This week Bro Film Internation returns after an extended hiatus to the land that makes a hard man humble– Thailand– to celebrate, “Vengeance of an Assassin,” the final film from director Panna Rittikrai, who also brought us the most memorable Tony Jaa joint, “The Protector.”
“Vengeance of an Assassin” opens with an extended action sequence set in a garage, in which numerous folks play the most aggressively martial game of soccer that anyone has ever seen. It just keeps going and going, answering nothing about who the players are or why the stakes are so high people must be kicked in the head and the face. Yet it does, finally, make us wonder something: who the hell would play this game around so many pits of hot coal? The answer is: so we can watch these stuntmen risk life and limb for nothing more than our own entertainment. Maybe for the stuntmen, it’s some kind of a challenge to put themselves on the line in a way that does nothing to advance the film, but one can never be too sure. It doesn’t matter because it’s also just a dream sequence.
The plot such as it is involves Natee and Tan, two young men, who live with their drunken uncle after their parents were killed during a police raid. Uncle keeps passing out at work, and Natee– who kind of knows how and why his parents died– sneaks into a locked room looking for information that will help him find out who did it. His uncle catches him and begs him to let it lie; revenge solves nothing, he promises. The movie makes a big to do about the Natee’s need to know and thirst for justice, but then the rest of the film involves a different kind of vengeance than you might be expecting.
An unspecified amount of time passes in which Natee becomes an assassin, gets double crossed by an employer, and runs afoul of a crime boss. Luckily– coincidentally, even– this eventually dovetails with the murder of his parents. Never in an obvious way, either. The titular vengeance our hero spends most of the movie in possession of involves being double crossed and not in actively seeking out the killers of his parents. It’s a weird storytelling choice when one considers how important that seemed toward the end of the first act, but I digress because… stunts. Also, the younger brother just finds a bunch of instructional videos and learns how to knife fight from them. It works well enough that he’s able to get involved in the plot during the third act and drop the earnest act and fight armed thugs in and on top of a train.
If the plot sounds like a mess or that it seems to have a surprising focus on the wrong kind of vengeance, it’s because it is and does. However, the action sequences are second to none and the plot really only exists to allow these moments a tenuous connection. The stunt work boasts lots of people slamming into giant pipes, being impaled, throwing each other around construction scaffolding, getting shot, blown up, kicked from atop trains, being used as a human shield and shot repeatedly while plummeting. It’s the stuff of great spectacle, performed by able bodied and charismatic folks. A genuine performance is not really required from anyone in the cast but everyone is good a giving what they need to: Dan Chupong is handsome and tough as Natee, the assassin, and he goes up against a terrific array of bad guys with crappy, stringy goatees that are good at scowling and make you hate them exactly enough. Sometimes that’s all you need.
It’s hard to deny the power of the late director Panna Rittakrai’s craft. It’s a damn shame he’s not around to deliver films so purely and thrillingly visceral anymore. He will be missed.