Vengeance of an Assassin (2014)
Director: Panna Rittikrai
Starring: Dan Chupong, Nantawooti Boonrapsap, Ping Lumprapleng and Nui-Kessarin Ektawatkul
From the director and fight choreographer of Ong Bak, the late Panna Rittikrai, this is a cheap, but enthusiastic little martial arts action flick with heart, even if the fun is compromised to some extent by a patchy script.
Thai brothers, Natee and Than live with their washed up, drunken uncle who has raised them since the death of their parents. When they discover a stash of home videotapes in the uncle’s backroom they learn that their parents were undercover cops, killed in the line of duty, and vow to take revenge. Nice, simple plot, right? A straightforward idea like that could deliver great things if it’s handled right. A furious, butt-kicking story of revenge. Kind of like The Raid 2 should have been. That’s a movie which I couldn’t help remembering when I watched this, for several reasons. But, just like The Raid 2, the film makers here have taken a simple premise and made it unnecessarily convoluted so that, for me at least, it’s a little confusing and, at times, almost tedious, story-wise.
Another, more favourable comparison with The Raid 2 is that the fight scenes are pretty cool, and there’s plenty of them. The fighters are clearly experts in their respective arts. The choreography is good. There’s a lot of nice touches thrown in, such as when a flurry of kicks and punches are followed up by a jack knife to the skull, just to be sure. Combatants make great use of the environment too, so people don’t just get kicked painfully across the screen, they get kicked into an iron fence, or into an unforgiving hunk of industrial machinery with metal levers and gauges and shit, then roughly drop to the ground and bang their faces on a pipe or a pile of bricks. Ouch! At times they go over the top though. There’s one part of a fight where the two brawlers totally go out of their way to punch, kick and hurl each other through multiple panes of glass. I’m not sure what the hell all this glass was even doing there in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing that stuff, but it seemed a bit contrived and eventually even I was getting numb to the sight of livid, snarling Asian dudes flying, or punching through one wall of glass after another.
Although apparently influenced by those more recent martial arts movies by a certain Welshman, Vengeance is, at times, a throwback to the John Woo films of old. There are a few overly melodramatic scenes where men blubber like angry, red-faced infants, rather than just setting their jaws and scowling like Schwarzenegger or Stallone would. On a more positive note, there’s this one scene where the main character dons a long brown raincoat and sunglasses and goes on a double M16 toting, grenade throwing rampage, like a skinnier version of Chow Yun Fat in an old Hong Kong action movie. Incidentally, the enemies are pretty dumb, demonstrating the kind of bad AI you’d get in a shitty computer game and taking cover amongst a bunch of highly explosive barrels. Still, it’s nice to see the bad guys being blown all over the place, often on fire, whilst the hero throws himself across the screen, dodging in and out of cover, blasting a shotgun (when the assault rifles click empty) and tossing grenades. That’s another thing I like to see – bad guys on fire.
What stops this frenzy of violence from being the best action movie I’ve seen in ages? In the first half I started to fear that it would spiral into a series of pointless gangland assassinations, where gangsters and thugs who I didn’t know or give a shit about are executed by other gangsters and thugs I didn’t know or give a shit about (like in Berandal). And there are some silly moments, such as a guy throwing a bowl of noodles over some enemies (and their over-the-top reactions) before he grabs a chicken leg and starts hitting someone in the face with it. All of which is played completely straight. I mean, really? There’s also a scene on a train, which has some good aspects, but looks fucking awful when they’re fighting on the roof of a moving carriage, the special effects just look horrible. There’s also a CGI helicopter that looks like shit. Maybe they took notes from The Expendables 3 for that scene.
The older brother is practically indestructible. About halfway through he gets run through with a metal pole, completely skewered through the chest, by a sadistic femme fatale (if you dig sexy, dangerous Asian chicks, like I do, google this girl – Nui-Kessarin Ektawatkul). I thought that had to be the end of him – who the hell could survive that? But he recovers to fight his way through the rest of the movie. Later, in an utterly ridiculous scene that made me laugh out loud he is repeatedly run over by a car at high speed, rolling over the bonnet and bouncing off the roof once, twice, three times, and he still doesn’t die. He must get shot a couple of times as well, not to mention being punched, kicked and chopped more times than you can count.
Whilst I’m not 100 percent sure that this is better than The Raid 2, on the whole, there are some aspects of it which do work better in my view, mainly the director’s determination to say the hell with it and just go nuts without feeling the need to be too pretentious at the same time. It also clocks in at a reasonable 90 minutes or so. Subtlety is not the movie’s strong point, and neither is great CGI, but the more I think about it, the more I think, so the fuck what? So far as I’m concerned even good CGI is usually pretty obvious and boring as hell anyway. It’s the fighting that matters. These guys have ignored the low budget and gone all out. And out of sheer respect for that I’m giving it 6 out of 10.