I left a few hours early from work this past Friday, so my friend Travis and I could go see The Protector with Ong Bak's Tony Jaa. I thought I'd share a few thoughts.
I first saw Ong Bak about a year ago, when a friend of mine let me borrow it. I didn't expect much; it seemed too foreign to enjoy, but after watching it I was absolutely blown away. The stunts were plentiful and eye-popping, and the didn't rely on wires, as most martial arts movies of late do. The fighting sequences were unbelievably intense; I'd never seen moves like those, where the knees and elbows were used with such devastating impact. The acting was cheesy, and the plot was thin, and most of the editing looked amaturish, but it was easy to forgive all of that and just enjoy the action.
When I saw previews for The Protector, I was immediately sold. I called up Travis and said, "It's movie time." We had to go see this on opening day. Travis and I have similar taste in movies, so he agreed, even though he'd never seen or heard of Ong Bak, he took me at my word that this Tony Jaa was the new Jackie Chan - and then some. We both left early on Friday and showed up at the theater stoked and ready.
To start with, I bought the premise. Tony Jaa's character (Kham) is known in Thailand as a "Protector", one of those chosen and trained from days of old to look after the country's most cherished posessions, their Royal Elephants. This may sound a little silly, but imagine it's a tradition passed down through countless generations, and held up to be as important and meaningful today as it was 1000 years ago, and it's not that hard to buy. When two of these most precious Elephants are kidnapped and taken to Sydney to be the main course at an underground restaurant that serves endangered species', and Kham's father is killed by the kidnappers, Kham pursues, to get revenge and secure the return of his pachyderms. Kham soon finds himself doing battle with Sydney's Thai mob queen and her vast number of curiously un-armed guards and henchmen. Several impressive fight scenes follow, but none capture the raw and devastating, brutal energy that was everywhere in Ong Bak. These scenes felt, mostly, like a Jackie Chan movie, but without the charm and humor.
There was a pretty cool unbroken steady-cam shot where Kham fights his way up several flights of stairs, often throwing bodies to the floor below, culminating in a lukewarm fight with Johnny (one of the mob queen's top men). The climax of the film involved - what felt like - twenty straight minutes of Kham taking on - what felt like - 100 + of the the Queen's curiously unarmed guards and henchmen (one at a time, of course). It was one long bone-crunch-athon, as each of them stepped up in turn and hit the floor in a broken painful heap. Did I say it felt like 20 minutes? Make that an hour, it got silly. Imagine Kill Bill with no swords, no style, and no clever choreography.
Following that, Kham took on three WWE rejects, and really looked like he paid for it. Eventually, they were dispatched after Kham found a clever new use for splintered Elepahnt bones, and uncannily got them to take turns too. As a finale, Kham took a death defying leap off the top of the building to give a knee to the chest to the soon-to-be departed mob queen (breaking her grip from the rescue line of her getaway-copter). They both fell through a skylight. She died, he walked away, because, you know, he's the hero.
So, that was all the good stuff. In between, was lots of dumb, wierd, and just moronic stuff. For instance, in a scene in which Kham's policeman friend is talking on his cell phone on the side walk, a nameless character steps into the foreground and draws attention to himself by looking around, taking a swig from what looks like a medicine bottle, before giving an audible "ahh", and walking out of the frame. And get this, that guy is mentioned in the credits. That's not all either. There's a scene where Kham bumps into a stranger just after getting off the airplane. That stranger, who looked a heck of alot like Jackie Chan turns around like he wants to fight for a second, and then says "It's alright..." and continues walking. Was that Jackie Chan? I don't know, but HE didn't get mentioned in the credits. I won't even mention the watergun wielding Thai kids that take on Kham's younger elephant early in the film. There was also the fact that Jaa had almost nothing to add to the film verbally. He had pretty much two lines: "You killed my father!", and "Give me back my Elephants!"
To sum up, it was a fun movie to watch for the fight scenes, but I'm really glad I only paid for a matinee ticket. More than anything, watching The Protector just made me want to go out and rent Ong Bak, if for no other reason than to sit through it with Travis and say, "See, this is how good The Protector should have been".