Director: Panna Rittikrai
Writer: Dojit Hongthong, Jonathan Siminoe
Producer: Akarapol Techaratanaprasert, Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Gitabak Agohjit, Speedy Arnold, Supakson Chaimongkol, Sorapong Chatree, Virat Kemgrad
Running Time: 105 min.
Director and fight choreographer Panna Rittikrai has stated his goal in cinema is to push the human body to its limit. “BKO: Bangkok Knockout,” then, is his magnum opus. Panna builds on style of his 2004 free-for-all stunt spectacular “Born to Fight” and unleashes a film that either pays tribute to Thai stuntmen or delivers their bone-crushing punishment – I’m still not sure which. If you’re looking for great performances, a complex plot, or character development…keep walking. “BKO” is not for you. This is a film for those who get off on the jaw-dropping, “Holy shit, I can’t believe they just did that” thrill of watching an action movie from Thailand, where brave stuntmen put their lives on the line and pay no heed to Hollywood insurance policies.
The premise of “BKO” is fairly bare bones, with a team of martial artist friends waking up after a night out on the town and realizing they’ve been drugged and brought to an unfinished housing project. There they are forced under penalty of death to fight against skilled opponents, all for the amusement and financial gain of some wealthy criminals who are betting on the action from a remote location. As per usual with these Thai movies, the few English-speaking actors deliver ridiculous performances. The man in charge of the gambling action is played by an actor named Speedy Arnold and the math he gives his associates makes absolutely no sense. “Bet $300,000 on this next fight,” he says with a smile and a Southern-fried accent, “and you stand to make $100,000.” What? I’m no business major but I can’t see why anyone would invest more than they stand to make. This happens about four times during the movie and by the final instance I was just dying of laughter.
If you could cut out the English-speaking actors (some of whom can just barely speak the language) and sped up the talky first 40 minutes, “BKO” would be close to perfect. As it stands those are the elements you have to endure to get to the good stuff. But it’s worth the sacrifice: once “BKO” gets rolling, the action rarely lets up. The cast features a bunch of young and talented martial artists from all over Asia. Stick around for the credits and they detail which style the actors specialize in: from Tai Chi to Tae Kwon Do, from free-running to Commando Krav Maga, even gymnastics.
The film is designed from the ground up to allow these gifted performers to show their stuff. If anything, “BKO” tips its hat a little too early: the first real fight scene set in a caged room is arguably the most amazing fight in the entire film, as the opponents cling to and fly off of a caged fence in acrobatic fashion. At the same time I can’t overlook the fight scene where the Thai Chi practitioner wields a giant metal rod, reminding me of Jet Li in his heyday; or the fight between lead hero Pod and the character the credits list as a “ninja samurai.” Director Panna Rittikrai himself gets in on the action at one point, starring as a bad guy who plays for keeps. He’s the kind of fighter who immediately goes for your weaknesses, seeking pressure points on the body or gouging out your eyes if he has to.
There’s also fight scenes involving a hulking, unstoppable killer with a Slipknot-type mask – it’s like seeing what would happen if a bunch of martial artists went up against Jason in a “Friday the 13th” movie. And then there’s a Death Race-style car that drives into crowds of people and smashes through concrete walls in spectacular fashion. This is not even mentioning the final act, which features plenty of stunts with a moving semi-truck and a bunch of dirtbikes.
The fact that there are so many characters is this film’s blessing and its curse: everybody gets to show off their moves but nobody really gets to make a lasting impression or deliver a memorable performance. There are so many actors I wish you could pluck from this film and give their own starring vehicle to see what they could do with the spotlight solely on them from 90 minutes. Tony Jaa continues to be the most popular Thai star abroad because he has charisma to burn. The cast in “Bangkok Knockout” doesn’t really get the chance to win the audience over besides leaving us in awe of their physical abilities. I also would have liked a woman martial artist in the film – the female characters mostly serve as damsels-in-distress to drive the story forward, though they do get a few kicks in. The presence of Jeeja Yanin (“Chocolate”) is sorely missed here.
Truly, “BKO: Bangkok Knockout” is a nonstop showreel of blistering, intense fight choreography and stunts so brutal you can’t believe people actually walked away from them. I’d say that the film sets the bar for action and stunts so high that it won’t be topped for quite some time except that I’m certain that Panna Rittikrai is dreaming up ways to outdo himself as I type. Panna is the mad scientist of martial arts cinema and “Bangkok Knockout” is his Frankenstein monster. Action fans the world over, get ready to rejoice.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 9/10