Fans of martial arts action films in this region would find reason to celebrate recently with the introduction of Iko Uwais showcasing some combat Silat in Merantau and while I had counted him in amongst peers such as Tony Jaa, Jija Yanin stands out for being the only female of the lot who can dish out as much punishment as she could receive, and breakthrough performances aside, I think the real test comes in the follow up film, if it's either more of the same, or if it'll have enough bandwidth to allow the martial artist to go some distance from their maiden performance.
And I had enjoyed Raging Phoenix a lot more than Chocolate, which I felt had plenty of room in which to improve upon, especially in the editing department which didn't quite do that film justice in having Jija's character seem to go through each fight sequence like a video game, beginning each scene with the on-guard position. However, that film allowed her to showcase a whole range of moves and weapons, and in this one, her character sticks to one, which is a Chinese drunken fist equivalent, where the pupil downs gallons of alcohol, and through that intoxicated state, learn to internalize the alcohol and purge that high energy into something more hard hitting, channeling that deep down hurt and heartfelt pain they have to intrinsically possess into power through the knuckles.
The form of the martial arts clearly has plenty of Muay Thai in it, with the usual exploitation of elbows and knees to inflict maximum damage, though this time round the choreographers smartly fused some hip-hop breakdancing moves into the martial arts, since those dance movies would already prep you that those spins and turns, and feigns with the feet, could actually translate to deadly assault steps to incapacitate any enemy. Yes you read me right, but it didn't turn out as bad as it sounded, and soon enough you just won't feel that it's an amalgamation of two different forms, at least not when the catchy Thai hip hop song Yong-Wai stops playing.
As the story goes (yes, you still need one), it was a wee bit different from the usual to say the least, though the inevitable melodramatic moments did prolong the runtime without welcome. The narrative for Raging Phoenix played out just like its title, where it starts off really slowly and in some ways quite the bore, before its form got junked and transformed, into something more engaging as the story progressed, right after Jija's Deu gets saved from the clutches of the evil Jaguar Gang, whose mission statement is to kidnap girls with unique pheromones. Cue obligatory training montage as she becomes the protege of Sanim (Kazu Patrick Tang), Dog, Pig and Bull, and convoluted initiation rites later, she gets accepted into the vigilante group, seeking out the Jaguars to exact their individual vendettas.
Ranging Phoenix didn't turn out to be a one-woman show, which meant Jija had to step aside to allow her co-stars to shine, especially since her character is the rookie in this form of martial arts, and have to rely on the others to save her hide at first. It was a little painful to watch since we all know that this girl can really kick butt, though it made it all the more sweeter when she finally does. What she cannot do though, despite her new hairdo and cute-as-a-button features, is to play that romantic role given that there's a subplot involving unrequited love with her trainer Sanim, which was somewhat essential to fuel that new found strength (from depression actually) in the finale.
A Thai film would seem incomplete without the obligatory evil transsexual, and Raging had one featured early for some comic relief. The chief villain, played by Roongtawan Jindasing, a body building champion, cuts a figure quite similar to Grace Jones's May Day in A View to a Kill, matching our heroine strength for strength, though triumphing with her D-cups, which I thought in a battle sequence she had used to knock Deu off her feet. Fight sequences had resorted to MTV-styled quick cut editing, though it did pace itself nicely through some slow-motion when required to allow the audience to take it all in. Fights were also nicely framed, especially when killer moves get employed, or when director Rashane Limtrakul decides to want to show you just how close and realistic the actors and stunt crew can get when they pull off hard hitting, bone-crunching action.
I would have thought that the film would have featured some outtakes – you know, for the filmmakers to show off that “real fights, real injuries” tagline, but to my surprise there was absolutely none. I would have loved to see whether some suspicion in the use of wire-work could be proven through the outtakes, since there were definitely some moves which were too hard to believe they can be executed without employing one. Padding also was visible though, for safety's sake of course, but don't let that distract you as much as it did to me.
Raging Phoenix isn't perfect, but it is yet another milestone for Jija Yanin to prove what she can do. Call me a fan as I am liking her films already, and can't wait to see her in more action films!