In Thai With English and Chinese Subtitles
Genre: Action/Martial Arts
Director: Thanakorn Pongsuwan
Cast: Preeti ‘Bank’ Barameeanant,
9 Million Sam, Anuwat ‘Earth’ Jeg, Kumpanat ‘Johnny’
Ungsoongnern, Karnnut ‘Bas’ Samerjai, Kanutra ‘Eam’
Chuchuaysuwan, Arusha ‘A’ Tosawas, Putarit Prohmbrundarn
RunTime: 1 hr 29 mins
Released By: Shaw & InnoForm Media
Rating: NC -16 (Violence)
Official Website: fireballthemovie.com
Opening Day: 14 May 2009
Tai is released from prison to discover his twin brother Tan has been in a coma for the past year. Tan has entered the world of Fireball, a violent game based on the sport of basketball that is hosted by underground criminal gangs. Apparently, Tan entered the Fireball matches so as to raise money for Tai’s early release.
However, Tan was brutally beaten by another player, Tun. Tai agrees to join Den’s team so that he can track down the man who injured his brother.
Tai is befriended by his teammates: Singh, a Thai-boxing champion who simply wants to prove that he is the best; Muk, a Thai-African who needs money to support his family; IQ, a cheerful soul who only wants to help his mother; and K, an old friend of Tan who has a mysterious past… Tai and his teammates must risk their lives and fight their way to the final round of the deadly Fireball championships so that Tai can avenge his brother on the court, where murder is legal.
If the Chinese can mix kung fu with basketball (i.e. Jay Chou’s Kung Fu Dunk), so too can the Thais mix their own brand of martial arts with the sport. The result is something called Fireball, a brutal, no-holds-barred game where two teams of five players each fight it out Muay Thai-style on the court to be the first to get that basketball into the hoop.
Since this is an underground sport, the rules are few and simple. Weapons are allowed. Killings are permitted. If no one gets the ball into the hoop, then the team with the last man standing (yes, literally standing) wins the game. In this competition, you don’t have to be a good basketball player to win. No, you’re better off practising your punches and kicks than your hoop shooting and ball passing.
And by that measure, this is a film not for basketball fans, but for fans of Muay Thai. There’s very little by way of good game skills on display; rather, it’s an all-out bloody fistcuffs and high kicks fight to the finish. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty to delight in this movie. Filmed gritty-style in Bangkok’s ghetto areas, this is no glamorous sport but one’s that as vicious and violent as it can get.
There’s no question that the fight sequences are the highlight of this movie and they surely do not disappoint. Each game is as gripping as the next thanks to the Tony Jaa-like brand of real and realistic martial arts that’s a fixture of the new wave of Thailand action films. Credit must be given to the production team for designing each match differently from the other- there’s a game where one of the teams wields steel bars, another fought in the rain, and the climactic fight set in an abandoned shipyard with stacks of wooden timbers like an obstacle course- so you won’t get bored with just more of the same.
Unfortunately, when the action stops, that’s when the movie stalls. The story of Tai, an ex-con released from prison to find his twin brother Tan lying in a coma at the hospital, and subsequently joins the underground sport to avenge him is hardly original. Worse still, it is here drenched in melodramatic excesses. Ditto for the feeble, half-hearted attempts at crafting a back-story for each of the other characters on Tai’s team- each turns out just as lacklustre as the other at trying to milk some sympathy.
At least the fresh, young cast still look credible in their roles- rock singer Preeti “Bank” Barameeanant, real-life professional boxer 9 Million Sam, ex-pro basketball player Anuwat Saejao, rising star basketball player Kannut Samerjai and and ex-national goalkeeper Kumpanat Ungsoongnern. In particular, 9 Million Sam (yes, what an intriguing name) steals the show- and also the thunder- by proving himself to be one agile fighter despite his slightly diminutive build, his round kicks particularly impressive.
One year was how long the actors trained for their roles in this movie, according to director and co-screenwriter Thanakorn Pongsuwan, and certainly, the hard work has paid off. So too the effort into making this a hardcore action film- the fights without a doubt intense and captivating. Pity the story though, which could have used a lot more work to make the characters more engaging. As it is, Fireball is only good for its action and nothing more.
(Just another excuse to show off Thailand’s most famous martial arts- but at least the fight scenes are worth it)
Review by Gabriel Chong