After the success of Thailand’s “Ong-Bak” and “Tom Yum Goong”, the U.S. has been flooded with films that depict the beauty of Muay Thai. Well, one of the stars that made a mark in the industry was Jeeja Yanin Vismitanda dubbed the “female Tony Jaa” because she does her own stunts and supposedly never uses wires in the fight sequences. Her first film “Chocolate” was a success in Asia but it never exactly took off internationally; not because of Jeeja’s lack of skill, but perhaps because of the weak marketing and the flimsy plot that has plagued most Thai movies these days. Jeeja gives it another shot at international superstardom with her latest film “Raging Phoenix” (2009, Jeeja Deu Suay Doo) and she seems to have upped the ante with more dangerous stunts and intense action backed by the producers of “Ong-Bak” with Rashane Limtrakul at the helm as director.
Deu (Jeeja Yanin) is being abducted in a parking lot when Sanim (French martial arts champ Kazu Patrick Tang) rescues her from the would-be kidnappers. She then finds that Sanim is a member of a small group made up of three others (Nui Saendaeng, Sompong Lertwimonkaisom and Boonprasayrit Salangam) to take down a crime syndicate called the Jaguar gang that kidnaps women and synthesizes human pheromones from their tears to make a very expensive perfume. Deu agrees to help the small group motivated by vengeance as she herself is motivated by her admiration of Sanim. Learning the secret art of MeyRaiyuth that blends the Muay Thai and Capoiera fighting styles powered by liquor, Jeeja becomes a skilled fighter. But can the group really succeed in overcoming the dreaded jaguar gang and break up their base of operations?
“Raging Phoenix” is a film that relies on the display of stunts, fight scenes and action to carry the viewer through its experience. The plot is pretty routine and its set ups feel really unoriginal; I really don’t mind the routine plot devices and twists when it comes to low-budget martial arts films, so long as the storytelling had a flow and rhythm with a direction that’s energetic and solid. Well, the film has the usual themes of lost love, revenge and quest for redemption; this wouldn’t be a bad thing, but the direction appears to set its eyes on so many things that it lost its focus. Such is usually the issue with movie such as this, it introduces its devices and then it does a full 180 degree turn. It was nice to have a new art introduced in cinema in the form of Meyraiyuth that inspires its practitioners’ power from drinking, but then it becomes something else when it actually gets it from heartache. I guess it was an attempt to sidestep the conventions of “Drunken Master” but for a new art to be introduced like so and just when you set its rules and then you break its own rules is not disciplined direction.
The script also has a lot of missteps and holes. There were times when I thought that the story was convoluted and lacked coherency. I highly doubt that Deu could master the art so fast, Sanim moved as if he was the master but then we find out that he was a student of Kee-moo and Kee-Ma (Pigshit and Dogshit), the so-called “test” felt a little too forced and for a supposed rich criminal group, the Jaguar gang was severely underdeveloped; which leaves the emotional scenes feeling flat and too melodramatic. But hey, one isn’t here to see an intricate storyline right? A viewer who sits in front of “Raging Phoenix” is looking for hard-hitting action and it does satisfy.
As with “Chocolate”, the fight sequences show little to no aid of wirework. The stunts were done with nice intensity and does generate moments of ‘wow’ factor. As with most action movies, the encounters become more difficult the deeper our heroes go into the story, the plot revolves around the action and not the other way around. It had some really extravagant stunts that was impressive and you can see the impact of the blows as they fight their way through. Highlights include a very nice fight on a flimsy wood bridge, and the set designs are made to give the action full exposition. The villains are genre characters (a muscled woman is the main villain) but I was happy to see that the villains were more dangerous and possibly skilled than our heroes. I liked the feel of an underdog as it helps raise the stakes quite a bit.
“Raging Phoenix” has very little surprises. This is a film that channels bone-crushing punches and kicks, extravagant stunts and mediocre plotting and acting; there is nothing wrong in following this type of formula as long as it has competent direction. Some areas of the film bothered me, but I managed to look past them as I found the fights quite entertaining in their own way. I just wished that the filmmakers didn’t inject canned emotions that were forced which were out of place at times, the final encounter came dangerously close to becoming too melodramatic. This is one film that could’ve been a better shorter film, the pacing and the editing could’ve used some improvements. Well, I suppose it was just a display of Jeeja Yanin’s fighting prowess and not much else.
Recommended timidly to action junkies, a RENTAL TO everyone else. [3 Out of 5 stars] This Review is an AsianFlix n AnimeFix Exclusive @lunch.com
I really think Jeeja Yanin has better style and is more enjoyable to watch than Tony Jaa, Jaa is more of an action guy, where Jeeja just seems like she has a great style to her. That being said, this movie's story line is really interesting, then takes a slight scifi direction, just be prepared for that. The fight scenes are almost a dance in someways, and is much different than chocolate. I think Jeeja is one of the best kickers of our time, since … more
The story of a drummer abandoned by her band who turns to drink. Wandering the streets she falls prey to the Jaguar gang who try to kidnap her but is saved by Sanim and his associates. She joins Sanim and learns his form of martial arts while they plot to use her as bait to settle their own score with the Jaguar gang.