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Two years ago, JeeJa Yanin exploded on the screen with Chocolate (2008), one of the best martial arts films of the decade, exploding with energy, innovative choreographies, and a pretty good story and well developed characters that you don't often see in films of that genre. So of course, i was eagerly awaiting a follow up, and it finally arrived in the form of Raging Phoenix (2009). Was it worth the wait?
Deu (Yanin) is a young Thai woman who sings in a rock band when suddenly, her manager kicks her out. From one problem to the next, she gets mixed up with a dangerous gang that kidnaps young girls for nefarious purposes. That's when she meets with 3 young men in the quest of that same gang after their girlfriends mysteriously disappeared. The four young men and woman will stop at nothing to unmask the leader of that gang, and hopefully recover the missing young ladies.
So, the big question anyone has on their minds is: is the movie a worthwhile follow-up to Chocolate (2008)? My answer is simply no. The movie's production value, cinematography, and character development simply doesn't even come close to its predecessor. It's pretty much a lesser, and cheaper looking movie in all respects. Glad we got that out of the way. So, you ask, how about the action? It's gotta be good.
There again, you will likely be disappointed. One of the things i loved in Chocolate are the long takes, and you could see the massive amount of time the team spent preparing each and every scene. The choreographies were superb, and enhanced by the cinematography, the editing and the sound design, which plunged you right into the heart of the action. Here, all those wonderful elements are simply missing. For most of the movie, you have fairly badly filmed action scenes, with editing that feels jumpy at times, to make up for either rushed rehearsals, or a budget too low to afford more filming time. The choreographies are pretty cool, as to be expected from Thai actionners, but at times, they are a little bit too "wiry". Most importantly, many action scenes are filmed in the dark! I mean, what's up with that? If you have some of the best martial artists in the business, don't you want to make sure you show every single square inch of their amazing bodies as you can? The idea of a shadowy environment in order to add "style" to a scene seems to defeat the purpose of martial arts where you want to see every move.
Now, this being said, the movie does have a hidden jewel, and you'll have to get through 80mn of the film in order to be stunned by the grand finale. The last battle is simply astounding. I am running out of hyperbolic adjectives here to truly convey how i felt when i watched it. There is a marked difference in the quality of the choreography, the cinematography and editing in that very last scene. There, you can see again Yanin's raw talent, and she is fighting a gorgeous amazonian beauty that will simply make you beg for more. That grand finale alone is worth the ticket price (or in my case, the DVD price).
All in all, this is quite disappointing compared to Chocolate, but then again, Chocolate is a modern action masterpiece. Raging Phoenix is by no means a bad film, but it suffers from a lower budget this time around, and the cinematography and editing are not as good. But you will still see incredible moves and mixed martial arts that are performed at the top of the game. The final battle is simply astonishing and your jaw will drop, over and over again in the last 15 minutes of the film. Yanin is simply incredible and confirms here that if she can keep it up, she is the best female martial artists around, and certainly, way up there with Donnie Yen and Jet Li in terms of her skills.
- Laurent Hasson