A young fighter named Kham must go to Australia to retrieve his stolen elephant. With the help of a Thai-born Australian detective, Kham must take on all comers, including a gang led by an evil woman and her two deadly bodyguards.
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In Bangkok, the young Kham was raised by his father in the jungle with elephants as members of their family. When his old elephant and the baby Kern are stolen by criminals, Kham finds that the animals were sent to Sidney. He travels to Australia, where he locates the baby elephant in a restaurant owned by the evil Madame Rose, the leader of an international Thai mafia. With the support of the efficient Thai sergeant Mark, who was involved in a conspiracy, Kham fights to rescue the animal from the mobsters. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
After having watched Tony Jaa in Ong Bak about a week ago on TV, I was waiting for the day when Tom-Yum-Goog finally made its way here. There was a film in between these two, called The Bodyguard, which wasn't released in the theatres here, so I guess I gotta hit the shops to look for it.
My friend has likened the introduction of Tom-Yum-Goong to watching National Geographic, and he's right. It's an idyllic Thai village scene where Kham (Tony Jaa) grows up and bonds together with herds of elephants, and it might even looked as if it came right out of Kipling's The Jungle Book.
It's a picture of calm before the storm, and the first 10 minutes set the scene, as the elephants will play an important aspect in this movie as it gets elevated into mythical status (check out the CGI scene, looks like Jackie Chan's The Myth, with its historical fights). You'll know right away that this is a Thai movie, with its excellent fusion of Thai elements into the storyline - the elephants, the rivers, the rituals, Buddhism, "Tom-Yum-Goong", and of course, Muay Thai.
With elephants, the natural baddies are first and foremost, the poachers, who kidnap our hero's pets (wrong move). Of course these baddies belong to a larger crime family and syndicate operating out of Sydney, Australia, which deals with drugs, human and animal trafficking, prostitution, all with the blessings of corrupt cops, and led by a transvestite (yes, you heard me right).
Tom-Yum-Goong may refer to a shrimp dish in Thailand, but in this movie, it refers to a restaurant which serves as a front for illegal activities. Action fans need not wait too long for Tony Jaa action, as he plunges head on into fights with the Thai gangsters first, in their bungalow hideout. And that's just to whet your appetite for more mayhem! Bridging the fights from Thailand to Australia is a short boat chase scene that looked right out from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but that's the only weak action sequence in Tom-Yum-Goong.
There are plenty of fights in Sydney to keep all action fans happy - like the massive battle with the Aussie streetgangs (on roller blades and bikes) in an abandoned warehouse, which also showcased Jaa's agility and acrobatic ability. I thought that somehow the cinematography during this sequence let Jaa down at times, especially when he weaved in and out of the trains, the camera just couldn't keep up, and was positioned at a bad angle.
But that aside, it made up for itself in a beautifully filmed, one-motion tracking shot of Jaa making his way through a four-storey restaurant, kicking major rear, without seemingly any cuts (I said seemingly, as there was a part where water droplets stained the camera, but somehow disappeared abruptly). Doom has its gimmicky first-person shooter perspective, this one here has its classic third-person perspective, as if you're controlling Jaa in a coin-operated fight console, taking on the baddies with various swift moves.
If you've known by now, I kinda likened Jaa's movies so far to Bruce Lee's (some see shades of Matrix in this movie), and there was another action sequence in which Jaa was up against hordes of gangsters in an enclosed room (think Lee in the Japanese dojo in Fists of Fury), and he floored them all with bone-crushing, limb-breaking kicks and punches. Move aside Steven Seagal, Jaa's doing it faster, and more lethal! The fights with the huge wrestlers too was a highlight (ala Lee in Game of Death with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), as was the final fight with the final "boss".
Perhaps my favourite in the movie is the scene at the temple. Water, Fire, and a looming Buddha, Jaa takes on three distinct exponents one-on-one - the hip hop breakdancer, the Chinese wushu sword expert, and the Western wrestler. While this movie has done away with Ong-Bak's repetitive sequences (yes, we know what Jaa is capable of already), the slow-mo in this particular set is pure poetry in motion. It's different from Ong-Bak, in that Jaa, like Lee in Enter The Dragon, gets beaten up and injured. You can inflict pain and injure Jaa, but like Lee, he bounces back with a vengeance, sans shirt too.
Jaa has let his action do the talking instead of his acting abilities (no stunt double, no wire-work, no special effects), and I have no qualms with that, given after all, this is an out and out action movie. Petchtai Wongkamlao, who plays Inspector Mark, and has been featured in all of Jaa's movies, returns to add his comedic touch to the film as a Thai-immigrant policeman in Sydney, and fans of Ong Bak will also be pleased that this movie is helmed by the same director Prachya Pinkaew.
While Hollywood struggles to find worthy successors to its 80s and 90s action heroes like Stallone, Van Damme, and Schwarzeneggar, Asia has already found one to takeover the mantle from Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li (as the latter two seemed to have drifted and indicated a preference for dramas). He's Thai, and his name is Tony Jaa. You heard it here first, he's gonna be setting the bar for action movies to come. He can only get better, and I'm already a huge fan!
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