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Jaa’s ‘Protector’ ruined by Americanization

Tae Andrews | Thursday, February 1, 2007

Tony Jaa burst onto the scene with 2003’s “Ong Bak,” an instant classic that flew at audiences like an elbow strike to the face and cemented his status as a bona fide martial arts superstar. Utilizing vicious elbow and knee strikes in the Muay Thai martial art style, Jaa dispatched onscreen enemies with panache and flair reminiscent of (dare we say it) the late and great Bruce Lee, the greatest kung fu movie star of all time. Along the way, he even managed to make the movie title a verb in the popular slang, as in, “Oh man, he just got Ong Bak’d right in the face!”

Jaa is like a real-life version of “The Matrix,” performing impossible flips, somersaults and aerial acrobatics, usually ending with one bad guy or another receiving massive punishment to the face from one of Jaa’s many limbs and joints. Throwin’ ‘bows in the distinctive Muy Thai style, the sheer creativity of Jaa as a martial artist matches pretty much anything Quentin Tarantino could dream up short of Pai Mei’s Five-Point Exploding Heart Technique.

The high-flying Thailander is like the Tazmanian devil, a whirling dervish of fists, feet, elbows and knees unleashed upon enemies everywhere. And the best part of all is that Jaa is the real deal. As the DVD proudly proclaims, Tony Jaa has “no stunt doubles, no wires, no CGI.” In other words, what you see is what you get.

Normally, watching Jaa in action is a kick in the pants, or more accurately, a flying knee strike to the dome. So naturally, Jaa’s next movie should have been as sure of a thing as one of his signature monster elbows to the face, right?

Wrong. Enter “The Protector,” one of the worst put-together movies of all time. Somewhere, Bruce Lee is doing backflips in his grave after the release of this sloppy jalopy. The original Thai film, entitled “Tom Yum Goong,” is a fine piece of cinema. Unfortunately, the various clowns at the Weinstein Company headquarters decided to cut a different version of the film for its release in the U.S.

Perhaps the studio was trying to simplify the film for American audiences, but ironically enough, the plot is very standard fare. Jaa reprises his role from “Ong Bak” as a Thai country boy done good. This time around, he finds himself risking life and limb in pursuit of pachyderm protection, guarding a venerable line of elephants from evil poachers.

Dumbed down and sped up for American audiences, the movie was apparently cut and spliced together by a glue stick-eating first grader with construction paper, chewing gum and Scotch tape. The editing is just awful – it’s choppy, devoid of any coherent structure and makes the plot impossible to follow. “The Protector” skips from fight scene to chase sequence back to fight scene regardless of plot.

Amazingly, the fight scenes remain breathtaking, with audiences sure to ooh and ahh at Jaa’s many insane moves. Jaa still sizzles and dazzles, delivering a scintillating performance almost in spite of the atrocious editing.

Throughout its confusing and distorted narrative, the film even manages to jump between dubbing and subtitles seemingly at whim, which is just adding insult to injury. Even for a film genre known for its cheesy dialogue and worse acting, “The Protector” manages to disappoint at every turn.

The sole redeeming feature of the DVD set is that the generous folks at Dragon Dynasty DVD decided to add a second disc of the original film, “Tom Yum Goong.”

Although there is plenty of Tony Jaa inflicting his typical pain on heads, shoulders, knees and toes, all that bone-breaking and name-taking is ultimately wasted, as not even the talented Mr. Jaa can save “The Protector.”