J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fantasia ’17: Broken Sword Hero

King Taksin defeated the constant waves of Burmese invaders, unified his country as the Thonburi Kingdom, and promoted trade with the European powers. Of course, he did not do it alone. Initially, the bullied Joi does not look like he will be much help to anyone, particularly himself. However, destiny has different plans in Bin Bunluerit’s Broken Sword Hero (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Unless you really know your Thai history, forget about the sword and focus on the hero. That will be Joi—eventually. It would seem like fate dealt him a tough break, considering the regional governor’s entitled son Cherd is his chief tormentor. When he finally fights back hard enough to draw blood, Joi resigns himself to a life of exile. Living by his wits, he becomes a talented Muay Thai fighter. Unfortunately, that will not be enough to defeat a true master. At least he learns an important early lesson: humility. From then on, Thongdee (as the white-teethed, betelnut abstainer is now known) will study any discipline, under any master with a unique specialty.

Along the way, Thongdee makes some real friends and serves his successive masters faithfully. Periodically, he will face off against his old nemesis Cherd and his corrupt uncle. Although Thongdee is still an outlaw, his good deeds and multi-disciplinary martial arts skills start to attract the attention of a mysterious mustachioed observer.

Bunluerit must be a heck of a persuasive director, because he convinced former Miss Teen Thailand Sornsin Maneewan to portray Thongdee’s potential love interest Ramyong with betelnut-stained teeth. Chutirada Junthit was doubly lucky to play Mauylek, an itinerant Chinese opera performer and marital artist, because she was spared the betelnut and had the chance to show off her own action chops in some of the action sequences.

Of course, the film is clearly intended to launch Muay Thai champion Sombat “Buakaw” Banchamek as the next Tony Jaa. There is no question he has the skills and the super-chiseled physique. Granted, his screen presence will not exactly blow you through the back wall of the theater, but he has greater emotional range than Van Damme and Schwarzenegger displayed early in their careers (or arguably even in their latest films). Still, he is not another Tony Jaa yet, but it isn’t for a lack of effort. He brings tremendous physicality to the action scenes, which should earn him good will from fans right from the start.

If you are looking for bare-chested, fist-pumping, sword-shattering action, Bunluerit and Buakaw deliver over and over again. Again, it is important to remember this is an origins story, so don’t get hung up waiting for a sword to break. Instead, just let the spectacle of flying elbows and knees wash over you. Highly recommended for martial arts fans, especially those who appreciate the Southeast Asian historical elements, Broken Sword Hero screens today (7/23) at this year’s Fantasia.

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