Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Film: The King Maker **
Release date: 21st March 2011
Certificate: 15
Running time: 92 mins
Director: Let Kitaparaporn
Starring: Gary Stretch, John Rhys Davies, Cindy Burbridge, Dom Hetrakul
Genre: Fantasy/Martial Arts
Format: DVD

During the early nineties, Gary Stretch was the glamour-boy of British boxing, his biggest moment undoubtedly arriving in 1991 when he challenged Chris Eubank for the WBO world middleweight championship in London. Billed as “beauty versus the best”, the outcome proved controversial, but because Stretch earned more as a model than actually fighting, he took the loss on the chin and the lure of movie stardom proved all too much. In 2004 his hard work finally paid off when he was cast as psychotic gangster Sonny in Shane Meadows' gritty thriller Dead Man's Shoes (2004). A year later would see him become the leading man in Let Kitaparaporn’s The King Maker. Would it take Stretch to the top in Tinseltown, or instead be the knockout blow?

Fernando De Gama (Gary Stretch), a young Portuguese soldier of fortune, sets sail for the Orient seeking the man who killed his father. Shipwrecked, captured and sold into slavery, Fernando is rescued by a beautiful woman only to discover she is linked to his father's murder.

When Fernando is pressed into military service, his heroics on the battlefield gain him the distinction of becoming a celebrated personal guard to the King of Siam.

It isn’t long though before he uncovers the devious Queen's plan to replace the King with her lover, so Fernando must battle to stop the very plot in which he is incriminated, before the kingdom explodes into war…

The hackneyed but enjoyable opening, including some entertaining action scenes, impressive stunts and, particularly fun, our hero’s encounter with a crocodile, means that for a good twenty minutes the viewer is willing to venture further into a world that’s simple but functional and quite nicely conceived, managing to forgive the over enthusiastic use of computer generated effects and close up shots of a fake leg to the face. But, echoing Gary Stretch’s penultimate boxing match against Eubank, The King Maker also fails to go the distance.

Once again, however, such a farce isn’t necessarily down to Stretch. He is, after all, one of the highlights of the film, and even if his acting abilities aren’t quite on a par with Paddy Considine, whom he was cast alongside in Dead Man’s Shoes, his performance is ten times greater than any of the other cast members. There’s also an impressive boxing match in the final act that will entertain more than just fans of his boxing career.

The rest of the cast could easily argue that they’re let down by some woeful dialogue. The one who suffers most is Yoe Hassadeevichit, playing Queen Sudachan, hamming it up with lines that would make George Lucas cringe: “Believe me, they have never known a woman like me before, but soon, they will!” she hisses, moments after another gem, in which she mumbles to herself, “He (the King) treats me like a common whore. One day, I will make him pay for his indiscretions, that, I promise!” Best of all though is a conversation she has with her lover: “I’m going to have a baby – do you understand?” she says, lovingly waiting for his response. “A child?” is his dimwitted reply. He’s obviously quite a catch…

With so many daft conversations throughout, lazily pushing the story forward (we want to see, not hear) Kitaparaporn has obviously forgotten the three important rules of dialogue. First, it requires compression and economy, saying the maximum in the fewest possible words. It must also have direction, without the repetition shown in the angst of his antagonist, the Queen, and it should also have purpose. In one more doozy, during a pointless cockfight, someone dares to utter the line, “There might be something funny about your cock” to the other contender. It has no relevance, and thanks to the drivel spat out before it, it isn’t clear whether this is an attempt at humour (neither is the Witch Doctor who sounds like Crazy Frog), which sadly, sums up a movie with actual potential to entertain.

Equally tiring are the visuals, and it’s odd to report that The King Maker has already dated badly, somehow resembling the eighties imaginings of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China (1986) a decade too late. It may bring other-worldly veracity to the party, especially in the opening exchanges, but how a film nine years younger manages to fail with simple back projection techniques (most notable in the big battle scene) is worrying, and certainly disrupts an audiences’ ability to suspend disbelief. Luckily, Kitaparaporn short changes us with the action anyway, cutting to Fernando standing amongst a pile of dead bodies instead.

There will always be those who’ll suggest that all the corn witnessed here adds to the charm, but there’s no getting away from a terrible script that lacks realistic conflict and characterization, even if the score provides some thumping action themes and a couple of love songs Celine Dion would’ve been proud of, if only she wasn’t so busy with a three-year, 600-show contract to appear five nights a week in an entertainment extravaganza at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.

Sadly, Gary Stretch never performed there, and here lies the problem, reiterated by his film credits since (discounting World Trade Centre, in which he played a paramedic). He’s the poor man’s Vinny Jones, despite the ageing looks, and unless he joins the WWE sharpish, always will be.

An exercise in style over substance, with very little of the former, The King Maker will entertain fans of Gary Stretch the boxer, but will fail to endorse Gary Stretch the actor, thanks to a script that hits the canvas after the first round.

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