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The Thai martial arts boom born of Tony Jaa’s “Ong Bak” continues with “Raging Phoenix”, which sees pint sized sensation Jija Yanin returning to screens after her impressive debut as the heroine of “Chocolate”. The film was directed by Rashane Limtrakul (“Romantic Blue” and “4 Romances”), and more importantly features fight choreography by Panna Rittikrai and his stunt team, who worked on “Ong Bak”, “Chocolate” and who recently directed “Ong Bak 2”. With this kind of pedigree, fans should certainly be expecting plenty of hard knocks action, and the film certainly delivers just that, albeit with somewhat of a twist, as its Muay Thai techniques are combined with Drunken Boxing and hip hop break dancing to give its fight scenes a unique feel. The film now arrives on region 2 DVD via Cine Asia, coming with a range of extras including B-roll action footage, interviews and the obligatory trailers.
The plot might politely be described as generic. Jija Yanin stars as Deu, a tough but lonely girl who goes on a drinking binge after finding her boyfriend cheating and being kicked out of her rock and roll band. After a bungled kidnap attempt by transvestites, she is rescued by Sanim (French-Vietnamese martial artist champion Kazu Patrick Tang, also in Jet Li’s “Danny the Dog”) and his three oddball, charmingly named friends Pigshit, Dogshit and Bullshit. Taking her under their wing, they teach her the drunken fighting technique Mayraiyuth, and she decides to help them take on a group of evil kidnappers who have been snatching young women off the streets, including Sanim’s unfortunate bride.
As anyone who has seen “Ong Bak” or any other of the new wave of Thai martial arts films will probably expect, the plot of “Raging Phoenix” is sketchy and scattershot at best, serving only to provide a backdrop for the fight scenes. This is a shame, as it means that the film suffers from all the usual problems of its type, namely variable pacing, non existent character development and substandard melodrama, all of which makes it rather dull outside of the action. Even in terms of the traditional martial arts vengeance plot the film’s narrative is weak, with Deu’s transformation from fresh faced sulker to fearsome warrior being achieved in just a few short montage training scenes. This having been said, the film does earn a few points and a valuable sense of far out fun from some of the twists during its final third, which take it almost into “Big Trouble in Little China” style fantasy territory, with the evil gang having their lair in a bizarre network of underground caverns, which come complete with dry ice, neon lights, rope bridges and bottomless pits. The actual scheme behind the kidnappings, which involves distilling tears of sorrow into pheromone perfume, is similarly wacky, and this does make the film a touch more engaging, if in a ludicrous manner.
Of course, the film’s main draws are its fight scenes and the presence of Jija Yanin. Panna Rittikrai’s choreography for the martial arts and stunts are as impressive as ever, and the film features several excellent sequences with the expected bone crunching use of knees and elbows. Oddly enough, the Drunken Boxing conceit is done away with fairly early on, with Deu training with the aid of liquor, though never seeming to need it much when she comes up against the gang. Thankfully, also quickly forgotten are the film’s break dancing and hip hop stylings, which never really sit too comfortably with the more visceral martial arts techniques, making some of the early scenes a little clumsy and over-choreographed rather than realistic. Wisely, Limtrakul does keep the action coming thick and fast, and although the film does at times feel like a tenuously connected series of brawls, this works well enough, and it helps to distract from its failings in other areas.
Jija Yanin again proves herself to be an absolute star, and is the film’s real trump card. Not only incredible nimble and physically talented, she has considerable screen presence, and though her protagonist is thinly sketched at best, she manages to make her likeable and sympathetic. Whilst the thought of a tiny slip of a girl taking on hordes of supposed bad ass opponents, not to mention women’s body building champion Roongtawan Jindasing as the chief villainess, may sound a little unbelievable, she quickly stamps her mark on the film and shows off her amazing physical prowess throughout.
As such, “Raging Phoenix” makes for fun viewing, and should certainly be enjoyed by fans of the star or of Thai martial arts. With its odd final third and strange blend of fighting styles, anyone anticipating hardcore or truly realistic combat scenes should probably adjust their expectations, though even so, it still serves up plenty of awesome stunts and brutal knees to the head.
Rashane Limtrakul (director) / Sompope Vejchapipat (screenplay)
CAST: Jeeja Yanin … Deu
Kazu Patrick Tang … Sanim
Nui Sandang …
Sompong Lertwimonkasem …