The Protector (Tom Yum Goong)
Stars: Tony Jaa
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
** (out of five)
Tony Jaa, the nimble action star of last summer’s Thai import Ong-Bak, returns for another round of high-intensity avenging in The Protector, which once again casts him as a simple villager who must go up against a big-city crime syndicate with only his limbs and his moral outrage to drive him.
This time around, he’s cast as Cam, who with his father raises elephants worthy of kings. But when Dad gets shot and his prize pachyderms are stolen, Cam must make his way to Australia to put things right.
The usual stuff happens, though this time, for the benefit of the international audience, it happens largely in English: Jaa gets chased around by cops who think he’s a bad guy, and bad guys who just don’t like him. (As in Ong-Bak, the action scenes are broken up with the requisite conversations between preening bad guys in smoky rooms.)
Jaa’s still an impressive athlete and an engaging screen presence, and he’s in position to be the next Jackie Chan, an argument The Protector makes quite literally in its first reel. But if that’s going to happen, he’ll need better movies than this. Director Prachya Pinkaew seems less interested in constructing his action sequences with visual flair and spatial coherence in this one; there’s a sense, in the movie’s first hour, that the camera is never quite in the right place, or the actors terribly interested in hitting their marks. It’s only in the final sequence, a virtual reprise of Ong-Bak’s epic bare-knuckle smackdown, that the movie really kicks into gear.
Now, it’s possible that the film — originally titled Tom Yum Goong — has been so ineptly recut for North American audiences that every single shot has been moved around at random. But that seems like a stretch.