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Sunday, September 12, 2010

RAGING PHOENIX -- DVD review by porfle

A fun, though somewhat exhausting martial arts action-adventure, RAGING PHOENIX (2009) is a consistently surprising mish-mash of different fighting techniques combined with just about anything else you can do with the human body. 

Young women are disappearing off the streets in broad daylight without a trace.  Deu (JeeJa Yanin, CHOCOLATE), a troubled girl with a dead father and an absentee mother, almost becomes one of them but is rescued by a group of unlikely heroes led by Sanim (fighting champion Kazu Patrick Tang).  He and his eternally drunk cohorts, Dogshit (Sompong Leartvimolkasame), Pigshit (Nui Sandang), and Bullshit (Boonprasayrit Salangam), then put Deu through intensive training in their fighting styles so that she can help them track down the evil Jaguar gang who are responsible for the abductions. 

The film has a pleasing contemporary look with Rashane Limtrakul directing much of it in a freewheeling music-video style that's only occasionally annoying.  The early fight sequences are imaginatively conceived and filled with delightfully unexpected moves that combine Chinese and Thai drunken fighting styles, breakdancing, parkour, gymnastics--even some modified ballroom dance and ballet moves when Deu and Sanim are working together--all of which is enhanced by a lighthearted sense of fun.  Much of the action during these scenes displays a sheer, reckless audacity that is thrilling.

Deu adapts her friends' methods of deriving strength from alcohol and, like them, is soon kicking her way through waves of opponents while in a drunken stupor.  Her training scenes are upbeat and filled with impressive feats of agility and acrobatic skill.  Adding to the excitement is the obvious lack of stunt doubles or wirework--most of the action is performed by the stars themselves, including a painful-looking shot of JeeJa Yanin doing a slow-motion backward fall of at least ten feet and landing hard on her back. 

While the film initially seems to be heading into comedy territory, things get serious when we discover why Sanim and his friends are after the Jaguar gang--each has lost a loved one to them and is driven by a lust for revenge.  Sanim's belief that Pai, his bride-to-be who was stolen on their wedding day, is still alive, fuels his drive to locate the gang's secret lair with Deu as the bait.  This eventually leads them into a vast network of underground vaults and tunnels, at which point the film begins to resemble something out of James Bond or Indiana Jones.

Asian female bodybuilding champion Roongtawan Jindasing enters the picture as the gang leader whose fighting skills prove to be virtually unbeatable.  While much of the battle action become less interesting as the film progresses, there's a hair-raising showdown between Sanim, Deu, and Roongtawan on a series of criss-crossing rope bridges over a deep chasm, which builds considerable suspense.  The set design here is quite elaborate and impressive, as is the choreography.  The only drawback to the sequence is the fact that, unlike the other lead actors, the exotic Roongtawan is often very obviously replaced by a stunt double.  And, as Austin Powers might say, he's a man, baby!

All of the leads are appealing, especially the very cute JeeJa Yanin who gets to show off both her physical prowess and her acting skills.  Kazu Patrick Tang also gets plenty of opportunity to emote as Sanim agonizes over the fate of his lost love, Pai.  This aspect of the story tends to get a little maudlin by the end of the film, which, at 114 minutes, is so long that the pace begins to drag in spots.  But there's so much incredibly-staged action throughout that one can easily overlook the film's imperfections. 

The DVD from Magnolia's Magnet label is in 1.78:1 widescreen with both English and Thai Dolby 5.1 soundtracks.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include "making of" and "behind the scenes" featurettes.

With its dazzling mix of martial arts styles, acrobatics, and dance, along with great characters and an increasingly elaborate spy-movie plot, RAGING PHOENIX is an engaging action flick that's as likable as its winsome star.  There's so much going on in each scene that you may have to watch it again just to catch everything you missed the first time.

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