Monday, October 31, 2005

Review: The Tiger Blade

  • Directed by Teeratorn Siripunwaraporn
  • Starring Atsadawut Luengsuntorn, Phimonrat Phisarayabud, Pongput Wachilabunjong, Suengsooda Lawanprasert, Amornrit Sriphung, Chalut na Songkla
  • Theatrical release in Thailand on October 27, 2005.

The first release from the brand-new Mono Film has everything the ultimately disappointing Tom Yum Goong should have had. I'm going to lay it on the line and say this is the best Thai action film of 2005.

This is not to say the action is any better than Tom Yum Goong, because it isn't (though it's still pretty good). But what The Tiger Blade has going for it is a sense of fun. Where Tony Jaa and Tom Yum Goong were weighed down with ostentatiousness (despite the 'simple country boy' hero) and were afraid to crack a smile, The Tiger Blade (Sua Kab Daab) has no fear of letting the jokes fly. It's not so much a big action film trying to prove something as it is pure entertainment that has nothing to prove. So there's a sense of humour, plenty of hot babes (though no nudity) and lots of cool stunts.

The story is a pretty standard cops-and-robbers set up, though there's a bit of a twist, evident from the movie's official tagline: "When kick-ass cops can't get the job done, bring in the kick-ass magic."

The criminals here are all protected by black magic - the first baddie wears a headband that's been enchanted and it renders guns inoperative. Other criminals have elaborate tattoos that protect them.

In order to defeat them, a top-secret police unit, led by Yos (capable leading man Atsadawut Luengsuntorn), must obtain an ancient sword.

Now, I must say, I'm get pretty confused if I think about the actual story any further. For one thing, I don't know why the bad guys are being bad, other than to just be bad. I don't know what their overall motive is. Do they want to blow up Bangkok? Take control of the world? Release a deadly virus? I'm not sure. I guess it doesn't matter.

Maybe it involves a vault full of money. Yeah, that's it. Steal the national treasury. There's a subplot involving a Karen warlord - a long-haired guy leading one of the countless independent states in endless rebellion against the Burmese (or Myanmar) government. He needs the money. But again, it doesn't matter.

What does matter is that Yos is a bit of a loner who actually asks for a new partner: The secret unit's gadgets gal, Dao (Phimonrat Phisarayabud). On their first outing together - working undercover on a prison transport bus, she proves her worth, doing some high kicks and shooting her way out of trouble.

Meanwhile at the prison, black-magic crimelord Mahesak (Amornrit Sriphung) and a woman fighter who is the most kick-ass of all the characters in the film, GI Jenjila (Suengsooda Lawanprasert), are breaking someone out.

Each time a new criminal is introduced, there's a title card that comes up, and then a black-and-white flashback. For Jenjila, it flashes back to her childhood as a little Viet Cong soldier, enjoying the ruthless killing of war.

A couple of times Jenjila and Dao square off for a girlfight. So you get girls with guns, as well as chicks kicking ass. One of their fights is in a shopping mall, where Jenjila heists a pair of roller blades and Dao goes after her on a skateboard. So the extreme-sport market segment is covered here.

In another fight, Dao asks Jenjila: "I heard you prefer women, and I thought I'd like to try you."

"You're wrong," says Jenjila, "but you can try me anyway."

This sets up a bit of mystery about Dao's and Yos' relationship that is sure to be explored further. Yes, there will be sequels - that is clearly set up at the end.

Some other stunts:
  • Jenjila leads the cops on a footchase through the narrow, winding alleys of Bangkok's Chinatown - a direct lift from Ong-Bak, even with Jenjila leaping over a vendor's cart and scaling up and over a chain-link barrier fence. She doesn't have near the same grace as Tony Jaa, but it was still fun to watch.
  • In that same chase scene, Jenjila steals one of those motorcycle vendor's carts, the kind with two wheels and a big basket on the front. Yos grabs another motorcycle cart and gives chase. Again, you can see they are trying to one-up and stunt-check with Ong-Bak. It's not quite as exciting as the tuk-tuk chase in Ong-Bak, but it's still fun.
  • Yos finds a big yellow endloader to stop the bad guy from getting away.
  • There's a go-cart chase scene down a busy expressway, with the go-carts doing u-turns under some big-rigs. Alot of these are in the trailer.
These stunts aren't totally in the same class as Ong-Bak, which claims that no wires or CGI tricks were used. In Tiger Blade, there is evidence of wire work, and I think many of the stunts were performed by stuntmen, rather than the actors themselves. But that go-cart-semitruck scene is real. Has to be. Some low-rent CGI is used, but not for the stunts themselves, mainly just the animation of the magic blade and for stylistic purposes. I wasn't bothered by it.

Oh, there's a babe factor. The opening fight scene is in a nightclub, where's there's go-go booted ladies in hot pants on stage. In another scene, Yos comes home to his apartment to find his bed filled women in lingerie. It's all quite tasteful, though, in keeping with the chasteness of Thai society and film censorship codes.

And there's humor. The secret police unit as a heavyset cop named Red Beard (Annan Bunnak) who's constantly cracking wise. Back at the go-go bar, he pulls a boot off one of the dancers to use as a weapon, but he first catches a whiff of the gal's foot odor. "You need to hang that thing out in the sun, girl," he tells her, helpfully.

The drawbacks of The Tiger Blade are in the confusing story. There's also a cheesy score, the kind of synthesiser soundtrack that the Thai soap operas have. Its awfulness was distracting. Next time, Mono Film, spring for a real soundtrack, with at least a rock band performing the score. Some of the acting, too, also smacked of soap-opera melodrama. Folks, you're in a movie, not onstage at the university theater. You've made it! Lighten up.

The actual hunt for the magic blade is anti-climactic, as well is the encantation needed to make the rusty blade work again - it must be doused in virgin's blood. This is played up, with Yos asking Dao for blood, but hers won't work, she says. Then he gets his little sister's blood and - shock! - it doesn't work either. He gets some virgin blood eventually, but I'm not sure where it came from.

Perhaps a second viewing is in order, which is something The Tiger Blade has going for it: I'd actually want to see it again.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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