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Xing Jing……….Madame Rose
Jet Li has been the preeminent martial arts star for many years worldwide, to the point where no one else has been able to elevate themselves into his category. Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat have become stars in America, but the true martial arts film is something neither has really done in the American market outside of Yun-Fat’s turn in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that can be truly classified as a martial arts film. Both are action stars who incorporate martial arts as opposed to making martial arts movies. With action movies incorporating more of Hong Kong into their machinations, it’s no surprise that the next great martial arts star would come from that mold as Tony Jaa seems poised to step into Li’s footprints. After his North American debut Ong Bank received good reviews and a limited release, Jaa is back with a film released before Fearless gives Li his farewell with The Protector.
Jaa stars as Kham, a man whose family’s profession was once seen as a step below royalty: they raise and protect elephants. Once seen as the ultimate signs of the power of royalty, the role of the elephant has decreased in importance to everyone but Kham and his family. Having mastered the art of Muay Thai, like his ancestors before him, Kham is put to the test when his family’s elephants are stolen. Traveling from his native Thailand to Australia, Kham has to run through a series of obstacles and opponents in order to rescue his beloved pets while avenging his father’s death.
The plot sounds nice and easy, but it’s really window dressing to nearly two hours of Jaa breaking limbs and inflicting serious pain and suffering on the remnants of “two for one” sale at the Anonymous Henchman store. The film’s flimsy enough plot basically leads Jaa from one massive fight scene to another, allowing him to demonstrate his remarkable athleticism in a series of increasingly developed fight scenes. So when it comes down to it, the only thing that really matters about the film is how successful it can deliver its fight scenes with some sort of emotional connection established.
It does part of that right. The fight scenes themselves are remarkably well done, as each one builds on to the next. There normally would be a tendency to save everything for last or set up the big fight scenes for the middle, but The Protector uses each one to build to a climax that tops everything done during the film. While Jaa’s one take sequences of fighting up five floors and what seems like 100 stunt men is impressive in both how it’s set up as well as the cinematography used to set it up, it’s topped the next big scene as former pro wrestling star Nathan Jones brings a much different dimension to Jaa’s fighting style. It’s a major credit to Jaa that he’s willing to incorporate a fighter using Capoeira into the film and let him demonstrate it’s success as a martial art; Jaa gives so much to the people and styles he fights that when he eventually wins it means something more than if he just went through everyone like a hot knife through butter.
The problem is that for all the jaw-dropping that occurs for this film the emotional connection is missing; There’s a disconnect between Kham and his intended audience. The great martial arts movies have top action but are able to make a connection via the story. It’s what makes Enter the Dragon and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon great martial arts films and what keeps The Protector at merely a good one.
Included in the U.S release is a second disc with the international version of the film. The international cut is virtually identical to the version released in the U.S.
Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 in both the original Thai and with English dubbing, the film takes full advantage of the format. With a throbbing techno soundtrack and plenty of action violence, most of it hand to hand, The Protector comes through clearly The one problem is that the international cut is a bit softer than the U.S version; the volume has to be a bit higher to achieve the same effect.
Presented in a matted widescreen format for both versions of the film, The Protector has a great picture presented on both discs. While it isn’t filled with lots of intense colors, as it is rather bland in terms of its color and scenery, Jaa’s bone-breaking and massive fight sequences come through beautifully.
Two discs worth of extras are contained in this release of the film.
The first disc contains the version shown in the United States, which has a Commentary by Asian Film expert Bey Logan attached to it as well for those inclined to listen to it. The bulk of the special features advertised for the DVD are on this disc.
No Wires Attached: Making The Protector is a featurette focusing on both the making of the film as well as having a brief sojourn into Jaa’s ability to not have to use wires to make his stunts look spectacular. Nothing really much of note is said during this feature, as it isn’t an Electronic Press Kit but is more of a summary of making the film more than anything else. There is plenty of behind the scenes footage when the feature focuses on the fight scenes, as it’s interesting to see Jaa, Nathan Jones and others go from being in full fight mode to being completely respectful of one another as soon as the director stops the scene.
Deleted fight scene included with the film and is extended off the first big fight scene of the film, right before the fight at the party. In this scene Kham fights his way into the party as opposed to the sudden entrance he makes into it during the film. It’s easy to see why it was cut, as it takes away from the sense of urgency of Kham’s quest with a belabored fight scene as opposed to the sudden flurry of violence that accompanies his entrance. The film’s pace would slow down as well, as the scene takes a while to develop and then the film’s pace would accelerate quickly again.
Tony Jaa Martial Arts Demonstration was a unique feature to Ong-Bak and this time there are four separate demonstrations by Jaa using his Muay Thai. His physical prowess is rather amazing to watch, as one could almost swear he was using artificial assistance to do the things he can do when it comes to jumping and his prowess in the martial arts is impressive as well.
The Director’s Guided Tour is a feature with Pinkaew discussing how they pulled off the film’s signature scene, the one take four minute stairwell fight sequence. Needing a full month for preparation and five takes to film the scene correctly, Pinkaew goes through the takes that weren’t used in the film and why he didn’t use them. It’s fascinating because Pinkaew discusses nuances of film-making and the exact reasons each scene wasn’t cut. A feature like this is rare, as you get an insight into the makings of a film.
“8 Limbs” Mobisode is a cell phone video featuring an animated version of Jaa taking on a variety of opponents with rap-rock background music to it. Drawn to appear like 70s style anime, it’s interesting but ultimately short.
Making Tony Jaa is a feature on how Jaa developed his rather unique physical abilities. A Muay Thai practitioner since his youth, he grew up doing gymnastics and track & field events as well, and decided to try and become a movie star after watching Born to fight. Inspired to become a star in the vein of Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, his idols, he opted to work without wires in order to try and separate him from guys like Jet Li. Using The Protector as a guide to see how he works, Jaa designed all of his stunts and fighting sequences after being given instructions on what particular Muay Thai fighting style they wanted used in the sequence.
The second disc contains the version originally shown in Asian theatres and elsewhere as the International Cut is on the other disc. The rest of the features of the DVD are included on this disc.
“Making Tom Yum Goong is a featurette from Thailand about the making of the film. Featuring Jaa and two other principles behind making of the film, it’s an extra that probably was a main feature of the Thai-released DVD of the film. Featuring bland, softball questions and basic facts about the film’s shooting, it’s interesting to see the behind the scenes aspect of the film but none of the principles say anything that is beyond the ordinary for promotion of a film.
The Take on Tony Jaa Contest winners are a series of short films submitted featuring people recreating the style and visual techniques of some of Jaa’s stunts in their own work. It’s interesting for amateur work, as the martial arts work is all solid and the actual production values are pretty good.
The Theatrical trailer and a promotional spot for the soundtrack are also included.
|InsidePulse’s Ratings for The Protector: Collector’s Edition
||RATING(OUT OF 10)
||7.0(NOT AN AVERAGE)|