How often does a movie title have the courtesy to be so perfectly descriptive of the content of the film it’s attached to without spoiling anything for the prospective audience? (Way to give away the ending, “Ernest Saves Christmas”!) Pracha Pinkeaw’s “The Kick” does just that for the viewer – the title promises that the viewer is in for some seriously kick-laden action merging the stunt-filled, death-defying Thai approach to fight choreography, orchestrated by the country’s renown action director Panna Rittikrai, with Korea’s national martial art of Tae Kwon Do. And all of it supported by a coming of age story involving the lead character’s conflict with his father’s vision for his son’s future that any male can easily find a personal parallel for.
The largely Korean cast is headed up by Tae-joo Na as the film’s teenaged hero Tae yang, whose shifting focus from his Tae Kwon Do studies to his passion for dancing comes to the chagrin of his more traditional father. Cho Jae-Hyun portrays the family patriarch, Master Mun, while Ye Ji-won assumes the role of his wife, Yun Mija. Tae yang’s nimble and quick sister is portrayed by Kyung-suk Kim, while “Chocolate”-star Jeeja Yanin returns to wowing viewers with her Tae Kwon Do-mastery in the role of Wawa, who provides Mun’s children with some serious incentive to step up their fighting game. Capping off the cast is Thailand’s renown comedian Petchthai Wongkamlao, also known by his stage name of Mum Jokmok, in the role of Mum, an old friend of Mun’s and uncle of Wawa, and he brings all the same levity to the film as he did to his collaborations with Tony Jaa in “Tom Yum Goong” and the “Ong Bak” series.
Master Mun is a Korean immigrant running a taekwondo school in the heart of Bangkok. His entire family is made up equally of taekwondo practitioners, each of whom has adapted their skills to augment another skill set. His wife Mija brings a taekwondo influence to her cooking, while his daughter Taemi has used the art’s kicking techniques to improve her soccer game and his youngest child Typhoon is adept at breaking techniques with his forehead. Mun’s eldest son aspires to become a hip-hop dancer, and has used his taekwondo skills to craft his own unique dancing style. However, his increased focus on his dancing aspirations has put a strain on his relationship with his father, who believes that his son’s performance in the family’s taekwondo has begun to wane.
The entire family suddenly find themselves catapulted to national fame after Tae yang and Taemi thwart the attempted theft of a Thai artefact known as the Kris of Kings, which is said to confer great power to the user. The entire family are hailed as national heroes, but also unfortunately find themselves targetted by the man behind the theft, Seok-Du. After fighting off an attempted assault on the family, Mun send’s his three children into hiding with his old friend Mum, whose niece, Wawa, proves a serious challenge for the three children with her own taekwondo prowess, providing all of three of them and Tae yang in particular with both a challenging sparring partner and some useful tutelage in enhancing their own skills. However, Tae yang’s passion for hip hop dancing still hasn’t left him, and while the group is in hiding, he takes an opportunity to attend a dance audition. Unfortunately, Seok-Du’s henchmen arrives to Mum’s home and kidnap Typhoon, with Tae yang returning to fight off most of the goons, but too late to thwart his brother’s kidnapping. Seok-Du sets up a ransom with the family – the Kris (which has been returned to the authorities) for Typhoon. Mun and most of the family see little choice but to cooperate and steal the Kris back for Seok-Du, but Tae yang is bound and determined to rescue his brother, redeem himself to his father, and end Seok-Du’s stranglehold over the family once and for all.
If you hold any affection for taekwondo as a martial art and kick-influenced action in general, “The Kick” is right up your alley. Panna Rittikrai’s ingenuity and imagination in the realm of fight choreography is on full display here, and his dexterous cast is more than able to rise to the occasion, as well. What really stands about the action here is the almost continuous use of kicking combinations, a strategy taekwondo practitioners know well, in the action, and much more so than basic roundhouse kick-spinning, kick based attacks. During the fight to thwart the theft of the kris, Tae yang leaps into the air and appears ready to launch a jump spinning back kick to the opponent, only to reverse his momentum and launch a sidekick with the opposite leg before landing! Moments later in the very same fight, Taemi landed a jumping sidekick against one opponent, and pushes off his chest, seemingly prepared to launch a follow up roundhouse kick to her other enemy, only to surprise both her opponent and the viewer with a spinning heel kick, instead! The choreography gives legitimacy to such seemingly flashy techniques due to how Rittikrai and the actors are able to communicate both the flow and momentum of the kicking combinations to the viewer. Like we might expect from a barrage of hand strikes, the film wants the audience to clearly see how one kicking technique logically flows into the next!
During the finale is where the film moves into pure Jackie Chan territory, with the surrounding environment playing as much a role in the action as the individual combatants do! One section of the end battle sees Tae yang taking on a wave of enemies atop a series of zoo cages resting beneath dozen of rapidly spinning ceiling fans. The environment enables each combatant to use the ceiling fans to their advantage while also forcing all of them to both adapt their attack patterns to avoid being struck themselves. Incorporating such environmental dangers into the combat intensifies the action in the same way as the film’s emphasis on flashy but logical and effective kicking combinations. JeeJa Yanin’s presence in the film also helps to contrast each character’s differing approach to their fighting styles. Tae yang’s movements emphasize a flowing, dance-infused kicking style – in one scene, he dispatches a dozen enemies encircling him with a continuous series of 540 and 720 degree spinning kicks, all in a single shot! WOW! Wawa, however, favors a more direct, linear and decidedly more traditional approach, which Tae yang comes to see the merit of as well after spending some time training alongside and sparring with her…
“The Kick” is a film that works splendidly on nearly every level. The action is both finessed and impactful, and few modern martial arts films have portrayed both the eye-popping XMA-dancing with the more traditional “Best of the Best”-esque style of taekwondo alongside one another. The film is also more family friendly than one might expect from Thai-style action with its focus on the father-son rift between Mun and Tae yang and it’s manifestation in both the film’s central conflict, and each one’s approach to taekwondo. It’s just pity that, in a film bearing the title “The Kick”, no one thought to call up the prodigious, legendary Korean super-kicker, Hwang Jang-lee just for an added bit of legitimacy. C’est la vie!
- The principal cast of the film are part of the taekwondo demo team known as the K-Tigers, see their YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/Ktigerstkd
- Master Mun’s opponent in the taekwondo tournament that opens the film is Brahim Achabbakhe. He can also be seen showing off his spectacular skills in films such as “The Sanctuary”, “Kill ‘Em All”, “Man of Tai Chi”, and the upcoming “Ninja: Shadow of a Tear”. (You can see our interview with him here too)