Tony Jaa is brilliant at one thing, it seems: making first films in a franchise. Both Ong Bak and The Protector were fairly unique and original films that eschewed CGI and wires for a more traditional approach. Anything Jaa could physically do would be done; anything requiring tricks wouldn’t. It was admirable in a way. Jaa wouldn’t do anything on film he couldn’t do in real life and thusly his films felt more real than a standard martial arts film. Sequels in the franchises he makes, however, have become silly films that are profoundly campy and terrible. And The Protector 2 is about as terrible as both Ong Bak sequels, perhaps even worse because of the awful CGI and use of 3D effects.
The genre as a whole has been fairly laughable ever since Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu showed what would happen in a real fight between martial artists, of course, at the first Ultimate Fighting Championships but it’s still something the comes out en masse from the East.
Jaa is back as Kham. At the end of the first film he walked away with the young elephant back in his care. It’s been years and that baby elephant is now an adult, and Kham has also gotten older. When a local crimelord (Adinan Buntanaporn) tries to buy it, and he refuses, the elephant is stolen and Kham seeks revenge for the theft. When the crimelord winds up dead Kham is the prime suspect. So with an old friend (Mum Jokmok) on his tail, and the police and the criminal underworld searching for him, Kham has to find his elephant while avoiding death and capture by the cops.
Jaa, who spent several years as a monk following the completion of the Ong Bak trilogy, is in his first film back and shows it. The man who was in exceptional shape and looked the part of the action hero in this film doesn’t take his shirt off and looks fairly pudgy in comparison to how he did previously. He still looks better than anyone in a Judd Apatow film, of course, but the ripped athletic Jaa has been replaced by one who’s seemingly been on the couch doing 12 ounce curls. Thus the film is filled with plenty of camera tricks and CGI to hide Jaa like he suddenly has become the Asian Steven Seagal.
The film itself is just painfully slow, boring and awful on the whole. Kham wasn’t an interesting character but Jaa gave him a sort of nobility in the first film. Throw in the stunts being exceptional, and Jaa’s athleticism making it unique, and the film may not have been brilliant but it felt different enough to warrant repeat viewings. The Protector 2 is just Jaa adapting Hollywood style tricks, and doing them terribly, it’s a matter of him seemingly not care. This is a film where Jaa is just doing enough to let you know he’s back, but perhaps he doesn’t care as much as he used to. If the first film was a passion project, this is about picking up a paycheck.
A handful of extras are included but they don’t really add much to the film package as a whole.
Magnet Releasing presents The Protector 2 . Directed by Prachya Pinkaew. Written by Eakisit Thairaat. Starring Tony Jaa, RZA, Mum Jokmok. Running time: 103 minutes. Rated R. Released: July 29, 2014.
Tags: RZA, Tony Jaa