(Magnolia) Dan Chupong, Leo Putt, Panna Rittikrai, Samart Payakarun, Kanyapak Suworakood, Somdet Kaew-ler, Ampon Rattanawong. Directed by Chalerm Wongpin
Thailand, with the success of Tony Jaa and his Ong-Bak movies is developing into another center of kinetic action movies. For those of us who love the genre, that’s very good news indeed.
Like several Hong Kong action movies of the mid-90s, there is a kind of willingness to bend and mix genres with absolute abandon. It can be said that the action is the central focus of the film, it’s raison d’être and while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it can be a bit jarring for Western audiences more used to less chaotic filmmaking.
There is a plot here, however Hunter Thompson-esque it might be. Jone Bang Fai (Chupong) is a mysterious masked bandit that uses home-made rockets (that he often rides into the fray on) and acts as a kind of protector of the poor farmers of rural Thailand in the 1920s. He has a bit of an ulterior motive however; he is seeking a man with a unique tattoo on his chest who murdered his parents years ago. Revenge, apparently, is not only a dish best served cold, it can come with peanut sauce as well.
Lord Wang (Putt) is seeking to profit from Thailand’s slow move to industrialization by selling tractors to rural farmers, who are resisting the change and preferring to use water buffalo as they have for generations. Wang’s solution is to set a vicious escaped thief (Kaew-ler) with a penchant for cannibalism to steal all the water buffalo. Of course this sets off Fai like a mutha.
However, all bets are off when Fai squares off against a buffalo trader with formidable magical powers and realizes this may be the man he’s been seeking. He cannot defeat the trader on his own, so he seeks the Black Wizard (Rittikrai) who informs him that he can only rob the sorcerer of his powers with the menstrual blood of a virgin that he just so happens to have handy in the form of his niece (Suworakood). However, the Black Wizard being…well, EVIL…has his own plans and his agenda may not be exactly conducive to peace and serenity.
Where to begin? My brain is still spinning after witnessing this unholy concoction. It looks like a western and carries many of the plot elements that can be found in that genre. It’s also a martial arts movie, with muay thai warriors inflicting all sorts of mayhem on each other. It’s also a fantasy with elements of Thai mysticism, and yet it’s accurate to its period.
There is a lot of wire work (which we haven’t seen much of in the Thai action movies that have been released in the States) and a great deal of mayhem. Some of the scenes are fairly graphic in their violence but the overall tone is comedic and light. There is a good deal of concentration on menstruation here (Fai asks the niece if she’s menstruating yet which in this country would get you smacked in the face) which may be a bit unsettling unused to the cultural differences between Thailand and the West.
The plot takes a great number of twists and turns until you feel like you’ve been twisted into a pretzel trying to follow it. Much of the story is told in flashback, and at times it can be jarring while at others you don’t realize you’re watching a flashback until it’s done. As with many Asian films, the acting can be over-the-top with an emphasis on exaggeration, something that while is perfectly legitimate in Eastern cinema is frowned upon here.
It can be hard to overcome cultural biases, and I’ll admit that mine made it difficult for me to completely embrace this movie. I’m all for action but not for its own sake; the audiences in Asia are a bit more lax in that regard and there’s nothing wrong for that. Therefore my rating is probably a bit lower than the movie deserves. I will say that I admire the form and the filmmaking, and some of the action is delightful to watch. If they had kept the plot a bit simpler, I might have enjoyed this a bit more. However, in all fairness, this wasn’t a movie made for me or my sort and those with more open minds in terms of plot will probably enjoy this a lot more than I did.
WHY RENT THIS: A fine example of Asian everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cinema. Some of the action sequences are just sick.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The acting can be a trifle over-the-top and the story is overly complicated and hard to follow in places.
FAMILY VALUES: The violence is kinetic and cartoonish and there are a lot of sexual references in the movie (although no sex) as well as some icky scenes of cannibalism and demons; I would probably limit this to mature younger teens and above.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rittikrai, a veteran of the Thai film industry, was also the stunt choreographer for the movie.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a nice but short featurette on the make-up effects required to give the Black Wizard his extra-gooeyness.
FINAL RATING: 4/10