The Sanctuary


Director: Thanipon Maliwan
Year: 2009
Rating: 3.0
Country: Thailand

One has to feel a bit sorry for Russell Wong (Eat a Bowl of Tea, Joy Luck Club, Vanishing Son) for being in this Thai film. Things must not have been going too well for him in 2009. I hope he was paid well but if so that must have been most of the budget because this is as cheap as a broken chair. It is  inept, makes little sense, is poorly acted and close to incoherent at times. But in a martial arts film, does that really matter? Depends on how good the martial arts scenes are I guess.

And here the film begins promisingly. There are two excellent action scenes within the first 20 minutes. It begins in 1897 when a gang of thugs break into the American residence in Thailand and after killing nearly everyone steal three Royal antique vases of great value. This leads to a large fight with lots of blood spurting but the antiques are not recovered - until about 100 years later by two brothers (both played by Mike B, a Thai stuntman in a number of films). This leads to a terrific fight as one of the brothers is high on top of a pile of rusted cars playing King of the Mountain against a group of baddies. Some very hard falls here.

And after that it is all basically crap - even the two big fights at the end are poorly choreographed and criminally edited. Russell Wong enters the film when a general hires him and his two killers to find and recover the antiques. He is the heavy here and finally in the end has to get down and dirty and show his stuff. Mike B (as the other brother) tries to protect the Thai heritage but for reasons unknown they decide to give him no martial arts skills and he constantly gets his ass handed to him. Till a magic amulet gives him Muy Thai power! Mike B clearly has a lot of physical talent but they rarely give him the opportunity to display it. Martial arts talent I should add - he has the charisma of a wet sponge.

Along with him is the girl of course - played by one of my favorite Thai actresses - Inthira Charoenpura or her nickname Sine - who is the tragic ghost in Nang Nak and the warrior Princess in the series of epic King Naresuan films. In most good Thai action films you will spot the names of either Prachya Pinkaew or Panna Ritkrai among the director/producer/action choreograph credits. These guys were the best - but they are not to be seen in this one and it shows.

2009/2010 sort of marks the beginning of the decline of the Thai action film - or at least our ability to see them in the West. The Thai DVD distributors decided to stop putting English subs on the films which they had regularly done because they thought it would hurt international sales. It of course had the opposite effect as fans no longer got to see them - and talk about Thai films on forums completely dried up. The buzz was dead. And there were not a lot of international companies picking up these films. So if there are good Thai action films being made no one outside Thailand is seeing them any more, but as far as I know there isn't much.