Drenched in the Technicolor sleaze of Bangkok’s red light district, the gritty neo-noir Knockdown is now available on DVD from Arc Entertainment. The film features painfully intense sexpot Bai Ling, as well as a surreally evil performance from habitually affable comedian Tom Arnold. Lighter on action and heavier on mood than its cover design suggests, Knockdown nonetheless boasts some shining moments of frank and glistening debauchery that make it worth watching, even if it’s not a total success.
Self-exiled to the mean streets of Thailand following the botched rigging of a fight he was meant to intentionally lose, legendary prize fighter Jack Stemmons – nicknamed “Jack the Ripper” for his brutal and unforgiving reputation in the ring – has descended into a furtive existence as the proprietor of a sequestered dive bar, which he keeps afloat by running an apathetically half-concealed sideline prostitution operation. When a mysterious, well-dressed stranger shows up at the counter one night and starts asking probing questions, Jack regresses into a bleak netherworld of tortured memories, from his traumatic isolated childhood to the shady realities of his truncated career, to his doomed love affair and gradual descent into addiction. As Jack’s past threatens to consume his present, he begins to realize the provocative bar patron may not be all he appears.
Knockdown’s pace is languid and its narrative sometimes meanders and becomes diffuse, but it achieves an atmosphere in rare instances that’s genuinely compelling. Ling in particular infuses her scenes with weird mystery and sensuality that mirrors the grainy reality in which the film is set. Knockdown was originally called The Bad Penny, and Arc’s retitling and testosterone-fueled ad campaign clearly indicate they’re trying to sell it as an action film, but although the bombastic crime and hand-to-hand fight sequences its packaging promise fail to materialize, Knockdown does okay for itself when appraised for what it actually is, drawing more pronouncedly from the brooding and impressionistic evasiveness of film noir than from the hair-raising immediacy of crime drama.
Arc’s disc doesn’t offer much aside from the movie and a trailer, and the look of the movie itself is intentionally washed out and grainy, partly for atmosphere and partly due to budgetary constraints. The movie’s primitive technical qualities mostly work in its favor, although the cinematography in a few sequences is clumsily handled enough to frustratingly obscure the action and/or nudity. Despite a few missteps, the film holds together well and evokes a tangible sense of emotion, atmosphere, gritty locality, and searing corruption.