Born to Fight (2004) Review

"Born to Fight" German Theatrical Poster

“Born to Fight” German Theatrical Poster

Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Writer: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Dan Chupong, Noppol Gomarachun, Suntisuk Phromsiri, Piyapong Pue-On, Somluck Kamsing, Amornthep Waewsaeng, Suebsak Phunsueb, Nantaway Wongwanichsilp, Kessarin Ektawatkul, Rattanaporn Khemtong, Chattapong Phantana-Angkul, Sinee Namwongphrom
Running Time: 91 min.

By JJ Hatfield

This movie was made right after the original Ong Bak. It is essentially the same team minus Tony Jaa replaced with Dan Chupong. The writer and director is Prachya Pinkaew, this being only his second time directing with Ong Bak being the first. It seemed as though he was determined to make an even more dangerous movie which meant the bar was not only raised it had metal spikes,was on fire, spewing poison and about to explode.

The skeleton plot involves a young cop Pe Deaw (Dan Chupong) and his much more seasoned partner, Major Phantakan Riddamong who are involved in part of a huge operation with U.S. forces to capture a major gun smuggling gang run by General Yang. They manage to catch Wong but his partner and mentor is killed in the process. He is deeply depressed. When his younger sister, a Taekwondo student needs permission to go on a volunteer outing involving Thai athletes Deaw agrees but insists on going with her. They travel to a desperately poor village to distribute food, clothing and other needs including toys for the children. I don’t know how they managed to convince Addidas to provide clothes for a few athletes. Come to think of it they did look a little worn… maybe they got them at a used clothing store.

There is plenty of action but inexplicably Pinkaew and Panna decided to make this movie with youthful athletes. Team Addidas is bad enough but I will say right now Pinkaew is a terrible writer and uses cheap victim shots to “push the envelope” If the fight to stunt format had something else be sides it… oh what word can I use… uhm… I’ve got it! If there was a f#cking plot! The viewer never gets to see any kind of depth in the characters. That does not mean the people in the film can’t act. How the hell would we know they never get to do anything but run around doing the Team Addidas crap!

Since the audience is never given any idea of what the characters are like, so that the viewer cares at least a little what happens to them, another hook must be devised. Something to make the audience invest themselves at least until the next cool fight or stunt.

Suddenly shots ring out and helpless villagers scatter and scream as General Yangs soldiers blaze into the village shooting men, women, children, elderly – everybody! They round up the live ones and keep them in one area. Pe Deaw sneaks off at night and goes to investigate what the soldiers are up to gets caught and has to fight. The sequence is fairly long for an action movie but I am not complaining. The action is the thing!

The bad guys seize the village to force the government to release General Yang. They put up cameras around the village so the government can watch them brutalize and murder innocent people including children. The villagers and Team Addidas decide to fight back. What do athletes fight with? Why their athletic specialty of course. Some rugby players, male and female gymnastics. Armed with lots and lots of soccer balls, and some really hard small wicker-rattan balls are used to successfully knock out the enemy or kill them, what ever.

There is action on the balance beam, even and uneven parallel bars, pole vaulting and they do flips a lot. There is also the sister taekwondo ass kicker with a heart of gold. But instead of picking up a frickin gun they do this like the f ing Olympics! It’s obvious stunt work was designed to be bigger and better than Ong Bak. I won’t argue with that however it is sometimes even more dangerous doing fights and flips. The stunt sequences themselves are much longer and highly entertaining and definitely more dangerous! If you have any doubt just watch the out takes.

The viewer does get a bit of action at the beginning of the movie. A shoot out, semi – trucks, one of which goes through a shanty town in an homage (?) to a very similar scene in the original Jackie Chan and Police Story when a car drives right through a poor town of shacks, people diving for cover and quite a few explosions. Panna’s version was of course verging on insane, typical for him, but damned if it wasn’t great to watch! Deaw is shown fighting enough we certainly know Dan Chupong has talent. He needs someone to get him in a decent film!

The soundtrack, often only supplied by weapons being fired and people screaming, is to say the least is annoying and not because it is traditional Thai music. It is not! Probably stock music, rather like scratchy techno – lite. But don’t give up yet. Chupong is a good martial artist and one hell of a brave man for doing some outrageous but thrilling stunts. The stunts in Born to Fight are crazier than I have seen in quite a while… in fact I can only think of a handful. Chupong does not use wires, doubles or cgi. I do enjoy the real thing.

