Fireball -- Film Review

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UDINE, Italy -- Thanakorn Pongsuwan’s “Fireball” crosses “Slam Dunk” with “Fight Club” Thai style in a throbbingly violent film with the bold idea of representing basketball as an underground blood sport. Merging agile Muay Thai with more thuggish slashing and punching, and shot as if the cinematographer is on cheap crack, “Fireball” makes “Kung-fu Dunk” seem as civilized as ballroom dancing.

The combination of base animalistic bloodlust and no-brainer plot often can leap over international barriers. So it is with “Fireball,” which signed up nearly 20 worldwide deals at the Berlinale market.

Whether or not such a game is really played in Thailand, it’s a bluntly employed pretext for gratuitous violence, because only one rule applies: Kill or be killed. With five players on either side, the last man standing wins. Scores don’t count as there’s nobody else alive on the court to argue anyway.

To dispense with deeper social context and meaningful dialogue, the scriptwriters resort to that oft-used theme of action films -- revenge. Fresh out of prison Tai (Preeti Barameeanant) discovers that his twin brother Tan has been knocked into a coma during a game of fireball. Tai joins Tan’s former team, pretending to be his brother and vows to settle scores with Tan’s nemesis Ton (Arucha Tosawat) on the court. He learns that in this lucrative mafia-controlled game, one never gets an eye for an eye.

Taking place in metal fenced arenas and on deserted docklands, and shot with low-contrast lighting, the mis-en-scene is both gritty and apocalyptic, and the protagonists are all portrayed as caged animals, taunted by hooligan spectators.

Director Pongsuwan has found a more graphic and tactile subject to channel his MTV style super-macho homo-erotica than his painfully listless “Heroes.” A drill in which Tai’s team races the ball through a dingy tenement is one such visually flamboyant sequence. In fact, with protagonists in non-stop, gravity-defying, music-accompanied motion, “Fireball” feels like an extended commercial on sports equipment.

However, still evident are Pongsuwan’s love of nebulous visuals and casting a stable of actors who are identical down to their haircuts and clothes, making it hard to tell who is playing against whom, let alone keep up with the jumpy narrative. As Tai and Tan are played by the same actor, it is difficult to distinguish flashbacks of Tan’s past or Tai’s scenes in the present from the jumbled dialogue.

The film reveals a filthy world of match-throwing and slumdogs desperate to make good to their wives or mothers, but the background and characterization are weak on realism. This director is only interested in delivering short, sharp shocks to the senses.

Venue: Udine Far East Film Festival
Production: Bangkok Film Studio, Forfilms
Cast: Preeti Barameeanant, Khanutra Chuchuayuwan, Phutharit Prombundarn, Arucha Tosawat
Director: Thanakorn Pongsuwan
Screenwriters: Thanakorn Pongsuwan, Klat Sansanandana, Taweewat Wantha, Uncle
Producer: Uncle (Adirek Watleeda)
Executive producer: Sangar Chatchchairungruang
Directors of photography: Teerawat Rujeenatham, Vardhana Vunchuplou, Sunitpong Walwong
Production designer: Warakorn Phunsawat
Music: Giant Wave
Costume designer: Kasaya Kongsamran
Editors: Saknakorn Nethan, Uncle (Adirek Watleeda)
Sales: Golden Network Asia Ltd.
No rating, 91 minutes
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