A few years ago, a little movie called Ong-Bak burst onto the martial arts cinema scene. Most folks hailed it as the second coming, and rightfully so. Despite lacking the charisma and grace of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Tony Jaa left most viewers scrambling to pick up their jaws once they’d seen his brutal flurries of fists, elbows, and mindblowing stuntwork, all done without the aid of special effects or wires.
I think it’s safe to say that most people never really thought of Thailand as the next action capital of the world, but Ong-Bak put the country on the map for action afficianadoes, with people waiting to see what would emerge next from the country. The next film to start gathering the buzz was Born to Fight. Although it didn’t star Jaa — his next film is Tom Yum Goong — it was directed by Panna Rittikrai, Ong-Bak’s martial arts choreographer.
As far as plot and story go, Born to Fight is even flimsier than Ong-Bak. A group of athletes travel to a remote border village as part of a fundraising support tour. Shortly after arriving, the village is brutally attacked by guerillas who demand the release of a notorious drug lord — the very same drug lord that had been put away by Pe Deaw, a police officer who is travelling with his sister, who is one of the athletes. This part of the film is surprisingly brutal, with men, women, and children all getting gunned down in cold blood. Rittikrai pulls out all of the stops in depicting the guerillas as total bastards who deserve any and all beatdowns they receive… and they receive plenty.
Early teasers and trailers for the film were packed with some of the stunts, stunts that any sane person would never perform. But the stunt crew — I hesitate to call anyone in this film an “actor” — pushes everything to eleven. Exploding trucks crash through shanty towns, Police Story-style. Combatants fling and kick eachother off of moving semis, bodies coming within centimeters of the tires (after watching this, you’ll never be able to watch Morpheus fighting on that truck in The Matrix Reloaded without snickering). People throw themselves through burning walls, motorcycles crash full-speed into pickups, etc.
Seriously, I don’t want to think about the medical bills incurred by this movie. Everytime I watch some poor unfortunate guerilla smack his face and chest into a wooden beam, I can’t but squirm and thank the movie gods that they recorded over his ribcage splintering.
Another noteworthy thing about Born to Fight’s action is that most of the main “actors” are actual athletes. In interviews, Rittikrai stated that he felt it was easier to take real athletes who already possess considerable physical skills, and put them in an action movie, rather than try to take “real” actors and spend weeks and months training them to do physical stunts. As such, you’ll see all of the athletes — rugby players, soccer players, gymnasts, taekwando champs — use their skills in various ways. My personal favorites are the soccer players, who manage to knock guards out of towers with their well-aimed kicks, and who uses any round object as a lethal weapon, from melons to teapots.
Although nowhere near as “pure” a martial arts film as Ong-Bak, Born to Fight is still a great movie to watch with your mates, to gather around the television and get sadistic pleasure each and every time they groan and squirm at the risk some poor unfortunate stuntman took. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination — this isn’t a movie to analyze or criticize. It’s one to watch purely for the sheer joy of gasping at one insane stunt after another.