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Raging Phoenix (2009)

December 19, 2011

MY CALL:  This movie was fantastic!  At least, the first 50 minutes were.  The next 50 minutes were like a root canal without anesthesia.  Take that as you may.  I give this an action rating of B+ and C- (for the first and second half of the movie, respectively).  WHAT TO WATCH INSTEAD:  Anyone who thought this was too PG and not rough enough needs to turn to early Tony Jaa Tahi action flicks (Ong-Bak (2003) and The Protector (2005)), but maybe skip Ong-Bak 2 and 3 altogether.  IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH:  Featuring the same female lead, Chocolate (2009) was more brutal, technically sound, and had a more serious feel.  Also, look forward to seeing her in The Kick (new release).

This all starts with an attempted kidnapping of our star, Dew (Jeeja Yanin).  She is saved by Sanim.

The fights in this kick flick have some silly components and impractical maneuvers.  For example, the first fight of the movie involves bladed-pogo ninjas and a bit of break-dance fighting.  However silly this may sound, the stunt wire use was minimal (if present at all) and the acrobatics were impressive, including some jump kicks performed mid-flip.

The second fight scene is even more senseless.  We still have no explanation for why a three-man van-gang of kidnappers had a dozen pogo-ninja enforcers, yet Round 2 is already upon us.  This bout is complete with drunk dance-club-meets-Capoeira choreography (FYI, they actually call it “drunken fighting technique” in the movie, a nice nod to Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master) executed with all the silliness of Jackie Chan and all the modern flare of Tony Jaa (but without his elbow-to-face brutality).  There is also frequent marionette combat, using Dew as a weapon.  The music follows suit, being dance-friendly and high energy paced.  Sanim’s friends are in on this one and they are slapstickly named P!gsh!# and Dogsh!#.  They play off each other like the regrettably goofy Skids and Mudflap (the Go-Bot twins from Transformers: Rise of the Fallen).

So P!gsh!# and Dogsh!# teach her drunk-fu.  And now that Dew’s an expert, cue the dance music!  Right?  Well, not so fast…

Halfway through the movie the tone changes dramatically from fun to serious.  However, the plot becomes way more stupidly ridiculous.  Accordingly the stunts are yet less realistic and now over-wired-worked, and the sets get zany (e.g., a perfume storage room set is alien-space-ship ridiculous with an otherworldly gratuitous fog in an over-sized Temple of Doom mountain lair).  Seems like folks got a little carried away.  The plot starts to seriously drag (throughout the second half) and even the fights drop notably in quality, fun and flare.

This may lack the technical crispness and gruelingly brutal knee-fu of Tony Jaa’s film fare, but it more than makes up for it with fun and silly in the first half of the movie.  And it’s shot well, has beautiful lighting, and some very tactfully chosen sets—again, for the first half of the movie.  The second half was a travesty which seems like it was made by a completely different crew from direction and sets to fight choreography.  I just don’t understand what happened.

My advice?  See the first half of this movie.  Then, after about 50 minutes, stop watching and never look back.

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