Somtum - known amongst foreigners as “papaya salad” - is one of the most popular and spiciest dishes in Thailand and is served everywhere, from street stalls to restaurants. Like the dish, Baa-Ram-Ewe's kids-in-action flick Somtum is a delicious and fun attempt to introduce local flavors into the global market.
Winning a lucky draw prize, corpulent Australian hick Barney (Nathan Jones) travels to Pattaya where he is promptly ripped off by a Thai hooker and loses all his money, clothes and passport. A cop (Dan Choopong) directs him to a tourist center for help but it is closed for renovation. While contemplating his next move, Barney accidentally stumbles upon a gang chasing young girls Katen (Nawarat Techarattanaprasert) and Dokya (Sasisa Jindamanee). The timid Barney is both physically and psychologically unable to fight, but the girls - especially Dokya who displays adept martial arts skills - use his bulk to escape the thugs, and take him back to their mother's beachside café. Trying some spicy somtum and chillies over lunch, he erupts with volcanic power, virtually demolishing the café: somtum to Barney is like spinach to Popeye and transforms him from wimp to warrior. As the penniless Barney tries to repair the damage he has wrought on the café by working to earn money, Dokya enters boxing contests to raise funds. Big-time gangsters re-enter the narrative as the film barrels onto its larger-than-life conclusion, which pits a somtum chilli-fuelled Barney against… an aeroplane.
Despite some of the extravagances of its script, Somtum shows masterful choreography of realistic action by Panna and the Baa-Ram-Ewe team. We have seen their choreography down hillsides (Born To Fight), on motor tricycle chases (Ong Bak), and in an ice-making factory (Chocolate). In Somtum it’s all about food: a dining table, a kitchen, a market, and a restaurant where cooking utensils and food are employed as weapons in combat. Dan Choopong fights with chillies, while Nathan Jones is energized by hot spices, and young actress Sasisa Jindamanee throws down all the big men with fresh papaya. It is all part of the delicious fun of this crazy action comedy.
Actress Sasisa Jindamanee (no longer the diminutive pre-pubescent we saw in Born To Fight and clearly being groomed to follow in the footsteps of Jeeja Yanin) and Dan Choopong display their flair for Muay Thai, which is blended well into the action. The monster-sized Nathan Jones (a villain in Tom-Yum-Goong) here plays a kind and loving man grappling with Muay Thai moves under Sasisa’s tutelage. Farangs (foreigners) are usually portrayed as bad guys so Barney’s positive image is a distinct reversal of the norm - and in another anti-stereotype, it’s not the exotic Asian hooker who strips this time, but the shiny and bulbous Barney.