I haven't really been able to explain this feeling, but I keep expecting to hear that Jackson has come back to life. Not that I expect he'd make a really good zombie or anything. You know, on reflection, yes...I think he actually would. But that aside, I just feel like it's one of those things...I just feel that the world is that twisted. Like if I heard on the news on day that Michael Jackson had risen from the dead, I just wouldn't be that surprised. I also get the impression that the rest of the world would take it in stride, too. *shrug* I dunno. Just haven't been getting out a lot lately. :)
* * *
I'd taken a little break in my Asian Action Movie block recently. What happened was...some time ago, I got the urge to watch Pulp Fiction again, so I queued it up and watched it. That led me to a few other somewhat-related movies, namely a parody film called Plump Fiction and another Tarentino feature, Jackie Brown. I can remember when Jackie Brown came out, but what with one thing and another, I guess I'd never seen it. So this seemed like a good time. I watched it, and I was satisfied. It was, of course, a descendant or homage or something to the 70s Blacksploitation genre, and after watching it, it was with that cultural predisposition lodged in my mind that I went out to greet the world later that evening. And so, I was mightily pleased to hear the theme from Shaft playing on the radio when I got on the Jitney that night. I don't know what station or music mix or whatever the driver was listening to, but let me just say that I was subsequently highly entertained later on when "The Humpty Dance" came on. :) I mean, come on...you just don't get music like that any more. :)
* * *
Back in the world of Asian action cinema, I've wandered back into the Thai arena and have good things to say about the Tony Jaa flick The Protector. This is, at its heart, a story about a boy and his elephants. Yeah. See, our hero is part of a family who...raises royal elephants? They raise elephants, and they also become Muay Thai masters. That's just...what they do. Don't ask questions. So it comes to pass that this particular royal elephant caretaker and master of Muay Thai runs afoul of some kind of international elephant-smuggling operation, and he ends up in Sidney, Australia, going up against the most powerful organized crime family in the area, which, unless I completely miss my mark here, is somehow a Chinese family. So there's that. There's also what I consider a complete lack of pacing in this movie.
Once the major plot points are established (vis-à-vis, you know, elephants), we're basically just launched into one massive action sequence after another with very little in between. That said, the action is copious and varied, for the most part. We've got a high-speed boat chase. We've got our hero fighting off a gang of extreme inline skaters trying to beat him to death with fluorescent light bulbs (a fight which, by the way, eventually leads to the protagonist squaring off against an ATV four-wheeler with both driver and vehicle being trimmed with studded leather). We've got a pretty interesting scene of our hero fighting his way up each level of a spiraling tower populated by innocents and mooks and which is covered, more or less, but one long, uninterrupted steady-cam shot, which I thought was cool. (The fight choreography definitely feels slow...like it doesn't make use of the frenetic pacing you get used to with those Hong Kong flicks, but come on...it's one long camera shot! Do you know how hard that must have been?) There's a series of one-on-one fights that take place in a Buddhist temple or something that, inexplicably, someone has set fire to. (Remember that thing about no pacing?) The best in this series, in my opinion, is the fight with the dark-skinned, braided guy who, if I'm any judge, is a Capoeira fighter. Dudes, if you want to see a cinematic pit fight between a Muay Thai and Capoeira, well...this is it, son. Plus they're fighting while standing in a couple inches of water, so...that adds to the show. Other opponents in this series: a white guy with like a Chinese Wushu sword who our hero fights with what I believe are two giant drumsticks; and hulking giant Nathan Jones, who you may also remember Jet Li fighting in Fearless. (Serious, man...the dude is like seven feet tall and built like He-Man. How do you look like that and then get typecast fighting diminutive Asian men?)
A couple things may drag a bit in the film. One, as noted, the pacing of the story isn't really given that much consideration, and you're occasionally left with the feeling that either the film wasn't edited all that well, or else they just didn't shoot enough footage to really let the audience know what's going on. This will be of varying importance depending on your point of view. Like...everything's held together by fight sequences, you know? On the one hand, you don't really need to know what's going on. You know who are the good guys and the bad guys, and you're watching people's asses get kicked. But if you're the type who is watching a martial arts flick and likes to take a breather now and then to check in with the story or characters or something, this may not be for you. Two, the fight scenes themselves can, on occasion, drag. Our hero's particular leanings in the Muay Thai world are toward the flavor that follows a sequence like this: (1) Someone is punching and/or kicking you. (2) Grab your opponent's limb. (3) Break said limb in three or four places. This technique is used an unruly number of times. Especially toward the end, when it is applied to a seemingly endless supply of identically-dressed mooks. Over and over. For a long time.
What does not drag is the movie's devotion to it's storyline. A lot of films would be content to just kind of get the ball rolling with a little background, and then let the action take over. Oh, no, not The Protector, friends. This movie will never let you forget that this is all about elephants. I'm serious, man...this kid loves his elephants. There are, like, flashbacks with elephants, dream sequences with elephants...fighting lessons learned from elephants. I also like that this movie couples that unusual subject matter with a film taking place in at least three languages. One of my favorite non-action sequences: Our Thai hero (Kham) is tracking down the man he feels responsible for the elephant trafficking (Johnny), who is a Vietnamese guy working for a Chinese gang in Sydney, Australia. Kham finds Johnny on a bridge in Sydney chatting up a Thai woman.
Kham, being held back by a couple bodyguards, screaming in Thai to Johnny: "You bastard! You stole my elephant!"
Thai woman, in English, to Johnny: "He says he's looking for his elephant."
Johnny sneers at Kham and says nothing, though you feel a thought bubble rise of his head that says, "WTF?" Johnny then kicks Kahm in the head.
Anyway. If you've seen Ong-bak (Tony Jaa's breakout hit), you will note many, many similarities between this film and that one. The Protector is actually a lot like Ong-bak, except distilled and cranked up a couple of notches. Ong-bak had a lot more dealing with characters; The Protector doesn't. The Protector probably has something like triple the action quotient of Ong-bak, with the added bonus of probably about twenty times the amount of limb-breaking. The kind of rustic nationalism presented in Ong-bak has been replaced in The Protector with...well, love of elephants, basically, but the melodrama has been quite noticeably increased. Both movies, besides centering around Tony Jaa, also have the same supporting actor, who I had to look up to know was Petchtai Wongkamlao, but who I think of in both movies as "that funny little round guy." So if you were so-so on Ong-bak (as I was), and felt that it would have been better if it was, well, more, then I recommend to you The Protector. Plus, and I just feel it necessary to point that out, I will see any movie with an end-credit like this one, and this is a direct quote: "Passer-By When Mark Talks With Goong on the Phone." Put that on your résumé. :)
Ah, and one last note. Do not (I repeat not) confuse this movie with the bizarre 1985 feature of the same name starring Jackie Chan and...ahem...Danny Aiello. Although I did see that one long ago, and it is...well, just about what you'd expect, I guess, from the pairing of Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello. It's just...like...weird. Check that one out if you're in the mood for...well, watered down Jackie Chan action, I guess, with added Danny Aiello. But if you're instead in the mood for crazy Thai action sequences and near-endless limb-breaking, then by all means check out The Protector. Just make sure it's the one with the elephants.