Muay Thai In Popular Media – 7 Films To Watch For Every Nak Muay

Muay Thai In Popular Media – 7 Films To Watch For Every Nak Muay
Muay Thai Tuesday

Have you ever been too sick or injured to train Muay Thai but still wanted to get your fix of the art of eight limbs? Unlike boxers who can recover on the couch with Rocky Balboa’s numerous exploits in the ring to inspire them or Kung Fu enthusiasts who have a plethora of Bruce Lee and Jet Li films (among others) to choose from, Muay Thai fans have usually had to forego large action blockbusters in lieu of a YouTube dive into golden era fight footage. While there is certainly no issue with doing this, sometimes you just want an inspirational Muay Thai flick to keep you inspired until you can get back to the gym.

While big budget movies featuring Muay Thai are few and far between, there are still a handful of great options available across the internet for any inspired fan to watch. So, in this article, we’re going to list 7 of the best Muay Thai movies you can tune into the next time you are looking to get your fill of the art of eight limbs from the comfort of your couch.


1) A Prayer Before Dawn

If you are fed up of the typical “martial arts” movies but are still craving something with a bit of Muay Thai flavouring, then look no further than “A Prayer Before Dawn”. This 2017 drama is based on the autobiographical book of the same name, telling the story of English boxer, Billy Moore, who after getting imprisoned in one of Thailand’s toughest prisons, is given the opportunity to fight for his freedom through the controversial “Prison Fight” scheme.

The film delves into serious themes, including trauma and addiction, making it a challenging watch. However, if you can handle these intense topics, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible story that’s almost unbelievable, yet based on true events.

It has also been given an approval rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it a great film to watch with someone who isn’t as obsessed with Muay Thai as you are.


2) Kickboxer

This 1989 Van Damme classic was one of the first Western films featuring Muay Thai. Most Nak Muays would insist that it features Muay Thai in name only as the representation of the sport and its fighters were so askew that it is almost laughable to anyone who has spent more than five minutes in an actual Muay Thai gym.

There is a training montage that features shadow boxing underwater, rope-bound splits, and ab conditioning via dropping coconuts from ridiculously high trees, all done in the middle of the jungle or ancient temples rather than in an actual gym. While the image it paints of the sport and its practitioners is fairly problematic, it’s still a great movie for anyone drawn to the classic “hero’s journey” narrative of an unlikely champion persevering through hardship to triumph over an outrageously overpowered and evil bad guy.


3) Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior

The first installment of the Ong Bak franchise was released in 2003 and it immediately made the star, Tony Jaa, a household name among Muay Thai and Martial Arts enthusiasts.

The film, which follows the story of a martial artist from a poor rural village as he fights to reclaim the stolen head of a Buddha statue is more than just a martial arts film, it is an ode to the Muay Thai identity. The main character Ting, a talented Nak Muay fights not for himself, but for the sake of his village as he takes on the Bangkok underworld in search of the stolen artifact.

With a decent story and some amazing fight choreography which was built upon an encyclopedia of Muay Thai and Muay Boran techniques, this three-movie franchise is essential viewing for any Muay Thai enthusiast.


4) The Protector (Tom Yum Goong)

This Muay Thai action flick is another classic Tony Jaa film that follows in the footsteps of Ong Bak, mimicking many of its themes and plot points to create another fun and lively martial arts epic. A search for a stolen elephant leads a young martial artist, Kham, to Australia where he must fight against an underworld crime syndicate for its return. Its heavy Muay Thai influence is exemplified in this epic one-shot staircase fight scene towards the film’s climax (spoilers).


5) Blood Sport

Blood Sport was one of Jean Claude Van Damme’s breakout roles as a Hollywood action star and though Muay Thai isn’t the main martial art featured in the film, it still deserves an honorable mention as the semifinal bout between Dux (Van Damme) and his opponent Paco was the first time Muay Thai had been featured in a Hollywood film.


6) Only God Forgives

This Hollywood action blockbuster from the acclaimed director of Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn) was released to the 2013 Cannes Film Festival to polarising reviews. One critic called it a “non-drama” that “flicks in the ear of good taste,” while another described it as “pure formal brilliance. Despite winning the grand prize at the Sydney Film Festival in 2013 and being featured as one of The Guardian’s “Top 50 Movies Of The Decade” it has gathered consistently low audience scores online, so you’re just as likely to leave this movie-loving it as you are despising it.

The film, starring Ryan Gosling, follows his character, Julian, the owner of a Muay Thai gym/drug front in Bangkok as he attempts to avenge the death of his brother, Billy, at the hands of a police officer.

Most of the film’s criticism is directed towards the lack of a cohesive narrative and dialogue (Gosling only spoke 17 lines in the film) but is praised for its heavily stylized and brutal action sequences. While the film isn’t as heavily Muay Thai influenced as others on this list, Gosling did undergo a lengthy period of Muay Thai training in order to bring the martial art to the big screen.


7) Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya

This 2010 Thai action blockbuster is a Muay Thai fanatic’s dream come true. This film, based on the remarkable true story of Yamada Nagamasa, a Japanese Samurai who later became a governor of entire province of the Thai, Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century.

The action sequences, sword fights, and Muay Thai fare are enhanced by the presence of sporting superstar, Buakaw, who brings an authentic display of Muay Thai techniques to the screen. The movie also features the profound skills of other Muay Thai legends such as Saenchai, Yodsanklai, and Anuwat, so if you are a devout Muay Thai fan, this historical epic is definitely something you need to have on your must-watch list.


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