Martial arts actor Tony Jaa’s follow-up to his breakout performance, 2003’s Ong-bak, could be called Kill Bill with a conscience. The violence is so pervasive that viewers can’t help but become increasingly desensitized, and there’s a clear attention to style that results in some brilliant scenes dripping with flair and fashion. But where directors like Quentin Tarantino revel in the
gratuitousness of their films’ guts and gore, Prachya Pinkaew, director of The Protector, seems unwilling to have a bloody mess without a message.
The result, as can be guessed, is a rather conflicted film. Its personality lies somewhere between the story-book
sincerity of The NeverEnding Story and the slash-happy wantonness of Tarantino, resulting in an unclear message and an ambiguous intended
audience (children will identify with the bond between Kham and his elephant, but will likely be disturbed by the violent images and unexpected deaths).
The premise is both absurd and intricate — boiled down, the plot is that Kham (Jaa) follows the thieves who have murdered his father and also stolen his father’s elephant to Australia. With the exception of a few pastoral scenes and the
pivotal moment when the elephant-stealing takes place, most of the film is set in a dark underbelly of Australia, where meetings are held in backrooms and basements and life is corrupt, depraved, and cheap. With Kham’s arrival, this underbelly becomes the backdrop for
a battle between good and evil.
Kham, with his respect for the “old-ways” and his
appreciation of friendship and loyalty, kicks and screams his way
through countless enemies. He’s no less violent than his
counterparts, yet it’s made abundantly clear that he’s fighting
for “honorable” reasons — mainly fighting on behalf of those who
have been wronged and cannot fight for themselves — while the
enemies are unmistakably driven by greed, power, and selfishness.
But let’s face it, this film is not about the plot. It is about the fight scenes. Jaa’s signature is performing without tricks of any kind — no wires, no sped-up cameras, no special effects. He is his own special effect and his ability and speed is astonishing.
Parents should know that this film is exceptionally
violent, and that while some aspects of the plot notably its themes
of friendship, loyalty, and passion — are suitable for young
children, there are many elements of the film that are not.
Characters are killed in unexpected and brutal ways, and violence is
the first resort in conflict resolution. The physical combat
overshadows the relatively mild language, but nudity and sexual images with very
disturbing contexts are strong in some scenes.
Families who see this film should discuss what Kham is
fighting for, and how, although combat and injuring others is
portrayed as “cool,” there are ways of impressing others with
physical strength that make physical injury a last resort. For
daughters and sons interested in martial arts, Parents might suggest
forms that focus on self-defense, confidence and evasion of contact.
Families might also discuss the film’s villains, and talk about what
paths they could have chosen that would have been more virtuous and
Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy Ong-bak,
as well as Jet-Li and Jackie Chan films and the ultra-violent, Tarantino’s films,
notably Kill Bill and Kill Bill 2. For more light-hearted fare, families will enjoy
Stephen Chow’s films, especially Shaolin Soccer.