I’ve been championing this movie since I first saw it a couple of years back but it’s out on R1 DVD now and I feel like it’s my duty to pimp this movie.
I thought it was really strange that Ong Bak made it over here to the states. No one saw it, and that’s a shame, but the fact that Tony Jaa and his complete disregard for personal safety made some money man at a major studio take a chance speaks volumes. Rightfully so, Ong Bak is a movie that rides solely on its stunts and fights, which are completely amazing. Fans of meticulously choreographed and gracefully executed kung fu fight scenes should take notice. Thai boxing is an entirely different beast but just as thrilling to watch if not a little more. But I’m getting off track. Tony Jaa is pretty sweet but he’s not in Born To Fight. Dan Chupong is and, quite frankly, these guys are all interchangeable. They all seem to have a very narrow range of acting. There’s the pissed off face, the determined face and the pissed off and determined face. But the stories in Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong and Born To Fight are secondary to the action, maybe even tertiary. Stolen statue head, stolen elephant, total Die Hard Ripoff, respectively. What we all came to see is a stunt spectacle and Jesus Christ, this shit delivers!
Born To Fight, storywise, is completely rancid. Unlike the other two movies I’ve reviewed here so far, this one has a coherent, logical plot, even if it is retarded and very familiar. Deaw is a Bangkok supercop. He and his partner go undercover to bust General Yang, drug and warlord. When their cover is blown and Yang and his goons make a getaway in two 18-wheelers, one loaded with a bomb. Deaw makes chase and winds up on top of one of the trucks engaging in an immediately thrilling fight scene featuring a lot of knees and elbows and falls stunts involving moving vehicles. It’s absolutely amazing. The movie really wastes no time. It’s knows what you’re here for and it will gladly provide. Naturally, Deaw busts General Yang but not before the bomb in the truck detonates, killing his partner, and certainly not before the very same truck plunges through a hillside village in a scene similar to the car chase in the Jackie Chan flick, Police Story. Take notes, you’re going to notice a lot of familiar plot elements here. So in an attempt to get away and clear his head, Deaw escorts his sister and a bunch of Thai athletes on a charity mission to a very poor village that also happens to be the target of Yang’s private army as they move in and take hostages in exchange for the release of the General. They also have a nuke pointed at Bangkok. We’re subjected to a brief lull in the action as we kinda/sorta get to know the athletes, their special talents and so on. We’re also treated to a scene that really drives home how completely evil this army is. A lot of innocent villagers die in spectacular and extraordinarily bloody fashion before Deaw gives a rousing speech to lift the hearts of the villagers. The Thai national anthem plays over a nearby radio and the village rises up to sing along at the top of their lungs before charging headlong into a wall of machine gun fire in an attempt to take back their village or die trying. At this point you really should get comfortable. We’re about thirty minutes in. The following hour is an extended action scene featuring a non-stop parade of amazing stunt work.
I’ve only seen a few Thai action movies, two Tony Jaa movies, this one and a complete piece of shit called The Tiger Blade. I guess you can’t win ‘em all, but when you are winning, these filmmakers knock it out of the park. No time is wasted trying to tell you a cool story. You’re not in the market to be gripped by masterful storytelling with complex plot twists, relationships and drama. You just want to see a lot of people get punched in the face. The Thai seem very conscious of who their competition is as far as martial arts movies go and when you have to go head to head with Hong Kong whose golden age of the late 80’s/early 90’s is still being celebrated by fans today, you really need to go the extra mile and carve out a niche of your own. Thai boxing is unique enough to stand a safe distance from kung fu, but exciting and brutal enough to ride on the same appeal that kung fu has. There’s also no stunt man union in Thailand so when the director says, “I want you to ride that motorcycle off of that jump, through that shit that we lit on fire and straight into that truck where you will be propelled over the truck.” you do it. The only thing on anybody’s mind is filming 90 minutes of incredible stunts that no other country is doing. I’ve seen a million martial arts movies and I can honestly say that the Thai movies are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The lengths these stunt men are wiling to go for a cool, painful looking stunt is amazing. I could also swear that the fighting you see in these movies is full contact. Many times it looks like they’re trying to beat the shit out of one another.
Amazing stunts aside, what really cements this movie on this site is the fact that is descends into pure madness at the height of the action. Not only do the villagers and Deaw rise up to fight the terrorists, the athletes do, too. Naturally, they all use their particular athletic skills to do their part. Some of them have practical skills like karate and Thai boxing, others not so much. There are a couple of gymnasts, one a girl who fights a guy from a balance beam, aother guy rescues a recently orphaned baby from a burning hut and escapes by swinging on the monkey bars before flipping way up into the air for this perfectly executed corkscrew flip with the baby strapped to his back. An old, retired Muay Thai champion leads a group of children to safety and one terrorist gets to feel the wrath of the littlest Thai boxer as an eight year old kicks his ass. There are some soccer players who kick things around, involving a kettle in one of the funniest scenes in the movie and a guy who spends a solid third of the movie carrying the Thai flag around so it doesn’t touch the ground. Seriously. I haven’t touched on it much as I’m getting a little long in the tooth, but they didn’t even make movies this jingoistic here in the states during the 80’s. I swear to god I thought the guy with the flag was going to run someone through with the pole like Mel Gibson in the Homer Simpson remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
It’s been a while since I’ve been so entertained by a movie such as this. When I say that it is an unrelenting stunt spectacle that only gives you a few minutes to breathe, I’m not exaggerating. It comes out of the gate screaming and on fire and doesn’t stop until it’s over. Amazing, brutal fight scenes; explicit, mean gun fights, a shitload of impressive vehicle stunts and a complete embrace of the absurd. Honestly, what more do you need? There’s not a lot of talking, it’s just people fighting.
Mostly I reserve this space for older movies that I’ve loved for a long time, but this is a movie that really deserves a place here. It’s shamelessly b-movie material and only wants to entertain you. You will be entertained, mark my words.