Thai action cinema has been pretty successful ever since Ong-bak arrived on the scene. And even though they've enjoyed considerable international commercial success so far they've avoided swamping their audience with a bucket-load of inferior films. Raging Phoenix is the latest in the steady rise of the Thai martial arts film, and one that is sure to please the fans.
Raging Phoenix sees the return of Vismitananda who debuted rather well in Pinkaew's Chocolate. Though this time around she gets help from a few back-up fighters who help to broaden the range of moves seen in the film. While it's always a little tricky to put lots of fighting styles in one film (see Ong-bak 2), Limtrakul makes sure that the different fighters flow well together and don't just perform separate from each other.
The angle that needs to sell this film is the mix of Muay Thai, drunken style and breakdance. It might sound like a rather crazy blend of styles, but the result is very impressive alright. It's always cool to see the drunken fighting style, but coupled with the agile legwork and fluidity of Muay Thai it creates a very special flow within the fights.
The story, as usual, is not too interesting and simply functions to draw the main cast from battle field to battle field. Deu is a lost and lonely soul that almost finds herself kidnapped by a band of notorious criminals. She is saved by a group of victims that are after the criminal organization. Of course they know martial arts and around halfway she's found capable enough to join them. Nothing new there.
Raging Phoenix is a film that belongs to the colourful Thai film school, meaning lots of pretty and bright colours tampered for a little extra effect. I love the vibe coming from these films as each frame and scene seems to jump from the screen. Not really sure why it is so dominant in Thai cinema, but it's always an extra reason to look forward to these films. Direction is slick but good, the editing very fitting and the locations beautiful. Especially the hideout of the gang looks otherworldly. The only point of critique is the dark setting in the final part of the film. Could've used some better strategic lighting as some of the moves are too much obscured by darkness.
The music is pretty nice too, though I'm sure the Thai hip-hop tracks will be met with some weariness. Not that I would play the stuff myself, but it flows well with the fight scenes and gives some context to the strange dance moves the fighters are doing in between. It's not the first (and definitely not the last) time martial arts choreography is coupled to dance choreography, but it's nice to see a modern version for a change. Acting is pretty nice too, giving some extra flair to the already strange team of characters, just don't go expecting any award-winning performances.
Even though all the filler is nicely shot, it's the fight scenes that will draw all the attention. I was particularly taken with the early fights, demonstrating the best mix of drunken style and Muay Thai. Fun fights with a slight dash of comedy, yet very controlled and awesomely choreographed. Some people have complained about the staged character of the fights, which is a given whenever drunken style is used, so be warned. The latter fights are not as fluid and focus more on elaborate killer moves. They are still fun but do lack the agility of the first few fights. The actual finale kicks ass though, so the film is sure to close on a positive note.
Raging Phoenix is another very solid entry in the Thai martial arts selection. Not only are the fights well-choreographed, the fighting style is original, the film is beautifully shot and the characters are a varied and fun bunch. But when all is said and done, it's still very much a martial arts film, so if you're not a fan of unrealistic show fighting this film is probably not for you. For all the others, enjoy the ride.