“Want another piece of Chocolate?”
If you’ve seen Chocolate – starring the same lead actress, though confusingly billed under a different name here – you’ll know what to expect, and the film delivers much of the same. Which would be stunning, brutal fight scenes combined with moments of mind-numbing tedium. The plan for Yanin’s career seems to be to contrive methods by which she can avoid acting: last time it was autism; here, it’s a drunken style of kung-fu which helps mitigate a voice that might charitably be compared to broken nails on glass. She plays former rock-star(!) Deu, who is on the edge of being kidnapped, when she’s rescued by Sanim (Tang). He and his fellow masters of alcohol-fu have all lost ladies in their life to the kidnappers – who, it turns out, are doing this because… No. You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you – and are trying to locate their lair. Deu joins the team, and agrees to act as bait, to see if the kidnappers will go after her again.
After a brisk and entertaining start, this drags badly in the middle. At 111 minutes, it is simply too long, and needs to lose at least a quarter of an hour. However, as with Chocolate, the action makes up for any such deficiencies, with the final reel featuring an escalating trio of fights, any of which would be entirely credible climaxes for any other movie. This culminates in a battle against female body-building champion Roongtawan Jindasing, the leader of the kidnappers, which is the most savage, knockdown, heroine vs. villainess brawl I’ve seen in… Ever? I can’t think of anything to match it immediately. Jindasing’s raw power pitted against Yanin’s devastating flexibility makes for a fabulous contest, and this is preceded by some great “pairs martial-arts” [when you see it, you’ll understand], when Deu and Sanim try to take out the villainess.
A fractional complaint is that the spotlight, action-wise, is not solely on Yanin, especially in the first two-thirds of the film. While the co-stars are by no means incompetent, it’s a step down from Chocolate, where the focus was squarely on her, and going into the last turn, this one getting a seal of approval seemed unlikely. However, the movie found an entirely new gear – one apparently just not available to other film-makers – and surged over the finish line. Just as Chocolate was the best action-heroine film of 2008, it looks like Raging Phoenix will be right up there in the 2009 contest.
Dir: Rashane Limtrakul
Star: Jeeja Yanin, Kazu Patrick Tang, Nui Sandang, Sompong Lertwimonkasem