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You can’t blame the Thais for continuing to produce action movies like “Raging Phoenix”. There are basically only two genres coming out of Thailand that sells nowadays – martial arts movies and horror films. Everything else just doesn’t translate very well. One of the industry’s newest import is female ass kicking wonder Jeeja Yanin, who burst onto the scene last year with “Chocolate”, directed by “Ong Bak” head honcho Prachya Pinkaew. The film benefited greatly from Yanin’s unassuming features. For “Raging Phoenix”, we already know the deal, so director Rashane Limtrakul and action choreographer Panna Rittikrai (another “Ong Bak” vet) had to throw us a twist – a new form of martial arts that combines Muay Thai with breakdancing. Or at least, that’s the idea.
The plot for “Raging Phoenix” is as superfluous as they come – neglected rich girl Deu (Yanin) spends her time playing (badly, I might add) drums for a pop band, when she’s nearly abducted one day while trying to drink herself to death thanks to an ex-boyfriend. As luck would have it, Deu is saved by Sanim (Kazu Patrick Tang), who happens to be hanging around when the bad guys come for our heroine. Sanim whisks her off, battling guys in pogo shoes outfitted with blades along the way. He takes her back home, or what passes for home, where Deu meets his two inebriated comrades. Sanim, you see, didn’t stumble across Deu by accident; he, along with his buds, have been tracking a kidnapping ring snatching up Thai girls for nefarious purposes for some time, and was on a stake-out when Deu stumbled into their business.
We eventually come to learn that Sanim and his pals are more than just crusaders; they are themselves victims of the kidnapping ring – men whose women were taken by the scoundrels. When it becomes obvious that Deu is the perfect bait to lure out the bad guys, she must be taught the ways of the b-boy combat arts. Which, um, happens in a couple of days. Or however long the film’s training montage lasts. To be honest with you, it’s all a little silly how easily and quickly Deu goes from bad drummer in a pop band to super ass kicking heroine. Not only does she suddenly develop amazing b-boying skills, our girl mixes them up with some primo Muay Thai striking abilities as well. Yes, this is definitely one of those, “Just go along with it” moments.
The hook for “Raging Phoenix” is that director Limtrakul and action choreographer Rittikrai have come up with an original form of combat by combining the free-flowing rhythms of breakdancing with Muay Thai. And lots of drinking. It works, to an extent, but more often than not the whole thing looks and feels clumsy, not helped by the fact that the breakdancers are probably not real martial artists, and as a result their kicks and punches don’t look quite as convincing. It’s saying something when the tiny girl actually looks like she can kick ass even before she is supposed to have been privy to the (in this case, literally) secret “sauce” of the Muay Thai fighting breakdancers.
It’s beyond reason to expect too much from a movie like “Raging Phoenix”. It’s just understood that the acting will be bad, the emotions so forced as to be painful, and plotting only necessary to get our heroes from fight A to fight B. That’s what director Rashane Limtrakul provides, and honestly, it’s more than enough to carry the day. The action is really what everyone has paid money to see, and “Phoenix” certainly doesn’t skimp on the goodies. The choreography takes some getting used to and is nowhere near the punishing type of combat we’ve become used to from Rittikrai, perhaps a direct result of having to incorporate the stylish moves of breakdancing into the mix.
Things do pick up in the final 30 minutes, when the good guys finally discover the hidden lair of the baddies (underground, no less) and converge for a final series of seemingly neverending combat. Interestingly enough, Yanin’s style seems to revert back almost exclusively to Muay Thai during the film’s latter half, which is telling. And although you probably didn’t expect for it to be any less “out there”, the bad guys are led by an Amazonian fighter wearing a bikini bra. I kid you not. She is aided in her criminal empire by two kung fu types, and her real goal for kidnapping those Thai girls? Well let’s just say I’ve never heard of pheromones being that lucrative.
A movie like “Raging Phoenix” and, indeed, a lot of the current crop of action movies that are coming out of Thailand defies the traditional review. Which is why I won’t bother criticizing the acting, or the screenplay, and just tell you that if you like the idea of little Jeeja Yanin flying around onscreen taking it to the boys, then “Raging Phoenix” is your cup of tea. Anyone who finds that notion too ludicrous, or demands an explanation as to how a rich girl is able to grasp enough of Muay Thai to take on a warehouse full of baddies after a couple of days of training need not apply.
Rashane Limtrakul (director) / Sompope Vejchapipat (screenplay)
CAST: Jeeja Yanin … Deu
Kazu Patrick Tang … Sanim
Nui Sandang …
Sompong Lertwimonkasem …