Tony Jaa had opened the doors to Thai Action cinema in America. Like his movies or not, one cannot deny that he paved the way for the not-so well known action stars from that country with the releases of several Thai-made martial arts movies. These movies often boost of wireless, real stunts with no stunt doubles, done in the old-fashioned way that Jackie Chan used to do his movies in "Police Story" and "Armor of God". "BKO: Bangkok Knockout" brings together a bunch of stuntmen with a lot of martial arts savvy to the screen under the direction of Panna Rittikrai (assisted Jaa with the directorial duties in Ong-Bak 2 and 3). If one asked what I thought about this movie, I would say "amazing stunts and non-stop action....period".
Ok, sure, I know what you are thinking, Thai martial arts films really have very little to offer in terms of plotting and character development, and “Bangkok Knockout“ is no different. The screenplay by Jonathon Siminoe has a very simple set up as he takes us to a stunt man demo reel disguised as a movie. The film is about a group of martial artists called “Fight Club” as they get a supposed “big break” to perform for a movie in Hollywood being produced by a Mr. Snead (Speedy Arnold). Celebrating, the group indulges with a lot of merriment, feasting and drinking and they end up getting roofied. Apparently, the so-called try outs were nothing but a front to find participants who can fight so that they can participate in a life or death game ala-”The Running Man” to fight against waves of assassins in a dilapidated warehouse while being watched and betted on by boring, rich bad guys (boring save for the Japanese chick).
“Bangkok Knockout” is at its heart a stunt show. There is nothing fancy with the storytelling and it is buried in clichés, tepid acting, outrageous bad ideas, and badder everything else. The film is so lousy as it plays on themes of trust, friendship, betrayal, honor and the age-old examination of the human condition. There may be something unanimous in what the film is trying to say, but it all seems to happen either by mistake or by a fluke because of its execution into the screenplay. I mean, the execution of the film is really low-budget, with the bad dialogue and lousy acting, with set designs so flimsy that a sneeze can poke a hole into them. Some walls of the warehouse coming close to cheap, thin particle board in some scenes. I don’t mind low budget films, since there lies the room for creativity, and while the script in “BKO” is nearly none-existent, it does manage to become entertaining because of the numerous fight sequences.
Yeah, the screenplay tries to incorporate some humanity around the script as there lies a love triangle between Pod, Pom and Joy (Chatchapol Kulsiriwoottichai, Tanavit Wongsuwan and actress Supaksom Chaimongkol respectively) but it is so incredibly dull and boring as…let’s say shooting a white wall in your apartment. It also tries to add dimensions to the bad guys, and yet, the performances just drain all the potential from them just like a pipe snake. I mean, it also does some twists and surprises, but it lacks development and feels a little too cheap and monotonous. The characters range from boring to outrageous; one minute you see a musician in a “Moe-cut”, and then you see a fighting transvestite and “Jason Voorhees“ kinda madman to a car ala-“Death Race“. Not really sure, the villains have no identity while the heroes have the development of a wet ribbon. The screenplay shifts its tone from goofy to dramatic and just plain silly. The actors have the charisma of a gas tank (save for the female performers, everyone was a stuntman) and they cannot act to save their lives. Seems like someone heard me when I said that it is easier to teach a martial artist how to act than to teach an actor how to do martial arts (oops! I think this movie proved me wrong). Yet surprisingly, it all works somehow.
The film does have its share of pretty cool fights and the stunt work is impressive. The ‘heroes’ of the movie have their own specific martial arts style to show the viewer and despite their less than charismatic personalities, these guys can move and do the moves very well. I liked the way the fighters used their environment as well as whatever weapons they could find. In single one on one, or two on three fights, the direction was able to process the power behind each punch, parry and kick. The camera stayed at a distance and does the occasional slow-mo and close up to show that no stunt doubles were present. I did have issues singling out the baddie from the good guy when the rumble took place, but at that point, I did not care. The action is awesome, as folks dodge sledge hammers, swords and pipes, avoid cars and fire, they fall from incredible heights, do motorcycle stunts and there is even a fight underneath a rolling semi truck. The stunts were impressive and very dangerous, and the direction did exactly what it wanted to do, take the viewer right in the middle of the action and stunts.
I have to say that “BKO” may be a bad movie if you look at it from a cinema fan’s point of view. But if you look at it from an action junkie’s eyes, the film is pretty awesome. Rittikrai knows the martial arts genre and he gives his fans what they are looking for. The director also took on the role of the near-invincible martial arts master whose only weakness is---the lack of a pair of good lungs. “BKO” is a bad movie, but if you are looking for the exact things it offers (namely mayhem, action, brutal fights and jaw-dropping stunts) then you can look past the bad acting, lousy scripting and badder everything else. Oh, the good-looking women in the film are pluses, but really, this film is only for action-martial arts movie fans and respect for Rittikrai and his stunt team should be expressed.
RENTAL for Action Junkies and a skipper for everyone else [2 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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