I had pretty high hopes for Brave. Ever since my first exposure to Thai action movies a few years back, I’ve been hungry for Bangkok’s brand of high-calorie/no-nutrition martial arts flicks. If the movie features a stuntman in the lead role, you can expect a couple of things: A wafer thin plot, a gallery of the most impressive action stunts you’ll likely ever see and some brutal thai boxing that looks an awful lot like full contact fighting. In my experience with Thailand’s movies, it’s a matter of black and white. Either the movie is a wild success, exciting from start to finish or it’s a total dud, so stupid that you feel like you’ve been duped. True, plain mediocrity is quite rare. Thai action either rules (Ong-Bak) or it fucking sucks (The Tiger Blade). Brave somehow manages to fall somewhere in the middle. In spite of all the hype declaring the film’s star, Mike B, the new Tony Jaa, it succeeds where the high-profile movies fail and fails where the high profile movies succeed. It’s not a total bust but it’s a welcome change in Thai action that could have used more fight scenes.
I suppose I should explain.
Bee arrives at Wealthy Bank’s office building with specific instructions to steal the company’s database of customers and their related credit card information. He does so, after discovering that just about everyone in the company is a capable martial artist and makes a daring escape among a flood of food delivery drivers that he called in to hide his getaway. He’s not a criminal by trade, though. His widowed brother-in-law has been captured by a gang and is being help captive until Bee delivers the flash-drive with the credit card booty. It turns out that Bee wasn’t supposed to make it out of this debacle alive yet he does and it kicks off a series of fight and chase scenes. Along the way, it turns out that Bee has a criminal past having done time for murdering the guy responsible for the death of his sister. There’s also a subplot about the woman that Bee kidnaps in his theft of the credit cards, her husband, a bank executive and a gang of bad dudes who seem to be at the center of all of this monkey business.
As Thai genre movies are coming up to speed with the rest of the world’s offerings, the old formula of cops and robbers or the Tony Jaa country-boy in the city routine just isn’t cutting it anymore. Many productions are reaching a little further. Brave tries to do this as well and offers a twisting plot that, at times, feels a lot more complicated than it needs to be but is a welcome change to the typical cheap fight set-ups that are associated with these sorts of movies. While its quite far-fetched, it has the same sort of charm that recent Luc Besson movies have. It’s not terribly sophisticated, it features a good deal of innovative action and it has a sense of humor that keeps things on the lighter side. It also has an action star that has a lot more going for him than most of the recent stunt-man turned actors in Bangkok. Where I might compare Tony Jaa to Jet Li in terms of presence, Mike B is more like Jackie Chan. He’s not quite that masterful, though, so don’t misunderstand me. His first appaearance in the movie has him strutting and preening in a business suit and skate shoes and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. You won’t see that steely-eyed glare that Tony Jaa and Dan Chupong have, Mike B has some acting chops and a bright future if he can get a better script.
The movie stumbles in the action department. There are long breaks between fight and stunt scenes and many of the fights are the usual set ’em up and knock ’em down type fights where Mike delivers a kick or two before moving on to the next guy and whipping his ass, too. It’s not without a few dynamite stunt set-pieces and even makes use of slow-mo action replay that I love so much about Thai martial arts movies but for the most part, the fights look mechanical and rehearsed at times even though they also look like as though Mike and his opponents are really kicking the crap out of each other. The movie also breaks the mold where most of these action flicks feature a requisite escrima stick fight scene which is a fighting art that lacks all semblance of grace and looks more like two guys wailing on each other with sticks. We get a bloody fight featuring spears, sticks and swords at one point that results in a dismembered leg and probably too much gunplay for the movie’s own good.
Brave shines in places that most of Thailand’s action movies neglect and succeeds in telling a story that is a little more engaging and a lot more complicated than you might be used to from a country that took the world by storm with two movies featuring the same actor with alarmingly similar plots. On the other hand, the stunts and fights aren’t quite there in terms of quality and quantity. Mike B is more than you’re expecting in terms of an action hero but he’s hardly the new Thai superstar that all the hype wanted you to believe. Give him more time and a couple of better scripts and I’m convinced that the guy could be huge.