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Monday, November 16, 2009

BORN TO FIGHT -- DVD review by porfle

Panna Rittikrai is the godfather of Thai action flicks--he's written, directed, choreographed, and/or starred in fifty of them over the past twenty-five years, most notably ONG-BAK and THE PROTECTOR starring his protege' Tony Jaa. (I know all this stuff because I just looked it up on the Internet.) In 1984 he directed and starred in his first film, BORN TO FIGHT, (aka Gerd Ma Lui), featuring some of the most amazing stunts I've ever seen. Which is good, because if this movie had to get by on its acting, story, and production values, it would probably be lining a cat box somewhere at this very moment.

Panna plays Tong (or "Tony" as he's called in the badly-dubbed English soundtrack), a former cop who has been called back into action to protect Sianfong, a lawyer for a wealthy Hong Kong family. Sianfong has come across some documents revealing that Tungseung, the Yang family's eldest son-in-law, has been embezzling from the family fortune for years. Tungseung puts out a contract on Sianfong and enlists his old gang, the Green Dragons, to carry it out. After Sianfong flees to Thailand, Tong must track him down and keep the Green Dragons from getting their mitts on him.

The opening scenes of Sianfong discovering the documents and subsequently having to flee for his life look like an old Super-8 home movie from the 60s that somebody dug out of their closet. The source print used for this DVD is pretty beat-up, which only compounds the overall ineptness of the direction and photography. I'm willing to cut low-budget filmmakers a lot of slack, but this is as bad as it gets--I kept expecting to see the MST3K guys at the bottom of the screen, doing a running commentary.

When the Green Dragon boys show up at a warehouse on the trail of Sianfong, we get our first taste of the kind of action we can expect from BORN TO FIGHT. And although the camerawork and editing leave much to be desired, the fight choreography and stunts are awesome. Rarely have I seen stuntmen risk physical injury with such abandon. These guys actually punch and kick the crap out of each other, with several of the best blows repeated, at various speeds, up to three times--and sometimes we see two different takes of the same stunt back-to-back.

As the movie progresses and Tong proves to be a magnet for every two-fisted punk who lays eyes on him, the stuntwork keeps getting cranked up to a point where we often see things that we doubt the stuntman was able to walk away from. One guy wrecks his motorcycle, flies over the handlebars, and crashes through a billboard onto solid ground several feet below it. Another motorcycle gag shows the stuntman doing a head-on with a pickup truck and flying over it, again landing on solid ground. Not only do these guys eschew wirework and other fakery, they also work without a net.

A 35-minute bonus featurette called "Fearless Maniacs" shows young men coming from all over to audition as stunt performers in this and other films like it, and I got the impression that they'd do anything to be in the movies, regardless of the possible consequences. This suspicion seems to be borne out by the reckless abandon displayed by the stuntmen in many of these hair-raising action scenes.

The hand-to-hand fights are filmed in long takes with extensive choreography that is expertly performed, especially by Panna Rittikrai. He may not be much of an actor, but as a fighter he really knows his stuff and gets plenty of chances to demonstrate it. I haven't mentioned the plot of this movie much, and I'm not going to because it really doesn't matter. It's just an excuse for a succession of fights and stunts, all of which are a lot of fun to watch. Besides, the story is boring, and Tong's comedy-relief sidekick, Ruay, makes Jerry Lewis look like Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

I can't give BORN TO FIGHT a very high score because, as a movie, it's just awful. But the fights and stunts that appear frequently throughout are sufficient reason to give it a look--especially if you're an aficionado of either Asian action cinema or really bad movies.

Languages: Thai (Dolby Digital 2.0 - Stereo - Dual Mono)
English (Dolby Digital 2.0 - Stereo)
Subtitles: English
Full Screen/Stereo/Mono
Interview With Tony Jaa & Panna Rittikrai (16 mins.)
Interview With Producer Chokchai Melewan (4 mins.)
"Fearless Maniacs" Featurette (35 mins.)
"Ong Bak" Spoof (14 mins.)
"Ong Bak" Commercial Spoof (33 secs.)

Buy it at HK Flix

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