Quentin Tarantino’s masterful “Kill Bill” series may have paid homage to old school kung-fu exploitation flicks of the ’70s, but its glossy production value (big budget + Uma Thurman) surely left a sour taste in the mouth of many martial-art-film purists. Enter “The Protector,” a goofy romp that devises elaborate action sequences without breaking the bank or its audience’s patience.
The film has been touted as the new vehicle for Tony Jaa, the Thai movie star who made his debut in the cult favorite “Ong Bak” a few years ago under the name Panom Yeerum. Though he’s changed his name in hopes of extending his popularity into the states, Jaa has stuck with the safe formula that made the former film successful: little plot, much ass-kicking.
Like “Bak,” “The Protector” finds Jaa fighting a host of baddies responsible for disrupting the unity of a small village. Either an evil corporation or an evil woman (it’s never really clear … maybe both) steal Jaa’s beloved pet elephant and, to top it off, kill his father. This sets into motion enough violence to make Thurman’s Bride jealous. Each subsequent scene following the death of his father finds Jaa taking on superheroic abilities with little logic but plenty of entertainment.
What makes “The Protector” somewhat remarkable is that Jaa manages to pull off most of his stunts effortlessly. Thanks to its obvious shoestring budget, the film has a how’d-they-do-that quality that keeps you interested even when its flawed dubbing becomes clear.
Unlike a large crop of recent action releases that aim too high, “The Protector” is content as the gritty martial-arts film it is, choosing to showcase tendon-popping and Jaa’s Muay Thai martial-arts style instead of the oft-used romantic subplot ripped directly from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It’s more along the lines of dramatically daft martial arts epic “Drunken Master.”
While the martial arts films it mirrors combine humor and action, it’s hard to take Jaa seriously when he cites lines like: “You killed my father. Where is my elephant?” The film’s horrible CGI vignettes also look like poor re-imaginings of “Troy” in cartoon format. Still, the powerhouse action sequences are enough to make you forget about the occasional lapse. “The Protector” is not high art, but as a martial arts flick, it’s pure quality.
Star Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
At the Showcase and Quality 16