You know who else was born to fight? Judge David Johnson. But he decided on a quiet career in the non-profit sector instead.
Our review of Born To Fight, published May 11th, 2007, is also available.
The film that burgeoning superstar Tony Jaa claims inspired him to get in the action business lands on DVD…and…well…at least it inspired Tony Jaa to get in the action business.
Facts of the Case
Small-town police officer Tong (Panna Rittikrai) is given his toughest assignment yet. A lawyer for a powerful family has discovered an extortion scheme and escaped with the evidence to his Uncle Jam's house in the countryside, which, by the way, sounds like an awesome name for a crazy European children's show with puppets.
The family has sicced the fearsome Green Dragons (a group of mask-clad ninja guys) on the lawyer, and Tong is brought in to run protection because of his superior fighting skills (as evidence by an overlong solo display in his backyard at the beginning of the film). Pairing up with his bumbling sidekick, the two head to Uncle Jam's house in the countryside to make a stand against the marauding Dragons. But to get to them, Tong will have to fend off waves of punks just asking for a serious beatdown—and he is happy to oblige.
Panna Rittikrai obviously has the skillz to pay the billz, as evidence by his myriad of impressive stunts and fight scenes. The influence he exerted on Jaa's style is also on display, as he disables foes with several familiar Muay Thai techniques. But aside from the sporadically cool action sequences, this movie is a joke.
I don't think I've ever seen an action film that was shot as badly as this one is. Whoever is operating the camera (my vote goes to an intoxicated toddler with Down Syndrome) has no idea how to shoot action, and more often than not you will be looking at background, with the action and characters out of frame. "Awesome! Trees!" When the fighting does manage to make it in front of the lens, the action is so tightly shot and so fast-moving that the beleaguered cameraman can't keep up. What's left is a collection of jittery, hard-to-follow images, supplemented by the familiar POWS and CRACKS of the Martial Arts Combat Sound Effects Generator. Though the piss-poor camera and editing work is most egregious in the fight and stunt sequences, the rest of the film is far from masterfully framed. Actors are half-in and half-out of shots when delivering dialogue, which doesn't really make much of a difference since the actual storyline is chopped together so haphazardly you won't have the faintest clue what's going on.
But story isn't a selling point (see the extended scene of Tong negotiating with a used car dealer to buy a van) and if you can somehow get past the pathetic production qualities—that in itself is a Herculean task that would likely prove insurmountable for even Tony Jaa himself—there is some decent martial arts choreography and stuntwork to enjoy. Rittikrai pieced the action stuff together (in which he excelled) and also directed the film (er, not so much) and was willing to put himself in the thick of it. The guy truly offers up his body to entertain you in death-defying stunts such as a head-on impact with a truck while he's riding a dirt bike followed by a belly-flop into a campfire, and the numerous fight sequences where he gets smoked. The dude can take a beating just as good as he can issue one and the willingness of the action hero to get his hands dirty is always appreciated.
But that's about it for highlights of what is otherwise a painful experience. The nonsensical story is made worse by horrible direction, and the fighting is mortally wounded by camerawork. The dialogue, however, is pretty funny, and it's obvious the voice-over artists hammed it up in the recording studio—and by "hammed up," I mean "drank large quantities of 80-proof malt liquor."
The video quality is very, very bad; there are numerous flaws evident throughout the film. I suspect that BCI Eclipse had sub-par source material to work with for their transfer, as this is a studio that usually cleans up their releases nice. The mono sound is about right for the no-frills tech treatment. A bizarre batch of extras accompany the film, nearly all lifted from Thai television. The best is a fifteen minute interview with Tony Jaa, where he talks about his influences and his relationship with Rittikrai. Producer Chokchai Melewan offers a brief retrospective on the film, a 35-minute special about stunts is pleasant filler, and two Ong Bak spoofs are just weird.
The movie stinks, but the stunts are awesome. Hey, Panna Rittikrai really did influence Tony Jaa!
The camera operator is ordered into detox—immediately!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
• Tony Jaa Interview
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