A group of kids take on terrorists in this martial arts action flick from Thailand. Dave checks out the Cine Asia Blu-ray release…
Opening with a montage of harrowing scenes depicting jungle warfare and the plight of an unknown group of individuals (think slow-motion shots of people dying, a musical score that swells to raise the emotional impact) the film then cuts to a title card, introduces a funky rock score and proceeds to deliver a quick-fire moving slideshow that introduces its young cast. And by young, I mean a group of kids that look 12-14 at most, which I have to admit I found a little surprising at first considering the box synopsis makes no mention of this and the cover-art is more interested in Johnny Nguyen who has a fairly small role in the film. If you squint at the small screen captures on the back you’ll spot the kids in question, who in the film are cast as a group of almost adopted brothers and sisters, three of whom reside at a Muay Thai boxing school and one of whom is possibly the son of the teacher there. I say possibly as the film is a little sketchy on their actual relationship to each other, the main focus being that of a bond they’ve formed through their situation in life that sees them look out for one another.
Of course the title of the film suggests a fifth, and that would be Wun, the younger brother of Wuth who is quite sickly and in need of a heart transplant. For Wun the older quintet goes out of their way to bring him some happiness and this leads to mischief as they try and scrape together some money to buy him a remote controlled car that he desires. The school where they reside is home to various foreigners training in Muay Thai and one early scene sees them exploiting a walk-in which results in a drunken muscle-bound idiot starting a fight which the kids see fit to intervene. Taking on a man more than double the size of any of them we get our first taste of real fight action in the film which quickly singles out Catt (Sasjsa Jjndamanee) and Wuth (Nuntawood Boonrubsub) as the real fighters of the group. These two pull off some great moves, combining to great effect and mixing the usual array of elbows and knees with some blinding acrobatic kicks. The use of full-body shots and single takes really emphasises the quality the two possess, while the choreography and editing is of a decent standard. Of the other two leads only the character named Pong (Pethaj Wongkhamlao) takes part and like his role outside of the action, he is purely there for comic relief while the fourth, Jib (Navarat Techaratanapraseri) is more of an outsider who gets involved with the group later in the film.
Their next attempt at bringing Wun some happiness results in a situation which aggravates his heart condition and leaves him in desperate need of a transplant operation. Luck is on their side and a heart is available, but before it can leave the hospital where it is coming from a group of armed men storm the place and take the visiting American Ambassador hostage (and this plot development eventually gives meaning to the scenes which open the film). Learning of the situation and feeling responsible for Wun’s condition, the four take it upon themselves to sneak into the hospital and retrieve the heart, and of course at the same time take on men armed with assault rifles! The subsequent action is more stunt-based with short fight exchanges between the kids and terrorists in-between sneaking antics, and while not as hard-hitting as the other Thai action films you might have seen it’s actually quite good fun. The whole thing climaxes with a fight between the kids and the aforementioned Johnny Nguyen who is the leader of the terrorists, and the set-piece is another good example of two of the kids being far better than the others, but they all play their parts in a nicely choreographed fight that is more intense and vicious than the earlier example at the school.
So the action is good, and two of the kids really have some moves, but what of their skills elsewhere? Sadly none of them are particularly good actors, it’s only when they’re fighting or up to mischief that they’re convincing, elsewhere the story is highly melodramatic with them being required to cry on camera and it just looks forced. Worst of all is the character of Wun, who just comes over as a whiney brat rather than someone you can actually feel some sympathy for. The direction of the film really plays up the melodrama and the original music is just beat for beat what the film wants from your emotions and not very subtle in the process. It might sound like I’m being a little harsh and I know many simply don’t care but I like to think an action film can aim a little higher but this really just feels like a by-the-numbers story to satisfy the action requirements. The only part that defied my expectations was the presence of a young girl who is part of the terrorist group. Upon seeing her I immediately thought we would see her fighting one of the ‘good’ kids at the end, but the film goes in a difference direction (though it’s not an entirely satisfying one and does nothing to quell the melodramatic aspects of the plot).
Still, I feel like I’m ending on a down note and while the film is quite average the action is anything but. It’s never going to challenge the films quoted on the cover for pure unadulterated action bliss but it offers something different by way of its young stars and has plenty to recommend it in the action and stunt stakes.
Watch the trailer
Force of Five is released on a dual-layer disc coded for all regions. The film is presented in 1080/24p though the extras (with the exception of selected trailers) are all SD PAL so may not play on NTSC hardware (Japanese and USA Playstation 3 machines for example).
Please note the images used in this review are promotional stills and not captures from the disc.
The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is fairly competent though it does have a soft and rather muted appearance throughout. The print used is not as clean as you might expect for such a recent film, with minor white specks easily discernible though never really distracting. The actual compression seems fine, with no edge enhancement that I could detect or other unwanted digital tampering. The general soft/muted appearance is most likely down to how the film was shot as it just looks like a low budget production (and really not all that different to the other Thai releases I’ve seen lately). What I can say in the Blu-ray’s favour is that it seems to be an accurate reproduction of the film’s intended look and – comparing it to the DVD release (also from Cine Asia) – the Blu-ray is a clear step up with much better colour definition and far great clarity to the image overall.
The Thai 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is equally run-of-the-mill, rarely taking advantage of the full soundstage and lacking any real impact during the action set-pieces. It ticks all the boxes in terms of clear dialogue and no obvious problems but is never going to rock your world. There is also a Thai DD2.0 audio option and of course optional English subtitles that are clear and with no errors that I recall.
Like the majority of new Asian films brought to DVD lately the extras are all straight out of the promotional archive. The most substantial content here is a set of interviews with the four main kids, the director and Johnny Nguyen. With the exception of Nguyen the interviews are all in Thai with English subtitles, while Nguyen’s interview is in English with permanent Thai subs and optional English subtitles. The kids and the director all give very short, to-the-point answers and they mostly answer the same questions. There’s not much to take from them, other than the kids are more or less playing themselves in the film while the director refers to the film as ‘Power Kids’ which is an alternative English title the film goes under. Nguyen is a little more talkative, I guess you could say he’s more of a seasoned performer and knows how to talk up his role but again it’s very short and there’s little to be taken from it.
Next up is a 5-minute making-of that consists of slices of the interview footage I’ve just discussed cut together with film clips and behind-the-scenes material before ending with the theatrical trailer. Then you have some behind-the-scenes footage (roughly 5-minutes worth) shot by a handheld camera during the shoot that mostly showcases the action scenes and the occasional accident.
Rounding out the disc is the film’s original trailer and trailers for 12 other Cine Asia releases.
Insubstantial as it may be, there is some fun to be had from Force of Five and the Blu-ray presentation is no-thrills but certainly gets the job done.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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