Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Protector 2: The Elephant Man Returns

Elephants have long held special cultural significance in Thailand, as symbols of both the royal family and Buddhism. Yet, for Kham, Korhn is no mere pachyderm. He is his spiritual brother. There is no better way to stress him out than kidnapping Korhn. For some strange reason, a shadowy MMA cabal does exactly that—again—in Prachya Pinkaew’s The Protector 2 (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

One afternoon, an elephant dealer’s sketchy lackeys drop by, offering what they consider a ridiculously generous price for Korhn. Naturally, after telling them off, Kham pops down to the market, leaving his elephant home alone. Seriously, that practically constitutes negligence. Launching a frontal on assault on the elephant fence’s villa, Kham finds old Boss Suchart already dead and his purloined elephant nowhere to be found. Not only has he obligingly stepped into the frame-job, Suchart’s martial arts proficient, sailor suit wearing nieces are quite upset with him.

Eventually, Kham will try to forge an alliance with the not-really-twins to bring down the man responsible for both their woes. That would be LC, the leader of a gun-running martial arts cult. Supposedly, he wants Kham to be his new #1 fighter, but we know from the daft in media res opener, there is a larger scheme afoot.

Whatever. At least it all involves a series of massive throw-downs with the almost super human #2. LC’s loyal lover, #20, is no slouch either. As long as people are fighting, P2 works like a charm. However, there are some ridiculously overtop action sequences involving a motorcycle gang clearly intended for 3D that blatantly suffer from an unforgiving 2D rendering.

In case you forgot, the original Protector featured the awesome long take tracking Kham fighting his way up a spiral Guggenheim-like vice den. His successive face-offs with #2 almost rank at that level, but collectively they last considerably longer. While Tony Jaa is just kind of okay when it comes to the conventional drama, his fight scenes, choreographed with Panna Rittikrai are spectacular, as is #20’s wardrobe, rocked by Ratha Phongam, who was just about the only watchable part of Only God Forgives.

As the nieces, Chocolate’s JeeJa Yanin Wismitanan and Teerada Kittisiriprasert also show off some pretty amazing synchronized moves.  However, despite all the scenery RZA chews as LC, Marresse Crump upstages his villainy as the lethally cool #2 (an absolute force of nature worlds away from Robert Wagner’s #2 in the Austin Powers franchise).

There are times when both P2 and its hero are pretty dumb. Fortunately, the film is only really about two things: kicking butt and kicking more butt. Pure escapist meathead fun, The Protector 2 is recommended for fans of Jaa, Wismitanan, and Muay Thai films in general when it opens this Friday (5/2) in New York at the Cinema Village.