Went out to the Museum of the Moving Image to see a pre-release screening of The Protector, second film–after Ong-bak–in which Tony Jaa plays a starring role. The curator of the martial arts series at the museum makes the case for Jaa being the “it” martial arts star of the 00s. Bruce Lee had the 70s, Jackie Chan the 80s, Jet Li the 90s, and Jaa is our next action hero.
Hard to come away from this movie without thinking this is the case. Plot? Ong-bak plus elephants. Character development? What’s that? But as with Ong-Bak the martial arts sequences were breathtaking. The audience for this showing especially liked a muay thai vs. capoeira sequence, and a single, four-minute long take that has Jaa fighting his way up three flights of stairs, turning up obviously exhausted by the top. Jaa noted that it took them a month to plan and film the scene, and it took eight takes over four days to finally capture it. For me, the scene at the film’s denouement was the most thrilling, as Jaa does almost all the fighting as a series of joint-locks and breaks. He later said that this didn’t come from any particular form–all martial arts draw on joint manipulation to some degree. But to me, and I suspect to many in the audience, the techniques looked less like muay thai and more like jiu jitsu, judo, or aikido.
Mr. Jaa (I’m sure that sounds a bit funny to Thai-speakers) was self-effacing and charming in the film and in person. We missed much of the short demonstration he and his fellow stunt men performed, but really, that’s why you go to see it in the theater. While Jaa’s films eschew the wire-work and fast cuts in favor of a truer depiction of the action, the camera does a much better job of capturing that action than viewing it from a few dozen feet away. If you aren’t already a martial arts fan, this probably doesn’t rate as a “crossover” movie, but if you like really good martial arts sequences caught on film, and if you like baby elephants, this is not a film you should miss.
We capped the afternoon off with dinner at Sripraphai, over in Woodside, which earns its ranking as the best Thai food in the area.