This is a must see for the fighting/stunts! There is more action than exposition but just watch the action. I would have rated this higher but the Pinkaew story was a cheap shot, shoddy and the best he could get to hook the audience is mass slaughter of innocent helpless people? If he were a journalist it would be called “yellow journalism”. I don’t usually recommend this but if you want to FF now and then I wouldn’t blame you.

You really have to see this once for the action!

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 5/10 (action 8.5/10, story 1/10, fighting/stunts 9/10)

By Raging Gaijin

Hot on the heels of “Ong Bak”, comes “Born to Fight”, the latest Thai film to endanger the lives of courageous stuntmen in that country. You get the sense that the filmmakers behind “Born to Fight” are trying their hardest to out-do “Ong Bak” – and, on some level, they succeed. The action sequences are even longer, the stunts are even more dangerous, and the violence is even more intense. Unfortunately, “Born to Fight” falls short in the crucial areas of story and character development.

As one-note as the story in “Ong Bak” may have been, at least the characters were rather defined; each of them had their own personality. From Ting’s stoic resolve to the scheming Dirty Balls; even if you didn’t like one of the characters at the beginning of the movie, by the end they had you won over (yeah, even the girl with the annoying as hell voice). So the plot was cliché and its anti-drug message overdone; you were still involved in the characters, and, as a result, you too wanted that statue head returned to the village.

With “Born to Fight”, we have a lot of pretty young Thai people who display great athletic ability – but no personality. It’s not that they can’t act; they just never really get the chance too. The action takes the center stage, while plot and character development are left far behind. Thus the filmmakers resort to extreme violence (the mass slaughter of an entire village) in order to make you care about the characters. The audience is coerced into caring because, well, innocent people are being murdered for no apparent reason. It’s a cheap tactic and it’s really what keeps “Born to Fight” from being an instant classic like “Ong Bak”.

That said, the action and stunts are absolutely jaw-dropping. They alone justify at least one viewing. But in the end, this is more like a stunt reel rather than a full-fledged movie; it just feels like a string of footage meant to show what the Thai film industry is capable of when it comes to action. It’s a movie where the characters are defined solely by the sports they play and the villains are easy to spot because they’re the inhuman bastards who shoot parents in front of their children. Obviously, it’s a movie completely without subtlety. Then again, it’s also a movie where people are thrown off moving semi-trucks and blown up by rocket launchers.

I’ve basically spent this entire review more or less detailing why “Born to Fight” isn’t as good as “Ong Bak”, but I’m still giving this movie a good score. Why? Because everything you’ve heard about it is true: the action is out of this world. If you love the kind of life-threatening stunts that Jackie Chan made famous with movies like “Police Story”, then you can’t pass up this movie. The soundtrack and fancy editing is a poor attempt at being “modern” but the style and genre of “Born to Fight” has been around for ages. I for one am grateful to see action flicks get back to their no-wires, no-CGI roots. This is bone breaking action at its finest. There’s admittedly not as much genuine martials arts as “Ong Bak” but the over-the-top violence makes up for it. One noteworthy sequence is the extended steadicam shot that Ozark Savage mentions in his review. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it since the heyday of John Woo; it’s almost like something out of a video game. It’s a short moment smack dab in the middle of a long chunk of action but it’s memorable and unique in its own way.

Action movies don’t have be give-and-take between story and violence, but this one certainly is. It’s a shame there isn’t more to “Born to Fight” than brilliant stuntwork, but it entertains nonetheless. If you’re enjoying this resurgence of ‘old school’ action and stunts set forth by “Ong Bak”, then don’t miss “Born to Fight”.

Raging Gaijin’s Rating: 7.5/10

By Ozark Savage

In an interview with the Bangkok post in mid-2004 Panna Rittikrai said that he wanted to push the limits of the human body to see where the boundary was. Well it may seem like he has just started this but he has been working on it for the past 2 decades and over 50 films – all of these movies being low-budget, largely unseen B-flicks. In Thailand his movies are famous for the over the top, almost suicidal stunt choreography. Then in 2003 came Ong Bak without Panna’s stuntwork or training Tony Jaa may not be the breakthrough star he is right now.

So where to go after being involved in a movie which is almost redefining a genre and giving Muay Thai the respect it deserves? Well why not remake one of your old movies with a bigger budget. Born to Fight is birthed.

