Retitled from Jukkalan, after its lead character, to the rather more bombastic This Girl is Badass, this film is omnipresent Thai comedian Petchai Wongkumlao’s (a.k.a Mum Jokmok) seventh movie as director, writer and actor. We don’t get all that much Thai cinema here in Oz, but even casual viewers of the nation’s output — like me — will recognise him as Tony Jaa’s offsider in the modern martial arts classic Ong Bak, open-faced, wide-eyed and occasionally very funny.
In this film he pairs up with another action star, Taekwando artist “Jeeja” Yanin Vismitananda (Chocolate, Raging Phoenix, The Kick), for a colourful action-comedy. Yanin playes Jukkalan, a feisty young bicycle courier, and Mum plays her serious, world-weary uncle Sawang. Jukkalan is making serious money taking delivery jobs for gangsters, but gets in a little over her head: she quickly finds herself pitted against gangs of hoodlums in warehouse after warehouse, kicking butt as the mob try to recover their cash. In between bouts, she spends her time wooing the dreamy-eyed rock guitarist next door and trying to fend off Duan (Chalermsak Samkamung), the well-meaning “ugly boy” she’s grown up with who just wants her to like him (and not hit him).
It’s got a fair helping of action, and it’s clearly sold to Western audiences as a martial arts film: sassy Jukkalan certainly fits the titular description. It’s not really an “action film” per se, though — when we’re not watching Yanin dispatching thugs, Badass is shot through with a great deal of broad visual comedy, lots of wordplay and one-liners, and a smattering of romance as well.
I’m sure there’s a pile of wordplay and Thai pop culture in there that flew over my head, much like in some of the earlier Stephen Chow HK comedies; there’s even a scene in this film where the DVD’s subtitlers have gamely rendered some characters’ names as Fig Plucker and Pheasant Plucker to convey what’s going on. With the exception of Jukkalan and Sawang, all the characters in the film are played over the top for laughs, from the elaborately coiffed and bow-tied Duan to the two mob bosses and their bizarre retinues. Mum plays Sawang straight, which gives him the opportunity to ratchet up the drama when he wants to, and deliver the occasional deadpan one-liner when he doesn’t.
All in all, the kitchen sink nature of the film is a bit of a detractor: the film flits from scene to scene with a bare minimum of plot to support the larger-than-life characters as they pursue their respective romances and entertain the audience, while a team of anonymous baddies show up every twenty minutes or so to be taken care of by Jukkalan. The former will irritate viewers who are after a Serious Action Movie (or even a comedy-action film, like Jackie Chan’s rich back catalogue), while the latter breaks up the freewheeling pace of the rest of the film.
This Girl is Badass has its moments — Mum Jokmok’s lines and delivery are great, and I really do like Yanin as an action heroine — but it’s a little too unfocused a film to win me over completely.