I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

BKO: Bangkok Knockout

tn_bkoBANKGKOK KNOCKOUT is the name of the latest cinematic knee to the skull from those crazy fuckin Thai stunt people – the guys with the amazingly acrobatic, bone-crunching martial arts, the unbelievable falls and vehicle hits, the guys who get knocked off of trucks or hit by motorcycles for real, and make all the stunt people in every other country look like total sissies. Here in the U.S., Magnet Films will release it on DVD August 30th under the title “BKO: BANGKOK KNOCKOUT,” which stands for “BANGKOK KNOCKOUT: BANGKOK KNOCKOUT.” It’s directed by Panna Rittikrai, who’s had a hand in pretty much all of the modern Thai action classics. He was director of BORN TO FIGHT and ONG BAK 2-3 (taking over after Tony Jaa left), and choregrapher for ONG BAK, TOM-YUM-GOONG/THE PROTECTOR and CHOCOLATE. He was Jaa’s mentor and founder of the Muay Thai Stunt team. He’s pretty much the godfather of this shit.

If you’re like me, that’s all you really need to know. I didn’t bother to find out what it was about before I saw it, but you’re already here and we got some time so I might as well tell you. A team of attractive young stunt people (called “Fight Club” in the subtitles, “Fighting Club” in the credits) are in the finals of some kind of reality show competition for stunt people. They’re competing against another team called Stunt For Life and the winner will get to “go to Hollywood.” It must be the dream of every Thai stunt person to go to Hollywood so they don’t have to get knocked off those trucks anymore.

mp_bkoThey do (spoiler) win the competition, but there’s a catch. At a celebratory dinner they’re drugged, and they wake up the next day in an abandoned building. They’re looking around, trying to figure out what’s going on when a DEATH RACE type reinforced car drives in and starts running them over (but they’re stunt people, so they can roll over it safely). Soon they learn that that whole Hollywood thing was bullshit, actually some of their friends are kidnapped and they have to fight thugs to rescue them while rich people watch on closed circuit cameras and bet on their fates. So it’s like THE HANGOVER meets THE RUNNING MAN, I guess.

If you win American Idol you get a hit record, one lady got an Oscar. This show you win, you get put in a human cockfight. The whole thing is run by a decadent American, Mr. Sneed, played by some guy named Speedy Arnold. He only speaks English and he refuses to stop smoking his cigar in a hospital because “that would be a Thai law. I’m not Thai.” He hosts a couple of evil rich people from different countries in a lounge set up inside a trailer, with beautiful servants serving them drinks and sitting on their laps.

The bad guy fighters have handkerchiefs on their faces or wear masks, except for a fighting transvestite with his nipples showing through his lingerie. Of course he
has to be unmasked – his wig and cup removed, his balls bashed and headbutted. Also in the middle of everything is a cartoonish gay stereotype wedding musician who’s supposed to be the comedy relief, I’m sure, but could really, really stand to be entirely removed from the movie. Jesus.

At one point a pair of hands tears through a wall behind a good guy, grabs him and pulls him off screen, then tosses him back in. It’s a trademark Jason Voorhees move, so I was really happy when the perpetrator turned out to be a big, lumbering Jason type, complete with a mask (like Jason Statham’s Frankenstein mask in DEATH RACE) and an ax. For a while it becomes a slasher movie with acrobatic martial artists as the prey. The Jason guy even catches fire and continues to walk around slowly, bust through walls, etc. But when he swings his ax at them they know how to fight back.

There’s a ridiculous amount and variety of action. They run around, nimbly leaping on top of, over and through things, rolling, flipping, tripping, bouncing off walls, dangling from heights by one arm, dropping through trap doors and solid floors. The good guys and bad guys leap across opposite ledges and crash mid-air. They fight with fists, spinning and flying kicks, headbutts, various metal poles and knives.

