Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: Vanquisher (Suay ... Samurai)

  • Directed by Manop Udomdej
  • Starring Sophita Sribanchean, Kessarin Ektawatkul, Jacqueline Apithananont, Saranyu Wongkrachang, Pete Thongchua
  • Released in Thai cinemas on November 5, 2009; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

When he set out to make Vanquisher, director Manop Udomdej might have had a globe-trotting, labyrinthine, intrigue-filled political thriller like Syriana in mind.

But about all Vanquisher and Syriana have in common is a CIA agent named Bob, who in this case is not played by George Clooney.

Involving sword-wielding Thai operatives for the CIA pitted against their American former handler and a terrorist who may or may not be a double agent, the message seems to be that the Americans are fomenting the violence in southern Thailand and want to see an escalation so they can expand their war on terrorism to Southeast Asia.

Which is ridiculous.

There's a scene of a market bombing in a southern town. But the reasons for the terrorist acts and the southern separatist movement are not addressed in Vanquisher's flurry of bad acting, strangely accented English, close-quarters action scenes and cheesy CGI.

And when one of the movie's trailer-worthy scenes involves the lead actress unzipping her jacket to reveal her guns popping out of a tight tank top, and the camera panning around above the actress as it leers down into that cleavage canyon, well any serious notions there were about this movie are dispelled.

Sophita Sribanchean stars as Genja, am extremely fit and action-hungry young policewoman who volunteers for duty with a Thai-US task force. In a rain-drenched training sequence, Genja shows her skills as a swordswoman and martial artist, besting her male assailants while precipation flings from her swinging ponytail. She impresses Sirin ("Nui" Kessarin Ektawatkul), the Thai spy agency's lead fighter, as well as Claire (Jacqueline Apithananont), the CIA's handler.

Genja and the Thai-American team are then sent to southern Thailand to capture a blue-eyed foreign Muslim terrorist leader, but in the confusion of the operation, the members of the Thai team, including Genja and Sirin, are left behind and are presumably blown up by Claire, who has been ordered to destroy all traces of the operation called "Vanquisher", because evidence of it and the CIA's ties to Muslim terrorists could prove to be damaging.

But a year or so later, Genja and Sirin are back at their regular jobs, running around Bangkok, free with no explanation of how they survived. Whose side they are on and what they are fighting for seems less important when there are cool action sequences to get out of the way.

Like an army special-forces unit using off-road motorcycles to attack terrorists in a rubber plantation. The bikes have two people on them. As one soldier drives, another stands on the back with an assault rifle, hosing down anyone who runs.

There's one decent fight between Sirin and a sword-wielding Japanese operative. Taekwondo champ Nui Kessarin from Born to Fight is the only real martial-arts star in this movie and though she appears in most scenes, her talents are pretty well wasted.

The star, Fon Sophita, looks fierce enough, but most of her cool moves appear to be assisted by a rope and harness.

Chewing up the scenery is the nostril-flaring Jacqueline Apithananont from Queens of Langkasuka. Like her role in The Bodyguard 2, she again plays a CIA agent, but is a dirty one. Because Claire is American, Jacqueline has to speak English and she appears to have taken her acting cues from her co-star in early scenes, Nicholas Snow, who as CIA supervisor Bob says his lines in a weirdly halting manner, as if he's trying out for William Shatner's role in a reboot of TJ Hooker.

Poor Jacqueline takes things a step further, totally mangling her lines. Rather than call for another take, director Manop just keeps rolling, making for one of the many bits of unintentional comedy that give Vanquisher its odd charm.

And speaking of scenery chewing, there's also Pete Thongchua, back in the movie business for the first time since 2002's Los Angeles-set Province 77. He brings a certain world-weary heaviness to his role as a yakuza mobster's chief enforcer, who somehow gets mixed up in the plot.

Plot? Oh, that's something having to do with Saranyu Wongkrajang, cast as a Thai Muslim terrorist, who is planning to set off a large explosion that will level Bangkok. Or something.

It culminates in a riot of CGI blood sprays as the sword-wielding female agents hack and slash their way through an endless supply of ninjas in a series of murkily rendered action scenes. As far as I could tell, there was no explanation as to why these Thai women are carrying feudal-period Japanese swords in 21st century Bangkok. They just are. And that's okay.

Manop might have had something a good deal more serious in mind when he first started on Vanquisher -- Thai title Suay ... Samurai (สวย...ซามูไร), literally "beautiful samurai" -- more than two years ago. The troubled production lost one of its actresses, "Amy" Chotiros Suriwong, when the young starlet wore a scandalously revealing dress when she presented trophies at 2007's Thailand National Film Awards. Executive producer Somsak Techaratanaprasert ordered all scenes with Amy scrubbed from the film.

Maybe those were all the scenes that would have made this movie make sense.

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  1. Ha ha. Can't say expectations ever got off the ground for this one Wise. Still. Bad movie or not, attractive women in sports bras wielding swords deserves at least 90 minutes of my life


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