The Austin Chronicle

The Protector

Rated R, 109 min. Directed by Prachya Pinkaew. Starring Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Bongkoj Khongmalai, Xing Jing, Johnny Nguyen, Nathan Jones.

REVIEWED By Brian Clark, Fri., Sept. 15, 2006

The plot to director Pinkaew's audacious follow-up to Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior plays kind of like Free Willy with elephants. Here though, the captive animal's owner can knock out five guys with a single jump-kick. Jaa plays Kham, an elephant protector whose animal is stolen by mobsters and taken to Australia. Unfortunately for the mobsters, all protectors train in Muy Thai fighting techniques and Kham has no problem tracking them to Sydney. Once he arrives, a series of convoluted subplots about corrupt cops and crime rings emerges, but forget those. Here's what matters: Kham exacts bloody revenge on all 5,000 of the elephant kidnappers in a series of increasingly jaw-dropping spectacles involving roller-blade warriors, speed boats, wild elephants, and whips (unfortunately not all at once). It's all executed with incredible skill, both behind and in front of the camera. In one virtuoso set-piece, an uninterrupted steady-cam shot follows Jaa up endless flights of winding stairs as he ventures into rooms and throws goon after goon into furniture and mirrors. It's a jaw-dropping sequence that puts the single-take hammer fight in Old Boy to shame. But while every expertly choreographed Muy Thai bout delivers, the film suffers from haphazard editing. Entire sequences of explanation are missing, as if Pinkaew made a 2 1/2 hour martial-arts film and then cut everything but the fighting scenes. For the film's core audience, this idea probably sounds good on paper, but with little style or rhythm, the technique distracts from the action at times. Ultimately though, nothing could distract too much from Jaa fighting a hulking, 8-foot-tall Australian wrestler in a burning building. Scenes like this one come as fast and often as Jaa's deadly punches in The Protector, and by the end you're so invigorated that narrative issues seem like an afterthought.

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