Elephants cool; martial arts not so hot

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006


  "The Protector" 1 hour, 49 minutes Weinstein Co. AP

"The Protector"

1 hour, 49 minutes

Weinstein Co.


I love living in a small town. People are friendly, there’s hardly any traffic and little chance you’re going to get shot going to the mall. On the other hand, there’s challenges when it comes to film criticism. Sometimes theaters have to opt for movies they think will guarantee them a significant box office. That’s why the theme of this review is “I refuse to pay money to watch ‘Jackass 2!’”

My movie, “The Protector,” wasn’t a whole lot better, but I’ll take it. Tony Jaa, up-and-coming martial artist and Jackie Chan’s heir-apparent, is Kham, a practitioner of an ancient and elite Thai tradition. His family raises and protects elephants.

At first glance that sounds silly but, ironically, the elephant parts were the only elements that weren’t. When two of them are stolen from Kham by evil underworld types, our hero hotfoots it to Sydney, Australia, where he has to punch his way through the criminals of Little Thailand to get them back.

Kham battles an assortment of baddies, from evil, fluorescent-bulb-wielding skater punks to grotesquely oversized professional wrestling rejects, all the way to the top: a whip-toting she-devil. There are druggies, murderers and a restaurant that serves endangered animals to the ultra-rich.

I’ll admit I was hesitant to see this movie. First, I was certain the acting would be terrible (I was right), and that the dubbing would be even worse (bingo). Part of the movie is in English, part in Thai with subtitles, and part is in Thai, but dubbed in English, making for a muddled spaghetti-western, but in a bad way, kind of movie. Also, an action movie tends to get a little tedious when the entire plot consists of a determined protagonist drop-kicking an endless supply of minions from one end of the film to the other.

I think the hope is that Jaa will be able to achieve a similar kind of success as Jackie Chan; “The Protector” is being promoted in the same way Chan’s films were, i.e. “No Strings Attached!”

There is no doubt Jaa is an incredibly talented athlete. There are kicks, flips and jumps that will amaze you, and watching Kham run right up the side of a wall is flat-out cool. But there is something missing here, and it’s a vital part of any successful martial arts movie: tempo. Almost every fight scene in the film seems slightly staged. There is a beat before each punch as the stunt men get into position, here to expertly break a piece of furniture, there to fly off the balcony. Fight choreography should be invisible. Here it is all too apparent, and while I could have forgiven the poor dialogue, the atrocious acting and the substandard cinematography, if the fight scenes in a martial arts movie aren’t good, what else is there?

The saving grace of “The Protector” is the elephant footage. While still in Thailand (the first 15 minutes and subsequent flashbacks) there is beautiful photography of these gentle giants, moving in large family groups or in singles. These peaceful, intelligent creatures may simply be too large to survive the relatively recent introduction of man into their habitats, but it behooves us to do everything we can to protect them so that ours isn’t the last generation to enjoy them.

For that, I would go to see a relatively poor movie a hundred times over rather than spend 90 minutes of my life watching self-absorbed infants inflict cruelty on each other for no greater purpose than an easy laugh. “The Protector” isn’t great, but considering the options, I think I made the right choice. Grade: C-

“The Protector” is rated R for lots and lots of bone-breaking violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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