Tai-Tan has seen better days. He's struggling financially in a bad part of town. He's watching a beautiful girl deteriorate emotionally, as they both cry over the recent severe injury to a good friend, who lies comatose with little hope of recovering. So, what's Tai-Tan to do? Go and play some hoop and seriously f*ck some people up. We're talking Thanakorn Pongsuwan's Fireball (2009), where the Muay Thai hits the hard court. No one has yet seen elbows thrown on the court like these, in addition to knees, fists, and fast kicks. Tai-Tan joins an underworld boss's illegal basketball team of which each syndicate boss has one. Simple rules: first basket wins, no substitutions, or last man standing. Some plot and backstory is provided between matches. One of Tai-Tan's team members is dealing with racism and a pregnant wife. Another is the team's stellar shooter whose hopeful winnings will allow his brother to go to school and put a roof over his mother's head. Another is playing for his integrity--rumor has it that he threw last year's matches. Tai-Tan's final team member is a phenomenal fighter, and Tai-Tan is just angry. Their boss is an up-and-coming member of the underworld, and he wants to impress the head. New teams just don't make it, not just to the finals, but team members just don't survive. Pongsuwan's Fireball is total punk rock. It belongs in that rare class of films--loud, violent, nasty, and nihilistic. Its sisters are Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's Crank (2006) and Pou-soi Cheang's Shamo (2007). There is something heart-racingly exciting about watching a guy go up for a lay-up only to watch Tai-Tan swipe the ball out of his hands mid-air and throw an elbow to his jaw before either's feet hit the ground. The locale of the actual matches in the film look very similar to Snake Plissken's court in John Carpenter's mediocre Escape from L.A. (1996), except there is a real energy to the crowd behind the chain-link fence, like the crowd present in John Carpenter's excellent Escape From New York (1981) during Snake's wrestling match. Fireball's players look authentic as well: t-shirts and jeans, here, and no one-hundred dollar sneakers and loud shorts with corporate logos. Clothes aren't going to matter, anyway, because in the end they would all be covered in blood. Thailand is producing today's best martial arts films. Tony Jaa became a household name amongst genre fans with his high-flying elbows and knees and acrobatics with Prachya Pinkaew's Ong Bak (2003) and continuing in Pinkaew's Tom yum goong (2005). Jaa better look out, however, for Thailand's next rising star, JeeJa Yanin, who lit up the screen with her fighting skills in Pinkaew's Chocolate (2008). The martial arts of these recent films is without CGI and wirework. There might be some camera speed-ups and quick cuts, but these moves are genuine. Often, it looks like the participants in the action are actually hitting each other. These hits look sweet, too: fluid kicks and spins and choreography, never coming off as staged or fake. Thailand's recent martial arts cinema is about realism; and this realism gives the films a lot of credibility in film fans' eyes. The fighting is more akin to the bouts in a mixed martial arts competition, than an old Shaw Brothers flick (which I would watch with glee on any day). Fireball is on par with its country's current streak. The martial arts scenes are intense, fast, and incredibly exciting. Quite brutal, as well, so be forewarned. Not only do these punches look unforgiving but they sound unforgiving. Nasty. Fireball has some light fun, as well. There's a parkour-like scene where the boss offers his team members some extra cash for the first one to make it from the rooftop of a high, crowded building down to the very bottom on the court and make a basket. Over balconies, through apartments, and back over fences, the scene is kinetic and a highlight. The team members all bond through their circumstances, and although this is not a rich and deep film emotionally, I really got the sense of fraternal love here, especially during a couple tragic scenes. The basketball brawls are the appeal and the standout of Fireball, and these sequences alone merit a viewing. The finale? Let's just say the old cliche: Pongsuwan and his actors saved the best for last. So, pop this one in, turn it up, and watch basketball--it's life or death.