UDINE, Italy – In the bare-bones action flick Bangkok Knockout, members of an amateur fight club rip through a contingent of assassins and their booby traps to survive a gladiator-style reality show. It is directed by Thailand’s action film guru Panna Rittikrai (co-director with Tony Jaa in Ong Bak 2 &3, fight and stunts director for the Tom Yum Gong series), and his disregard for storytelling shows in the patchy screenplay he wrote with Doojit Hongthong andJonathan Siminoe. With a minimalist set and cardboard foreigner villains being the only campy bonus, it is just a wham-bang succession of grueling, no-rule fights and seriously life-threatening stunts that recall mindless and insanely energetic ‘80s Hong Kong B-movies.
Only hardcore action buffs will be eager for a viewing experience comparable to being repeatedly whacked by a plank. But they alone were enough to motivate buyers who snapped up the film for multiple territories at Feburary’s European Film Market.
At an audition to recruit Thai stuntmen for a Hollywood production, members of the Fight Club beat their rival team in the trial. After a night of revelry, they wake up in an empty, rundown building where they are attacked by ninja-like assassins. The evil Dr. Pachanon has masterminded this as a gambling game for his rich foreign clients. The foreign cast provides rare, unintended comic relief by speaking absolutely unintelligible English dialogue.
The film yields a bizarre sensory illusion in which one’s awareness of space or time is eliminated in an omnipresent continuum of kicking, punching, leaping and ducking. One cannot deduct the cast going up or down or in-and-out in a set modeled like a furniture warehouse with one-way navigation. Scenes are editing non-sequentially, so even if half get reshuffled, it won’t affect the plot.
This allows the action to run in its own delirious rhythm and physical exuberance. The cast gives impressive demos of Muay Thai, Capoeira, Kung Fu, T-Ching and Tae Kwon Do fighting styles. They perform stunts from vertiginous heights or with dangerous vehicles. Even more staggering than their physical ability is the apparent absence of safety measures, ironically referenced in a scene when a Thai client is denounced “for betting on Thai people getting hurt.” “That’s their special ability,” is his glib answer.
Rittikrai, who groomed Tony Jaa and Jija Yannin, intended the film as a vehicle for his dedicated stable of stuntmen to get a taste of the limelight. The upside is that they can do their own stunts, with awesome recklessness to spare. The downside is leading roles look like – well, stuntmen — with no screen presence. Unless magnified in close-up, they are often indistinguishable from the bad guys so there is no compulsion to root for them. The only star is Rittikrai, in a cameo action scene that ends in bathos.
Production values are cost-conscious, with dicey sound and editing barely able to patch up continuity glitches. Music, mostly dormant, suddenly surges during a romantic moment into stormy, orchestral notes more suitable for Thai royal epics.
Venue: Udine Far East Film Festival
Sales: Sahamongkol Film International, Baa Ram Ewe
Cast: Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Soraphong Chatree, Kiatisak Udomnak, Pimchanok Luhrwisetphaiboon, Patrick Kazu, the Fight Club
Director: Panna Rittikrai
Co-director: Morakot Kaewthanee
Screenwriters: Doojit Hongthong, Jonathan Siminoe, Panna Rittikrai
Producers: Akharaphol Techarattanaprasert, Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai
Executive director: Somsak
Director of photography: Pipat Payakha
Production designer: Pongnarin Jonghawklang
Music: Terdsak Jantan
Editors: Sarawut Kakajad, Nonthakorn Taweesuk
No rating, 114 minutes