Warrior King

Thai martial arts phenomenon Tony Jaa continues his advance into the West with this lively actioner from Prachya Pinkaew, director of the breakthrough Ong-Bak. Originally titled Tom Yung Goong, and also known as The Protector, it’s a two-parter starting off in Thailand, where the atmospherics include shots of young Khan (Jaa) going to school on the back of an elephant and the politics include remarks which westerners might find mildly perplexing (no, we’re not loved the world over), much as you got in Ong-Bak. As for action, the kicking starts about 20 minutes in plus there’s a sequence reminiscent of the speedboat chase in Live and Let Die (ie preposterous yet thrilling). The action then shifts uneasily to Australia and into the English language for a showdown involving lots of truly spellbinding muay thai – no wires, no SFX, just raw Tony Jaa action. It’s a chaotically plotted film that’s clearly been cast out of Thailand – the Aussie actors aren’t very good. Still, the stunt ideas are interesting – you don’t see BMX bikes and fluorescent tubes used in action films every day. Now, if Jaa could only decide whether he wants to be Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee.
© Steve Morrissey 2006

Warrior King aka The Protector – at Amazon

4 thoughts on “Warrior King”

  1. I have watched this movie several times and have come to a number of conclusions. The first is that 90% of the North American audience knows nothing about Asian films and more to the point, martial arts. Several other IMDb members commented on the repetitiveness of the movie, comparisons to Jackie Chan/Jet Li and its use of Kung Fu.

    First of all martial arts flicks will always be redundant to some extent since there are only so many ways to pick a fight, but stories do vary as does the quality of action. Tom Yum Goong is very similar to Ong Bak in its simplistic story and the noble feeling that surrounds Tony Jaa’s character. Mind you in this movie Tony is much more violent and brutal to his enemies. His sorrow at the loss of the elephants is a big part of his rage and the simplicity of the story left lots of space for action. Perhaps left simple for international appeal or for the simple fact that a simple, pure story would be more poignant. Anyway, if you go to a martial arts flick looking to pick it apart and analyze the acting skills then your a fool and should never leave your American Hollywood watering hole.

    As to comparing Tony Jaa to Jackie Chan or Jet Li, are you insane?! Both Jackie and Jet are in their forties. Both are from China and went through actual training schools and academy’s as well competitions. Wu Shu, Crane, Drunken Boxing etc… These are the styles these men made famous. Jackie built his comedic style from the ground up with his amazing acrobatic abilities, fighting skill and on screen charm. Now I’m not a Jackie Chan fan by any means, but credit where it is due. Jet Li was one of the youngest Chinese National Tournament winners ever and blew people away with his Tai Chi and Shaolin style Kung Fu.

    How does this relate to Tony Jaa? It doesn’t at all and thats the point. Tony was very poor growing up in Thailand idolizing Bruce lee in the movies. He earned every break he has in his own way, and built his style accordingly. This movie is so amazing because it not just Kung Fu and Karate for the thousandth time. Tony is a master of Muay Thai Kickboxing, which he uses 80% of the movie. Now you don’t even need to know anything about fighting to notice the difference between karate (or other styles) and Muay Thai. Through the diversity of his fighting style as he battles people who using everything from crane style Kung Fu to Capoeira, you understand why comparing him to others is unfair. While he has trained in similar martial arts its obvious that he is unique. He is in the best shape of his life and just now coming into his prime. His screen presence, skill and experience mean he could be as big or bigger than Jackie or Jet in the next ten years. At the very least he is going to be a major Thai action star for years.

    Also people keep in mind this is a Thai movie. Hollywood wouldn’t even have finished the credits before they ran out of money if they worked with the same budget. More International success will give Tony Jaa access to a bigger budget, more talent (ie writers, language instructors, studios etc..) and allow him to grow. Its easy to bash but look at the low budget flicks Jackie Chan or any other martial artist made when they where twenty and you’ll see that this movie is much much better than most.

    Remember it all just opinion people, everyones got one. PacManPolarBear

  2. Had the opportunity to watch Tom Yum Goong at a local cinema here in Bangkok on opening night. Expectations were high, and the movie fulfilled them in both good and bad.

    The action was some of the best caught on film (do they still use film?) that I have ever seen. Panom "Ja" Yeerum again showed that with his background of Muay Thai, gymnastics and stuntman work, he can deliver action scenes that are graceful and brutal at the same time, and will have the audience picking up their jaws from the floor at times. They don’t use gimmicks like strings or special FX, so everything you see him do is stuff he really does. Except maybe one flying knee where he literally flew about 5 meters into the guy so he must have been launched off something.

