Tom Yum Goong [The Protector] (2005)

(In theaters, September 2006) “I want my elephant!” may be the signature line of one of the worst Simpsons episodes ever aired, but it serves as a handy plot device in Tony Jaa’s second film, which is once again just an excuse to demonstrate why Jaa can rightfully pretend to be Jackie Chan’s heir in terms of pure kinaesthetic action. Yes, it’s “just” a martial arts film with intricately choreographed fight scenes strung together by an inane “plot”. (Here, every character can meet everyone else by just walking down the street.) But ordinary martial art films can’t rely on breathtaking actors like Jaa, nor on the film’s mind-bending showcase scene: A long uninterrupted take in which Jaa kicks, punches and fights his way up four stories of bad guys in a circular staircase. Even jaded action fans will feel their jaws drop at that particular anthology scene. The other noteworthy element of The Protector is the antagonist, a mesmerizing, mature, sexy and ruthless “Madame Rose”, played to unnerving effect by Xing Jing (whom you should Google for a fascinating life story): short of having Condoleeza Rice play herself in a martial arts film, it’s one of the most enjoyable antagonists in recent memory. The performance, along with Jaa’s unbelievable dexterity, is what makes The Protector substantially better than its innate silliness.

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