Two professional basketball players were recently suspended for the remainder of the season by the NBA for brandishing firearms in the workplace. Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton got into serious trouble for their actions but, to their credit, at least they didn't start shooting each other on the court. Neither, by the way, do the players in the Thai action flick Fireball -- they just beat the crap out of each other.
Fireball, which was released on DVD last week, combines basketball with Thai boxing. Director Thanakorn Pongsuwan says that he wanted to try something different; setting the action on a basketball court serves two purposes. First, it enlarges the field of play for the martial arts action while still limiting it to a set stage. Second, pitting two teams of "players" against each other creates a dizzying array of battles to fill the screen. Thus, the tired premise of savage, underground duels to the death, controlled by shadowy criminal figures gambling large sums of money on the outcome, gets a fresh coat of
Pongsuwan amps up the violence and films in such a way that it's often difficult to figure out what's going on. The quick cuts and crazy angles help cover up the extensive wire work. And the basketball is really incidental to the bashing and the kicking. Between the action scenes, though, we get to know the player / warriors on one team, and the plight of the characters adds some nice, if secondary drama to the fisticuffs.
Recently released from prison, Tai (Pretti Barameeanant, pictured below) learns that his twin brother Tan is in a coma. His brother's girlfriend tells him Tan was involved in street basketball but knows that something illegal was involved. Tai goes undercover, pretending to be his brother, and is quickly recruited to play on a five-man team for the underground boxing / basketball blood sport.
The action comes first, but then we learn that everyone has a story, even the criminal drug lord who runs the team. The drama focuses on the desperate straits of the players and their families, giving the intense battles more meaning, especially when the rules are explained: whoever scores first, or is left standing, wins.
Fireball is lively and inventive -- I especially liked a lengthy foot chase through multiple floors of an apartment building -- and is a satisfying twist on old tropes. It's available now on Region 1 DVD, complete with an English-language dub track and 12-minute behind the scenes mini-feature.