Friday, February 10, 2012

The Protector - Gimme my Damned Elephant!!!

AAahh.. The Protector. The second film by Tony Jaa, featuring some of the most amazingly brutal fighting E-V-A-R!!! And an adorable baby elephant. Yes folks, this week we return to a more recent film with high PPM (punches per minute), amazing feats of human strength, and a storyline that will tug at your heart strings and make you want to back an endangered animals and/or human trafficking foundation.

The Protector (2005) is the second "Lead Role" film by our tough guy of the week, Tony Jaa. I say "Lead Role" as Mr. Jaa has appeared in films as a stunt double, stunt lead and secondary characters since 1994. However, he took his first lead role in Ong Bak (2003). Jaa is another of our favorites here, right up there with Donnie Yen. Bet you couldn't tell.

The story is written by: Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, Joe Wannapin, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, and Prachya Pinkaew: and directed by: Prachya Pinkaew (Ong Bak 1 & 2, Chocolate, 13: Game of Death, Raging Phoenix, Born to Flight, etc)

Now, for those of you who are entirely unfamiliar with Tony Jaa, Ong Bak, and Muay Thai, we have three words for you:

LOOK... it's a brutality montage!!

1) Decimate

2) Destroy
3) Utter Devastation (Ok. That's more than one word. But you get the point)

    Essentially, unlike other martial arts that have forms, structure, health benefits, etc. Muay Thai is simply about the complete decimation of your opponent. Period.

    And now on to the movie!

    The film opens with scenes of our hero, Kham, growing up with his family's elephant, Por Yai. Kham's father tells him of their ancestors, the Jaturungkabart (great Thai warriors) whose primary purpose was to protect the King's elephants from attack, lest the elephant the King was riding on should become injured and put the King's life in danger. 

    Kohrn - the cutest baby elephant EVER!

     Through the seconds... err.. years, we mean... Kham and Por Yai bathe together, play together... and then one day about 3 minutes later, Por Yai has fathered a baby elephant named Kohrn (so cute!), and the scrawny Kham from a moment ago has grown into totally buffed out Tony Jaa (cute doesn't even begin to cover it), who seems hell bent on being the best damn Jaturungkabart in the history of 14 letter words. This consists primarily of learning the art of Muay Thai, to which you have just been introduced (see the photos above).

    SIDE NOTE: Now, we need to take a moment to really drive home the elephant love here. These elephants may as well be human for the treatment they receive from their devoted guardians. The Thai people have a deep love for their elephants, as do we, and they are here-to-fore referred to as brothers/sisters.  Definitely not something to be trifled with. Noooo trifling with the elephant love. Got that?

    Ok, back to the story...

    Being so proud of their handsome but endangered family, Kham and his father are of course excited to hear of an opportunity to have their elephant inspected for possible presentation to the King at an upcoming festival. The family packs up and heads to the festival, good times are had by all (including the purchase of a charming bell for young Kohrn), until things go terribly, horribly wrong, as they do in any good movie.

    During Por Yai's inspection, Kham's father realizes that something is wrong, and that these are not official inspectors... but rather are poachers pawing over his impressive animal. When he attempts to stop the poachers from taking Por Yai, he is shot. Por Yai (the elephant) is now incredibly pissed off because these guys killed his "wife", killed his master, and are just all around bad people. Thus, he takes off on a rampage through crowded city streets filled with festival goers. Then, after a very dramatic scene of mowing things down with his enormous tusks, both Por Yai and Kohrn are whisked away... as best as any poacher can whisk two elephants.
    Now, Kham, who just so happened to be off watching a boxing match while all this was happening, is understandably angry.  But we're not talking about normal angry. No, there will be no Miss Piggy karate chop here. We're talking no-holds-barred, I-hereby-solemnly-pledge-to-install-my-knee-where-your-face-used-to-be

    But rather than tell you about it, we'll just show you a small portion of the entire beatdown.

    Ok, so remember that thing we said about not trifling with the elephant love? If you steal Tony Jaa's elephants, he will track you down at your home and break every piece of glass in the house with your face, wrap your arms around your neck, throw you through a table, and then re-arrange your internal organs for good measure.

    This fantastically effective technique allows Kham to quickly find out that his elephants have been taken to Australia by a Vietnamese gangster named Johnny (Johnny Tri Nguyen). 

    (Those crazy vietnamese gangsters, always running off with people's elephants. Pssh.)

    Boat chasing, helicopters, explosions, blah blah blah.... and that all happens before he even leaves Thailand!

