Martial Arts action movies are usually something that is seen for spectacle, jaw-dropping stunts and with a very simple plot. Most films always rely on the execution of the action with little development on its plot and characters. There are some that are different and actually have depth and a flow to its story; “Fearless”, “Hero” and “Sha Po Lang” are among those films while movies such as “Ong-Bak”, “Tom Yum Goong” and “The Raid” are martial arts movies birthed to create pure adrenaline-pumping action mayhem.
A collaboration between Thai and French filmmakers, director Jean-Marc Mineo’s “Rebirth” (aka. “Bangkok Renaissance“, “Bangkok Revenge”-U.S. title) is something that kind of lurks around the middle. It is the kind of film whose intention is to focus entirely on the action scenes and while the plot does have something that could’ve been developed as a dramatic narrative, it opts to present something that may be seen as pure action ‘junk’. With the release of “Resident Evil: Retribution”, it appears that this is the weekend for ’action junkies’.
1990’s Thailand, a group of assassins break into a home to kill a cop and his family. 10-year old Manit witnesses the brutal murder and is himself left to die with a bullet shot into his head. Fate miraculously spares him, and he is whisked away by a kindly nurse (Aphiradi Phawaphutanon) and taken under the care of a martial arts master. The boy grows up (now played by John Foo, Tekken) under the tutelage of the martial arts master but the damage to the front part of the brain had left him unable to feel emotions. Now, Manit is a master himself, and seeks justice for the death of his parents and this will put him at odds with some very crooked cops led by Samat (Winai Kraibutr).
The film’s set up is pretty standard and honestly, there is nothing special that can be said for the way the devices were used to set up the action sequences. The beginning of the film may feel similar to “Hard to Kill”, only this time it is a boy and the film even borrows a device from “Kickboxer”. Admittedly the way the film is set up as one of those 80’s revenge movies. Manit is brought into central stage hunting for someone and allows himself to be visible to draw his enemies out of hiding. There is very little movement in way of investigation, much of what happens is because of pure luck and baiting. The film tries to present several twists and surprises, but really this is the kind of film that focuses on action. The intricacies are added ‘meat’ but never really added much flavor to the plotline.
The characters were pretty decent, but the performances uneven. I guess there really isn’t much to expect when it came to acting, the actors were there to provide some mood for the set up of the fights. John Foo plays his part alright, save for the inability to feel emotion, his character really cannot express emotion. Foo does the acting as if detached, his best dialogues being limited to sarcasm and morbidly funny one liners. The one person that comes close as his partner is a reporter named Clara (Caroline Ducey) was shamelessly underused, as her character were more used as either ‘bait’ or something to add conflict to Manit’s lack of emotions. The scene when Manit had sex with her was the expression of someone just doing the deed, and the film left the emotions underdeveloped from Clara’s point of view. There is another character that seemed meant to add some excitement; Simon (Michael Cohen) is a fighter who chose to be somewhat involved, but his motivations were hazy at best.
Again, “Bangkok Revenge” is a movie that has been set to display stunts and hard-hitting fights. John Foo has the skill and the personality of young martial artist. As with most action films from Thailand, there is very little use of wires, and most of the stunt work had been performed by the actors. There were several encounters that stood out--I liked the elevator sequence and the subway scene stole the show. Manit also encounters some other fighters whose style are different from his own Muay Thai style. The fights are fast, intense and furious; they are at times brutal and kept along the tone of realism. The camerawork went from a distance to close ups to keep the viewer in the middle of the choreography. I have seen a lot of martial arts movies, and while this film may not be the best in the shots, the sequences were good. You can see Manit fight his way through numerous opponents as he displays the skills he has as a Muay Thai fighter.
I guess what the film really lacked was the development of the central villains. Jessy (Lioutsia Goubaidoullina) and the husband Samat did not have that cohesion. Samat is the crooked cop while Jessy is the singer who smuggled drugs, she also heads an all-girl gang whose only purpose was to exude sexy ‘weirdness’. Not really sure, I know the film is supposed to be focused on action, but sometimes the screenplay just made me shake my head. The screenplay fumbled several times, but it never failed to deliver on the action. “Bangkok Revenge” is the kind of movie that entertains, but you’ll have to accept that whatever plot it has to resemble a story was there to set up the fights. Action junkies may have a ball and admittedly, I did not feel that the money I paid to see this movie in theaters went to waste. It was a decent 84 minute diversion--short, action-packed and fun.
Timid Recommendation to Martial Arts fans, and a RENTAL for Everybody Else. [2 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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