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Muay Thai Chaiya
  By Sorradithep Supachanya / 26 August 2007
   
 

 

Once in a while comes a film that defies public expectation, rejuvenates the audiences excitement, and stands out from the rest of the genre. Today, that film is Chaiya, the second directorial effort from veteran screenwriter Kongkiat Komesiri who proves that a martial arts flick can have more than action. It can be sweetly romantic and sentimentally dramatic as well.

Chaiya tells a story about friendship and sacrifice, honor and redemption, and choices people make in their lives. Piak (Akara Amarttayakul), Pao (Thawatchai Penpakdee), and Samor (Sonthaya Chitmanee) are three childhood friends from southern Thailand who share a love for the Chaiya school of Muay Thai and every boxers dream of fighting at the Ratchadamnoen stadium in Bangkok . As soon as they come of age, they travel to the capital to pursue their dreams. Unfortunately for Piak, his arrogance and hot temper cost him his rising career, and he and Samor turn to an underground boxing world where they fight illegal bouts and work as hitmen for easy money. Pao, however, trains hard and fights hard but his sheer bad luck lands him in a match that, unbeknownst to him, pits him against the ruthless gangsters for whom Piak and Samor have been working.

As expected of a martial arts film, Chaiya delivers plenty of flying fists and brutal bullets. And, its tight choreography and fast-paced editing further intensify the excitement of every action sequence. In an underground boxing scene, for example, I was at the edge of my seat cheering for Piak to dodge flying weapons and defeat his multiple foes. Again in Paos final rematch scene, my heart almost stopped every time he struggled to gain points against an equally powerful opponent. Without a doubt, fans of action-packed movies will get a kick out of this one.

 

 

But, action is not the only highlight of the film. It also takes time to develop a romantic subplot between Piak and his wife Sripai (newcomer Pharita Kongpetch). We see their bashful courtship in the beginning (the part with a pocket watch is quite sweet), her touching decision to stand by her husband even as he falls deeper in the shady business of the underworld, and her tearful forgiveness for his mistakes in the end. Regretfully, Sripai stays out of the picture in most of the second act; otherwise, this romance can be further developed and the emotion enriched.

Drama movie fans will also be able to enjoy Chaiya' s many rich relationship stories: friends who make big sacrifices for one another, lovers who forgive each others mistakes, father who raises his sons to be good, and pupils who pay homage to their teachers. In a clever writing, these elements come together and culminate in the films climax battle in which both Piak and Pao finally fulfill their dreams of fighting at Ratchadamnoen but each does so in his own way for different purposes: the down-and-out Piak fights to save his friends, revenge his teachers murder, and redeem his sin; while Pao, the last remaining Chaiya pupil, fights to reclaim his dignity, honor his father, and defeat his strongest opponents dirty trick.

Acting is impressive across the board, and I take my hat off to lead actors Akara and Thawatchai who put in 150% of their effort preparing for their roles and performing their own stunts in the film. They give solid performances that manage to make the audience forget their images as fashion models. A special mention also goes to Sonthaya (from Jira Malikools 2005 feature The Tin Mine) whose soliloquy in the scene preceding the climax alone should make him worthy of acting award nominations.

However, some relationships suffer from underdevelopment. The spotlight shines a bit too excessively on Piak. For example, Pao is forgotten for most of the first act and his on-screen interactions with his father and coach Tew (former boxing champion Samart Payakarun) and his older brother and boxing prodigy Kraeng (newcomer Prawit Tae Chaiya Kittichanthira) remain undeservingly limited. Furthermore, quick editing shifts the film rather too hastily in and out of subplots. I am most disappointed with an abrupt ending to the scene in which Pao joins Piak, in an apparent act of approval of Piaks chosen path, to battle the two most vicious opponents in the illegal combat ring.

Nevertheless, Chaiya is still a highly enjoyable film. Unlike recent Thai martial arts movies that offer excessive action but little emotions, Chaiya boasts not only exhilarating adrenaline rushes but also a romantic story and a satisfying relationship drama that can leave the audience both in tears and at the edge of their seats rooting for their favorite characters. This film is certainly not to be missed.

   
   

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