    Kham NOW arrives in Australia and we are now introduced to three more key players in our story:
    • Sergeant Mark (the hilarious Petchtai Wongkamlao); A lovable Thai police officer who patrols a predominantly asian portion of Sydney
    • Pla: Presently employed as a call girl trying to pay a debt to that gang that's stealing everyone's elephants. Previously employed as a waitress at Tom Yum Goong, the Thai restaurant operated by the Vietnamese gangster. Please feel free to give a head tilt and a rousing 'Whaaa??'
    • Madame Rose: A transsexual Chinese gangster trying to catch her big break to make it to the top of the food chain. It's good to note that she is Johnny's boss... and has got one serious ego trip going on.
    Kham (Jaa) arrives in Sydney only to get caught up in a high speed chase with a car thief at the wheel. The car eventually gets trapped by the police and said thief thinks that he will be taking Kham hostage. 

    Silly Rabbit! You're about to get your innards re-arranged!!!

    In .3 seconds, Kham has completely immobilized the crook, who is then shot to death by the shady undercover agent with amazing hair. Then, a short chase ensues to apprehend Kham. Just before getting gunned down by the undercover agent, Kham is quickly arrested by Sgt. Mark and gets taken back to the station for questioning... or does he???

    On their way back to the station, Kham spots Johnny outside of "Tom Yum Goong" and escapes the police in order to chase after him. After beating down several guys, surf-fighting on a moving van, and kicking out a streetlight, Kham manages to catch up with Johnny and company in the middle of a drug deal, which he subsequently breaks up... with his fists & feet.

    Johnny then blows a foghorn (opting again not to fight his own fight) that somehow pages every gangbanger within a 5 mile radius. 

    Cue beatdown #2. 

    No fewer than 18 dudes show up on rollerblades, bikes, and whatever else has wheels on it. They quickly surround Kham, thinking they're totally punk and that they can take him.  There's running, jumping, flying, wailing and a whole lot more knees, not to mention the run-ins with the dirt bike AND and ATV, both of which are averted by some serious feats of acrobatics. It is at this point that we realize that the majority of the budget for this film must have been spent on breakable stuff, as both glass and bones again shatter everywhere. The scene ends with Kham running up a pane of glass in order to dodge the ATV, which drives underneath and crashes down two floors.


    Now, Pla (the prostitute we mentioned earlier who seems unwillingly involved with Johnny) finds the battle-weary Kham lying on the street and takes him home to her apartment where he can rest and heal safely. While there he dreams of elephants and warriors in CGI. She leaves him there to sleep and goes to work for the evening, which just so happens to be where Sgt. Mark is working for the evening as well. 

    Madame Rose's boss, Mr. Sim, is having a "friendly" meeting in a mud bath with the police inspector general and a couple of lovely ladies (including Pla), for which Mark is "providing security". An assassin comes in and kills both the inspector general and Mr. Sim. Mark is framed by the aforementioned crooked undercover agent, but manages to slip away after throwing hot wax in a guy's face and then commandeering a segway of all things. Pla escapes by hiding her muddy self until the coast is clear... WITH a secret video of the murders, no less. 

    The game's afoot.

    Having been previously shamed by her now entirely dead boss, Madame Rose poisons two other members of her family (Heirs to the crime empire) and is thus promoted to head up the "family business". Shortly thereafter, Mark and his girlfriend are picked up by Johnny and held captive to prevent them from blowing the plot. Pla goes home and finds Kham escaping a raid on her apartment. Sick of the crap, she leads Kham to a secret entrance at the back of Tom Yum Goong used for VIP customers. "Everyone wants to know what goes on up there" she says. Well, now we're gonna find out. 

    Cue beatdown #3.

    Now, we've seen a lot of fight scenes in our year or so of watching martial arts films. However, this has got to be hands down one of the most impressive fight scenes in the history of film. This four minute fight scene is all one long continuous shot, during which this poor camera person must have followed Tony Jaa up hundreds of stairs, never missing a moment of arm breaking action. The casualties of this glorious display of virtuous, vengeful, victorious testosterone?

    Balconies - 2
    Chairs - 2
    Windows - 1
    Tables - 3
    Sinks - 1
    Screens/Artwork/Decor - 9
    Kiosk - 1
    Body Parts - We lost count at "a whole friggin lot"

    (side note: During the filming of this scene it has been said that Jaa could only repeat it three times in a day before he was entirely wiped out. After watching this scene about 200 times myself, I can clearly see why!!)

