Fantasia 2017 Review: Thai Period Action Flick BROKEN SWORD HERO Introduces a New Action Talent
Joi’s childhood was plagued with teasing and bullying by the governor's son and his friends. Though his father refuses to put him in a Muay Thai school, Joi secretly trains himself.
When a confrontation with his bullies leaves the governor's son badly hurt, Joi is told he can never practice Muay Thai. Formally that is. Of course Joi is going to go against his family’s wishes and still train.
Fast forward many years and Joi has grown up to be a formidable fighter, the best in the area. He still has run-ins with the Governor's son but Joi always hands him and his men their asses. Joi fights in local matches and is seemingly unstoppable until he meets his match and left face down in a river by his former master.
He is encouraged to go on a quest and seek out other Masters of disciplines of Muay Thai. At the first village he goes to he adopts the false name of Thongdee. On his tail is the Governor’s son, still hell bent on making Joi’s life miserable, but now he has enlisted the help of his military trained uncle. As Thongdee travels from camp to camp, his fighting skills grow until the ultimate showdown brings him back to the fighter who bested him all those years before.
From the opening scene of Bin Bunluerit’s Broken Sword Hero, you know what kind of film you are in for. Our hero Joi (Thongdee from this point on) is running across an open plain when half a dozen or so men on horseback pull in behind him in pursuit. Thongdee looks back at the riders, turns around, and a big stupid grin comes across his face, like he is enjoying the chase.
As Bunluerit’s experiences reportedly run mostly in the comedy genre, there are a fair number of laughs throughout the film and the buddy road trip aspect of the film works well. Along his way from camp to camp, Thongdee adds an earnest and young follower, a young woman from a travelling Chinese Opera troupe, and another Muay Thai fighter, who was also unceremoniously dumped by his master for losing to Thongdee.
I will admit that around the halfway point, I was getting restless, though. Growing leary of the endless shots of horses; feet -- Yes! We know they’re coming already! -- I had not tempered my expectations from an all-out action film down to a period action film. The slowed down action sequences allow everyone to see all the contacts and appreciate all the moves: the kicks, the knees, the elbows, all of that glorious Muay Thai contact. The action is shot for show, not for effect; most of it is slowed down and cut to ribbons in the editing room. But in the end I can appreciate the artistry of Muay Thai on display in Broken Sword Hero and look for the martial side of it elsewhere.
My mood did change around the halfway point when Thongdee saves his inevitable love interest during a raid from some Burmese raiders. This one scene has the most of what you could call violence in it: stabbings, slashing and spearings. It is during this sequence when Thongdee vaults up and kicks a horse in the face to dismount its rider.
Thongdee kicks the horse.
In its face.
Now, I do not condone violence to animals but this such an amazing thing to behold that from that point on I was committed to the film. I was not looking out for more horse kicking, but anyone willing to throw in their version of a Mongo moment now has my interest.
It is sad that the women in the movie are more for show. When a couple of them are called upon to participate in action sequences, it is clear that they are out of their element. They do not complete the choreography with any conviction or perceived strength. Sure, they have the fortitude to stand up and fight, but when it comes down to it, they look scared and too weak when blows are exchanged. I wish this wasn’t so.
Overall, if you go into Broken Sword Hero looking for generous breakdowns of Muay Thai instead of hard hitting action, you will not be disappointed. A deeper appreciation of the martial arts and the skills involved in portraying them on film would have been achieved had we been allowed more time to focus on the movements instead of shifting our gaze after each edit. Broken Sword Hero is not the hard-hitting Thai action film you want, but perhaps it is the soft motion film you need to appreciate Muay Thai even more.
There is no doubt that star Buakaw Banchamek establishes a physical presence early and often in the film. Is he the next best thing to come out of Thailand since Tony Jaa? The man is clearly a beast and perhaps a couple action films set in a contemporary setting, focusing on the martial side of Muay Thai, will catch the eye of the international audience. We thought Dan Chupong was the next big thing to come from that area. Well. Here we are still waiting.
There are a couple haphazard wrapups thrown in at the end. Something thrown in to warrant calling it Broken Sword Hero in the first place and another to reconnect Thongdee back to his family that he left all those years before. While i understand that you had to tie up a couple loose ends at the end of the film, stopping it after his big final dual and test of morality would have left questions unanswered but it would have at least been a more satisfying conclusion than the realization of, ‘Shoot. We forgot to explain why he will be called Broken Sword Hero’.
A final note about the teeth commentary in the film. It comes up enough that some knowledge about it may help understand why there is so much of it. A number of times Thongdee’s white teeth are pointed out. I will admit as well that I found the black teeth a distraction, because what the hell Thailand? So teeth blackening is a centuries-old tradition in most Asian countries.
In Thailand, they chew the leaves and berries (Betal nut) of the Areca tree. Like chewing tobacco it is a stimulant, and like chewing tobacco it also has its health risks too. In most Asian cultures white teeth were associated with monsters and demons, which better explains why everyone was so taken with Thongdee’s white teeth. Seems good dental hygiene befits his personality too.
Thong Dee Fun Khao
- Bin Bunluerit
- Buakaw Banchamek
- Phutharit Prombandal
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