The plot is nothing new. Cop Pe Deaw and partner/mentor are undercover trying to take down General Wong, just your average scumbag drug lord. The opening runs like a preview of things to come with a chase sequence involving two semis, Pe Deaw on top of said semis and a few bad guys being shot or thrown off the semis. Culminating with Pe Deaw’s mentor dying and the capture of the General. Thus tormented by the death of his friend he sits at home brooding when his sister, a taekwondo star, suggests he come with her on her trip to a remote village to deliver sporting goods. She is part of a group of athletes from The Thailand Sport Authority doing charity work. The group includes a soccer coach, a soccer player, a gymnast and a rugby player. They get to the village just as a group of terrorists violently attack and take them all hostage along with the villagers. They are holding them in an effort to get General Wong released. Facing almost certain death the athletes and villagers fight back.

Interesting fact is that instead of getting actors and training them to fight, Panna went and hired real athletes. Even better is the fact that these athletes aren’t that terrible at acting, what there is of a script they work well. Unlike Ong Bak where the pacing is pretty steady throughout, the build up to the climax can drag but it is well worth the wait.

What you get for your patience is over thirty minutes of the most insane, crazy and absolutely brilliant action you could ask for. Panna’s movie making has definitely been affected, for example, the single take steadicam shot of Pe Deaw gunning down bad guys ala John Woo’s Hard Boiled hospital shot.

This is one of the few action movies where when the action ended I just wanted more of it. And by more of it I mean, give Panna a bigger budget but please don’t let Hollywood know about him… Look what they already did to Asian cinema stars and film-makers. Just don’t let it happen to Panna.

Ozark Savage’s Rating: 7.5/10

By Mighty Peking Man

“Born To Fight” starts out very serious: Bloody gun play, villagers being wiped out massacre style, and weeping children seeing their parents killed before their eyes.

Then, before you know it, we have a series of pretty Thai athletes sporting Adidas tracksuits, taking on a bunch of fully armed soldiers using gymnastics, soccer balls, and acrobatic martial arts moves that just don’t look like they’re causing impact. Sure, let’s flip a couple of times in the air, spread out our legs, then lightly kick someone in the jaw and watch them fly 10 feet away. All in slow motion. Whatever.

Yes, the stunts, acrobatics and fight sequences are pretty impressive but in a Universal Studios Tour/Gymnastics competition sort of way.

I hate to be one of those guys who keeps on saying “Hong Kong did it better in the 1980s,” but I have to be honest, they DID do it better. Don’t let this new phase of crisp sound effects, constant slow motion shots, and multiple cameras fool you into thinking you’re seeing something groundbreaking than something like “Police Story” or “Dragon Lord,” because it’s no; And I speak not only for this film, but for Prachya Pinkaew’s last film, “Ong Bak,” as well. At least the latter had ongoing fight sequences that were entertaining.

If you’re a gymnastics fan or like to see people being knocked off towers with soccer balls, then this flick is for you. Otherwise, “Born To Fight” is overrated and ridiculous.

I’m not sure how many bones were broke during production, whatever the number was, it was NOT worth this film. Prachya Pinkaew, take a hike; And take your shitty techno soundtrack with you.

Hong Kong still owns you, buddy.

Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 4/10

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About JJ Hatfield

i like movies
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16 Responses to Born to Fight (2004) Review

  1. Equinox21 says:

    Mpm, you’re too impressed with yourself. Fuck you!

  2. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    JJ! Great break down of an action fanatic’s dream movie. This movie is only for fast forwarding to the action for there is little acting.

  3. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    MPM! Well soldier, I see you are an 80’s HK did it better man. However, the stunts were death defying and crazy in this one. The people deserve a little credit. If the story was’nt so lame it would have added to the incredible action/stunts. As for what it is, I see your point but I think they did as well as the 80’s HK guys, at least in some instances. Other instances reminded me of that shining piece of film work “Gymkata” !

    • I don’t know, man. I judge a movie as a WHOLE, even if it’s a martial arts film. I seriously would rather take a great movie, with average fight/stunt scenes; than a weak movie, with great fight/stunt scenes. That’s just me though. There are exceptions though… =D

      With some of the 80s and 70’s stuff (Above The Law), you got both. With some of these newer Thai movies, you get a soulless corny movie with a bunch of guys… well, you read my review. It’s a circus act!

      But then again… I LOVE Bruceploitation movies lol

      • T. J. Gushiniere says:

        I love Bruceploitation movies myself, and there are a few as a whole that I enjoyed more than “Born To Fight”. As a whole, the story appealed to me in parts but got corny like you said. I always ask myself, was I entertained. ” Born To Fight” did entertain for what it was, and the only value I would get from watching it again would be fast forwarding to the stunts. Stunt wise, these guys are as good as HK 80’s. Story wise, I agree with you, they are lacking. “Born To Fight” is a Thai-production that I want to like more only because my experience with Thai films is what Tony Jaa did. In other words they seem fresh and cheesy, but like water in my hand, it slips through my fingers. 5/5 for me as a whole.