    After the camera peeps over the top balcony in a moment of triumph over the superior trail of devastation and weeping left behind, the scene comes to a head as Kham bursts through the door of what we now see to be a VIP dining room for crazy rich people who get a kick out of eating endangered animals. He shouts out for Johnny, demanding to know "Where are my elephants??" The delivery of this line pretty much punches a hole in your soul and breaks your heart. Johnny appears from the kitchen flaunting Kohrn's bell, and a disoriented Kham appears for a moment to be no match for cocky Johnny. 

    But our man, he bounces back, wrapping the rope of the bell around his hand and delivering one of the mightiest beatings we have ever seen. And breaking another window for good measure.

    No worries, Kohrn is found alive and well in the back of the restaurant, along with Mark. Kham also finds racks upon racks of caged animals, as well as a room full of trafficked women about to be sold into the sex trade. Kham takes Kohrn and Mark to a monastery to hide out for a while until things blow over. Aaaaah, a monastery. What could possibly go wrong with this plan? (We've chosen a video snippet as words cannot aptly capture the punching, flying, fire, gong, water, brutality that unfolds)

    (This is officially Beatdown #4)
    After all this, things get a little blurry. Somehow every villain in the movie who hasn't been killed or torn apart inexplicably knows to convene at Madame Rose's headquarters at exactly the same time... right when Kham and Kohrn show up to really express their pissed-off-titude for real this time. 

    In a flurry of fists, elbows and crazy elephant feet, Kham and Kohrn make their way to Madame Rose's throne room (that's the only word for it, it's audacious) just in time to see her presented with the skeletal remains of Por Yai, decorated in a sheath of gold and gems. And just then you just want to cry as your weak, average person fists clench into tight little balls of rage.

    Devastated by this, Kham seems to forget where he is again for a moment and proceeds to fade into a haze of failure, thus making it possible to have the living daylights beat out of him... but not for long.

    The devastation turns to pure unadulterated rage shortly after Kham gets stabbed in the side, thus causing him to 100% snap, and snap, and snap... you know... like arms, noses, legs, necks, whatever is readily available. (sigh) Someday we'll have to sit down with a pad and pencil and actually tally the sheer number of takedowns in this film. The floor is quite literally littered with bodies when he's through. Fo' sho'.

    But then enter the giants. And when I say giants, I mean:


    Here is where it starts to get REALLY ugly. Madame Rose has had enough and signals for her team of goons who are about 3 times the size of poor Kham. In a moment of what could only be absolute stupidity, goon #1 picks up Kohrn and sends the poor animal literally flying through yet another window (what are we up to now, like 30 broken sheets of glass??), and then picks up Kham and throws him into Por Yai's skeleton, breaking of the bones of the front legs. So, game over for Kham, right?


    It is here that, (and this is great, get this... it's awesome... you ready?) Kham stands up, picks up the bones of his murdered elephant and proceeds to WAAAAAAAAAAAAIL on his enemies with them. We've got bashed in faces, bloody noses, sliced tendons... you name it, we got it!

    Madame Rose attempts to escape via rooftop helicopter (how cliche can you be?), and in a final moment of CrAzY, Kham leaps from the rooftop and delivers one more epic double knee kick to his mortal enemy, dropping her through... yes, you guessed it, the glass ceiling of the building below. Kham lands in the gentle, cradling tusks of the now deceased Por Yai and we are left with an abundance of questions. Did he die? Did he go home? Did he have to go through physical therapy???

    That will have to all wait to the sequel to be released this year. I KNOW!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!!! (We'll detail more on this later)

    Something to note about this truly wonderful though heartbreaking film is that it was a bit of a tipping point for Jaa. Shortly after this film is when he entered into Ong Bak 2 and then developed some personal problems, which have continued to be shrouded in mystery to this day. That aside, what we've discussed here is the 108 minute unrated international version of the film. SO, when you go to rent it, be sure to get this version or you will not only have no idea what half of this blog is talking about, but will also be missing out on 25 minutes of bone snapping glory. 

    No fun. 

    Get the international version.

    The Protector is an amazing film that addresses the careless attitudes that many people carry for animals and people, callously casting aside ethics and morals and replacing them with violent, hedonistic practices. But it is also about one person who was willing to stand in the gap and save his elephants and set things right.
    Ultimately, this is a great movie. Watch it. Now. No seriously... NOW. 

    - The Mavens (Kelly & MJ)

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