*** (out of 5)
September 8, 2006
Tony Jaa as KHAM
Petchtai Wongkamlao as MARK
Bongkoj Khongmalai as PLA
Xing Jing as MADAME ROSE
Nathan B. Jones as T.K.
Johnny Tri Nguyen as JOHNNY
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Directed by: Prachya Pinkaew
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While I’ve never been what you’d call a martial arts fan, I do like a good martial arts movie when it comes out. In recent years, the martial arts film has seen some crossover success as key films broke through into the American mainstream. Some of these films include “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Hero.” These kinds of films helped inspire some of the massive blockbusters here in the states, including “Kill Bill” and “The Matrix” films.
However, along with these films came the advent of wirework technology. This is when stuntmen and actors are suspended from cables, which are later digitally removed to give the character the apparent ability to fly.
There’s nothing wrong with wirework. The only problem is that it’s a tad overdone in modern cinema. Heck, this technique was spoofed in 2002’s “Austin Powers’ Goldmember,” and that was four years ago.
Still, there are some old-school martial artists out there who do their stunts and action scenes without the help of wirework and digital trickery. Tony Jaa, who most recently made a crossover splash with his film “Ong Bak,” is one of those guys.
Jaa’s latest film is “The Protector,” which was released in Thailand last year. It tells the story of Kham (Jaa) who was raised to protect the sacred elephants used by kings in battle. Kham and his father make a trip to see the king’s elephant keepers to present their prize bull for use in the king’s army.
After a disagreement and scuffle leaves Kham’s father dead and the prize elephants captured, Kham makes it his duty to get the elephants back. Kham travels to Australia to track down the gang that has his elephants, infiltrating the organized crime syndicate of Sydney.
To be honest, the story in this movie is rather weak. But then again, the point of old school martial arts films isn’t about story. It’s about stunts and fighting. It’s about revenge and retribution. While the story doesn’t really hold up throughout the film, the action sequences are some of the best I’ve seen.
Because we’re so spoiled with wirework and digital trickery, it’s hard to believe that Jaa is actually doing what you see him do in the film. The action is the real reason to see this movie. Jaa takes his talents to the limit, showing a distinct, unique style and keeping things new and interesting even in relatively standard fight sequences.
In one scene, Jaa infiltrates a mob hideout and blasts through a couple dozen goons on his way up a winding staircase. This sequence lasts more than four minutes and is reportedly the longest uncut fight scene ever filmed. In some ways, this high-energy and jaw-dropping action sequence is worth the price of admission alone.
Originally a Thai film, “The Protector” is seeing an American release thanks to The Weinstein Company and Quentin Tarantino. It is definitely a relief to see a shorter turnaround time for these films to hit American screens than we were seeing with the Weinsteins when they were at Miramax. There, “Hero” took almost two years to make it overseas, and “Shaolin Soccer” took almost three years.
For the American release, the Weinsteins got former Wu-Tang Clan artist The RZA to put together a diverse soundtrack. The soundtrack works incredibly well and gives a fresh spin to the film.
Overall, “The Protector” is not going to be for everyone. However, if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t expect anything more than an old-school action piece, it’s a fun ride.