There’s a great fight inside a chain link cage, with the fighters constantly climbing like Spider-man, hanging upside down, flipping and bouncing off the sides. But the most memorable fight is the huge warehouse rumble that might be inspired by the one in HARD BOILED. There are people doing complex, choreographed fights in the foreground while in the background you can see all kinds of other stunts going on. Must’ve been a pain in the ass to shoot. The reinforced car shows up and starts doing donuts, just nailing everybody, like 6 or 7 people rolling over it at a time. Eventually the car gets pinned down and they fight on top of it. It turns very pliable all the sudden and they crush each others’ heads through the windows, the doors, the hood, they leap on top of each other and crush each others’ bodies into the cavity of the crunched vehicle, like they have super strength.

Leading the team of mercenary killers is an older guy I recognized from Tony Jaa movies or something. I thought it was the director at first, but probly not. Anyway he represents the old generation, he claims he could handle all the kids by himself, but his boss is skeptical because he’s old and has asthma. Eventually the old guy does have to take the whole Fighting Club on by himself, and does an impressive job. He stands on top of some of their unconscious bodies as he fights the others (at that age your feet can get sore if you don’t have some sort of padding to stand on), he impales their arms with metal spikes, punches them in their throats. Only after they’ve all been beaten to a pulp, and they’re collectively crawling around pulling on his legs, and wrestling his asthma inhaler away from him, can they finally just barely scrape together a victory.

There’s alot of goofy shit in here. The sort-of main dude is kind of sadsack who wears baggy sweaters and has bangs down over his eyes, but happens to know how to do 720 degree spinning kicks and shit. Also they got a mom who comes to their practices and brings them all sandwiches, and they all call her “Mom.” I will not give away whether or not she gets kidnapped and they have to rescue her. But of course it’s all treated very seriously, except for the wacky gay guy, and the Farrelly brothers style credits where the injured survivors get up out of their hospital beds and dance around.

Alot of people say that the plots in ONG BAK, TOM-YUM-GOONG and CHOCOLATE are shitty and they like the movies despite them, but I think BKO, as fun as it is, makes you appreciate the stories in those other ones. There’s a simplicity to them that really works. They each have one lead character with a big problem, they are on a journey to achieve a specific goal, and as they travel through different areas the action varies and escalates. This one I guess has the one big problem and is even more simplified since it takes place mostly in the one location. But it has something like 10 main characters to keep track of, all in one building but in different parts of it. You don’t really feel like you know or care about them much and you have to remember what’s going on in the different parts of the building. Also it keeps cutting to brief flashbacks, mostly from the dinner party before they passed out, and that’s not necessary.

Meanwhile you have all kinds of stunts and fighting techniques but since it’s almost entirely in the one building it manages to feel more repetitive than it ought to. The other movies have more of a progression to them.

My favorite Thai action movie is actually the 2004 version of BORN TO FIGHT, which is also a big ensemble. But since they were all athletes representing different sports they each had a specialty (such as gymnastics or kicking soccer balls) that set them apart from each other. Also it was mostly outdoors so there was more variety in the action as they were traveling around and things were exploding and shit.

This also doesn’t look as good as those other movies. I believe it’s shot on some kind of digital video that kind of looks like a shitty TV show sometimes, and there are annoying white flashes throughout the movie for reasons I could not discern. Some of this might be the particularly bad DVD screener they sent out, which had multiple watermarks, plus the usual switching to black and white periodically and for some reason a 4:3 transfer. So maybe it’s not fully color corrected and will look better in the real release (maybe the people who saw it at Actionfest can verify that for us).

But those are reasons why BKO is not the best of these types of movies. They’re not enough to hold it back.  It’s still an incredible collection of things you’ve never seen before, and in the final stretch, when the Club get free and come after the bosses, the action does finally change locations in an exciting way. We’re denied the satisfaction of a complete comeuppance (partly because they never get to go after the gamblers) but they do get to enter the trailer lounge and fuck some shit up just as it’s being pulled away on a truck. While one character climbs on the top of the trailer another has a fist and gun fight inside and two others have a martial arts duel while hanging beneath the undercarriage. You gotta respect a movie that does that. For now on, and starting with this one, any movie that has that will get my respect.

