Lionsgate // 2007 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 8th, 2011
When the body is the ultimate weapon.
I can picture it now...You're wandering through the aisles of your favorite big-box retail store and your eyes happen upon a DVD that has motion-blur images of buff Thai dudes pounding on each other. The name of the movie is Muay Thai Fighter. On the back of the case is more motion-blur fighting and a description filled with words like "fight" and "underground" and "action-filled." You being you, someone who enjoys under-the-radar import actioners -- especially those of the Muay Thai flavor -- scoop it up, check out, fly home, and pop the disc into your player. Two hours later, desperate for combat thrills, you fire up Double Dragon 2.
Muay Thai Fighter is not an action movie. It's a coming-of-age saga, a tale of three friends who grew up in a small fishing village and learned the art of Muay Thai boxing, then went to the big city and got into all kind of trouble. There they learned the value of love, honor, and friendship. And during some downtime there was a bit of boxing.
It's not that Muay Thai Boxer is a bad movie. For what it is, a drama that happens to have some boxing scenes in it, it's not bad. You've likely seen a lot of these elements before -- three close friends take different moral paths, redemption is tragic and bloody, happy endings are in short supply -- but it's executed well. I bought into these guys' relationships (yes, even the fat one!) and the script possessed enough narrative turns to keep the story interesting.
What irks me is the marketing misdirection. Despite what the demographic researchers over at Lionsgate are trying to tell you, Muay Thai Fighter is not the second coming of Ong Bak. Or third coming. Or thirtieth coming. It's a completely different movie whose focus is placed squarely on methodical plot and character development rather than wowing you with stunts and fight choreography.
Look what this film has done to me, making me lament more plot and character development in a Thai action flick. Once you flip that conscious switch and tell yourself "So, I won't be getting awesome fighting, fine. Let's see what the story does for me..." that's when you might be able to enjoy the on-screen happenings.
What you do get for mayhem are abbreviated kickboxing sequences. Virtually all of the set-ups take place in a ring in front of a crowd, so don't expect outrageous, no-holds barred exchanges. The blows land with some force, but it's all played to be more realistic than outlandish, serving the serious, gritty tone of the film. Which is fine, though it makes for some milquetoast fights. Even the big bouts, when our heroes square off against two final bosses -- a deadly white boy Muay Thai savant, and a weirdo assassin -- are disappointingly brief and uninventive.
I suppose I'm just desperate to find the next Tony Jaa (seeing as the original has now opted to film incoherent nonsense) or the next overseas action gem. Lord knows Hollywood isn't interested in making R-rated beat-em-ups anymore...so Thailand, you're my only hope.
The disc: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital (English, Thai), and a short behind-the-scenes featurette.
Muay Thai Fighter is not bad, but don't believe what the plastic case tells you.
Not Guilty, despite my being cantankerous.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R