The Great Challenge (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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A group of highly accomplished and fearless athletes, whose breakneck skills include leaping from rooftops and scaling vertiginous facades, goes to Bangkok to set up a gym and explore the local cityscape. Once there, they encounter a gang of Thai athletes who, betraying their own heritage, have pledged allegiance to the Japanese Yakuza, aiming to destroy the local triad and gain control of the city. Bonus features include a making-of featurette.
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While I was somewhat disappointed in the fight scenes, I have to keep in mind that this isn't a martial arts movie. However, I do concede that other facets of the movie made up for this. The stunts and acrobatics were consistent with the precedent that B13 set and the cinematography was surprisingly creative and could be compared artistically to films like The City of Violence. If you're like me though and looking for an ACTUAL martial arts movie, but with an eclectic blend of parkour, gymnastics and breakdancing, I recommend Raging Phoenix.
The plot of this movie is pretty much irrelevant and exists mostly as an excuse to showcase the acrobatic abilities of the cast. However, the story is consistent, suffers no continuity errors and adequately ties the action scenes together. The only thing that I thought was weird is the fact that, although the cast speaks French throughout the entire movie, it takes place in two cities; London and Bangkok. Despite this, English and Thai are only spoken by anonymous characters in the background and the non-French comments are not included in the subtitles.
Audio options include French 2.0 Dolby Stereo (original) or English 5.1 Dolby Digital (dubbed) with optional English or Spanish subtitles. Another reviewer complained that there was no French audio and no special features on their copy, but both are present on mine, so presumably they received a bootleg.
This movie does an exemplary job of showing people what these kids can do; and they can do some amazing things. Here is a series of really cool stunts, glued together with a hasty plot. Ignore the story- an old chinese man in ghost form guides our heroes on the path to being peaceful warriors, even the ones he isn't related to. What we're looking at here is the action, which more than makes up for our time.
I would recommend this movie to people interested in finding out more about parkour or people who like it enough to want to see some stylish examples of it. Since most of us tend to be action fans, there's plenty of fun fight choreography to watch as well.
As I've mentioned, this movie seemed, to me, to be an audition tape for parkour, or 'free-running', the art of movement. I hope it does well in that regard- parkour is a fascinating development of urban culture, and I'm excited to see what it can do, for stunts and filmmaking, for martial arts, for sports. People really can do some amazing things just with the bodies they were born with. I submit "The Great Challenge' to back up this declaration. Try it and see what I mean.
The story: a newly-established parkour team travels from France to Thailand to hone their skills, but quickly get caught up in the organized crime scene, which has been tense ever since the forging of a shaky alliance between the Tongs and the Yakuza...
I won't get into it too much, but the plot really is one big mishmash, to the point that you'd have to watch the movie twice to even remember the names of all of the characters. For ease of reference, most of the starring cast belong to the Yamakasi parkour team and were previously featured in a self-named vehicle. With the notable exception of Elodie Yung (District 13: Ultimatum), most of them aren't actors but generally do a good job at furthering the long-winded tale. Even if you're not in the mood for paying attention to the plot, the movie boasts rich, engaging cinematography that is in itself more interesting than any of the dialogue.
Of course, the action scenes are what make a movie like this, and by conventional standards, what you see is pretty good. Stunt coordinator Seng Kawee (Ong-Bak) and fight choreographer Xin Xin Xiong (Time and Tide) wrangle about four parkour demos, two fistfights, and one combination of both. Scenarios include an acrobatic game of hot potato on rooftops, a massive swordfight, a fight on a bamboo scaffold, and our heroes using their skills to escape gun-wielding attackers. By and by, these are entertaining and abundant enough to satiate the casual viewer, but not without debilitating faults: questionable camerawork and quick-cut editing are the bane of any modern action movie, but when applied to free running panoramas like here, they're loads more maddening. No, the scenes are not completely ruined and the action still looks decent, but all the while, I couldn't help but imagine how much better they would have looked if the camera had just been pulled back a few more feet or a shot been allowed to run for a few seconds longer in several scenes.
A few scenes that try to enhance the characters' personality (one fellow communes with his dead grandfather in a Buddhist temple, another learns muay thai from a master) aren't too effective and could have easily been cut from the movie, which would have then been left at a slim 80 minutes. All around, as it is, it's not nearly as good as it could have been but is vastly superior to the dozens of low-expectation movies being made cheaply nowadays. "The Great Challenge" borders on a four-star rating but misses out due to its scratchy story and overzealous editing. Nevertheless, it's worth a buy if you like this kind of stuff and will definitely make you take notice of the Yamakasis. Here's to hoping their next film eliminates these faults!