Director: Thanakorn Pongsuwan
Writer: Thanakorn Pongsuwan, Yutnathorn Kaewthong
Producer: Prachya Pinkaew,
Cast: Somchai Kemglad, Shahkrit Yamnarm, Leo Putt, Athip Nana, Ray MacDonald, Kemapsorn Sirisukha, Nirut Sirichanya, Pongpat Wachirabunjong
Running Time: 106 min.
This is a movie I held off watching, largely because the DVD cover didn’t inspire much confidence. The cover blurb declared the movie was something like a “darker X-Men” but I figured it was just another cheesy Thai action flick in the vein of “Mercury Man.” Shame on me for writing off this movie before I even saw it because I found “Demon Warriors” to be immensely entertaining.
This film is from the director of the basketball-meets-Muay Thai flick “Fireball,” and features cast members from “Dynamite Warrior” and “The Tiger Blade,” and yet tonally it couldn’t be any further from any of them. There are no Thai sex jokes here, no wink at the camera moments or awkward edits from scene to scene. From its opening minutes, “Demon Warriors” presents a relentlessly dark and humorless vision of the world and pursues that vision without wavering. And the film is all the better for it.
The easiest way to describe “Demon Warriors” is a cross between TV’s “Heroes” and Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” – or, even better, if you remember the obscure 1990 Barker flick “Nightbreed.” Then again, there’s not much that’s “easy” about this plot. The biggest criticism I’ve seen thrown at “Demon Warriors” is that the story is extremely difficult to follow, possibly due to the subtitle translations. There’s no denying the first hour of the film is overstuffed with voice-over narration trying to explain just what the movie is about. Fortunately, everything (kinda) makes sense during the last few scenes of the movie, but until then you might be wondering what the hell is going on and why every character seems to change allegiances so quickly.
“Demon Warriors” doesn’t take place in our world. Apparently those who commit suicide are sent a place between heaven and hell, not unlike purgatory. A “lucky” few are granted special powers in this purgatory but the powers always come with a price. Half the fun of watching the movie is discovering the different abilities the characters have and the toll it takes on them. The story begins with a young detective who is ostensibly the main protagonist; before the opening credits roll, he’s shot himself in the head and entered the next world. It’s there in this limbo that a war is being waged between humans and Opapatika (the mutants AKA the “demon warriors” of the title).
It gets even more convoluted from there but the movie mostly unfolds through voice-over exposition, languid philosophical conversations, and extremely violent fight scenes. The body count in this film is ridiculously high and there are characters who do things I’ve never seen before. Just imagine an immortal stabbed through the chest with multiple machetes, then pulling them right back out of his own body to amputate his attackers. That’s the kind of bloody, visceral scope of this film.
I need to mention that “Demon Warriors” is absolutely gorgeous. The movie doesn’t look like it was filmed in 2007 and I mean that as a compliment. All of the locations in this film have a real, lived-in quality – they’re damp, dirty, worn with age. “Demon Warriors” just has that authentic look I normally associate with Asian films from the 90’s. The director of photography, Decha Seemanta, has worked on numerous other Thai films, including “Chocolate” and “The Eye,” but he really outdid himself here. This is hands down the most beautifully photographed Thai action movie I’ve ever seen. The on-location shooting and repeated aerial/crane shots never failed to impress me. In fact, one of the main reasons the climax let me down was because the action is shot at night and suddenly the footage becomes dark and grainy, losing the luster of the earlier film.
Considering how low my expectations were, “Demon Warriors” blew me away. The plot may be a bit murky (okay, very murky) but it consistently entertains with its grim and bloody superhero fantasy. Again, the ending is not that great and the fight scenes in the first half of the movie tend to be better than those during the latter half. But I have to give Thailand a heap-load of credit for producing this darkly imaginative film, one that’s visually stunning and without a trace of their usual bathroom humor or anti-drug PSAs. To me, this is the kind of movie that their film industry should focus on making. If the idea of Clive Barker having an S&M fantasy involving the X-Men appeals to you, you should check “Demon Warriors” out too.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10