When watching documentaries there is, commonly, a great deal of material that needs to be overlooked in order to fully enjoy the film. Typically, the cinematography, the editing and a number of other purely technical aspects have to be “gotten used to” before one can completely immerse themselves in the world the storyteller is trying to portray. In Fight Or Flight, the only aspect that seems to need to be overlooked is the lack of background information.
On first viewing, the entire first half hour of the film is spent trying figure out who the principle really is and what the reasons behind the story are. There is no narration, whatsoever, and all of the speaking is done completely interview style with most of the people unidentified. That, in and of itself, is intriguing because the timeline of the story and each new location are clearly titled. The difficulties in immersing oneself in the world portrayed in Fight Or Flight ends there. Once you’re hooked, you’re in for a very engaging and thoughtful trip through the perilous catacombs inside the mind of an average man. Namely, Irish film producer/writer/director Peter J McCarthy, who decides to face his fears, self-admittedly created by severe bullying as a child, and beyond. He challenges himself and dives, head first, into Thailand’s national ring fighting sport, Muay Thai boxing.
What most viewers will not expect is the flawless editing (done by artist Shane Sutton) cleverly embellished with stock war and nature footage, a contrasting soundtrack that includes traditional Thai folk music interlaced with modern trance and a little Irish folk and a thoughtful exposé on the state of the world given by a buddhist monk with a PhD. This isn’t a sports film. This isn’t Rocky. There’s no majestic rise to victory and glory. McCarthy and his Good Dog Films production crew have created something entirely unique.
If you’re looking for a feel good movie about a rags to riches hero, look elsewhere, but do yourself the honor of watching the film anyway because it carries a message that most should hear. What, another message movie? Yeah, and this one will actually entertain you while, the entire time, it’s making you think about things you normally wouldn’t. Not for a minute does it get so graphic or so preachy that you’ll squirm. This is an internal dilemma that happens to everyone. When faced with an enemy what response are you most likely to have? Many of us will never know the answer to that question because our lives will never be threatened in that way. Obviously, a young boy, growing up in the brutal streets of Ireland would have to face that
The film follows McCarthy through his nineteen months in Thailand. During the first three months the viewer is introduced to McCarthy, mostly, through his trainers and a few fellow boxers, one of which is an outspoken and rather philosophical American. The story then moves through McCarthy’s first fight, a short stay at the Wat Ram Poeng Buddhist Monastery, nearly a year travelling up and down Thailand trying to discover the secrets behind what motivates fighters in Muy Thai, his second, and final, fight and a little beyond.
Enthusiasts of kickboxing and, more specifically, Muy Thai boxing will be pleased at the level of respect Fight Or Flight, and McCarthy, pay to the trainers involved in Muy Thai. McCarthy interviews one trainer who admits that he started training his youngest son at age six, one year before. At one point McCarthy points out that a skilled trainer will recognize when a fighter is ready to fight and will spend extra time pushing him to the limit, but not before. He also talks about how fit the trainers themselves are by telling a story about one trainer who was “like a telephone pole” and could not be moved.
There’s no denying the amount of physical prowess that many of his competitors exhibit after training for so long. McCarthy isn’t afraid to point out that, because of his inexperience and relative lack of fitness, most of them would destroy him. At one point, an interview with another fighter reveals that most trainers, in Muy Thai, will force a fighter to enter the ring too soon. They look for heart. They see no point in training someone who does not already have the desire to fight.
What starts out as a single man’s quest to face his own demons brought on by all of the times in his life that he’s felt like a victim ends up being a personal revelation that he just doesn’t want to fight. McCarthy comes to the realization that there’s a fundamental difference between the primitive fight or flight response and a simple, more human desire to resolve the conflict peacefully, without anger or fear. What McCarthy actually discovers is that somewhere in Thailand he found himself.
Peter J. McCarthy, Shane Sutton (director) / Peter J. McCarthy (screenplay)
CAST: Peter J. McCarthy … Subject