- Directed by Nontakorn Taweesuke
- Starring Nathan Jones, Nawarat Techarattanaprasert, Sasisa Jindamanee
- Released in Thailand cinemas on June 5, 2008
- Rating: 4/5
Somtum, the food, is a spicy treat. It's best shared with friends. You can all dip into the same plate of spicy, sweet and sour papaya salad with your forks, and daub up the juices with generous helpings of sticky rice.
And Somtum, the movie, is a lot of fun, too. And, yes, you should see it with friends, and marvel at this action-packed, oftentimes silly, but also very sweet tale.
Nathan Jones, the towering Australian strongman and former WWE wrestler, who's played a screaming, menacing madman in such films as Troy, Fearless and Tom Yum Goong, gets to play the face -- the good guy -- in Somtum. It must have been refreshing for him after being cast as the heel time after time.
He's Barney Emerald, a happy-go-lucky bloke who's having a night out in Pattaya, where he's charmed by a pretty woman who keeps urging him to "drink, drink, drink". Soon Barney is bleary-eyed and blacked out. Next thing he knows, he is in a police station with nothing but his trousers.
Given a token 50 baht by a soft-hearted cop (Dan Chupong, making a comic entrance), Barney catches a motorcycle to the tourist information center, which ends up being closed. With no place to go, he sits down on a nearby curb, and while he's there, a girl comes running by. She's Katen (Narawat Techarattanaprasert), an orphan street hustler and pickpocket. Soon some bad guys come looking for the girl, and the behemoth Barney can't help but get in the way. But the big guy is as timid as a mouse, and is pretty much useless in a fight. Backup comes in the form of Katen's friend Dokya (Sasisa Jindamanee), a pint-sized Muay Thai fireball who explodes in a wonderous fury of whupass.
The bad guys scattered to the wind, Katen and Dokya take the bruised, battered Barney to the local Buddhist temple, where he's given shelter and some clothing by the kindly monk. Thus begins Barney's start at rebuilding his life.
But first he tears things apart. On a visit to Dokya's mother's beachside somtum stall, Barney witlessly ingests a heaping mouthful of the chilli- and fishsauce-infused salad, mouse-turd peppers and all. It makes him lose his mind. Instead of the green Hulk, he turns red with rage, and in a desperate attempt to find some water to cool his mouth, he twists and turns like a tornado and lays waste to the stall.
Now apologetic, humble Barney has a mission -- to help rebuild the somtum stand. The girls decide he should learn Muay Thai and enter the ring at the local underground fight club.
Meanwhile, there are some nefarious foreigners (7-foot-tall Conan Stevens and a Frenchman - Philippe Wanet) hanging about with a special device that appears to be a laptop computer but can actually conceal contraband, like drugs, money or stolen diamonds. The device is keyed by a special crystal that makes Thai criminals get sparkles in their eyes.
How the two plotlines -- big, soft-hearted Barney and the stinking bad guys with their stolen diamonds -- come together is the magic of Somtum. Like some types of experimental spicy salad, the mix works fitfully at times, but is mostly fun.
Some guest appearances and feature fights keep it interesting. The girl boxer Sasisa, grown up since her appearance as a half-pint-sized Muay Thai fighter in Born to Fight is a wonder to behold, a lethal combination of flying knees, elbows and dimples.
In fact, Somtum is a Born to Fight reunion of sorts. Dan Chupong makes an appearance as a policeman and he mixes it up in a comical kitchen fight. Taekwando artist Kessarin "Nui" Ektawatkul, who played Chupong's sister in Born to Fight, shows up as a hilarious toothpick-chomping papaya vendor who pitches in to help Dokya out in a street fight.
There's some foreign wrestlers on hand, too, and they mix it up with Nathan toward the end of the movie. It's a unique mix - rasslin' piledrivers and Muay Thai kicks. Somehow, it works.
With action choreography by Panna Rittikrai (who also takes producer credit), I got the sense that the criticism leveled at some of his past films, about fighters hanging around in the background waiting for the protagonist to attack, has been duly noted. In Somtum, when a bad guy is put down on the ground, they stay down. Or if several people attack at once, they are dealt with in ways that at least seem plausible.