The Kick, a Thai/Korean colab, keeps faith with a staple of director Prachya Pinkaew's: phenomenal action beats framed in a weak narrative. Prachya Pinkaew has built up impressive cachet, having guided the likes of Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Tom-Yum-Goong, and Chocolate to international acclaim. The Kick tracks a Korean family of taekwondo practitioners that immigrates to Bangkok, Thailand and sets up a martial arts school.
The movie opens 28 days away from the Olympic tryouts and with the patriarch, Master Moon Sa-beom (Jae-hyeon Jo), psyched about the opportunity for the fam to win a gold medal. Master Moon is one of them stern, autocratic sorts whose word is absolute and final. He's pushing his oldest son, Tae Yang (Tae-joo Na), to master the particularly difficult tornado kick. This doesn't sit well with Tae Yang. He'd rather be a dancer than a martial artist. In fact, Tae Yang has got an audition on the sly, and this ultimately gets in the way of his taekwondo training. Watch the daddy drama attain combustible levels. But the father-son mad-on is only the sub-plot.
The story's main thrust revolves around the family's foiling the theft of an invaluable Thai national relic - the Kris of Kings - by a well-coordinated gang of thieves. For their intervention, the family is celebrated as heroes. But you just know the big bad entrepreneur (Kwan-hun Lee) - who'd masterminded the heist - is seething and plotting a retaliation.
The Kick's flimsy plot still delivers a bag of treats. The bad guy dramatics are often offset by these injections of humor, with the cast occasionally plying their martial arts to comic effect. I belly laughed all the way thru that scene in which the family is on stage to showcase their taekwondo skills - but the floor proves too slippery.
The draw is the action. The movie trots out a parade of dynamic physical sequences. I appreciate that the actors are all martial arts experts and perform their own stunts. The three principals you must keep your eye on are the high-flying Tae-joo Na, Kyung-suk Kim (who plays his sister Tae Mi), and the always awesome JeeJa Yanin (who comes in around 40 minutes in). Tae-joo Na and Kyung-suk Kim are stupendous whirling dervishes with their speed and their acrobatic spin kicks while Jeeja Yanin - who, based on Chocolate alone, is today my favorite female martial artist - stays more grounded but is as just explosive with her forceful application of Muay Thai. By the way, that's another bonus - that we're treated to side-by-side exhibitions of taekwondo and Muay Thai fighting. But my favorite action set is probably Tae-joo Na's fight scene in which he incorporates hip hop dancing into his taekwondo. It's so silly but also awesome.
Spelling police! Thumbs down on the filmmakers' lack of attention to detail. It's such a tiny thing, but it bugged me for minutes when I saw that poster in the movie promoting the International Museum of Thailand - site of the Kris of Kings exhibition - and "Museum" was spelled "Musume."
The story is sketchy, the acting is whatever, the spelling falters. Yet, on the basis of how sweet the fight scenes are, The Kick gets 3.5 of 5 stars from me. And do stick around for the closing credits for behind-the-scenes footage of the injuries accrued by the cast and stuntmen. It's like we almost owe it to the cast and crew to watch this footage to acknowledge the hard and extremely dangerous stunt work they'd put in. Respect, man.