"The Protector" kicks butt

Sept. 13, 2006, midnight | By Daniel Klein | 17 years, 7 months ago

Martial arts flick is fun and refreshing

Prachya Pinkaew, a famous martial arts director in Thailand, is not known for making buddy pictures. However, after ten minutes of the follow-up to "Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior," you might feel like you've walked into the wrong theater. The movie in those first few minutes consist of the following: boy plays with grown elephant, elephant has a baby elephant, and boy and baby elephant grow up together. The cuteness even draws an "Aww" out of the audience, and if only Pinkaew had replaced the elephant with a golden retriever, the movie would be like a million other G-rated family films. But then the movie gets back on its projected track when the elephant is captured. And unlike buddy films you've seen before, in "The Protector," when your buddy is stolen, you snap as many arms as it takes to get him back.

"The Protector" tells the story of Kham (Tony Jaa) who comes from a long line of elephant protectors whose only job is to raise elephants fit for kings. In order to fulfill his duties, Kham trains in Muay-Thai, a traditional fighting style in Thailand. But on the eve of presenting his prized elephants to the King of Thailand, an international mafia-style crime syndicate steals the elephants and kills Kham's father. Kham traces the thieves back to Australia, where he travels with the sole goal of getting his elephants back, made clear in his recurring line, "Where the hell are my elephants?" Upon arriving in Australia, Kham enlists the aid of Thai police sergeant Mark (Petchthai Wongkamlao) and pretty slave Pla (Bongkuch Kongmaili) in taking on down notorious crime boss Madame Rose (Jing Xing) and locating the animals he loves before it's too late.

The plot does have a number of holes, most noticeably how Kham, a poor boy living in a small village, manages to get to Australia from Thailand. Another hilarious inconsistency is the constant jumping from English subtitles over Thai, to Thai people being dubbed over in English, then finally to people who can actually speak English. On top of this, the movie also presents a number of questions that are obligatory in any martial arts film, like: What happened to the enemies with guns? Why would 80 people attack one man two or three at a time? Shouldn't he be dead? And new on the list, how can he beat up all those guys and not rip that pair of Chucks?

As for the acting, it's best to keep in mind that this is an action film after all. It is also important to note that 40 minutes of the original Thai film were cut to Americanize the movie. Although Jaa's ability to draw in the audience with his acting isn't all there, he still mystifies with his incredible stunt work, which is all done without wires —leading to claims that Jaa is reviving the dying art of martial arts films and is the Bruce Lee for a new generation. Jaa practically teaches a course in ruthlessly defeating your opponent, showing as little mercy as possible. Jaa also manages to avoid opening any doors with his own hands, opting to throw his enemies at every door he walks through.

The movie masterfully displays an array of different fighting techniques as well, including Muay Thai, capoeira (a form of Brazilian dance-fighting), Wushu sword fighting and straight wrestling as Kham takes on four 350-pound gargantuans.

"The Protector," not to be confused with the 1985 film of the same title and coincidentally also featuring a young up-and-coming martial arts star (think "Rush Hour"), also delivers breath-taking choreography, all arranged by Jaa himself. In contrast to other action heroes of today, Jaa shows that even though he can't act, that doesn't mean he can't play a major part in the moviemaking process.

So yes, the movie has an extremely weak plot, and yes, the acting isn't going to win any Oscars. Jaa doesn't even have the on-screen charisma of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, so it may be too soon to make a comparison between them. But the movie delivers what all martial arts movies are supposed to deliver: hardcore, non-stop, stunt-driven hand-to-hand combat. And really, if you expected a deep and complicated film, you probably bought the wrong ticket.

Even with all of its basic movie-making flaws, "The Protector" is definitely a martial arts cult film, and therefore requires careful consideration before deciding to see it. If you look at the previews and think that it's "just another Kung-Fu movie," then "The Protector" is not for you for two reasons: One, the only thing that makes this film worth seeing are the amazingly choreographed fight scenes, and if you can't appreciate them to the utmost extent, you won't enjoy the film. Two, it's not a "Kung-Fu film," it's a Muay-Thai film, and if you don't know the difference, you certainly do not belong to the martial arts film cult following mentioned above.

If, however, you can name every fighting style and weapon used in the movie, can properly pronounce the names of the actors in the film or have ever seen the movie "Shaolin vs. Wu Tang," then this movie is definitely worth your $7.50. Bring your friends, leave your girlfriends at home, and you will definitely have yourself a good time.

Daniel Klein. Daniel Klein is a junior in the Communications Arts Program and excited for a great year on print staff. When not working on a story he enjoys playing for Blair's awe-inspiring, breathtaking and downright cool boys' lacrosse team (and encourages everyone to come see us … More »

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