Archive for the ‘TITLE B’ Category



VIETNAM 2009  Directed by: Le Thanh Son  Written by: Johnny Tri Nguyen  Produced by: Jimmy Pham, Thanh Truc Nguyen  Cinematography by: Dominic Pereira  Editing by: Ham Tran  Music by: Christopher Wong  Cast: Johnny Tri Nguyen, Thanh Van Ngo, Hieu Hien, Hoang Phuc Nguyen, Lam Minh Thang

Once upon a time Thailand was the rising star of martial arts cinema. Those were the days of raw energy, no-holds-barred filmmaking, stunts without wires or safety net and a good portion of disrespect towards genre conventions. But the only constant is change, and maybe it’s time for a reality check.

Looking at one of the latest productions coming out of the kingdom, BANGKOK KNOCKOUT, it becomes apparent that times are a-changing indeed: in a forum, amid all the expected and undifferentiated praise for another “martial arts masterpiece”, one member pointed out correctly that all there was to the trailer was “wirework and sped-up frames”. Even though the film does not rely on trickery alone, it is also a fact that current Thai martial arts films are not true to their origins any more. What once made Tony Jaa and co. successful has been replaced by a more commercial, “convenient” approach that can easily satisfy the masses without breaking bones and risking lives anymore. It’s the beginning of a McDonaldization of Thai action cinema: mass production of something that feels just like the real thing to the casual viewer, but really isn’t.

Now watch CLASH for a change and you will see a lot of the qualities that many Thai movies are missing nowadays, and we have missed for a while. That’s not saying that CLASH wouldn’t resort to trickery as well, but the result is substantially different: CLASH hurts and gives you little reason to believe that it’s not for real most of the time. Legibility of intricate action is not about the better choreography (arguably, CLASH features better choreographed action sequences indeed, even though they are very much inspired by the Tony Jaa school), or better technology, or the better cast, but is about attention to detail: Thai action flicks have never been especially refined, but lately they are increasingly sloppy, careless and almost solely eying a quick ROI, believing good enough is good enough.

CLASH, on the other hand, is getting almost everything right: the action is not always spectacular, but raw and realistic, the script above average with a lot of detailed, well-rounded character description and clear rationalization; then, the cast can do more than just deliver great stunts, and the editing and direction are clearly more crafted than anything Prachya Pinkaew has delivered in all those years. Add to that a significant dose of 80’s Hong Kong gangster film flair and you have a smooth genre blend that is entertaining, gripping and romantic (that goes for both, the love stories as well as the deaths). Oh, and it also has Ms. Thanh Van Ngo, something missing in most Thai actioners I believe.

Nearly a decade after ONG-BAK Thai martial arts cinema is not such a potent symbol for the success of action made in Asia anymore, as it seems too content with its own achievements and leaves innovation and honest filmmaking to others. It is with a bit of regret that I notice that Mr. Nguyen is leaving for Hollywood, dedicating his skills to X-MEN: FIRST CLASS; then again, he wouldn’t be the first one returning to Asia rather sooner than later (not that we don’t wish him good luck).

It is more likely however that we will see the ascendance of Hong Kong cinema once again, rising from the ashes; but whatever Asian cinema will be claiming or reclaiming the martial arts throne in the future, it will have to prove its dominance in other areas than just stunts and grunts, and take both its subject and its audience more seriously than most recent films from Thailand.







THAILAND 2010  Directed by: Panna Rittikrai, Morakot Kaewthanee  Produced by: Prachya Pinkaew, Panna Rittikrai Cast: Kietisak Udomnak, Pimchanok Leuwisetpaibul, Sorapong Chatree, Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Kazu Patrick Tang, Sorapang Chatree

ROUND 1: I am aware that nobody cares about the plot of BKO: BANGKOK KNOCKOUT (those who would are most certainly not interested in the movie in the first place), so I will not spend too much time complaining about it.

A group of stuntmen is participating in a casting tournament for a Hollywood movie. They win, but are captured and instead of going to the States they have to compete against unknown enemies in a rundown real estate compound, while some rich people are betting on them, making – or losing – a fortune.

Of course the plot is stolen (only the plot holes are genuine), but to be fair the story also provides one of the more solid frameworks we’ve seen in movies like this. Just don’t ask questions, don’t expect logic.

ROUND 2: the film mostly features stuntmen from the teams who did some of the Thai action flicks we all know, so it makes sense that the story is drafted around a stunt team. It is clearly one of the smarter moves not to try to turn them into something they are not – as a result, BANGKOK KNOCKOUT feels relatively authentic and honest, and would have come close to the stunt film format I have proposed many times if, well if, they just had eliminated any kind of story for good. Never mind.

ROUND 3: You should think that six years after BORN TO FIGHT it’s about time to change the recipe, but innovation is absent around BANGKOK KNOCKOUT. I cannot see the motivation to do something new or anything that seriously outguns all the earlier Jaa / Rittikrai / Pinkaew movies (despite the director’s claims). By and large BANGKOK KNOCKOUT is more of the same, a pretty solid action fest following the well-known success formula. BKO is fun, fast and features some outstanding stunts and notable set pieces, but it must also be mentioned that the movie bears no surprises.

