Exceedingly silly, exceedingly enjoyable martial arts hokum.
The latest film from Prachya Pinkaew sees him sticking with the chop sockey theme that served him well with the two Tony Jaa outings, although this time round Jaa himself takes a rain check, passing the hole of head facebreaker to young girl Yanin Wismitanant, seemingly nicknamed 'Jeeja', which makes life easier on my tongue at least. He's never been what you'd call big on plot, the last film Warrior King essentially reducing to "someone steals Tony Jaa's elephant. He retrieves it. And elbows people in the head." There's a more convoluted nature to this tale, which if I attempt to relate to you will probably open me up to accusations of having dreamt it.
Bear with me here. Some years ago, the Yakuza attempt to muscle in on local Thai crime boss Number 8 (Pongpat Wachirabunjong)'s turf. This doesn't go well for the Japanese, and they're booted out but not before Number 8's mistress (or so it appears) Zin (Ammara Siripong) falls in love with Japanese lieutenant Masashi (Hiroshi Abe). They are forcibly split up and told never to see each other again in a step that seems crudely forced in to set up a film plot, but not before a bun is placed in her oven.
Some years later, Zin's living a quiet life with the child, Zen (Yanin "Jeeja" Wismitanant). She has learning difficulties that in the context of any other film would be laughable, in as much as she's able to assimilate new styles of kung-fu essentially by watching them for a while. Well, okay, they're fairly laughable abilities in this film as well. At any rate, these skills as well as her exceptional reflexes are put to use by old friend Mangmoom (Taphon Phopwandee) as part of a street hustle to make some cash to cover Zin's rising medical costs, as she undergoes what is apparently leukaemia treatment, although as far as I recall it's just 'generic illness' as far as the subtitles are concerned.
So far, no elephants. Things take a turn for the interesting, albeit still not elephant related, when Mangmoom stumbles across a book of debts owed to Zin and her old boss from her previous occupation.
Struggling to pay bills any other way, the obvious solution is now to kidnap an elephant and throw it through a plate glass window. Oh, wait, that was the last film. The obvious solution here is to have Zen knock down the door of these small time crooks and demand payment.
As they find out to their cost, they being the Evil proprietors of the Evil Ice Factory and Evil Butchers, or at least I assume they are evil, as they hire Evil Goons, Zen is not a girl to be trifled with, unless you want a sound kicking. At any rate, collecting on these debts gets Number 8 all worked up again and before you know it there's henchmen flying out of the wazoo and Masashi heads back over and all of a sudden Zen's fighting a goon credited as 'Epileptic Boxer' and a dozen more Thai stuntmen are back in hospital.
As with Prachya Pinkaew's prior works, and I suppose most action films in general, do not go in here looking for a particularly tight plot unless you like being disappointed. It's only just on the right side of nonsensical, and not in the same postcode as believable, so fair to say that's not its strongest suite. What you pays your money for is the actions sequences, and it's here that you more or less gets your value for your money that you paid.
More or less. First off, the fight choreography from the team is about as good as I've seen. It's imaginative, inventive, fluid, graceful and often beautiful, in that sort of 'ouch' sense of beautiful at least. On this aspect at least, and regardless of everything else I'll say about this film, for anyone with the vaguest hint of a passing interest in martial arts movies simply must take a look at this film.
The 'less' part of the more or less stems from the protagonist. As young teenage girl knocking lumps out of these henchmen, she just doesn't seem convincingly impactful and this acts as a continual reminder of how silly this film is. As it turns out, this impression is entirely wrong as the trailer 'blooper / near fatal injury' reel shows, Jeeja would be more than capable of snapping me in half like a twig. However, on camera, it never quite feels that way and it's to the slight detriment of the film. Compare, inevitably, with Tony Jaa, someone who legitimately looks like he could rip off your head and shit down your neck. One handed.
So essentially my reason for liking this film is the fight choreography, and reasons for not liking it are pretty much everything else. It's testament to how good the action is that it more than makes up for the ropy acting, plot, concept, motivations, etc. and I still wound up liking this film quite a lot. Although, I do have to wonder how this sub-genre of Thai cinema will hold up once the inevitable governmental health and safety regulations catch up with the stunt teams and force them to stop hurling themselves from buildings willy- nilly.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Ammara Siripong (Zin)
Hiroshi Abe (Masashi)
Pongpat Wachirabunjong (No. 8)