        • JJ Hatfield says:

          You really have already started to grow as a writer! Of course we were not exactly encouraged to actually write back in hell.

          I was a little concerned some of my longer, in-depth reviews might not be welcomed here but fortunately Mighty Peking Man has been true to his word and never suggested I change and posts my occasional short reviews on bad movies just the same.

          I have read hundreds of your reviews and never have I read something like above…

          “but like water in my hand, it slips through my fingers.”

          It’s a beautiful phrase that also is a summation to your comments!

    • JJ Hatfield says:

      Damn! Did you really have to mention “Gymkata”? Just for that I am gonna review that sucker! Why should I be the only one to suffer? I had almost put that crap about the “game” and where was it “Pari-stan?” out of my conscious memory. I’ll have my writers revenge!

      • JJ Hatfield says:

        Hey, I just realized I set this up wrong. YOU are the one who should have to write the flippin’ review! Make that your next assignment!!!!

        • T. J. Gushiniere says:

          That would definitely accelerate my writer’s block, and take 10 years of clear vision from my eyes if I watched “Gymkata” again! Thank you for the compliments JJ, but any growth I have attained as a writer is due to you and the wonderful people here at COF.!

          • JJ Hatfield says:

            Okay how about a truce? Neither of us will mention or heaven forbid do a full length review of *Gymkata*. I’m not going through with that again and I am not cruel enough to suggest you go “back there”. : )

  4. JJ Hatfield says:

    * Movie information, please read.

    It has come to my attention that there is also a 2007 – 8 version (U.S.) of Born To Fight.
    I have not seen the “newer” version but the important issue is that the movie is edited about 30 minutes shorter than the original in 1994.

    With this movie editing could actually be a good thing. I could have used a few less parents killed in front of their kids, etc. etc. However it has been my experience it was probably sliced and diced with no particular reason which means you will lose fighting and action. Hell the only thing going for this movie is Chupong and the fights and stunts! They are great and life threatening with a lot of brave/insane stunt guys.

    I actually have no idea what has been cut. I do know nothing has been added. So buyer beware.
    Make sure you compare differences before buying or even watching.

  5. Arthur says:

    Decent film with nice fight scenes and chaotic action and mayhem. 7/10.

  6. Grace says:

    Hey does anyone know the sountrack when they get on the bus to go to the village? I’ve been trying to look for that song. Help please. Thank u.

  7. I also miss the glory days of Hong Kong film making. But sadly it doesn’t look like Hong Kong will ever go back to them. So we kinda have to rely on the countries that do. And Thailand does a great job. Is Born to Fight brilliant? It depends on how you look at it. What do most people expect from martial arts / action films? Good action and stunt work. If you seriously are claiming that you rather see a good film with average action then a weak film with good action then you got some screws loose. Most HK action flicks were poor in the storytelling and acting department. However they were good enough to serve the action scenes. And that is exactly the case in Born to Fight. The story is just there to give the people the excuse to do these stunts. Naturally sometimes you will have to overlook the lack of credibility and logic but you have to do that with all of the action films.

  8. DougWonnacott says:

    I think I’m the only person who actually liked the characters and the basic premise (perhaps not enough there to call it a full blown ‘plot’). Each member of sports team had a moment early in the film to either display a specific character trait or establish a particular relationship with one of the villagers which is all paid off later in the film. Everyone gets their moment, the motivations are clear, and if you consider that NONE of the main characters are played actual ‘actors’ (they are almost all either stunt people or professional sportsmen/women), I don’t think the performances are too bad. I love the sport influenced choreography, it makes the action feel completely original (I have seen Gymkata though). It is highly implausible and completely ridiculous, but so are almost all martial arts films, nobody has that many fights in real life.

    Panna Rittakrai was (IMO) the absolute best choreographer from the last 20 years when it comes to delivering original, unique highly stylized fight action. Raging Phoenix and Bangkok Knockout are other great examples of this. I think he’s highly underrated and his death was a devastating loss to action cinema.

    A Touch of Zen is coming out remastered on Blu Ray soon (in the UK) and I can’t wait. That’s the great thing about the martial arts genre, it includes films as diverse A Touch of Zen and Born to Fight, I love them both, but in very different ways.

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