BRAWL is the first Thai action film I know of to be directed by a woman (Julaluck Ismalone), as well as the only starring vehicle to date of martial artists Jawed El Berni and Jak Kanokpodjananon. Berni's since made impressive appearances in movies like NINJA II (2013), while Kanok's set to perform in Tony Jaa's upcoming A MAN WILL RISE Both of these guys are cool to watch and the movie has all the makings of a star-setter, but it enters into a market already so deeply saturated with Thai karate flicks that it fails to stand out. Should either of the leading men make it big in movies, this one could attain more retrospective value, but for now, it's a fun but insignificant time-waster.
The story: A western immigrant (Berni) and a Bangkok boxer (Kanok) band together to participate in a high-stakes underground fighting circuit.
The film builds up both of its leading men as well-rounded performers, but they don't stand very tall because there's not much to bolster them with. To be fair, Jak and Jawed are outstanding physical specimens and decent actors given the language difficulties, but while you may have seen the latter in movies before, this film is how they're introducing themselves to the world, and they don't make the most lasting impression. Performers this green tend to benefit from having a bit of star power around them, but unless you consider David Ismalone a star, they're alone by themselves in a sea of unfamiliar, unmemorable faces. The movie features plenty of fighting but lacks punch: a genuine attempt is made at drama, but it's difficult to forge an emotional connection with anybody in here, and even most of the action lacks gravitas - it's just fighting for the sake of it.
With that said, the action is relatively cool as a pure spectacle, and luckily, the filmmakers build the bulk of the vehicle on the martial efforts of the fighters. There are about 14 brawls, and most of them are fun in a general way. There's definitely too much slow motion, though it's mostly segregated to only about half of the bouts. With the exception of Mr. Ismalone and Patrick Tang - the latter of which engages in the best singles match of the bunch - the on screen combatants are virtual nobodies, but many of which have some entertaining moves to show. Jawed in particular stands out, and he's clearly trying to live up to his modern peers, but his on screen buddy also demonstrates some serious stamina during the final fight - a long and intricate brawl comprised of only a handful of lengthy shots.
The only thing about this one that truly irritates me is the foolishness of the leads: Jawed's character makes some of the worst financial decisions a new immigrant can, and Jak's role sees him putting the lives of three people - including himself - at risk just so he can appear mysterious and dramatic. It's also a little disappointing that director Ismalone doesn't necessarily direct the movie any differently than a male counterpart would (e.g. the only substantial female character remains a passive object), but I have hopes that she'll improve her cumulative formula in time. BRAWL is largely worth it for viewers who just can't get enough fight scenes, but most of us can consider this a rental.