American audiences had to wait a year to see Thai movie star and action hero, Tony Jaa, on a big screen in The Protector, directed by Prachya Pinhaew. Most critics were agitated about how the original movie was cut by the big scissors of the distributor and presenter from Hollywood. The consensus was that it ended up as a bad film with intense, bloody hand-to-hand fighting and set a Guinness-worthy record for most bone-crunching sound effects in a movie, and some really bad dubbing. It also got an R-rating.
The film played for two years in Asia and Europe as Tom Yum Goong. Thai fans and local critics worried about cuts. The Weinstein Co. and "presenter" Quentin Tarantino took a Thai film -- originally titled "Tom Yum Goong" -- and trimmed it from 109 minutes to about 80. Sadly, when they cut down a beautiful part of the movie, the relationship between Jaa and his elephants, the Weinsteins successfully censored out a lovely part of Thai culture
I went to see The Protector in its original Thai version. Let me say, I went to see it twice. Sure, forget about the plot It becomes even more ridiculous when it depicts the very simple way of life for people in Issan Thailand, where Tony Jaa was born and spent his early life with elephants. But the fight scenes are incredible. If you like good action and martial arts, you will love this film. I have not seen anyone else to compare to Tony Jaa lately; not even Jackie Chan or Jet Li.
This movie has some of the best fight scenes I've ever seen in a martial arts film. I was so amazed I laughed with joy. There is one fight scene that defies explanation--one continuous shot that lasts for at least 5 minutes. You must see it on the big screen to get the full effect. What the movie doesn't have: wires, stuntmen, or computers. There are tricks of camera placement and creative editing, but for the most part, what you see is what you get.
The story is typically convoluted. Poachers steal two elephants prized by a rural village. The villagers send Kham (Jaa) to retrieve the elephants, which the villains have taken to Sydney. One of the elephants is to help one of the villains, Madame Rose (Xing Jing), a Chinese woman who wants to rule over all crime in Sydney, gain power through a strange ritual in which the elephants' "power" is transferred to her. The other is apparently on the menu of the villains' underground restaurant in which exotic animals are served as dinner.
Kham's main allies are a beautiful young woman (Bongkoj Khongmalai) who is a girlfriend of one of the villains but begins to help Kham on his noble quest, and a Thai-born member of the Sydney police force (Petchtai Wongkamlao, a noted Thai comedian who similarly enlivened the film, Ong Bak). Of course, the relationship between Kham and the woman was more beefed up in the original, and the cop is overdubbed in The Protector, robbing him of much of his soul. (The dubbing is also a mystery in a mostly subtitled film.)
In the end, what we're left with is wall-to-wall Kham, and that's not at all a bad thing. There are boat chases, explosions, Kham going after people in a helicopter, Kham being attacked by thugs on motorcycles in a warehouse, a confrontation with several 6-foot-5-plus behemoths and a waterlogged fight in a burning temple.
When I wrote about Tony Jaa's work and life in Scene4 in September 2005 (q.v.) I pointed out how enthusiastic Asian people are about action films. They love to see fighting scenes no matter how unreal or plotless. They're willing to overlook the weak points of film just to follow film star in action and see how the choreographer creates his wonders.
So it is with a friend of mine who is a professor of Finance in Bangkok , and a diehard fan of Tony Jaa. He loved the film so much he simply overlooks its weak points. Here's what he sees:
There are 5 main action scenes. Each scene has a unique theme. The first one is a fight in a politician's house, which ends up in a boat chase. The fight has a similar tone to Ong Bak's fight inside a house (almost at the end of the movie), but the choreography is better. The next fight is where Jaa takes on heaps of X-game players inside a factory. The theme of this fight is the same to that of the market chase in Ong Bak. Jaa's athletic skills are apparently presented here. This scene is purely an eye-candy of action sequences. Jaa seems to never stop surprising you with his non-human movements. I just love it. The 4 minute long take sequence is probably the weakest scene in terms of martial arts. I feel that it is not meant to be a presentation of martial arts, but rather a show off of good cinematography design. The highlight is at the end where Jaa has to fight Johny's character. I really love this man to man fight between Jaa and Johny because the emotional setup is so extreme. You can feel Kam's anger as if you are him. And when Jaa's character explodes, wow what a show! The fight in a temple is simply beautiful (both the fight and the set). The final fight seems like it will continue forever. It is another climax of the movie. This is where you will see the real Elephant Boxing.
My conclusion, this movie will no doubt do well at the international box-office. But only Jaa will take all the credit, the rest will be ignored. It's a pity that this movie has potential to be a good movie as a whole, but in the end it only turns out to be a vehicle for action, action, and action.