What happens when you mix basketball with Thai kickboxing, pipes, brass knuckles and knives? A whole lot of people get hurt; it’s so brutal that fatalities are not uncommon.
There are two ways to win the sport of Fireball—score a single basket, or be the only team with men left standing. Scoring a basket sounds easy but it becomes a lot harder when people are beating the hell out of you.
Sports and martial arts films have been combined before, most notably in Steven Chow’s Shaolin Soccer. Fireball doesn’t go the comedic route; it’s a serious (and seriously over the top) film that has more in common with grittier sport films like Salute of the Jugger.
The film follows the exploits of an upstart team made up of guys motivated by mainly by poverty or revenge. The main character, Tai, is out to avenge a savage beating during a match that put his brother on life support. The brother was trying to make money to help Tai, and now Tai needs to make money to pay for an operation that might save his brother’s life.
The film doesn’t get terribly in-depth about any of the players stories, but it does provide a brief slice of their lives, and this look at the desperation of living in poverty in Thailand helps build a seedy, gritty vibe that is carried over into the matches. One player is about to have a child and is desperate to provide a better life for his baby; another is just looking to be able to pay the rent so that his family doesn’t have to live on the streets.
The cinematography is pretty pedestrian outside of the matches. It takes a turn for the worse when the action starts happening with lots of shaky cam, weird angles and annoying edits. The director clearly wanted to create as much of a sense of impact as possible without actually killing the cast, and it’s forgivable given the films obviously low budget. There are some rather good fights and shots here and there if you’re willing to overlook the more obvious flaws. The physical performances of the cast vary, but it’s obvious that most of them gave it their all.
In a way the film resembles its characters: seedy and cheap, but scrappy enough to forge on ahead despite its problems. If you’re looking for some decent action, Thai-style, you could do a lot worse than spending an hour and a half with Fireball.