The Kick (South Korea 2011)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/21/12
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Jeeja Yanin, Petchtai Wongkamlao

Prachya Pinkaew ("Ong Bak" (2003), "Tom Yum Goong" (2005), "Chocolate" (2008) ) tackles a Thai/South Korean co-production that follows the misadventures of a family of tae kwon do experts. The eldest son would rather be a dancer than a fighter, and the majority of the film revolves around him and his impressive dance-fu moves. The eldest daughter is quite cute and is a graceful and powerful kicker. I found her to be enchanting. The husband and wife take turns being silly and serious, and do a good job with their action scenes. Then there's Uncle Kwang (Pinkaew's favorite sidekick, Petchtai Wongkamlao) and an unexplained girl named Wawa (adorable Jeeja Yanin) who live at a wildlife preserve of some kind. Trouble starts for the family when a Thai relic is brought to South Korea for a museum exhibition, and a rich and powerful bad guy decides to steal it. Through coincidence and dumb luck, the family manages to thwart the robbery and recover the relic. But the bad guy wants revenge, and spends the rest of the film hunting the family down and assaulting them with an endless supply of rented thugs.

As you would expect, the ground fighting scenes are excellent and superbly executed. The lead actor is an excellent athlete and martial artist, and pulls off some outstanding stunts and fights scenes. From the outtakes, you can see how dearly these people pay for their craft, and how dangerous these films are to make. It's sobering to see their pain played out for the audience's pleasure. A super cute and highly animated Jeeja Yanin only gets into a handful of fights, and while they're cleverly choreographed and expertly performed, they're not as hard hitting as her previous work. I get the feeling that she values her well being and wants to ease her way out of the business. Unfortunately, where the film falls apart is in its juvenile attempts to add humor, trying to offset the bone crushing action scenes with light-hearted goofiness. While the dance-fu sequences are physically impressive and nicely executed, they look silly and embarrassing, much like the drunken breakdancing moves in "Raging Phoenix" (2009). On top of this are a number of poorly executed wire stunts, some terrible chroma-key compositions, some questionable drop-frame editing, and some really awful computer animated effects including CGI octopi, crocodiles, and elephants. That's right, the animals come to the rescue, along with a handheld video game that the youngest son plays. Ugh.

Similar to Prachya Pinkaew's previous efforts, if you can get past the pedestrian plot and suffer through the lame humor, there is some pretty satisfying martial arts action to be had. I really wanted to give it three stars, but the humor and the animals were just too much to bear. All of the female leads are attractive and extremely talented, which is always a plus. Not surprisingly, there are shoe continuity issues since female villains tend to wear impractical footwear, but overall it's not bad. It's just a shame that the film as a whole is so lacking.