Born to Fight (2004) Movie Review

If you’re a normal person like me, you should be thinking these thoughts while watching the Thai action movie “Born to Fight”:

“You know, they really shouldn’t be doing that. I mean, that can’t possibly be safe.”

“Who is going to pay for this guy’s medical bills? Or that guy? Or that girl?”

“Holy crap. Did that guy just throw that little girl into a wall?”

There is something not quite right with watching Panna Rittikrai try to single-handedly wipe out the stuntman’s union in Thailand. Of course there is no such thing as a stuntman’s union in Thailand, which is exactly why a movie like “Born to Fight” is possible in the first place. So I guess once Rittikrai and company buries all the stuntmen they killed for the movie, no one will be the wiser. Smart.

As with “Ong Bak” (which Rittikrai co-wrote and choreographed the action for) “Born to Fight” is the type of movie sane stuntmen would not get involved in. That is, unless they had a death wish, or was tired of all that walking around stuff. The gimmick for “Born to Fight” is that writer/director Panna Rittikrai, who had actually done a similar movie in the ’80s (so he’s actually remaking his own movie), has cast real Thai athletes in action roles, working under the assumption that it’s easier to teach athletes to act than it is to teach actors to fight.

Having seen the film, I’m not sure if Rittikrai successfully taught his athletes to act. Not that it matters, of course. Having athletes in “acting” roles allows Rittikrai to create absurd scenarios where his actors get to employ gymkata (a combination of gymnastics and karate) on the bad guys. Without a doubt, it’s all ridiculous and over the top, such as the scene of the short gymnast hopping about the village with a baby strapped to his back, or the hero jumping and spinning and kicking when a simple kick to the face would have suffice. Then again, “Born to Fight” is less of a movie than it is an excuse to maim stuntmen and demolish an entire rural Thai village that the filmmakers built themselves. The unnecessary napalming of said village at the end of the film seems to bear this out. Couldn’t they have just left it be, so some poor homeless souls could live in it?

The story, such as it is, concerns Deaw (Dan Chupong), a young cop who we first see capturing a notorious gun smuggler named Yang (Noppol Gomarachun). In the ensuing insanity, involving those semi trucks seen in the trailers and the initial stills of “Born to Fight” that appeared on the net, Deaw survives, Yang is captured, but Deaw’s boss and mentor gets fried to a crisp. Now a clich’d burnt out cop suffering from self-doubt and guilt, Deaw is convinced by his little sister to take a trip to a rural village where she and her athlete pals plan to dole out food and toys to the villagers. Of the athletes, there is a rugby player, a soccer coach, and other assorted gymnasts whose names I’m not sure were ever mentioned.

While Deaw and company are in the village, the place is suddenly surrounded and taken over by a large gang of killers seeking to free their captured boss, Yang. After slaughtering half the villagers and rounding up the rest, the bad guys make an ultimatum to the Thai Prime Minister — release Yang, or the rest of the villagers die. The Prime Minister, in his infinite wisdom, sends in the Marines — er, well, no. He actually sends in some guys in ski masks, which promptly gets another dozen or so villagers killed. It’s up to Deaw and the athletes, imbued by a sudden burst of silly, “where did that come from?” nationalistic pride, to fight back in a wild free-for-all.

“Born to Fight” essentially breaks down into two halves, with the second half — a whole 40-something minutes — devoted to the “fight back” sequence. I kid you not when I say that the film runs for 40 minutes straight with endless scenes of the athletes and Deaw taking it to the bad guys, making use of their individual skills. Everyone gets their moment to shine, from the soccer coach who uses anything he can get his foot on to, well, “soccer” the bad guys to death. The rugby player basically throws people around cause he’s, you know, big and stuff. And another athlete, who bounces small, wooden balls off his head and knees, bounces small wooden balls and just about anything he can find off bad guys’ heads. And of course the female athletes do, well, athletic stuff. It’s all very “Gymkata”-ish. Kurt Thomas should be proud.

It’s pretty obvious Panna Rittikrai had only one goal — to film as much raw mayhem as possible. In this respect he succeeds with flying colors. “Born to Fight” is almost surreal in its ability to slaughter people at will, with most of the villagers dying, and an endless sea of faceless bad guys lining up to take a beating. Obviously the story is heavily derivative of “Die Hard”, except this time John McClane is a short Thai guy and instead of an overweight black guy who aids him from the outside, Thai John’s got a bunch of anonymous athletes. There’s no Hans Gruber present, unfortunately, since the bad guys barely have anything to do in-between looking bad and shooting up villagers.

Mind you, not that any of the film’s lacking attributes impact negatively in any way, for the simple reason that probably no one expected a lot of depth from the film, and certainly it shows no inclination to offer any. There is homage aplenty, from a semi (on fire, no less) demolishing a shingle town built conveniently on the side of a hill (from Jackie Chan’s “Police Story”) to a shot of a missile shooting across a city skyline that was lifted directly from Michael Bay’s meteorite film “Armageddon”. And of course, being that this is a “Die Hard in a …” movie, the bad guys come with all manner of high tech gear to ward off the authorities, including — get this — a nuclear missile!

Simply put, “Born to Fight” is 90-odd minutes of random over-the-top action shot to a throbbing techno soundtrack. It’s not “Ong Bak”, although it does come dangerously close to being that other movie’s bastard love child. Rittikrai certainly knows how to kill stuntmen, and there should probably be a law against such wanton disregard for human life. Then again, if you’re one of those people who have been anticipating “Born to Fight” based on everything you’ve heard and seen, you should love it. It’s everything I thought it would be — mindless, pointless, and insanely entertaining. Watch the scene where Deaw and two bad guys wail on each other with flaming 2×4’s and tell me you still want to take this movie seriously.

Panna Rittikrai (director) / Panna Rittikrai (screenplay)
CAST: Dan Chupong …. Deaw
Noppol Gomarachun …. General Yang

Buy Born to Fight on DVD