Thailand’s legendary king of action filmmaking, Panna Rittikrai, left us all too soon with his untimely death in 2014, but he left behind a legacy of daredevil stunt work and death-defying thrills care of his action-packed filmography. With the release of his final film, “Vengeance of an Assassin”, fans of home-grown, Thai-style action got one last taste of the kind of magic Master Panna could work, and isn’t it just a sweet, CRASH, BOOM, BANG thrill cocktail indeed!
Dan Chupong and Nantawut Boonrupsub assume the roles of Thee and Than, raised by their loving uncle Nohm, played by Ping Lumprapleng, after the murder of their parents as children. Kowit Wattanakul portrays the villainous Chai, while Nisachon Tuamsongnern plays Ploy, a young woman who comes into their lives amid Than’s quest to find his parents’ killer. And they all find themselves on the run from a legion of assassins, which includes stuntman extraordinaire Kazu Patrick Tang.
Since the murder of their parents during their childhood, brothers Thee and Than have been raised by their haplessly drunken but well-intentioned uncle. Despite the objections of his brother and uncle Nohm, the now adult Thee still has vengeance on his mind, becoming an assassin with the ultimate aim of fulfilling his vendetta against his parents’ killers. However, after Thee refuses to kill a young woman named Ploy whom he had been contracted to assassinate, his employer sends a team of hitmen after him and, and after Than and Uncle get caught up in the situation, Thee quickly discovers that his mysterious employer may have had a hand in his and Than’s parents’ murder.
As is generally the case with most Thai action films, and certainly with Master Panna’s filmography specifically, “Vengeance of an Assassin” could just have fittingly been titled “People Get Hurt: The Movie” without sounding a mite bit incongruous whatsoever!
One could devote an entire review to just the opening set piece alone which can best be described as “Muay Thai Soccer”, with our two heroes and half a dozen stuntmen slamming their shins into one another’s faces, bodies, and, well, shins, while attempting to get hold of a soccer ball inside of a vacant warehouse. Of course, by our minimal Western standards of pain tolerance, that’d be plenty, but Master Panna makes sure to give the players plenty of opportunities to fall off of their encompassing surroundings or fight over the ball on a floor covered with hot charcoal.
The opening of the film proves to be something of a framing device for the rest of the film, as “Vengeance of an Assassin” boasts some of the most inventive, outside-of-the-box fight choreography of Master Panna’s career. Characters in this melee utilize their immediate environs and tools reminiscent of the way Jackie Chan did in the 80’s era of his “Police Story” films.
That approach is visibly exemplified during Thee’s battle in an auto repair shop with a swarm of opponents. Our hero uses everything from wrenches, and a hubcap to windshield wipers and a license plate to fend off his enemies. Granted, this specific fight sequence, as fantastic as it is, does push the bounds of belief to its absolute limit. I’m no doctor, but I do question whether anyone could actually survive being impaled through the chest with a pipe…as I said, “People Get Hurt: The Movie”!
And if you think that’s the most inventive means of appropriating seemingly harmless external articles as weapons of war that “Vengeance of an Assassin” has to offer, just wait until the smackdown on a moving train where Thee goes full Wolverine on his opponents with nothing more than a chicken bone.
There’s also no shortage of people getting kicked off the train in increasingly wince-worthy ways, and for being the film’s only significant utilization of CGI, the inevitable train crash that caps the sequence off isn’t too bad itself. Kazu Patrick Tang (who features on KFK’s Hall of Fame) also gets to show off what he can do as the most prominent of evil henchman of the film, going out like a champ with the fall he’s tasked with taking. The film also sees Master Panna take a real shot at John Woo-esque action with two major gun battles rendered in glorious tracking shots – the second of which wraps into the finale. This scene takes plenty of chances to incorporate many “Wow” moments such as combatants kicking through glass to hit their opponent on the other end. Still, testimony to Master Panna’s goal to make every set piece of the film jaw-dropping in its own unique way, the gun battle in the finale emerges as an all-time classic, a must for fans of “Hard Boiled” and the “John Wick” movies.
As Master Panna’s swan song that no one knew he was making, “Vengeance of an Assassin” has nothing on its mind but kicking ass and taking names which it does in spades. Every action sequence brings some unique challenge, environment, and very often weapon of combat to the table, and is singularly concerned with being a highlight reel of stunt men busting their guts for our entertainment. “Vengeance of an Assassin” wants nothing more than to blow you away with insane stunt work and martial arts mayhem; it succeeds with flying colours to position itself with the alternate title of “People Get Hurt: The Movie”!
- Panna Rittikrai passed away on July 20th, 2014. The film was released on November 14th in Thailand, and is dedicated in his memory.
- Dan Chupong previously worked with Panna Rittikrai on “Ong Bak 3” and 2004’s “Born to Fight”, a remake of Master Panna’s eponymous 1984 film.
- “I’m just human. Those memories haunt me. They are embedded right here.” – Thee (explaining his need for vengeance to his uncle while pointing to his head.)
Film Rating: 8.5/10
What are your impressions of “Vengeance of an Assassin”, did you see it? Which incredible action scenes from Panna Rittikrai’s body of work amped you up and dropped your jaw the most? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Click into our intoxicating FUniverse and check out this interview with Master Panna’s first Western protege, Marrese Crump!)