This semi-autobiographical film is based on the story of its lead actor, Dida Diafat, the first French Muay Thai champion.
As a troublesome young man, Ryan Fatida has been busted for stealing a truck and is sent to prison. There, he decides to change his life, but has no clue how. He only knows one thing and that is to throw a punch. He gains the attention of Jean, a former kickboxer turned instructor. When Ryan is forced to bunk with Jean, he tells Jean he wants to learn how to fight to make a better living as he has nothing else. Jean reluctantly teaches Ryan the basics of Muay Thai but convinces him to go to Thailand when he is released. On the day of his release, Ryan’s mother, who thinks Ryan can do better than the life he had been living, buys him a plane ticket to Thailand.
Upon his arrival in Thailand, Ryan heads to the country’s top kickboxing academy. However, the policy of the school is no foreigners are allowed. Ryan spends his days at a local noodle joint and watching the students at the school. However, when his bag is nearly stolen, he shows the heart of a potential fighter and with the support of one of the fighters, Ryan is finally accepted. However, he starts out cleaning until Mr. Amorn, one of the biggest promoters, arrives at the camp and thinks Ryan will only stir trouble. However, he gives Ryan a chance to stay through fighting. Ryan loses his match, but his determination and will earns respect from Amorn, who lets Ryan stay. Ryan begins to seriously train and eventually, find Jean’s daughter Kim and forms a bond with her. Meanwhile, Ryan begins to live his dream of being a fighter. However, when Jean returns to Thailand and an incident by an unscrupulous businessman forces Jean back in prison, Ryan must do what it takes to get his mentor out, but will it cost his dream of becoming a champion?
The film is a semi-biopic based on the story of Dida Diafat, an Algerian-born French kickboxing champion who became the first from his country to win a Muay Thai champion when he was only 21. Having competed for 10 years, Diafat decided to try his hands at film and what better film than to tell his story with the help of co-writer and producer Véra Belmont. For those unfamiliar with the Thai language, the film’s title Chok Dee translates to “good luck”.
And that is exactly what is needed for Diafat’s Ryan, who starts out somewhat troublesome and wants to change his life. Facing various obstacles, three things make Ryan overcome the odds. They are heart, determination, and perseverance. He is relentless when he convinces people he has nothing left and wants to change. It’s like Ryan steps on a ladder beginning with his troubled beginnings to training in prison under his first mentor Jean, played extremely well by Bernard Giraudeau to his eventual upbringing in Thailand in the world of Muay Thai.
Perhaps the only issue in terms of making this a true biopic and can be seen somewhat unnecessary, but not sure how true the events are, is the romance between Ryan and Kim, played by French-Thai actress Florence Faivre. It seems a bit forced yet it starts out as just a bond revolving around Jean, who always wanted to keep in touch but found a major obstacle that prevented a true relationship with his daughter. However, despite that little issue and the fact we actually have a villain in this film in dangerous businessman Wiwat, played by Sombat Metanee, the film’s saving grace is Indian actor Lakshan, who offers great advice to Ryan throughout the film as the very interesting named “Coffee”. Like the other members of the school, Coffee is reluctant to let Ryan in the school. However, it is once he is accepted that Coffee gives him a bit of the rules of the school and offers friendly advice. In some aspect, Coffee seems somewhat of Ryan’s true friend in Thailand for the most part.
Pichaijuntin Matorn executed the choreography for the ring fights and quite frankly, they are shot nicely. There are a few close ups that somewhat seem to hinder the impact of the fights, but thankfully, they don’t last long. Diafat gets to show a smooth transition from the ring to the screens. I’ve seen Diafat fight on ESPN2 back in the day and he is definitely the real deal. To transition into film fighting isn’t always easy, but Diafat has a foundation that made him a champion and to bring that story to life makes the transition smooth.
Chok Dee: The Kickboxer is definitely worth a watch to see the transition of former champion kickboxer Dida Diafat from the ring to the screen. Despite a somewhat predictable storyline that seems to have elements of an action film as well, the film is all about one man’s breaking barriers in one of the most hard-hitting sports in the world today.
WFG RATING: B
A Stéphan Films/Télégraphe/France 2 Cinéma production in association with Canal+, CinéCinéma and Siam Movies. Director: Xavier Durringer. Producer: Véra Belmont. Writers: Véra Belmont and
Françoise Greze; story by Dida Diafat, Xavier Durringer, and Christophe Mordellet; based on the novel “Dida, from the Projects to Hollywood” by Diafat. Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman. Editing: Raphaële Urtin.
Cast: Dida Diafat, Bernard Giraudeau, Florence Faivre, Lakshan, Sombat Metanee, Rit Luecha, Calbo, Fariza Mimoun, Kimyu Rukyindee, Somchok Suksrisai, Charoenthong Kiatbanchong, Sangtiennoi Sorrungroj, Sirimongkol Singmanassak.