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  Born to Fight Critical Panna-ing
Year: 1986
Director: Panna Rittikrai
Stars: Panna Rittikrai, Hernfah Khwangmhek, etc
Genre: Thriller, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Yang family have been getting up to no good, but there is someone, Siafong (Hernfah Khwangmhek) who is prepared to bring the criminal element to book, though he finds himself the target of the so-called Green Dynasty, a gang of ninjas who are out for his blood who have been hired to wipe him out and stop his accusations in their tracks. Therefore he must travel out of the city into the countryside where he can meet with a relative who can assist, and to accompany him is Nan, his niece who can guide him around the place, but back home at his business the thugs show up and demand to know where the boss has gone. When no answer is forthcoming, they beat up his workers...

Panna Rittikrai was the man to watch here, that martial artist out of Thailand who did his best to whip the local action film industry into shape and to a great extent succeeded when his protégé Tony Jaa burst onto the international scene in the twenty-first century. Before all that, however, he was his own protégé, a one man dynamo of martial arts who sought to rival the films emerging from Hong Kong at the time this was made, the nineteen-eighties; not for nothing does his character Tong claim to have learned all he knows from the movies, as to an extent you can imagine that was an accurate summation of his style.

Rittikrai never went on to be a huge star in his own right, but he did place Thai cinema on the map across the globe rather than simply being a domestic concern, which it very much was when Born to Fight was created in the mid-eighties. One reason for that was much of it looked dirt cheap therefore could not hope to compete with the big boys, and that was the case here, with the crew obviously having access to one camera which Rittikrai as director opted to make more impressive by repeating bits and pieces of stunts and boots to the head much as Jackie Chan was pioneering in his self-created Asian blockbusters - hey, if you're going to steal, steal from the best.

On this evidence, as a director he had yet to find his feet, but as an actor he had found those feet smashing into his stunt team. It may have been a matter of speeding up the scenes where the cast came to choreographed blows, but after long stretches of not very much exciting happening you would suddenly be energised by Rittikrai springing to life and doling out the punishment to whomever tried to best him in combat, a goal that you could quickly see was a hiding to nothing, and a literal hiding at that. This did render the experience something of a stop-start affair, as you may well find yourself growing restless in between those sequences you had actually settled down to watch the movie for, but nobody had thought to make a non-stop action effort yet.

Not here, at any rate, and the plot was needlessly overcomplicated in a manner that might have meant a lot to the director and star but was all too easy to zone out from for the audience. He added a smattering of comedy to lend variety, and even in translation, assuming you didn't speak the original language, there were a few decent laughs to be had, though part of that may have been because of the amount of swearing the actors appeared to be indulging in which came across as absurd when they didn't seem the type to turn the air blue. Anyway, those fighting setpieces were what you wanted, and Rittikrai demonstrated his aptitude with both his fists and feet as well as any poles or swords that may have been to hand, basically the antagonists didn't stand a chance even if the supporting cast who were not Tong took one hell of a beating. The film did its best to raise the stakes, yet really it played out much as you would expect, and you had to be sympathetic to ultra-low budget action flicks to get anything out of these pre-Jaa works. It did prompt an impressionable young Tony to make up his mind to be a star, so we had that to thank it for.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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