one of the pleasure of being in the blogosphere, movie division is discovering movies that i would have missed. i was sold on thailand’s power kids, originally titled force of five, after seeing it mentioned in the comment sections of numerous movie sites. the pitch has all the right keywords: die hard in a hospital, with kids. though that’s not an entirely apt description of the movie, this is probably what we would have gotten if jackie chan and his brothers were making movies when they were in that peking opera school when they were kids.
the story focuses on five kids at a muay thai fighting school, it looks like some kind of boarding school/daycare center. kind of a hogwarts except with martial arts program instead of magic. the two who get the most screen time are the girl from muay thai giant and born to fight, sasisa jindamanee, and nantawooti boonrapsap playing wuth. wuth has a younger brother wun, who has a heart problem. after a run-in with some local bullies, involving a rc car race (which is about as exciting as most car races on film with real actors and real cars. the only difference? millions of dollars), wun needs a heart transplant. luckily, another kid in another hospital is getting his plug pulled so wun gets to have a new heart, as soon as the heart gets to the hospital. the only thing that can go wrong is if somehow some unseen unknown forces do something preventing the transporting of the heart.
but the unthinkable happens! a group of terrorists decided to take over the hospital almost at the exact same time the heart is ready to be transported to wun’s hospital. upon seeing this breaking news on tv, the kids swing into action and sneak into the terrorists-filled hospital to try to take the heart themselves.
the die-hard-in-a-hospital description is a bit misleading. the movie is only 77 minutes long, and only about 2/3 of the movie takes place in the terror hospital. the first half hour or so is mostly about the daily lives of the kids, and the mischief they get into. it would be like if they make a die hard movie where they spend 1/3 of it showing john mcclane being a cop and then have him enter the building in the second act. it wouldn’t really be a die hard movie. maybe hard-boiled with kids is a more appropriate sales pitch.
like many martial arts movies, a lot of people will probably have a hard time sitting through the expositions. i don’t have any issue with it since i don’t see that many kids movies, and they are not supposed to be cute or mug for the camera. it’s less torturous to sit through than some of the non action scenes in older jackie chan or ong bak movies. the opening credits, with freeze frames and title cards for each of the kids, show clips of the movie later in the movie like mission impossible. and like your classic action movies, there’s one fight sequence in the first act to show you how badass and well-trained the kids are. for some reason, the two adults they fight (and trick) are both foreigners.
the terrorist group is led by johnny nguyen (the protector, the rebel) but more noteworthy is the fact that there’s a kid in the terrrorist group as well, played by pimchanok leuwisetpaiboon, who is also in bko: bangkok knockout. she doesn’t have as many fight scenes as the two kids in the lead but she plays the silent but menacing terrorist part quite well. at times it makes one wonder whether nguyen or her is the real leader of the group.
i mentioned this not because it’s that crucial to the plot (though it does bring an emotional resonance to the seemingly random jungle war scenes in the opening), but because power kids gets a lot of things right when it comes to kids at that age. early on they were trying to get enough money so they can get a fancy rc car for the sick kid. they end up conning a new student into thinking that they are the muay thai instructor for his money, and they steal money from their teacher. do they know that they should not do that? probably. but they know their goal and they simply go for the easiest way to achieve that goal. similarly, they later sneak into the terrorized hospital not because they are at the wrong place at the wrong time, or that they want to save everyone, but because they know they want the heart and they are going with the simplest, most direct way to get that heart. the way they decide to sneak into the hospital has the best line in the movie.
i also like the fact that the film builds the kids as the underdog. the bullies they encounter are obviously more well off than they are. but then this is almost reversed once we learn that the kid terrorist is part of an indigenous group massacred by the government. having enough money to buy toys is not one of her daily problem.
as mentioned, i try to stay away from kids movies, so it’s interesting to read the reaction to this movie. without the death grip of the mpaa, the action scenes and violence are up there with the usual tony jaa movies. it is rated r here, unlike the expendables 2. for most moviegoers, it’ll be uneasy seeing kids in serious martial arts scenes. instead of the irony and cynicism that make fanboys jizz all over kick-ass, there is something sincere and honest in seeing these kids doing the action scenes for real, and dealing with real life/life and death issues. there are stunts here that recall chan or jaa. i don’t think they use computer or cgi for these scenes. quite a few reviews seem uncomfortable in being unable to categorize it as either a kid’s movie or an action movie. i don’t think everything has to be simple enough just so we can easily digest and fit our mode of thinking. it’s kind of refreshing for me to see a kids movie that doens’t pander, or going out of its way to make the kids cute, funny, sage-like, or forcing them into what adults think kids should be like. they are depicted as simply characters who know what they want, and the abilities to do it.
for those of you familiar with asian action cinema, power kids will not be a waste of time. it’s only 77 minutes long. regardless of how you feel about the first 35 minutes (which really isn’t that bad as far as action film exposition goes), once they get to the hospital, it has some of the best martial arts scenes in recent years.
power kids is currently available on netflix instant, or free on youtube…