"Who needs plot when you have all of this ass-kicking?"
The makers of the Thai thriller “The Protector” thankfully realize that nobody is buying tickets for this flick expecting deep insights into the human condition or Sir Terence Rattigan-quality dialogue. Co-writer-director Prachya Pinkaew spends remarkably scant time with exposition or character development because the attraction of the film is getting to see star-action coordinator Tony Jaa (a.k.a Panom Yeerum) subdue more combatants than the first battle of the Marne.The excuse for all this carnage is an ancient order of warriors whose job it is to defend Thailand’s elephants. The strength of the beasts has an ancient mystical link to the power of the monarchy. One young disciple of this tradition is Cam (Jaa), who journeys to Sydney, Australia when gangsters kill his dad and, worse, steal his pachyderms.
In the process of reclaiming his elephants, Cam manages to neutralize every gangster in Australia’s most populous city. As in a lot of action movies, they decide to fight Cam one at a time. But frequently two thugs come running toward him, only to be reduced to bloody pulp in seconds.
It’s also odd that Sydney’s gangs and crooked cops don’t use guns that often. For all the money they’ve spent and lost on personnel in this flick, it might have made more sense to invest in ammunition.
Watching Jaa’s muay Thai martial artistry is so breathtaking that it’s easy to ignore logical gaps like these. Jaa has an astonishingly rich vocabulary of jumps, kicks, punches and rolls that reduce gravity from being a scientific fact to an unsubstantiated hypothesis. He runs up walls, leaps over fences and rivals Jackie Chan’s ability to make weapons out of ordinary (and in some cases bizarre) objects. We even get to see him battle a whip throwing, female mob boss (ballerina Jing Xing).
While there are some CGI additions, like some dream sequences, much of the action appears to benefit more from Jaa’s elbow grease instead of wires or digital fixes.
After watching five minutes of Jaa’s skills, it’s easy to see why Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal have been relegated to straight-to-video these days. Viewers have to wait much longer for action in their movies, and most of their fighting is dull and unimaginative. Weak acting and writing can be easily forgiven if the primary reason for the film (bone-crunching thrills) is delivered satisfactorily.
Fans of the original Thai version of the film may be disappointed with the way the Weinstein company has brought the film to the States. The music soundtrack has been changed, and there are some jarring cuts in the action that indicate some adjustments have been made to accommodate American viewers. The dubbing for some of the lines (a good chunk is still subtitled) is on par with a Godzilla movie.Nonetheless, it’s worth the annoyances are worth if for a sampling of Jaa’s agility. He breaks other people’s bones with the same finesse that Rodin brought to sculpture.