Director: Panna Rittikrai
Writer: Wichit Wattananont
Producer: Somsak Techaratanapraser
Cast: Changprung Chupong, Nantawooti Boonrapsap, Ping Lumprapleng, Ooi Teik Huat, Nui-Kessarin Ektawatkul
Running Time: 99 min
Natee (Changprung Chupong) and Than (Nantawooti Boornrapsap) are orphans raised by their parent’s friend (Ping Lumprapleng). Never knowing their parents or how they died, the two boys had always wondered who was responsible for their murder. The pursuit of vengeance is the centerpiece of Vengeance of an Assassin, the last film by Panna Rittikrai before his untimely death at the age of 53 (from complications associated with acute liver and kidney failure).
Rittikrai started his career in 1979 as a physical trainer for Bangkok actors. Inspired by Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, he later started his own stunt team, PNP Stunt Team (Muay Thai Stunt Team). He appeared in countless films throughout the 80s, but it was Gerd Ma Lui (1986) that gave him his first directorial feature.
In addition to being the mentor to Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak), JeeJa Yanin (Chocolate) and Dan Chupong, Rittikrai was the main instrument that launched all three of their film careers. But to most, Rittikrai will be remembered for his groundbreaking choreography work in the acclaimed Ong-Bak (2003) and Tom-Yum-Goong (2005), both of which starred Jaa.
Vengeance of an Assassin reunites Rittikrai and Chupong from their Born to Fight (2004) collaboration. The film opens with a very unusual sequence of men screaming, kicking and punching each other while trying to maneuver a soccer ball in a dusty industrial warehouse. At one point, while the men are going at it in slow motion, they try to kick a ball in a small body of water, which appears out of nowhere. It makes absolutely no sense, but is fun to watch. Maybe Rittikrai was experimenting with some of his shots?
Vengeance of an Assassin mixes gunplay with hand-to-hand combat. Some of the firefights feel out of place. On numerous occasions, camera placement is at odds with what’s transpiring on screen. One such sequence involves an unknown figure entering a restaurant while opening fire on men (credit). The scene, which was filmed with the camera pointing up-below the waist from the assailant’s viewpoint (shot to hide the identity of the assailant), felt more like a video game than a movie, which left me with an unpleasant viewing experience.
Other problems in the movie was the use of CGI that didn’t match the surrounding scenery. Case in point was a scene on a speeding train where the the landscaping on both sides of the train look unreal and blurry. The color scheme of explosions didn’t match either. The compositing and rendering of images were so off that I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Furthermore, when guys are fighting, it appears as if they’re on stationary platforms because they had no issues balancing themselves on a speeding train. These embarrassing visuals are not something you would expect from an experienced filmmaker like Rittikrai. It’s safe to assume that his health problems had something to do with the film’s careless post-production effects.
The martial arts combat, however, does not disappoint. One of the more exciting examples is Chupong’s fight with Nui-Kessarin Ektawatkul. This sequence takes place inside another warehouse where cables, pipes and anything within reach are used as weapons. What amazes me most is how Ektawatkul was able to go ballistic while wearing a sexy, sleeveless dress that didn’t seem to hinder any of her movements.
Another engaging action piece involves the elder Ooi Teik Huat versus a group of bad guys. He quickly disarms them with a rapid fire succession of punches, low kicks, throw downs and take downs. He’s not much of an actor, but his skills are stunning. My jaw literally dropped when I witnessed the exchanges on screen. So next time you see an older gentleman doing his morning Tai Chi routine, you might want to cancel your scroffs.
The star of the film, no doubt, is Chupong, but I find Boornrapsap’s physical ability more entertaining. Being younger and more acrobatic, his 360º kicks definitely steal the show. One such frenetic scene involves him exchanging punches and kicks through several glass panes, as shards of glass scatter every which way between the two combatants.
The bare-bones plot, disjointed script, bad CGI and other flaws shouldn’t be a deterrent to enjoying Vengeance of an Assassin. Being Rittikrai’s last project, action enthusiasts should embrace this important piece of Thai action cinema. R.I.P. Ah Gjan (“Teacher” in Thai) Panna, you will be sorely missed.
oneleaf’s Rating: 6/10