‘Farang’ is the Thai word for ‘Caucasian’, or more generally for ‘foreigner’ – and while Xavier Gens’ film of the same name begins in France, its Algerian protagonist Samir ‘Sam’ Darba (the extraordinary Nassim Lyes) is already an outsider, even if we first see him on the inside, in prison on a drugs rap. There he is cleaning up his act: working out his aggressions practising Muay Thai in the prison gym, while carefully avoiding trouble, so that he can be released on good behaviour and get a legitimate job at a building site. Yet Sam’s criminal past keeps catching up with him, and a violent clash with one of his former criminal acquaintances forces him to flee abroad.
Five years later, in East Thailand, Sam appears to be nearing his goal of living a straight life, despite having to face local prejudice. He is married to half-Thai, half-French Mia (Loryn Nounay) who is pregnant with their baby, and he is lovingly accepted as a father by Mia’s young daughter from a previous marriage Dara (Chananticha Tang-Kwa). He works for a local hotel driving tourists to and from the airport, he has put a downpayment on a beachside plot of land where Mia wants to build her own bar, and in his spare time he continues to box.
Yet much as he is occasionally tempted by his friend Sombat (Sahajak Boonthanakit) to throw a match for cash, he is also drawn into the orbit of French criminal kingpin Narong (Olivier Gourmet). When things go south and Mia and Dara get caught in the aftermath, the left-for-dead Sam will be nursed back to health by his boxing coach Hansa (the ever astonishing Vithaya Pansringram) and set out on a path of vicious vendetta, as he tries to recover whatever may be left of his family.
The plot of Farang is woven from clichés that we have seen many times before: the one last job, the rage-fuelled revenge, the corridor fight, the father searching for his daughter. Indeed there is fun to be had in recognising what it has borrowed from, e.g., Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979), Prachya Pinkaew’s Ong-bak (2002) and Warrior King (2005), Pierre Morel’s Taken (2008), Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003), Gareth Evans’ The Raid (2011) and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013). Yet all those tropes are stripped down to their very quintessence, as Stéphane Cabel, Guillaume Lemans and Gens’ script proves as spare and spry as Sam in the ring.
It is also played entirely straight, refusing to nod and wink to the audience or ironise itself in any way. For the film’s back-to-basics simplicity and determined earnestness are key to its relentless intensity, as misfit Sam is always having to fight hard for his dream of a normal life.
Building and building to Sam’s rampage, and then unleashing an explosion of gasp-inducing, bone-crunching violence (including close combat in an old lift unprecedented for its bloody ferocity), Farang may start in jail, but it takes no prisoners.
Farang had its UK première on Saturday 26 August for FrightFest 2023