Friday, January 05, 2024

Xavier Gens’ Mayhem!

Whenever a foreign production shoots in Thailand, it is probably considered a mixed blessing. It is good for the film bureau and skilled local crew-members, but the finished movies usually discourage Thai tourism, like Only God Forgives, Skin Trade, and A Prayer Before Dawn. This film is a French production, but it follows in the same tradition. A French ex-con starts a new life in Thailand, but violence inevitably finds him in Xavier Gens’ Mayhem! (with an exclamation point), which opens today in New York.

Samir Darba wanted to go straight when he left prison, but his old drug gang had other ideas. When they got rough about it, Darba accidentally killed to gang leader’s brother. Somehow, he slipped out of France, making his way to Thailand, where he was living peacefully with the half-French Mia and her young daughter Dara. It was all good until they try to buy a stretch of beachfront land, which brings them into conflict with Narong, an expat French gangster.

Initially, Narong demands a favor, but when his scheme goes south, he decides to punish Darba. Although left for dead, Darba’s Muay Thai coach Hansa nurses him back to health. With Hansa’s help, Darba sets out to rescue the kidnapped Dara, doing his best to damage Narong’s illicit business in the process.

It takes over forty minutes for
Mayhem! to really get going, but when it does, the action comes at the audience hard and fast, like runaway freight train. This is definitely the best film Gens directed that has been released in America and the brutal fight sequences matches the style and intensity of the Gangs of London episodes he helmed. Seriously, the action in Mayhem! is no joke. It is probably even more brutally realistic than that of the Raid duology.

As Darba, Nassim Lyes broods hard, but his physicality and action chops are more impressive and more important. It is also cool to see Vithaya Pansringarm playing a good guy. He definitely hangs with Lyes, fighting beside him as Hansa. Sahajak Boonthanakit is massively sleazy as Sombat, Mia’s dodgy torch-carrying friend, while Olivier Gourmet is appropriate nasty, somewhat playing against type as the villainous Narong.

Gens and Magali Rossito’s screenplay feels very familiar and it is top-heavy with set-up, but it delivers like gangbusters down the stretch. The fight scenes that dominate the second half are some of the last two or three years in action cinema. Highly recommended for Muay Thai fans,
Mayhem! opens today (1/5) in New York, at the IFC Center.