WEB EXTRA: The Protector: A martial arts virtuoso

Don’t bother eating at the Thai Place this weekend. Instead, head to Georgetown and catch a screening of Tony Jaa’s “The Protector” for a different kind of Thai experience.

If you’re not familiar with Tony Jaa, you will be soon. He’ll be Kung Fu’s next big thing, and although he lacks the comedic chops of Jackie Chan and his films lack the gritty substance of Jet Li’s, his physical prowess overwhelms the screen in the martial art virtuoso “The Protector.”

Quentin Tarantino and the Weinstein Company have added their name to this title for the U.S. distribution, but if backing from QT and the Brothers Weinstein don’t convince you of Jaa’s potential, just wait until you see him on screen, with elephant femurs tied to his arms, clobbering guys twice his size.

“The Protector” is Jaa’s second collaboration with director and fellow countryman Prachya Pinkaew. American audiences may remember last year’s “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior,” not for its vapid plot, which this reviewer can’t even remember, but because of Jaa’s badass moves. I’m happy to report, however, that a year from now, you probably will remember the gist of this duo’s sophomore effort.

Jaa plays Kham, a young man coming from a long line of warriors trained in the Muay Thai style and tasked with raising elephants for battle. Although ages since the warriors and their elephants have been called to the battlefield, Kham’s family continues the traditions in modern Thailand. When animal smugglers kill Kham’s father and kidnap two of Kham’s beloved elephants, he heads to Sydney, Australia to kick some ass, and, oh yeah, save the animals. Along the way he encounters some rough local gang members, a whip wielding villainess and people dining on endangered species. There is a disappointing lack of participation by the elephants during Jaa’s rampage, but you won’t mind long, as your eyes will be glued to the delivery of his graceful carnage.

The best fight scenes are reminiscent of action packed side-scrolling video games. Jaa makes his way through a large warehouse and a giant spiraled building with lots of bad guys and conveniently placed weapons. It’s a delight to watch Jaa move like a dancer, never missing a beat, while the camera follows him in very drawn out takes that end nowhere near where they began. Jaa is the maestro, as he’s choreographed most of the action.

The foley artists, or the guys who make all those punches sound real during post-production, deserve a lot of credit as well. “The Protector” has a pretty low body count, but the number of arms and legs heard snapping must be several hundred. And as long as we’re talking about sound, it is worth noting that the RZA (Wu Tang!) contributes to the score for the U.S. release. And I think we all know that there has never been a bad film endorsed by the RZA.

“The Protector” beings this Friday, September 8th, at the Loews Georgetown, the Regal Gallery Place, Phoenix Theaters Union Station and Landmark Bethesda Row.

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