Born to Fight: 2-Disc Ultimate Edition Review
There are silly action movies and then there are silly action movies. Born to Fight is a silly action movie, the kind you try not to think too hard about, but find it a little difficult to do so - because it’s so silly, see? I wonder how successful it was though in recruiting more Thai rugby players?
(Read in voice-over man mode)
When a group of specially trained friends from the Sports Authority of Thailand visit a little town because they’re feeling rather charitable, they’re soon taken hostage by a group of invading terrorists who want to destroy Bangkok and then take over the world or something. Only one man - no several athletes and some old people and a kid - can stop it before it’s too late. From the guy who brought you Tony Jaa, comes a film not starring Tony Jaa, but a guy who looks like him a bit. An action-packed celluloid extravaganza from the country that’s taking the world by storm, comes Born to Fight. Fight or be fighted-ed.
Actually, Born to Fight would probably be far more rewarding if it was made up of silly action through and through. Instead it spends 45 minutes setting up the inevitable showdown between the goodies and baddies with some rather heartier than heartfelt sentiments. And they’re piled on thicker than molasses as they build up to a hugely jingoistic finale, from national anthem singing to major flag waving (literally) and flashes of Thai religion and symbolism in the form of monks and coins. Add to that oodles of extended shots featuring people crying and yelling and you have quite the bounty. For sure, director Panna Rittikrai - remaking his low-budget 1986 debut feature - sees to it that he pushes every single one of our emotional buttons. At times they’re effective; it’s difficult not to become sympathetic towards children losing their parents, but as is often the case proceedings tend to be more heavy-handed than necessary. I suppose you can’t really class it a fault that Born to Fight is so firmly rooted in Thai tradition and the hearts of a passionate nation; a film that will therefore resonate on a higher scale in its home land than it would to those of us who take little interest in such blatant posturing. I would sooner happily see fighters fighting for their country, without having the narrative force it down my neck, though that’s not to say many of you reading won’t enjoy it. Hell, the last 50 minutes are a blast, even if they do feature some of the most ludicrously staged acts of violence ever committed to film.
That is of course why the reader is interested, I’m sure. All the stuff that’s in the rather tasty trailer is here to enjoy, once you get past the repetitive, infrequently dull warbling. With our many protagonists established and the little Thai village well and truly threatened by the half way mark the pace rapidly picks up: a mind-crushing techno score rouses heavily, burning into our brains and never, for a single moment, ceasing to exist. It serves to punctuate the equally unstoppable bouts of human athleticism on display, which quite frankly is never anything less than jaw-dropping. While the good guys fight via some conveniently placed apparatuses - which ensures each player gets to use his or her special sport-tastic moves in equal measure - it’s impossible not to respect the entire cast and stunt team. Clearly half the stuff we witness is painful; there are no wires and CG only takes over for some cartoony effects now and then. The terrific opening ten minutes, which as a single set piece is never bettered (complete with its Police Story inspired shanty town express), shows some truly death-defying stunts: at one point you can see a guy narrowly escaping being crushed under the wheels of a loaded lorry! Rittikrai makes every effort to show that his cast are really doing the impossible with some impressively mounted camerawork that tracks most of the action and shows us the faces of those performing and well choreographed moves with very little cranking; only occasionally does he indulge in showcasing multiple angle shots for some of the more deadlier-than-thou efforts. It’s like watching a bunch of super-humans, and in fact the principal cast are real life national champions in their field, and with that in mind they aint half bad at acting either.
As said, then, Born to Fight lets itself down by being far too serious in tone. As much fun as the action is it’s played quite straight and I can’t help but think that half of it is unintentionally amusing, particularly the guys who use their football skills to take out baddies via fruit with precision; the aforementioned patriot act which is too overbearing for its own good, and several unlikely situations involving martial artists taking on trained gunmen at point-blank range. Leaving your brain at the door is well and truly required. In addition, some of the editing is less than perfect, which only adds further to the comedy: take the scene in which Joe returns a grenade to a bad guy by kicking it, then before it does any damage the bad guy’s chest explodes (well, more a squib). It could have done with lightening up a little and offering a lot more winks to the audience. At the end of it all the message is clear, that we should always fight for what we believe in. It’s a common theme readily associated with Thai action-cinema it seems, and to an extent it’s admirable. For those patient the rewards are just enough to see to it that Born to Fight delivers on its promise, even if it feels like some odd hybrid of action and melodrama.
Born to Fight appears to be Dragon Dynasty’s eighth release, or at least it’s numbered eight anyway. A two-disc ultimate edition, which I’m about to discuss just how ultimate.
Born to Fight is a purposely contrasty film. The entire thing exhibits natural grain as a result and blown out skies, while flesh tones tend to go up and down. At times they appear natural, while sometimes the image shows off pinker tints with high saturation. Likewise, red areas have orangey/pink tones, such as the baddies’ arms bands and berets and the massive shanty town explosion at the start. Black levels are OK under the circumstances and there is plenty of detail, with some impressive close-ups, which at times you can even make out skin pores. There is a little bit of edge enhancement undermining things, but on the whole I believe this to be an accurate representation of the original source. It reminds me somewhat of the equally high contrast film Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis, which was similarly well handled on DVD recently.
Three sound options are available: an English 5.1 dub, which I’m not going to say much about, because it has loads of dodgy accents and I can’t tell in which direction they’re trying to take it. My main listening choice was Thai DTS. In comparison to the 5.1 effort it generally has more bass: the action scenes are quite impressive, with bullets flying past the rear channels effectively and explosions carrying plenty of weight with the added subwoofer. But Dragon Dynasty seems to be over compensating for something. Dialogue is clear enough, but it’s not quite so evenly balanced and as such some moments become a little drowned out once the action kicks in. The 5.1 mix is slightly better in this department, but only marginally.
The optional English subs do a great job and present no distractions. The only thing not translated is the song that plays over the opening credits and the end.
Bey Logan supplies an audio commentary on disc one, which offers a very good insight into the film’s production. Logan, who states that he’d lived in Thailand for a short while in the eighties, proves to know his Thai action cinema as he talks about Rittikrai’s films amongst others. As usual with his commentaries he rarely pauses for breath and he inundates us with cast and crew info, location and shooting facts. In all it’s a trivia-filled track that shows Logan far more comfortable in line with his Hong Kong commentaries, than when he’s had to cover Korean releases.
The rest of the bonus material is shunted over to disc two. First of all is a brand new sixty five-minute making of feature which covers a lot of ground. Producer Prachya Pinkaew and director Rittikrai lead the way, talking about the film’s genesis, getting into movie making and citing influences, while several of the primary cast members discuss their roles and having to overcome certain obstacles so that they could actually act in the feature. Split into several chapters, then, it covers important areas and goes on to detail the work of the impressive stunt team and the evolvement of Thai action cinema, which admittedly borrowed heavily from Hong Kong and gradually became more distinct in itself. There are anecdotes here and there, talk on rehearsing the film’s hard-hitting scenes and letting us in on the film’s message and Thai patriotism. We never get any less of an idea that the cast and crew clearly see the picture as being a labour of love.
On the set of Born to Fight runs for just under six minutes and is little more than a promo reel; a montage of action scenes with actor introductions, which plays similarly to the original theatrical trailer that is also included on the disc, in addition to the U.S. promo.
Born to Fight is another impressive Thai action flick from a country that is currently producing some of the the most daring stunt work in the world right now. There is a lot to enjoy here, but it does feel somewhat bloated with schmaltz. Still, for fans, Dragon Dynasty have put together a nice little package.