Starring Tony Jaa, Jon Foo, Lateef Crowder, Johnny Nguyen
Fight Choreography by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Tony Jaa jumped into the international martial arts scene with Ong Bak, a brutally beautiful martial arts film that hit like a breath of fresh air. Tony followed it up with The Protector, and while it may not trump Ong Bak in the story department, it more than makes up for it with more ambitious fight scenes, one of which has to be seen to be believed.
The point of this film is simple. Boy has elephant stolen. Boy kicks the ass of everyone standing between him and his elephant. It really does boil down to being that simple. Jaa plays Cam, a boy raised to be a protector for the royal elephants, considered majestic war creatures in their culture.
He leads the innocent life of the country bumpkin (and if you’ve read my previous reviews, you know what that means) who, along with his father, takes the elephant to a festival where the elephant, Por Yai, can be tested and listed as a King’s elephant, but the guys who run the test have different ideas, which Cam is unaware since he is charged with watching the Por Yai’s baby elephant Kohrn. The men turn out to be poachers in disguise, and steal both Por Yai and Kohrn, shooting Cam’s father in the process. I thought he took his dad’s death really lightly, but Cam soon finds out where some of the boss’ of the poachers live, and crashes a little party they were having, and delivers a great opening scene beatdown that leads to a ludicrous boat chase ending in some old school 80’s overkill: crashing a wooden boat into a helicopter and blowing both of them up. Cool. Pointless, but cool.
He soon heads to Sydney, Australia, where he had found out that the elephants have been kidnapped by Rose, a woman who works for some company that doesn’t respect her, so she kills her way to the top, and needs the elephant which she thinks will give her the ultimate lucky rabbit’s foot. A really big one. She owns a front restaurant named Tom Yum Goong, and that may be where Cam’s answers lie. No sooner does he arrive than he bumps into a Jackie Chan impersonator (Jaa had asked Jackie to be in the film, but due to other commitments he wasn’t able to.) . Yeah, it’s cheesy, but he properly pays his respect to one of the Masters of Kung-Fu Cinema. He meets a fellow Thai named Mark who happens to be a police officer who arrests Jaa after capturing him during a mistaken cab theft. Jaa gets away from Mark, who inadvertently takes him right by the restaurant he was looking for.
The man who run the restaurant for Rose is a street thug named Johnny(Johnny Nguyen), Who kicks Cam around a bit after he is found, but Cam, never one to give up, follows Johnny and his gang to a warehouse where a drug deal was about to go down when Cam comes running in. Johnny calls the rest of his gang, all of whom look as if they were the leftovers from Rumble in the Bronx, and Tony pays his homage to Jackie by fighting them in a way very close to what Jackie would have done at that time. Afterward Cam is saved by Johnny’s girl for who the hell knows what reason, and along with the help of Mark, make their way through a lot of fighting to get to Rose, who has his elephants and won’t give them back without one last battle…
Tony Jaa gets more ambitious with each film, and while this story is scattershot (Dragon Dynasty has 2 versions of the film in the same disc set-watch the Thai version or you won’t know what the hell is going on.) it really shows Tony taking more chances with fight techniques on film.
Each fight in some ways try to outdo what he had done before, but the crown jewel here is in 3 scenes:
The fight up the building, an astonishing 10 minute fight sequence that is shot unedited of Tony Jaa taking all comers as he ascends a building. Not Bruce, Jet or Jackie or anyone else has ever attempted such a thing, and Tony pulls it off, even looking exhausted by the end of it. I don’t even want to know how many takes this took to do this. Lo to the stuntman who misses his queue, for doom shall surely chase him to Valhalla. After ward it features a good fight between himself and Johnny Nguyen, who is quickly rising in the martial arts film ranks.
The next great scene is a fight between himself and Lateef Crowder, one of the best capoeira maestra’s in the world (His father is the best. He did the motion capture for Eddie Gordo in Tekken 2 and 3)
Muay Thai versus capoeira makes for one hell of a fight. I love it when two totally different styles of martial arts are pitted against each other. There are strategies to battle that both sides have to consider. This extends to the fight with Jon Foo and his chinese sword, also well done, but Lateef takes the cake with this one.
The last fight is ludicrous but funny as wave after wave of nameless thugs attack Cam, and he proceeds to make sure that every one of them has a bone-or bones-broken somewhere, anywhere. After the first 20 guys, you’d think the others would go “screw this!” More celery sticks were sacrificed for this film more than any where else. He caught up to Steven Seagal after one film! There were so many ouch moments I can’t even say-not just in this scene-well, mostly this scene.
This film has one message: Kidnap Tony Jaa’s elephant and he will hunt you down and hurt you. Badly.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Tony really out did himself here. The fights are all complicated and fantastic, especially versus Leteef Crowder, and how they pulled off the timing for that 10-minute continuous fight through the restaurant is nearly beyond comprehension.
STUNTS: (10) Tony and his stunt team went above and beyond for this one. The 10 minute fight up the restaurant is worth the price of admission alone!
STAR POWER: (8) Tony Jaa, Lateef Crowder, Jon Foo, and Johnny Nguyen. All up and comers who are slated in films coming soon.
FINAL GRADE: (9) Tony shot for the gold and came real close. An uneven story derails this film, but the fights are second to none.