Chok Dee - The Kickboxer
Chok Dee doesn’t start in a promising fashion – you could probably write this one yourself. Ryan (Dida Diafat) is a tough guy in a Parisian banlieu – or at least he thinks he is. When he inevitably ends up doing time in prison for petty crime on the streets, he makes sure people know who’s boss and takes down a big guy in a brawl. But that’s all he is, a brawler, and that’s all he’ll ever be, much to the disappointment of his poor mother who comes to visit him in prison. Ryan is determined to do better for himself and his mother, so when he gets put into a cell with an expert French kickboxer, Jean (Bernard Giraudeau), before you can see 10 minutes displayed on your DVD player, Ryan has learned all the moves, and has picked up a smattering of English on the side (you never know, it might come in useful later in the film). Released from prison some unspecified time later, Ryan immediately travels to Bangkok with the intention of making a new life for himself...
Based on the book, Dida, from the Hell of the Banlieus to Hollywood by Dida Diafat, former world kickboxing champion, there’s certainly more than a bit of Hollywood about the manner in which the star relates his own rags-to-riches storyline. Sure enough, when Ryan applies at a Muay Thai boxing school, he has to start at the bottom, cleaning toilets before he can earn the respect of his teachers and peers, who are evidently suspicious of a foreigner in their midst. What do you reckon the chances are that he’ll gain that respect and go on to greater things? You can admire the smooth efficiency of the film’s as the storyline falls into place, but at the same time it’s predictable and consequently it holds no dramatic tension whatsoever – you know that despite the minor setbacks he suffers along the way, his determination and dedication, not to mention his vow to his poor mother, will see him through. The only possible element that could potentially lift the storyline out of the ordinary is that while he is in Bangkok, Ryan has another mission – to hand over a notebook to Kim (Florence Faivre), the daughter of Jean his boxing mentor in prison, a daughter he hasn’t seen since she was five years old. Just as long as this isn’t just an excuse to introduce a love interest for the hero ...oh wait, it is.
If it’s not the storyline that you are going to watch Chok Dee for, then you’ll be watching it for the boxing. On that level, it’s more likely to appeal to those who are already fans of the sport, since there is little here to make it seem attractive or comprehensible to an outsider. If you’ve seen any boxing films at all you can assume that the same principles apply – it’s a sport that offers youths a way out of an underprivileged lifestyle, channelling their aggression in a more disciplined and productive fashion – but there isn’t much background here specifically on Thai Boxing. There is no doubting the authenticity of the fight scenes in Chok Dee, looking less staged and choreographed than conventional boxing films, but there is no background provided on the moves employed. When it comes to the fight scenes then, the uninitiated are left with nothing but a blur of close-up punches and kicks, a montage of knock-out punches, with no ebb or flow, with no context given of the calibre of Ryan’s faceless opponents, without ever any sense of meaning, purpose or strategy.
In reality, it’s all the film needs however, and by keeping this element in the background and not letting it take centre stage (or centre ring if you like), it avoids the trappings of glamorising Dida’s rags-to-riches achievements through the conventional journey towards the “Big Fight”. The crucial crowning moment itself is even undercut when repercussions are felt from the underworld business dealings and illegal matches that support the boxing industry in the film’s obligatory crime sub-plot. The moral that freedom always comes at a price is perhaps not any more original in a sports movie, or indeed handled with any great flair here, but it gives Chok Dee a balance that otherwise might not be found there. Not that balance is necessarily what you want from a film like this.
Chok Dee – The Kickboxer is released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures under their Petit Péché imprint. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is in PAL format, and is not region encoded.
Again, as we’ve come to expect from Peccadillo Pictures and Petit Péché, the transfer is of a high standard. Anamorphically enhanced at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and progressively encoded, the image is stable and colour levels are good, if not quite perfectly balanced. The same goes for blacks and shadow detail, which are reasonably good nonetheless. The image tends towards the softer side of sharpness, but this gives the film a good film-like quality, without excessive grain, with no marks and no digital artefacts.
The film’s original soundtrack, presenting a mix of French, Thai and English language (though none of the English is spoken by native English speakers) comes in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 options, both of which distribute the sound well. There is also an English Dolby Digital 2.0 dub included which, curiously, only overdubs the French language dialogue (which is not extensive) and overdubs Dida himself with an American accent, even though he speaks English for most of the film anyway. The Thai language isn’t dubbed and still requires subtitles, which are included. This means that for most scenes at least the lip-syncing remains good, but it also makes you wonder whether it hasn’t missed the point of having an English dub in the first place.
Correspondingly, there are two subtitle options depending on which audio track you choose. The subtitles for the original soundtrack options translates everything but the English dialogue, i.e. The French and Thai exchanges, while the subtitles for the English dub only provides translation for the undubbed Thai language. There are no hard of hearing subtitles for the spoken English. On-screen captions indicating locations are in the original French and not translated either - i.e. "Birmanie" for Burma.
There are no extra features on the release, only trailers for other Peccadillo Pictures and Petit Péché DVD and cinema releases.
Chok Dee is a solid enough movie that plays largely within the standard conventions of the sports genre or a Jean-Claude van Damme action movie, but has added authenticity from the appearance of former kickboxing World Champion Dida Diafat in the main role. He’s not a great actor evidently, but his blankness of expression nonetheless carries the same intensity that he brings to the fighting sequences. Although there is nothing in the way of extra features, the UK DVD release of Chok Dee by Petit Péché has a good transfer and the film should at least appeal to fans of Muay Thai kickboxing.