Deu (Jeeja Yanin) has not been having a great time of it lately: last night she was drumming with her band, late showing up again thanks to the grief she feels over her deceased father, when she noticed her boyfriend in the crowd with another woman. She stopped playing and launched herself at him, and had to be restrained from beating him up which led to her getting sacked from the band for her crazed behaviour. Her solution? Get drunk, which she does with gusto, lying in the street imagining she's in a field talking to her father in heaven. But Deu is being watched - someone wants her.
Though not in an affectionate way, as we see when a gang of people traffickers try to kidnap her, or at least that's what we think the Jaguar gang are up to, that being a very dire problem in East Asia and this being a film from Thailand. Yet you should have been prepared early on that this was going to head off on a strange tangent, all the better to set up the martial arts displays which were Jeeja Yanin's cinematic bread and butter as her first film Chocolate had proven. Illustrating range in comparison to that entry in the new Thai fighting flicks ushered in by producer Prachya Pinkaew, before she had to be as unemotional as possible, but here she let rip with those emotions.
Poor old Deu really is put through the wringer in Raging Phoenix, though initially we think she's going to be the female version of Jackie Chan's classic Drunken Master character, as she is rescued from the abduction by a passing fighter called Sanim (Kazu Patrick Tang) who after she kills one of the criminals by accident steps in and beats up the rest of the gang with a new style (a mixed one devised for the film). Soon the grateful Deu is requesting a go herself, and is informed she must get absolutely plastered if she wants any chance of competing in the loose limbed methods of Sanim and his friends (who are named after types of animal shit, oddly). Dutifully, she does so and is soon the expert combatant you wanted to see.
What this band of brothers (and now sister) wish for is the get back the people they lost to the people traffickers, girlfriends, sisters, fiancées, all of whom are spirited away as if by black magic by the bad guys. They use Deu as a lure, and here's where it gets strange, as the girl has the right smell about her to attract passing evildoers thanks to the power of her pheromones, which is precisely the reason they have been stealing so many young women. That's right, the villains here are perfume manufacturers who make a fortune harvesting the pheromone-laced tears of understandably upset ladies, then turning that into their expensive product. Whether this was aiming for metaphor wasn't too clear, but you had to admit it was a different goal for your average beat 'em up baddies.
It's about this stage where Deu learns some more about her rescuers: suffice to say they were manipulating her further than she expected, but have grown to like her, just as she has fallen in unrequited love with Sanim, who still yearns for his fiancée who was taken from him at the altar. The result? More of the running theme, that miserable people were more capable of incredible feats than happy ones, not perhaps a scientific principle (wouldn't apathy be more of a factor in depression?) but it's what Deu has to work with. The more down she gets, the better fighter and crusader she is, which is just as well considering the battles she gets into for the last half hour: there have been impressive setpieces before, but the three-way skirmish between Deu and Sanim versus formidable Thai bodybuilder Roongtawan Jindasing on the rope bridges is one to remember. Yet the creeping dejection is a curious choice, as if the filmmakers wanted us crying as much as our heroine - it's possibly one of the few martial arts movies where you want to give the protagonist a cuddle at the end. Music by Kanisorn Phuangjin.