Huh, I just realized that I took notes for an intended live blogging post about Tony Jaa’s martial arts masterpiece The Protector (or Tom yum goong). I was going to link to it in this post about two movies I watched today with the intent of having a Jaa double feature. Instead, the two movies, Spirited Killer (or Plook mun kuen ma kah 4) (1994) and The Bodyguard (2004), but as it turns out, Jaa has very little screen time in either movie. I guess I should have put some of my world famous research skills to use. Interestingly enough, both movies were directed by Jaa’s mentor Panna Rittikrai.
Anyway, even though Spirited Killer wasn’t anything like what I was expecting it to be, it was still an entertaining movie. This is actually Jaa’s first film and he plays a villager in the beginning of the film who, along with a few friends, tries to take out the local voodoo practitioner. He and his friends eventually succeed, but then the story jumps into an undesignated time in the future and Jaa’s out of the picture. Now we’re following a group of Japanese visitors to the Thai village who keep getting acosted by the Spirited Killer a seemingly invulnerable fighter in the woods outside the village. From there…there’s lots of fighting.
When I say the movie wasn’t what I was expecting, I don’t just mean that Jaa wasn’t in it for very long, I also mean that it’s a fairly low budget movie. Unlike Ong-Bak or The Protector, we’re not treated to tons of glossy locations and filming techniques, but instead get very raw footage, much of which doesn’t match from cut to cut. It’ll look like Texas Chainsaw Massacre footage at one point, then change to something with a strange orange wash to it. But all in all, I’d say the movie is worth checking out. The fight scenes aren’t fantastic, but they are fun and you can see where Jaa and Rittikrai were coming from. Plus, the version I watched (a Netflix DVD) had a pretty funny dub and not funny in a bad way, but just really funny. Definitely worth watching with some friends and some beers.
The Bodyguard was also one hell of a funny movie. It’s more of a “let’s shoot the hell out of everything” movie instead of a “let’s kick and punch the hell out of everything” one, which is okay, but I prefer the latter. In this one, Jaa’s co-star and comic relief from Protector and Ong-Bak, Petchtai Wongkamlao gets the spotlight as a bodyguard whose charge gets killed, but only after he keeps him alive through a gigantic and highly complex assassination attempt (the entire orchestra at the event were in on it, I bet it was hard to find classically trained musicians who were also killers). The charge’s son takes over and fires Wongkamlao, but the son’s uncle puts a hit out on the son, so the uncle can be in charge. Now, both the son and Wongkamlao are on the run from the uncle’s assassins, with the son holing up with a poor family.
What The Bodyguard lacks in punches and kicks, though, it more than makes up in laughs. Sure, some of them are cheap, but I don’t care. The uncle has one guy in his entourage who continually wears crazy outfits (from a luchador-like get up to a Sumo wrestler’s thong). He’s the butt of the group and everyone makes fun of him, including the guy who appears to have Down’s syndrome (Down’s guy calls costume guy a retard at one point and threatens to kill him and I about lost my shit). There’s also a scene where the mom of the family the son is staying with goes and plays cars with a circle of foul-mouthed ladies that had me as close to blushing as I’ve been in a while. Oh, and the negotiating scene is the funniest I’ve seen ever (note the doves when the specialists show up).
Which brings us to Jaa’s cameo. The bad guys have caught up to the son in a super market and the cops are called. Wongkamlao also shows up to save the kid and it turns out that Jaa is shopping in market. When the two men see each other for the first time, there’s a great non verbal exchange between them that is only matched by their exchange at the end of the scene where Jaa calls Wongkamlao “black dick” and Wongkamlao responds “Wrong movie, dumb ass.” I don’t remember the specific reference, but I laughed. And thus exits Mr. Jaa whose moves were pretty sick inside the grocery store.
The final series of fights is pretty fantastic too. The mob has caught up with the son and Wongkamlao has come to save the day. He takes on all kinds of fighters, including the guy with Down’s who kicks the crap out of him only to be taken out on accident. Wongkamlao then fights a guy who fights like Jaa (or would if he hadn’t stepped on a board with nails Home Alone-style), then a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon guy who floats around and kicks like crazy. Wongkamlao’s only way to combat the floaty style is to dance fight his way out of it. It’s kind of amazing the amount of punishment our hero takes in this scene and still comes out on top, which is the mark of a true action hero.
If you’re a fan of martial arts movies, this is the movie for you. Not only do you get some good solid storytelling, but also a lot of comedy, even tips of the hat at the various genres and fourth wall-breaking dialogue (including the TV reporter explaining the plot of the movie during the final credits and asking the director when he can stop). I’ve actually found that foreign action comedies tend to be my favorites. Between this and the two Police Story movies with Jackie Chan, I can’t think of an American action comedy that matches them when it comes to both genres. Well done!
A quick note on watching martial arts movies on NetBox (or NetPS3 as it will be soon enough), make sure you’ve got 3-4 bars of service for the fight scenes otherwise things get all wonky and pixelated and you can hardly tell what’s going on. After watching my DVD copy of Protector, I tried watching Ong-Bak on NetBox and had to stop because it couldn’t handle the awesomeness of that movie. I recommend turning off your web browser or at least cutting down on your web applications to fully enjoy them.
Oh, and don’t fret, I found my Protector notes and will probably be posting them soon. Probably.