    However, as good as the action was, the obvious comparison would be to Ong Bak (same lead, same director). And as amazing as TYG’s action scenes were, they didn’t have the raw power that Ong Bak delivered. I think this may be because of different stuntmen – in Ong Bak, a lot of the people that got beaten up were probably amateur Thai stuntmen or retired muay thai dudes (scene in cave, for example) who don’t mind taking a very heavy kick or punch to make a few Baht and be in a movie. So the impacts were very hard and very real in Ong Bak, and it made the action that much more "in-your-face". In TYG, due to the action taking place in Australia and the higher production values, the stuntmen didn’t seem to get beaten up as badly. Sure, it was still better than any other action movie besides Ong Bak, but not quite as raw and powerful.

    Then… the plot. The plot has already been criticized by many, and obviously it is full of holes, unintentional humor (unless there really is an English-language news channel in Australia where the newscaster has a strong Thai accent?) and so on. But it was nowhere near as bad as Ong Bak. Ong Bak really is a "fast forward to the action scenes" type of movie, whereas Tom Yum Goong is a watchable movie in its entirety. The first 15 minutes have barely any action at all, but the elephant scenes and the beauty of rural Thailand were beautifully shot and the actors did a surprisingly good job – both Panom and the guy who played his father. It seems that Panom’s acting classes have paid off. Now if only he can learn passable English, he’ll really have a chance of becoming the next big thing in Martial Arts action movies.

    The (intentional) comic relief was much better than in Ong Bak – Mum Jok Mok plays a Thai policeman in Sydney. How he got to be Sergeant there, we’ll never know, but he has a few funny lines – most of which are much funnier to Thais or people who know Thai culture than to the international audience. Like the "…. oh, oh, oh – and Laos!" line. More laughs came from cameos like the Jackie Chan lookalike at the airport and Sek Loso drinking M150 on the street in Sydney. Not so much product placement as an inside joke ("go inter") for the Thai audience.

    Getting the audience to cheer for the hero in an action movie obviously requires a nasty villain or a group of villains. Tom Yum Goong does well in this regard as well – both the Thai mobsters and especially their bosses in the Asian mafia in Sydney are an interesting, suitably detestable bunch. Also their "bodyguards", from the Capoeira guy to the three huge Caucasians in the end, are very good opponents for Panom "Ja" to beat up on. Furthermore, having the motivator be elephants (respected animals, and to Kham, family members) instead of a stolen head of a Buddha statue (like in Ong Bak) works much better, especially for non-Thai audiences. Good acting by the baby elephant in one early scene in the movie, by the way! Deserving of an Animal Oscar.

    To sum up, Tom Yum Goong has a decent plot, a good cast with better acting than was to be expected, good cinematography, and of course, plenty of cracking, beautifully choreographed action that will not fail to impress any Martial Arts action movie enthusiast.

    Highlights: Kham learning how to fight the Capoeira guy in a very well choreographed scene, and the bone-crunching extravaganza that was like Kill Bill Vol. 1’s restaurant scene without the swords.

    An excellent achievement in its genre. A whole lot of fun. 9/10.

  3. As a coherent , well acted film tom yum goong is a failure.As an opportunity to see tony jaa completely and utterly destroy his opponents in the most awe inspiring and brutal ways possible, its a huge success! The action in tom yum goong is phenomenal to say the least – tony jaa proves that ong bak was no fluke!The part where jaa does battle with a gang of bikers and roller bladers is an exciting sequence , reminiscent of jackie chan in his police story days. The fight where he battles his way to the top floor of a restaurant in one continuous tracking shot, is a truly amazing piece of work that demands to be re-winded more than once .The fight that pits jaa against dozens of suited henchmen is a bone crunching, applause worthy spectacle that proves what ong bak fans already know- TONY JAA IS THE MAN !!!!! These fights are just some of a collection masterful action sequences .

    As for the rest of the film…lets put it this way- if the action was no good then tom yum goong would be unwatchable. The action makes up for the moronic , near pointless plot . I know that we don't watch these sort of films for plot, but tom yum goong takes the cake with its "one man looking for his elephant" story!And don't get me started on the acting, particularly the lines spoken in English.Tony jaa needs to work with a decent script writer in future….

    Weak on pretty much everything else except the fights , tom yum goong has Superior action and confirms that tony jaa is an amazing performer.

