- Directed by Thanakorn Pongsuwan
- Written by Thanakorn Pongsuwan, Taweewat Wantha and Uncle
- Starring Preeti "Bank Clash" Barameeanan, 9 Million Sam, Anuwat Jeg, Kumpanart Ungsoonmern, Karnnut Samerjai, Phutharit Prombundarn, Kantura "Aem" Chuchuaysuwan, Arucha Tosawat
- Released in Thai cinemas on January 29, 2009
- Rating: 3/5
The first rule of Fireball is: you do not talk about Fireball.
The second rule of Fireball is: you do not talk about Fireball.
Ah, never mind. Actually, you can talk about Fireball.
And the main rule in Fireball (also Tarchon, Ta/Chon or ท้า/ชน) is the first team to put the basketball through the hoop wins.
That's harder than it sounds, because the two teams of five men will be doing all they can to prevent that from happening, with clothesline punches and roundhouse kicks, even to the point of killing a player.
If no basket has been scored, then the winning team is the one with the last man who's able to get up off the floor and stand.
It's a brilliant concept, ripe for the gritty, no-holds-barred, no-wires, no-CGI kind of martial-arts action film that fans have been clamoring for more of since the original Ong-Bak in 2003.
Unfortunately, Fireball isn't it.
It breaks the rules of good filmmaking.
Every single action scene is marred by that bane of martial-arts films -- shakey cam and zoom-lens cropping. The camera is constantly shifting around, so much that it's stomach-churning. And the framing is so tight it's difficult to get a sense of the action, of who's being hit and who's doing the hitting.
It's too bad. Because otherwise, Fireball could have been great.
Keeping the things moving along is a lean, mean screenplay that sticks to the bare essentials of the plot and still manages to humanize the various characters. Director Thanakorn Pongsuwan co-wrote the story with Taweewat Wantha (SARS Wars, The Sperm) and producer "Uncle" Adirek Wattaleela (who also co-edited). It's the first production from Bangkok Film Studio, reconstituted from the ashes of Uncle's old production house, Film Bangkok.
Preeti Barameeanan, better known as Bank of the Thai rock band Clash, stars as Tai, a tattooed ex-con just out of the joint. He arrives home to find that his twin brother Tan (also Bank) is in the hospital. He's been comatose for around a year.
Tan's girlfriend (Kantura Chuchuaysuwan) explains that Tan had been coming home with mysterious cuts and bruises.
"He said he was playing basketball, but I'm not stupid. I think he was doing something illegal."
Well, they are both correct. He was playing basketball -- a highly illegal form of it called "fireball" -- a mafia-controlled bloodsport.
Tai is determined to find out who put his brother in the hospital, so he starts hanging around at courtside on the street.
Just from standing around looking like a bad-ass -- which is essentially all Bank does -- he's recruited for a team put together by the youngblood gangster Den (Phutharit Prombundarn).
The players in this brawling game are boxers, football hardmen, tough basketballers and various other brutes.
The team is headed up by Singh (former boxer 9 Million Sam), a fierce, banty pug of a guy. The squad is rounded out by Ig (Karnnut Samerjai), the "secret weapon" ball-handler; the half-African Muek (former Thai national soccer goalkeeper Kumpanart Ungsoonmern) and K (Anuwat Jeg), who is for some reason not trusted by his other teammates.
The movie quickly moves from one match to the next, taking brief interludes to show the behind-the-scenes fixing by the mafia chieftans and fleshing out the backstory of the team members. Singha sells TV sets for a living. Ig hopes to earn money to move his parents out of the slums. Muek works in the slaughterhouse and has a pregnant wife. And K is working hard at keeping emotionally distant from his prostitute girlfriend (Porntip Papanai -- I wish somebody would cast her as a teacher, nurse or prime minister.)
The movie is set in the forgotten no-man's zone areas of Bangkok -- highway underpasses and corrugated-tin-shack ghettos, which underscores the idea that everyone on this team is an expendable low-class underdog.
Everyone thinks Tai is Tan, and he lets them believe it. He quickly discovers that the guy who injured his brother is a dyed-blond psychopath named Ton (Arucha Tosawat). But rules against fighting off court prevent the two from seriously tangling until the final showdown. So it's only a matter of time.
There's a comical group of old-timer mafia bosses, including Kowit Wattanakul and Ong-Bak baddie Suchao Pongvilai.
Of the fireballers, 9 Million Sam puts on the strongest performance, I think because he could actually do his own stunts and throw his own punches and kicks. He's a furious fighter and great fun to watch.
There's a training sequence in which the boys have to race from the roof of a tenement apartment building to put a ball in the hoop at the playground several stories below. So they jump from balcony to balcony and storm through hallways, kitchens and alleys. A transgendered man has her top ripped off. But it's not quite Tony Jaa's footchase in Ong-Bak, again, because of that damn shakey cam.
There's a ballgame in the rain. There's a cage match in which the opposing team is given steel bars to wield -- hey that's not fair! And the final sequence takes place in the drydock of a Royal Thai Navy shipyard, with pallet-sized stacks of wooden timbers obstructing the court. Try moving a ball to the goal with those things in the way, and with somebody trying to kill you.
An epilogue over the closing credits cleans things up nicely and left me more or less happy, even if my head was still spinning and my stomach was still flopping from the poorly framed action scenes.