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 9th, 2011 at 12:50 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.

31 Responses to “BKO: Bangkok Knockout”

  1. Back at ActionFest when this was called BANGKOK KNOCKOUT, it was a hit and an award winning film. “Panna Rittikrai” is all I need to see, and then I’m like, “Take my money, please!”

    There are a couple of flying-flip-kick moves in the fence cage fight that exceeded my imagination, which I wasn’t sure was possible after all the movies I’ve seen and fight scenarios I’ve fantasized. And the masked slasher guy scenes might be my favorites of 2011.

    The word “awesome” is overused, and I’m a big violator of the overusage, but this movie really is awesome.

    I don’t remember any coloring issues; that must be the DVD, Vern…? The photography ain’t great, and the flashbacks are indeed unnecessary, but the clarity of action is magnificent. The camera’s perspective of the final fight on the bottom of the vehicle is somehow almost too unassuming, like the cinematographer shot it with no panache, no urge to bring extra attention to its awesomeness since it’s inherently awesome.

    Mr. Majestyk did a really good review of BORN TO FIGHT, and we could easily take it and plug in details from BKO and keep the accolades for BORN TO FIGHT’s stunt people & fighters and that’s exactly how I feel about this one and the glorious Thai action filmatists of the last decade.

  2. unfortunately I’ve yet to see any of these Thai action movies, it’s been on my to do list FOREVER

    and speaking of Magnet Films, did you ever see Timecrimes Vern? now that was a fucking awesome movie, too bad it’s not on blu ray

  3. The nice postlady just brought me this (just called plain old KNOCKOUT over here) and Donnie Yen’s LOST BLADESMAN.

  4. Liked this as well. Especially the final brawl and that “Ninja Swordsman” fight. Just love the deft way he flips that sword onto the ground and does a jump kick with it.

    I’ve to admit that “the twist” on some of the characters surprised me. Did you feel the same way, Vern?

  5. Honestly… ONK BAK 2 was outstandingly bad. Then ONG BAK 3 came along and made it look like it made sense.

    On the other hand, ONG BAK and WHERE’S MY ELEPHANT (why “the protector”?) were two of the best knees-and-elbows fight movies ever made.

  6. BKO is okay – the action is superb but the there is very little else. Whole scenes of character motivation seem to have been left on the cutting room floor. Hated the musician guy too. The fights on the truck at the end were pretty insane, and that’s saying something considering what went before it.

  7. Saw the import in the discount DVD store last night. Had no idea it existed. Saw the man’s name. Coughed up the cash, no questions asked.

  8. Saw it at Fantasia in Montreal. The crowd LOVED it. They cheered every kick, punch, stunt and bite. And laughed at the gamblers’ broken English (it’s even worse than in Sukiyaki Western Django).

    I’m pretty sure the old guy with asthma is Panna Rittikrai, the director. His original 80’s Born to Fight (which shares only the name with the 2003 remake) is remarkable. He does Jackie Chan style stunts on a Mariachi style budget. It’s breathtaking.

