Three childhood friends growing up in Thailand, steeped in the Muay Thai Boxing culture, grow up and grow apart because of the rampant corruption that is unfortunately the driving force behind their time-honored sport. Will the bonds of friendship be enough to keep them and their loved ones alive despite the efforts of those who are looking to cash in on their need to survive?
Best line: (when Sriprai is given a broken watch as an engagement present from her naive suitor Piak) “It’s okay. Time stopped when I met you.”
Muay Thai Fighter (2007)
Directed by Kongiat Kohmsiri
Starring: Akara Amarttayakul, Sonthaya Chitmanee, Don Ferguson
Muay Thai Fighter is not the movie I was expecting. With the growing popularity of Tony Jaa and his immensely entertaining, if not gloriously cheesy, Ong Bak trilogy of movies and The Protector 1 and 2, I was expecting this film to be a knock off of those popular films and it wasn’t. In fact, it was more of a nod to movies like Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, or even Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. It was by far a film that focused more on gangsters and crooked fight promoters and the people affected by them than it was a film showcasing the physical talents of actors from Thailand, and that was a pleasant surprise.
Piak, Samor and Pao are three friends who grew up learning the Chaiya style of Muay Thai. Samor’s bum leg prevents him from becoming a fighter, Piak is woefully uneducated but an extremely talented fighter, and Pao is an intelligent student who is the son of the coach who trains them all in the Chaiya style. When their training camp is shut down by ruthless promoters looking to harvest the camp for more fighters they move to Bangkok to pursue their dream of showcasing the Chaiya style to the world. What follows is the dramatic story of what these three friends will do for one another. There are some well-choreographed fight scenes; from sanctioned Muay Thai boxing matches, to underground free-for-alls, more in the vein of cockfighting, that even include weapons at times. But, as mentioned before, for a movie called Muay Thai Fighter, the fighting is not what this film is about.
There’s some really nice cinematography in this movie that really shows off the different settings in Thailand. From the beautiful beaches to bustling Bangkok, we are shown a truly intriguing place that lives and breathes a culture that few outside its borders understand. The Director, Kongiat Kohmsiri, uses that culture and his cinematography to tell his story adeptly, even if it did seem to me that he was influenced by movies like those I mentioned earlier. But that’s okay because there’s a difference between being influenced by and straight up plagiarizing another’s work, and Kohmsiri has taken subject matter from blockbuster directors and applied them to his home, telling the world that bad people with money as their sole motivation exist in Thailand as well.
There were times, however, that it got a little melodramatic. I may feel this way because I’m not from Thailand and consequently not entirely adapted to their culture. Perhaps all cinema from Thailand has this element, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad; it just that overwhelming Titanic-esque music during long-awaited reunions and other such happy moments in the film felt a bit over the top. Damn my westernized, jaded perceptions of emotion and the human condition! (cue dramatic music)
Muay Thai Fighter is worth seeing by anybody who enjoys the different perspective on the human condition that foreign films provide. That’s one of my favorite things about foreign films: they point out that, regardless of culture, we humans really are cut from the same cloth. If you want to see balls-out action you’ll have to go watch Tony Jaa save an elephant. Watch this one only if you want to see a very good movie about friendship in the face of adversity.