Genius Products // 2004 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // May 11th, 2007
"We felt we should remake it, since that movie was so unique in terms of Thai stunt choreography, which was very risky and life threatening. That was the start of Born to Fight." -- Producer Prachya Pinkaew
"When it came to this present version of Born to Fight, we had a bigger budget, and so could do more with the movie. We thus collected everything we hadn't done in the previous Born to Fight, and put it all in this version." -- Director Panna Rittigrai
Bristling with wild stunts, ridiculous slow motion sequences, and wildly nationalistic pronouncements, Born to Fight is the kind of action movie that just doesn't get made in Hollywood anymore. Although it's completely ridiculous throughout, Born to Fight is a gleeful jaunt through the most exhilarating collection of action movie setpieces ever assembled in 90 minutes of film.
Deaw is a talented young cop who has just lost his partner in a drug sting operation gone terribly, violently wrong. Now, he's accompanying his sister and her group of Thai Olympic athletes on a trip to a remote village on the edge of Thailand. They are there to deliver much needed relief and supplies to the villagers. While there, a terrorist organization takes the village hostage, setting up a nuclear weapon to blow up Bangkok if the government doesn't release General Yang (the drug lord that Deaw just put away). Of course, Deaw and his little army of athletes can't let that happen!
More than anything, Born to Fight is an ode to the brave (read: crazy) souls who risk their lives to bring us big-budget action entertainment. Director Panna Rittikrai doesn't like to use CGI, doesn't like to use miniatures, and doesn't like to use stunt dummies. He does, however, like to include genuinely death-defying moments in his films, which means that he needs to have a crew that's willing to be blown up, smacked with flaming sticks, dropped between transport trucks, ricocheted off moving vehicles, and kicked really hard in the head. All of the above and more happen during Born to Fight, which dwarfs even Ong-Bak and The Protector for bone-crunching, jaw-dropping, slow-motion body slams. I don't know where they found these stunt guys, but they appear to be willing to do anything for a good slow motion shot. During the end credits, we see several of them taken off in stretchers, hunched in pain, an army of crewmembers hiding just out of frame to ensure their safety after the shot. While I feel slightly guilty watching such a dangerous collection of stunts, it makes for a rougher, tougher, more exciting viewing experience than safety-obsessed American filmmakers can accomplish. The actors are almost as dedicated as the stunt team. Indeed, most of them are athletes, not actors. They're not so hot as expressing human emotion (other than anger) but they can move. Once things get rolling all else is unimportant -- Born to Fight is a technical exercise in action, not an attempt to tell a good story.
In fact, the action sequences in Born to Fight are so awesome that no amount of silliness in the plot and performances can stand in its way (and believe me, there is a lot of silliness to be had here). Questions certainly loom throughout: Where did the terrorists get the nuclear bomb? In nuclear terms, what does 90% accuracy mean? Why would Bangkok be the best target for any terrorist group? Why did the athletes go to this village in the first place? We'll never know the answers to these questions, but it doesn't matter. Once things get going, all logic is thrown out the window; so much so that we have to wonder if it's intentionally set up that way.
Imagine Rambo III with Rambo replaced by a whole team of angry little gymnasts and soccer players. And with terrorists even more evil than Rambo's Russian enemies. These guys start by mowing down dozens of innocent villagers, tearing children away from their parents, and inflicting as much suffering as possible. By the time Deaw and his friends fight back, we hate the damned terrorists so much that we're glad to see them die in the most horrifying ways imaginable. And they do.
And, just as the Rambo movies were a source for rah-rah Americanism, Born to Fight is a viciously nationalistic film. The evil terrorists spit on the Thai flag. The villagers begin their struggle during the national anthem, as they sing along. One of the soccer players grabs the Thai flag, and carries it for the rest of the film. Characters speak passionately about the values and beauty of the Thai land and its people. This team of filmmakers is certainly trying to put Thailand on the action movie map, but they have other purposes as well. The film is an obvious and desperate attempt to compete with imported films, trying to both outdo the competition with incredible stunts as well as appealing to the Thai people with reminders about national loyalty. This patriotic focus is sometimes distracting, but it doesn't ruin the experience. In fact, it almost adds an odd rustic charm to the production.
Fortunately, the newly formed Dragon Dynasty series is showing far more respect for Asian properties than Miramax and Dimension ever did. We are fortunate enough to get Born to Fight complete, uncut, in its original language, with no evidence of meddling whatsoever. The video transfer is strong, considering the quality of the source material. It's anamorphically enhanced, is full of vivid color, and shows no signs of digital flaws (though film grain is certainly present most of the time). The soundtrack is even better, especially the gut-slapping DTS track that's as audacious as the film itself. Bullets splinter around the room and explosions dig deep into the LFE track.
There are a surprising number of special features as well. Two lengthy featurettes focus on the production. One has interviews with the cast and crew, and the other focuses purely on the stunts. Both are worth watching. The first disc also has a commentary with Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan. Though he clearly does know his stuff, few of his observations will be much help for Asian action fans. After all, this isn't exactly subtle, nuance-laden entertainment. You'll get it all the first time, I promise.
If you aren't a big fan of martial arts movies or ridiculously over-the-top action movies, Born to Fight isn't going to change your mind. If you are, though, it's hard to have more fun than this 96 minutes of pure action entertainment. It's rough, it's tough, and it has the most dangerous stunts ever recorded on film. Though I'm not about to join up with this particular stunt team, I can't wait to see them try to outdo what they've accomplished here.
Not guilty, and I hope that guy in the stretcher is okay.
Review content copyright © 2007 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Track
* Production Featurette
* Stunt Featurette