There’s been a rise in the Thai filmmaking industry, especially in the action movie genre. The American audience got it’s first significant wide-release taste of this new era of Thai cinema with rising action star Tony Jaa and ‘Ong Bak’. This was followed by ‘The Protector’ and now a sequel to ‘Ong Bak’ is in the works. Tony Jaa is being considered by some to be the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li. However, there is more to this increase in Thai action films than just Tony Jaa.
‘Born to Fight’ was released in 2004 and, while many have never heard of it, was widely released on DVD by Dragon Dynasty in April 2007. The story follows a young agent named Deaw who leaves the force after his partner/commander is killed during a bust. Deaw joins a group of athletes on a trip to a remote rural Thai village to deliver food and supplies and visit with the children. While visiting the village, a group of rebels loyal to an imprisoned general attacks the village and sets up camp. Their plan is to hold the villagers hostage and threaten to kill them if the government does not release the general.
The fascinating thing about ‘Born to Fight’ is that the film builds an incredible human drama as the story of the massacre unfolds. The filmmakers went out of their way to build a relationship between the villagers and the audience and does so effectively, without resorting to sappy, melodramatic techniques. We truly feel touched and care about these people. The lengthy section in the middle of the film when we get an immense dose of how the villagers live, what they’re like and who they are has the feel of a documentary recording real lives during a good will visit from a group of athletes. This sets us up in a unique way to root for those who fight against the rebels.
‘Born to Fight’ opens with a long action sequence depicting the events which lead Deaw (Dan Chupong) to his new life as an athlete. This scene introduces us to the Thai answer to action films, which are laden with incredible stunt work performed in realistic ways without wires or computer effects. Sure, this isn’t anything new. Jackie Chan has been doing this for years. Now that Jackie is getting older, you may have noticed he’s doing more movies that rely on computer effects, but we can’t discount how he started. Tony Jaa and the other Thai action stars like Dan Chupong are picking up the torch where Jackie left it. The stunts in ‘Born to Fight’ are simply amazing and it has more than your average moments that make you say “Oh, that had to hurt!”
Once Deaw and the other athletes find out that the rebels plan to launch a nuclear missile into the heart of Bangkok, they decide that they’d rather risk death by fighting the rebels that sit around as hostages waiting to die as millions of Thai people in Bangkok are incinerated. With this new fire to survive and fight evil, the athletes go on the offensive, showing off their skills and abilities. One of the cool elements of this extended battle portion of the film is the creative way of showing the athletes integrating their sporting disciplines into their fighting style. Soccer players are kicking balls, rocks and tea pots into rebels heads, gymnasts are slinging devastating swinging kicks from bars and beams and of course, Deaw is just plain kicking ass with his acrobatic and deadly martial arts training. At one point, even a little villager girl of about 8 years old is inspired to show her budding Muay Thai talent against one of the rebels. What makes this all work is that it maintains a serious and dramatic tone instead of accentuating the outlandishness of the events taking place on screen.
For a film I was eagerly anticipating when I first went into the viewing, I came out of the viewing even more enthusiastic by how entertaining it was and how professionally made the production turned out. If you enjoyed ‘Ong Bak’ then you’ll likely enjoy ‘Born to Fight’. Give it a chance and you won’t regret it… and stick around during the end credits for some Jackie Chan style stunt out takes that truly illustrate what these filmmakers go through just to entertain us. Oh yeah, and did I mention this Dragon Dynasty release is a two-disc ultimate edition?