The Tony Jaa vehicle The Protector 2 has some awesome fighting and feels – in a good way – that it has escaped from 1987. It’s still not that great, but it sure is entertaining.
If you are old enough to remember the year 1987 with clarity, then you will likely enjoy Prachya Pinkaew’s The Protector 2 all the more. The cheesy plot, extended fight sequences, and villainous ploys all read like a 9-year-old boy’s sizzle reel. A confession: I recently re-watched all five (yes, all five) of the American Ninja films, which were released between the years of 1985 and 1993; The Protector 2 has a story that could have been ported over from any one of those movies wholesale. For those of us of a certain age, those kinds of stories strike a nostalgic chord. For others… well, it may work for them too, as the clunky efficiency of the plot is just crazy enough to work. It’s not believable or smart or basically reasonable, but it holds all of the cheesiest action movies traditions just well enough.
Tony Jaa exploded into the action movie underground in 2003 with a little Thai action film called Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. Jaa is easily one of the best movie martial artists currently working, and has made a deliberate point of staging his on-screen fights so that his virtuosic stunt work can be showcased. We can see his face, there are a minimum of wires, and no CGI. Remember the scene in Ong-Bak where he folded himself up and leaped through a coil of barbed wire? Many critics, however, have objected to the fact that a lot of the stunts in The Protector 2 have succumbed to the ever-encroaching CGI norm; Flying cars and motorcycles are exciting and all, but they’re far more exciting when they’re done with actual (i.e., not CGI) cars and motorcycles. Jaa’s “purity of action,” so to speak, is slightly interrupted in The Protector 2, opting for chintzy, 1996-era computer effects over anything practical. In my eye, the action still works well enough, although I do – as a general rule – prefer real stunts over animated ones.
The story is kind of hard to follow, so let’s see what I have nailed: Thailand’s best fighter Kham (Jaa) is a peaceful man who cares for nothing more than his pet elephant Khon (Peter). When the leader of an elephant camp (?) is murdered, Kham is suspected. It turns out that Kham was framed by the evil crime lord LC (RZA, starring in his second middling martial arts film in as many weeks), who not only kidnaps elephants, but who is gathering a collection of the world’s best fighters. Each of said fighters are tattooed and branded with a number, implying their rank in fighting-dom. Kham is to be #1, much to the chagrin of the nigh indestructible #2 (Marresse Crump) and the comely babe #20 (Rhatha Phongam). There are other numbers as well, like 14 and 45. LC has a plan to induct Kham, and use his pet elephant for hidden nefarious purposes.
Oh yes, and the slain elephant trainer also has a pair of kick-ass nieces (Jija Yanin and Theerada Kittisiripraset) who fight many of the numbered fighters using throwing darts. Those two are pretty cool, and reminded me of Hammer Girl and Baseball Boy from the recent The Raid 2.
Most of the fighting is effing spectacular, if a little loose. There is a scene wherein Kham and #2 fight one another on a subway track. One stands on one rail, and the other on the other. When their punches make contact, they sizzle with electricity. In another scene, Kham lights his feet on fire and kicks a bunch of guys. In the film’s most impressive sequence, Kham manages to fight off a bunch of guys on motorcycles. These scenes are great fun to watch, well-choreographed, and impressively staged.
But they are also completely illogical. How did those motorcycles get up on the roof, for instance? Also, wouldn’t lighting your feet on fire do more harm to you than to the man you’re kicking? And wouldn’t touching on an electric rail actually kill you? Nothing in The Protector 2 stands up to even the smallest amount of logical scrutiny.
So what we have at the end of the day is a common animal: The rock-stupid, totally fun action flick. There are better films within this camp (see Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx for one of its crown jewels), but this will serve.
Rating: 3 Burritos