Monday, 5 July 2010

Review - 'Force of Five'

This is the story of a bunch of kids who want nothing more than what most kids want: to have a bit of fun. But with these kids, things are a little bit different. First off, they're all full-time students of Muay Thai, under the tutelage of their strict but caring grandfather. Secondly, the youngest of their number has a heart defect. And one fateful day, after a spirited remote control car race gets a bit out of hand (no, really), the young scamp finds himself hospitalised with only hours to live unless a heart transplant can be performed. A suitable donor heart is waiting at another hospital nearby, but the fates are really working against them as on this very day a group of heavily armed and pissed off terrorists have taken that particular hospital under seige. Seeing no viable alternative, the four small soldiers decide to sneak in, find the heart and take it - and woe betide anyone, no matter how big, that gets in their way. 

Alternatively known as Power Kids - a more apt title, really, as only three of the five ever show real fighting skill, and the fifth is a terminally ill infant - Force of Five is, to western eyes at least, a thrilling and fascinating oddity. Never mind the cover image of Johnny Nguyen that Cine-Asia are using on the Region 2 DVD - as the head terrorist, he's not the star of the show at all. This is all about the kids and their serious ass-kicking ability. And these kids - aged, or so I would assume, fifteen at most - really do kick ass. They're not just having schoolyard skuffles in the vein of The Karate Kid - they're holding their own against armed men twice their size. And they're doing so in a film which is clearly aimed at a similarly youthful audience. As such, it's pretty much inconcievable that a film like this would ever get made in the US or UK. We're just not comfortable with mixing kids and violence in such a way, are we? It's just not considered to be in good taste, or sending the right message to our children, is it?

Well, that's too bad for us westerners. Because, taste and decency be damned, Force of Five is some damn fine entertainment.

The real power of this movie is that, whilst it does not shelter the young characters from the horrors of violence, it does not deny the nature of childhood either. Martial arts ability aside, these really do come off as very ordinary kids; for the early part of the film, their concern is not outwitting terrorists but procuring the remote control car that the ill younger brother dreams of owning. Even when the earliest fight scenes come along, there is a certain lightness of touch to befit a more childish sensibility, with room left for their assailants to be de-bagged and pelted with flour as well as taking innumerable flying knees to the head.

But when the shit hits the fan, there's no mistaking that things are serious. Given the amount of collateral damage these terrorists leave in their wake, we're left in no doubt that they're not to be trifled with, and while it never turns into a hardcore gorefest there are still some pretty full-on deaths on show, as the 15 certificate may reflect. But as much as the terrorists mean business, the kids do too; and the most surprising moments of the movie come from the fact that - yes - it really is the kids doing this stuff: flipping through the air, breaking out amazing kicks and punches, smashing through windows. Much of this would be impressive enough from adult performers; from stars so young, it's pretty much mindblowing. And, of course, goes further to underline how a movie like this could never, ever get made in the west. (No, before you ask, Hit Girl in Kick-Ass didn't pull off anything quite as impressive as these kids do.)  

A slight problem this film might face - again in the West at least - is finding its audience. This, I suspect, is something Cine-Asia are anxious about, as might be indicated by their decision to change the title in the UK, plus sell it on the presence of Johnny Nguyen; after all, the cover image above does not give any hint whatsoever that this might be a kid's movie. But really, it is a kid's movie. Force of Five doesn't use violent kids to be shocking and subversive like Kick-Ass does, but rather to directly connect with viewers of that age group. Whether parents would be quite so keen for their young ones to watch so violent a film is another matter, and I suspect a lot of western adults might feel the movie strays a little too far out of their comfort zone. Indeed, I wouldn't go showing it to my son anytime soon, but then he's not even primary school age yet. Personally, I'd say this is absolutely fine for older kids; anyone who can handle the last Harry Potter book should be able to handle this.

Indeed, I can easily see Force of Five becoming one of those gateway movies for young viewers, giving them their first taste of Thai action cinema and pointing them in the direction of the likes of Ong Bak and Chocolate. And adult action lovers shouldn't be deterred, either. While it may get a bit reminscent of BMX Bandits at times, this is still a full-power fight flick, that's sure to strike a chord with the youngster in all of us.

Out today from Cine-Asia, Force of Five gets the Ka-Boomski! seal of approval. Check it out. And in case you missed it before, watch the trailer here.

1 comment:

  1. Saw stuff for this when it came out in HK. Might have to give it a go.

    But, "And they're doing so in a film which is clearly aimed at a similarly youthful audience. As such, it's pretty much inconcievable that a film like this would ever get made in the US or UK" 3 Ninjas, anyone?