I think everyone can agree that the Southeast Asian action boom started in late 2003 with the success of the Thai film Ong-Bak, which not only propelled star Tony Jaa to a global audience, but also introduced the Muay Thai martial-arts to a new generation of fans. So why wouldn’t the same producers decide to cash in on the success very soon? It’s the only logical solution.
And so, in 2004, the world was given another action gift from the Thais, with the aptly titled Born to Fight. The plot revolves around burnt-out cop Daew (Dan Chupong, the villain in Ong-Bak 3) who is guilt-ridden from the death of his partner when busting gun-runner General Yang. In a bid to bring him out of his slump, Daew’s sister Nui, a taekwondo champion, asks him to accompany her and her athlete friends to a charity event sponsored by Thailand’s Sports Authority to distribute relief goods to a remote village located near the Thai/Burmese border. What starts out as a charity trip turns into a nightmare when Yang’s militia arrive at the village and brutally take over, senselessly slaughtering random villagers and demanding their leader be released within 24 hours, or they’ll launch a nuke to Bangkok. This simply cannot do for Daew and his pals, especially after hearing the Thai national anthem, and so they desperately strike back against the baddies.
Right off the bat, you know this film’s plot is altogether generic, stupid and insane, not even bothering to disguise its purpose as a barebones clothesline for the upcoming action sequences, as well as its blatant jingoism in an absurdly over-the-top manner, with egregious slow-motion at times and a near-intolerable techno-trash score pounding throughout. Think of it as a Thai-flavoured Die-Hard-in-a-Village-meets-Rambo-lite film. It also partially explains the gimmicky combination of sports and martial-arts as we are treated to a continuous series of bonkers fight scenes that meshes sports such as football (the English kind), rugby, gymnastics, and the Southeast Asian sport of sepak takraw with the bone-crunching trademarks of Thai martial-arts cinema. But hey, don’t leave the rest out of the fun! Witness such sights like a little girl about 8-9 years of age hold her own against an armed goon in a fight, a crippled man with only a single leg and on crutches round-house kicking another baddie, and another villager who literally goes into the fight waving a giant Thai flag. So it goes.
As ridiculous as those sequences are, they are unfaked – all of the major action sequences, the ones I’ve described above and much, much, more, were filmed and choreographed with actual, body-bouncing stunt work (as seen in the behind-the-scenes during the end credits), harkening back to the old Hong Kong action-first-plot-later films with Jackie Chan. Star Chupong may be a bit rough around the edges acting-wise, but his athleticism is amazing, and he has potential to be a big action star in Thailand given the chance. The film’s director, the late Panna Rittikrai (Jaa’s mentor as well as one of Thailand’s top stunt coordinators, who is also remaking his own 1986 film) relentlessly dishes out one action sequence after another, opening with a spectacular truck chase which devolves into a village bulldozing ala Chan’s Police Story.
After the clichéd lull in which our hero finds himself down in the dumps, the film picks up again once the militia enter the picture, with John Woo-esque gun battles, fight sequences in which burning wooden planks hit flesh, and kettles are kick-boxed towards heads are used to raise the adrenaline – before ending with an equally over-the-top finale which involves lots and lots of pyrotechnics. They’re all shot and edited smoothly without any hint of shaky-cam, though the slow-mo does wear off at times. Some of the stunts have a genuine “how-the-hell-did-they-do-that” aspect to them, with a particular stunt involving a motorcycle near the film’s end that could’ve ended the stuntmen’s lives if things went wrong. As stupid as the plot is, I have to give much credit to their immense dedication towards their craft, which aided greatly towards my enjoyment of the film. It knows it’s fun.
This movie isn’t great but it is so entertainingly cock-eyed in its vision that I still can’t tell whether it is a straight-up farce or the real deal. For the sake of my sanity, I’ll say both viewpoints are valid.