Gutsy girls

The Vanquisher delivers fast and furious girl action.

As its Thai title Suay Samurai — literally, “beautiful samurai” — infers, The Vanquisher is an actioner with an international espionage theme that features three Thai femme fatales: “Namfon” Sophita Sribanchean, “Nui” Kessarin Ektawatkul and Jackie Apithananon.

Originally, there were four ladies, but “Amy” Chotiros Suriwong’s scenes were removed after she shocked the nation when she wore a revealing gown as a presenter of the 2007 Subhanahongsa Awards that was compared to Liz Hurley’s 1994 black Versace “safety pin” number. It was a major controversy that put the movie on the back-burner and forced it to open in Thailand only some two years later in November last year.

The story tells how CIA special agent Gunja (Sribanchean) finds herself the target of her own organisation after completing a covert mission in Southern Thailand.

Surviving the vicious attack, Gunja lays low for two years before gunning for revenge against Claire (Apithananon), the ruthless head of the CIA secret service unit who was tasked with exterminating her and Wajib (“Tua” Saranyu Wongkrachang), an extremist who fights back when his terrorist group gets framed by the CIA to cover its tracks.

Jackie Apithananonis the baddie CIA director

Gunja also finds an ally in Sirin (Ektawatkul), a CIA “Black Tiger” unit commander who decides to fight for the rightful cause after uncovering the organisation’s web of deceit. There is also a showdown with Japanese spy Masaru (Pete Thongjuer), a cold-blooded CIA samurai assassin and a comrade of Claire’s.

Produced by Sahamongkolfilm International, The Vanquisher is written and directed by Thai filmmaker Manop Udomdej, whose directing credits include Lizard Woman (2004), Macabre Case Of Prom Pi Ram (2003) and The Dumb Die Fast, The Smart Die Slow (1991).

“The highlight of this film is the new style of fighting. It’s not just martial arts that we’re familiar with, but it’s a combination of several styles of fighting, including fencing, shooting, daredevil motorcycle riding, and hand combat,” said Udomdej.

He said the film was made to honour Thai female fighters. “Recently we’ve seen what Jija Yanin can do. She has become the number one female fighter in Asia. Other than Jija, there’s Nui Kessarin who got her start in Born To Fight. She’s a very talented fighter.

KessarinEktawatkul joins forces withSribanchean.

“In this film, you’ll see another rising star Namfon Sophita. If The Vanquisher is warmly welcomed, the world of action film will be introduced to another female fighter.”

Taking on her first major film role, Sribanchean actually started out without any experience in fighting. While she did not shy away from making her film debut in an actioner, she admitted it was extremely challenging.

“Before taking on this project, I had to train for the fight scenes, because I’ve never had martial arts training before. Uncle Manop sent me to fencing and boxing classes. I had to stay in top shape.

“Sometimes I had to train from 10am to 8pm. The most difficult would be the samurai sword moves. I never thought it would be this difficult. But I never gave up.

“On my first day, I couldn’t fire the gun, couldn’t do anything. So I couldn’t do anything but cry. I was so nervous. Even though I had been through all the training, but when the real shooting started, it’s another story.

“There’re so many action scenes – fencing, shooting, chasing on the bikes. I am particularly impressed with one scene in which I had to use a samurai sword to fight against a dozen ninjas. It’s quite a long take which requires precision on both my acting and fighting, because it’s shot with a handheld camera that followed me everywhere,” said Sribanchean.

Of the three ladies, only Ektawatkul is a true martial arts expert, being a Thai national Taekwondo champion and having starred in martial arts films Born To Fight (2004), Dangerous Flowers (2006) and Somtum (2008).

The gutsy girl revealed: “Some of the action scenes in this film are quite challenging. I got kicked and ‘flew’ out of the building. It’s all about courage. Everybody might have heard that I’m a Taekwondo athlete, so it sets the expectations higher.

“Normal people would close their eyes when they see a foot headed toward their face. But I had to open my eyes to make it as real as possible. It’s about your guts.”

Playing the villain of the piece, Apithananon who was last seen as a quiet princess in Queen Of Langkasuka (2008) is literally one of the top vanquishers in The Vanquisher.

“My character shows her cold blood through her eyes. I don’t need to say a lot. I was told to keep my voice low and just go out and kill people.

“I wasn’t worried about the action scenes. Drama scenes were more difficult. There’s a scene in which Uncle Manop told me not to say anything but just stare mercilessly at the camera as if I’m looking at Gunja. That’s difficult.”

n The Vanquisher, distributed by RAM Entertainment, is rated 18 and opens in local cinemas on Thursday.