Fantasia 2009: Knee to the Face!! Thailand’s Crazy ‘Fireball’

21 Aug

SG Movie Poster Keyart

Fireball (NR) 94 min. Directed by: Thanakorn Pongsuwan. Written by: Thanakorn Pongsuwan & Kiat Sansanandana. Starring: Preeti Barameeanat, Khanutra Chuchuaysuwan, Kumpanat Oungsoongnern, Phutharit Prombandal, 9 Million Sam. Cinematography: Teerawat Rujintham, Wardhana Vunchuplou, Suntipong Waiwong. Original music by: Giant Wave.

cinemagrade c+

Fireball is one crazy sports flick. Before the end, the hero has physically beaten most of his opponents to a bloody pulp, and he did it all in the process of dribbling across the court and slam-dunking the ball. So, yea, Iguess you could call this Thai flick a hybrid of sorts. Everyone else will just call it insane. Feeling like the Direct-to-Video answer to the work of martial artist Tony Jaa, Fireball isn’t going to inspire any thoughtful film criticism but I fully expect it to find a following at festivals like this one. There is a rough hewn charm to the movie’s plentiful stunts and erratic, multi-angled camera work. Who cares if the story sucks; in Thailand screenwriting is a sissie’s job. The real creative forces here are the intrepid camera men who seem to be running right next to touched-in-the-head stuntguys who will literally do anything if it can be captured on film.

I think I’m officially exhausted with the martial arts craze that’s been face-kicking its way through Thailand over the last six years. Beginning with the truly jaw-dropping Ong Bak and adding to it with The Protector, Chocolate, Ong Bak 2 (currently the best of the bunch) and the wacky Power Kids which also debuted at Fantasia Fest, regional filmmakers have taken the art of Muy Thai and transformed it into a sure-fire cinematic draw. And I’ll be honest. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the reckless nature of the stunts and the dedication to the mastery of styles. Even the slick low-budget filmmaking that uses thin, economic screenplays to get in and out of action sequences is a plus. And, there’s the fact that it is just a visceral thrill to see scummy villains get flying elbow punches to the soft part of the cranium.

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But after awhile, where do you go with it? How do you keep topping work that is already as insane as you can get? Fireball, following up stories that involved a Muy-Thai warrior fighting to reclaim a stone head and an autistic girl who studied martial arts from television, answers this with: make a basketball movie…and then add Muy-Thai. That’s right, the titular sport at the center of this overly exuberant action pic has a net, a ball and teams of players just like basketball but everything else is a free-for-all that involves Thai martial arts. If you get the ball in the hoop, you win. If you can stop the other player from doing so, it doesn’t matter what technique you use. Guys get tackled mid-air, kicked in the throat, thrown across splintered crates in the pouring rain, and in one instance even murdered. There is no law or rule to Fireball and that makes it the perfect pastime for a film that wants to be a throwback to the era of early Van Damme and Seagal.  Dunk this, beeyatch!  

I feel kind of silly spending any kind of paragraph time on the ‘story’ of Fireball, but surprisingly, whats there is cogent enough. Tai gets released from prison because his brother Tan got the money necessary to bribe the right people, but when he gets out he finds this charitable sibling in a coma. Apparenty, Tan was playing fireball and was badly injured during the game. In order to get to the bottom of the whole sordid affair,Tai heads off to join Boss Den’s fireball team, who is headed up by star player Zing (the actor playing him has an even crazier name:9 Million Sam). The rest of the plot involves Tan’s girlfriend hanging around on the sides, various and quickly sketched team mates and a whole herd of sneery opponents who help make the fireball tournaments as brutal as possible.

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Thats it, and I didn’t care about it anyway. I’m not sure anyone else did either. Watching a film like this in a group sets off a certain kind of near-chemical energy. Everyone is united in bewilderment and an anxious anticipation of the next crazy scene. A movie like Fireball is succesful because it completes what it sets out to do. I might not have loved it, but I loved the experience of watching it. It follws the style and template of an above average action pic and then it goes crazy with the Fireball sequences. David Fincher’s Fight Club was a glossy, crazed satire about finding manly purpose in extreme violence and it used clever effects for the fighting sequences. Fireball is the distilled essence of the dynamic that made FC seem relevant to young males. It has all the clubbing,hittng and hemmoraging that Fincher’s film mimed. It’s like watching an UFC fight on the set of a Duran Duran video. Everything has a sweaty, grimy look and the yellow filters make every sequence seem gritty and dangerous.

The action scenes are directed from several different angles and then edited together with a style that looks like a hand-held camera. Each fireball game has a certain logic to it, and various props that distinguish it from the others. As we watch the teams in action, we see the teammembers fleshed out in terms of their skill on the field. Kicks, punches, and tackles seem to come from off-screen and I found myself weaving and bobbing in my seat, as if Iwere there running with the team. I give the film serious credit for that. It picked me up an dropped me right in the middle of the madness. When the movie is Fireball, that’s all the more it needs to do.  

31iMU

 

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3 Responses to “Fantasia 2009: Knee to the Face!! Thailand’s Crazy ‘Fireball’”

  1. Cello August 28, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    looks like a good time like Shoalin Soccer. Thanks for putting me on to a movie! Your review has made me put this on my radar to hunt down and watch 🙂

  2. Sam@Cult Labs December 3, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    We’re getting Fireball in the UK Jan 18th. I’ve seen a screner already and it’s a blast, a great gonzo mix of Sport, Crime and Violent action. Click my link above, it’s the Fireball Ebook with loads of clips, images and info on the movie.

    This one deserves an audience, it’s fresh, fast moving and punk rock! I loved it.

  3. Harley Elstner January 28, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    Awesome site! Haha I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your rss also, thanks.

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