I feel about Tony Jaa
, the star of The Protector, precisely the way I feel about Tiger Woods: I want to be him. To have achieved such a high level of mastery over one's mind and body must be such a great feeling. Jaa is currently the world's best cinematic martial artist, and his wild Thai-style kicks, tricks, and acrobatics, all achieved without any special effects, will leave you slack-jawed.
Jaa dazzled the world with his gritty debut in Ong Bak, a crazy and violent race through the streets of Bangkok. Unfortunately, this time around, he's a victim of his success, finding himself dropped into a movie with a bigger budget, eye-catching Australian scenery, and a much higher body count. Jaa doesn't need exploding helicopters, car chases, and sexy girls in mud baths. He's plenty exciting just executing a flying double somersault with a kick to the face of the bad guy. Article continues below
If the story of Ong Bak was "Hey, you stole my Buddha statue," the story of The Protector is "Hey, you stole my elephants." Jaa plays Cam, a Thai villager who has grown up among a long line of elephant breeders who worship the majestic animals in their charge. Childhood flashbacks are full of lyrical images of Cam being gently cradled in the mammoth tusks of his favorite elephant and playing with that elephant's baby son.
Everything flies apart on elephant festival day, when the evil Chinese syndicate from Sydney kills Cam's father, kidnaps both the daddy and the baby elephant, and whisks them off to Australia, no small trick that.
An enraged Cam follows, and soon he finds himself up against a whip-toting dragon lady (Xing Jing
) so evil that she poisons her two young nephews in front of their parents to insure she'll inherit control of a drug triad so immense that it seems to have most of the local government and police force under her control. Also in her employ are approximately 765 black-suited goons, bikers, rollerbladers, and steroid-fueled musclemen, all of whose arms and legs Cam will break before the movie ends.
Sadly, the production values donít do Jaa any favors. The editing is so frantic that it's hard to get a good look at has balletic elegance. Many languages are spoken, and they seem to be dubbed randomly. Subtitles come and go with no apparent logic. The supporting cast can punch and kick, but there are few actors among them. That fact actually makes Jaa look all the better. His anguish when he sees some of the acts of cruelty the syndicate has committed is moving to watch. Then he turns his horror into rage, and whammo!
Jaa has clearly been tapped to be this decade's big martial arts star. Even Jackie Chan
makes an uncredited comedic cameo to pay him deference. Here's hoping Jaa gets good advice and makes better choices. He needs real scripts, good directors, and very very good editors to make the most of his awe-inspiring talents.