A team of martial artists win a local competition, and spend the night partying. The next morning, they wake up to find their cars missing and their phones taken. As they try to figure out what happened and what to do, one of the girls with the group, Joy (Supaksorn Chaimongkol), is kidnapped by mysterious attackers, and the group chases after them, trying to get her back. Inside a nearby abandoned warehouse, they discover that the guy running the compeition, Dr. Duschanon (Kazu-Patrick Tang), has orchestrated the kidnapping as part of their "prize." He's brought his own team of martial artists, and all the good guys have to do is get Joy back and stay alive in the process.
If this plot synopsis sounds awkwardly vague, it is, because BKO: Bangkok Knockout is an awkwardly vague movie. Some website I came across while trying to verify all the performers' names mentioned that the competition at the beginning of the movie is to be the stunt team in a Hollywood movie, but the movie's one mention of it managed to slip by on a first viewing. Motivation for the villains, from Dr. Duschanon to a greedy American named Mr. Snead (Speedyn Arnold), is pretty flimsy. Even the box copy spends more time building up the participation of director Panna Rittikrai and his accomplishments than summarizing the movie's story. These characters are less introduced as they are given names, names that I picked up solely because they're in the subtitle track. All that matters is that some of these people are "good" and some of them are "bad," and the two sides are going to fight each other.
And fight they do. BKO doesn't quite match the skull-cracking forcefulness of the original Ong-Bak, but it more than makes up for it in inventiveness. Right from the first major action sequence, which has Eddo (Puchong Sartnork) hopping around on a chain-link wall/fence like one of the castle levels in a Mario video game, this is a dizzing, eye-popping, gasp-inducing piece of action filmmaking. While fighting a goofy, pantsless crossdresser, Ao (Sumret Muangput), lying flat on his back, pushes himself across the floor to headbutt his opponent in the crotch. Sartnork pushes himself off a wall and flies backwards over an opponent, bringing his feet together to clamp around his attacker's head. The film's apparent hero, Pod (Chatchapol Kulsiriwoottichai) kicks a sword at someone. Chaimongkol even gets a hold of a thug by biting his thumb and using the grip of her jaw to throw him over her body and into a table. It. Is. Nuts.
Beyond the fighting itself, Rittikrai also shakes up the setting and scenarios. Git (Gitsak Aoonjit) faces off against a guy driving a car, a masked opponent swinging a flaming axe (!), and scurries across a rooftop at top speeds. Lerm (Poonyapat Boonkunchanok) uses an metal rod like a bow staff. Later, there's an extensive fight that involves opponents on dirtbikes (this one might look a little more painful than the others), and Kulsiriwoottichai fights a guy on the underside of a moving Mack truck. The film also includes a ridiculous, all-out fight between some twenty or thirty people in a giant room in the warehouse, which is impressive both in scale (the plate-smashing seems amusingly slapstick), and how well Rittikrai is able to find bits of focus within the chaos, preventing it from turning into a big blur of stuff happening. One or two of the sequences, like one where U-Go (Sarawoot Kumsorn) takes on a guy with a sheet of pouring water between them, is pretty forced, but even those ones end up looking pretty cool.
Rittikrai tries to get the audience's sympathy with some weird flashback sequences that seem so poorly explained, I started to wonder if I was watching a sequel to a movie I hadn't heard of. Characters are betrayed, love triangles come to a head, and so on and so forth, none of which is really that compelling. Rittikrai also throws in a truly obnoxious comic relief character named Wanchai (Kerttisak Udomnak), who may give Jar Jar Binks and the cyborg girl from Jason X a run for their money as Most Annoying Side Character of All Time. And yet, BKO is still pretty satisfying, because I highly doubt anyone is going to Redbox this one because they're curious to know whether someone confesses their unrequited love for another. As a story, BKO probably gets a **, but for action, it gets ****.
On one hand, when you make a movie where a guy swings a flaming axe at someone, it seems like that might make for a pretty striking cover image. On the other, there's nothing wrong with the bold red packaging Magnet has cooked up for Bangkok Knockout. There is no insert inside the standard (non-ECO) Blu-Ray case.
The Video and Audio
Bangkok Knockout arrives with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. The picture is truly crystal clear, revealing lots of fine detail (like dust, clothing texture, and droplets of water), bold colors, and no evidence of digital noise reduction, compression artifacts, or edge enhancement. The only minor nitpick is the contrast, which is a little flat, with lots of grays instead of inky blacks. Thai 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds pretty good too, with lots of crisp body shots and a booming soundtrack that occasionally activates the subwoofer. Immersion is pretty good; with a lot of natural ambience provided by the low-budget production. English and Spanish subtitles are provided, along with English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
"The Making of Bangkok Knockout" (14:21, SD) is a reasonably entertaining EPK-style featurette made up of interviews by the cast and a touch of B-roll, as well as plenty of film clips. Dry, predictable American EPKs aren't all that interesting, and foreign ones require the additional hurdle of reading subtitles, but this is a breezy 14 minutes, without any dead spots. Behind-the-Scenes (10:39, SD) is nothing but B-roll -- not quite as engrossing, but still worth a look to see the filming of some of the fight scenes.
Trailers for 13 Assassins, Troll Hunter, Hobo With a Shotgun, The Perfect Host, and a promo for HDNet Movies play before the menu. Additionally, clicking the BD-Live gateway offered me the choice of watching or downloading HD or SD trailers for Vanishing on 7th Street, All Good Things, Night Catches Us, Black Death, and Four Lions. Bangkok Knockout's original theatrical trailer is also included.
The story and characters are no great shakes, but that's kinda par for the course with martial arts films. The action is great shakes, and the movie is recommended.
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