THIS GIRL IS BADASS (aka JUKKALAN) (2011) review

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The budding Thai martial arts star Jeeja Yanin’s third and latest film as a lead, This Girl is Badass was directed and co-stars Petchtai Wongkamlao, a popular Thai comedian best known worldwide as Tony Jaa’s comic relief in the Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong films. JJ plays Jukkalan, a bike delivery girl who runs afoul of rival mobsters who hired her and whose dirty money she kept for herself. But this short plotline accounts only for a small fraction of the film’s scenes (mostly the action scenes). The bulk of the film actually focuses on Jukkalan’s world : her uncle Sawang (Petchtai Wongkamlao), who secretly pines for a pretty widow (Siriporn Eiamsuk) whose late husband he actually assassinated in his violent and unspoken past (this sounds somber but is treated in a very matter-of-fact way in the film, and never addressed when the two get closer) ; her boss Samureng (Akom Preedakul), a good-natured weirdo with a knack for outrageous outfits ; Duan (Chalerm Yamchamang), a lovesick and awkward boy who loves her but can’t seem to catch a break ; and, among a few others, Pong (Athit Amonwet) the boy she loves, but who she finds out is actually more interested in ‘elephant fights’ (we’ll let you guess or discover what that means).

Thai comedy generally doesn’t travel well outside of its country of origin ; the only ones to have had some kind of international release were Petchtai Wongkamlao’s Bodyguard 1 & 2, and even then it was mostly because they featured a healthy dose of action and cameos by Tony Jaa. Again, action and the presence of a martial arts star are the main reasons for the American video release of This Girl is Badass. The late Panna Rittikrai choreographs the three action scenes in the film with his usual flair, and Jeeja Yanin is always joy to watch when fighting. Creative use is made of bikes, bike parts and bike racks, and while the action pales a bit in comparison to the actress’ previous films Chocolate and Raging Phoenix, it’s still pleasant, inventive and of course, brutal. Of course, three action scenes, two of which are rather short, isn’t much for a film starring Jeeja Yanin and entitled This Girl is Badass. But that’s only the baiting international title : the film’s original title, Jukkalan, is honest enough in that it doesn’t promise action per se. Adjusted expectations, not in terms of quality but in terms of genre content, are key to enjoying the film.

And what makes this film delightful is actually the comedy. Even with a percentage of its humor flying over our head due to its referential or very local nature, This Girl is Badass remains an often hilarious film when viewed in the right state of mind and provided one can appreciate highly offbeat comedy. It goes from situational comedy (misunderstandings abound) to sharply blunt dialogue (“Are you sure your mother didn’t raise the placenta ?”) ; from random, zany details (Jukkalan’s boss wears an outfit that includes a thong, eyebrow extensions and the world’s tiniest cowboy hat, and goes around on some kind of fluffy and very slow mechanical horse) to straight-up parody (the final action scenes spoofs a lot of gunfight clichés). The supporting cast is actually a laundry list of famous Thai comedians, all of whom get to shine (or make a lot of noise), sometimes in non-sequitur ways that recall classic Hong Kong comedies of the eighties : witness this villain who provides his own soundtrack to his actions, or the mob boss with a helium voice and authority issues.

The film also has a weird way of derailing tragic subplots into comic punchlines, such as when Sawang recounts to Jukkalan her parents’ tragic fate, noting in the end that they were actually pretty stupid. Petchtai Wongkamlao is refreshingly deadpan as the aforementioned uncle, and his relationship with Jeeja Yanin is quite sweet but never saccharine thanks to the film’s constant offbeat footnotes. And yes, in the end what ties the disparate sides of This Girl is Badass together, is the sweetness that lies in Jukkalan’s relationship with her uncle, friends and lovelorn suitor. As played with irresistible effortlessness by Jeeja Yanin, it’s a character we could see returning in similar sweetly crazy sequels. To be fair, a lot of what we liked in This Girl is Badass could be held against it : it is unfocused, oddly paced, and often nonsensical, but it is so with a real heart, a good sense of fun, and a slew of lovable performers.

Long Story Short : Provided one gives in to its odd charms and doesn’t expect an orgy of fights, This Girl is Badass is an enjoyably offbeat, unexpectedly sweet comedy with bursts of enjoyable action and lovable performances by Jeeja Yanin and Petchtai Wongkamlao, among others. ***1/2

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