Thailand's top action movie director Prachya Pinkaew - the man behind Ong Bak and Chocolate - delivers another breakthrough in action cinema with The Kick, the first Thailand-Korea joint production. Cho Jae Hyun (Bad Guy), Ye Ji Won (Hanji), and taekwondo athletes Kim Kyung Suk and Na Tae Joo, form a family of Korean taekwondo masters living in Thailand. The Kick pits them against a gang of ruthless criminals, in an endearing action movie that mixes comedy, choreography and crocodiles to blistering effect.
You can't have a Thai action movie without the presence of Petchtai Wongkamloo, the pintsized comedy sidekick whose smart mouth gave Tony Jaa a run for his money in Ong Bak and Warrior King. Wongkamloo is joined by the ever-so-striking JeeJa Yanin, kick-ass heroine of Chocolate and Raging Phoenix fame, who still manages to impress despite an alarming lack of screen time. And with Pinkaew at the helm, you can always rely on three things; low budget action, invention and humour. How could I forget the elephants? Maybe I should have gone with four...
Let's get the story out of the way first, because the hows and whys are always an afterthought in Asian action movies. A valuable and spiritual artefact is being returned to the Thai National Museum, generating interest from a ruthless underworld gang. When the gang's attempts to steal the coveted 'Kris of Kings' is thwarted by Tae Yang and his family, the gang vows to take revenge on those that dared to stand in their way. That's pretty much all there is to it. Extended family - in the shape of Wongkamloo and Yanin - comes into play when our plucky protagonists are forced to go into hiding, but they're soon tracked down, and what follows is not only fun and frantic, but occasionally spectacular too.
The opening act is enjoyable enough, as we're introduced to an appealing cast of characters with just enough depth to keep them engaging. Mun is a taekwondo master running an old gym in Bangkok, and his heartbreaking past gives him incentive enough to drive his family forward, whether they want to join him on the journey or not. Mun wants his children to follow in his footsteps, to become taekwondo coaches and take over the running of the family gym. Regardless of their father's will, Taeju dreams of being a famous pop star, and Taemi is only interested in her secret crush at school. This causes tension within the close-knit family dynamic, but not enough to distract from the impending chaos.
I was hoping that Jeeja Yanin would be the star of the show here, but Pinkaew has an impeccable eye for talent, and the pairing of Na Taeju and Kim Gyeongsuk has a much deeper impact. Yanin's appearance is strangely muted, almost as though she was included as an afterthought, but Taeju and Gyeongsuk make up for this mystifying misstep with a breathtaking catalogue of quick feet, perfect comedy timing, and dazzling fight sequences. Allowing Na Taeju to take centre stage is a masterstroke, blending stunning fight chorography with hilarious dance moves that feel fresh and original. Gyeongsuk is just as impressive, if not more so, which is a huge relief when you consider the sidelining of everybody's favourite phoenix.
The Kick offers nothing new, and there's precious little focus put on breathtaking stunts, certainly not to the extent of previous favourites like Ong Bak and Chocolate. It's all about the stunning fight chorography, and from that perspective, The Kick rarely takes its foot off the gas. The final act, set in and around the local zoo, is brilliantly realised, blending stylish mayhem, baby elephants, inventive action, and welcome humour. If the opening hour can be accused of one thing, it's that it does at times rely on too many familiar themes, but if we're going to accuse The Kick of treading water, we should at least acknowledge the fact that act three comes on like a tidal wave of high adventure.
Hardly fresh but still enticing, The Kick is a familiar feast of non-stop action; a fast paced spectacle that leaves a lasting impression despite a nagging sense of déjà vu. Fans of Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa will lap it up, and with the Warrior King returning to our screens before the year is out, the future of Thai action cinema (with a little help from Korea) is in very safe hands. As long as Tony remains in front of the camera this time out. Have a word Prachya, have a word... AW