Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bangkok Revenge: Satisfaction for the Stoic Orphan

Can a man without emotions still get his revenge?  If the crooked cops responsible for his parents’ murder keep throwing themselves in his path, than yes, absolutely.  Manit Samat is lucky to be alive.  The little boy who survives a one-in-a-million shot to the head will grow up to become a deadly martial artist, who will give the Thai underworld all they can handle in Jean-Marc Minéo’s Bangkok Revenge (trailer here), which is now playing in New York.

Samat’s father was an honest copper who made trouble for his corrupt superiors, but not anymore.  After executing his parents, one of the killers is sent to finish off their son.  A freak defective bullet leaves the young boy in a coma.  Aware the rogue officers will come to finish the job, Nurse Chanticha spirits him away to a martial arts master, who cures him through Chinese medicine.  However, he cannot heal the brain damage, affecting his ability to feel emotions.  On her deathbed, his nurse turned adoptive mother reveals his true heritage, giving him a file containing her independent investigation.  He might not feel emotion, but Samat understands a man has to do what a man has to do. 

Fortunately, this will involve a lot of fighting, which is what Revenge does best.  Featuring some of the best close quarters fighting since The Raid, Minéo mounts an instant classic beatdown in a subway car and inventively films a Muay Thai pile-on from the inside out.  Irish-Chinese stuntman-action star John Foo is flexible, but not very expressive, so this is the perfect role for him.  He has all kinds of credibility kicking and kneeing his foes into submission, but he is bit out to sea during the film’s rare quiet moments.

There are a few nice turns in the supporting cast, starting with Kowitch Wathana as Samat’s reluctant teacher, Adjan.  Michaël Cohen also has some nice moments as Simon, the disgraced French policeman now eking out an existence throwing vanity kickboxing matches for tourists.  He comes across a bit like a poor man’s Jean Reno, but there are far worse things under the sun.  His countryman Caroline Ducey does not fare so well as Clara, a journalist with a distractingly thick French accent who serves as Samat’s unlikely love interest.  Their chemistry is rather lacking.  The villains are mostly just punching bags for Samat’s hands and feet, but at least Julaluck Ismalone has a bit of flair as Ying, the leader of the Hyenas, a girl gang in the Kill Bill tradition.  Her Euro boss though is a bit embarrassing in her scenes of villainy.

For reasons Samat claims are too complicated to explain, he is more comfortable conversing in English, which means Revenge is probably not eligible for Oscar consideration as Thaiand’s best foreign language film submission.  That is unlikely to become an issue for them.  For martial arts fans, it delivers the goods, but don’t go expecting an acting showcase, because it isn’t one.  Recommended exclusively for those who appreciate the sight of a roundhouse kick landing on a temple, Bangkok Revenge is now showing in New York at the AMC Empire and in San Francisco at the AMC Metreon, courtesy of China Lion Entertainment.