Deaw grabs an MP-5 and goes to rippin’…there’s Moo (Olympic gymnast Amornthep Waewsaeng) artfully dodging baddies with a baby on board…there’s the cute-headed Nui kickin’ a chick in the head – and it’s all done with the level of technical know-how and production value Prachya Pinkaew’s Baa-Ram-Ewe shingle brings to bear (some may say that’s dubious praise – but they’ve not seen many Thai films. Forty Baht and a VHS camcorder doesn’t mean you made a movie) – which means we get a nuclear terrorism subplot that doesn’t quite work, but exists nevertheless to prove that the Thai film industry knows how to use CG – even if the bulk of the film features guys on fire falling thirty feet into tilled earth (which…how does the tilled earth really help, anyway?).
It’s tough to gauge a foreign-language performance sometimes, but the athlete/non-actors seem to acquit themselves nicely. The film sets up Chupong to be the breakout star, and depending on his next move, that could happen.
Though, for my money, cute-hed girls in red sweatshirts kicking the shit out of guys translates to "awesome" in any language, so bring me more Kessarin Ektawatkul.
Rittikrai keeps his film moving at a mean clip, but he lets the drama and tension of the hostage situation play out long enough to resonate. The man knows how to shoot an action sequence so that it’s frantic without being confusing, and the cutting never obscures the action. Every once in a great while you may notice an impact that’s less than bone jarring, or a bit of a miss – but that’s likely because the stunt guy/recipient just braced himself for a high fall with his face, and had to be treated gingerly that day.
Baa-Ram-Ewe and Sahamongkol Film have teamed for another fight film winner, and this one actually makes logical sense, since the Weinsteins seem to have misplaced the scissors this go-round. Good work, guys.
It’s a Dragon Dynasty Buffet two-plate special this week. The first disc features a snappy Thai DTS track (there’s an English dub, as well – but why bother?) and commentary from Bey Logan. The man is knowledgeable, without a doubt – and the stream of info on this track is nearly never-ending – but, man…selling yourself to the Weinsteins is worse than selling your soul to Satan. Satan would’ve paid you your points. I hate you, Bey Logan.
Oh, Beyyy – I can’t stay mad at you…
Second disc’s got homegrown extras. The Making of an Action Epic – an hour-long behind the scenes doc – is sorta’ EPK, but interesting nonetheless. The cast drops soundbites, but Panna and Prachya delve a little deeper into the production and their intentions – with a bit of a history lesson mixed in.
Action! On the Set of Born to Fight is about ten minutes long – and it’s obviously just a bit of a promo reel. It compares the rehearsal of stunts and fights to their finished-film counterparts.
Additionally, the Thai trailer and its Dragon Fortune Cookie 88 Happiness Golden Dynasty counterpart are included.
"The thrill of gymnastics…the kill of karate…"
Born to Fight is good clean fun for all ages, and definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in the action genre. If you’re in love with the genre – like me – you’ll watch it again and again…frame by frame…wondering how the hell they pulled that off.
7.5 out of 10