  4. After having watched Tony Jaa in Ong Bak about a week ago on TV, I was waiting for the day when Tom-Yum-Goog finally made its way here. There was a film in between these two, called The Bodyguard, which wasn’t released in the theatres here, so I guess I gotta hit the shops to look for it.

    My friend has likened the introduction of Tom-Yum-Goong to watching National Geographic, and he’s right. It’s an idyllic Thai village scene where Kham (Tony Jaa) grows up and bonds together with herds of elephants, and it might even looked as if it came right out of Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

    It’s a picture of calm before the storm, and the first 10 minutes set the scene, as the elephants will play an important aspect in this movie as it gets elevated into mythical status (check out the CGI scene, looks like Jackie Chan’s The Myth, with its historical fights). You’ll know right away that this is a Thai movie, with its excellent fusion of Thai elements into the storyline – the elephants, the rivers, the rituals, Buddhism, "Tom-Yum-Goong", and of course, Muay Thai.

    With elephants, the natural baddies are first and foremost, the poachers, who kidnap our hero’s pets (wrong move). Of course these baddies belong to a larger crime family and syndicate operating out of Sydney, Australia, which deals with drugs, human and animal trafficking, prostitution, all with the blessings of corrupt cops, and led by a transvestite (yes, you heard me right).

    Tom-Yum-Goong may refer to a shrimp dish in Thailand, but in this movie, it refers to a restaurant which serves as a front for illegal activities. Action fans need not wait too long for Tony Jaa action, as he plunges head on into fights with the Thai gangsters first, in their bungalow hideout. And that’s just to whet your appetite for more mayhem! Bridging the fights from Thailand to Australia is a short boat chase scene that looked right out from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but that’s the only weak action sequence in Tom-Yum-Goong.

    There are plenty of fights in Sydney to keep all action fans happy – like the massive battle with the Aussie streetgangs (on roller blades and bikes) in an abandoned warehouse, which also showcased Jaa’s agility and acrobatic ability. I thought that somehow the cinematography during this sequence let Jaa down at times, especially when he weaved in and out of the trains, the camera just couldn’t keep up, and was positioned at a bad angle.

    But that aside, it made up for itself in a beautifully filmed, one-motion tracking shot of Jaa making his way through a four-storey restaurant, kicking major rear, without seemingly any cuts (I said seemingly, as there was a part where water droplets stained the camera, but somehow disappeared abruptly). Doom has its gimmicky first-person shooter perspective, this one here has its classic third-person perspective, as if you’re controlling Jaa in a coin-operated fight console, taking on the baddies with various swift moves.

    If you’ve known by now, I kinda likened Jaa’s movies so far to Bruce Lee’s (some see shades of Matrix in this movie), and there was another action sequence in which Jaa was up against hordes of gangsters in an enclosed room (think Lee in the Japanese dojo in Fists of Fury), and he floored them all with bone-crushing, limb-breaking kicks and punches. Move aside Steven Seagal, Jaa’s doing it faster, and more lethal! The fights with the huge wrestlers too was a highlight (ala Lee in Game of Death with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), as was the final fight with the final "boss".

    Perhaps my favourite in the movie is the scene at the temple. Water, Fire, and a looming Buddha, Jaa takes on three distinct exponents one-on-one – the hip hop breakdancer, the Chinese wushu sword expert, and the Western wrestler. While this movie has done away with Ong-Bak’s repetitive sequences (yes, we know what Jaa is capable of already), the slow-mo in this particular set is pure poetry in motion. It’s different from Ong-Bak, in that Jaa, like Lee in Enter The Dragon, gets beaten up and injured. You can inflict pain and injure Jaa, but like Lee, he bounces back with a vengeance, sans shirt too.

    Jaa has let his action do the talking instead of his acting abilities (no stunt double, no wire-work, no special effects), and I have no qualms with that, given after all, this is an out and out action movie. Petchtai Wongkamlao, who plays Inspector Mark, and has been featured in all of Jaa’s movies, returns to add his comedic touch to the film as a Thai-immigrant policeman in Sydney, and fans of Ong Bak will also be pleased that this movie is helmed by the same director Prachya Pinkaew.

    While Hollywood struggles to find worthy successors to its 80s and 90s action heroes like Stallone, Van Damme, and Schwarzeneggar, Asia has already found one to takeover the mantle from Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li (as the latter two seemed to have drifted and indicated a preference for dramas). He’s Thai, and his name is Tony Jaa. You heard it here first, he’s gonna be setting the bar for action movies to come. He can only get better, and I’m already a huge fan!

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