Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 114 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 30th, 2010
Not sure what to put here. I suppose "ass-kicking Thai girl strikes again!" will have to do.
Jija Yanin (Chocolate) returns for a slightly nuts production from the folks who gave you the Ong Bak franchise.
Yanin is Deu, a young street urchin type who finds herself kidnapped by some freaks on razor-blade pogo sticks. She's saved by a bad-ass gang member named Sanim (Patrick Tang), who sports some impressive martial artistry. Sanim takes her back to his hangout, and Yanin joins his gang of goofy drunken boxers.
Together, they discover a sinister cabal (as if there is any other kind), led by a bad-ass Amazonian, who kidnap girls and force them into a life of sex slavery. Fighting ensues.
These Baa-Ram-Ewe productions typically have two things in common: 1) there is a lot of well-choreographed, manic action and, 2) the story makes no sense. The first base is certainly covered here, as Raging Phoenix rarely has downtime, the brief character development and dialogue exchanges are sandwiched by lengthy hand-to-hand set-pieces. As for the second -- surprise! -- the plot actually makes a molecule of sense.
Sure, the idea of a wacky underground pseudo-cult led by a mannish super-woman who traffics in half-drugged women isn't necessarily grounded in reality, but at least it made sense in its own goofy way. I suppose there's money to be made in the druggie sex industry and if you're going to have an evil lair, why not set it up in a maze of dark caverns and antiquated wooden bridges that criss-cross over gaping chasms?
That's enough time spent on the plot, which, as is the case for most of these epic beat 'em ups, operates mainly as a framework to hang some dope fighting sequences on, and Raging Phoenix, for the most part, brings the hurt.
The battles are extensive and well laid out, and the emphasis on drunken boxing/Muay Thai/whatever gives the choreography a loose, fun flavor. The hip-hop soundtrack the action is set to also helps.
As for participants, the big standout is Patrick Tang. The guy is showcased right at the beginning, in the impressive opening bit set at an abandoned amusement park. It's the one with the nutjobs on the lethal pogo sticks. Tang is a beast, an athletic marvel who pulls off some amazing feats. That's good and bad. Good, because, well, it's a joy to watch. Bad because nothing that comes after his display measures up.
Including, unfortunately, the stuff featuring Jija Yanin. She's got moves, but her fight scenes lack the style and acrobatics to truly wow. While I have no doubt she could easily drive my nose cartilage straight into my brain with a snap roundhouse kick, her on-screen shenanigans fall short of the high standard that Tang set. Even when the two battle in tandem, the action struggled. Is it really easier to lift a grown woman in the air and swing her torso at an opponent instead of just booting the person in the jaw?
Magnet's DVD is solid: a clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen joined by a 5.1 surround mix (Thai and English languages available) and a pair of making-of featurettes.
Lots of unique action and a plot that won't melt your brain, Raging Phoenix only stumbles when its headliner is forced into the spotlight.
Eh, there's enough eye-popping stunts to earn it a Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R