This review was updated on Tuesday, Feb. 1.
Nationalistic fervor and real-life athletes scare up virtually non-stop action in “Born to Fight” from helmer Panna Rittikrai, a leading figure on the country’s action scene, who was also both writer and martial arts choreographer on international hit “Ong Bak.” Jingoistic themes — pic quotes heavily from the national anthem’s lyrics “We are a peaceful people, but will fight together to the death” — may make this a hard sell outside Thailand, where it performed solidly last August. Asian adrenaline junkies will make this a sought-after hit in ancillary.
While looking to capitalize on the still-growing interest in Thai cinema — martial arts films in particular — Rittikrai eventually decided to remake his mid-’80s actioner, “Born to Fight.” Only fragments remain of the original film, so complaints from purists are unlikely. And given the velocity of the new movie, such criticism could only be considered churlish.
Popular on Variety
A pre-credit onslaught of gunfire, rampaging trucks, non-CGI stunts and explosions heralds a 20-minute tour de force that will make even the most jaded action buff sit up and take notice. By the end of the opening set piece, undercover cop Daew (Dan Chupong) has had to sacrifice his commanding officer in order to capture Gen. Yang (Noppol Gomarachun), a local druglord. Deeply grieved by failing to save his boss, Daew joins his taekwondo champion sister (Kesarin Ekatawatkul) at a charity sports camp for an underprivileged village.
Pic finally takes a breath, introducing some largely superfluous subplots, including a potential love interest and a jealous suitor whose nose is put out of joint by Daew’s arrival. Otherwise harmonious atmosphere of the sports camp is shattered by the arrival of a squad from Yang’s rebel army. After gunning down most of the village population, an unnamed, facially scarred henchman (Suntisuk Phromsiri) sends an online broadcast to the Thai prime minister, threatening to kill all survivors unless Yang is released.
Villain’s ace in the hole is a nuclear missile aimed at Bangkok. Realizing their loved ones will die regardless of the negotiations’ outcome, the villagers transform a potential “Thai Noon” intoan all-out rebellion.
Daew’s audacious martial arts work remains the centerpiece of the movie, but each of the (real-life) athletes use their sporting prowess to take on the armed gang. Others — men, women, children and even the physically impaired — do their part in kicking butt, using skills garnered from sports ranging from boxing to soccer. Waving a flag and singing patriotic anthems, they square off against Yang’s crew for the rest of pic.
Outtakes at the end clearly indicate that spectacle prevailed over safety issues during the shoot. Performances likewise take a back seat to martial arts mastery, though Chupong’s intensity gets him across the finish line. Rapid cutting maintains momentum, but replay of multiple-camera stunts is overdone.
Lensing has a murky look, perhaps in homage to the look of the original film. Apart from the stunts, other tech credits are low-budget but professional. Movie was the most expensive Thai pic of last year.