I did not see Tony Jaa’s film Tom Yum Goong in its original form, but there was no way to miss the bleeding gashes inflicted on the movie by the Weinstein Company as they turned it into The Protector. The film is often completely incoherent, with characters dropping in and out of the story at random, usually just to perform some action that moves the terrible plot ploddingly forward. The Protector is a disaster, barely made viewable by Tony Jaa’s incredible physical abilities, often trapped inside shitty fight choreography anyway.
The story is Ong Bak with elephants – Jaa must travel from Thailand to Australia to rescue his sacred pachyderms and get revenge for the killing of his father – but The Protector lacks every bit of heart that made Ong Bak wonderful. In that film Jaa was a country bumpkin thrown against forces of urban decay; here he’s a one-note dark avenger. Jaa’s not big on charisma at the best of times, but in The Protector he’s just scowling and running around shouting about his elephants. Which, by the way, should be funnier than it is.
Some of the action scenes are amazing, including one up a spiral staircase (which, by the way, seems to be inside a tesseract – a huge, mall-like structure is hidden inside the “back room” of a small restaurant) done in a series of very long shots, but some are just plain atrocious. There’s a boat chase that seems to be spliced in from another film that’s edited so poorly that I actually didn’t know what was happening for a large portion of it. There’s a sequence where Jaa takes on the cast of Starlight Express and extreme bikers and ATVers in a warehouse, a setting that makes no sense for guys on wheels. Another scene sees Jaa taking on maybe twenty or thirty guys, all of whom stand in line waiting to have their arm and or leg broken by him in a perfunctory manner. It approaches the level of satire – although to be fair I really have no idea what the hell kind of movie The Protector thinks it is. At one point a big strong guy picks up a baby elephant, spins it and tosses it. Don’t worry, PETA, that baby elephant was obvious and bad CGI, an addition to the Jaa oeuvre that we don’t need.
It’s sad to see Jaa’s follow up to Ong Bak be so badly butchered, but it seems to me that there’s no way the original cut is much better. I complained to some friends who had seen Tom Yum Goong about a character in this cut who just keeps showing up and shooting people without an explanation, and they told me that he’s pretty much the same in the original version. I don’t know if the “complex” plot makes more sense in the original version (there’s all sorts of mob/police ties and a cop who gets framed and then, without any explanation, unframed), but who cares? Nobody is going to see The Protector for its twisty takes on law and order, and a streamlined narrative would help keep these people from acting (and keep the dubbers less busy – The Protector is a weird mix of random dubbing and subtitles, and it seems that the voices of some characters change randomly as well).
I really enjoyed Ong Bak, and was looking forward to seeing more of that unique combination of Tony Jaa’s amazing physical feats and the Thai stuntmen’s complete lack of regard for their own health and safety, and while The Protector gives some of that it’s packaged in one of the worst movies I have seen in some time.