Raging Phoenix (Deu suay doo)

Thailand (2009) Dir. Rashane Limtrakul

Deu (Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda) is the tomboy drummer of a rock band who is kicked out when she spots her boyfriend at their gig with another girl and attacks him mid song. While drowning her sorrows a merciless gang of human traffickers known as the Jaguar Gang attrmpty to kidnap Deu but is interrupted by a skilled fighter name Sanim (Kazu Patrick Tang). Deu is taken to safety with Sanim and his three friends Kee Moo (Nui Saendaeng), Kee Ma (Sompong Lertwimonkaisom) and Kee Kwai (Boonprasayrit Salangam), all of whom have loved ones taken by the Jaguar Gang. They teach Deu their unique style of fighting called Meyraiyuth, a combination of Muay Thai, drunken boxing and hip hop dance moves, in order to extract revenge and help Sanim rescue his fiancée Pai (Saroch Ruampaothai), who was abducted on their wedding day.

From the people behind Ong Bak and Chocolate, the latter being Jeeja Yanin’s impressive debut, pretty much tells you all you need to know about this film, although some elaboration is required. The proud boast of wire free, CGI free fights is again present – which is largely true but some flips and spins are clearly wire assisted while CGI features in many non-action scenes, often for no real reason. There is also more to the plot but sometimes, less is more.

The sole criteria for the Jaguar Gang’s abduction is a particular pheromone that some women possess which, when used as an ingredient for a special perfume, has health improving properties. But this substance only works when extracted in the form of a tear of sorrow so the women are drugged and made to feel sad to provide their contribution to this medicinal scent. No really. Conveniently Deu possess this unique pheromone which is why she was targeted by the gang. Being the perfect gentlemen they are, the guys plan to train Deu to fight then her as bait to follow the Jaguar Gang to their hideout, so she can be captured by the gang, infiltrate the hideout and kick some butt in the process. Which she does.

It is not a real stretch to immediately recall Jackie Chan’s seminal 1978 breakthrough hit Drunken Master when watching the first thirty minutes of so of this film, since the central requirement for Meyraiyuth is to be blitzed on toxic liquor first – a direct lift from Chan’s film. However we learn later on that the true essence of Meyraiyuth is in fact sadness and pain and not inebriation – which is probably just as well as the big fight scenes in the Jaguars’ hideout are fought in a state of complete sobriety although there is plenty of pain. Even the hip hop dancing element of the fights is played down by the end of the film which isn’t a bad thing as the site of such displays makes the fights appear like comedy routines that hard hitting bouts of martial arts mayhem. In fact, Deu’s first encounter with Sanim and the boys is a comedic affair which once again doffs the cap in the direction of Mr. Chan and his balletic comic dust ups.

To demonstrate serious we are supposed to take this film, the names of the three colleagues of Sanim are actually nicknames: Kee Moo means “Pig”, Kee Ma means “Dog” and Kee Kwai means “Bull”; but they are not related to the zodiac or anything as deep as that –they refer to the various types of faeces found in common colloquial usage today! Very high brow! Once we are past these early stages the mood turns more serious as the guys reveal the back stories behind their hatred of the Jaguar Gang while Deu struggles to keep her feelings for Sanim in check while he pines for Pai. Cue emotive and haunting soundtrack to replace the hip hop beats of earlier. At least we are spared a painful love triangle and instead everyone takes their emotional lumps on the chin like all good fighters do.

Anyone who has seen Chocolate will know what Yanin is capable of and her she is given a second chance to demonstrate this with the added elements of Meyraiyuth thrown into the mix. Even if the boast of no wires or CGI is a tad deceptive there is little doubt the bulk of the tightly choreographed and inventive fights are legit deals, with each cast member more than holding their own alongside Yanin. The main antagonist for the finale is champion bodybuilder Roongtawan Jindasing as Jaguar London, who may have had a double for some scenes but looks solid enough in the rest. Plenty of bone crunching moves and strikes are on display throughout the film, some of which will also be familiar to wrestling/MMA fans. While Yanin has a long way to go as an actress she has at least got the fundamentals down and possesses an innate charisma making her a watchable action star.

Raging Phoenix is one of those films where plot isn’t really necessary and while kudos should be awarded for trying to make the premise for the fighting a bit more palatable, it does try to be a bit too clever for its own good. So, ignore all that and enjoy the bone crunching action for what it is.