Check your brain at the door and settle in for some old-school action in the new Ong-Bak mold; namely, no wires and no CGI, just some certifiably insane Thai stuntmen laying their bodies on the line so that we can cheer and scream and lose our shit. And we do.
Born To Fight was released in Asia back in 2004 and has just come out on American DVD via The Weinstein Company's new Dragon Dynasty series. It's been called a remake of a 1986 flick of the same name that apparently put the Thai action film industry on the map, but the two really only share a director (Panna Rittikrai) and a willingness to go nuts in the action department; Tony Jaa (star of the aforementioned Ong-Bak and the more recent The Protector) has said that the original inspired him to get involved in movies and stuntwork, as it made him realize that his homeland could hold their own in the Asian action market, too.
As is the case with most of these chopsocky/shoot-em-up imports, the plot is so inconsequential as to be wholly pointless. We don't watch these for story or character; the filmmakers know it and so do we. However, I will try my best to set the scene.
Born To Fight opens with our hero, young cop Deaw (Dan Chupong) and his veteran partner involved in a drug sting, which of course goes horribly wrong in a high-entertainment fashion. Following some John Woo-styled shootouts and a chase scene with a big rig truck (which sees the truck plowing through an encampment of tin shacks a la the climax of Bad Boys II - nice steal, Mr. Bay), the drug dealing baddie is captured and Deaw's partner is predictably aced.
A disillusioned Deaw moves on by chaperoning his younger sister, a gymnast, to some kind of exhibition featuring a variety of Thai athletes; unfortuately, their timing is terrible, as a group of particularly nasty terrorists takes the small village of sports stars hostage, demanding their imprisioned leader be freed or they will execute the hostages live on the Internet, while also threatening to send a nuclear missle into Bangkok. The bad guys blow away some villagers and athletes to illustrate just how evil they are, the government responds by shaking their fists in impotent frustration, and Deaw runs around hiding from the terrorists while trying to figure out a way to save the day. Pretty soon the hostages get super pissed and decide to fight back, and suddenly we're in the go zone.
Now - all that stuff up above? Doesn't matter AT ALL. What does matter is that, when the flick really kicks in, we are subjected to all manner of ass whuppin'. We got the typical mind-blowing stunts. We got the tight-as-a-drum fight choreography. We've even got some Gymkata-style athletic asskickery, if Gymkata had rocked rather than being utter shit; the young athletes use their skills for some truly cool, if kinda funky, scenes of mayhem. You truly haven't lived until you've seen some dude slo-mo launch himself into the air and rocket-blast a soccer ball into some other guy (as well as boot around other objects, like. . .grenades), or a balance-beam champion taking people out, seemingly using her moves from her routine. It's goofy, sure, but undeniably cool at the same time, provided you dig this sort of grin-inducing nonsense.
And the fight scenes are just as top-notch as you could hope for in your Asian action extravaganza. Star Dan Chupong, coming off like Tony Jaa's little brother, flings himself aound with abandon, and at times it's exhausting in the best way; this is a cat who knows the value of a well-placed elbow to the face or knee to the head. He also gets a couple of fairly vicious beatings thrown his way as well, which isn't always the case in these flicks; Deaw's not unstoppable, but he ain't got an ounce of quit in him and he comes back harder and faster every time. Born To Fight isn't a bloodbath by any stretch of the imagination, but is admirably brutal and no-nonsense in the way it goes about its buisness. You'll definitely wince a few times, especially as the stuntmen get the shit kicked out of them REPEATEDLY. I mean, I sure wouldn't want to put myself through what these guys do, but thank God they do. It's truly awesome to behold some of the things they do and marvel over just how in the hell they managed to get up and walk away, or at the very least found a way not to get themselves fucking killed.
The DVD looks great and the English subtitles do their job admirably. The original Thai language track sounds superb - explosions and gunshots and Thwacks! coming across loud and clear. There's a commentary by some guy named Bev Logan that I'd not previously heard of, but man, does he know his Asian flicks; he's obviously some kind of expert and it shows. Very insightful and absolutely overloaded with trivia and info on the action scene out in the far East. The second disc has a couple trailers and a five-minute promo, but the real meat of the matter is an hour-long look at the film, "Making Of An Action Epic", and it's about as comprehensive as you'd want. Interviews with the cast and crew, on-set footage, and lots of stuff on filming the incredible stuntwork - again, it hurts just to merely WATCH this stuff. A really good piece.
Director Rittikrai says that what they aimed to do in this new movie was take all the stuff they wanted to do in the original, but couldn't due to budget issues or the state of current technology and safety issues, and pull it off - so they did. . .did they ever. I mean, the last action scene of this flick? Pretty much the final third of the movie. Born To Fight isn't for everyone, but if you appreciate good, bone-crushing Asian action flicks, look no further. A new favorite has arrived.