Anyone aware of director Xavier Gens’ work will know that he isn’t someone to shy away from portraying violence. His feature length debut Frontier(s) (2007) overflowed with gore, quickly bringing him to the attention of horror fans. His name has become synonymous with the horror genre, but this isn’t to say he hasn’t dipped his toe into other genres, with him showing off his action chops with video game adaptation Hitman (2007).
Latterly he has also been involved in the action heavy shows Gangs of London (2020) and Lupin (2023), so it isn’t much of a surprise to see that his latest feature finds him once again in action mode, albeit filtered through his ultra violent sensibilities. Farang, or to go with its English title Mayhem!, allows Gens multiple opportunities to show off his penchant for bloody carnage, with his latest featuring several beautifully choreographed fight scenes.
I have seen some articles online exclaiming that Mayhem! is the new The Raid (2011), which does the film a disservice, as it isn’t a comparison Gens’ film can ultimately live up to. However, it doesn’t appear that Gens was even trying to create a film that would compare to The Raid, with Mayhem! having an altogether different tempo and pace. Sure, both films do feature action scenes that primarily focus on martial arts, but Mayhem! has a more leisurely pace, with it being much more of a thriller with action scenes than a full non-stop actioner that some promotional material would imply.
This leisurely pace that I speak off isn’t a complaint as it is actually to the film’s benefit, allowing Gens to build up the characters and plot, so that when the action does come we care about the outcome. This isn’t just violence for violence sake. Well, at least not all the time.
The film opens in France, with Sam (Nassim Lyes) currently serving a prison service. Having served his time he is released, but this is when his trouble starts with people from his criminal past trying to drag him back into his old way of life. Sam’s attempts at staying out of trouble are what leads to tragedy, forcing Sam to leave the country and his old life behind.
Fast forwarding five years, Sam has now settled down with a family in Thailand, working as a baggage handler to make ends meet. He and his wife Mia (Loryn Nounay) have been saving in order to buy some land, but these dreams don’t come to fruition due to the corruption of the local government.
Sam and Mia’s friend Sombat (Sahajak Boonthanakit) is able to put Sam in contact with local crime boss Narong (Olivier Gourmet), who asks Sam to help him in smuggling some contraband. As expected, this doesn’t go according to plan with Narong attacking Sam’s family. Left for dead, Sam is saved by his friend Hansa (Vithaya Pansringarm), with the two of them vowing to get revenge on Narong.
Gens takes a very 90’s approach with his revenge movie. In terms of plot and drama there isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and if released in the 90’s could have easily starred a Mark Dacascos or Jeff Speakman in the lead. Sure the action would probably look somewhat different but the story mechanics wouldn’t require much alteration. This isn’t a detriment to the film as Gens still manages to include enough interesting character beats and some variations from the norm to keep things interesting.
The Thailand setting also makes for a perfect backdrop, with the beautiful locations being perfectly juxtaposed with the frankly shocking violence that is on display. The film is filled with beautiful imagery thanks to the talents of cinematographer Gilles Porte, who does an excellent job of capturing the job in all its gruesome glory.
Of course it wouldn’t matter how good the visuals were if the action wasn’t on point. Gens smartly brought along his Gangs of London collaborator Jude Poyer, who does a terrific job as action designer. With a career spanning well over 20 years in stunt work, it’s safe to say Poyer knows his stuff. Mayhem!’s action has a similar feel to Gangs of London, which as previously mentioned Poyer worked on. Hopefully the quality of Poyer’s work here will lead to higher profile work.
There are several fight scenes throughout the film, mostly all coming in the latter half of the film, with them working as tasters for the gloriously violent finale, which for me is the film’s standout sequence. Beginning with a grueling hallway fight that has Nassim Lyes take on multiple machete wielding opponents, it culminates in a no holds barred elevator fight that no one walks away from unscathed.
The camera work during the fight scenes is especially memorable, with it seemingly moving with the choreography in order to give the action maximum impact.
It helps that Mayhem! has a lead adept in martial arts with Nassim Lyes. As well as getting ample opportunity to show off his fighting skills, Lyes turns in a particularly charismatic performance, with his role enabling him to go through a full gamut of emotions. Considering he is normally cast in supporting roles, Lyes proves that he is more than capable of being a leading man. Gens was clearly impressed as Lyes is due to star in Gens’ upcoming Sharks, where Lyes will star alongside Bérénice Bejo.
Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet makes for a suitably vile villain, even if his screen time is limited. He isn’t really a physical threat to Lyes’ hero, but he has enough men at his disposal to carry out his bidding. It was great to see Gourmet again as he had made an impression on me several years back with Belgian/French crime thriller Tueurs (2017) which features the talented Gourmet in a leading role.
The real standout of the cast for me was Vithaya Pansringarm whose Hansa is the closest Sam has to a father figure. When Sam decides to get his revenge, Hansa goes into battle with him, with the two becoming a fearsome force. Whilst he doesn’t have the same abilities as Lyes, he’s still a force to be reckoned with. Most Western viewers probably know Pansringarm best from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013) but he has become quite the prolific supporting actor since then, showing up in action classics like Operation Mekong (2016) and Deliver Us From Evil (2020). Thankfully he is given substantially more screen time than what those supporting roles offered.
Pansringarm’s fellow Thai actor and Only God Forgives co-star Sahajak Boonthanakit also does well in an underwritten role. Honestly, if you don’t realize his involvement in the plot by the halfway mark you haven’t been watching enough films.
Mayhem! might not be the action classic that some would like you to believe, but it never fails to entertain, with the finely choreographed action managing to make it stand out. Anyone who was a fan of the straight to VHS actioners of the 90’s will find a lot to enjoy here, with it equally being a great showcase for Nassim Lyes.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 4/5 Overall: 3.5/5