For those with a knowledge of Thai, “Tom yum goong” translates as “prawn soup”. Something I’d normally find rather repulsive, but when it’s the title of a Tony Jaa film I’m prepared to give it some leeway. It’s Western title was The Protector which isn’t quite so classy. if you can, get hold of the Thai version (subtitles help) as it’s almost 15 minutes longer than the international release.
First off, this is not the sequel to the superb Ong Bak – that’s still being worked on and is due out later this year. Tom yum goong is a completely separate film and, though not as good as Ong Bak, certainly has its moments.
It can be a little hard to follow as times as the action jumps from Thailand to Australia about half an hour in. At the beginning, it’s all in Thai. Once we reach Oz, the film features Australians, Thai and Vietnamese. In many instances – and sometimes for no apparent reason – characters interact in badly-accented English. Not too hard to understand, but I think it would have made more sense for the Asian characters to converse in Thai and leave the subtitles for us slow Westerners to follow!
The editing early on is also a little over-zealous. Often things happen far too quickly or appear disjointed. Whoever story-boarded the boat chase has some great ideas, but the director could do with studying the Bond films a little more before his next outing. Regardless, it’s pretty spectacular for something coming from a country not (yet) famous for its cinematic output.
Productions values can seem a little low, and the sound effects in particular hark back to ye olde days of Bruce Lee with over-loud smacks, cracks, crunches and pops as various acts of violence are done upon fleshy bits. This isn’t too bad, but in the earlier sequences it does seem out of place. The scenery in the gangsters’ den, for instance, is very 70’s and makes it look almost like a film from that period.
Then we jump to Australia, as I said. And one of the best martial arts action sequences I’ve seen since Jackie Chan was in his prime. In fact, this sequence in my eyes puts Tony Jaa up there as the only actor in modern Asian cinema worthy of taking Jackie Chan’s crown. Let’s be honest – Chan was a master. Now he’s sunk to using wire-work and simpler films with big budgets from American studios. Fair enough – he’s 54 for crying out loud. He’s earned the right to take it easy after the huge archive of classic films he’s created.
The scene I’m talking about takes place in a warehouse as Jaa is attacked by around 20 extreme sports enthusiasts on rollerblade, BMXs, moto-x bikes and a quad-bike. The camerawork is sublime and as there are virtually no cut scenes – it’s almost all just one, continuous take.
The thing is, this feat is partially topped later in the same feature as a fight sequence coming in around the 4-minute mark is completed with no cuts whatsoever. Just some amazing choreography, superb editing and bloody hard work from those involved. When watching it, I did think that Jaa looked dead on his feet – and rather sluggish – by the end. This is why. He’s filmed it six times, on the trot, being treated with smelling salts between each as they re-set all the breakables.
OK, he’s not broken most of the bones in his body, and you can’t see his pulse via a hole in his skull like you can with Chan. But this is the kind of work ethos that makes a man a star. He deserves is a hell of a lot more than most of those Hollywood lot.
Tom yum goong (or however it’s spelt – even Jaa’s official page has two or three variations) is no classic plotwise. Which is why I’ve not bothered going into that. OK, if you insist. Boy grows up with elephant. Bad man kidnaps elephant. Grown boy goes in search of elephant and kicks ass. Happy now? Thing is, the “plot” is just something to hang some outstanding fight sequences off. And there aree some cool elephants in it as a bonus. Oh, and a pretty cool CGI animation segment.
If you like this kind of stuff, then make sure you don’t miss this film. It really does rock. I can’t wait for Ong Bak 2 to come out. Hell, I’m crossing my fingers that the release date is when I’m in Thailand. Where better to go and watch it?