Friday Fisticuffs: The Protector (2005)

I’ve discussed my love of Tony Jaa’s movies a few times on this blog. For my money, he’s one of the best action stars around, but also has a tendency to work with quality people who write interesting stories, hire good actors and put together some of the most realistic looking fight choreography in recent memory. I was actually surprised that I hadn’t done a post about The Protector yet as I thought I had done so. Anyway, as much as I like Jaa, I do have trouble remembering the differences between this movie and Ong-Bak. Both are about country Thai boys finding their way to a big city because something bad happened to an elephant they’re quite fond of. I think. As I write this, I’m having trouble remembering what Ong-Bak is about.

Ah well, that’s not the point right now. The Protector is about a group of Thai fighters who protect the king’s elephants. This is important because there’s long been an idea that a king draws power from his pachyderm. In this movie, Jaa takes his favorite elephants in to get inspected, but bad things happen. Soon enough he’s on his way to Sydney to track down his pets only to come across some seriously bad dudes and dudettes who think they can scare him with their huge numbers of thugs. But, hey, this is an action movie, so that’s not a problem.

Before getting into specific fights–and there are plenty of amazing set pieces in this movie from the X Games-themed warehouse throw down to the epic, single-shot battle up a winding ramp staircase–Jaa has a really interesting way of carrying himself in this movie. His character is very single minded and everything he does conveys that to the viewer. When Jaa walks into a room (or does a flying knee to the face into a room as in the very first fight scene) he’s got his head down, his eyes up and his whole body is ready to kick ass. You can practically see his muscles tense and ready in his clothes. He walks with more purpose than anyone I can remember in a long time and it actually makes him seen elephantine. Strong, focused and immovable when he wants to be, all of which makes sense because the film posits that the Protectors learn Muay Thai by interacting with and raising the elephants. Really cool stuff.

Okay, so on to the fight scenes. Man, they are awesome. As I mentioned the very first real fight begins first with a guy being thrown into a room of asshole-looking gangsters by an unseen force immediately followed by Jaa leaping 10 feet from out of frame and double-kneeing a guy in the face. This fight involves lots of broken liquor bottles, but no real challenges for our boy, but does end in a boat race with the kinds of boats of seen in episodes of Amazing Race and No Reservations with the rudder on a long stick.

From there, he goes to Sydney where he actually runs into Jackie Chan who kind of passes the mantle and a level of respect to the newcomer. Cool moment. That’s soon followed by Jaa fighting a gang of hoods sporting rollerblades, BMX bikes and other totally extreme modes of transport. I liked that it followed the Chan bit because it felt like an homage to one of his mid 90s movies. Maybe Rumble In The Bronx? I admit, I have trouble keeping track of these action flicks. This scene involves two awesome little bits, one where he’s being chased by a guy on a motocross type bike. Jaa does a backflip to avoid the driver, but when he lands he grabs the assailant by the helmet and rips him off the bike. Right after that he’s being chased by a guy on a four wheeler, he runs up a glass wall, launches off and the bad guy goes crashing through the window. They might not be super realistic battles (many of the hoods use florescent light bulbs to attack, which are not very good weapons at all) but it’s awesome to watch and that’s what really counts.

Then there’s the big showcase fights. There’s a huge, one-shot one that I mentioned earlier. This one was a lot more familiar to me and then I realized that I watched it a few times while writing a list of ridiculously long, yet awesome fight scenes for Topless Robot. I know there’s clips of this online (including the one I’ve posted here), but you really need to do yourself a favor and watch this on the big screen. The amount of choreography that went into just this one scene that’s not even the climax of the movie, is astonishing. After that you get a video game style fight in a temple with water all over the place. First he goes up against a Capoeira guy, then one who fights with swords then a big ass giant. Great stuff all around and the big guys come back later for the final fight, which gets a little corny with the use of elephant bones and whatnot, but there’s enough goodness leading up to that that I don’t really care.

I really can’t think of an action movie or action star that I recommend to fellow fans as much as The Protector and Jaa. They’re the real deal without any question. A few years back I read that Jaa was entering a monastery and leaving acting behind but according to his Wiki page, he’s working on Protector 2 right now with the star of Choclate, who is also freaking amazing. Should be good stuff.

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