What’s more attractive than a girl with a gun? The answer, a girl that doesn’t need a gun. Jija Yanin (Chocolate) kicks back into action with her second feature, Raging Phoenix. Directed by Rashane Limtrakul, Raging Phoenix comes with a twist, Muay Thai mixed with hip-hop dancing. You should see them in action, packing in more twists and turns than a M. Night Shyamalan movie. The martial arts-meets-break dancing premise serves as inspiration for some truly inventive choreography, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Throw in the art of Drunken Muay Thai and a showdown against the Chinese Drunken Fist style, and we have a blend of fighting styles that you won't want to miss. French-Vietnamese martial artist champion Kazu Patrick Tang appears alongside Jija Yanin in his movie debut, and women's body building champion Roongtawan Jindasing towers over them both as a bikini clad big bad, taking on our tiny heroine (I would never say that to her face) in one of the most intense showdowns of the year.
Raging Phoenix doesn’t play out in the way you might expect it to. Deu (Yanin) can best be described as a right royal pain in the ass; she picks fights and beats drums in a local rock band. One drunken night, a mysterious woman and a transvestite ambush her, but Sanim (Kazu Patrick Tang) and his motley crew of Muay Thai warriors rescue her. Sanim trains Deu in the art of Drunken Muay Thai, and they set out for revenge on the kidnapping ring that stole Sanim’s bride to be on their wedding day.
They have targeted Deu as well, but I’m not going into plot specifics here, Raging Phoenix winds up in fantasy territory and you’re better off discovering the how's and why's for yourself. Mixing the fancy footwork of Chocolate, bone-crunching realism of Ong Bak and whimsical flights of fancy embraced by films like Big Trouble in Little China, Raging Phoenix is a welcome return to action cinema excess. Thai cinema is racing ahead of the pack, and pint-sized heroine Jija Yanin is leading the stampede. Leave your elephant at the door and sit yourself down, Raging Phoenix is available on R2 DVD and there’s no place to hide. Not even a cave… yes, you know who you are.
The Drunken Muay Thai takes centre stage in the opening act, but it won't be long before you're missing the death defying realism of films like Warrior King. Don’t get me wrong, the opening action scenes look fantastic, but the drunken face-rape and bountiful break dance manoeuvres do become tiresome rather quickly. Fortunately, Raging Phoenix doesn’t dwell on the drunken dance element for the entire movie, reverting back to the kick ass confectionary we have all grown to love, but that’s not to say they dispense with their new toy altogether.
Raging Phoenix brings with it a fresh take on the fighting genre, even if everything else about the film is pretty much textbook. We have the ever so familiar set up, an abundance of training sequences, Looney tune characters and mysterious bad guys hiding in the shadows. Nothing wrong with that you might say, and I agree whole-heartedly, when it comes to action cinema there’s a very good case for ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. I mean don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of breaking here, but that’s par for the course surely? Bones are shattered; bodies are battered and bruised, and it’s all in the name of entertainment. I’m so happy I could cry.
Raging Phoenix takes a dramatic turn in the final act, it’s all rather daft of course, but Limtrakul is keen to guide his film into less familiar territory. The fantasy element provides a welcome change of scenery, and the epic rope bridge conclusion is a real doozy. The stunning fight choreography is a fitting companion for the fanciful storytelling, and the underground dwelling allows for some breathtaking stunts and fight sequences. Kazu Patrick Tang provides a startling debut here, blessing the film with some of its most intoxicating fight scenes, and Roongtawan Jindasing makes for a screen-stomping bad-ass from Hell.
How can we end on anyone other than leading lady Jija Yanin? She was spectacular in Chocolate, mixing innocence and beauty with death defying brutality. Raging Phoenix lacks the surprise element of Chocolate, we all ready know how good this girl is, but provides a welcome alternative to her work on that film. She may be small, but Jija Yanin has a big future in action cinema, and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next. AW