At the start of the big fight, he swats the first few foes away. Soon they outnumber him and he receives a pretty healthy beat-down. And then somebody stabs him, and he gets really pissed. He breaks the next guy’s arm at the elbow by overextending it across his chest. He breaks the next hoodlum’s arm, too. Another three men rush him and snap, crackle, pop. Humerus, radius, clavicle, femur--crack, crack, crack, crack. You’ve lost count of the carnage come the next wave of nameless black-suited Asian henchmen, drunk on the sight of this coiled muscle of man breaking bones to a gruesomely textured Foley mix. Yes, The Protector--the new movie starring Ong-Bak’s Tony Jaa, Thailand’s almost comically effective fighting machine--does have some semblance of a plot, but all you really need to know is what it delivers: One Tony Jaa, two stolen elephants, hundreds of broken limbs.
It just takes a while to get there. The Protector--the Americanized title of 2005’s Tom Yum Goong--is, like Ong-Bak, asininely simple. Kham (Jaa) is a nice guy from a small Thai village who happens to be jaw-droppingly gifted in muay thai martial arts. He grows up with a pet elephant, who fathers an adorable calf. And while Kham and his father are visiting the big bad city, bootleggers capture Kham’s elephants--yes, there is an elephant chase scene--and whisk them away for what has to be some nefarious business.
The rest of the movie is Jaa kicking the living shit out of people on his way up through a criminal underworld that traffics in exotic animals. The journey takes him to Australia, where he takes out four stories of an illegal restaurant--in one flabbergasting, uninterrupted take--and runs afoul of an evil Chinese bitty with a ken for skintight cat suits, knee-high boots, and a whip. Granted, the presumed English subtitles of the American release might add some nuance to this story line--this review comes from a Thai VCD that subtitles the Mandarin, Vietnamese, and scant English in its native tongue--but, honestly, story isn’t this flick’s strong point, and even without understanding most words you know the few noncombat scenes are mere filler. Jaa punches, leaps, flips, kicks, and runs across the screen, battling baddies on ATVs, men with swords, and a squad of absurdly enormous white dudes, all while unassisted by wire-work or CGI effects as if he were the world’s most kinesiologically gifted human ever. The guy is already a megastar in his homeland without being able to act a lick--and he deserves every iota of adoration coming his way.