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Featured DVD Review: Muay Thai Fighter

April 8th, 2011

Muay Thai Fighter - Buy from Amazon

Muay Thai Fighter, a.k.a., Muay Thai Chaiya or Chaiya, is a martial arts movie from Thailand that was released after the success of Ong-Bak. That film was a veritable boon to the movie industry in that country, but with sudden growth comes the chance that too many movies will dilute the talent and / or that too many knock-offs will hurt creativity. Is that the case here? Or will this film be able to shine in a now crowded field?

The Movie

We start with a short prologue explaining how the Thai Kickboxing circuit of 1972 was run by organized crime and that many times, no matter who was better in the ring, the crime bosses would determine the outcome of the fight. We were also shown point blank that the action outside the ring was even more violent inside it.

We then meet our three protagonists: Samor, our narrator and son of a fisherman / gambler; Piak, who was born and raised in a whorehouse and is hot-tempered inside and outside of the ring; and Pao, the son of the local Muay Chaiya trainer (Tew) and the brother of a potential champion (Krangsuk). The three are very loyal to one another and train under Tew in the art of Muay Chaiya, a regional variant of Muay Thai that emphasizes defense and quick counter attacks. Their training under Tew ends when he's unable to repay the crime bosses he borrowed money from to start the school and has to take over training duties in their big city gym.

The three friends remain behind and five years later they are adults ready to make it on their own in the big city. However, when they get there they realize they were not prepared for life in the big city. Since Samor was injured and can't fight, he helps Piak train. But he gets in over his head with corrupt managers, gambling debts, etc. This leads to fights with his wife, and it only gets worse after he's accused of throwing a fight. (His boxing style is very heavy on the defense, blocking all incoming attacks waiting for an opening, and when that opening comes, he hits it with all he's got. If he wins, it looks like an amazing comeback. But if he loses, it looks like he was never trying to win.) Piak and Samor continue to spiral downward into underground fighting and are soon working as thugs for a local crime boss. Meanwhile, Pao continues to train while attending school. While Piak decends into underground fighting, he looks to climb the ranks of the professional circuit.

So that's the set up as we watch the two boxers with diametrically opposite styles on opposite paths in the world of boxing. It's a good setup and while it is not exactly unique, it's certainly a more in-depth and dramatically compelling than most martial arts movies. However, so much happens during the plot, that without the voiceover, it would be too much to keep track off. Even at nearly two hours long, the plot has to jump forward a few times just to make it fit. It's also a little predictable and the mirror paths of Pao's ascension and Piak's decline were, well, less than subtle. That said, it's still adds to the drama of the film and can be seen as a selling point, even with the flaws. At the very least, it doesn't get in the way of the fighting.

Speaking of fighting, there's plenty of it, both in and outside of the ring. The particular style of Muay Thai fighting seen in the movie is quite entertaining, even if if it not exactly accurate to Muay Chaiya. (I've read that claim, but I don't have the knowledge to confirm or deny such claims.) There are more than enough of these fights that if that's all the action there were in the movie, it would be enough. However, with Piak and Samor's growing involvement with organized crime, we see plenty of underground fights, which have a much different and much more brutal style to them. (We also see plain old gang warfare assassinations as well as a very bloody finale.) The lack of CG effects / wire work gives the film a more visceral effect and the action doesn't wane as a result.

Overall the film tries to be more than the average Martial Arts movie, and while it isn't 100% successful in everything it tries, it still works more often than not and for fans of the genre who looking for a little more, they will find it here.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD is a 9-minute behind-the-scenes / interview featurette. This is on par with a lot of similar imports.

The Verdict

Muay Thai Fighter isn't in the same class as the original Ong-Bak or Tom Young Goong, but it is still better than most movies in the genre and is it definitely worth checking out for martial arts fans. The DVD doesn't have a lot of extras, but for fans of Thai films in particular, it is worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Muay Thai Chaiya