So once again we have survived.

Raging Phoenix

tn_ragingphoenixYou know how it is when you’re a young woman playing drums in a band but you see your boyfriend with another girl at your show so you flip out and get kicked out of the band and you’re depressed anyway because your dad is dead and your mom left town for months so you get real drunk and some guys in a parking lot try to kidnap you but some other dude takes you from them and you get chased by guys hopping around on bladed pogo-stick goat-leg stilts and you pass out and wake up with some dudes hanging out in a warehouse and it seems like this is their home but it turns out they brought you with them when they broke in here to rescue girls from the human traffickers who tried to take you. mp_ragingphoenixOf course then you go to a beach where they teach you drunken muay thai and reveal that they’ve all had wives or loved ones killed or kidnapped by this organization. And I guess this could be considered a SPOILER but maybe it goes without saying that they actually chose you as bait because they could smell a unique pheremone on you that means the kidnappers can harvest your tears for an extremely valuable perfume/drug. Pretty standard stuff.

This is the second movie starring the thrilling new Thai martial artist JeeJa Yanin (that’s how some places spell it, but as you can see the DVD spells it “JiJa.” I guess she’s still in her Michelle Khan/Michelle Yeoh confusion stage). In CHOCOLATE she played autistic – “a special needs girl with a special need for kicking ass” – here she gets to be more cool and charming. But she also cries alot. There’s alot of the trademark Thai jarring-shift-to-melodrama, but to me some of it was actually pretty effective, like when she looks up at the sky and talks to her dad. (Don’t worry, the clouds don’t form into his face like in THE LION KING. Unless his face just looked like a cloud.)

The new fighting style they introduce is fun to watch. It also incorporates an occasional breakdancing move, with no explanation as far as I noticed. Obviously she looks up to Tony Jaa, but some scenes reminded me of things Jackie Chan would’ve done in the old days. Of course there’s the DRUNKEN MASTER parallels, but the main one for me was a really clever scene before they teach her how to fight. The guys stand behind her and kick the back of her legs so she’ll kick the bad guys, or pick her up and swing her around so she hits people. Basically puppeteering her. Probly my favorite scene.

The story has alot more going on than CHOCOLATE, and it’s alot weirder. There are scenes of “sniffers” going around inhaling digital odor vapors – take that, THE MATRIX. There’s a female bodybuilder villain. There’s a scene where JiJa’s stuck hanging upside down, wrapped in saran wrap. And that thing with the pogo stick legs is never explained or mentioned again after it happens. Maybe that’s just something that happens in Thailand.

Like DRUNKEN MASTER this movie makes light of the act of heavy drinking, and never deals with realistic consequences for a skinny young girl getting hammered every day, unless you count almost getting kidnapped as a metaphor for date rape, and losing in fights symbolic of liver damage and blood alcohol poisoning. But they do have a pretty cool mythic touch – in order to master this style you have to be miserable. You drink because of your problems and channel your troubles into your fighting. She’s had a tragic life and she can use that to fight the good fight or she can let bad people take advantage of it by stealing her tears. She even has a love she knows is pure because it’s destined to be unfulfilled. She loves this guy whose mission is to rescue the love of his life. His love for this other girl makes her love him even more. Throw some Danny Elfman on there and sell this at Hot Topic. (That’s a new catchphrase I’m trying to popularize so I can put it on bootleg t-shirts. “I See Dead People” hasn’t been moving for a long time.)

Although in alot of ways this is more enjoyable than CHOCOLATE it’s not as good in the most important category: the fights. I mean they’re all good, way above average, there’s plenty to like here. But CHOCOLATE was kind of a breakthrough for modern martial arts movies, so I think it’s fair to hope for this one to match or top what was done in that one fight-wise. Most people didn’t like TOM YUNG GOONG/THE PROTECTOR as much as ONG BAK, but you had to admire that crazy tracking shot fight up the stairs, that was a definite case of dumping barrels full of elbow grease and going for the gold. RAGING PHOENIX builds to a pretty cool fight on top of a web of rope bridges. It’s cool, but it doesn’t approach the incredible fight on the side of the building from CHOCOLATE (sometimes called the Donkey Kong fight). So although I got a kick out of this movie (get it, because there is kicking in it, that’s not what I meant but I’ll take it) I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. Gotta get out my copy of CHOCOLATE and watch that last fight again.

