The Sanctuary (2009)

Directed by
Uncommonly bad
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-08-08

A young man finds a vase buried in the ground and sells it to an antiques dealer. A short while later an international crime syndicate turn up looking for him, as they recognise it as one of a set of lost royal antiques. It doesn't end well for the lad, but his twin brother catches on to the gang's nefarious plans and is determined to stop them.

I saw a fairly long sequence from THE SANCTUARY on a TV in the background whilst I was eating lunch in Thailand once and was blown away by the action. I wasn't able to find a copy for purchase though, and for a long time it was one of my holy grail films. A decade later I'd mostly forgotten it when the internet finally coughed one up, so I was excited to finally get to see the whole thing.

I needn't have been as it's a terrible film. The plot is an uninteresting assemblage of clichés, the acting is awful, the nationalism awkward... it's like the worst of American B-movie sensibilities meets the worst Thailand has to offer, it's so bad it almost becomes impressive.

Still, none of those things is why I was excited to see it - I was there for the action, the back breaking stunts and bone crunching fights that Thailand had proved master of. The film seems to have been a passion project for star Michael B., a stuntman who earned his chops on films like Ong Bak. He has genuine skills and was clearly all-in on the film. A handful of other stuntmen also seem eager to show their stuff.

Unfortunately their enthusiasm is undone by an even more enthusiastic editor who cuts the action scenes into ribbons. There are some obviously cool moves and stunts being performed but they are almost never allowed to play out without cuts to alternate angles or inserts. Even quite a simple move might be cut into half a dozen pieces, it robs them of impact and cohesion.

Apparently it was a troubled production and they struggled to find funding - which at least means it is mercifully short at 82 minutes. I hope they didn't spend too much of the budget on Russell Wong as he is broadly awful.

It looks like this film was fatal to Michael B's career as he doesn't have any credits after it. It's a shame as in the right hands I'm sure he could have had a lot to contribute. I'm pleased to see that Brahim Chab seems to have gone on to some success as a stunt performer and coordinator though, as he was responsible for some of the most impressive moves.

Films like this that get things so wrong at least have the benefit of making you appreciate the films that get it right all the more. Even a film that is objectively bad like Bangkok Knockout can be worth watching when the action crew know what they're doing and are allowed to do it without interruption.