Friday, January 19, 2007

Who's Kung Fu Is Best

If you liked the often-astonishing ONG-BAK out of Thailand a couple of years ago, you may well also be entertained by 2005's THE PROTECTOR, which reunites Tony Jaa and Prachya Pinkaew, the star and director, respectively, of ONG-BAK.

And like ONG-BAK, this equally bone-crushing action movie features the obscure martial art of Muay Thai, which looks quite brutal and seems to mostly entail smashing knees and elbows into your opponent’s face and then smashing through a sheet of glass. THE PROTECTOR has barely any story, just a series of increasingly athletic and violent setpieces with Jaa taking on dozens of angry bad guys.

The slim plot has Jaa traveling from Thailand to Sydney in pursuit of his pet elephant (!), which has been stolen by an Asian gangster working for a whipcracking transsexual (!) in a catsuit. Jaa uses no wires, doubles or special effects in his fight scenes, resulting in some dangerous-looking and highly impressive battles. Pinkaew’s most amazing feat is a continuous four-minute shot that spotlights Jaa climbing to the top of a round palace, beating up what seems like a hundred baddies along the way. In this scene (and others), THE PROTECTOR more closely resembles a videogame than a movie. Put some tits and a pair of shorts on Jaa, and I might as well have been playing TOMB RAIDER on my PC.

The Weinstein Company bought the movie under its original title, TOM YUM GOONG, cut it to 83 minutes, hired The RZA to compose a new score, added a “Quentin Tarantino Presents” title card (he had nothing to do with the movie), and released it in U.S. theaters a year after it played successfully all over Asia. It didn't do all that well theatrically in this country, but it was made for so little money that it unquestionably was profitable. In fact, just its Asian box office alone likely made the film an immense profit.

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