Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: Jija Deu Suay Du (Raging Phoenix)

  • Directed by Rashane Limtrakul
  • Starring "Jija" Yanin Wismistananda, Kazu Patrick Tang, Nui Saendaeng, Sompong Lertwimonkaisom, Boonprasayrít Salangam, Roongtawan Jindasee
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 12, 2009
  • Rating: 3/5

There's an odor to Jija Deu Suay Du. An aroma. Not a stink or a stench. But a fragrance if you will.

It's the smell of an impatient audience, waiting for something cool to happen.

The sophomore feature starring Jija Yanin promised a more dynamic role for the young female martial artist who vaulted to international recognition as an autistic debt collector in last year's Chocolate by Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew.

And it's true -- Jija actually says more than a few lines. She screams, cries and laughs. She mugs in front of a mirror, and is as adorable as ever. The dimpled smile is still there. It's just been accessorized with a bold short hairstyle, heavy make up and stylish threads.

In Jija Deu Suay Du (จีจ้า ดื้อสวยดุ, it's been transliterated various ways but that's what I'm going with now; English title Raging Phoenix), like the literal meaning of the title "stubborn, beautiful and fierce", she's the spoiled socialite daughter of an absent mother. Left to her own devices, Deu is a drummer in a rock band, though not a very good one. Playing a gig in a club, she sees her supposed boyfriend with another girl and launches off the drum riser after the guy. Later, she's laying in a grassy field, looking up at the clouds and talking to her dead father, asking when she'll join him, because there are no good men left on Earth. (It seems an odd film to release on Mother's Day in Thailand.)

Drinking a mystery liquor from a red bottle, Deu is stumbling around in an abandoned parking garage when she is abducted by a woman and a transvestite in a van. Deu struggles, accidentally kills the woman and is then rescued by a shadowy figure.

The mystery man turns out to be Sanim, a strong, mostly-silent type who hangs out with a couple of other guys, the Mohawked Kee Moo (Pig Shit) and long-haired Kee Ma (Dog Shit). They are later joined by the enigmatic dreadlocked Kee Kwai (translated as Bull Shit, but it literally means buffalo dung). The Kee "brothers" are all members of the B-Boy Thai martial-arts dance team. Sanim is of course played by French-Vietnamese martial artist "Kazu" Patrick Tang.

In the first big martial-arts sequence, it's the athletic Kazu who fends off a gang of guys on blade-equipped pogo-stilts. He takes a slice across his gut, but somehow escapes with the unconscious Deu in his arms.

She awakens, hung over, in a warehouse, to find Kee Moo and Kee Ma. They take on a dozen or so opponents with their mix of loose-limbed, breakdancing-inspired martial arts moves. The compact Kee Moo spins and twirls while the lanky Kee Ma pops, locks and kicks, alternatively throwing his knee at assailants while dancing the entire time. Deu for her part, gets a barstool stuck to her rear, and runs around flailing like a chicken.

At the abandoned beach resort where they squat, the boys teach Deu the art of mayraiyuth -- drunken Thai martial arts -- with the first two Kee brothers showing her about the drinking part and Sanim teaching martial arts. After a breezy training sequence, Deu feels she is ready.

She finds a warehouse where a load of abducted girls are being kept, and unleashes the fury of her drunken hip-hop martial arts.

And that's about as fun as Jija Deu Suay Du gets. After that, the drama becomes increasingly serious, with Deu sort of falling for Sanim even though the only woman on his mind is his abducted bride Pie, whom he won't stop mooning over. He wears a necklace as a reminder of the woman he lost on his wedding day. Deu and Sanim don't really share romantic chemistry anyway -- it's when they are sparring in martial arts that they look like a good couple.

It seems to take forever to get back to the real fight. By way of a long explanation by the Kee guys, the reason the girls are being abducted is revealed, as is just what makes Deu so special.

The final fight sequences take place in an apparent underground liar of the Jaguar, the kidnapping kingpin.

