Remember what they say “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”? Well, these guys in “Muay Thai Warrior” bring “Fists to a Swordfight” in several scenes. Originally titled “Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya”, director Nopporn Watin’s is based on a historical figure during the Ayothaya Era. Yamada Nagamasa was a Japanese man who gained considerable influence in Thailand and even became the governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat province in Southern Thailand. Unlike the 1959 film “The Gaijin”, Watin’s film takes a more action-oriented approach and is aimed for entertainment.
Attacked and wounded by a group of ninjas, a samurai named Yamada (Seigi Ozeki) is rescued by a band of Siamese warriors led by Kham (Thanawut Ketsaro) under the service of the King of Ayothaya. Here, Yamada is nursed by a kindly woman and his spirits are uplifted by a small girl. Confused by the identity of his assailants, Yamada chooses to stay in this village headed by a kindly Buddhist priest. He befriends the villagers, learns to appreciate their ways and culture, and soon learns to fight like them. Soon, those new-found skills will prove to be invaluable as Yamada must fight for the land that he has grown to love.
Any film based on a person’s true character and life would lack the complete package, and “Samurai of Ayothaya” is no different. It does try to bring the core character make up of the historical figure, and then tries to make it easier to relate to. The direction and the screenplay aimed to make the film brisk in its pacing, and borrows several themes from “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last Samurai”; as a stranger comes into a new culture and learns to love this new culture through the eyes of its people. The tale is very familiar, and quite frankly there is very little else to do with such a limited plot core, and so what it also tries to do is make a sense of ‘brotherhood’ and new loyalty to drive the developments of its plot.
The characters in the film are pretty much what you would expect. With the title changed for a U.S. release, and the promo being “The Last Samurai Meets Ong-Bak 2”, it is pretty much it in a nutshell. Now while Tony Jaa took the spotlight with his insane skills in the martial arts and in pulling off the outrageous stunts in Ong-Bak 2 and 3, This film does try to have more heart with the way it sets up the action scenes. The fight sequences were well executed, and it moved with a style that did not feel too exaggerated, and yet nonetheless no less brutal. Each fighter practicing the Muay Thai art exhibited his own sense of personality and this made the scenes have a little more punch despite its simplicity. They also appeared to be a little more violent with the accompaniment of CGI blood effects. Ketsaro did almost steal the show as the most talented warrior of the village as he demonstrates that needed intensity and power in the action sequences that Ozeki kind of lacked.
Ozeki does manage to be a good protagonist, although the depths of his character seemed to revolve around what we may see as ‘the warrior’s way’. There really is nothing too intricate with his development, he hangs out with the villagers and becomes involved with their style of fighting. The Buddhist priest, the young woman and the small kid were all used to their advantage, to charm the viewer into liking the lead character and as well as defining the changes the came into him. The performances were decent and I do have to say that the addition of the gorgeous set pieces, and set designs were well introduced into its screenplay. It aided in the expression just how someone could learn how to love such a place; sure, the screenplay may not have properly developed that area, but several key stages in dialogue truly gave the film its needed punch.
“Samurai of Ayothaya” (aka. Muay Thai Warrior) may not be the definitive film about Yamada Nagamasa with a plot so pedestrian and quite frankly a little too familiar. However, it did have its good moments in dialogue, character interplay and action sequences. It succeeds in not becoming too outrageous that it kept the action from undermining the character, albeit the film was driven by its action sequences. It had some heart to its screenplay, and despite its familiarity, it felt fresh and pleasing to watch. It is not “Ong-Bak 3” in action, but this was definitely better directed and executed than Jaa’s two most recent movies. I would give this film a lightrecommendation for action junkies and a good RENTAL for everybody else. [3 Out of 5 Stars]
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