If you’ve watched Tony Jaa, you understand the term “real contact.” Though Sammo Hung had been doing it in the early 80s, Thailand was hardly slow to the plate. Panna Rittikrai, the choreographer behind Ong Bak, directed/produced/actionized (just pretend it’s a word, you know what I mean) 15 or so ultra low-budget martial art films in Thailand between 1986 and 1995, and some of them are amazing, with fighting and stunts comparable to Hong Kong actioners during the same period. I’ve posted vids for some of the best ones below, and all of them can be purchased from ethaicd.com.
Sing Wing Lui – Not much here except for the end fight, but it’s arguably one of the craziest sets of real contact I’ve ever seen.
Gerd Ma Lui (Born to Fight) – Gold standard in Thai stunt films. GML was remade with the same name in 2004 with the equally talented Dan Chupong, but the action setpieces were more disjointed. It felt like the same translation from the original Gone In Sixty Seconds to the remake.
Gerd Ma Lui 3 – Another mashup of fighters, including a crazy gymnast. This is the most “HK” of them all, with a lot of hand and legwork.
Plook Mun Kuen Ma Kah 1 – With fantastic sword fighting and a slew of multi-talented stunt guys doing literally everything, like a fat TKD guy, a superkicker, and a girl who takes kicks the the head, this is arguably as good as it gets.
There are more too. I’d research him on YouTube before buying, because there are some stinkers. I’m trying to figure out why exactly Panna slowed down so quickly after Gerd Ma Lui 3 in 1990, after which his films looked cheaper, the action got slower, and Panna started relying more on editing and camerawork when the action fell short. In any case, Panna’s work from the 80s shouldn’t be forgotten. He took the strength of Thai martial arts – Muay Thai, and the ability to get hit hard – and being inspired by Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung translated the martial arts into an action form that had a flavor of its own. Hopefully these will get a proper remastering one day because they’d make amazing midnight cinema showings.