Deu and Sanim face the Jaguar's chief enforcer, played by the imposing-looking female bodybuilder Roongtawan Jindasee. She's so fierce that the only way it seems she can defeated -- or at least held at bay -- is if Deu and Sanim team up. And so there are a lot of cool moves in which Jija and Kazu are dance partners in a hip-hop martial-arts ballet, with him swinging and vaulting her like she's a weapon.

The fight moves from a flat floor to a set of criss-crossing rope bridges, adding a confusing dimension and making for quite a bit of suspense.

Not much is seen from the Kee brothers during this. They are mostly writhing on the floor in pain after facing another batch of enforcers.

The look of the film is gorgeous, thanks to director, co-writer and co-editor Rashane Limtrakul, whose 1995 debut Romantic Blue was full of stylish camera angles and framing. I'm not sure why it took him 14 years to make another feature. Aiding him is director of photography Tiwa Moeithaisong, who burnished the city's look in director Poj Arnon's Bangkok Love Story and made blood beautiful in his own Meat Grinder.

The photography and editing don't get in the way of the fighting. Though hand-held, the camera movement is unobtrusive and the focus stays clear. The framing pulls back just enough to capture the action, which is supervised by stunt guru Panna Rittikrai and his team.

Adding to the overall style is the locations, which are exotic for a Thai film in that there's nothing all that Thai about them. The beachside hangout, for example, has a Mediterranean feel, while the abandoned warehouses and a creepy old amusement park could be anywhere.

But the rather plodding, clunky plot exposition detracts from the action, despite the best efforts of Jija, whose fierceness explodes in the climactic final battle, and she's screaming with bloody rage.

The ending is drawn out, with something lingering in the air, perhaps leaving things open-ended for a sequel that if done right should be more stubborn, more beautiful and more fierce. And more mayraiyuth. And hopefully the pace will be quickened.

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  1. what the hell O_o

    You spoiled the movie man:/

    Anyway, a review alreadyO_O, didn't know the movie was out.

    What about the movies and b-boy, you didn't talk about that

  2. Xino, I think you should see the movie then comment on the review.

    Anyway, what's done is done.

  3. A draggy 90-or-so minutes - full two hours with previews and commercials.

  4. Thanks.
    Again something cut out (was in a trailer, but has not entered into a film) how it was with Chocolate?

  5. I liked Chocolate better. Here, there's good action and Jija has a more diverse selection of sparring partners, it's just that the story of Deu Suay Du doesn't bounce along like Chocolate's did.

  6. Ok. What about cut scenes - deleted scenes in Raging Phoenix?(I can something have not understood, but yet have not received the answer to this point in question)
    Now began fashionable to show cutting of episodes from a film in a trailer, and then a part from them not to start up in a film or definitive installation will be from other foreshortening (so was with Power kids - and there even in the film in an initial caption there are episodes which in the film are not present)
    Thanks for patience :)

  7. I don't remember if there was anything in the trailer that wasn't in the film. Sorry.

  8. Thanks for answers. It is very interesting to read your blog.
    P.S. I have not seen the review Bangkok Adrenaline that with it? and there are any news about release Sanctuary?

  9. I didn't see Bangkok Adrenaline. It was released in Thailand only with a dubbed soundtrack. The Sanctuary is coming. Maybe October?

  10. Thanks for the fast review. Hopefully, it will come to Singapore soon.

  11. Is there a fight between the Monk and Jija where they use drunk styles(Drunken fist versus Drunken Muay Thai)?

  12. Anon, it's all mixed martial arts and I can't keep track of what style is being used when. Sorry. There's one scene where Jija uses mayraiyuth against a whole bunch of people.

  13. The matter is that this scene is very important for me. It was written in a trailer:"first time ever, Drunken Chinese Drunken Fist Versus Drunken Myua Thai"(official trailer with english subtitle from Shahamogkol). Fight occurs in a den of a jaguar. It would be very strange, to advertise this scene as one of the most interesting in film and not to show it, besides on all representations Jija shows elements which are in this scene.
    Excuse for meticulousness.
    Thank you.

  14. Thank you for explaining the Thai titling.

  15. ok i've just watched this movie and it ws tard disappionting!

    story was gargabe, fighting was alright but lots it's senses half way.


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