Movie Review of The Protector (2006)

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Review #241 of 365
Film: The Protector (2006) [R] 109 minutes
Thai Title: Tom yum goong
WIP™ Scale: $9.25
Where Viewed: Colorado Cinemas Cherry Creek 8, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 9 September 2006
Time: 8:00 p.m.

Directed by: Prachya Pinkaew
Written by: Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, and Joe Wannapin
Story by: Prachya Pinkaew
Featured Cast (Where I Remember Him/Her From):
Tony Jaa (he's the Jet Li of Thailand) • Petchtai Wongkamlao (he's the Jerry Seinfeld of Thailand) • Xing Jing (Shanghai Ballet Star) • Johnny Nguyen (Cradle to Grave with Jet Li)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Generally, I thoroughly enjoy international films, and I was looking forward to seeing The Protector starring Thailand martial arts phenom, Tony Jaa, since I first saw the preview. Tony Jaa prides himself on doing all his own stunts, choreography, and without wires and special effects. So, I thought I was in for something I'd never seen before. Which, with the idea interpreted liberally, the film's director, Prachya Pinkaew, delivers something I've never seen before, and Tony Jaa's fight seen choreography does include things I've never seen before—but then I'm not a student of martial arts films just a casual fan.

The story begins in Thailand where we learn the history behind the war elephants. Frankly, I spent a lot of time for the first ten minutes of the film just thinking about how cool it would be to live in a culture where elephants were just a daily part of your life. I mean dogs and cats are cool and all, but elephants? These amazing animals are absolutely unreal. I don't recall a movie in my lifetime where there were so many real, live elephants. It made me think I need to look into how they are doing now that the world has heavily united behind preserving them. So, Tony Jaa's character, Kham, grows up learning to serve elephants as their protectors—a group of specially trained martial art experts in a brand known as muay thai who protect and train the elephants for the king's armies. In the process, young Kham falls deeply in love with two elephants in his charge a mother a baby pair. Kham's father prepares the mother for inspection by the king, and for reasons that are still a bit unclear, he is shot and the elephants are stolen. A now grown up Kham, however, immediately leaps into to action trying to stop the theft of the elephants both of which he considers part of his family. He will die trying to save them. It turns out that the elephants have been stolen by agents of the notorious Madame Rose's (Xing Jing) crime syndicate of Australia for her nefarious purposes. So, of course, Kham jets to Sydney to track them down. Little does he realize that his pursuit gets in the middle of the Rose gang's evil plan to take over the Police department one killing at a time thereby permitting them to operate in an unfettered fashion. Former Thai polic officer, Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao) starts off as his enemy and ends up his ally as both are accused of the murders of the police that were actually committed by members of the Rose family.

"…feels…more like a video game with a plot contrived to link the hero's battles…"
After a while, and after a few fight sequences, the film feels less and less like a story about Kham rescuing his beloved elephants and more like a video game with a plot contrived to link the hero's battles. The elements break down this way. There are five major fight/action scenes. One that begins moments after the elephants are stolen and Kham must fight his way to the information as to there whereabouts. This includes a very fierce jet boat action sequence. Next, Kham has to take down a warehouse full of baddies as he happens to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time just after arriving in Sydney. Madame Rose's lead baddie, Johnny, sounds a city-wide horn that calls every baddie BMX-riding fighter in the city to the warehouse to destroy Kham. Johnny survives just barely—fortunately he has vengeance on his mind. Further searching, and more crazy stuff, leads him to Madame Rose's restaurant which serves as a cover for her operations. Then comes an incredible single shot sequence where he must defeat baddie after baddie as he tears up the outer staircase of an eight-story building. Most people are smart enough just to get out of his way. Those who choose to fight end up being broken in six places and tossed over the railing or sometimes through the railing. At the top, he continues to have to fight baddies who sometimes now are armed with knives. The climax of the battle causes him to face Madame Rose's top fighter Johnny. He lost to Johnny in the warehouse, he's not about to lose this time. He finds the baby elephant, but in his escape, he is assumed to be part of the crime family, and now is wanted by the police. He and officer Mark, now framed for the assassination of the chief of police and wanted, therefore, by the police, flee to a temple for sanctuary. When it is clear that baddies are on the way and maybe police too, they flee the temple. Moments later, though, Kham is back in the temple fighting for his life. He's doing ok, until all of the sudden the film which was becoming more and more like Tekken 5, turns into Tekken 5 with the appearance of an 8-ft tall, bald, evil, fighting figure (Australia's own Nathan Jones). All of this leads to a final confrontation with Madame Rose's men, extra baddies and Nathan Jones, and then Madame Rose herself.

As you can sort of see, there are some major continuity problems, and truthfully, because the plot is so convoluted and disjointed at times, the film is bound to have these issues. My research shows they have made the film into a video game, and as elaborate as Tony Jaa's sequences are, I feel the plot and story lend themselves better to that genre than they did to a feature-length film. It's difficult to evaluate the acting, since there was so little. The fight scenes are amazing at times, but they get repetitive quickly even though each bone-breaking sequence is new. Of course, the age old question arises, why do the baddies come in a steady stream one or two at a time rather than thirty all at once? Also, there are plenty of guns around, as elegant as the martial arts sequences are, why would Madame Rose resort to a whip as her weapon of choice to protect herself from Kham once all of her baddies are knocked out of commission? Why wouldn't she just say, "To heck with this," pull out her pistol, and pop him a quick two to the head? Well, there's no law that says martial arts movies have to have great plots or ones that even make sense. I just prefer them when they do.

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The Protector (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
Every martial arts movie fan in the USA has been looking forward to seeing The Protector starring Thai phenom, no special effects, no wires, Tony Jaa, since they first saw the not-stop action preview. In this follow-up to The Thai Warrior, director Prachya Pinkaew delivers a few things we've not seen before. The story of a young man who skips continents to rescue the beloved stolen elephants he has grown up with only to end up in the middle of a major police corruption / crime syndicate scandal, unfortunately has major continuity problems and the convoluted, disjointed plot quickly turns the film into an extended video game rather than a movie. Without the on-screen chemistry of some of the legends before him, Tony Jaa's fight sequences become mechanical and redundant bearing more of a resemblance to the computer-generated fight scenes of The Matrix Trilogy than stunning feats of human fury.

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