Saturday, March 7, 2009

Review: Power Kids

  • Directed by Krissanapong Rachata
  • Produced by Prachya Pinkaew, Sukanya Vongsthapat, Panna Rittikrai (also action supervisor)
  • Written by Nonont Kontaweesook, Nepalee, Piyaros Thongdee
  • Starring Nantawooti Boonrapsap, Sasisa Jindamanee, Paytaai Wongkamlao, Narawan Techaratanaprasert, Johnny Nguyen
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 5, 2009
  • Rating: 2/5

Power Kids was in production for more than four years before it was finally released.

It wasn't worth the wait. There's no discernable reason for it to have taken as long as it did to finally be released. And in the years since the movie was shot, the young actors promoting it have grown visibly older.

Bad acting and a hole-filled plot are standard equipment with Thai action movies, but it's accepted because there will usually be eye-popping stunts, hard-hitting kicks and bone-crunching punches. This is not the case with Power Kids. While there are a few decent moments, the stunts become repetitive and dull. They play better as a highlight reel or in the trailer.

I never thought I would get tired of seeing the quadruple flying double-knee kick, but it's used so much in Power Kids that I think I've reached my limit for now.

The most minor effort yet by the action-flick factory of Sahamongkol Film International, Power Kids (5 หัวใจฮีโร่ or Haa Huajai Hero, literally "five heroes [for the] heart") is the story of four children who live at a Muay Thai training camp. There's the orphan boys, tough fighter Wut (Nantawooti Boonrapsap) and his little brother Wun, dimpled girl boxer Kat (Sasisa Jindamanee) and the smooth-talking Pong (Paytaai Wongkamlao). A fifth kid, the girl Jib (Narawan Techaratanaprasert), runs a remote-control car-racing track nearby, and hangs out at the riverside gym. Their teacher/father figure is Lek (Arunya Pawilai), who always has a rattan switch at the ready for swatting behinds.

The first hour or so of Power Kids is pretty dull. The major plot point -- that the annoying little tyke Wun has a bad heart and needs a transplant -- is established. So the heart in the title is no metaphor -- it's the actual organ.

There is a self-referential joke about Paytaai's character being the foreign-schooled son of a famous entertainer, and the kid is seen flipping through photos of his father's latest movie. Petchtai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao's name isn't mentioned, but that's who's in the photos, which are stills from Bodyguard 2. Pong is also the "rich kid" of the group, able to speak English with the foreigners who come to train at the gym. In real life, Paytaai's been schooled in Canada.

And it's a foreigner -- a big drunk white guy (Richard William Lord) -- who mixes it up with the kids for the first big action sequence. It's the first in a flurry of flying kicks and somersaults. That bit that is usually held until the end in Thai martial-arts movies -- fighters strapping steel pipes on their forearms as a last-ditch effort -- is used here.

Finally, the brat with the bad ticker collapses -- serves him right for running off to play at the RC racetrack after he was told not to. But hey, who knew a remote-control racing sequence with little cars could be so exciting? It's like Days of Thunder.

There's a heart that can save Wun. It's in a dying boy in a hospital in Ratchaburi, about an hour away from Bangkok.

Then -- in a plot point that is loosely based on an actual incident in which a Karen rebel group laid siege to a hospital in Ratchaburi in 2000 -- the place is taken over by a rebel group wanting to kidnap the U.S. ambassador, who for some reason has gone to this dodgy provincial hospital for a check-up.

So Wut, Kat, Pong and their friend Jib go to Ratchaburi to sneak in and get the heart, even as the place is surrounded by onlookers and security forces and all the events are unfolding on live TV.

The group's chief enforcer is played by Vietnamese-American actor Johnny Nguyen, but the figurehead leader (Pimchanok Leuwisetpaiboon) is a young girl (instead of twin boys, like the God's Army incident). A brief flashback reveals the girl's past and the reason she'll later have sympathy for the meddling kids who've spoiled the kidnapping scheme.

Poor Johnny Nguyen. He's made to wear makeup on his face so it looks burned, and the audience of pajama-clad rowdies at an opening-night screening of Power Kids in suburban Bangkok were braying at his accented Thai.

After he had a great turn as one of the leading bad guys in 2005's Tom Yum Goong with Tony Jaa, Johnny was roped into making Power Kids, but in the intervening years he's become an emergent leading light of the Vietnamese film industry, starring in his own movie, The Rebel.

He's wasted in Power Kids. Basically, Johnny just stands around holding a rifle, looking mean. His first big action sequence takes forever to get to and it's staged in a narrow hallway that appears to have been filmed with a closed-circuit security camera. And his main opponents are children.

For their part, the two real fighters among the kids acquit themselves well, even if their moves are repetitive -- they're just doing what they've been trained to do. The fighters are the boy Nantawooti and the girl Sasisa, previously seen in 2003's Born to Fight and another movie made and released released since Power Kids was started, last year's Somtum, which is better than this. Because they are fighting adults, the two of them often work as a team, and the choreography here is noteworthy.

But most of the "ooh and aah" moments in Power Kids are used in the trailer, including the boy Wut flying knees-first at Johnny's head and smashing through a pane of glass. Another neat move is when Wut cartwheels over a bad guy, grabs a fluorescent stick from the light fixture and brings it down over the guy's head. Sasisa does an acrobatic flying cannonball that's pretty cool. A car explodes, guns are fired and some dude goes up in flames. Oh yes, violence aplenty does ensue.

But it's not enough.

Everyone involved -- even the kids in Power Kids -- should have heeded W.C. Fields' advice about never working with animals or children.

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  1. Mick in this movie is Mum's son. You're right, now you get the joke.

  2. i like this moives bease it is the chinder is the faithing it is night


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