ONG BAK lived up to the hype and delivered some hard hitting (literally) action scenes. Jaa’s skill level was off the charts and his mentor/stunt coordinator Panna Rittikrai made the most of his protégé’s talents as the guy flipped over and skidded under anything and everything. The film proved to have so much buzz that it got a US theatrical release. Jaa quickly reteamed with Rittikrai and ONG BAK’s director Prachya Pinkaew for TOM YUM GOONG (2005). Again telling a simple story of a guy looking for revenge, this second collaboration – with 5 times the budget – topped the earlier film in nearly every way. The fight scenes were jaw dropping, including a one-take fight scene that vaulted up into the top 5 greatest action scenes ever put on film. The film was a smashing success in Thailand (second only to a Harry Potter film as the top box office draw that year) and got a US release in 2006 by the Weinsteins, who, naturally, cut the film and gave it the generic title THE PROTECTOR. The future looked bright for Jaa and then the chaos came.
ONG BAK 3 (2010) if someone were to edit out all the filler. Sadly, this period represented a waste of some of Jaa’s prime years and Sahamongkol still had him under contract. With the ONG BAK prequels performing so-so at the box office, it came as no surprise when they announced a reunion with Pinkaew for TOM YUM GOONG 2. Unfortunately, trying to catch lightning in a bottle is about as easy as taking one of Jaa’s knees to the face and acting like it didn’t hurt. Oh, it hurts alright…just like this film.
and Kham are really good. Pinkaew allows the fights to tell the story and actually breathe, meaning longer takes without too many cuts. It proves that Jaa still has it and showcases Crump’s well-honed abilities as well. Kham ends up being defeated and captured, not due to No. 2’s skills, but the fact that Ping-ping incapacitated him with an acupuncture needle. So Kham finally gets to meet LC and you figure he has kidnapped him because he wants the best fighter in the world to entertain him. Nope. Seems he kidnapped Kham and his elephant so he could use him as an assassin to murder some bigwig. To get him to comply, they have attacked a shocking device – made by the village idiot, who was a turncoat – to Kham’s back and around his elephant’s neck. Well, I guess someone saw POLICE STORY II (1988). Kham is now running around town trying to kill someone, while Interpol searches for him. But wait, there’s more! The bad guys are also going to use the elephant as a bomb to assassinate a political leader coming to Thailand for peace talks. Oh, jeez, I give up…kind of just like the screenwriter did.
sets a new low for Jaa’s career. You might want to sit down for this one, but Pinkaew relies so heavily on computer FX in this one that it completely ruins the experience. And I’m not just talking about during action scenes involving cars and motorcycles. Most of Jaa’s work here is computer enhanced and that is a crushing blow. It is like seeing Telly Savalas in a toupee or Charles Bronson in drag. It just ain’t right. Jaa’s entire foundation was built on the Panna Rittikrai school of hard knocks. In ONG BAK, when he kicked someone while his legs were on fire, he really kicked them while his legs are on fire. When he jumped up and went knees first into a dude, he was really doing it. One of the great scenes in THE PROTECTOR is when Jaa fights Lateef Crowder and Nathan Jones inside a burning building. They set that up with real flames all around them, making the danger almost leap off the screen. So imagine my heart sinking when they do that again, but with a room covered in CGI flames. And I’m not talking good computer rendering either, I’m talking stuff that the SyFy Channel execs would look at and mock. Even worse, they do an homage to the ONG BAK “feet on fire” stunt and, even if Jaa really had his feet on fire, you can’t tell because it is lost in a CGI fire mess. I haven’t felt this sad since Brett Ratner bragged about how he introduced Jackie Chan to the idea of greenscreen. Pinkaew ends up making a Hollywood wannabe flick with the budget less than what Keanu Reeves gets paid and forgets his biggest asset is his star.