Director: Nonthakorn Thaveesuk
Writer: Desho Bernard, Sompope Vejchapipat, Piyaros Thongdee, Nonthakorn Thaveesuk
Producer: Panna Rittikrai, Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Nathan Jones, Nawarat Techaratanaprasert, Sasisa Jindamanee, Chupong Changprung, Supatta Wanthivanond
Running Time: 99 min.
“Somtum” is something of a novelty film, a Thai action movie that I suspect a lot of people are either going to love or think is the corniest thing ever. Personally, I got a kick out of this movie. It’s the first headlining vehicle for Nathan Jones, a guy that you’ve probably seen at least once if you’ve watched any action flick in the past 20 years. He’s the 6’11” giant of a man who attacked Jackie Chan in his Australian apartment in “Police Story 4: First Strike”; rammed into Tony Jaa Juggernaut-style in “Tom Yum Goon”; and fought Jet Li in a wrestling ring in “Fearless.” Oh yeah, he was also quickly defeated by Brad Pitt in the opening scenes of “Troy,” but I’m pretty sure in a real fight Nathan Jones would turn Brad Pitt into glue paste.
In “Somtum,” Nathan Jones plays up the image of a “gentle giant”; he’s a non-violent, peace-loving Australian guy on vacation in Thailand. Shortly after arriving, he’s fed with drinks by a lovely local until he passes out. The next day, he wakes up with barely any clothes and, worse yet, his passport stolen. On the hunt for his missing papers, he runs into and befriends two young local sisters. Back at their mom’s restaurant, Jones samples the local Thai dish of the title, somtum, which looks to my Western eyes like a chopped salad with a ton of hot peppers tossed in. Upon eating it, Nathan turns into a red-tinted Hulk who can’t control his actions. He destroys the restaurant (not hard to do, since it’s basically a shanty) and finds his stay in Thailand further extended as a result: now not only does he have to locate his passport, he has to raise enough money to help rebuild the restaurant.
This simple set-up gives way to plenty of fun action scenes. Despite the American title of “Muay Thai Giant,” Nathan’s character a bit of a wuss who doesn’t like to fight, so expect to see him take more punches than he gives. The real star here is Sasisa Jindamanee, a junior national champion in Thai kickboxing who also starred in “Power Kids.” Despite her young age and petite frame, she is a true force to be reckoned with. She has plenty of great fights in and out of the ring, and her flying knee and elbow attacks keep the action quotient up for most of the film’s runtime. If anyone is looking for the next “Chocolate”-style breakout female action star from Thailand, my vote is definitely for Sasisa!
It’s only during the last 20 minutes that audiences get to see what they probably rented the movie for, and that’s Nathan Jones on a rampage. Thankfully, the climax of the movie does not disappoint. Jones is fed some more more somtum and turns into a rage-fueled monster. He fights two or three guys who are almost as big as himself in a knockout, drag-out fight. They suplex each other into truckbeds, whack each other with oil drums, and just generally dish out more punishment and pain than any real human being would be able to survive. Watch them crash through walls, strangle and electrocute each other, and just keep on fighting. It’s almost like the old-school beat-em-up arcade game “Final Fight” brought to life. As long as you can suspend your disbelief, it’s a hell of a good time.
Also be on the lookout for an extended cameo and fight scene by Dan Chupong of “Dynamite Warrior” and “Born to Fight” fame. Beyond the admittedly great fight scenes, what makes “Somtum” endearing is the bond that Jones forms with Sassia and her sister. Some people may find that these scenes go on for too long (one scene of the two sisters crying on the beach does get pretty melodramatic), but it was nice to watch a Thai martial arts flick that actually cared enough to develop the characters and their relationships.
At the risk of sounding like a cheesy quote you’d read on the DVD box, “Somtum” has plenty of action, laughs, and heart to spare. It’s one of my favorite Thai flicks and proof there’s life beyond “Ong Bak.” Although the violence is hard-hitting and “R” rated, for once there’s no sexual content at all. Well, except for a scene where Nathan Jones has a waking nightmare about him being a go-go dancer. That I’m trying to forget about!
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10