Don’t let the title fool you; this isn’t a sequel to “Finding Nemo” or some other animated film about anthropomorphized aquatic creatures! It’s the given name of a seedy underground fighting ring in the heart of Bangkok where anything goes and the loser never makes it home alive. Stuntman Jawed El-Berni gets his first opportunity to take on the role of leading man, and he’s decidedly up to the challenge with gravity defying butterfly kicks and somersaults which seem as easy for him as the act of breathing for the average person!
Jawed El-Berni steps up to the plate as the leading character, Mike, a French expatriate on the run from his past and seeking greener pastures in Bangkok. El-Berni is as adept at blowing the viewer away with a combination of grace, speed, and power as Scott Adkins, and hopefully he will soon reach the same heights of acclaim among martial arts fans (which may very well happen in the near future, given that he will appear alongside Adkins in “Ninja: Shadow of a Tear”.) Jakkrit Kanokpodjanon lends just as much support to the film in the role of Yo, a local street hustler Mike befriends with a fighting prowess that rivals Mike’s. Stuntman David Ismalone, who practically made a career out of smashing things over Tony Jaa’s head in “Ong Bak”, also appears as the promoter of Fighting Fish, Jack, and gets to show off his skills a bit more than simply bashing his enemies with whatever blunt objects are available!
Former French boxer, Mike, arrives in Bangkok seeking to put a dark past behind him and start his life anew. After losing some money to a local street hustler named Yo, only to chase him down and fight to reclaim what is his. Mike ultimately impresses Yo with his fighting skills, and Yo returns the money and allows Mike to stay in his home. Recognizing Mike’s fighting abilities, Yo offers to help Mike into an underground fighting ring in Bangkok, which Yo has participated in for some time now, hoping to eventually earn the necessary funds to afford an operation for his paraplegic wife Katoon, who was left in a wheelchair after being hit by a car some years earlier. After seeing Yo compete and watching the kind of competition he will be up against, Mike is allowed to compete and manages to win his first fight.
As Mike continues to fight alongside Yo, his new friend warns him to avoid the upper echelon of the fight club known as “Fighting Fish”, a far deadlier combat arena which sees the losing fighter murdered after the bout. Despite Yo’s warnings, Mike sees Fighting Fish as a bigger money-making opportunity for both of them, and is strangely undeterred by Yo’s warnings of the fatal nature of the fights. In an effort to save Mike from his recklessness, Yo takes his place in Mike’s upcoming match in Fighting Fish, and despite losing the fight, manages to escape his follow-up execution unharmed. However, the promoters of Fighting Fish won’t let the two fighters escape so easily, leading Mike and Yo into a battle to free themselves from the grip of Fighting Fish.
The film’s two leads both carry the film well and handle the film’s abundant battles with a butter-smooth, competent style. The action in the film is superb, for the most part, with just the right balance of power and flashiness. El-Berni’s fighting style is interesting in how hard it is to pin down. One moment, he’s assaults his enemies with a waterfall of MMA-style punches, the next, he goes completely airborne with a kicking style that seems to merge taekwondo and capoeira! Jakkrit Kanokpodjananon is equally as impressive, but he relies more on the Tony Jaa style of Muay Thai. Early on, the film affords the viewer a chance to contrast both men’s combat skills side by side in their initial encounter, and it has more the feel of a friendly sparring match than is seen throughout the rest of the film, almost as if Yo respects Mike’s determination to get his money back and genuinely wants to see the extent of his capabilities.
Outside of Fighting Fish, the action takes on a greater tone of fury and determination when the two heroes find themselves fighting for their freedom from the fight club’s organizers. The finale really pays off with its location in a warehouse, seemingly the most ubiquitous end battle location in both Thai and Hong Kong action films, and it’s a cliché that just doesn’t get old! Indeed, the finale itself is also testimony to just how well-rehearsed and coordinated action actors and stunt performers are called upon to be, with the combat playing out largely uninterrupted and the camera holding for as long as a minute and a half at a time before cutting! That’s an approach to action filmmaking that badly needs to catch on in Hollywood!
As Thai martial arts films go, “Fighting Fish” isn’t half bad. There’s no shortage of action, and it’s a more emotionally engaging film than one might expect, given its premise. It certainly makes the case for the abilities of its two leading men as capable up-and-coming action stars, and the fact that both will soon be seen alongside two of the leading figures in martial arts film (El-Berni with Scott Adkins in “Ninja: Shadow of a Tear”, and Kankpodjananon opposite Tony Jaa in “A Man Will Rise”) is certainly well-deserved after their performances in “Fighting Fish”.
- The film was directed by David Ismalone’s wife, Julaluck Ismalone. Their roles will be reversed in the upcoming film “Mystic Blade”, which will also feature Jawed El-Berni.
- One of Jawed El-Berni’s opponents in the film is played by Kazu Patrick Tang. His previous roles include appearances in “Unleashed”, “District B13”, “Bangkok Knockout”, and “Ong Bak 2”. He also appeared as Jeeja Yanin’s mentor, Sanim, in the brilliantly choreographed (Thai) film “Raging Phoenix”.