The only thing a solid muay thai action flick needs is a loose enough plot to get the characters from point A to fight scene B, but once you get everyone ready to rumble, you have to point the camera in the right direction and showcase some great martial arts. Seems simple enough, but Fireball proves that not all martial arts movies are made equal and that aiming the camera in the right direction is tougher than it seems.
Tai (Preeti Barameeanat) gets out of jail thanks to bail money from his twin brother (played by the same actor) who is sadly in a coma from all the money-raising/underground mob activity he’s engaged in. So, Tai goes underground and joins a Fireball team as well to avenge his brother’s coma.
First of all, I understand that this is an action flick first and foremost, so the story doesn’t necessarily have to be of the highest caliber, which is fortunate because it isn’t. It’s pretty bare bones, although it’s a little unnecessarily confusing at times and it throws in a strange, also unnecessary, love story between Tai and his twin brother’s girlfriend Pang (Khanutra Chuchuaysuan). Beyond that (and the wholly uninteresting quiet moments between them), there’s a lot of guns and money being exchanged and drugs and all the great stuff you’d expect from a mob film. Plus, we get the added bonus of a convoluted sport that the underground has organized (it’s always nice to see mortal mob enemies working together on something even if it’s not a Fantasy Football Pool).
The sport is incredibly simple – five on five, first team to make a basket wins, and if no one makes a basket, the team with a person left standing at the end wins by default. Also, watch out for shivs.
This sounds great. After all, it essentially means that there will be a lot of fighting, wanton violence, and a great deal of blood spilled in the paint. All great things. Unfortunately, this is where things begin to derail for the film.
The first reason, I admit, is because I’m usually too logical even when watching a film like this. Even when expecting the bare minimum to get the violence ball rolling, I guess I demand too much when it comes to fitting those pieces together, and the basketball concept just seems far too gimmicky to work as long as writer/director Thanakorn Pongsuwan wants it to. As soon as the ball is thrown into the court, the players start fighting (which is great), but it kept me wondering why they kept up the ruse of the game. No one seems interested in actually getting the ball in the hoop, which would probably keep some of them from breaking bones or ending up dead. So why have the game at all? Just put ten guys into a cage and have them battle it out.
On a personal note, and decent advice if you ever find yourself in the situation, I would not dribble the ball if elbows and knees were flying at me. So at least the film was educational.
So the game seems like a thin, silly premise for fighting – which would have been cool if the ball had been incorporated more into the fighting. There are a couple great hits when someone goes up for a dunk and gets an elbow to the face instead, but not nearly enough to avoid the grand question of what the appeal of the court was. As it stood, there was just no reason for the game to exist. But, yes, I realize that I’m questioning the gimmick of a muay thai film.
On the more serious front, the fighting just isn’t all that impressive. Not nearly as fast as other muay thai films, and a lot of the moves are pretty basic – never escalating, never jaw-dropping. There’s even a Parkour segment of the team training by trying to get from one apartment building complex down to a neighborhood basketball court that looks like everyone is running on half-steam. There are some cool moments, but for the most part, everything is a bit underwhelming – especially considering how much fat is built up around the meat of the movie.
My other major problem was the camera work. Not only are the moves not all that exciting, the camera has trouble focusing on the fighters in any clear way. It moves like an unseen eleventh man on the court, randomly checking out different fights, but missing the best hits. Imagine you’re on a basketball court with ten men all fighting each other all over the place. You wouldn’t know where to look, and, unfortunately, the cinematographer couldn’t figure it out either.
Over all, there will be some nuggets here for fight fans, but it’s a lot to sit through for some lackluster moves. There are other, far superior action films out there. Obviously Chocolate and Ong Bak, but even an average fighting flick outshines this one.
The Upside: A few interesting moves, and a final fight scene that makes absolutely no sense but delivers on the blood.
The Downside: A thin gimmick, a strange love story plot, and camera work that doesn’t even capture the mediocre fighting all that well.
On the Side: There are no actual basketballs on fire in this film despite the title and the image on the DVD case.