The Protector (2006)
The Protector (2006)

Genre: Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

Release Date: September 8th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Prachya Pinkaew Actors: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Bongkod Khongmalai, Jin Xing, Nathan B. Jones, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lateef Crowder, Jonathan Patrick Foo

 


 

A

ccording to ancient legends, Thai kings who possessed the perfect warrior elephant would be victorious in battle. The safety of these royal elephants was entrusted to a select group of soldiers trained in Muay-Thai, a brutal martial arts form. They were called the Jaturungkabart – the Protectors.

Born into a family of elephant herders in Bangkok, young Cam (Tony Jaa) is destined to guard the majestic beasts. When Cam’s father is murdered by greedy businessmen, and young Kohrn – the son of the mighty bull Por-Yai – is kidnapped by poachers, Cam must learn the way of his ancestors to rescue the honored beast. Trekking through the jungle to an executive party, he barrels his way through henchman until he’s given a photograph of Johnny (Johnny Tri Nguyen), the man who stole his prized pachyderm.

After a James Bond-styled boat chase and helicopter shootout, enormous explosions, and drastic destruction to buildings, Cam heads to Sydney, Australia, where Johnny operates his cocaine business. Dealings with the mayor, corrupt officials, a mob boss, a security chief, a police commissioner assassination, a frame job, an evil female subordinate named Madame Rose (Jin Xing), a sympathetic senior constable (Petchtai Wongkamlao), and even a brief love interest (with a mud bath prostitute played by Bongkod Khongmalai) also make their way into the picture, but ultimately the loose plotline exists solely to transition from one setting to the next for boisterous hand-to-hand combat. It’s all a series of playgrounds for complex, stylish, high-speed fight choreography.

“Get your hands off my elephant!” The premise is hopelessly silly and pointlessly convoluted, as well as stuffed with laughable dialogue, but it purposefully tries not to interfere with the sensational stunts. Evil skaters, bikers, rollerbladers, and quad drivers compose a particularly impressive sequence, while another exhilarating moment arrives in a lengthy ascent up a spiraling staircase that appears to be a single, uncut shot, in which the camera follows behind Jaa as he pulverizes thugs all the way to the top (not unlike the basic concept in the finale of “Game of Death”). As if that wasn’t enough, minutes later, another creative, high-octane skirmish takes place inside a burning, flooded church, where a capoeira master (Lateef Crowder), a wushu swordfighter (Jonathan Patrick Foo), and an enormous wrestler (Nathan B. Jones) take turns hammering the formidable protector.

Oodles of slow-motion and repeated angles of heavy-hitting maneuvers, an incredibly bizarre computer-animated dream sequence, and unnecessary flashbacks plague what could have been a more enjoyably straightforward actioner – if only the editor hadn’t opted for technical flair. Segues are often abrupt and stiff and regularly end scenes too early, while many edits and trims appear to excise crucial details. And the climax can’t quite live up to many of the earlier fights. But the particularly ferocious, bone-breaking martial arts style of Muay-Thai, with specific focus on crushing and fracturing limbs with heavy-hitting elbows and knees, is rivetingly cinematic in the hands of the enormously skilled Tony Jaa.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10