Just when I thought Thai cinema couldn’t get any stranger, I come across “Muay Thai Giant,” a 2008 action-comedy finally making its debut in America. A highly bizarre mix of “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Little Rascals,” and the average knee-to-the-face martial arts extravaganza, the film is a refreshingly nutty family film that probably shouldn’t be shown to families. Loud, broad, and always aiming to please, “Muay Thai Giant” is an unpredictable charmer that delivers on every silly promise.
After being duped by a prostitute at a nightclub, hulking giant Barney (Nathan Jones) is left on the streets of Thailand without clothes, money, or his passport. Helping the giant sad sack out are two street kids, Dokya (Sasisa Jindamanee, a champion junior kickboxer) and Katen (Nawarat Techarattanaprasert), who bring Barney to their mother and her beachside som tam restaurant. When the big guy has a violent reaction to the spicy dish, he destroys the building, requiring the gang to figure out a plan to make money and rebuild. Already a successful Muay Thai fighter, Dokya returns to the ring to collect some easy cash, only to run into major trouble when a ring of diamond thieves lose a special key to their fortune.
It’s a unique move on part of the production to hire Jones and have him play a Baby Huey role. A seven-foot-tall bear of a man, the mere presence of Jones promises a wild, violent ride where Barney punches and kicks through waves of terrified enemies, using their discarded limbs for toothpicks. Instead, Barney is a mountainous clown here, only truly deployed for heroism in the final act, spending much of the picture either as a puppy dog following the younger characters around or literally red from his chili ingestion, becoming a human tornado when the spicy stuff touches his lips.
With Barney’s antics kept to a minimum, “Muay Thai Giant” works primarily with the younger characters to create a proper rumble, deploying Jindamanee’s pint-sized frame to cause some serious damage to the baddies. Working with wires and forceful choreography (including some pro wrestling maneuvers), the action set pieces are tremendously amusing, with the gang punching and kicking their way to safety, even using Jones as a personal springboard to launch themselves into the air. The film reserves plenty of time for martial art showdowns, with a personal favorite emerging in the form of a papaya stand throwdown, where Dokya fends off a gang threat using the secretive, missile-like power of the fruit to disable her attackers.
I had no idea papaya could be used so violently. After watching this film, it joins the chili on my “Foods to Be Concerned About” list.
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation keeps to clear standards, with the film’s outdoor locations looking natural and detailed throughout the motion picture. Colors are in solid shape with no noticeable bleeding, delivering a good range of blues and greens, while the visual effect enhancements provide the right amount of raging red. Facial textures are comfortable, with a good read on reactions and humidity, while arena sequences are filled with crowd particulars that are easy to spot. The violence also retains its potency, with some bloody wounds to observe. Shadow detail feels a little out of sort with heightened contrast levels, lacking confidence in evening encounters.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is quite aggressive, making a strong impression with the beatings and slapstick. Sound effect nuances are well cared for, creating a dimensional listening experience where the antics enjoy a hearty directional activity, delivering punches and kicks with skilled movement. Low-end response is solid with more forceful hits. Dialogue registers on the thin side, though everything is understood, separated well from the scoring cues. Though the fine sonic edges aren’t provided, the track supplies an active event that supports the visuals. A Thai mix is also included.
English, English Narrative, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are provided.
“Making Of” (6:50) is a brief snapshot of the filmmaking professionals, with cast and crew interviews providing basic information about characters and choreography challenges. Despite a lack of thoughtful information, it’s still pretty neat to see the actors outside of their roles.
“Behind the Scenes” (9:06) collects some B-roll from the shoot, displaying how Jones and the stunt crew staged the fight and destruction sequences, while highlighting some playful behavior from the ensemble.
And an International Trailer has been included.
“Muay Thai Giant” doesn’t present the most groundbreaking screenplay, but the production makes an intensive effort to introduce bizarre and unhinged moments (electric shock being a favorite), allowing for energy the writing doesn’t provide. The end brings Barney front and center, using his recently acquired Muay Thai skills to take on villains and an airplane while hopped up on chili power. It’s a rousing conclusion to a surprisingly consistent and bonkers picture, a film free enough to provide the necessary brutality but also save room for lighter slapstick material, creating one of the few R-rated adventures lenient parents might want to share with their kids.