In 2003, Ong Bak hit the martial arts movie scene like a bomb. The Thai flick had a threadbare plot but more than made up for it with utterly dazzling fight and action scenes, anchored by the lead. A phenomenal athlete and martial artist, former stuntman Tony Jaa looked set for greatness, a potential reinforced by the follow-up, Tom Yung Goong (known here as The Protector). It showcased bigger fight scenes, more death-defying feats from the awesome stunt team and Jaa beginning to add screen charisma to his physicality.
Then it all went wrong.
Jaa and producer/director Prachya Pinkaew had a falling out, rumours circulating around a dispute over the contract that tied Jaa to Pinkaew’s production company for a full decade. Jaa took the directing reins for Ong Bak 2 and spectacularly imploded under the pressure, culminating in his apparently flight from the set to two months of isolation followed by a tearful appearance on live television.
But now, years on, it seems even apparently burnt bridges can be mended and, as the last act of the infamous contract, Jaa returns to the fold to star in Pinkaew’s The Protector 2. The question was whether, after such a period of silence and the rise of other new forces in the action field such as the Raid films, could the Pinkaew/Jaa team bring the magic once more?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a resounding “no”.
The plot of the original The Protector was pretty simple – somebody took Tony Jaa’s elephant, so he beats up hundreds of people to get it back. Obviously, it was decided this was the height of scriptwriting genius because guess what the plot of The Protector 2 is?
This time around it is in Thailand rather than Australia and the reasoning for the elephant theft is both convoluted and utterly illogical. Wu-tang man RZA plays a gangster named LZ who is looking to underlie a peace treaty between “East and West Katana” and on the side would also like Jaa’s character Kham to join his numbered army of martial artists/killers.
“We were all real impressed with what you did in Sydney,” he tells Kham in a moment of arch self-awareness, “but the last five years have been so disappointing.”
It may have been predictable that the script and acting would be sub-par at best, but this time the action sequences are also mediocre, leaving the film with nothing to recommend it.
Not only are the majority of the fights comprised of moves we have seen before, there is also wire-work and some pretty poor CG involved to take the visceral element so vital to the previous Jaa/Pinkaew collaborations. Even Jaa himself seems slower than in the past.
Bad decisions occur everywhere. A random chase/fight involving a motorcycle gang appears out of nowhere and then promptly goes on at least 15 minutes too long. The ferocious Jeeja Yanin (of Chocolate fame) drifts in and out, doing not much and her skills are almost completely wasted. Rhatha Phongam (Only God Forgives) appears as a menacing fighter but mostly is reduced to standing around looking pretty.
The film was originally presented in 3D, which is apparent in the number of times proceedings stop dead for objects/fists/feet to be flung towards camera.
Despite higher production values, The Protector 2 feels the most disjointed and oddly amateurish of the Jaa/Pinkaew movies. As what is likely to be their swansong together, it is disappointing, but perhaps bigger and brighter things beckon for Jaa in Hong Kong and Hollywood.
The extras are just the usual array of trailers.
DIRECTOR(S): Prachya Pinkaew | COUNTRY: Australia | YEAR 2013 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 2.35:1| REGION: B / PAL | DISCS: 1