Written by Caballero Oscuro
An unexpected paradigm shift hit the world of action movies in the past few years, resulting in the emergence of Thailand as an important player. The Thai martial arts wave first hit our shores with Tony Jaa’s two impressive hits Ong-Bak and The Protector (aka Tom Yum Goong). Now this new Thai film has arrived on our DVD shelves with the reminder that it’s from “the creators of The Protector and Ong-Bak,” although it doesn’t feature breakout star Tony Jaa. Surprisingly, Born to Fight isn’t just a cheap knockoff designed to cash in on the goodwill Jaa’s films have established here, instead it’s a thrilling achievement completely capable of standing on its own merits.
Since Tony Jaa doesn’t appear in this film, the principal artistic connection to Ong-Bak and The Protector is this film’s director, Panna Rittikrai, a veteran stunt coordinator who worked on both of those films. This time the leading man role is filled by Dan Chupong, a Rittikrai protégé who lacks even Jaa’s modest charisma but dazzles in his acrobatic stunt work. Thankfully, the film is extremely heavy on action with only minimal dramatic requirements from Chupong, so his acting limitations aren’t a liability. Chupong is joined by a largely anonymous cast of supporting players who all contribute a few memorable stunts without really calling any attention to themselves.
After the ridiculous and occasionally nonsensical plots of the Tony Jaa vehicles (“where is my elephant?” anyone?), the biggest surprise of this film is its solid plot. It won’t win any awards, but it actually makes a bit of sense, throws in an unexpected and successful twist, and never bogs down in needless exposition or melodrama.
As the film opens, Chupong’s character is a junior officer named Deaw participating in a police task force that takes down a major crime lord named General Yang after a heady action sequence. Unfortunately, his superior officer loses his life in the raid, driving Deaw into depression. His sister asks him to accompany her and her athlete friends on a charity mission to a poor rural village, taking him out of his regular routine and allowing him to get his mind off the loss of his boss.
Unfortunately, General Yang’s paramilitary friends aren’t happy about his incarceration, so they decide to take over the same rural village Deaw is visiting. They execute many of the locals and make hostages out of the rest, threatening to kill all of them unless General Yang is released. Meanwhile, they also secretly point a nuclear missile at the heart of Bangkok, planning to launch it whether or not they’re successful in their primary mission. The Thai government attempts to send in troops, but that only forces the rebels to execute more hostages until they back off. That leaves only Deaw, his sister’s athlete friends, and the remaining villagers to save the day.
Once the athletes leap into action, the film gets a lot of mileage out of innovative combat uses for soccer balls and gymnastics equipment, presenting a plethora of unique stunts. There’s also some gunplay and bone-crushing martial arts work that will leave viewers as breathless as the performers. Everything wraps up nicely in the end, and then we’re treated to some behind-the-scenes views of the more eye-popping stunts while the credits roll, proving that there was no CGI or wire work involved in this death-defying work. At all times, Rittikrai keeps the action coherent and moving along smoothly, taking time to slow-mo the most dramatic moments and capturing great angles on all of the stunts. It’s a satisfying, distinctive martial arts film that will leave the audience longing for more work from both Rittikrai and Chupong.
In addition to the fun feature film, this lush DVD release includes a second disc with an hour-long documentary on the making of the film, trailers, and some additional behind-the-scenes footage. The DVD is now available, check your local retailer for additional information.