Fantasia 2012: ‘The Kick’ Makes Martial Arts a Family Affair
Written by Jong-suk Lee, based on a story by Prachya Pinkaew
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Traditionally, films that pit one country’s martial arts against the martial arts from other countries are blood-soaked chauvinistic affairs like One Armed Boxer and its sequel Master of the Flying Guillotine. Both great films, they up the ante on the Kung Fu bragging rights by having the hero Tien Lung (Jimmy Wang Yu) beat the champions of Japan, Korea, Thailand, India and Tibet with literally one arm tied behind his back – or chopped off, depending on how you look at it.
The Kick is a much more gentle film, turning the battle between Korea’s Tae Kwan Do and Thailand’s Muay Thai into a family comedy and adding Thai star Jeeja Yanin to the winning Korean side to salve any hurt Thai feelings. (Almost deliberately, halfway through the film Jeeja wins a friendly match against the main male Korean lead, Ji-won Ye, and ties against the main female Korean lead.)
The Moon family (father, mother, older son, daughter and younger son) run a Korean restaurant in Bangkok and teach Tae Kwan Do for free to all comers. The head of the family Moon (Jae-hyeon Jo) nearly won an Olympic gold medal for South Korea and now lives vicariously through his son Yoon (Ji-won Ye) who can’t quite perfect the 720 tornado kick that would guarantee him gold at the Olympics. Yoon’s failure to land the move perhaps owing to his distraction over the dance audition that he has arranged behind his father’s back.
When Yoon and his sister foil an attempt to steal a priceless Thai artifact (The Kris of Kings), the family becomes national heroes… and the target of revenge by the criminal gang whose robbery was stopped.
Filled with gags, what elevates The Kick is the way that Prachya Pinkaew’ story and direction use humour to disguise Chekov’s Guns all over the place. Over and over again, the film tells a joke in the first act and then revisits the gag in the third act as a serious plot point, like the mother’s tendency to use kitchen implements to supplement her Tae Kwan Do – a culinary percussionist.
An even better example is Yoon’s dancing. Beginning as a distraction that appears to hurt his Tae Kwan Do, Yoon comes to realize that adding dancing to his Tae Kwan Do make him virtually unstoppable, both dangerous and unpredictable. The film’s infectious K-Pop songs become part of the story as Yoon begins to use the songs the way that Popeye uses spinach.
Like many martial arts films from the Far East, The Kick makes great use of stunts that no one in North America would even think about including a ridiculous sequence where Uncle Mum (Thai funny-man Petchtai Wongkamlao) sucks up propane gas to turn himself into a flame thrower, leading directly to his opponent getting slammed directly onto the now-lit propane burner.
The revelation of The Kick is Jeeja Yanin. Freed from having to support the film all by herself as she did in Chocolate and Raging Phoenix, Jeeja blossoms in a more supporting role. Still as physically impressive in her stunt work, Jeeja reveals herself to be a surprisingly subtle actress, flirting with Ji-won Ye, but still prepared to kick him on to his ass when he disrespects her abilities.
The Kick is the rare martial arts film that can be enjoyed by the whole family, using humour to blunt the impact of its violence and to camouflage the complexities of its plot.
– Michael Ryan