When all was said and done I hope  she didn’t give up playing the drums. She seemed like she might be pretty good. Also it would leave room for RAGING PHOENIX VS. DRUMLINE.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 at 1:48 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “Raging Phoenix”

  1. The DVD I picked up had the tagline, “THE BRUTAL BITCH IS BACK!”

    Seemed a little harsh, in my opinion.

  2. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 24th, 2010 at 2:53 am

    There is always demand for female drummers. probably a safer lifestyle choice, unless she drinks herself into an early grave like Kieth Moon or John Bonham.

  3. I wasn’t very impressed with this one, it was too much style-over-substance (see also: A Force of Five and Sons of the Wind). . The plot was delivered in the most ridiculous exposition: “Hey dude, remember how your fiance was kidnapped on your wedding day by those slave-traffickers? That was a bit of a bummer, huh?”

    The film’s redeeming features are Jija Hanin and the cinematography, which makes each fight look like a
    photoshoot for a high-end fashion magazine.

  4. I tend to think the style over substance complaint about movies needs to be retired on the internet. And I’m not even arguing about this movie, it IS style over substance. But I also think when people complain about style over substance in a horror or kung fu movie, I have to figure that’s about 95% of them, including good ones. Evil Dead movies had no substance and that was all right with me, and a Jackie Chan movie tends to not have any substance either, but we all love those.

  5. The melodrama and overall lack of FUN killed the story in this one for me. Even the guys who seem like the comic relief only have that for a few scenes before “oh, his wife was killed too and and he’s vowing revenge and I’m helping him. No more wacky breakdancing for us!”. I know these guys have some tragedy in their lives and it’s a high pressure mission they’re on, but still.
    Also, unlike the Ong-Bak and Tom Yung Goong, it’s very limited in the locations it uses. Half the movie seems to take place at the ruins the good guys hang out at, and they have flashbacks and present day set scenes at some graveyard/church. The Jaa films had more lively places and put them to good use.

  6. Jones, I have to disagree with the Jackie Chan comparison. His films have proper plots and actual characters.
    in Raging Phoenix, the characters’ motivations are tacked on as if an afterthought. It’s like they got halfway through filming and suddenly realised they hadn’t thought about who the badguys were. You’re right that the “style over substance” comment is a bit dismissive and tends to be rolled out by mainstream critics when tasked with reviewing a “chopsocky”. But of all the martial arts movies I’ve seen this year, this is the most contrived.

  7. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 24th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    So that unique pheremone must have been on Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken. Shame for those human traffic assholes they couldn’t smell Neeson’s own unique pheremone just before he handed their own asses to them.

  8. I haven’t seen Raging Phoenix so I can’t comment on that one, although I believe you since most of those Thia movies are like that.

    As for Jackie…well let’s say that “some” of his movies have real plots and characters…but I’d say the majority don’t really. It’s usually Jackie doing a variation of himself goofing around and then some random bad guys show up. Obviously this doesn’t apply to all of his stuff…but even in my favorite movie Drunken Master 2, a perfect classic…Ken Low just sort of appears to be the bad guy at a certain point, in reality because the actor playing the actual villain couldn’t fight well enough for Jackie.

    And I’d say that even a well-defined plot doesn’t necessarily mean the movie isn’t style over substance…I hear that term applied a lot to Michael Bay or RObert Rodriguez, and their movies have plots and really specific characters…although still, the style trumps all. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think a lot of internet people just want all of their movies to have deep meanings a lot of times, they can’t seem to have much fun with movies.

  9. Human Traffickers are definitely the new vogue in bad-guys, superseding druglords as evil career choice in movies. I think it hits more emotional buttons – a drug dealer is kind of evil by proxy – he selling an illegal commodity and is kind of a step removed from the suffering he’s causing. With trafficking, the human cost is more obvious and callous.

    This has been on my mind since watching Merantau (one of my films of the year) and has come to mind recently as I am currently watching a low-budget revenge flick called Sweet Karma, about a young mute woman who follows her murdered sister’s footsteps to find who killed her. Anyone else seen this one?

