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Raging Phoenix
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by Jay Seaver

"Where drunken muay thai breakdancing is just a starting point."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I suppose that technically "Raging Phoenix" is a perfectly reasonable title for this movie - the protagonist does rise from a low point reborn and pissed off - but let's be honest, this is not a perfectly reasonable movie, and as such deserves a title that lets the audience in on just what sort of madness they're in for.

Deu ("JeeJa" Yanin Vismistananda) doesn't seem too out of the ordinary when we first meet her. She's a drummer in a band that kicks her out after she jumps into the audience to go after her ex. She's done a nice job of getting hammered when someone kidnaps her, but she escapes, only to find a whole gang chasing her. She's rescued by Sanim (Kazu Tang), whose "Mayraiyuth" fighting style is a combination of muay thai, drunken boxing, and b-boy dancing. It turns out he and his three comrades have each had a loved one kidnapped or killed by this Jaguar gang. Deu throws in, insisting they teach her how to fight.

And then things get kind of nuts. Understand, by "nuts", I mean they escalate past the "fighting guys on razor-sharp pogo sticks with drunken breakdancing" (did I mention the razor-sharp pogos? I meant to!). In fact, the reason for the Jaguars kidnapping these girls is potentially a wholly different insane Thai martial arts movie. And I kind of wish it had been something separate, because for as much impressive action as the last half has to follow up on a loopy plot, it's no longer to a techno beat with that super-distinctive style. It's "just" big fight scenes.

Don't get me wrong, they are, by and large, terrific big fight scenes, on both ends of the film. The early ones where the style is most dance-influenced (and have guys bouncing around on springs) are acrobatic, high-energy scenes, taking great advantage of the stars' athleticism and frequently injecting bits of physical comedy that would make Jackie Chan proud. The battles leading up to the climax are pretty darn good endurance tests, with the heroes fighting opponents who can match them one-on-one and then some. The standout is Amazon Roongtawan Jindasing, whose character is apparently impervious to any sort of pain, has a very nice sequence with Yanin and Tang, and that's before the final big knock-down drag-out, which is long and bone-crunching and looks like it takes a lot out of everyone involved.

Which is as it should be; Yanin is not a large woman, and though she moves really well, she it's nice to see that her stamina isn't limitless. The really pleasant surprise, though, is that she's not just a pretty face who can kick some butt. Her character in Chocolate was an autistic martial-arts savant, which doesn't require more than one note or so. Here, though, she's funny and charming despite clearly being more than a bit of a handful at times. It's a charismatic performance that suggests big things could be ahead of her.

Director Rashane Limtrakul does a good job of stitching everything together. Ideally, there wouldn't be a need to talk about an action film as just a collection of set-pieces and the glue which makes them a movie-sized whole, but that's the reality of the situation all too often. Of course, you could do a lot worse than "Raging Phoenix" on that count: The action is good throughout, and the plot holding it in place is at least nutty enough to be memorable.

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originally posted: 07/23/10 15:49:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Actionfest 2010 For more in the Actionfest 2010 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/10 porfle Great fights, an appealing cast--this movie is a whole lot of fun. 4 stars
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  DVD: 14-Sep-2010

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