Thai Shtick

The Protector

Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, and Bongkoj Khongmalai
star in a film written by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee and directed by
Prachya Pinkaew.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

First, let’s clear up the question burning in your mind: Has
success spoiled Prachya Pinkaew? Relax, my fellow Muay Thai martial
arts cinephiles. Fans of Ong-bak, the first Pinkaew-directed
masterpiece starring Tony Jaa and filmed on a low budget with the
splendor only a beggar could imagine, will be pleased with The
Protector. (This film was titled Ong Bak II in some markets.) Here
find all the action, loads of the same endearing omissions of big
studio fascinations like plot and love interests, plus the
decorations only money spent crazily can buy. A longboat chase
scene that rivals anything in any Bond film, cute elephants,
exploding helicopters, and an extended fire and water battle in a
Buddhist temple are just a few of the embellishments that viewers
can expect. It’s not for nothing that this film features a scene
where Tony Jaa (he too does all his stunts without computers or
wires) encounters Jackie Chan in a Sydney airport and gets the
gestural equivalent of a torch passed.

The first time I saw Jaa (who was born Panom Yeerum), I
literally stayed on the edge of my seat, clapping in my own living
room and recalling the first time I marveled at the quick fists of
Bruce Lee himself. Picky critics might knowingly assert that Lee
was nonpareil playing the enraged revenger. But Jaa smolders, too,
and much better when angry than the jovial Chan or the suavely
focused Jet Li. In fact, there is an astonishing scene toward the
middle of the often grainy-textured film where Jaa blasts through
the doors of a straight restaurant into a multi-storied palace of
iniquity featuring a spiral balustrade ascending to depraved
heights. Cinematically brilliant, with gleefully creative fight
choreography, it ends feeling like an homage to Bruce Lee’s
posthumously released Game of Death.

There are nods to Quentin Tarentino — executive producer — and
music by RZA, a longtime connoisseur of lo-fi martial arts films.
But, if anything, The Protector reinforces the message of Ong-bak.
There’s a new fighter in the neighborhood for us unashamed lovers
of outré action films. Let’s pray Hollywood never helps this
promising career.


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