  10. Mike: I haven’t seen SWEET KARMA (sounds awesome, though. What country is it from?) but I have seen MERANTEAU, which is pretty awesome in a no-frills kind of way, but kind of dour. I definitely didn’t see that ending coming, but I think it was a bold choice. Not sure the storyline really earned that level of melodrama, but that’s Southeast Asian filmmaking for you.

  11. Hey Vern, thanks for the heads-up on Raging Phoenix. Cant wait to catch this one dude

  12. Wait a minute, Roxanne – have spambots finally achieved consciousness, or are you just really into luxury hotels?

  13. Listen and understand. That spambot is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you have explored the many luxury hotel options that downtown Phoenix has to offer.

  14. One Guy From Andromeda

    August 24th, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    funny thing is if computer technology will really finally be made to achieve consciousness, spam bots are probably really the first thing where we’ll notice it.

  15. i should finally watch that copy of Chocolate i’ve had for a few years.

  16. Speaking of CHOCOLATE: she gets her Smarties in the long carboard tube we used to have all over Canada but has disappeared. It’s like getting a sweet dose of nostalgia and bone crunching all swirled up together like a perfect mint. Yum.

  17. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 24th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    We don’t get the tube container for Smarties in the UK anymore either. On a brighter note, I did find a sweet shop that sells Baby Ruth’s. Not eaten those since I was in the States. I always felt like Hellboy when I ate them. Probably looked more like Sloth. Baabyy Ruuuth!

  18. Mr M – Sweet Karma is actually a Canadian movie, directed by first-timer Andrew Thomas Hunt and starring Shera Bechard, who I have to admit is excellent. The film has played well on the festival circuit apparently and it’s easy to see why – lots of nasty, crowd-pleasing moments and pretty good gore fx. Anchor Bay Entertainment are releasing it in the UK next month.

    As for Merantau, it was actually written and directed by a Welsh guy called Gareth Evans. It doesn’t have the flamboyance of a Tony Jaa flick – as you say, no frills – but does have a decent enough story and performers.

  19. One more time on CHOCOLATE: it has an absolutely wonderful inventive playfulness. I love the melodrama/martial arts mix – in all of Tony Jaa’s flicks, I just couldn’t muster much care for the stakes. I also like how realistic it feels; other directors would have “oiled” the machine to a shiny edge but in this one you can see some hesitation in her moves, moments when she barely makes the space required, hits that don’t quite land properly and other rusty bits. My new favourite!

    BIG Thanks to all the peeps ’round here for the constant heads up. Now I have to catch SWEET KARMA.

  20. @MikeOutWest- I saw Sweet Karma and Merantau at Fantastic Fest ’09 and liked them both. Hunt goes on record in the post Karma Q&A saying he had no idea if Berchard could actually act so they made her mute. She photographs well and has this thing I like that I like to call breasts. However, a more satisfying Russian lady on a mission of revenge flick was Stiletto w/ Stana Katic of “Castle” fame. Human traffickers make for a pretty dour viewing experience (see also “The Legend is Alive”) unless you do it right like “Merantau.”

  21. Didn’t realize another Thai action movie was out. Seems like it’s definitely worth a rental, at least as a reminder to watch my Blu Ray of Chocolate again.

  22. this is off topic, but I just read that Satoshi Kon (director of Paprika and Perfect Blue), one of my favorite anime directors has passed away

    I am a miserable mother fucker right now

  23. sucks @ Satoshi-san passing away. PAPRIKA was some nice trippy shit…

  24. I’ve always wondered if Nolan took any inspiration from Paprika for Inception

  25. Brandon – I liked Stilletto – it has a great cast, including Michael Biehn, Tom Berenger and William Forsythe. Pity the main cop is such a plank.

    Jones – sorry I didn’t respond earlier, hadn’t seen your post. Drunken Master 2 went through some big rewrites due to the original director walking out half-way through (you’ll notice Andy Lau is at the beginning and just disappears).

  26. – griff

    That`s very sad. Satoshi Kon was one of my favorite directors.

  27. mine too dna, mine too

  28. As I was looking at new DVD releases this week, I was instantly disturbed upon pointing my eyeballs onto the cover of something called BIG MONEY RUSTLAS, the new joint from nobody’s favorite stretch-marked and clown make-up’d white rap-ists INSANE CLOWN POSSE.

    It appears to be a good old fashioned western. With a smudged brown twist. What fun.

