Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Protector

Which is more torturous, the totally bad one or the bad one with 1 good thing?

I'd pick the bad one with 1 good thing, especially if that 1 good thing is really really good. It's a tempting bit of pleasure mixed up with so much pain. Like Robin Hood series 3, high school reunions or The Protector. I doubt anyone who's bothered to read my blog has heard of this movie since most of my entries so far have 'BBC' in it. The Protector is an Ass-Kicking martial arts movie I watched as a family bonding experience with my parents. For 1 hour 15 minutes I tossed and turned considering if it was worth rubbishing decades of filial piety by walking away from this. I'd never hear the end of it. Even on her deathbed my mother would bring it up as a reason why she died before her time, that I had killed her, that I never loved I stayed put.

The best way to understand the Protector is not to think of it as watching a movie, but rather a computer game where the hero has to fight his way through all different levels leaving no ass unkicked. Ultimately the goal is to save his brothers who happen to be delightful elephants.

Like the romance genre, the martial arts genre has its Meet-Cutes, its archtypes and the Happily-Ever-After. However, the Meet-Cute is replaced by the Meet-Fight. The love scenes are blood scenes, and the Relationship Crisis and Happily-Ever-After are replaced by the Near-Death Crisis and Bittersweet Triumph. The archtypes in martial arts movies are meant to showcase all the different skull crushing styles. They demonstrate the variety and scope of the protagonist's combat skills, like the heroine's gaggle of quirky friends/family in the romance genre.

There are some really enjoyable formulaic action movies, and plenty of well-written martial arts movies. If you're a fan of those, then move right along. The Protector has the most blatantly paper-mached plot I've watched in a long time; what a stinker! It appears they've strung together fight scenes first, then added one or two scenes in between to herd the characters along from start to finish. Either that or they've utterly butchered the original movie down to a much smaller size. The short running time makes me quite suspicious of the latter theory. I'll never know, because there's no way I'm sitting through any other international versions (titled Tom Yum Goong/Warrior King/Revenge of the Warrior) to revisit it! It's confusing and excruciating to watch, especially with elderly parents:

"What's going on?"
"He's fighting again, but with a different guy, in a different place."
"Where did the elephant go?"
"No idea."

Many things puzzled me during this movie.

Bad guys are sprinkled randomly with no relation to elephant-stealing. Who is this weirdo with the back problem?

Where did our poor villager get the money for a ticket to Sydney to meet Jackie Chan?

When did Abalone Soup become Selection Criteria for Bodygard jobs?

Gratuitous lightbulb violence at Darling Harbour. Why?

Not light sabres. Pulling a mysterious cord summoned rollerbladers and BMX bikers who wreak gratuitous light bulb violence! What genius thought brittle glass makes good weapons?

Why does the hero dream in chocolate mousse?

Why did this temple get burnt down? What did the capoeira fighter that came next have to do with the elephants? Not that I'm complaining. It looked poetic.

In the first 30 minutes we endure about 10 confusing but beautiful fight scenes with no plot build up in both Thailand and Sydney. It felt like more than an hour. In fact the whole movie feels really long for its quite short running time. I lost count how many fights there were.

The fights really kick ass. The DVD cover tells me there were no stunt doubles, wires or CGI used in the fights, and it shows. It reminds me of early Jackie Chan movies without the ad-hoc weaponry or sense of humour and cheekiness. Or early Jet Li movies minus the attitude. The underdog of the kung fu world Tony Jaa has more genuine spirituality and self-sacrifice. He leaps and parries, weaves and throttles through these fights as if he's got his own internal energy and earnesty generator. Must be all that meditation.

Five spiral storeys of mayhem

There's a fight scene that has to be seen to be believed. Our hero enters a 5 storey building with a single winding staircase, and makes his way from the ground floor to the very top leaving no tub unthumped. I think about 40 guys and 1 kinky shrieking girl lay incapacitated at the end. IT'S ALL DONE WITHOUT A SINGLE CUT. Forget the beach scene in Atonement. In fact forget any fight you've ever watched before. This scene requires co-ordination, planning and safety on a level I've never seen outside of the boring 'Russian Ark'. Thailand should give the lead actor AND the camera guy that followed him a medal for every take they did. The closest role comparison is the Make'em Laugh song and dance from Singin' in the Rain, but that is a 100m dash compared to this cross-country agony.

Don't look down

This movie showcases one more innovation: The Behind-The-Scenes fight. Action scenes are so much work that up to now they've always been in centre focus with lots of cuts to show every single kick, punch, thrust and block. In The Protector the hero weaves around combatting baddies, but the camera guy doesn't always follow where he goes. Sometimes he moves behind a screen or into another room, and we're left to peer through woven cane or glimpse flailing limbs through a small window. I choose to see it as the martial arts representation of internalised conflict. It's fantastic for cranking up the dramatic tension because you can't follow every move that's happening. Less has turned out being more. Superb!

Nevertheless, it's pointless having good action scenes floating aimlessly when you're trying to bridge a story arc. The movie could have been much better with a little more rewriting or less brutal editing. It was so unworthy of the beautifully creative 5 storey fight scene. It was so unworthy of the love and grit infused into every move by the dynamo Tony Jaa. He brings such energy, earnesty and grace that it's heartbreaking to see it bandied around in this...this thing! I've seen other movies where he's showcased much more effectively, like Ong Bak. Stay away unless you live and breath martial arts. Otherwise just watch the fight scenes and fast forward the rest.


Nat at RA FanBlog said...

I like your reviews, even when they have nothing to do with RA. You're just entertaining. :)

Mulubinba said...

I agree RAFan. Great review, beautifully written- not sure "The Protector" would be quite my thing but I might watch it to check out the "gratuitous lightbulb violence" at Darling Harbour

Starheart said...

Awwwww, thanks ppl.

Mulubinba, the Darling Harbour lightbulb violence is a blink-and-miss event because it's just so abrupt and unexpected. The Flourescent light bulb violence at Redfern train depot is so corny it has to be seen to be believed. It makes RA's lion "WEAPON" in RH series 3 ep 3 seem like a well-placed monster of Tolkien-like awesomeness.