When rumours first emerged of Korea & Thailand getting together to create an action movie co-production, fans of the genre could hardly contain their excitement, including myself. Thailand was leading the charge on the action front for a good while since the release of ‘Ong Bak’ in 2003 starring Tony Jaa, which was quickly followed up in 2005 by ‘Tom Yum Goong’, filmed right here in Sydney. The bone crunching action in both movies was choreographed by Panna Rittikrai, which had he been born in Hong Kong would no doubt be on a par with Jackie Chan. But as it was he made a name for himself in his home country of Thailand, churning out shoestring budget action fests over a period of more than 20 years, before finally getting international recognition through ‘Ong Bak’.
The movies of Korea should need no introduction, known for its gritty gangster revenge thrillers and unflinching takes on violence, it should have been a match made in heaven. While Thai movies deliver on action, the plotting and screenplays often leave a lot to be desired, so the thought of a movie helmed by a Korean director, featuring the chorography of Panna, sounded too good to be true.
Tragically, it was. Inexplicably, the director’s chair went to Prachya Pinkaew from Thailand, a guy who in many peoples opinion couldn’t direct himself out of a turnstile. Yes it’s his name on the likes of ‘Ong Bak’ & ‘Tom Yum Goong’, but there’s a reason why people fast forward those movies to the action scenes, and that’s because outside of them there’s not a whole lot worth watching. Choreography duties on the other hand, went to the unknown and definitely untested talents of Korean Tigers Coach An Chang-bum. People’s hearts sank, as everything seemed to be the wrong way around. Hope arrived in the announcement of ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Raging Phoenix’ star Jija Yanin joining the cast, but the apprehension weighed heavy on all of us.
The finished product that is ‘The Kick’ for myself, and many other action fans, only confirmed our fears. A movie which is definitely more Thai in its feel and flavour than Korean, the plot centres around the Moon family, who are all Taekwondo practitioners living in Bangkok, who successfully thwart a gangs attempt to steal the royal families legendary sword. If the theft of something valuable sounds familiar, that’s probably because ‘Ong Bak’ was about a stolen Buddha statue, and ‘Tom Yum Goong’ was about a stolen elephant. It’s safe to say that Pinkaew isn’t exactly brimming with original storylines for the movies he makes.
Perhaps the expectations that I had for ‘The Kick’ cloud my judgment of it, but for me it was a struggle to get through. The family, who look like a clone of the cast from the popular Korean stage show ‘Jump’, are played by Jo Jae-hyun & Ye Ji-won as the father and mother respectively, and their high kicking offspring. They do their best to gurn and wince their way through distinctly Thai style comedy, and the kids certainly have the moves to back up the movies title. However the fight choreography, as indicated in the promotional video that did the rounds before its release, mostly consists of the ‘spin in the air 5 times in slow motion while bad guy stands there motionless waiting to be kicked’ variety, and actual decent exchanges are very thin on the ground.
Most tragic of all is the complete waste of Jija Yanin, heralded as the female version of Tony Jaa, she certainly lived up to her name with her two headline movies ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Raging Phoenix’. However here she doesn’t really get to show off her stuff, which I put down to An Chang-bum not really knowing how to utilize her. Yanin should have stolen the show, but instead she just seems to be there in the background. As the plot crawls to its conclusion, the lack of creativity in the action scenes becomes more and more apparent, with the fight scenes sometimes feeling like repetitive slow motion show reels of people spinning in the air, before finally everyone can kick no more and the credits roll.
I’m aware of how harsh I’ve been to ‘The Kick’, and that’s because I’ve reviewed it from the perspective of an action movie fan who was well aware of how good this could have been, so was left deflated by watching what was. For a casual viewer it might well be an enjoyable if forgettable viewing experience, but I have a hard time believing anybody could really watch ‘The Kick’ and feel anything more than underwhelmed. As the first co-production between Korea & Thailand it doesn’t really serve as a good showcase of what both countries are capable of, and my hope remains that Panna Rittikrai will get to perform choreography duties on a Korean made movie, then we really would be in for something special.