The Protector isn’t a sequel to Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior but it is a thinly disguised retread, allowing Thai martial artist Tony Jaa to ass-kick his way through yet another slight story about a young rural fighter’s journey to a big city (here, Sydney) to recover a prized holy possession (in this case, regal elephants that give kings magical powers) stolen by metropolitan criminals. Jaa’s unimaginative repetition of this little-country-boy-that-could mythologizing is matched by his continuing inability to emote, a fact so readily evident to director Prachya Pinkaew that he barely burdens his star with even a single scene that requires dramatic acting. Yet whereas Jaa’s limited thespian talents appear to have been both identified and compensated for by the filmmakers, who give him little to do other than look anguished or angry while delivering airborne knees to the cranium, Pinkaew’s myriad directorial shortcomings are insurmountable, with his overblown use of slow motion and inexplicable employment of smudgy blue effects for close-ups trumped, in incompetence, only by his inability to edit conversations or action sequences. So pronounced is this last deficiency (highlighted by one character’s line being interrupted by a poorly timed cut) that the film feels like it’s gone through a post-production blender (or bout with Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein) and come out irrevocably crippled, though assigning blame for its absurdly arrhythmic pacing is, when faced with such overwhelming ineptitude, almost besides the point. Still, despite the lousy cinematography, the laughably breakneck momentum (formulated by eliminating any substantial connective tissue between set pieces), the inconsistent alternation between English and Thai dialogue (replete with awful dubbing), and the impressive but overly choreographed hand-to-hand combat, The Protector partially redeems itself via a thrillingly over-the-top finale that fully exploits Jaa’s viscerally violent Muay Thai fighting techniques. Though even more striking and uproarious than Jaa’s world-class lesson on the 101 ways to break an arm, or his insane leap off a skyscraper to fell an adversary hanging from a helicopter, is the film’s showstopper image of a Street Fighter II-esque American behemoth confirming Thai countryfolk’s apparent fears that urbanites hate wild animals by literally hammer-throwing a baby elephant.
- The Weinstein Company
- 84 min
- Prachya Pinkaew
- Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, Joe Wannapin, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee
- Tony Jaa, Phetthai Wongkhamlao, Bongkod Kongmalai, Jin Xing, Nathan B. Jones, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lateef Crowder, Jonathan Patrick Foo, Sambat the Elephant, Nutdanai Kong
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