Part two of my “Tough Girls Movie Marathon” brings us to Thailand for Jeeja Yanin’s second movie for Sahamongkol film, following her success in last year’s “butt-kickingly” nice “Chocolate”…. it’s “Raging Phoenix”.
Your favorite Catgirl really lucked out this last month, scoring nice Fansubs for both this one and “Coweb”, allowing me to finally enjoy these two in one single glorious evening of popcorn fueled martial arts movie mayhem for my wee inner Kickboxing Princess….
Our synopsis for it goes something like this: “Deu, a girl with equally high degree of recklessness and beauty has never experienced “true love”. Her life changes completely when some gangsters try to kidnap her and she narrowly escapes with the help of Sanim, a sad looking stranger with a painful past. Waking up in an abandoned factory, she joins his friends who practice a form of drunken Thai break-dancing martial arts. Sanim and his friends, having had loved ones abducted, join forces to get back at the kidnappers.”
Drunken Kickboxing? OK…. now you really don’t get to see that everyday of the week…. (at least not in my neighborhood…) so this one promises to be something waaay different from my usual fare. But will I get all nutty for it as I did her last effort, “Chocolate”? You all know by now that I’m gonna have to watch it anyways… (just to be sure…). So let’s skip right to the juicy parts and “Read On!”, shall we?
I had saved this film for second that night, already suspecting that I’d like it…. and of the two films, it was definitely the better. However… not all was happiness here. Jeeja is still the amazing kickboxing wonder we all remember, but “Raging Phoenix” gives her nothing in the way of character to grab your feelings the way her role in “Chocolate” did…. Her acting has improved… it’s just the film just doesn’t reach for the heavens the way her first film did, content instead to use the old tried and true Martial Art formula we’ve all seen waaaay to many times before. There were certainly moments I could swear the Thai filmmakers had simply decided to remake Bruce Lee’s “Game of Death”….
Without any doubt the simple plot is easy to follow…. and the stunt work and fight scenes are top notch in their execution, but the whole film has too simple and linear an approach to telling us the story to feel fresh. A simple story in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem, but the hype had led me to expect something more from this one. Still… for all it’s flaws, I was right about it being the better of the two films, leaving “Coweb” a distant second for that night’s film enjoyment.
This time out Jeeja plays Deu, a thoroughly modern urban punk rocker girl on the rebound from a bad relationship who unfortunately happens to be one of those women with a certain special… “smell”….. (Really!! I kid you not! At least that’s how the Fansubs I found translated it… I’m sorta hoping that it gets changed to “scent” for the eventual US release…. Trust me… None of us girls like to be told we smell… “special” or otherwise!! Hehehehe!!) Drunk and despondent she wanders aimlessly into that part of Bangkok where no reasonably cute petite lil’ lady ought to go alone. Naturally that means our evil villains try to drug and grab her right off the bat, a kidnapping thwarted only by the timely intervention of the hunky Sanim. He saves her in a battle against some rollerblading thugs armed with crazy razor-skates in the first of the films many well choreographed fight sequences.
He takes her back to the dilapidated abandoned warehouse where he hangs out with his two drunken kickboxing buddies. Sanim, along with these friends, has been trying to locate the hidden lair of a kidnapping ring that has been grabbing pretty Thai girls for some unknown but definitely heinous purpose. Luckily for her, he just happened to be on a stake-out when Deu accidentally stumbled into the middle of things. All of their girlfriends or wives or fiances have already been kidnapped…. and they are all desperate to find them and get some payback….. Deu decides to help… feeling a desperate need to belong to something…. and it’s handy that, with her special “smell” (Hehehehe…. it’s still sooooo funny….), she’ll make the perfect bait for a trap to catch the bad guys. But first she’s gonna need those mad combat skills all heroines just have to have, so it’s time to cue that funky “Training Montage” as she gets all down with the particulars of “Drunken Hip-hop Kickboxing”….
So how did that particular Martial Art mish-mash work out? Well…. it lacked the bonebreaking brutality we’re used to from Thai Kickboxing…. but action choreographer Panna Rittikrai did a pretty good job making it sorta work… although you get the definite feeling this one was an idea forced on him by the film’s marketing guys…… (Gotta grab as many young urban demographic groups as you can…. ). Ultimately it ends up requiring fights to look very choreographed overall…. either with Hip-hop dancers trying to look like they can fight, or kickboxers looking like they can dance…. Jeeja does look good… this sort of acrobatics and theatrics suits her petite lil’ body and, as before, she makes the most of what she can do while fighting bigger, stronger looking opponents. Is it a bona-fide success? Well… I don’t think any “Hip-hop kickboxing dojos/bars” are gonna start springing up anytime soon….. but it’s not as embarrassing as it could have gone.
We get the prerequisite plot twist regarding Deu’s place with the heroes… and there’s that doomed romance angle between Deu and Sanim, but he’s all hung up on his lost fiance, and somehow you just know they’ll never get together. There’s a couple more fights…. and then our guys finally find the gang’s hidden lair in a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the streets of Bangkok. Now here things get weird…. this place is freakin’ unbelievable…. with bottomless pits and crazy rope bridges….. caves…. secret high tech labs…. and a drug den full of semiconscious young girls being forced to cry constantly so the villains can make some amazing ginseng-like potion out of their tears. How this place could ever possibly exist is never explained….. and I kept expecting Indiana Jones and a horde of Nazis to come running out of the darkness at some point….. It’s best to ignore the strangeness and just enjoy the action.
Finally the fights get downright mean…. and Jeeja gets a real workout defeating the leader of the gang, a big hormonally challenged woman fighter and her two top henchmen. They find Sanim’s fiance…. alive, but in a stupor… and manage to save her although, in true heroic fashion, not without sacrifice. (It’s easy to figure out who’s not gonna make it… but darn it, you still wanna cry anyway….Sniff, sniff!!) Of course…. the bad guys get smashed, the girls get saved… and Jeeja gets to walk away, battered, bloody, but victorious. Cue that Hip-hop end theme and roll those credits!!
So…. was “Raging Phoenix” a true “Kung-Fu Classic”? Ummm…. not really. However, “Chocolate” was so good that it was gonna be a hard act to follow anyway. This one at least was another nice chance to see Jeeja do what she does best…. Neko wasn’t disappointed, and neither will fans of the genre who came to see some serious action and fighting. It’s got a plot that takes real “suspension of disbelief” to swallow, but the action is what sells it. Overall, your Favorite Catgirl Princess can give it 3 solid “Meows” out of 5 with a couple of nice purrs for some good fighting and action sequences. Here’s hoping Jeeja continues to hone her skills and give us more!! (Now… if only “Coweb’s” Jiang Lu Xia and Jeeja could do a movie together….. Hmmmm? There’s a fight I’d like to see!!)
The Thai DVD for this one is up to the usual fine standards of other high profile films out of Thailand, but sadly as always, has no English subs to make all we non-Thai fans happy. Luckily for us, the Fansubs floating around are more than adequate for your viewing pleasure and a nice Singapore or Malay release can’t be too far away, so keep your eyes peeled!!
Yep….. a Trailer I got…. so get yourselves ready for the crazy hip-hop kickboxing of “Raging Phoenix”!!