ROUND 4: Talking about the action I am a bit disappointed. It’s not that it lacks the wow factor, but I didn’t really feel excited about the choreography, nor did I feel the impact, no matter how tough the fights really were (or seemed). Maybe that also had to do with the fact that certain tricks are being used too frequently or have become too obvious, like wires, speeding up of images or armor worn under the clothes. I am not sure what was the intention behind the scene when one of the enemies takes off his shirt and reveals the exact same steel armor that makes many of these raw stunts possible (if you ever wondered how come they can kick and jump into each others stomachs like that, now you know), but it is also no secret that Mr. Rittikrai once again uses “dust” and water excessively to make the blows look better (Hong Kong did that already decades ago, by the way). So maybe there was no intention whatsoever.

ROUND 5: Saying BANGKOK KNOCKOUT is a good movie is like believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or Barack Obama bringing about change. Technically speaking, the film is a disaster. Many things are executed so badly, you almost feel like watching a Making Of. Abandoned housing projects are being prepped as restaurants, the lighting is so bad that you can see when it comes from a spotlight, weapons are obviously fake (like the big axe that looks like a 20 g toy), editing and directing are not even close to editing and directing, and let’s better not discuss the dialogue or acting (but hey, thanks for the bearable farang villain). The mentality is a bit like “that’s good enough for the audience”: BANGKOK KNOCKOUT misses attention to detail, perfection, even professionalism, but if that insults you, or is just another “who cares” on the very long who-cares-list, is something everyone has to judge for her- or himself.

ROUND 6: with BANGKOK KNOCKOUT, the target audience gets exactly what they want, a no-holds-barred fight movie featuring an array of breakneck, sometimes awesome stunts. If you are into this kind of entertainment you cannot not like this one – BANGKOK KNOCKOUT is must-see action for any die-hard fan. As nobody has promised us a great movie, or any surprises, it’s not surprising however that BANGKOK KNOCKOUT is not a great movie, and not surprising.

Despite BANGKOK KNOCKOUT kicking ass like crazy, it is also a copy-and-paste job, a hardboiled mashup of what’s been done before. It features enough borderline insane action to entertain from beginning to end, but in the future someone will have to rethink action made in Thailand as it all starts to feel like a TV show in its 50th season.









SINGAPORE 2010  Directed by: Kelvin Tong Written by: Ken Kwek, Kelvin Tong, Danny Yeo Produced by: Aimee Fong, Ong Hung Heng, May Pun, Lim Teck, Leon Tong Cinematography: Wai Yin Chiu Editing by: Wai Chiu Chung Music by: Joe Ng Cast: Christopher Lee, Regene Lim, Phyllis Quek, Jack Lim, Jerald Tan

It wasn’t very wise of the Singaporean government to be too restrictive in handling film content for decades. Not only has it led to extensive censorship of foreign movies, it has also massively hampered the local movie industry and prevented it from developing. Now, it suddenly has become convenient for the leaders of the island state to promote “creativity” / creative industries to paint a rosy picture of “Brand Singapore” as being so very very liberal and open-minded. Too little, too late: not only does the world know that there is no such thing as an open-minded Singapore, not only do we all understand that Singapore’s so-called creativity is nothing but an institutional order from above, but most of all are the standards of the movie industry still only fair at best (and that’s basically an overstatement).

When you start watching KIDNAPPER it is very likely that you will feel the need to grab some snacks, go pee or simply leave the cinema for good after a few minutes. All the usual flaws are there: the artificial look and feel, lack of style and finesse, wooden acting, clumsy story development, you name it. It was a blessing to see that KIDNAPPER refrains from using Singlish, so that kind of made up for some of the issues above and many of the clichés you’ll encounter (like bad guys having scars and wearing baseball caps).

All this may sound unjoyable, and it is – sitting through the first half hour or so may not be as great a torture as – god forbid – watching a Jack Neo movie, but it requires a very high tolerance level. Then however Kelvin Tong is giving it his best shot and KIDNAPPER turns into an entertaining, albeit mostly average thriller that achieves a more than moderate level of excitement through its high pace and an extensive series of twists and turns. I am not saying that this makes it more believable or the script more original, but for Singaporean standards KIDNAPPER is quite dark and gritty, flashy and stylized, furious and tense at times. If you look the other way you may not even notice how much it still complies to (written and unwritten) rules and regulations, or a political agenda.

First and foremost KIDNAPPER works because of a solid performance of leading man Christopher Lee who’s the true highlight of the film. Secondly, the script could be better, but occasionally it is surprisingly inventive and keeps a tight leash on the characters and their moves. I wish it wouldn’t also be so illogical and more straight-forward instead of melodramatic.

It may sound like a paradox but KIDNAPPER proves that 1) Kelvin Tong arguably is still the island’s best director, and 2) Kelvin Tong arguably is also the movie’s biggest letdown. As for the first point, KIDNAPPER is without doubt one of the best movies coming out of Singapore, earning Mr. Tong a top spot in the industry and probably a bit of reputation across the region. As for the second point, it is nevertheless disappointing to realize how little has happened between 1999 and today.

I saw EATING AIR (1999) when it was released and I felt that it is an intense, authentic, charming and quite original small work that may have borrowed here and there from more successful filmmakers but still had a lot to offer. Today, EATING AIR still looks like a milestone of Singaporean cinema and in many ways ahead of the conventional KIDNAPPER. The fresh breeze, the sense of freedom, the struggle of youth and the spirit of revolt are all a thing of the past – despite Mr. Tong still producing independently.

A while back Mr. Tong said that he is still learning his craft. The least I can say is that he is still trying to find his direction.