Muay Thai Warrior (2011) – By Duane L. Martin

Muay Thai Warrior takes place in he early part of the 1600s, after King Naresuan waged the elephant war against Hongsawadee. Ayothaya won the war, but peace was never fully achieved, and a group of men dressed as soldiers of the Hongsawadee army constantly ransacked and harassed the Siamese people. King Naresuan sent orders to all the village heads and the volunteer armies of their allied nations to find these men and to stop them at all costs.

Yamada Nagamasa was a Japanese soldier in their volunteer army, and Japan, as an ally of King Naresuan and his people, aided them in finding the culprits. Yamada was a fine warrior and lead a team that set out to stop them. After discovering a group of raiders and killing them all, they discovered that the raiders were actually Japanese men in disguise. Yamada took this information to his commander, but unfortunately, unbeknownst to Yamada or his commander, the man who was the commander’s second, was the leader of these raiders. Once the secret was discovered that the raiders were really Japanese, he send his fighters to kill Yamada and his men as they staggered home drunk from a festival one night. Yamada and his men fought bravely, but were overwhelmed. His men were killed, and he was gravely wounded. That’s when four men of Ayothaya jumped into the alley and proceeded to kill them all. They discovered Yamada alive, and not knowing why he was attacked, took him back to their village, Phitsanuloke Song Kwae on the river in Ayothaya where their village leader, a Buddhist monk, healed his wounds and saved his life. The village took him in, and soon in his heart, thanks to the friendship and care they so freely gave to him, he became one of them.

The men of the village practiced a martial art called Muay Thai Boxing, that was far superior to the Japanese martial arts Yamada had learned as a soldier. Once he had convinced the monk that his heart truely belonged to Ayothaya, the monk consented to teach him. He excelled at learning and soon became so adept, that the monk entered him into the competition to become the Tanai Luek, the king’s personal bodyguard, which he won handily.

Now Yamada must protect his new homeland and his new king from Hongsawadee agressors, but there’s still some business from his past that he must take care of as well before he can finally be free of the bonds that connect him to his old life. He will not see the Japanese reputation tarnished, so either he has to stop the evil that has penetrated their forces, or he will take the secret with him to the grave.

This was a long synopsis I know, but there was a lot going on in this film, so it’s rather difficult to pick out the more important bits to mention. In any case, let’s get on with the review…

Let’s start off with the visuals. This film is just amazing to look at. The settings are all just absolutely gorgeous. Everything from the city on the river with it’s beautiful buildings, to the ruins with the Buddah Statue to the festival area in Japan. If you’ve never thought about visiting Thailand, this film will definitely make you want to go there. For those who don’t know, Thailand was originally known as Siam, but changed it’s name to Thailand on the 23rd of June, 1939.

The characters in the film are really sort of inspiring. You have Yamada who is infinitely honorable, even to the point of taking a secret to his grave to protect the reputation of the Japanese people. His adoption of a new homeland and integration with its people and the way they treat him, I don’t know, it’s just sort of inspiring. I honestly can’t imagine finding friendship and love being so freely given in today’s harsh, cold world where most people are only out for themselves, or have alterior motives. The people of Ayothaya are just as honorable as Yamada, and as tough as stone, and they inspire him to be even better than he already was.

One particularly touching relationship in the film is the one that builds between Yamada and Kham, the man who saved him, along with the others that were there at the time. Kham’s sister Champa nursed Yamada back to health, and they eventually fell in love, and Yamada’s honor and determination to make Ayothaya his home, let to he and Kham swearing an oath to be brothers, and for each to lay down his life to protect the other. This, along with a scene where Yamada had forged a really beautiful sword and presented it to Kham as a thank you for saving his life, were particularly touching moments, and really make you as a viewer feel closer to the characters in the sort of a way where you not only respect them, but you wish you had friends like them in your everyday life.

Then there’s the martial arts. Muay Thai Boxing is a close up form of martial art, using the hands, feet and elbows to damage, disable and ultimately kill your opponent if need be. The Ayothaya people fight with swords as well, and often use a combination of the two. They seem to be equally adept at both forms of fighting. If it were a form of Chinese kung fu, it would probably be called the crazy monkey style, because when you watch them use this style to fight each other, that’s sort of the impression they give. This style of fighting is incredibly effective, super fast and takes a huge amount of discipline. You’re basically turning your body into a weapon, and you can see that the guys in this film have done that. There’s not a fat guy in the bunch, though the monk has filled out a little. All the fighters look like their muscles are made of banded steel, and watching them fight is just insanely entertaining.

As amazing as this film is, there were a few weak points in the story. The relationship between Yamada and Champa was developing as Yamada was becoming one of the Ayothayan people, but then suddenly when he started learning the Muay Thai boxing, she sort of disappeared out of the story for a while. Then at the end when Yamada went back to deal with the man who nearly killed him, the whole setup of the fight felt contrived, awkward and unrealistic. There was no real buildup to it. they’re just suddenly facing each other in the alley where the initial attack took place. I would have liked to have seen Yamada find him somewhere alone as well, where he could fight him one on one rather than having a bunch of the guy’s thugs join in the fight. There would have been less action, but it would have been more intense and dramatic.

One other thing I had an issue with was the use of CGI for sword penetrations and blood splatters. It just didn’t look good at all, and was so obviously CGI that it really detracted somewhat from the amazing fighting that was going on in the scenes where it was used. The fighting in this film is just so well done, but then to add that and not have it look that good…I guess it was just a little disappointing. It was’t horrible at all, but it was so obvious, that it just felt out of place in such an otherwise gorgeous film.

The character of Yamada is an actual historical figure. This title was at the end of the film and explains who he was and what happened after the end of the film in real life:

Yamada Nagamasa loyally served Ayothaya until King Songtham’s period. He bore the title of "Orkyasenapimuk" and later was appointed to the "Governor of Nakornsrithammarat". Yamada passed away in 1633 holding on to his commitment: "This land was not my birthplace, but where my soul would rest."

The film itself was based on both historical facts and a combination of the imaginations of the film’s producers to commemorate the 124th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Japan. They make it very clear in the film that Thailand and Japan are friends and allies, which is a big part of the reason Yamada didn’t want anyone to know it was Japanese men dressed as Hongsawadee soldiers that were terrorizing the people. It would have hurt the trust that had developed between the two peoples.

This new release from Well Go USA doesn’t include any special features unfortunately, aside from the trailer and previews of other releases. It’s a shame that the film makers didn’t make an extra featurette about the Muay Thai Boxing as a martial art and show how they did the fight choreography and such.

In any case, this was a wonderful film, full of heart and some just absolutely incredible fighting. Put this one on your watch list, and if I were you, I’d seriously considering picking up a copy for your collection.

If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the DVD or blu-ray from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.