Protector
Stop fighting! I want to roast these marshmallows!

Theatrical Release Date: 08/11/2005 (Thailand), 09/08/2006 (USA)
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao

Have you ever wanted to see a gang of extreme sports hoodlums attack a martial arts master? Have you ever wanted to see a fight scene where the protagonist breaks the arms and legs of nearly 50 enemies? Have you ever wanted to see a man throw a baby elephant?

As I will assume your answer is yes to all three, then look no further than “The Protector”.

The film stars Tony Jaa and if you saw “Ong Bak”, then you know what kind of amazing muay thai elements are in store.

Much like “Ong Bak” (and apparently the same in the upcoming “Sword”), director Prachya Pinkaew and Jaa have teamed up to create a very simple story but one that allows for a lot of creativity in how to use Jaa’s phenomenal fighting style and acrobatic ability.

Here’s the basic plot to any Jaa-Pinkaew collaboration: Someone steals something and Tony Jaa will get it back, by any means necessary.

In “The Protector”, Jaa is a member of a sacred order charged with raising and protecting elephants destined to become symbols of royal power. Someone who didn’t see “Ong Bak” decides to steal his elephant and will learn to regret it.

The story begins in Thailand but quickly shifts to Sydney, Australia. Everyone who knows me understands my affinity for the land down under and I was happy to see that while a lot of stock footage was used, there were many scenes actually filmed in Sydney.

This film also boasts the feat that it is the first time an elephant has walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I can only imagine the looks that received on the day of shooting.

Back to the film, one of the most interesting/amazing aspects is a fight scene that lasts nearly 4 ½ minutes that is shot in one take! Jaa ascends through a building, fighting thug after thug and there isn’t a cut until he reaches the top. That speaks volumes as to the quality of the fight choreography, stunt work and Jaa’s own stamina and ability.

As aforementioned, there is also a scene that more than borders on ridiculous involving a throng of henchmen attacking Jaa, only to be delivered so many broken bones, one of my friends was shouting “Invest in casts!”

I couldn’t agree more. Nor could I agree more on another comment he made, that Tony Jaa was “radioactive pissed”. Mark my words, there is no better way to describe Jaa’s disposition as the film progresses.

He loves his elephant and the bad guys should have just given it back but nooooo … they had to try and defeat Jaa. Bad idea.

The fight scenes are unsurprisingly amazing and I nearly lost my voice exclaiming awe and wonder at the action on screen. Thankfully for me (but not for film revenue), my friends and I were the only ones in the theater so we were able to let loose our chorus of cheers and hurrahs.

And make no mistake, the fights are so amazing and over the top that I gave out an actual standing ovation.

Now, that isn’t to say this film is for everyone. Obviously, it’s heavy on martial arts action and people who don’t like protracted fight scenes will find a lot not to like here.

There are tons of plot holes, numerous bad edits and an overall looseness that will drive anyone looking for a complete story batshit crazy.

Additionally, it was disheartening to find out that the super small cameo by Jackie Chan was in fact a double who just looked amazingly like Chan.

I do want to mention though that I liked that Petchtai Wongkamlao was also cast in a fairly major role, as he was central to “Ong Bak”. So it’s nice to see that this core group of actors/filmmaker are sticking together to keep creating fun and interesting work.

In regards to the fights in “The Protector”, former wrestler/rugby player/strongman and native Australian Nathan Jones is featured prominently and when he is matched up to Jaa, it’s just fun to see the size disparity. Almost a Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar kind of setup. Though it was less about style for Jones and much more about pure brute strength.

I also want to make special mention of Lateef Crowder who uses the capoeira fighting style to remarkable effect. I was probably most disappointed in this non-resolution, where Crowder does not come back near the end to effect a second fight. His moves were eye-popping.

In the end, as stated before, just watching the trailer will serve to either whet or lose your appetite for this one.

Looking at Pinkaew and Jaa’s first collaboration, “Ong Bak” had a fairly complete story and wrapped up most of its loose ends, all along giving top notch action. However, there are loads of unresolved issues in “The Protector”. If you can’t let go of reality and just strap in, feel the G’s and go along with an insane asskicking ride, this film is not for you.

I had way too much fun watching Jaa knee and elbow his way through Sydney as he looked to reclaim his elephant family. Also, the technical mastery necessary to pull off most of the stunts is extemely impressive.

However, as far as the the quality of the project as a film, there’s a lot lacking here and as such, I’m giving “The Protector” a 2 out of 5. There are just too many issues with the film from a story and filmmaking perspective.

But if you just want a film with crazy, prolonged fight scenes, there is nothing better this year than this latest Tony Jaa extravaganza. The film is exactly what it represents and I’m okay with not getting a “Godfather” like story to go along with all of the amazing action.