Raging Phoenix

Jija Deu Suay Du

There has been a lot of anticipation and expectations after Jija Yanin’s explosive debut in Chocolate. Her action skills harkened back to the glory days of Hong Kong’s Girl with Gun’s actresses and it was a pleasure to revel in her knockdown scenes of precise mayhem. Unfortunately, I don’t think those expectations will be met in this truly weird mess of a film. In martial arts film I think the saying “keep it simple stupid” applies rather well – keep the plot and the characters fairly basic but make the action sizzle and sway because that is what we are coming for. Instead the film makers weave a bizarrely convoluted and silly plot that only detracts from the main purpose of the film – seeing Jija kick ass. The other major flaw in the film – at least from my perspective – is that it is almost an ensemble piece with Jija being the lead character but often subordinate in the action sequences. The film does showcase some other terrific talent leading one to ponder whether the martial art’s film capital has shifted from Hong Kong to Bangkok – but I wanted wall to wall Jija and that was far from the case.

Jija’s character Deu is an emotionally erratic drummer in a rock band who flies off the handle one time too many and is booted from the band. She takes to the bottle and in one drunken night a group of bad guys tries to kidnap her for their nefarious purposes. She is rescued though by Sanim, a sad eyed martial arts expert in a terrific scene in which he is attacked by multitudes of high jumping razor sharp roller bladders out for the kill. She is carried back to his ramshackle headquarters where she meets two of his cohorts – Dog Shit and Pig Shit (Bull Shit shows up later, no kidding) – and soon thereafter another good fight breaks out as they are again attacked by villains after Jija. Their mix of break dancing and martial arts is entertaining and Jija becomes a main prop in their fighting off the bad guys. So why do the bad guys want Jija so badly? Her smell apparently. The Jaguar Gang is in the business of finding women with a special pheromone that emits an odor that is sexually addictive. And they have Sniffers who walk through crowds sniffing for the few women who have this quality. For years they have been kidnapping girls and one of them was Pie, Sanim’s bride and another was the wife of one of the Shit’s (sorry can’t recall which one) who was a Sniffer for the cops.

Jija of course decides that she wants to join the group and learn their specialty – a form of drunken martial arts in which their bodies are fluid and they have no fear. She not surprisingly learns quickly but never really gets all that good until she truly feels her body filled with pain and sadness. This final fight which takes place in the freakish rabbit hole underground lair of the main villain, a lithe supple black female, is pretty terrific but it was a long time to wait for the producers to finally let Jija show her stuff. I came away still full of awe for Jija and also realizing in this film that she can play very cute if she wants to – but generally thinking this was a missed opportunity to further her career and to establish her as the Queen of Action. Maybe next time. Just let her kick ass from the start, guys.

My rating: 6.5

(written up 8/09)

Postcript:  2019

Watched this again some 10 years later and slightly amended a review I wrote back then.

Back then in 2009 many of us thought that Thailand was on the verge of a cinematic breakthrough in the world of martial arts films and that with Hong Kong films in a slump, Thailand could take the lead. Led by Tony Jaa and producers/directors/choreographers Prachya Pinkaew and Panna Rittakrai along with a slew of talented martial artists trained in Muy Thai, they were making some great action films. Jeeja Yanin had hit the screens with a blast in Chocolate in 2008 and this film followed a year later and it felt like a star was born.

A real female martial artist like the old Hong Kong Girl's with Guns films. But the whole Thai explosion just kind of sputtered out. There was a rift between Jaa and his agent producers that led to Jaa slowing down his film output and it has been years since a Thai action film made any impact. Yanin has only made a handful of films in the past six years and Jaa is more likely to show up in a Hong Kong film than a Thai one. To give credit to Donnie Yen, he was a large part of Hong Kong reclaiming martial arts films as their own. Just in this film there is a huge amount of talent on display - not just Yanin but the whole crew of actors do some amazing stunts, kicks and acrobatics.