A Disappointing Kung Fu Film
Don't let the title banner "Quentin Tarantino presents" fool you. The Protector is no Kill Bill. And for that matter, neither is it a worthy follow up to Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, 2003's breakthrough hit for Muay Thai master Tony Jaa.
Often mentioned in the same breath as Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan, Jaa prides himself on his nonuse of wires, computer graphics, and stunt stand-ins for the action sequences. A worthy ambition I guess. And most appropriate for The Protector because it's clearly more about the fighting than the storytelling. In fact, the film's choreographer Panna Rittikrai (who returns from Ong Bak) proudly hails the lack of wires, CGI and stunt doubles as a similar underlying concept to Ong Bak.
Produced in Thailand and already released in Europe and Asia under the title Tom Yung Goong, the film arrives in the U.S. with a new title and a shorter runtime (80 mins, vs. 110), which might explain its perfunctory plot and sloppy editing. It plays like a bad B-movie where we suddenly leave an ongoing conversation to join a fight in progress. Subtitles are haphazardly mixed with unsynchronized audio dubbing, and most scenes are unevenly lit. With recent releases like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, we've come to expect more out of this kind of film, so it's a bit of a challenge to accept these inadequacies as serious filmmaking. Interesting plot, exciting martial arts sequences, or beautiful cinematography -- give me at least one!
But we didn't enter the theater with expectations of seeing Gone with the Wind, now did we? After all it's a Kung Fu film and I'm fairly certain that's all it really wants to be. Still, even as an inventory of exciting fight sequences, The Protector falls short. Although it contains innovative stunt work and martial arts moves pulled from a little known band of Thai soldiers not often seen on film, it all looks the same to me as dark-clad bad guys line up, one after another (but never at the same time), to take on Kham (Tony Jaa).
In search of a pair of sacred elephants stolen from his family by evil thieves, country boy Kham travels from his native Thailand to a bustling Sydney, Australia. Once there, he not only encounters the poachers, but also inadvertently uncovers a conspiracy that reaches up to the highest levels of the Aussie government. Jaa's one-dimensionality never allows us to feel any sympathy for Kham and his loss. He's clearly an extremely efficient fighting machine, but Jaa will eventually need to display a bit more on-screen charisma to be taken seriously as a contemporary of Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated “R” for pervasive strong violence and some sexual content.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.