Fantastic Review: ‘Bunohan’ is Familiar Drama Disguised as a Kick-Boxing Movie

By  · Published on September 26th, 2011

It’s a terrible thing, walking away from a movie mentally criticizing it for all of the things it didn’t include based on one’s expectations. But it’s hard to go into a film like Bunohan, a film set in the world of Muay Thai kickboxing, and not expect a little energy. The American audience that has been exposed to the exports of Malaysia has all but been conditioned to expect bone-crunching action when Muay Thai is involved. So sitting down for Bunohan and finding it to be 90% family crime drama and 10% boxing comes as a bit of a shock. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work, just that it’s not what you might expect.

The story follows Adil, an up and coming kickboxer who is in deep with a club manager in Thailand. Narrowly rescued by his friend from a fight that he was supposed to be in “to the end,” he is dragged back into Malaysia, to his hometown of Bunohan, which is translated as “murder.” From there, the town begins to live up to its name. The club owner hires a knife-wielding assassin named Ilham to hunt down Adil, not knowing that Ilham is, in fact, Adil’s brother. The two men each come to odds with their third brother, who is trying to extort the family’s land and develop it as a resort. All in all, everyone keeps with some sinister motives and in between a few boxing scenes, blood is shed. There’s also a woman that is half crocodile.

It’s worth mentioning because that is part of some of the most interesting work director Dain Said does in his film. Most of the time spent with these characters is slow, exposition-heavy scenes filmed in stunning locales. But every once in a while the film, sometimes too effortlessly, goes into a dreamlike world that includes mythical creatures, supernatural rituals and a bit of magic. It’s subtle, and if you’re not paying close attention it might feel like a bit of a dream to you, as well, but it gives the film an edge of fascination in an otherwise familiar tome. That, and there is some kick-boxing. Bones are broken, ties between siblings are tested and deception is abound. And as long as you don’t go in hoping for a lot of in-ring carnage, there’s plenty of dramatic punch to behold on your trip to Bunohan. You just have to wade through a great deal of inaction in order to get to it.

The Upside: Very solidly weaved deception story that integrates family, religion and social commentary. Some supernatural

The Downside: It’s a grim drama that takes its time setting up a familiar climax. It takes it’s time a little too much, causing many an audience member to lose interest.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)