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French production “Sons of the Wind: Bangkok Ninjas” (aka “The Great Challenge”) was originally released back in 2004, and is a semi sequel to the Luc Besson produced 2001 film “Yamakasi – Les Samouraïs des Temps Modernes”. The film is another parkour themed affair, which reunites Les Groupe Yamakasi for another tale of rooftop running and drainpipe climbing, as the gang head off to Asia to right wrongs and take on triads and yakuza. Julien Seri, who also worked on the original, as well as directing the 2007 MMA film “Scorpion” takes the helm, aiming for a flashy, high energy feel. The film now arrives on region 2 DVD via Manga Entertainment, with no extras or special features.
The film follows the self styled Yamakasi group as they travel to Bangkok, where leader Leo (Laurent Piemontesi) has magnanimously decided to open a gym for under privileged street kids, presumably to teach them the valuable skill of how to cross the road without touching the ground. Sadly for the well-meaning Frenchmen, they soon find themselves in the middle of a turf war between the triads and the yakuza, neither of whom take too kindly to a bunch of loons treating the city as their personal playground. Things become more complicated when one of the gang falls for Tsu (Elodie Yung, also in “District 13: Ultimatum”), a beautiful young woman who has been working with her brother Kien (Châu Belle Dinh) for the yakuza.
From the very first scene “Sons of the Wind: Bangkok Ninjas” feels hopelessly outdated and lacking in edge, having none of the visceral impact or immediacy of “Ong Bak” or any other of the modern wave of realistic and brutal martial arts films. Julien Seri shoots the action as if it were a particularly pretentious music video, with almost every move being overly choreographed, CGI enhanced or chopped up by flashy editing techniques. This detracts from the obvious talents of the Yamakasi group, leaving them looking like posers or perhaps faintly ludicrous dancers.
It doesn’t help that the film features very little actual martial arts or fight scenes, and since the opening sequence shows pretty much all there is to show in terms of parkour, the viewer is left with very little to look forward to except more of the same. The few scenes of martial arts that there are all lack any kind of edge or excitement, and the film feels very much like a television pilot, failing to generate any sense of danger or risk. Even though it only runs around an hour and a half, it feels far longer, with its flat set pieces and tired plot making it feel needlessly and endlessly over stretched.
Worse still is the fact that the film has a patronisingly orientalist feel, with the French mob simply strolling into Bangkok and acting as if they own the place while teaching the bad guys a lesson and winning the girls. The triad and yakuza villains are all laughable stereotypes, and the film as a whole has an off putting air of weird exoticism. Whilst there is nothing cinematically wrong with seeing Asia through western eyes, the sight of the designer sports gear wearing goons lording it over the ramshackle rooftops and neon alleyways is somewhat distasteful, even more so given that everyone in the film either speaks or is dubbed into French. This itself gives the feel of watching the kind of badly dubbed nonsense that viewers had to put up with twenty years ago, and is further accentuated by a shabby script that fails to differentiate between its characters or to drum up any convincing motivations or believable relationships.
Such a catalogue of errors makes “Sons of the Wind: Bangkok Ninjas” pretty cringe worthy viewing, and a film which is likely only to be enjoyed by diehard fans of the original or the Yamakasi group. Julien Seri shows very little knowledge of the martial arts or indeed action genres, delivering an exercise in smug tedium that misses the point entirely, and offers up the worst of both worlds, achieving neither the intensity of “Ong Bak” and its Thai peers, nor the exhilaration of recent French thriller such as “District 13”.
Julien Seri (director) / Bruno Guiblet, Philippe Lyon, Charles Perrière, Julien Seri (screenplay)
CAST: Williams Belle … Williams
Châu Belle Dinh … Kien
Malik Diouf … Kenjee
Yann Hnautra … Yann
Guylain N’Guba-Boyeke … Yaguy (as Guylain)
Charles Perrière … Logan
Laurent Piemontesi … Léo
Elodie Yung … Tsu