    I’m (unfortunately) going to recommend to you Vern, that you might want to consider reviewing this cinematic abortion in light of 1) recent shit-flinging events directed at some internet famous person 2) the rich socio-economic discussion that will surely take place upon viewing 3) potential for comedy 4) shedding light on what this confusing subculture I don’t know anything about (and probably don’t want to know much about) is all about 5) confirming that yes, this movie actually exists

    Proceed with caution. Sorry.

  29. I’ve managed to go years without watching BIG MONEY HUSTLA$ despite it having Dolemite in it, so I think I’ll have no problem not seeing this new one.

    As for Raging Phoenix, I probly should’ve made it more clear that this is not another one of Joaquin and River’s siblings, this is a Thai martial arts movie. But Raging would be a pretty good first name.

  30. somewhere in Ajax Ontario there’s a copy of Big Money Hustla$ rotting in a ditch.
    i found the dvd in my closet and gave it to my brother, who promptly put it atop his car, and drove away not realising. a fitting end.

  31. I also thought Chocolate was better too. It had better fights and had a simpler, more focused story and had a bit more fun in it.

    One thing that stood out like a sore thumb for me in Raging Phoenix was the female wrestler’s fight double. She only did the closeups and the rest of the fight where there is actual contact, her fight double is this poor guy that looks nothing like her in any way and it sucked all the fun out of what was the otherwise pretty cool rope bridge fight. It reminds me of the poor guy who was Gina Gershon’s stunt double who fell down the stairs for her in Showgirls wearing that barely there leather outfit. Just the worst instance of doubling I’ve ever seen.

  32. Now i’m wishing that Kim Pine had kung fu fought the other girl drummer in Scott Pilgrim
    does Raging Phoenix do any fighting with her drum sticks?

  33. Now I’ll have to go watch CHOCOLATE, which I’d never heard of. A search of this site doesn’t bring anything up. That’s no fair, Vern. You can’t review a movie and make references to a previous one as if we should all know what it is, unless A) it’s a well-known classic or B) you reviewed it on the site.

    “You know, it’s like CHOCOLATE. You guys remember the time we talked about that one right? Heh heh.” That’s called gaslighting, dude.

    (Now quick, write a review of CHOCOLATE and put it up and post date it!)

  34. What did I tell you? I KNEW he’d do that!

  35. I’d like to go on record with my support for RAGING PHOENIX and all films that are based on drunken break-dance-kung fu-ery, perfume based on cute hormonal female tears of sorrow, and extended girl-on-girl fighting.

  36. This movie is so slept on, it’s ridiculous. “not as good” as CHOCOLATE, my arse.

    I get this tingly, swelling feeling every time I start it up, telling myself, “Alright, let’s just watch the pogo stick blade part and the end fight, and then get back to work” or whatever, and then I end up watching the drinking-training montage and rewinding the fights/dances and then mentally crafting a nonexistent but really elaborate review, replete with awesome screengrabs and comparisons to various kung fu classics & Michael Bay’s TRAN3FORMER3’s wingsuit scene for some reason.

    Sometimes I read reviews & comments on RAGING PHOENIX and I honestly wonder if people are seeing the same movie I’m seeing. Like, maybe I Understand RAGING PHOENIX On A Deeper Level Than You, or maybe it’s like that unanswerable rods-&-cones-&-sensory-perception question, the possibility that my concept of “orange” is equivalent somehow to others’ concept of “blue” and there’s no way to tell, or something.

    The ending is so goddamned over-the-top amazing:

    -it uses a loooooooooooooooooooong stretch of dialogue-free filmatism to shatter the shit out of the Bechdel Test glass ceiling

    -the ending fight is so goddamn long that it runs out of music after several minutes. Like, the orchestra got tired, had to empty the spit valves and replace the reeds and re-tune the strings, and ran out of sheets with notes on them, so the music score has to stop for an awesome slow motion bone-crunching interlude that almost serves as a double knockout. Then the music kicks back in and the ladies get back to kicking, kicking, flipping, elbowing, and kicking some more, continuing to make THEY LIVE’s Roddy Piper & Keith David look like total bitches, like fake wrasslers arguing over mere sunglasses.

    Anyway, the point is, RAGING PHOENIX is better than JeeJa Yan *is* THIS GIRL IS BADASS!!, the best gist of which you can get from the fights available in youtube clips, honestly — save yourself from some awful Thai “humor.”