  9. Got this on DVD a few weeks ago(called “Knockout” in the UK) much agree with all you say about it, Vern. It not looking as good as previous films was particularly noticable to me. RAGING PHOENIX also felt a step down in filmatismic quality(not to mention all the unconvincing CGI backdrops it had), so I’ve been wondering have these movies started to become less popular over there and there’s less money being invested into them? Action was great, but the story is indeed very lacking and doesn’t even have the weirder touches of One Man’s Search For His Elephant, but despite the threadbare development, they STILL have the usual overly melodramatic attempts at emotional scenes, and it’s all the more obnoxious with less context. Also as good as the action was, I felt the girls in the group could have gotten more to do. They fight a bit here and there, but are mostly just hostages. I did like the fact though that being a stunt team, this lot clearly have to be tough, but their hair and clothing paints them more as Justin Beiber types, like some sort of Mega version of badass juxtaposition. Also, it’s hilarious when they first come face to face with the group of masked villains, and they all instinctively jump at each other across a chasm, despite the fact they know there’s an immediate massive drop below them that they’ll all fall into. It’s like “fuck it, we’re honour bound to do this!”
    “Also in the middle of everything is a cartoonish gay stereotype wedding musician who’s supposed to be the comedy relief, I’m sure, but could really, really stand to be entirely removed from the movie. Jesus.”
    God, yes. Given how much focus was put on him, I can only assume he must be some really popular comedy actor over in Thailand. Either that or the director is trying to help us to relate the pain the stunt team put themselves through by annoying us to an extreme degree.

  10. CHOCOLATE remains my fave. It’s fairly slickly done, its story is cooked with just enough salty tears of melodrama and of all the ones I’ve seen (admittedly not all) it feels the least trying to “top everything else” – a simple story effectively told.

  11. I’ve only seen two Thai action films so far, but the gambling westerners in BKO does seem thematically consistent with the crowds of white people betting on the fights in Ong Bak. Both films appear to be wary of western exploitation of Thailand. Ong Bak kind of slipped this theme in there. If you were looking, then it became apparent that the major conflict was between traditional ways of Thailand and the corrupting influences of outsiders. But it also had the good sense not to be too didactic about it. I’m a bit of a sucker for movies with a “message.”

  12. Otto von Bismarck

    August 9th, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    As lelouisfrancien said, the old guy is indeed Panna the director. Was delighted to see he’s still a badass, though he’s a lot stiffer than he was back in the day (that said, it’s amazing he can still move considering the punishment he’s inflicted on himself).

    As for the budget, in a way that’s Panna returning to his roots. Throughout the 80s and 90s he churned out ultra low budget actioners (way way cheaper than this). Most of the ones I’ve seen were complete crap, even the action, but a handful have insanely awesome fight scenes. When he had the time and money he could match and sometimes outdo what was going on in HK. And it was the obvious cheapness that really set them apart – the lack of money for safety equipment and props makes the action so much rougher and more visceral. I mean, Hollywood stuntmen are awesome too, but you know that they have rigourous safety standards, which can somewhat detract from the gut-level impact.

    If you google him you can find a great interview with Panna about how he never made his films for mainstream success, he just wanted to entertain Thai countryside audiences. I rather hope that with box office results for fight movies cooling in thailand he can go back to concentrating more on stuff like BKO, rather than the more mainstream courting but much less impressive fare like Raging Phoenix.

  13. Bangkok, Oriental setting and the city don’t know that the city is getting
    the creme de la creme of the chess world in a show with everything but Yul Brynner

  14. So Mouth liked it, Vern thought it was ok but not as good as some other Thai action movies he’d seen. That leaves me on the fence.

    Might check out “Born to Fight”. Gotta say that “Ong Bak” impressed me in the way that a guy walking on a tightrope two hundred feet in the air for ninety minutes would impress me, by which I also mean that it was pretty spectacular but left me cold. As good as Tony Jaa is, I never really found myself invested in his character. Action for action’s sake is not enough, you gotta have a character and story “hook” to make you care, and I didn’t get that…

  15. Sorry Paul, most of us look at Playboy for the pictures. You seem to want to enjoy Hustler for the articles. With that approach, you’d hate BANGKOK KNOCKOUT. The story is way worse and the characters way more obnoxious than anything in ONG BAK.

  16. “Bangkok, Oriental setting and the city don’t know that the city is getting
    the creme de la creme of the chess world in a show with everything but Yul Brynner”
    Griff, is this a riddle? Cos I don’t get what you’re saying.

