September 14, 2006

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The Protector (R)
Never steal a man’s family of elephants is the lesson learned from The Protector, a nifty little martial arts film starring Tony Jaa of Ong-bak fame.

The Protector is also billed as a follow-up to Ong-bak, even listed as Ong-bak 2 on Internet Movie Database. Is it in any way connected? Beats me. Story, characters, dialogue that makes sense — these things are very secondary to the two ideas that make this movie go: (1) elephants are cool and (2) no many how many henchmen are involved in a battle, they will always fight the lone resister one by one.

And you know what? Elephants are cool, with their stomping around and their trumpeting of angry and joyous noises with their trunks (emotions that, in elephant talk, sound essentially the same). So you can understand why Kham (Jaa) is cheesed when hunters kill his family’s female elephant. (For generations, his family in Thailand has raised the animals to carry the king into battle, as we see demonstrated via a flashback that looks a lot like a tie-in.) And then, though he doesn’t know it and it’s never addressed again, those same hunters kill his grandfather. And then, they take his remaining elephants (a giant tusk-having male and its Honda Civic-sized baby elephant). Kham is so mad he doesn’t know whether to cry extravagantly or chase the bad guys to Sydney (Australia) to attempt to rescue the elephants. So naturally, he does both.

Through a tangle of events that neither make a lot of sense nor ultimately matter to the movie, Kham is marked as a criminal by Australian police, some of whom are helpfully also of Thai descent. Armed with only a photo and some bad-ass martial arts moves, Kham goes after Johnny (Johnny Nguyen) and his boss Madame Rose (Xing Jing), desperate to find the elephants before something trunk-detaching happens to them.

How does he do this? Why, by fighting faceless henchmen one by one, of course. For the sake of variety, some of them are big Aussies with muscles, some of them are fast-kicking fellow Asians.

Tony Jaa and the movie’s sound effects guy meld into one bone-cracking terror in this movie, each slap, smack, crunch and foot to the gut magnified to almost cartoonish levels. Which I say not as a criticism — this isn’t a movie too concerned with things like realism and nor should its audience be. This is the flip side of the glorious ballets of wire fighting and ornate costumes that are films like Hero or House of Flying Daggers. Not a symphony, The Protector is street music with all the rawness and clichés of the genre. It is, to Hero’s dozen-course meal of the most exquisite cuisine, a tasty greasy snack bought from a street stall. It is entertainment, uncomplicated entertainment — with an endless rat-a-tat of kicking and punching, with exaggerated villains, a hero of ridiculous purity and non stop silliness. And, you know, elephants. B-

— Amy Diaz


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