TOM YUM GOONG 2 (2013) - A Review
AKA: THE PROTECTOR 2
I'm a fan of the Thai action star Tony Jaa, and I was pretty blown away by Chocolate (2008), the debut film of up-and-coming Thai action actress Jija Yanin (AKA Jeeja Yanin). If you've seen Chocolate, or Jaa's work in the first Tom Yum Goong (2005) or Ong-Bak (2003), then you've seen some very high-level, crowd pleasing martial arts action cinema. (When we were in Bhutan last year, there was a TV channel out of India that seemed to show nothing but a constant rotation of the three Ong-Bak films.)
So I was very excited when I heard that these two would be appearing together in TYG2. On our recent trip to San Francisco, my wife spotted the DVD of TYG2 in Chinatown, and, as I'm sure she would attest, I was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. (The film will open in theaters in the U.S. in May of this year.)
Now that we're home, and I've had a chance to watch the film, I am sorry to report that it is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Don't get me wrong: It's a pleasing enough, proficient enough action film. But it doesn't come close to the best work that either Jaa or Yanin have done in the past.
As in the original Tom Yum Goong, the plot here swings into action when villager Kham (Tony Jaa) has his beloved elephant stolen. His search takes him into the big, bad city, where he crosses paths with various thugs, assassins and an arms dealer named Mr. LC (played by American rapper RZA). He also runs into his old friend Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), a police detective, who had been in the first film as well. The plot is little more than an excuse to send Jaa into situation after situation that he'll have to fight his way out of - which is fine for an action film. Who really comes for the story, right? The problem here is that there's nothing that quite compares to some of the work Jaa did in the first film.
TYG2 was shot in 3D, and makes quite a lot of use of CGI in some of its big action scenes, especially a Jaa vs. motorcycles battle that takes place across various rooftops. Given Jaa's talents as a martial artist/performer, it's a little disappointing to see such "tricks" used.
Even more disappointing is the profound underuse of Yanin. In Chocolate, she made a big impression on me with both her acting and her martial arts and stunt work. She's clearly a very talented young woman. But she has little to do here, and almost no dialogue at all. Her presence in several scenes feels very much like something that was thrown together at the last minute, and it is not vitally important to either the plot or the film.
The casting of RZA was also a problem, being that I didn't find him believable for a second, either as an arms dealer or as a martial artist. Less of him, and more of Yanin, would make this a better film, in my opinion.
But I understand why RZA is there. And why this was shot in 3D. It looks like this will be Tony Jaa's big chance in American movie theaters, so Jaa and director Prachya Pinkaew (who also directed the first TYG) have pulled out all the stops to try and make a film that will have numerous marketable angles to audiences in the U.S. With that in mind, I think they've crafted a serviceable enough film. There are several impressive action sequences, Jaa can still bend, kick, jump and fight like a demon, and, if you're not familiar with the earlier work of the players, then you're likely to be impressed and satisfied.
On the other hand, I am familiar with the earlier work of both stars, so I found it underwhelming overall. But I wish Jaa (and Yanin) lots of luck with American audiences. Unlike more recent action transplants like Jackie Chan or Jet Li, Tony Jaa is (in my opinion) extremely handsome, almost pretty, and thus may have a sex appeal that goes beyond his multiple martial arts skills. If this film doesn't put him over in the U.S., then his role in the upcoming franchise sequel Fast & Furious 7 (due out in 2015) should. Jaa also has not one but two films in the pipeline in which he co-stars with Dolph Lundgren. (Not so sure about the wisdom of that Tony - no offense to Dolph.)
The question I have now is...If there's another Tom Yum Goong film, how are they going to explain Kham having his elephant stolen for a third time?