  17. Siam is gonna be the witness to the ultimate test of cerebral fitness, this grips me more than would a muddy old river or reclining Buddha

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9mwELXPGbA

  18. I see where you’re heading with this, Griff, but I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine.

  19. Mouth, that is the best explanation I’ve ever heard for my love of Asian action movies (mainly Hong Kong but now including Thai.) I forgive Jackie Chan things I’d never forgive Michael Bay, and now I get it. It’s action porn. The best pornos don’t have good stories and acting. They have the biggest boobies. It sounds like I’m being sarcastic but this is a legit revelation for me. I’ll develop it further.

    BKO did indeed look like a real movie in Actionfest. I liked it more than some of the other Thai ones. I felt it had a pure simple premise and built nicely. I agree, setting it in a warehouse makes it ugly, but then it also gives them total control over the location. When they call the shots like Jackie Chan does in HK, they can close down traffic.

  20. Cool, Fred. When you further develop this revelation, if you could articulate it in a way that marginalizes & annoys Paul and makes him feel bad for not liking ONG BAK please that’d be great ok thanks.

  21. so ya better go back to your bars, your temples, your MASSAGE PARLAHS

  22. Mouth – didn’t say I didn’t LIKE it. It was a good spectacle and an impressive technical display of just how far a man can push his own body to perform. Just not sure I’d ever have a reason to watch it again is all. I think “Kill Zone”, which I thought was superior to “Ong Bak” in just about every way except the “spectacle” aspect of it (and even then, there’s clearly differences… think I mentioned Jing Wu’s footsteps before, can’t remember anything that subtle from “Ong Bak”.)

    But “Kill Zone” had a great framing story, memorable characters, great atmosphere… all the things that I didn’t get from “Ong Bak”. Look, I watched it once maybe seven or eight months ago, and I can’t even remember most of the characters. (Well, there’s the friend/sidekick. I remember liking that guy.) “Kill Zone” I’ve watched three or four times (although I’ve rewatched the scenes with Jing Wu in them many, many times more) and I’m sure I could watch it several times more and still enjoy it. A lot of this is purely subjective, but not all of it… on a technical level I feel that “Kill Zone” is the superior film, even though I can say that subjectively I prefer “Kill Zone”‘s blue-tinted cinematography to “Ong Bak”‘s murkier, grittier feel.

  23. Also did anyone find the part where one character accuses his girlfriend and best friend of having sex behind his back, and the friend replies “I’m not that kind of person!” unintentionally hilarious? I mean, he defended himself and only himself with that remark.

  24. Well, Mouth and Paul, it’s like when Vern reviewed This Ain’t Avatar XXX. He may have commented on the plot and production values the first time, while acknowledging the set pieces (blue painted orgies.) However, his repeat viewings will only be of the blue orgy scenes, not the plot and character moments.

    So too you should enjoy Ong Bak the first time as a sample of Thai cinema, and then repeatedly as an action porn highlight reel. Sometimes I pop in Rush Hour 2 just to see the part where Jackie goes through the cashier slot. Although that kind of has a plot too, so a better example would be just the 2 drunken scenes in Drunken Master 2, not the plot about stealing herbs or whatever.

  25. Jareth Cutestory

    August 13th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Zombie Paul: Part of what is so fascinating about ONG BAK (and about Tony Jaa specifically) can be found in the conversations that surround the work at the particular moment in film history when the film was a small phenomena in North America. I don’t know how involved you were in all of this in 2003, but off the top of my head I remember all sorts of fascinating conversations:

    – Jaa is the future of martial arts
    – Jaa is the last hurrah of the past before martial arts disappears under a flood of CGI
    – Wushu no longer requires actors
    – Jaa will single-handedly bring the martial arts film back down to earth where it belongs
    – Jaa will never be Sonny Chiba because of that squeaky voice
    – That squeaky voice (and the centrality of Buddhism in his work) is exactly what distinguishes Jaa from the more questionable heritage and the fascistic implications of the white male body in action cinema
    – By extension, Jaa exposes the ridiculousness of lie of Hollywood because he performs his own stunts (without wires too)
    – Jaa needs a schtick (like Jackie Chan’s humor or Jet Li’s utter awesomeness); without it, he’s indistinguishable from Ngai Sing or Yu Rong Guang
    – Jaa’s ethnicity will always ensure he is a marginal figure
    – Tell that to The Rock, you sad fuck
    – When was the last time you saw a really impressive FIGHT movie?
    – ONG BAK represents the moment when Thai cinema stood proudly on the world stage and shed all of the negative associations the West has with foreign action film, almost daring you to ridicule it
    – ONG BAK demonstrates that world cinema can be as dumb as anyone’s cinema; ONG BAK is just another craven product tailor-made to make a celebrity out of Jaa. Thanks, monoculture.
    – Why does Pinkaew always show so many of those stunts three times?
    – Because they’re awesome.

    Also, the sidekick/friend’s name is Dirty Balls. Everybody likes him. A little respect for Mr. Balls, please.

  26. OK, so I hated this but love ONG BAK 2 (and dig OB3, for all it’s faults)

    I am hearby going off into the jungle, Tony-Jaa-style, to meditate upon this.

  27. How were we not aware of this news!

    http://twitchfilm.com/news/2011/08/more-casting-details-for-tom-yum-goong-2.php

    TOM YOM GOONG 2 aka THE PROTECTOR OF ELEPHANTS 2 starring JAA and JEEJA YANJIN! not to mention Dan Chupong of Born to fight and Panna Rittikrai and his crazy stunt team.

    This is quite possibly the most exciting news i’ve heard for a martial arts movie in a very long time and there was promo art for it in May.

  28. Rewrite – right on, this is seriously great news.

    Here’s a poster:

    http://martialartsmoviejunkie.com/movie-news/poster-for-tom-yum-goong-2/

    JeeJa is 50/50 for me at the moment (Loved CHOCOLATE, wasn’t blown away by RAGING PHOENIX – and yet to see her new one), but Jaa is incredible and I cannot wait to see him back on the big screen.

  29. I saw this at Actionfest and don’t remember there being anything wrong with the print. The action in this one is ridiculous, but the lack of any kind of story at all made it tedious after a while. There were way too many characters flying around for you to care if any of them lived or died. But again, the fight coreography is superb. I just wish the failure of a plot didn’t make Mortal Kombat Annihilation seem subtle and reserved in comparison.

  30. I just watched this last night and it was insanely amazing, as expected. Couple of things I want to address from the review:

    1. IMDB has Rittikrai listed as an actor in the movie, so I’m 90% sure that’s him as the villain with asthma. That’s pretty awesome to cast yourself as the guy who’s so badass that he beats the fuck out of the whole cast of the movie and can only be defeated because of a natural weakness he has no control over. Maybe these kids were getting too big for their britches and Big Daddy Rittikrai had to remind them who signs the checks.

    2. The gamblers did get dealt with. The Thai one got killed in the truck fight and a bunch of them got shot right at the beginning of the climax. It happened so fast that you probably missed it. I thought that was awesome. The heroes didn’t even know who these people were, they just blew them away without question. That’s what these assholes get, I guess. You lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas. Or you get shot a bunch of times, either or.

    3. The Jason guy was my favorite part, but I’m confused as to why getting lightly nudged by the side of a car killed him but getting hit full force by a burning car and slammed through a brick wall didn’t. I kept expecting him to shove the car away and start swinging again. I even checked after the credits. No luck. I’m kind of hoping he’s not really dead and he gets a spinoff where he stalks and kills the students at a Muy Thai academy. BANGKOK MASSACRE or something.

  31. Can’t believe he didn’t die on a film set, doing something stupid & beautiful for our viewing pleasure.

    http://variety.com/2014/film/news/panna-rittikrai-muay-thai-action-maestro-dead-at-53-1201265461/

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