Genre: Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.
Release Date: May 2nd, 2014 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Prachya Pinkaew Actors: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, RZA, Jija Yanin, Marrese Crump, Rhatha Phongam, Theerada Kittisiriprasert, Boonsong Nakphoo, David Ismalone
overnment and separatist army clashes in Katana continue to escalate as death tolls steadily rise to match. General Dutafi strives for the partition and establishment of West Katana, but the UN and several countries step in as mediators, with meetings in Bangkok proving largely beneficial toward a ceasefire. “But not everyone wants peace.” And that basic setup is, peculiarly, not an integral part of the upcoming events. In fact, it’s so far removed from the following happenings that it feels like the opening to a completely different film.
In Surin, Thailand, Kham (Tony Jaa, previously called Cam in subtitles) continues to raise his pet elephant Khon, while also instructing the local children in the ways of Muay-Thai self defense – much to the dismay of the elders who don’t respect the lone warrior and his ancient teachings. When wealthy, manipulative elephant poacher Suchart Viravandaj (Adinan Buntanaporn) fails to buy Khon, he comes back later to steal him, inciting the wrath of Kham. Sergeant Mark (Phetthai Vongkumlao) is also caught up in the mix when his past with Kham interferes with an ongoing investigation.
A nerdy scientist pal, sister adversaries (Sue Sue and Ping Ping), a “beautiful ass-kicking machine” in the form of female martial artist Rhatha Phongam (adorned in a costume ripped from Milla Jovovich’s “The Fifth Element” getup), and a slew of warriors tattooed with numbers (so that when Kham duels his way to the top, it’s somewhat sequential) supplement the lead role. And RZA, playing an arms dealer called L.C., running an unnamed, criminal, underground boxing organization (of sorts), brings some pitiful Americanisms to the set. These include, namely, obligatory threats; ludicrous motives (such as turning a pachyderm into a bomb); snazzy suits; English narration; weird technological devices for forcing victims into obeying orders; and plot elements that obnoxiously deform what should have been a simple premise, all for the sake of showcasing flamboyant hand-to-hand combat styles.
The storytelling is actually more fluid than before, with the editing less abrupt and choppy. Kham’s transitions from one fight location to the next make far more sense; he doesn’t merely appear in random, different locations, with major gaps in time unexplainably missing. The dialogue, sense of humor, soundtrack, and supporting characters all have more to offer as well. The production values have definitely increased, with the cinematography trying new techniques – though the inclusion of computer-enhanced effects drastically take away from the impressiveness of Jaa’s physical skills and stunts. In its attempt to be more robustious and explosive, the choreography and action sequences instead become outlandishly over-the-top and downright goofy.
“You’ve lost your elephant again?” The story is still wildly juvenile, but the BMX assassins are back, along with the insanely destructive knee lunges and elbow strikes and lengthy martial arts face-offs – and a convoluted mess of betrayals, corruption, and shady business dealings. But, most importantly (and detrimentally), the fight choreography has lost its focus on realistic physical agility in favor of hokey wirework and CG additives, thereby decreasing the effectiveness and entertainment value of the entire ordeal. Fighting with flaming footwear and, later, electrified sneakers are concepts that should never have been incorporated into a serious martial arts adventure. There are just too many bad ideas to keep track of (it even ends with outtakes like a Jackie Chan picture), disappointingly negating every single worthwhile aspect.
– Mike Massie