- Directed by Panna Rittikrai and Morakot Kaewthanee
- Starring Sorapong Chatree, Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Kazu Patrick Tang, Kietisak Udomnak, Pimchanok Leuwisetpaibul
- Released in Thai cinemas on December 16, 2010; rated 15+
- Wise Kwai's rating 3/5
The Thai film industry has cycled back into an era when goopy sweet romances and nonsensical comedies dominate the box office.
Action films, that once-vaunted staple of movie going in Thailand, have been pushed to the side. Bangkok audiences for the most part do not care for them. They only want sweet love stories. Or to laugh at cross-dressing comedians. Or they have Hollywood movies rammed down their throats.
But action flicks are still popular in the Thai countryside, and the man who's making movies for those audiences, as he's always done, is the legendary actor, action choreographer and director Panna Rittikrai.
A national treasure, the mentor of now-sidelined action hero Tony Jaa determinably plugs away, making flicks that are full of increasingly dangerous stunts and mind-boggling, hard-hitting fight scenes.
His latest is B.K.O.: Bangkok Knockout (โคตรสู้ โคตรโส, Koht Soo Koht Soh), in which members of a martial-arts club are held captive and forced to fight in an underground bloodsport.
It's a cross-disciplinary display of martial arts. In addition to Muay Thai, taekwondo, kung fu and capeoira are also put to the test. Add in parkour, a car smashing through walls, motorcycles colliding in mid-air and an axe-wielding maniac in an iron mask caught on fire, and you have an insane mix.
The story is kept pretty basic, so that it doesn't get in the way of the action. Martial-arts clubs compete for a Hollywood audition. The pure-hearted club, led by a taekwondo artist named Pod (Chatchapol Kulsiriwoothichai), wins. Of course.
That night the lads and their friends are treated to a celebratory dinner. They wake up the next morning in an abandoned, under-construction housing estate. Their cellphones and cars are gone. The audition was a set-up by the mastermind villain, played by Kazu Patrick Tang.
The housing estate is surrounded by gunmen and is wired with closed-circuit video. The fighters will be matched in to-the-death contests for the benefit of an international cast of gamblers – including a spoiled Thai rich kid – rounded up by a obnoxious drawling American named Sneed.
The fighters are talented stuntmen who've been doubles and extras in Panna's past productions.
But there are a few name actors. Veteran action star Sorapong Chatree plays the tough driver of a general's daughter, Joy, the one-time girlfriend of Pod. She's played by actress "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol. When she isn't being tied up and left dangling as bait, she throws a few feisty kicks and bites herself and participates in the climactic ending sequence.
Comedian "Sena Hoi" Kietisak Udomnak is a musician who turned up at the dinner and ends up stranded with the fighters. He's more an annoyance than an asset, but he plays his part in herding the fighters to where they need to be.
Young actress Pimchanok Leuwisetpaibul, playing the token female fighter of the group, gamely throws a few kicks and punches as well, and gives the guys something to fight for.
And Panna himself is the ringleader of the bad-guy fighters, vowing that he alone can whip everyone's asses.
The fights, all for the most part clearly staged and competently framed, are a crazy mix. One involves a cross-dressing villain.
There's things that happen just because they look cool. Like the opposing stunt teams leaping off balconies opposite one another, clashing in mid-air and tumbling to the ground.
Water gushes on a pair of fighters, and goes splashing around.
One villain strips off his shirt to reveal an iron vest.
A well-padded man in a hooded jacket and iron mask wields a huge axe and is set upon by all the good-guy fighters and eventually set on fire. He smashes through walls.
An armored black car crashes through walls too, and spins and swerves around, creating even more confusion during a battle royale between the opposing sides.
Toward the end, the bad guys on dirt bikes try to run everyone down.
And there's the much-hyped semi-truck stunt. It's been touted as being more elaborate and dangerous than the semi-truck stunt Panna and his team engineered in the 2004 stuntfest Born to Fight, which almost crushed a stuntman's head.
This one pits Pod and Kazu fighting under the truck while it (slowly) rolls down the highway. Meanwhile, other fighters are fighting on top of the trailer and falling off.
In the end, I think the stunt in Born to Fight was more exciting because it was the first time, and wasn't so drawn out.
While Bangkok Knockout has plenty of stunning scenes, it's not quite a knockout. While a welcome action flick in a year dominated by romantic comedies and melodramas, it feels like a bit of rehash of Born to Fight and other action flicks from Panna and his team, like Power Kids and Somtum.
Fans of those movies won't be disappointed by Bangkok Knockout.