Saturday, January 15, 2005

BKKIFF 2005 review: Born to Fight

  • Directed by Panna Rittikrai
  • Starring Dan Chupong, Santisuk Promsiri, Kessarin Ektawatkul, Nappon Gomarachun
  • Released in 2004 in Thailand cinemas; reviewed at 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival
  • Rating: 4/5

With a fine low-budget sheen to it, this ultra-violent action flick is akin to the movies made by the likes of Jean Claude van Damme or Steven Seagal.

But this is better, because neither of those guys are in it.

Instead, there's a charismatic kickboxer-stuntman as the star, backed up by Thai national athletes of varying sports.

Directed by Panna Rittikrai, the action choreographer for Ong-Bak and a B-movie director in Thailand for decades, Born to Fight, is his bigger-budget debut. But the action is all seat-of-the pants stuff - hard hits, long falls, bone-jarring crashes, big explosions - and it's all real.

The story involves a young police officer who helps capture a Burmese drug lord but loses his superior officer and mentor in the raid.

Grieving, he accompanies his sister, a star Tae Kwon Do team member (Kessarin Ektawatkul), on a trip out to a rural village, where the national athletes are donating goods to a local school.

At the village, the older brother gets into a fight with a local troublemaker (Somluck Kamsing). Then, all hell breaks loose, as villagers are cut down by gunfire. It's pretty shocking and bloody action.

It's the drug lord's army, and they are going to kidnap the village and hold them for ransom until their leader is released. They wire the village up with webcams and broadcast their demands to the Cabinet and the media.

And, they have a nuclear missile, aimed at Bangkok (there is a CGI sequence, depicting a nuclear strike on the City of Angels).

The young cop, the athletes and the villagers aren't going to take it. Soon they are using all their abilities. A number of actual national athletes take part in the action. Among them is a male gymnast, who conveniently finds parallel bars where he needs them to place kicks against bad guys. There's a takraw player (it's like volleyball, only with the feet) who kicks a grenade. The Tae Kwon Do girl gets some. There's a female kickboxer who plays a villain and so there's a girlfight. There's a little girl Muay Thai boxer who kicks some head as well. A rugby guy knocks down a wall. And an aging soccer star shows he can still score. And an even older Muay Thai man has some action left in his limbs as well. There's even an amputee, who must be a paralympic athlete, showing he can use his one leg and crutch to kick takraw balls.

When there's action going on, it's great. Born to Fight's weakness is a display of overwrought melodrama (fathers being shot while kids are watching, old monk lying dead with villagers weaping profusely, hero rushing in to defuse bomb and redeem himself for his superior's death, etc).

Also, it was hard to suspend disbelief. Why would the drug lord's army indiscriminantly shoot the elderly, women and children, but only disable the fine young strapping lads of the village with a rifle butt to the head?

Still, for fans of Van Damme or Seagal, or even better for fans of Ong-Bak, this is a fun film, just for the stunt work and action sequences.

It opened in August 2004 in Bangkok, but I missed it then. But I caught it at the Bangkok International Film Festival. It will likely be out on DVD, but am unsure about the subtitles, which are helpful when the villagers are caught up with flag-waving, nationalistic fervor singing the Royal Anthem and then rushing forward to fight for their freedom. Yaaaaaaaah!

( Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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