People don't watch films like The Protector for lavish visuals or a carefully constructed story -- they watch to see flying fists, spilled blood and shattered bones. Which is to say, if you're wandering through the video store looking for a movie with a satisfyingly rich narrative or a startling, breakthrough performance, keep on moving down the aisle.
The only things being shattered in The Protector are plate glass, plaster and any number of extremities. Tony Jaa isn't a stranger to Stateside eyeballs, having first earned notice in 2005's import Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. The film earned him comparisons to vintage Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and Jaa returns here as Kham, a Thai man trained in the rugged martial art of Muay Thai. There's an inescapabale sense of deja vu for anyone who caught Ong-Bak during its limited theatrical run, throughout The Protector -- reuniting with Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew, this film swaps a stolen baby elephant for a missing Buddha head, creating a startlingly similiar story line to the previous film.
Relying on a tissue paper-thin set-up, The Protector follows Kham to Australia, where with the help of Rick, a (conveniently) Thai-born Australian cop (David Asavanond), he embarks on a journey to recover the stolen pachyderm. Don't fret if you're lost amid the complex tangle of plot twists and characters motivations -- the screenplay tosses sense out the window not long before the credits unspool. This is the kind of movie where a line like "You killed my father and stole my elephants" is delivered without a trace of irony and moments of raw emotion are interrupted by a boot to the head.
So why plop down cold, hard cash to see The Protector? Two words: Tony Jaa. The seemingly indestructible heir to Jet Li and Jackie Chan, Jaa is a human special effect, whose breathless stunts are truly jaw-dropping -- The Protector hinges on a series of ever more incredible set-pieces, one of which unfolds in real time in an astonishing single take. Aside from an over-reliance on slow motion and an unshakable sense that Jaa is living in a video game, these brutal scenes of combat shame most anything coming out of Hollywood -- save for the penultimate fight, which feels cribbed from Romeo Must Die.
The fitful plot -- hobbled further by an odd mixture of subtitles, dubbing, the odd bit of horrifyingly amateurish blue-screen work and being trimmed of around 15 minutes for American consumption -- is an afterthought; the cast isn't first rate, but since the lead actor only boasts a violent brand of charisma (not to mention stilted line readings) and the villain can't even pull off evil convincingly, the stakes aren't terribly high.
In a rare display of common sense, however, The Protector offered here in a two-disc set, is also presented in its uncut international version, which restores most of, if not all of the missing material which makes the U.S. theatrical cut borderline incoherent at times. For a fairly complete list of changes (thanks to DVD Talk colleague Brian Orndorf for outlining these), click here.
The Protector is a giddy ride, much like clinging tightly to the rails of a towering rollercoaster; while it's much too gruesome for kids, those who delight in the bloody athleticism on display here will not want to miss this next generation of action star in ascendance. The DVD
The Protector is presented with a perfectly serviceable 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer -- the directorial choice to have parts of the frame obscured by a murky haze is far more distracting on the small screen than it was in theaters, but aside from the unfocused portions of the image and considerable amounts of contrast and grain, what's provided should satisfy most fans of the film. The "uncut international version" on the second disc is also presented in a virtually identical 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer; thankfully, it's impossible to distinguish the reinstated footage from that which was in the U.S. theatrical cut. The Audio:
The U.S. theatrical cut sports a pair of stellar soundtracks: English/Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 and English/Thai DTS 5.1 -- the DTS track edges out the Dolby Digital track in terms of immersion and clarity, with the thudding blows sounding particularly painful. The RZA's atmospheric score also gets plenty of love, with the dialogue (be it dubbed or authentic) sounding clean and crisp. An optional English Dolby Digital 5.1 dub and optional English and Spanish subtitles round out the first disc. The second disc includes only an English/Thai Dolby Digital 5.1, which doesn't feature any noticeable different in quality from the theatrical version, and optional English subtitles. The Extras:
The bulk of the bonus features are found on the first disc of this set: the U.S. theatrical cut sports a commentary track featuring Asian film expert Bey Logan; a two minute, eight second deleted fight scene (presented in fullscreen); a 15 minute making-of featurette "No Wires Attached: Making 'The Protector'" (presented in fullscreen); four separate Tony Jaa martial arts demonstrations, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of five minutes; a six minute, 30 second interview with Jaa (presented in fullscreen); a 35 minute doc, "Director's Guided Tour: The Stairwell Scene," presented in fullscreen and which breaks down the film's action centerpiece; a three minute, 39 second "mobisode" (or cell phone video) titled "8 Limbs"; a 45 second promo for the film's soundtrack and the film's theatrical trailer, presented in fullscreen, completes the disc. The second disc houses the 55 minute, 32 second making-of doc "The Making of 'Tom Yum Goong (The Protector)'" and the short films directed by three winners of a "Take on Tony Jaa" contest. Final Thoughts:
The Protector is a giddy ride, much like clinging tightly to the rails of a towering rollercoaster; while it's much too gruesome for kids, those who delight in the bloody athleticism on display here will not want to miss this next generation of action star in ascendance. Recommended.
Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.