I was all ready to talk about one of those oft mentioned films that I never got round to doing back when I started this blog, but I was waylaid by managing to yoink a copy of a film mentioned in passing by friend of the blog (and sometimes contributor) Nekoneko a little while ago. Now she is having a bit of a hard time at the moment, so I thought maybe writing a review about a pretty bad action movie might be a way of popping a little smile on her face. I can be nice like that. It won’t be becoming a habit mind you!
The story behind “Bangkok Knockout” (or “BKO: Bangkok Knockout” or simply “Knockout” here in the UK) is pretty simple. A group of young martial artists win a competition that they think is going to send them to Hollywood to be (I think) stunt action performers in a film. Turns out that this is not the case at all, as they are drugged during their celebration dinner, and forced (via a number of kidnappings) to fight against another gang in an abandoned construction site, all for the betting pleasure of a group of multi-national idle rich to place bets on. Cue lots of knock down drag out fight sequences. Can our energetic gang succeed in securing their lives and those of their loved ones?
God. Where to start?
Directed by veteran Thai Action Helmer Panna Rittikrai (name a successful Thai Martial Arts movie over the last few decades, and he will have had some role in it), this film is for the most part a total mess. As simplistic as I have made out the plot in my little synopsis, I really have not given credit to actually how poorly the thing is put together. The first 20-25 minutes are a complete yawn, attempting to give us insight into the frankly huge and for the most part totally unmemorable cast. There are attempts at giving little bits of background and supporting stories, but they are nothing more than hints via knowing glances, or short and unnecessary (not to mention pace destroying) flashbacks. There are plot holes big enough to drive an articulated truck through, and even basic things like how someone would make money out of gambling are simply not thought through at one point, the despicable American behind all this, Mr Sneed (you can tell he is evil because he has a disdain for Thais who cannot speak English and refuses not to smoke his Cigars wherever he likes) describes the betting options for a particular bout. Which turns out to be pretty much an even win whichever way you wanted to lay your money down. Doesn’t sound like a good way to run a book to me.
The cast is pretty big even just taking the main group, the bad guys and the gamblers into account, but the film feels the need to add a whole bunch of superfluous characters into the mix. These are either simply annoying (like the ‘lost’ Wedding Singer), or utterly pointless – our group of heroes contains not one, but two attractive young ladies who show signs of martial arts promise, before constantly becoming girls in peril. Sure, one of them provides a little bit of a love triangle angle, but there is no reason they both could not have been subsumed into one character. Or made a bit different. It’s hard enough keeping track of the huge cast (who all go by their short Thai nicknames, like Pod and Pom and Ao) without these extraneous people adding to the story waffle.
The film is also guilty of having little sparks of an idea that it simply fails to do anything with. Some mention is made of one of the Gamblers being the son of a previous customer of Sneed, but nothing happens with this information. The aforementioned love triangle is given maybe 30 seconds of fast flashback, even though it is key in describing certain character motivations. And come the climax we have THREE betrayals and defections, which although two could make some sense an with a little more screen time could actually round out the story. One betrayal would have had much more dramatic effect. And the third one is utterly pointless anyway.
The score is also uniformly awful, a kind of persistent synthesiser drawn right out of 1980’s American Direct-to-Video action movies, that not only adds nothing to the film, but is maddeningly distracting.
But that is nothing compared to the acting. Which is uniformly awful. I am going to make allowances for a large number of the cast, who are actually Martial Artists and Stuntmen, and therefore are meant to bring something else to this particular party, but it really is hard to care about a bunch of people who do little more than grimace, gurn, shout and pass meaningful looks to each other. But that’s ok, when you compare it to the non-Thai members of the cast. Quite often is Asian films you will find Caucasian actors who must have simply been dragged off of the street. And here you have a whole gaggle of them. I have no idea what the background to Speedy Arnold who plays Mr Sneed is, but if I said Michael Wong looks like Robert De Nero in comparison, I think you will get my drift. I am not going to even mention the talents of our Russian, Thai, Japanese and African gamblers. Shudder.
So, it sounds like a pretty horrible movie right? Story, Acting, even the music are so below bar, this is going to end up as an avoid at all costs kind of review?
You see, the film has a single redeeming feature. The actual action and fights. They are brilliant on the whole, even to a non-action junkie like myself. They are well choreographed, hard hitting and bone crunching. And they come along at such a pace, that you sometime excuse the clusterf*** going on around it. Whilst they don’t always work (Man vs Armoured Stock Car is ok once, but when repeated in a walled room, it doesn’t have quite the same thrill), they are always entertaining at the very least, and you are often unsure as to who is actually going to win. In fact, I should also give credit to some of the stunt sequences also, if the rest of the film had been planned and designed with as much care and attention it could have been a superior classic.
The only other thing I enjoyed was the uncredited appearance of the Director himself as the leader of the bad guy gang, who was once a big deal, but now hampered by asthma. There was something rather knowing and meta about that sequence, although again it wasn’t quite portrayed with the drama or verve it should have been.
So.. Recommend or Replulse? For the first time I am torn. All the things I usually love about film are hopelessly executed in this movie. There is little real fun or heart, all performances are dire, and even the storyline, hackneyed as it is, is executed poorly. But for the action alone, it probably is worth a look. I’ll compromise and say… one for the fans of the genre only.