    I still need to see THE KICK, because I am not as good a Prachya Pinkaew/Panna Rittikrai superfan as I should be. JeeJa Yanin is that chica, though. Mmmmmmmm.

  37. There must be something wrong with me, because I’m starting to like the Thai sense of humor. THIS GIRL IS BADASS!! made me laugh several times, mostly due to director Dirty Balls’ delightfully deadpan delivery in the face of the overwhelmingly Troma-esque absurdity of his supporting cast. (“How did your wife die?” “Cigarettes.” “She got lung cancer?” “No. She got hit by a cigarette truck.”) I did enjoy the many cracks at the expense of Yin’s ugly suitor (because good christ is that guy ugly) and the multiple use of elephant metaphors in the dialogue. I also appreciated how in the first half they really ran with the bicycle motif, having her fight with bike parts and on top of bike racks and whatnot. I feel that if you’re going to set your film in a milieu, exploit that motherfucker. (The best example of this is SHOOT EM UP, where guns are used for everything from communication to copulation to habitation to parturition.) Unfortunately, the movie switched gears (BICYCLE METAPHOR!!!) for the second half and had the climax set in your standard warehouse location, sans bikes. It’s easily Yan’s worst movie so far, but she’s just so damned cute and likable that she gets away with fight scenes that look like they could have used a few days more of rehearsals to get them up to full speed and a comic relief character whose defining characteristic is his outrageous eyebrows. Really, that goofy crooked smile of hers could get me to watch pretty much anything at this point.

    I still think CHOCOLATE is better than RAGING PHOENIX, though. More engaging emotional arc, more impressive climax, better lead performance. But I can’t front on the pogo stilt scene. It’s a treasure.

  38. Why can’t I type Yanin’s name correctly?

  39. Your American fingers struggle to type simple Thai names due to cultural differences. You laughed at the jokes in THIS GIRL IS BADASS!!, though, so that means you’re not technically racist.

    I also mistyped her name once, but that’s because it’s my subconsciousness telling me that she’s too good for me, that I can’t connect with Yanin even on the most cursory level & get her name right, and thus that I should stop foolishly pogo-stilt-jumping toward her ever-distant visage in my fruitless quest to get her to notice me, to get close enough one day (after Vanessa says we’re on a break) to take a swing at Yanin and have her stymie my punch with her left ankle while roundhousing her right foot to my jugular. You know, a meetcute.
    A meetcute I think is what that’s called in my opinion, when you instantly engage a girl in violence & become co-infatuated.

  40. I’m pretty sure that’s how they do it in Asia. Also in that horrible DAREDEVIL movie. Proceed with caution.

    Here’s a horrifying factoid I just learned: About 20 minutes of fight scenes were removed from the original Thai cut of THIS GIRL IS BADASS!! because the Thai people apparently don’t like their own amazingly awesome action movies very much. They would rather Yanin do romantic comedies than martial arts movies.

    I don’t know how to handle this. It’s like hearing your favorite vegan food company runs a dogfighting ring.

    Also, apparently all of the jokes in that domestic cut are punctuated by cartoon sound effects. That may have pushed the admittedly questionable Thai sense of humor into SARS WARS levels of unwatchability.

    Aw, who am I kidding? I’m a sucker for a bicycle kick and a smile.

  41. caruso_stalker217

    May 20th, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    This discussion prompted me to actually watch RAGING PHOENIX which has been sitting on my Netflix instant queue for two months.

    I’d say I got as much out of it as I did from CHOCOLATE. I appreciated how the plot continued to become more absurd as the film went on. Unfortunately, that seemed to require gradually building up the melodrama too. At least there were no endless trips to the hospital for Mom’s chemotherapy. Plenty of sad piano, though.

    JeeJa (JiJa?) was pretty cute in this. She was like Alison Lohman in MATCHSTICK MEN except she kicked people in the face, so I appreciated that. Also, the bodybuilder villain chick was kinda hot too. I’m a guy so I notice that type of thing and appreciate it.

    Wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen. It didn’t kick my pants off or anything, which probably isn’t physically possible anyway but I bet they could get away with it in Thailand. I was entertained.

    The pogo stick knife legs were pretty crazy.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>